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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Character Who Just Showed Up

This AC/DC T-shirt is quintessential Harlan,
the character who just showed up.
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 initially published on various book sites, but with lots of new readers and social media friends, I've decided to re-issue them on my blog. Here's the third installment.

Let me start by saying this — I’m a writer who generally balks when other writers say characters acted on their own or storylines took twists the writers never could have expected. It’s all in our heads, right? It’s not magic, it’s plotting. Having said that…

Most of the characters in Solid Ground were there from the beginning. My damaged main character, Conor, and his Buddhist boyfriend, Will, both existed from the moment I conceived the story. Conor’s beloved Vegas-loving grandmother and his judgy evangelical Aunt Doris, even his not-so-important and somewhat peripheral boss, Marshall — they all existed in my head when I first put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But not Harlan, Conor’s smart-ass, sixteen year-old, Florida cracker neighbor. This brash kid from the sticks was nowhere near when I began writing Solid Ground. Still, from the moment he appeared on Conor’s front porch, a cigarette dangling from his lip and a tattered AC/DC concert T-shirt hanging from his scrawny frame, I knew exactly who Harlan was. What I didn’t know was how much work he would do for my story.

Harlan was an interesting kid, so I let him stay awhile. I explored his past and his personality, and I realized he offered a great deal to Solid Ground. I won’t tell you everything about Harlan, but here are just a few of the things this unplanned character does for my story. 

First, the kid’s overly confident smart-assery provides welcome comic relief to the story and to Conor, whose storyline offers plenty of stress and an abundance of costly wrong turns. Second, descriptions of Harlan’s hometown and his central Florida upbringing give the story a more authentic view of place and setting. Third, Harlan’s willingness to help Conor illustrates a central theme of Solid Ground, which is that we have to learn to be open to the unexpected — the teenager’s support is not something Conor anticipates, or even recognizes. Lastly, through Conor’s interaction with Harlan, a character whose age, experience, and personality are significantly different from anyone else in the story, the reader sees an added dimension of Conor, like watching a coworker whom you’ve never seen outside the office playing with his kids in a park. 

I’ll probably never remember the exact genesis of Harlan, but I’m grateful he and his mother left their “backwater shithole in central Florida” and moved next door to my main character. I’m not saying every unplanned guest who shows up in a manuscript needs to stay, but when Conor (and I) needed him, Harlan grew organically from the narrative, sprouting from the story like a weed, or a wildflower.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, November 8

There was another life 
that I might have had,
but I am having this one.

~ Kazuo Ishiguro

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, November 6

I believe success is achieved
by ordinary people with 
extraordinary determination.

~ Zig Ziglar

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Weekend Zen, November 4-5

I embrace emerging experience.
I participate in discovery.
I am a butterfly.
I am not a butterfly collector.
I want the experience of the butterfly.

~ William Stafford

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, November 1

If you can't fly, then run.
If you can't run, then walk.
If you can't walk, then crawl.
But whatever you do, you have
to keep moving forward.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, October 30

Better it is to live one day wise
and meditative than to live 
a hundred years foolish and uncontrolled.

~ The Dhammapada

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Art Begets Art: Music, Mood, and Words

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 initially published on various book blogs, but with lots of new readers and social media friends, I've decided to re-issue them here. Here's the second installment.

Art Begets Art

The creation of any work of art is almost always influenced by art that came before. Sometimes the origin of the inspiration is obvious, clearly reflected in the substance or style of a newly created piece — a recognizable brushstroke, the sound a particular instrument makes, the repetition of a familiar literary trope or theme. In these instances, the homage is apparent. Other times though, the impact of one work of art on another is subtle, even imperceptible, the only evidence resting in the mood of the influenced artist or in his somehow altered understanding of the world.

The latter, that unnoticeable sway that seeps quietly into an artist’s consciousness, is the way music influences me when I write. Often, as I sit down to work on a chapter or a scene, I select a musician, or even a particular album or song, that will kidnap my consciousness, drive it far away, and then plop it down in the middle of the mood I’m seeking. I visualize the scene in my head and let the music wash over me, through me. As the music moves and inspires me, it feeds my mood, my vision, and my words — and it becomes art reincarnated, reborn on the page. The end result is not a story or scene that looks or sounds like the music that inspired me as I wrote, but words that evoke the same feelings in the heart of the reader that the music inspires in the heart of the listener.

With respect to my novel, Solid Ground, I owe a significant debt of gratitude to several musicians who inadvertently and unknowingly contributed to my work. I’m particularly grateful for the deeply sincere and introspective music of Greg Laswell and Gregory Alan Isakov. Give both of them a listen — particularly, Laswell’s 2013 heartbreaking remake of “Embrace Me” and Isakov’s haunting “Master and a Hound.”  If these songs don’t immediately appeal to you, that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy Solid Ground, but I’d wager that if you appreciate the feelings these songs stir inside you, you’ll connect with my words and my story.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, October 27

I would like my life to be a statement
of love and compassion—and where 
it isn't, that's where my work lies.

~ Ram Dass

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 25

Whatever the present moment contains,
accept it as if you had chosen it. 
Always work with it, not against it.

~ Eckhart Tolle