31 December 2014

The Measure of Years: Reflections on Turning 40

It’s this freedom that’s the key to becoming visible again. Not caring what others think is freeing. Expressing yourself any way you want is freeing. Having opinions, emotional wisdom, spiritual understanding…these things free you. And in freedom, we find power.
~ Jane Tara, The Happy Endings Book Club

 his December I turned 40.

Forty.  A supposedly significant number, but what exactly is it supposed to signify?

In a society that values money, production, , utility, doing and acting, it is easy to look at the past forty years and wonder, What have I done with my life so far?

If I use society’s rule book and compare myself to others, I come up with a depressing list of did nots and do nots:

I don’t earn a six digit income.
I didn’t get a promotion.
I don’t own a company.
I’ve never lived out of my home state.
I don’t have a Masters, much less a PhD.
I don’t own a fancy car.
I don’t own any designer clothes.
I didn’t publish a book.
I didn’t consistently write 500 words a day.
I didn’t publish as many blog posts as I planned.

But as an Idealist (INFP) and an Inspirer (ENFP), these particular "failures" didn’t bother me for long (except the writing, but we’ll get to that later).  That means I value being over doing, reflecting over acting, creating over producing, and relationships over money.

It doesn’t mean I sat and dreamt my dreams and then did nothing to realize them.  Just that my dreams differ greatly from the majority of society.

You matter....embrace and express yourself!
Image: © Sergey Nivens
Some dreams you don’t know you have until you have a chance to live them.  My week long trip to Kodiak, Alaska in September 2014 was a dream; one I walked away from inexplicably changed.  On the surface, you wouldn’t know it.  

But inside….the interior landscape of my soul and my psyche were drastically altered. And that trip allowed me to give the proverbial finger to society’s (and familial) expectations and judgments of where I should be at forty.  

So now my list looks like this:

I have a decent paying job.
My position is low-stress.
I have money and time to support other small business owners.
I read voraciously and care more about learning than earning letters after my name.
I have a car that runs and gets me from point A to point B.
I have more clothes than I actually wear. (And I do own designer, vintage hats!)
I may live in my childhood home, but I have visited Alaska twice and stood six and half feet from a Kodiak grizzly.

Most importantly, I learned to let go of a couple of my most damaging fears.

But I’m human.  And I suffer from depression.  So I’m not going to clean this post up and tell you that everything was peachy keen and I triumphed glamorously through adversity and lived a positive, healthy life the rest of the year.

I made a lot of mistakes and I failed a lot ~ sometimes spectacularly.  The temptation to give up, to despair, to wallow was overwhelming at times and I gave in more than I care to admit.  And I’m still struggling.  To listen to the supportive, loving voices and to ignore and block out the judgmental, critical ones.  To embrace both my light and my dark side.  To regain lost ground.

Especially when it comes to following my passion for the written word. 

There’s no way around that one.  I failed consistently at being consistent with my writing.  And as writers know, the most important aspect of being a writer is to show up, sit down, and put words on a page.  My failure to do this is directly tied to both my depression and a deep-rooted fear of rejection and indifference.  And both of those fears are directly tied to family of origin issues.  Not an excuse, just something I need to stay aware of.

Which means there is no easy solution, no magic potion, no “just do it” way to overcome it.  I do have excellent help and loving support, and a firm belief that healing is possible and attainable.  Still, it's going to take more hard work, openness, and suffering.  Something that I need to allow to bleed onto the page.

That's raw.  That's real.  That's honest.  That’s life.

That’s a significant forty years.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

How do you measure the worth of your years? 

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30 December 2014

Resolution Fail: 10 Insane Home Organization Assumptions

Learn from the puppies: don't clutter where you live.
~ James L. Papandrea

is the end of December, and you know what that means - Pinterest is brimming with a million ways to organize your home, office, and life!

Perhaps it’s because we need something to do post-holiday binge.  Perhaps it’s because we now have even more redundant, unnecessary stuff and need to get rid of last year’s redundant, unnecessary stuff.

Whatever the reason, the explosion of articles, pictures, and ideas provides some much needed comic relief.  And since de-cluttering and organizing is only a rapturous joy for a very few sad people, and an overwhelming chore and quickly abandoned resolution for the rest of us, might as well laugh about it.
Image: Google search

Perusing the various boards on Pinterest, I’ve notived ten things that professional organizers assume:

1) You have nothing else to do. 
Making pen holders out of cereal boxes and toilet paper roll holders?  Really?    

2) You are a hoarder.
Why do you even have those toilet paper rolls lying around to be made into insane pen holders?!?

3) You have no social life. 
Ain’t nobody got time for that! You're busy wrapping toilet paper holders with fabric, old wrapping paper, and wallpaper!

4) You have either no interest in alcohol or plebeian tastes.
Seriously, a counter-top wine rack?!  What happened to clearing the counter of all clutter?!  Uh, hello?  Not to mention, those big blocky things only hold 6 to 8 bottles of wine.  Who only has 6 to 8 bottles of wine at a time? 

5) Your laundry room is the size of a small, rich country. 
Dude, if my laundry was THAT big, I wouldn't have so much trouble keeping it organized!  Heck, I could probably afford a maid to do it!

6) Your family shares 3 coats.
Standing coat racks aren’t just impractical, they’re mistaken for the Bogey Man when you come downstairs for a 2 AM glass of wine from your in-the-way counter-top wine rack.

Or you’re single, in which case, the Bogey Man scenario is even worse.

7) You don’t own enough redundant, unnecessary stuff.
Because that tree branch/old leather purse strap office supply holder may look chic, but the sheer amount of office supplies and pens that I own would break that twig in half.

8) You have no friends.  Or never have them over.
A blanket chest to replace under the bed bins – ha!  I like to keep my guests comfy, thank you.  One large blanket would fill that – again, pretty but impractical – chest, forget about the four other queen sized blankets.  Plus, you just told me to pack away seasonal items!

9) You bathe once a week.
Rolling up bath towels is just weird.  And time consuming.  And frustrating.  Did I mention weird?  If you have no friends, no social life, and do nothing else all day but make pen holders out of toilet paper rolls, you might have time to roll up your two or three towels and store them in a dust-collecting basket. But it’s weird.

Unless you live in a beautiful and remote area (like Alaska for instance) and really do bathe just once a week.  That would be perfectly acceptable - except that they think it's weird too.

10) You never actually DO anything in your house - you just sleep there.
A long commute to work does make this seem true.  But that just means you don’t need to look at the clutter! 

Happy New Year!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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04 November 2014

Writer or Me Monster: Why the About Page is Important to Readers

Everything tells me that I am about to make a wrong decision, but making mistakes is just part of life. What does the world want of me? Does it want me to take no risks, to go back to where I came from because I didn't have the courage to say "yes" to life?
~ Paulo Coelho

November 1 marked the beginning of that madcap dash into the world of words and word counts: National Novel Writing Month – affectionately known as NaNo.  I didn’t sign up this year, but throughout the month of November, I’ll be highlighting authors, their books, and the writing process.

ay be a day (or more) and a dollar short, but I’ve joined Jeff Goins’ Intentional Blogging Challenge.

Being the daydreaming writer that I am *cough* procrastinating *cough*, I find that I need to sign up for at least two to four writing challenges a year.  Deadlines combined with being part of a group of writers forces me to write a substantial word count every day.

At least every day of the challenge.

A couple of weeks ago I got together with a fellow writer and blogger to talk a bit about the challenge and do some free-writing on the dreaded Day One topic (cue Darth Vader theme):

Writing the About Me Page.

Relationship not Narcissism
Contrary to most people’s first impressions (usually garnered at a social event where I’m being, well, social!), I am a very private person.  I guard my boundaries like Cerebus guards Hades’ lair.

Minus the hellacious breath and acid drool.

Cerebus and Hades, 6th century
Yes, I have a blog.  Yes, I write about some personal things sometimes.  I also write under a nom de plume.  This is mainly to protect my Styx-like privacy.  

It is also so some well-meaning (or smug and purposefully hateful) friend of the family (aka pot-stirrer) happens upon my blog and informs my mother, “I didn’t know you were certifiably nuts!  This explains so much!”

Ahh, the perils of memoirists. 

In addition, some people might associate my ability to talk the leg off a brass chamber pot (I’m so getting one of those after Kodiak), to a narcissistic addiction to talking about myself.  

When they spend one on one time with me, they find that I actually don’t like to talk about myself.  This goes hand in hand with my Cerebus-guarded Styx-like privacy.  And it becomes painfully obvious when you see my About page ~ it's sad.

Like, puppy-hit-by-a car sad.

A great About Me Page should invite you in, give you a better idea of who I am both as a writer and as a person ~ because who wants to read the scribblings of a faceless person with the personality of a blank canvas stuck in your grandparents attic? 

Okay, maybe that's going too far, but you get the picture.  

What and Why I Write
Another thing the About Me page should do, is tell you about the blog itself, what I write about, and why.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pounding the keys, ripping out my heart, and sharing it with y’all for almost ten years (La Belle’s ninth birthday was on Halloween in fact) and throughout this wild , crazy, colourful, and literary ride, I’ve been asked: “So what is your blog about?”  My usual response?

Cue zombie impression.  Uh – art?  Um - food?  I really like people and…I dunno.  I just write. 

So I looked though old posts, made a list, and realized that if I flesh out those answers, I get that I like to talk and write about is art and hospitality and writing and mental health.

Wait just a minute….that sounds like it might be what this blog is actually about!

Aha!  So those four things I mentioned above?  Those are what bloggers call categories and they serve as the bones of the blog.  The blog posts make up the skin and blood and organs and brain.   The heart is made up of you, my readers.  What about the soul?

Most writers ~ especially fiction writers ~ will tell you that once they begin writing, the book takes on a life of its own.  Sometimes the characters won’t grow or act like you want them to ~ they become almost sentient.

A blog is no different.  Mine most definitely has a soul, a personality.  And it just so happens to mirror mine. As E(I)NFPs place a high priority and value on relationships, so does my blog.  Whether the topic has to do with art, writing, hospitality, or mental health, the theme of relationships is interwoven throughout.  Sometimes it’s more subtle than others, but it’s always there.

And in that case, I’m not quite sure where this particular relationship is going.  But I know where I’d like it to head.  But more about that in my About Page.

Which you can read as soon as I write it.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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31 October 2014

Happiness and the Art of Storytelling: An Interview with Daniel McInerny

It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.
~ Patrick Rothfuss

Tomorrow marks the beginning of that madcap dash into the world of words and word counts: National Novel Writing Month – affectionately known as NaNo.  I didn’t sign up this year, but throughout the month of November, I’ll be highlighting authors, their books, and the writing process.

e all live in a story.

Some of us just happen to narrate our own stories.  We are sometimes called crazy.  Sometimes we are. 

We are writers.

And it is both our gift and our curse to live in the midst of a jungle of words – poetry intermingled with prose.  Some of our stories have tragic ends.  A few have happily ever afters.

But all some have moments of happiness and joy.  Moments, that if they are gathered up, would shine a light on the darkest dramas and mysteries.

Throughout the month of NaNo November, I will highlight different authors and their books.  Because you can’t become a good writer, if you aren’t a good reader.

Today marks the launch of a new blog series, The Happiness Plot by novelist, screenwriter, children's author, playwright,  Daniel McInerny.  This blog series focuses on storytelling and the quest for happiness and will be available as an ebook by the end of the month.

Join us in the La Belle library, where we’ve just sat down with a pot of Earl Grey.

Image: Google Images

Why do you write?
I write because I love to contemplate the human predicament through the means of beautiful language.

Name two mentors who influenced your writing.
My father, Ralph McInerny, and all my high school English teachers, who as a group were exceptionally gifted at teaching the fundamentals of writing. 

Name five writers you recommend (any genre).
Evelyn Waugh
P.G. Wodehouse
Flannery O’Connor
Muriel Spark
Walker Percy

What is the toughest challenge you face as a writer?
I struggle to be a more “seat-of-your-pants” writer, making up the story as I go along, line by line. This is an important struggle for me because my entrenched analytical habits (I hold a PhD in philosophy and taught in academia for many years), while immensely valuable, can also be a hindrance to creative work. Thus I am trying to learn not to plot and analyze too much ahead of the moment of actual composition.

Describe your writing process. 
I tend to get an idea for a story long before, sometimes years before, I actually begin writing a first draft. The thing often begins as a series of scraps and influences and vague possibilities that I collect in a notebook. It takes me a long time, and more than one false start, before I have a firm sense of what I’m doing, which is typically toward the end or even after the first draft.

What does your writing space look like?
Dreary.  Home office in the basement. No windows. Rickety desk with a broken leg. Horribly uncomfortable chair. Insufficient shelf space.

I can’t think of a more perfect place to write.

Your new series on storytelling, The Happiness Plot, begins today.  What inspired you to write this?  And what can writers (and readers) learn from it?
I really love James Wood’s little book, How Fiction Works, with its pithy 200-word sections.

It occurred to me that these sections were just about the length of a blog post and that Wood’s book provided a good model for a series of posts on storytelling structure. My contribution to all the “how-to” material in this area concerns the link between story structure and our human quest for happiness. I believe understanding this link allows us to tell more emotionally moving, intellectually satisfying, beautiful stories.
Daniel McInerny

The series is perfectly timed for those participating in National Novel Writing Month in November.  As soon as the series is done at the end of November, I’m going to collect the posts into an ebook, with the addition of some bonus material I’m sending out to the folks on my email list. I further plan on doing further blog series on other aspects of writing and the writing life. 

All this material is great for lovers of fiction as well.

Give 3 brief words of advice for writers.
Sit. Now. Begin

Anything new in the works?
Currently I’m writing a novel for adults as well as returning my play, The Actor, about the young Saint John Paul II’s subversive theatrical activities during the Nazi occupation of Poland, back into its original form as a musical. A producer has shown some interest in the work and right now I’m doing a revision based upon his and another friend’s notes.

Thanks for stopping by, Daniel!

To follow the storytelling adventure and to subscribe to Daniel’s email list to receive cool bonus content and a free storytelling consultation, go to  The Happiness Plot.

For more info on the Kingdom of Patria series for children, go to www.kingdomofpatria.com.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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15 October 2014

Letting Go: Lessons from Kodiak and a Photography Party

You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don't have something better.
~ C. JoyBell C.

The Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop was incredible.  I went to write with 11 strangers, and I left with 15 new friends.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting my photos and thoughts on the workshop and on the beauties of Kodiak, Alaska.

am torn.

Ever since I returned from Harvester Island, I have felt pulled in two opposing directions:

Move clear across the country and live with a view of mountains.

Move further out to the country, but stay within driving distance of friends and family.

My week in Alaska was a gift, a break from the stress and emotional drain of living with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.  It was therapeutic as well ~ I haven’t cried that much in a long time (except maybe in my therapist’s office).  The unconditional acceptance and yes, love that I experienced from my fellow writers was surprising and healing.

And the views.  You know I’m going to mention the views.

But in addition to the peace and tranquility, my time cuddled in Kodiak’s majestic embrace also gave rise to some tough, potentially life-changing questions: 

Have I become too complacent?
Do I need to make a change geographically?
Do I want to move away from all I've known for a good reason? Or as an escape?
If I do move, do I have the strength to be a wayfarer for a little while?

All of these questions involve letting go: of old defense mechanisms, of old ways of thinking. Letting go of guilt - both real and imagined and that was placed on me by others.  Of old fears and self-imposed obstacles that kept my heart stagnate and locked behind a fortress so old and impenetrable, even my rusty key didn’t work anymore.

And then the winds of Uyak Bay blew around and through me, clearing my head of all those mental and emotional dust bunnies.  The Alaskan sun danced off the water and burned away the soot of fear and the broken bits of my past.  The beauty of the mountains and the ocean and the wildlife grabbed me by the heart and shook all those old locks and bars until they crumbled at my feet. 

It was both exhilarating and scary as hell.

I don’t like change.  I don’t know anyone who does (well, except one of my sisters ~ she seems to move every quarter).  Change for change’s sake is not always a wise thing.  But change because it is time and nothing, absolutely nothing, can truly remain static ~ that kind of change is an impetus for growth. 

That kind of change also means that I will have to let go of something good in order to embrace something better.  I don’t have any answers to those questions yet.  So my meditation and self-reflection for the next 5½ months is that no matter where the road takes me, I will be able to accept it with peace and humility.

And the strength to remain present to the journey.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

This post was inspired by the Abbey of the Arts Photography Party.  If you would like to join us on this visual meditation, post your photo at the link above, or join the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks on Facebook.

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09 October 2014

Kodiak Alaska: Highway to My Comfort Zone

Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end...because in the end, it shows you a whole new world!!
~ Manoj Arora

The Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop was incredible.  I went to write with 11 strangers, and I left with 15 new friends.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting my photos and thoughts on the workshop and on the beauties of Kodiak, Alaska.

ne of the bibliophile-esque pages I follow on Facebook posted a Venn diagram of a bookworm’s comfort zone.  It was a hoot and I could identify with many of the items or actions listed.

So of course I shared it.

Before long, one of the friends I made while on Harvester Island commented, “Wonder how the HI attendees’ comfort zones would compare pre and post our adventure!”  I loved that idea.

So of course I made a pre and post diagram and shared it.  Now I share it with you.

My Comfort Zone - Pre Harvester Island

My Comfort Zone - Post Harvester Island

Oh, what a difference a week on a remote island in the bush paradise of Alaska makes.  And I cannot wait to do it again! 

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What is in your comfort zone and what would it take to push you out of it?

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