Lessons from City of Girls

Dad, Lucinda, Mom

“Contemplate these words, nothing matters, and you think it does.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

I consider myself to be an extremely tolerant person. 40 plus years of being involved in theatre taught me that there are all kinds of people in the world, and most of them are good at heart.

My spiritual practice has taught me that even the people who do evil things are connected to the Divine, just like I am. It’s just that they have a different purpose, which might be to shake us out of old belief systems that need to be examined.

These two ideas merged in a book I was eager to read because of it’s theatre setting. It’s City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. You might remember her from her enormously popular book Eat, Pray, Love which was made into a movie. After reading that book, I’ve been following Elizabeth Gilbert’s career. I’ve read other of her books, but when I heard her talk about City of Girls, I was hooked. There aren’t many books that take you behind the scenes of the theatre world.

The story is the main character Vivian’s answer to Angela’s question, “Vivian, … I wonder if you might now feel comfortable telling me what you were to my father?” Trust me, it’s not what you think. Okay it’s not entirely what you think.

Vivian has to tell her whole life story to answer Angela’s question. And as we follow her on her journey, there are, or at least were for me, some extremely uncomfortable parts. I have to confess, I nearly put the book down at one point because of Vivian’s life style. Later I was glad I stuck with old Vivian because what she had to say is extremely important.

Over twenty years ago, I was involved in the theatre scene in Portland, Oregon. I met people from all walks of life, with different points of view, different sexual orientations, and backgrounds very different from mine. Mine was sheltered.

My family went to church. My father was a lay minister. My parents didn’t drink or smoke, or even use foul language, unless you consider “darn” cursing, as one church member did. We sat down to meals together and talked. We talked about the news, the TV shows and movies we watched, and our lives. If I had a problem, I knew I could go to my parents for help and advice.

Many of the people I knew in the theatre companies I worked in didn’t have lives like that. And that was okay with me, because I learned to care for all kinds of people while I was growing up. More than once my parents took in people who needed a place to live until they could get their lives together again.

And though I’d go out for drinks after rehearsal, or go to the opening and closing night parties, I didn’t stay long. I wasn’t into smoking, getting drunk and carousing.

Vivian does all of that when her parents send her to live with her Aunt Peg who runs a ramshackle theatre in New York City. The story takes place before, during and after WW II. And even though I’d made friends with people with life styles like Vivian’s, I didn’t know all the details. That helped me like them without too much personal involvement. I was deluded into thinking I accepted them as they were.

Vivian’s life is so raw. It made me really uncomfortable. She gets drunk every night, sleeps with anyone who is willing, and they’re always willing. But eventually, because she’s letting life happen to her instead of weighing consequences and making plans for her future, something devastating occurs and she’s thrown out of the world she loves. She’s got to go home to her detached parents.

What makes it worse is that her disapproving brother is the one who has to bail her out. He gets one of his Navy buddies, who owns a car, to drive them home. And, spoiler alert, the driver ends up being important later in Vivian’s story.

Near the end of Vivian’s narrative, she tells Angela of something that happened to her father. During the war, he’d been on a ship that had suffered a Kama Kazi plane attack and he’d been burned on most of his body. That made touching and being touched impossible for him. He couldn’t sit at a desk, even though he was an engineering genius. So he became a beat cop because he could be outside and walk every day. One day he had to appear in court. One of the attorneys was one of his shipmates on the doomed ship where Frank, that’s Angela’s father’s name, got blown into the water. Those men who ended up in the water were considered cowards and the inept captain of the ship tried to have them court marshaled. But, of course, that case was thrown out. But the prejudice persisted and the attorney said some nasty things to Frank.

Frank’s PTSD was triggered by the encounter so he called Vivian in the middle of the night. He wanted to talk the incident through with her. She was always able to calm him down. When he’d told his story, she didn’t know what to say. But something occurred to her and she told him that what that man said meant nothing. Frank needed to remember what he’d told Vivian. “Life is never straight.” Something terrible happened to Frank. It didn’t make him a bad man, it meant nothing. It just happened. And something bad probably happened to the attorney too. That’s why he said those nasty things. But what he said meant nothing. Vivian kept using examples from her own life and finally Frank understood what she was saying to him and calmed down.

Things happen to us. We have quirks in our personalities that make us choose to do things that other people might judge, or at the very least cringe at. But that means nothing because as the blurb for the book states, “You don’t have to be a good girl, to be a good person.”

When Vivian helps Frank by telling him what happened to him means nothing, I got one of the things Elizabeth Gilbert was trying to say. Men can do almost anything they want and we don’t think a thing of it. We don’t judge or condemn them. But women, oh boy, we rake them over the coals for the slightest deviation from what we think is acceptable female behavior. When that idea exploded in my head, I fell in love with Vivian. Though she’s only a character in a book, she did what I’ve always wanted to do. After she learned some really tough lessons, she lived life on her terms and didn’t let anyone’s judgment or condemnation deter her from living the life she wanted to live.

It’s still not my style to carouse, but I have made some decisions that went against what some people thought I should do. My husband and I decided not to have children. I’ve continued my connection to theatre. I left the church in which I grew up. I’ve followed a spiritual path that some would consider unconventional. And other little rebellions against the good girl, bad girl binary viewpoint that we’ve suffered with for centuries.

Now, the message of City of Girls challenges more than just the attitudes of circumspect female behavior, because we put men into categories too. And that’s another thing I love about this book.

In the end, I learned something from reading City of Girls and I’m glad I didn’t abandon it as I was tempted to do. Sometimes it’s the uncomfortable stories that have the most relevant messages for us.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. Do you have a story that made you uncomfortable, but in the end had a great message? I’d like to hear about it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2020

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Except that Jenna’s life is shattered and she must put her life back together. When she finds old journals as she’s clearing out her mother’s house, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan. She is able to come back to her own life at intervals and apply what she’s learned to heal and forgive.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published.

The Work was Worth It!

All the Love and Support We Need

“Forgiveness isn’t just the absence of anger. I think it’s also the presence of self-love, when you actually begin to value yourself.” ~ Tara Westover

“Self-love has very little to do with how you feel about your outer self. It’s about accepting all of yourself.” ~ Tyra Banks.

When I have a shift in how I see myself, or the world, I find it difficult to put into words just how different I feel. However, I’ll attempt to share with you an experience I had recently.

First I need to give you some background information. I’m sure many of you know what it feels like to dislike, or even hate yourself. Things happen that we perceive as negative and our response is, “Well, of course that happened. Everything and everyone is against me.”

I’ve been working for forty or fifty years to learn self-love. It’s been a profound struggle. For what seemed like forever, I was sure that I’d never have what I wanted out of life. Whenever I had a goal I wanted to accomplish, there were blocks in my head as if God didn’t want me to be completely happy. The universe or God had my back in certain areas of my life, but not all. I was sure that the obstacles were in the world outside, never considering that they might be internal.

Then something profound happened. I was complaining to God in my journal and I asked the question, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?” Immediately I began to get answers. Slowly two things dawned on me. First that events that I saw as negative were put in my way to shake me out of belief systems that were definitely wrong. Second that I was the source of my pain and suffering, and my healing. The choice was up to me. The answers to any problem I might face were inside me and always at my finger tips.

I began to read books by teachers like, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Gregg Braden, Caroline Myss, Marianne Williamson, Riane Eisler, and many others. I read lots of ancient texts as well and that started me on a steep learning curve over a period of five or six years. Yay! I thought my work was finished. I drifted through life thinking I’d arrived at enlightenment. Boy was I wrong.

Some devastating events happened about fifteen years ago that shook me to my core and knocked me out of my smug complacency. There was a lot more work to do on myself. So, I went back to reading books by a new group of teachers, Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown among them. I watched Oprah’s show Super Soul Sunday every Sunday and went back to my journal. The conclusion I came to was that I still didn’t love myself. I needed to clear out more really old beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that were deeply buried in my psyche.

The most profound lessons were about how to forgive all the people that I was still holding grudges against. And no matter what was happening, I needed to be grateful for the lessons. In fact, I needed to grateful for everything in my life, the big and small.

Over the last few years of deeper work, I’ve had moments of insight and have felt small inner shifts in understanding about who I really am and what my purpose in this lifetime is.

The other morning I awoke with these words in my head, “I’m proud to be a woman.” At first I thought this statement came to me because I’m doing lots of thinking about my latest novel. Morgan’s story, again, came rather easily. But writing Jenna’s has been difficult. Getting to the core of the personal changes she makes while trying to effect societal changes seemed too daunting. Having her say that she’s proud to be who she is was a huge breakthrough.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized the message was a personal one for me as well. Of course it was. Jenna is a reflection of me and I was just as changed by it as she will be.

The change was a shift in the way I felt internally. Almost all the blocks to loving myself have melted away. For the first time I can honestly say I love who I am. It’s a liberating feeling, one I never thought I’d come to enjoy.

I know some of you will think this is woo woo, but humans are changing as are our religious, social, financial, and political structures. If we look back at history, we can identify other times when humanity has gone through similar disruptive changes. People all over the world are feeling uneasy and uncertain about the future. Each of us react to these subtle changes in different ways none of which are good or bad. They grow out of who we are, and the lessons we came here to learn.

Since I now have a new confidence in who I am, I no longer feel afraid of the future. In fact, I’m excited to see what lessons I have yet to learn and what will happen next.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate all of you who follow my posts and hope that what I share will benefit you in some way. Blessings to you all.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2019

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Except that Jenna’s life is shattered. When she finds old journals, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan, rather than traveling physically. She is able to come back at intervals and apply what she’s learned to her own life situations.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Writing Lessons So Far

Thunderstorm over Corfu

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ~ Toni Morrison

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” ~ Gustave Faubert

This morning as I awoke, for some reason I was thinking about what I’d share with eager attendees of a writing workshop should I ever conduct one. Sometimes I wake up with these kinds of flights of fancy rolling around in my head. I don’t know why. Maybe they are part of a dream I was having so it’s fresh in my mind.

In any case, since I’m not finished reading the next book I want to write about, I thought I’d write down some ideas so I can get them clear in my mind just in case one day I end up writing a memoir, or conducting a workshop about my writing process.

In my mind, memoirs by creative people are much more valuable to the new artist than a how to book about writing. I know, how to books are very popular. And common wisdom tells writers to get a MFA in creative writing, or take writer’s workshops. But I’m a contrarian. I take the view that the only person who can teach me (or you) how to write is me. I’m not saying don’t take that writing class, I’m saying that if you are going to be creative in any way, the muses are going to speak to you differently than they are to me. And what you have to share with the world is unique to you alone. No one else can share what you’ve experienced.

Last year I read Ann Patchett’s wonderful memoir, The Getaway Car. It’s about her writing life. It’s called The Getaway Car because in the beginning Ann tells about being a waitress and writing her first novel was her getaway car out of a job she hated. I loved that image, because I had a similar feeling about my writing.

But the point I wanted to make about her memoir is this, she writes about a fellow writer who had to move her writing desk away from the window so she couldn’t look out. She did this because her writing instructor told her having her desk by the window would be distracting. I was appalled! I would never presume to tell someone how to organize their writing space, nor what rituals to adopt, or what time is the best for writing. I wouldn’t do that because what’s great for me, might be disastrous for you.

My writing desk is right next to a window. I love seeing the wildlife that traipse under it. It gives my mind a little break every once in a while so that some new idea can sneak in. I prefer to wake up, get my husband off to work, then meditate, read something inspirational, write in my journal all before entering my office to write. That’s my routine. You may write better at night, or very early in the morning. You may need to play music. I can’t do that, it’s too distracting. See what I mean. Every one of us is unique. And if you’re going to be creative, you’ve got to plug into that core desire that is beating in your chest, train yourself to listen to what it’s telling you, and dive into a life apart from most of the people you know.

Here’s the thing about embracing the wild and crazy life of an artist. It isn’t easy, nor even fun sometimes. It can be scary and frustrating. Sometimes what you want to express plays tricks on you and hides. And the only way to come to terms with your fear and illusive ideas is to take a break for awhile. Sit by that window and watch the birds, or the storm gathering. Let your mind wander. Sometimes I go do housework, or read a book. But no matter what, you can’t let anything stand in your way of finishing that project. You have to go back to that chair, or into the studio and practice, practice, practice.

Barry and I had a voice teacher before we got married who used to say, “Perfect practice, makes perfect.” And I have a writer friend, Debrah Strait, you should check out her books by the way, who says, “The rough draft is always crap. Don’t worry about that just keep writing.” Those two statements may seem antithetical, but I disagree. As you practice, you do the very best you can at the moment you’re creating. When you go back to look at it later, you may well say, “This is crap.” But you practiced as perfectly as you could at the time. Then you throw away the bad parts and take the good parts and mold them into something new. Or you start over again with a new idea. We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. At least, I do. So, as Elizabeth Gilbert suggests, tell that critical voice in your head, “Thanks for sharing, but I’m going to get back to work now.”

I’ve been writing full-time for ten years now. I have two books published, and five years of blog posts trailing behind me, but I still feel like I’m an amateur. Taking creative writing classes may have helped me move along faster, but, again I’m a contrarian. I don’t want an instructor giving me writing prompts and then criticizing a story I didn’t want to write in the first place. I’ve learned that I’m a slow writer. I don’t do well if I have a deadline and that’s why I self publish. I have to let my story roll around in my head picking up little tidbits to add from lots of different sources. I never know how long it’s going to take me to finish my book and that’s okay with me.

So, if you feel the urge to create something, don’t let anything stop you. Jump right in. You will learn as you go.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Writing Lessons

“… writers are often the worst judges of what they have written.” ~ Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

“I became an artist because I wanted to be an active participant in the conversation about art.” ~ Kamand Kojouri

“Ask yourself: Who has the greater influence on you? Is it the people who inspire you, or the people who critique you?” ~ Akiroq Brost

“We write to test life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anaïs Nin

“I don’t know what I think until I write about it.” ~ Joan Didion

I’m in the middle of reading several books, some for myself, some for inclusion in this blog, and some to critique. Since posts about what I’m reading aren’t ready, I have some thoughts about my writing life that I’d like to share with you.

Last Friday I was the featured author at an Open Mic night sponsored by Cochise College Writing Celebration and a couple of other local organizations. I got to talking with a fellow college instructor, who is also an author, about the problems and joys of writing. He’s working on his second or third novel that has multiple story lines and we were commiserating about how to make sure the through lines of each timeline get completed, while at the same time keeping them straight. During our conversation he said he loves the creative process but hates the revision process. We got interrupted before I got to say that I feel the opposite way.

It’s strange to say, but the creative part of writing is sometimes difficult for me. I feel that there is a story there, but sometimes the story is illusive. For example, Time’s Echo came to me while I was finishing my first novel, The Space Between Time. I wrote the opening scenes of both timelines and came to screeching halt. Though I knew where Morgan’s time line would end up, I had no idea about Jenna’s. That was back in 2014. As you might guess, Jenna’s story didn’t emerge until very recently with the birth of the #MeToo movement.

Elizabeth Gilbert tells an amazing story in Big Magic, about getting an idea for a book, which she begins. Then life gets in the way. For two years she has other things she has to take care of. When she gets back to the book, the muse has flown away. Elizabeth thought it was dead, but then she met Ann Patchett.

Their friendship developed through letter writing. But on one occasion they got to meet in person at an event at which they were both to speak. They had breakfast together before their day began. In their letter conversations they shared about Elizabeth’s failed book about the Amazon, the one that got away. Ann had shared in her letters about a new book idea she had about the Amazon. During breakfast, Ann and Elizabeth shared their Amazon stories and low and behold, it turned out that Ann’s story had the same plot, and characters that Elizabeth had originally started. They were essentially the same book with very minor changes. Both women were stopped in their tracks. The muses work in mysterious ways.

Now if the muse can move to a new author if a story just needs to be told, then I believe the muse will sometimes wait for current events to catch up so its chosen author can write the book. That’s what I’ve felt about Time’s Echo. There will be lots of authors who will write about the current women’s movement, but none of them will write about Morgan in the past, involved in the suffrage movement, and how that affects Jenna living in our current circumstances. I’m the one who created, with the help of the muses, Jenna and Morgan. No one else is qualified to write their stories but me, because they are based on my experiences.

But back to my writing process. Once I’ve got all, or most of the pieces of my novel written, I have fun putting the puzzle together. I like rearranging, cutting out the unnecessary parts, and then coming up with new connecting pieces. It’s the most fun part of writing for me. Then, of course, the process of doing the final edits is a real drag. I think I can speak for most authors on this, it’s tedious and feels like it takes forever.

Another aspect of writing that I have a love/hate relationship with is critique groups. I’m in an online group at the moment. Fortunately there are only three of us, which means I don’t have too much reading material to comment on. However, at the moment, I’m reading the entire manuscript for one of the women in the group and that’s on top of the other things I’m reading. It’s times like this that I wish I were a faster reader.

This is the problem I have with critique groups. Neither of the women have read my first novel, so some of their comments don’t apply to where I see the series heading. They don’t know the characters or their past relationships, so they suggest changes that don’t apply to who the characters are at all.

On the other hand, sometimes suggestions they make help me get new ideas for the arduous, for me, process of creating my story. That happened just recently, thank heaven.

I have to say, I prefer to share my manuscript after I have finished the rough draft, or when I’m kind of stuck and need new ideas. Sending pieces that are in progress, bothers me. I feel irritated when my critique partners make suggestions of changes that I have already planned, or know that need to be made. I guess that’s just human nature. We don’t want to hear about the changes in our manuscripts or our lives that we know we need to make. Once the initial irritation is over, however, I can go back to the comments my partners have made and consider them less emotionally.

I am fortunate to have found critique partners who are not only honest, but kind as well. And, if I don’t like their suggestions, I have two local women I plan to share my manuscript with, who have been of great help to me in the past. With the help of all these women, I know this next book will be good. I just have to allow myself to go through the messy process of producing a finished product.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it. Have a great hump day.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

I Almost Fell into the Trap

Let’s Get Working

“Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don’t show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.” ~ Steven Pressfield.

“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Whew. This morning I almost fell into the trap of thinking that I was stuck on my novel. I haven’t been able to work on it for a couple of days because of chores and teaching duties. When I left it last, I wasn’t quite sure what to write next, which precipitated my assumption that I couldn’t write today.

Thank heavens I remembered what Steven Pressfield, Elizabeth Gilbert, and so many other authors have said. Just sit your self down and start writing. It might not end up in the final manuscript, but that doesn’t matter. Once you begin writing you’ll get unstuck. So, I had one little idea which turned into a much bigger scene than I thought. That was nice.

Something I learned while acting and directing stage productions is that some rehearsals are just bad. There would be so many times I’d hit a roadblock on understanding, or being able to portray my character, or as a director I wasn’t able to make my actors understand what I wanted from them. The thing is, there are limited rehearsals. So, in those situations, it’s not possible to take a break, or do a retreat to work stuff out. You have to do it on the fly. You have to keep plugging forward.

Writing is sometimes like that when there is a deadline to meet, like when I’m working on these blog posts. In those cases, I just have to finish my piece as best as I can and call it good. When I’m working on my novel it’s a little bit different. I have more leeway in terms of time limits, but even then there are stages of writing that are more fun than others. I usually start off well, then after I exhaust my initial ideas, the writing gets more difficult because I have to find my way from point A, to point Z and I’m not quite sure how to get there. On the hard days I’d rather wait for inspiration, read my book, take a nap or even do housework, which I hate, rather than push forward.

To me writing is like building a house. You have to make sure you have a strong foundation. That’s the stage I’m in now with this new book. Even though much of what I’m writing won’t end up in the finished manuscript, I need to write it out. It’s like creating the blue prints. I can’t get to the sprucing up and decorating the story until I have written all the important details of the foundation that I can later pick and choose from for the final version.

I’m still young, in terms of being a writer, and I have to remember that every new project has it’s own set of problems; every first draft is crap. But as Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “Done is better than good.” With each blog post, I write a rough draft, then revise it. But I have limited time, so done is better than good is my motto because I’ve pledged to myself that I will write and post once a week. I’ve done that since 2013, a fact that I’m proud of. I have now pledged to myself that I will write a sequel novel to The Space Between Time. My goal is to get the initial draft finished by next August or September, so pardon me, but I’ve got to go and get cracking on that project.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and will soon be available in a print-on-demand version at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.