How to Write While Triggered

a man in a suit reaching toward the red nuclear buttonI’m triggered, and I have good reason to be: the state of our world. Need I say more?

My curled, stiff trigger fingers can’t type, and even if they could, my words are frozen in my brain by my powerlessness. By the fear of what could become of us and the wheels of darkness that are already in motion. By the sadness rising in my throat as I watch it unfold. And the guilt pounding in my temples for not doing more to stop it.

When I am triggered like this, my writing comes screeching to a halt. But I can’t allow this. Because my writing is connected to the wellness of my mind, body, and soul. To stop writing now, when the world desperately needs the power of our words, would be admitting defeat to the evil rising around us. And if our world is a contest, this is not one I am willing to forfeit.

So how do I get back to a place where I can create? Where I can produce work that is not filled with rage or fear or hopelessness? At this juncture, how do I yield writing that is both heartfelt and engaging, while also staying aware of my mission and true to my humanity?

I have scraped together a few tips here. My hope is, when you find yourself blocked due to stressful circumstances, be they in your family, in your body, or in your politics, these tools will help you, too, find a way back to your pen.

  1. Meditation. You’ve heard this a thousand times, but in my opinion, it can not be said enough. Meditation is free, it’s easy, and it works. This guided meditation by Feisty guest blogger Kimberly Joy (also featured today) deals with this very thing—allowing meditation to help you create distance between your trauma and your words so you can write your story. Remember, it can take up to six months to feel the initial effects of meditation so don’t give up. Never give up. On any of this.
  2. Read something that inspires you. Make it a sure thing. Pick a piece highly recommended by a friend in your favorite genre. Or something written by someone you admire. The point is, when all else fails, bury your head in a book that will bring you joy. My guess is your head spent a lot of time bent over pages as a kid, not blinking, tearing the bindings of your favorite series. Being child-like during times of stress is always liberating to the pen.
  3. Go to the place where your best ideas come. Whether you’re on a nature walk or stepping toe to heel in a tight circle in your living room, blowing bubbles in the shower or while surfing, jabberjaw-ing about ideas with a buddy or sitting in silence at your favorite museum, identify the setting where many of your ideas land, and spend time there. My best ideas arrive when I’m driving. I wouldn’t think that would be my place of enlightenment, but alas, it is. On episode 22 of the Masters of Scale podcast, Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkdIn, talks to Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, about How to Find Your Big Idea. Turns out her ideas come in the car, too. So although she lives a few minutes from the Spanx headquarters, she wakes up an hour early and does what her friends call a “fake commute,” driving around Atlanta, giving ideas permission to enter. Sara Blakely is an entrepreneur, but I think writers and entrepreneurs depend on a few of the same things—fierce creativity and even more ferocious bravery. To stay inspired for this ferocity, setting matters. So be in your place.
  4. Redirect your thoughts. Meditation helps with this but if you can’t do that, simply do this. Acknowledge that your thoughts are not you and that, in fact, they are both separate and directable by you. In the beginning, this may feel hard. But like most things, it takes practice and more practice. Once you have it down, choose to direct your thoughts toward creative, productive pursuits.
  5. Write cat poems. Maybe this sounds like it doesn’t apply. Give me a sec, and I’ll explain. I have a thing for my cats. They are a bottomless well of cuteness and entertainment to my family and me. You can exchange the word “cat” for “dog” if that fits better. Or “horse.” Or “pig.” Anway, recently, with pen stuck like glue, I was compelled to write a cat poem. Then I posted it on Twitter. Twitter has limited characters and, for me, an even more limited audience. This makes it a perfect place to write publicly about the crazy beasts that make me smile. And it was fun! And easy. Maybe you don’t want to tweet animal poems. My point is less that and more this: push your boundaries. Try something new. Find what brings you joy and write about it somewhere. Publicly, privately, it doesn’t matter. Just write. Whatever, whenever, however you can. Don’t abandon your words. Our world needs your voice to create necessary change, now more than ever.

 

Photo Credit: pixabay.com-3038098/

Words and Phrases I Have Learned

Cricket on a leafDrowning in a Sea of Despair vs. Refusing to Drown in a Sea of Despair

These phrases loom in my thoughts as news of yet another outrageous development in Washington threatens the hard-won rights and freedoms I consider fundamental to life in a democratic country. My country, this one that I left and returned to, twice, because there is no other place on earth I want to live, seems to be under siege from within. The deep physical response of my body shocks me. What can I do to pull myself out of this Miasma of Misery?

I can write, of course. But I know that if I give myself free rein, I will only circle more rapidly down the Drain of Despair. I decided to find an apolitical topic that is at least mildly amusing, perhaps one I’ve discussed recently that made me laugh at myself. Like this one:

Crickets

The other day, while chatting in the car with my daughter Daniela about a recent medical appointment, I mentioned I hadn’t heard back from my doctor at Scripps.

“Crickets?” she said.

Why was she changing the subject? “Where?” I asked.  “On your patio?”

I knew she had a phobia of roaches infesting her downtown patio, but this was the first I’d heard about crickets. Personally, I’ve always liked crickets because I think the Chinese consider them lucky. They keep them in little bamboo cages where their perky chirping enlivens the home.

At the wheel, Daniela was shaking with laughter.

“Why are you laughing? What’s so funny about crickets?”

After my daughter caught her breath, she explained. “It’s the buzzword for when there is no answer to your question, no response. All you hear is the sound of crickets.”

Oh. Eye roll. Who knew? But people do because the very next day I heard it used on a talk show. Now that I am in the know, I’m sure I’ll hear it again soon.

I’m just waiting for a chance to use it.

Squirrel

A week after the crickets incident, I visited the same daughter and her one-year-old son Lucas. My youngest grandson tottered over to the couch where I sat and handed me a toy. A drop of saliva glistened on his protruding lower lip, his limpid eyes focused squarely on mine.

“Thank you, Lucas,” I said. Daniela explained the drool.

“He has a lower tooth coming in. I can see the little bud on his gum.”

I leaned forward and wiped away the droplet while trying to sneak a peek inside his mouth. In typical toddler style, he clamped it shut and pushed his face closer to mine, reaching for my glasses. I pulled away and laughed. “Nope, not the glasses.”

Deterred, he lost interest and darted away.

“Squirrel,” commented his mother with a chuckle.

I looked around the living room for a rogue rodent. All was quiet on the patio behind the screen door. No live squirrel. No stuffed squirrel among the toys in the play yard. No dead squirrel anywhere. Lucas was pulling apart a Lego construction that had not been a squirrel.

“Squirrel?” I wanted to know. “Where?”

And then she was laughing at me again, just like that other day in the car. Gasping for air, she explained:

“It just means his attention span is like a dog that sees a squirrel. Everybody says that.”

“Like crickets?” I asked.

“Yes. Like crickets.”

So, crickets and squirrels: who knew?

G.O.A.T.

In keeping with my renewed desire to stay current with the latest language developments regarding non-human references, I have come upon another one. It happened during the only sporting tournament I ever follow, the World Cup. I became a soccer fan during the twenty years I lived in Peru, where el futból is the only game in town.

Two weeks after the squirrel incident, I switched off the Peru/Australia match, sorting through my mixed emotions about Peru making two goals in this game against nil by the Aussies, but still going home empty-handed, and turned to the news.

In general World Cup coverage, CBS news showed a grinning and mostly clean-shaven Cristiano Ronaldo fingering a tuft of hair on his chin. His chiseled cheekbones and delicate mouth were turned at an angle to the camera; the Russian sun shone on the smooth, tanned skin of his face and neck, blessedly unmarred by tattoo ink, his haircut conservative and neat. Long, lean legs, flat abdomen, sculpted arms, a wicked gleam in his eyes….Full disclosure: In my opinion, this sexy Portuguese player is a perfect male physical specimen, on and off the pitch. Just saying.

With an impish grin, Ronaldo continued messing around with his new goatee for the camera, when the commentator’s words finally penetrated my brain. Something about GOAT as the reason for the goatee.

What? I considered his name: Cristiano means Christian—no goat reference there. Ronaldo is just a sir-name, as far as I know, and not the name of any famous goats, if, indeed, there are some.

As the reporting continued, a somber portrait filled the screen. In a beautiful ad for Adidas, an impeccably groomed Lionel Messi sat, regal and impassive, against a dark background, his burnished hair and short auburn beard neatly trimmed. In front of him loomed the head of a glowing russet-colored goat with delicately curled horns, steady gaze, and a full, flowing beard. And, wow, the beards matched! Same color!

Had Adidas started a hair-coloring line? Is that goat a species endemic to Argentina and the name of a new shoe design in honor of the country’s most famous player?

Not exactly. It soon became clear that I was way off base. Again.

G.O.A.T. stands for Greatest Of All Time in the sports world and is used in lots of sports, not just this one. Messi and Ronaldo are currently the top contenders for this title in soccer.

I’ve added it to my list.

I feel better now. Crickets, squirrels, and goats have given me a reason to laugh at myself this month. I’ll need to dig deeper for the Fourth of July.

a photo of guest blogger Nancy VillalobosNancy has been a member of the San Diego writing community for the past seventeen years, taking multiple courses at UCSD Extension as well as attending Marni Freedman’s Thursday Read and Critique group in Encinitas. She lives in Carlsbad with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Coco. An excerpt from her memoir will be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman, 2018.

 

Photo Credit: Nancy Villalobos and pixabay.com/796465

Lessons for a Writer at Washington DC’s March for Our Lives: When Words Are Too Small

The author walking at the March for Our Lives protest in Washington, DC.
The author in purple next to one of her favorite signs from the recent March for Our Lives protest.

I’ve been struggling with a case of writer’s block at the prospect of blogging my experience of the March for Our Lives in our nation’s capital ten days ago. But, no words have felt big enough.

The first expression to come to mind about the march is “community,” which seems to be a good and big enough word. I carried the names of people who had asked me to put theirs and their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews on my shirt. So while I was there, I felt a kind of halo of beloveds around me. And this struck a chord with others there that would say something like “ Nice shirt; that’s why I’m marching too!”

But the entourage on my shirt did not overcome the sense of puniness I felt when arriving at the corner of C and 4th and walking into an ocean of people with other brave and awesome homemade signs.

The Gathering of a New Us

Along with my self-image of tiny-ness was a humongous expanded sense of We. “We” may be a big enough word. It was big enough in “We the people… in order to form a more Perfect Union.” And our larger ‘We’ was marching all over the country. All over the world. With the same goal of stopping senseless killing, some life-affirming joy-based action at its heart.

We were there to support new life itself in the form of children speaking their truth. It was a wake. They were proud and sad, making us listen to their sorrow, their songs. The Psalms of our time. They were David of the Old Testament. They were our Prophets speaking uncomfortable truths in front of millions via media and half a million breathing souls weeping and hanging on every word as if we were at our own sister’s funeral.

March for Our Lives as a Writers’ Event

I do not want to gloss over the importance of these contributions and the significance of the entire three hours of this event. Here were original heart-wrenching stories, poems, songs, and material YES! Yay! All in the genre of memoirs – all from very young people. This punctuated by professional musicians. You can see the entire event recorded here.  But I do want to highlight two breathtaking moments.

Yolanda: “We Are Going to Be a Great Generation”

A few hundred meters in front of me Yolanda Renée King came out to speak, the day’s youngest presenter. Like at a Passover feast, she embodied why this day was different from all the others. Her very being was larger than any words. Reciting from Dr. Martin Luther King, her grandfather’s 1963 speech, itself a luminary incandescent piece of literature and history, created a time machine.

“My grandfather had a dream…” she began in her perky nine-year-old voice, “That his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ” The sad relevance of those words brought millions more into awareness that Saturday when Yolanda Renee King spoke them anew.

Yolanda added, “And I have a dream that Enough is Enough!” And we truly all became the same crowd marching through time. “Repeat after me,” cried the child, “We. Are Going to Be. A Great Generation.” We were connected from one mass of marchers to the others who had gone before chanting together.

A Writer’s Dream

In August 1963, only a short walk from where we stood was where Dr. King spoke of his dream. Just as here and now people marched with one another, with the spontaneous brave decision to make a stand, we were all together giving voice to our dream.

Time collapsed for me like a Janus telescope looking into the past and future. That’s exactly what I want my writing to do, to bring together the past and the future in a timeless now.

Here over eighty years of demonstrators in Washington stood in this place among us like ghosts holding our hands. There were the thousands of WWI veterans who gathered nearby during the 1933 Depression when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wandered among them. There was the Poor People’s March in 1968, and its earlier incarnation in 1963, all the way in history to the Women’s March last year. The tradition of marching felt proud and long and brave and yes, big enough.

Emma and the Power of Silence

Then Emma Gonzalez came to the podium and simply read the names of her young friends and how they would be missed, those who had been killed just one month before while we collectively stood. While she looked on, weeping, she made us feel every millisecond in our hearts and our expectations, of the six minutes and twenty seconds it took to destroy the seventeen names she said.

That is when the names and the worlds each name represented extended into the sky and beyond. When the words were big enough. And when the infinite hope that each child should be born with crashed into ashes. Gone forever.

This very personal pain, this lament, may have been the only way to birth a new hope of action to change the shameful reality. “Fight for your lives before someone else has to;” Emma called to action a generation.

I did not count her words, but it was a low number. Sometimes silence has the power to light a flame in each heart with a quiet invitation to our souls to care enough.

I can’t think of a stronger writing lesson than those seconds passing in the hearts of half a million strangers whose breath surrounded me.

The Content of Their Character

Today, April 4th marks the 50th anniversary of the murder through gun violence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am old enough to remember crying for hours with my dearest friend, Rueben. Even as a young child, the words of Dr. King rang deepest true, and that is what I felt all around on Saturday. The sound of Truth – with or without words.

 

photo of K.M. McNeelK.M. McNeel holds degrees from Vanderbilt University, Trinity University, and Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, London. In the 1990s and 2000s, she was known for her interventionist art collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Oxford, England. She is currently creating a solo performance, a memoir of her time working as a communications officer traveling for charities, and a mystery novel.

 

Photos courtesy of the author.

 

 

Tear Down Walls

A naked man lying on the floor We memoir writers are always questioning ourselves about how we use words and the presentation of believable events. We have a role to play in being midwives to our own and others’ stories. In writing memoirs the struggle with telling our truths, just the pain of doing it, can be like the most intense primal scream. Merely knowing the truth can hurt as much as childbirth, and sharing it? The fear of sharing some things has made me shake to my core. I am not alone, I know. 

It’s a privilege to live in a time and community when being in a writing group encourages us to give voice to parts of ourselves we may have kept protected for decades. We have come out as survivors from abuse, severe emotional challenges, mental illness, failures, traumas, adventures. And this is why we writers have a special duty to speak out now. We know the pain of keeping things hidden and unexamined, the fear of examining them, the relief of writing, sharing, trusting the editing, and finally the incredible thrill of saying our truth artfully and having it received. We take each other seriously. We listen. We think. We question. These processes make us experts at something vitally needed in our cultural moment

For centuries in Europe a special status was reserved for some of the writers and thinkers of the times. Durer, the master German artist, created odes to “Melencholia,” a questioning of the value of life—a whole-hearted, full-throated despair as profound as those Old Testament prophets who proclaimed society’s mistakes and the imminent wrath of God.

The French call a lighter version “ennui,” describing emptiness, a boredom with life. In the 60’s we spoke of “alienation” and the archetypal “angry young man,” which characterized a lot of 20th century male writers and poets.  And now American society is faced with a dilemma. Have we unwittingly allowed the blurring of useful, even precious, questioning, as many writers struggle to like life during challenging times and have anguished throughout history—with darker questioning, even criminal tendencies, or the propensity to commit mass murder? 

I bring this up because our stream-of-consciousness leader has spewed out a notion that might catch on. After years of destigmatizing mental health issues and making them, finally, safe to talk about, he appears to be advocating for more mental health institutions that separate the crazies out—presumably from normal folk, like he sees himself. Normal. So normal. 

While the White House carriers on a dysfunctional love/hate affair with the press, we should remember it isn’t just reporters who bring these truths to light. It is us, fellow writers. We chronicle, tell the truth, and share, with courage, our reality. We must. It is our duty to contribute our kind of experience, the experience of allowing air, sunlight and breath into the wounds of the past—it is part of the cultural solution. We need to show others how to stop walling off painful experiences because we memoir writers have learned to look deeper—behind the Stepford Wives expressions masking our true human selves—to the healing power of airing the struggles that made us who we are. 

Yes, I’m saying it, dear writers. What we do is a revolutionary act. Each act of telling our truth tears down the wall of lies and pretense a little more.  Let’s tell it damn well. Let’s build a monument of our truth. Each piece we write, each book we publish, each poem, each play, each true word is part of that big beautiful whole.

 

photo of K.M. McNeel

K.M. McNeel holds degrees from Vanderbilt University, Trinity University, and Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, London.  In the 1990s and 2000s, she was known for her interventionist art collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Oxford, England.  She is currently working on a solo performance, her memoir of her time working as a communications officer traveling for charities, and a mystery novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lead Photo by Žygimantas Dukauskas on Unsplash

Author photo courtesy of K.M. McNeel

How To Turn Your Political Angst into Writing Gold

A man and his son holding a sign that says Make America Think AgainI wish I wasn’t writing about politics right now, but The Clown In Chief isn’t giving me much of a choice, now is he? Reason #4,763 to poke another rusty pin into my tiny-yet-somehow-bigly voodoo doll: I want to write about things I love, like un-stale tortilla chips, excellent haircuts, the unrelenting cuteness of my cats, and the dizzying amazement I feel about my kids (except when they fight plus the other times I want to post them on Craigslist), but I can’t, because The Grand Poobah of Doofusness is relentless.

*Big sigh*

Speaking of (or sigh-ing of?), are you big-sighing as much as me these days?

Venezuela, big sigh.

North Korea, giant petrified sigh.

Charlottesville, gargantuan tear-filled sigh.

I can’t friggin’ write. I’m too morose about it all. And too annoyed that I’ve been rendered morose by a reality TV shyster whose evil heart casts such a malevolent and slimy shadow over every corner of our world.

I know I said in this earlier post that “if we survive his reign, he may end up being a gift to us all.” But today, I find the Pollyanna-Me-of-Yesterday clueless, annoying, and badly in need of a slug to the stomach.

Given all of that, I will end on a positive note, because DNA is weird and I am incapable of leaving people in darkness and tumult, even if that’s where my heart resides. Here is one thing I know for sure: we must take decisive action now, in whatever form we can. My form is writing, and if you’re reading this, yours probably is too. Writing prompts are good for people like us—they help us further our craft—and, especially, in this case, they take us to places we may not have otherwise gone.

So here’s your prompt du jour: write a story about a person who somehow lands a job they are not remotely qualified for or capable of handling and one instance where (s)he “yugely” botches it up.

We know one example of this, all too well, or rather, all too inadequately. The novel Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart rocks this theme too. Steve Carell in The Office? Nails it. Me singing karaoke fits it like a glove. 30 Rock, Parks and Rec., a lot of great TV operates in this realm.

Where else do you come across this in your life? Write it, share it, allow it to further your craft. Create at least a smidge of good from all this bad. Remember, we are the recorders of our times. We are most essential during moments like these, crucial to prevent history from repeating itself. Let’s make sure, for the sake of our world, that we are the best at what we do, or at least, the best we can be.

Photo by Jose Moreno on Unsplash

Seeking the Super Bloom

California Super Bloom WIldflowers in Purple and YelloWe drove back from Las Vegas the other day, intentionally going three hours out of our way to drive through the Anza Borrego Desert to see the Super Bloom. I had envisioned fields of bright flowers carpeting the desert floor, so I was underwhelmed by the scattering of pale flowering weeds that I could see from the car window as we drove through.  Was this the Super Bloom?

Sure, patches of flowers were scattered throughout the desert, and the patches I could see did seem to be different colors: purple, white, pink, yellow. But I was tired. And there was a lot of traffic. I was slightly depressed and didn’t feel like getting out and walking through the desert for a closer look.

Truthfully, my attitude to life at this moment was dulled from an argument I’d had with my husband. We’d just returned from a somewhat stressful trip to Las Vegas—where all the individual pieces were fun—seeing old friends, helping our daughter move into a new house, climbing at Red Rocks. But the overall accumulation of activity had drained us—had overwhelmed our nervous systems.

It had been a crazy mess of activity while we were there, hooking up appliances, making dinner for big groups, walking “the strip,” watching Cirque d’ Soleil, driving around looking for houses with our friends, and rock climbing.  I had gotten scared on one of the climbs and snapped at my husband.

I had also gotten a sudden bee in my bonnet to look at houses—maybe Las Vegas was a place our family could live together again, I dreamed. But the sea of Stepford-wives in planned communities deterred me.  I tried to find something off the beaten track closer to the canyon lands. When a beautiful house showed up in Zillow in a tiny community near the Red Rock Canyon a half hour drive away, I called the real estate agent to see if we could see it.  That was a mistake. I was just chasing a fantasy dream—something I wasn’t even sure I wanted—and dragging my husband along for the ride. He wasn’t expecting a real estate agent to be there and was embarrassed since he had no intention of moving.

“We wasted her time,” he said later. I hadn’t seen it that way, but perhaps I should have. Anyway, the house was great, but I didn’t like the area—too far from necessities, like a grocery store.

Then we drove home, planning to go out of our way to see the Super Bloom in the Anza Borrego Desert.  A forbidding silence—not the good kind—filled the car.  I began practicing what I had been taught in awareness training—to simply notice what was going on. I noticed I felt bad. I felt bad for snapping at him. I felt bad for looking at the house. I felt bad for taking extra time to drive home. I felt bad that the Super Bloom he and I had recently experienced in our relationship appeared to be waning.

I noticed that these negative thoughts filled my mind as we drove through the desert, coloring my appreciation. What was so great about this “Super Bloom” anyway?  Where are the carpets of flowers? Where is the abundance?

We drove home, never getting out of the car. The minute we got back to Alpine, a proliferation of rich, vibrant flowers greeted us—right in our own backyard.  Great swaths of dark orange-y yellow flowers lined the freeway. In our neighborhood, the bright magenta succulents were in full color, “carpeting” the road near our house. Our own orchard had burst into bloom, too.

Later, I talked with others who had driven out to the Anza Borrego Desert to see the Super Bloom, curious about their experience. Some were underwhelmed, as I had been, but others were overwhelmed with the abundance they found.  My hairdresser described the most magical day out there in the desert with her husband.  They had gotten out of their car and hiked into the palm oasis, where the flowers showed themselves readily amongst the cacti.  She said it was one of the best moments she and her husband had experienced together.  They wandered in the beauty, appreciated each other, found a secret watering hole. They themselves bloomed out there in the desert.

As I mulled over these observations in the weeks following, odd thoughts and comparisons came to mind.  I thought about 9/11.  I thought about the photos I saw in those initial days of the destruction, chaos, and terrorism.  I remembered that, despite the fear and sadness, I felt something else blooming within me as I saw at ground level people helping people—forgoing past prejudices, ignoring race and gender, overlooking economic status. I saw people reaching out to one another. I saw and felt a Super Bloom of compassion in those days following 9/11.

And today, in the wasteland of our current political climate, I feel something of the same thing. On the one hand, I look out and see a barren desert threatening to lay waste to things dear to me. I feel fear and negative thoughts reigning. But when I stop and look closer—when I get out of the car to walk into a palm oasis, when I notice the proliferation in my own backyard, when I override the feeling of being overwhelmed and the dull attitude taking hold of my heart—I see a Super Bloom unfolding.  Again, I see people supporting each other, rising up among the thorny cacti to offer love and compassion despite the climate—despite the polarity of views. I see people engaging with the “other” political side, asking questions of one another, striving to understand one another. I see people wildly increasing their donations to organizations they appreciate, people finding the time to volunteer, people speaking out against oppression, people holding the light.

I see myself pausing and wondering how I too can contribute—wondering what I, as a writer and awareness practitioner, can offer.

I think, too, of the conditions that lead to a Super Bloom—a long drought followed by a generous rain that encourages the long dormant seeds to shed their protective covering.

I see that as a writer and an awareness practitioner I have a choice. I have a choice of what to write about, what to notice, what to draw attention to.  I see that my first glance at something—out of a car window while harboring a dull attitude—may not be the juiciest one, the truest one. It might not be the message I want to share or the feeling I want to cultivate. It might take a little more perseverance. It might be something simple, like noticing what’s going on in my own mind instead of being consumed by it, or appreciating what’s in my own backyard instead of seeking it elsewhere. It might take wandering deeper into the desert for a closer look.  It might be remembering good things not bad, and appreciating the great patches of flowers popping up everywhere, despite everything.

And, if I am truly dried up, overwhelmed, and encased in a protective coating unable to flower, I can trust that abundance will flow again. I can remember that even the dormant stage is part of the process, and I can always notice and write about that.

Photo Credit: Marijke McCandless

Writing Through Trump

Salatka-writing through trump-kayle-kaupanger-200964Preposterous. Unconscionable. Diabolical.

To call him childish insults young humans everywhere.

You know who I’m talking about.

His audacity takes my breath away. He also takes my sleep. And my words.

I, like many of you, am suffering from TIFPS, or Trump-Induced Frozen Pen Syndrome. My words have become a casualty of this inconceivable nightmare-cum-truth. Because it feels like an error in the order of the universe! Like we were heading, albeit upstream, toward a beautiful, self-realized place when suddenly, our canoe flipped and we are now sputtering and speeding toward a massive waterfall! Where giant hungry piranhas await us at the bottom! And even if we can somehow kick them away, the plunge pool is comprised of skin-eating acid and tall shards of glass! I fear we might be dusted.

Yet, something niggles at my brain. There must be a reason, the something whispers. A force like him doesn’t just pop onto the global stage without carting a larger lesson, like a dingleberry tangled into his comb-over.

What good can come of this new reality, where environment-haters are entrusted with our environment? Where public school-haters are entrusted with our public schools? What is the lesson here? I wonder these things as my fingers idle, frozen above the keyboard and my pen lies arrested, poised over paper.

As a Feisty Contributor and Editor, I also wonder how this new world order affects us, our tribe, the scribes of our times. Because we, as the world’s storytellers, must not freeze. Now, more than ever, the world needs us.

How do we combat TIFPS and continue to do the job the universe assigned to us? We cannot lose our words, our voice, the tool that wields the most power!

Here is one idea: let’s use the Apricot Aberration to make us better writers. Because we almost can’t get better fodder. He can be our tangerine-hued, frowny-faced writing prompt. Here are a few questions to ask ourselves to get unstuck:

  1. What words describe how he makes me feel? *
  2. What does this look like? Be specific. (And by specific, I don’t mean truthful. Use alternative facts at will.) *
  3. What is the worst case scenario? Be specific. *
  4. How can I combat this scenario? *

We witness him suck power on a daily basis as though he just rolled out from ten days under a dusty rock and straight into a 7-11 on 7-11, a.k.a., Free Slurpee Day. Sure, he can slurp all he wants, but he will not suck our power.

We must write through his reign so the world knows how we survived. We must capture this moment in time by observing, with our words, the details, the heartbreaks, and the humanity. When was the moment I took a stand? Here is what it looked like. When did I give up? Because I felt like it was too big and I was too small. When did I go from powerless to powerful? Write down all of this. Every speck.

Or maybe you aren’t there yet. You are still frozen, powerless, petrified. We get that, too, and you are not alone. But if you were to take a stand, what would you want that stand to look like? Write that down. If we are able to survive his regime, he may end up being a gift to us all. A majestic awakening. A monumental call for truth, understanding, and above all, compassion. For that to happen, we will need to remember what this time looked like. What this felt, smelled, and sounded like. We need us.

* My answers:

1) I feel powerless, fearful, despondent.

2) I stop standing up for myself at work and at home with my family because it does no good. Why expend the energy? I always lose anyway. I focus on my quilting instead. But my quilt scenes are getting weirder and angrier.

3) We go to war with nations all over the world simultaneously and are immediately close to perishing, every last one of us evaporating into a fungus-shaped cloud.

4) I contact an amazing scientist in Japan who went to my quilting camp in 8th grade. She has identified an enzyme which dissolves both plastic and rubber. With the help of some unsuspicious individuals, boom, all warplanes are grounded. We, as a nation, are forced to return to diplomacy.

 

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/collections/141077/american-political?photo=ihH2ztuBTOs

Walking the Tightrope: Where Do Authors Draw the Line in Expressing Political Views?

small house balanced on the edge of a buildingI’ve always recommended that authors refrain from discussing religion and politics in their social media and branding. In today’s fiercely competitive book market, aligning ourselves one way or another on political or religious issues can lead to lower sales, mainly because if a percentage of the reading population disagrees with our views, they most likely won’t follow us on social media or purchase our products.

 But the election of President Trump last November has changed the political landscape in drastic ways. Where before, stating political views could negatively impact sales, we now find ourselves with a growing majority who are outraged at the current administration’s policies and its handling of diplomacy. That outrage has sparked ongoing protests worldwide, where millions of people have risen up to declare their dissent and willingness to resist the current political climate in Washington.

 Also new is the growing power the resistance movement has found in ignoring Trump’s brand. When major retail leaders dropped Ivanka Trump’s clothing and shoe lines from their stores this week, those who do not support Trump stepped up their support of the retailers, and sales soared.

 Where before the Trump presidency it was judicious to maintain distance and equanimity concerning politics, the climate has changed to such a degree that we’re now finding that taking actions some view as political (as with the retailers who dumped Ivanka’s brand) can benefit sales. Those retailers who dropped the line claimed they did so because the line wasn’t selling. It was risky to drop a contentious and outspoken president’s daughter’s brand–these retailers must have known that the president, who seems to have little control over his responses to adverse situations, would react publicly (which he did by tweeting his dismay at what he considered to be unfair treatment of his daughter). But the stance by these retailers paid off in ways that many did not expect–sales lowered initially and then skyrocketed when anti-Trump Americans decided to show the retailers support for their decision by buying at those stores.

 So, given that being political can now influence sales, what does this mean for authors? And how do we in the publicity business advise our clients now that there’s a new normal for how consumers react when sellers share their views? How do those who feel strongly about the current administration express their views without driving off potential customers? And is it even a problem to lose those customers who don’t agree with our politics?

 These questions have surfaced strongly on social media, where friends, family, colleagues, and customers converge, and the new politics have created increasing divides among them. Many of us have watched as followers on social media threaten to unfollow us if we state our views, whatever they may be, too loudly or frequently. Many have drawn hard lines to followers regarding opinions–agree or be gone, they seem to say.

 As authors, when we lose followers, we lose business. Those who choose to follow our blogs and support our brand do so because we offer them something–information, entertainment, connectedness, or all three. If readers no longer follow us on social media, will they still buy our books? My sense is no–as this administration continues to divide America with its policies, I believe that we’ll see a corresponding division in sales. Those who agree with us and our views will support us and buy our books; those who don’t will boycott our offers and ignore future releases.

 For some authors, this tradeoff is worth it. Those who feel strongly about expressing their political views may feel that protecting our country and its democracy from what they see as an attempt to upend our basic freedoms is more important than offending those potential or current readers who don’t agree that the new administration is a threat to those rights.

 For me, it’s a difficult situation–supporting others who share my views is important, but so is maintaining distance from political rhetoric. There is also a professionalism component to all of this– if I indulge myself in rants about my political leanings, how am I serving those who read my blog posts and buy my books? Do they come there to hear my politics? Yes and no. For some, finding out that we’re on the same page politically is a good thing–my sense is that they will become stronger supporters of me and my work because we think alike. For others, the insertion of politics (and this goes for religion, too) into my branding as an author and publicist could be seen as self-serving or offensive–and those who disagree with me will not follow or buy.

 Given this new political paradigm where politics have become such an overwhelming factor in our lives, I would suggest that it’s up to individual authors whether to be political in their branding. As retailers like Nordstrom and TJ Maxx discovered, political action can have benefits. But there is also the reality that once you’ve identified your brand as leaning one way or another, you can never go back–existing and new customers will see which way you lean, and they will subsequently decide whether to support or shun you and your products based on those leanings.

 In the end, we are in a strange new world where politics and consumerism are colliding more than ever. As an author, being political may serve your social activism, but it most likely will also have an effect on your book sales. Still, many authors maintain that their brand is a reflection of who they are as individuals and being true to that sense of self is crucial given what’s at stake in our country’s politics. In today’s political climate, being true to ourselves and our political beliefs may be worth more to us than growing our book sales and, for now, that just might be okay.

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Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her by email at paula@paulamargulies.com, view her website at www.paulamargulies.com, contact her on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or say hello on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

 Photo credit: unsplash.com/photo=ob-hsLNxYPc