Saturday, December 30, 2017

Weekend Zen, December 30-31

Everything that has a beginning
has an ending. Make your peace
with that and all will be well.

~ Buddha

Friday, December 29, 2017

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Getting Here – My Path to Writing

The last installment in my series about the writing process and my Solid Ground writing journey.

My cowboy days
When I was a teenager, I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. In my twenties, I agonized over what exactly that was. During the decade of my thirties, I realized I knew, that I had always known. But by then I was forty, and I wore the handcuffs, financial and otherwise, of a business career I’d succeeded at but never really wanted. And now, at the tender age of fifty-one, I’m at long last publishing my first novel.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about chasing dreams — about the universal challenge we all face of figuring out who we really want to be when we “grow up,” then figuring out how the hell to get there, and finally making the life-altering decision to take the leap.

After graduating college with a degree in International Studies, I tossed my unframed diploma into a box and spent more than two decades working in the retail business world in a number of roles, both store-level and corporate. I knew I loved books — so Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, and eventually Borders, were the retail employers I chose.

In retrospect, while I sometimes wish I’d committed to a writing career earlier in life, I am grateful for the years I worked for these amazing booksellers. After all, they provided me with a more-than-ample living, a bevy of lifelong friendships, and Paul, my partner of more than ten years. Oddly enough, my accidental business career also gave me the enormous push I needed to finally chase my dream.

In March 2011, I was working as a District Manager for Borders Books in northern California. Unstoppable market forces had reshaped the book industry, and corporate bankruptcy was charging over the horizon toward the company. With a decent 401K balance and supportive family and friends, I jumped. I decided to quit my job and finally finish “that novel I’ve been workin’ on” (Family Guy fans will appreciate the reference). Six years and half a dozen drafts later, I published my debut novel, Solid Ground, with NineStar Press.

One mission accomplished,
more missions to go.
So, what’s the point of all this? Circumstances beyond our control shape our world? Chasing dreams is difficult? Never give up? Writing is slow tedious work?

All true, but maybe not the point.

The point is this: It’s never too late. Trust your instincts. Move at the pace you can. Build your life in the direction you want it to go. Peer over the edge, lean into it, and leap. Remember, you don’t have to know the whole route, just the next step or two.

Oh, one other thing, even if you get it all right, life won’t cooperate. The earth might shift. There is no solid ground. And that’s okay.

Jeff's first novel, Solid Ground, is available in print and ebook 
at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and other online retailers.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, December 27

If you are curious, you will learn.
If you are desperate, you will discover.

~ Mooji

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, December 26

Kindness in words 
creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking
creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving 
creates love.

~ Lao Tzu

Monday, December 25, 2017

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Friday, December 22, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, December 22

Friendship improves happiness 
and abates misery, by the doubling
of our joy and the dividing of our grief.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, December 21

Your journey has molded you for the greater good,
and it was exactly what it needed to be.
Don't think that you've lost time.
It took each and every situation you have
encountered to bring you to the now.
And now is right on time.

~ Asha Tyson

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, December 20

Freedom is not the absence of commitments,
but the ability to choose—and commit
myself to—what is best for me.

~ Paulo Coelho

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, December 19

To make the right choices in life,
you have to get in touch with your soul.
To do this you need to experience solitude,
which most people are afraid of, because in
silence you hear the truth and know the solutions.

~ Deepak Chopra

Monday, December 18, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, December 18

Change is not something that we should fear.
Rather, it is something that we should welcome.
For without change, nothing in this world
would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this
world would ever move forward to become 
the person they're meant to be.

~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Weekend Zen, December 16-17

There is no mistaking love...
it is the common fiber of life, 
the flame that heats our soul, 
energizes our spirit and
supplies passion to our lives.

~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, December 14

In the sweetness of friendship, 
let there be laughter and 
sharing of pleasures.

~ Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, December 12

The whole path of mindfulness is this:
Whatever you are doing, be aware of it. 

~ Dipa Ma

Monday, December 11, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, December 11

You gain strength and confidence 
by every experience in which 
you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself, 
'I have lived through this horror.
I can take the next thing that comes along.'
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Weekend Zen, December 9-10

The secret to deepening concentration is the ability
to let go, over and over again—no judgment,
no harsh condemnation, no feeling of failing...
letting go of distractions gently, over and over,
and returning to the chosen object of attention.
That is how we make progress.

~ Sharon Salzberg

BONUS ZEN:  You can observe a lot by watching. ~ Yogi Berra

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, December 7

Keep love in your heart.
A life without it is like a sunless
garden when the flowers are dead.
The consciousness of loving and being
loved brings a warmth and a richness
to life that nothing else can bring.
Who, being loved, is poor? 

~ Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, December 6

We know that there is no help for us
but from one another, that no hand will
save us if we do not reach out our own hand.
And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is.
You have nothing. You possess nothing. 
You own nothing. You are free. 
All you have is what you are, and what you give.

~ Ursula Le Guin

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, December 5

The best portion of a good man's life,
his nameless, unremembered 
acts of love and kindness.

~ William Wordsworth

Monday, December 4, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, December 4

Perhaps the secret of living well 
is not in having all the answers, 
but in pursuing unanswerable 
questions in good company.

~ Rachel Naomi Remen

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Weekend Zen, December 2-3

The best day of your life is the one
on which you decide your life is your own.
No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on,
rely on, or blame. The gift is yours—it is an 
amazing journey—and you alone are responsible for
the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.

~ Bob Moawad

Friday, December 1, 2017

Write Where You Are

My cabin in the Arcata redwoods
(front porch Eames Ottoman chair included)
The next installment in my series of posts about the writing process and my Solid Ground writing journey.

I am an extrovert. As such, I have traditionally done my best writing in places like airport bars and coffee shops, where the opportunity for human contact is high, but the expectation for it is low. I wrote the first draft of my novel, Solid Ground, in these bustling environments, but in the fall of 2012, my designated barstool in my neighborhood Starbucks let me down. I had somehow become easily distracted and unfocused, and I was bogged down in the second draft of the manuscript. I shared my frustration about the slow pace of my progress with my friend and writing mentor, Jeff, who recommended I take a sabbatical. Jeff has seldom steered me wrong, so I immediately began researching reasonably priced options for a writing getaway. 

Now, as I said, I’m an extrovert. When I talk with others, both strangers and friends, I feel invigorated and alive. No matter the circumstance, I like to engage, find out what everyone else is thinking. Did you like the movie? How hoppy is that IPA? What're you in for? The subject matter is less critical to me than the opportunity for interaction, which is the primary reason spending a month alone and “unplugged” in a secluded cabin in the northern California redwoods scared the hell out of me.

An Arcata visitor drops by
For four weeks I lived in a remote thickly-wooded area on the outskirts of Arcata. I had no phone, no television, and no Internet. I spent every day alone.

I walked majestic forests, reflected on life, and to my delight, I edited three hundred pages of Solid Ground. (I also watched the entire Showtime serial killer series Dexter on my laptop, which in retrospect was possibly a poor choice for isolated cabin viewing.)

Seriously though, I was spiritually and creatively rejuvenated by my time in Arcata. And when my month was up, I packed my manuscript, said a fond goodbye to the family I’d rented the cabin from, and I returned joyfully home.

Home…where the same distractions I’d faced before still waited to drag me away from my story. Every. Single. Day.

I had forged some positive writing habits though during my sabbatical and I molded them into regular life as much as possible. Still, my retreat hadn’t provided me with a silver bullet to slay the twin demons of procrastination and diversion. So, I set about my daily routines, and I returned to writing at Starbucks and at the desk in the spare bedroom of our condo. And over time, I completed the second draft of the book, and eventually, I finished a third draft and a fourth too. A myriad of life distractions arose at each step of the way and I fought them, as I still do. Because I want to be a writer.

I wouldn’t trade my cabin in the redwoods for anything (and I’d go back in a heartbeat), but one thing I learned from my time there is that life isn’t like that month in Arcata. Most of us don’t have uninterrupted hours each day to write and edit, and most of us write at kitchen tables that are nowhere near ancient forests. I’ve discovered that, for me, everyday writing life is everyday life—with a job, a spouse, and enough tennis and whiskey to distract me for a lifetime. But if writing books (and finishing them) is important to me, then I can’t wait for the perfect creative circumstances to arise. Like every other writer, I have to carve out writing time and then discipline myself to use it. 

Arcata was a remarkable experience of inspiration and growth. Ultimately though, to finish my novel and have it published, I had to commit to the real work of writing in the only setting that truly matters—butt in chair, hands on keyboard.

Jeff's first novel, Solid Ground, is available in print and ebook 
at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.

Daily Zen - Friday, December 1

Logic will get you from A to B.
Imagination will take you everywhere.

~ Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, November 30

Practice isn't the thing you do 
once you're good.
It's the thing you do
that makes you good.

~ Malcolm Gladwell

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, November 29

You may encounter many defeats,
but you must not be defeated. 
In fact, it may be necessary to encounter
the defeats, so you can know who you are,
what you can rise from, 
how you can still come out of it.

~ Maya Angelou

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Weekend Zen, November 25-26

Let me not pray to be sheltered
from dangers, but to be fearless 
in facing them. Let me not beg 
for the stilling of my pain, but for
the heart to conquer it.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Friday, November 24, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, November 24

Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. 
All things pass. Patience achieves everything.

~ Teresa of Ávila

(Happy Black Friday. Enjoy the Shopping.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, November 23 (Thanksgiving Edition)

Be thankful for what you have; 
you'll end up having more.
If you concentrate on what you don't have,
you will never, ever have enough.

~ Oprah Winfrey

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, November 21

Most people don't realize that the mind 
constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter
winds up being the force that drives us 
much of the day in terms of what we do,
what we react to, and how we feel.

~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Monday, November 20, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, November 20

I will follow the upward road today;
I will keep my face to the light.
I will think high thoughts as I go my way;
I will do what I know is right. I will look
for the flowers by the side of the road;
I will laugh and love and be strong.
I will try to lighten another's 
load this day as I fare along.

~ Mary S. Edgar

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Weekend Zen, November 18-19

Find life experiences and swallow them whole.
Travel. Meet many people. Go down some 
dead ends and explore dark alleys. Try everything. 
Exhaust yourself in the glorious pursuit of life.

~ Lawrence K. Fish

Friday, November 17, 2017

Write What You Learn

Around the time Solid Ground was released earlier this year, I penned a series of posts about my writing process and my journey to publication. The articles were published on various sites, but with lots of new readers and social media friends, I've decided to re-issue them on my blog.

Here's the fourth installment.

As I navigated my way through the first or fourth or twenty-second draft of my debut novel, Solid Ground, someone shared this Virginia Woolf quote with me.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” 

Having “completed” my book (whatever that means), I can now say I agree. I wrote what I knew, and to some extent, I wrote who I was. I wrote what burned inside me, a tendency I imagine to be especially true for first time novelists, in whom all of those previously unsaid things have smoldered the longest. This isn’t to say a novel is always autobiographical (mine’s not, I swear), but that in some way, the stories we write are inextricably anchored to who we are and how we see the world.

I suppose I knew all along that my writing was intertwined with my identity, but then the damnedest thing happened as I wrote my book — I changed.

I wrote Solid Ground off-and-on for more than a decade, and over those years, I had many new and varied life experiences and qualities of mind. So, wouldn’t that change my novel? Does the story we write change as we do? Mine did.

From its humble legal pad origins to its still humble digital and print publication, the themes of Solid Ground evolved, and in some cases, came to mean the literal opposite of their original intent. As I reflected on it, what was most fascinating to me, though, was the realization that, even as the themes changed, the characters and plot of the story remained essentially the same.

Solid Ground has always been about Conor McLeish, a flawed but kindhearted gay man who, as he approached middle age, was worn down by the drama of coming out and the search for acceptance. In each draft of the story, Conor struggled with a truckload of childhood baggage, depression, and his tendency for self-sabotage.

From the early drafts to the eventual published book, what changed were not the key plot points or the sorry details of Conor’s life, but the lessons he takes from those elements. And those lessons, the story’s themes, if you will, changed for Conor because they changed for me.

Even the significance of the novel's title came to carry new meaning for me. When I first began writing the book, Conor's story was about a man's search for a future that's secure and stable, a man's desperate need to stand on solid ground. Years later when I finished the final draft, when Conor and I were both a decade older, the story was more about his willingness to accept an unstable and unpredictable world where the ground never stops shifting beneath his feet.

I don’t want to spoil the story so I won’t give away too much more about Conor’s arc, but I can say this: the book I published wasn’t the book I started writing so many years before. I always wrote what I knew, but over the course of time, my worldview evolved, what I came to know about myself changed, and I wrote what I learned.

Jeff's first novel, Solid Ground, is available in print and ebook 
at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers. 

Daily Zen - Friday, November 17

Happiness is your nature.
It is not wrong to desire it.
What is wrong is seeking 
it outside when it is inside.

~ Ramana Maharshi

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, November 16

The Buddha taught that we're not actually 
in control, which is a pretty scary idea. 
But when you let things be as they are, 
you will be a much happier, more 
balanced, compassionate person.

~ Pema Chödrön

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, November 15

Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art of leaving things undone.
The wisdom of life consists in the
elimination of non-essentials.

~ Lin Yutang

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, November 14

Sometimes kindness takes the form of
stepping aside, letting go of our need 
to be right, and just being happy for someone.

~ Sharon Salzberg

Monday, November 13, 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, November 10

I meditate because life is too short 
and sitting slows it down...
I meditate because life is too long 
and I need an occasional break...
I meditate because I'm building myself 
a bigger and better perspective
And occasionally I need to add a new window.

~ Wes Nisker

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, November 9

With an undefended heart, we can
fall in love with life over and over
every day. We become children of 
wonder, grateful to be walking on 
earth, grateful to belong with one and 
another and to all of creation. 

~ Tara Brach