Just Keep Going

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. Brené Brown

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with what to write in this blog. Now that I’m teaching, I have less time to ponder, write and revise my entries and after five months of entries, I feel dry, with nothing to write. But, I got the message from several sources, just keep writing. I knew that if I stopped writing this blog this week, it would be easier to make an excuse next week and the next and then stop writing it all together. So, I resolved to write something even if it was bad.

Then two things happened. I asked for help in my journal, because I was stalled on my novel as well, and I watched Dr. Brené Brown on Oprah’s Lifeclass. Ideas about my novel started coming to me and keep coming, and I was reminded why I started this blog in the first place. I started it because of Dr. Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection.

One of the things she writes about in that book is how to practice vulnerability. We think of vulnerability as weakness, but it’s actually strength. When I read that, I knew she was talking to me personally. We moved a lot when I was a growing up and I got used to being the new kid. I didn’t like having all the attention, because I was new in small towns where everyone had known each other since Kindergarten. So I practiced being in the background. Oh, I always had lots of opinions about what was going on around me, but I rarely voiced them. If I did, it felt weird and I felt apologetic, like my opinion didn’t matter. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I didn’t think what I thought mattered, I didn’t think I mattered.

I’m older now and have done lots of personal work learning to love myself. Interestingly, I’ve sought out careers and situations that have forced me to use vulnerability a great deal. For a number of years I was involved in theatre, often as an actor. Then I was a teacher, I’m still a teacher, and now I’m a writer.

You can’t get much more vulnerable that those activities. I know many teachers who don’t practice vulnerability, but to be an excellent teacher you have to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable allows your students to be that too, and risk asking dumb questions, or exploring and expressing their ideas. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our educational system. Not enough teachers are vulnerable. I just thought of that as I was writing it. That could be an entire blog post on it’s own.

Having been an actor and now a writer, I can say that the process requires me to dig down into my soul and bring out my deepest experiences to create the work. That’s not easy, it not comfortable and it takes time and effort. I often fail, or at least don’t quite hit the mark. That’s okay. I’ll never hit the mark, if I don’t try. So, I’ve decided to keep writing, even if it’s not my best work. I’ll just keep going.

Why I write

I firmly believe that all human beings have access to extraordinary energies and powers. Judging from accounts of mystical experience, heightened creativity, or exceptional performance by athletes and artists, we harbor a greater life than we know. – Jean Houston

This week, I’ve been thinking about why I write. I write to change myself. I write to change the world. I write to touch the deep, unseen mysteries of life.

When I was a child, I thought I saw a fairy footprint in the dirt. The other children scoffed at me and ran off to play. I stayed studying the foot print and looked out over the vacant lot across from our house trying to see the fairies dancing in the grass and trees. I longed to connect with that invisible world. I thought they had messages that would help me with my problems. To this day my favorite stories are of heroes who find they have courage and strength they never dreamed they possessed, of wise women guiding the young heroine, of super heroes saving the planet, of boy wizards defeating the dark lord, of the stranger coming to town and ending the feud. I need those stories to help me look for my own courage and strength. To me those stories are evidence that some extraordinary energy, or power is guiding us to a happier future. I write to touch the invisible, yet powerful mysterious world.

Like the events of this week, horrific things happen in the outer world. We’re shocked again and again. The problems seem too big for us to solve. When we feel overwhelmed, we retreat into the fantasy world of heroes. They might be ordinary people doing extraordinary things, or they might have super powers. The point is, I’m not the only one who seeks out heroes to help me cope. Those stories sell because they help us gain courage. Because, to become the hero we have to face scary challenges. We have to learn the lessons our trials are trying to teach us. We have to become vulnerable. I write to become vulnerable so others can find courage.

During my teenage years, I lost my innocence and my vulnerability as I watched the news during the Civil Right’s movement. I saw the devastation of the Vietnam war, the shock and sorrow after President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. My family was watching the news before going to church when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, on live TV, by Jack Ruby. We talked, as a family, about those enormous events which have shaped history. My father always warned us not to look at the surface events, but look at the effect they were having on the world. And so, I kept looking. I was lucky to see other events, heroic events, like men walking on the moon, or being brought home safely after a life threatening malfunction on their space craft. Because I witnessed the good and bad events of my generation, I write to understand the world around me.

Many people moan and say that things’re going to hell in a hand basket. But don’t despair there is a force moving us toward more peace, more love and care for each other. Gary Zukav wrote in The Seat of the Soul, that we’ve chosen to learn through crisis. For some reason when we became conscious beings, we decided that we’d let the problems around us, get worse and worse until one day, we hit bottom and then we’d take action to change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I write, because I don’t want to let my life turn to utter chaos before I heal my wounds. I write to make a new decision and learn from my mistakes before they grow into catastrophes.

I write because I have feelings deep inside my being that need to be expressed. The feelings are nebulous. I can’t define them. I don’t know what they mean or what good they’ll do. All I know is I must attempt to express them, even though there are days, like today, when it takes courage to so.

What I’m trying to say, is that there is a wide, stunningly beautiful world out there and we’ve been focusing on the gutter. We need to look for the good in people. We need to look for love in ourselves and share it. We need to trust that the world is getting better. We need to allow ourselves to be the heroes by finding ways to help others feel good about themselves When we do that, we change the world. I’m saying that as Shakespeare wrote, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” I write to change the world.

Plumbing the Depths

“I follow four dictates: face it, accept it, deal with it, then let it go.”- Sheng Yen was a Buddhist Monk.

“Your life is an occasion, rise to it.” – Mr. Magorium, a fictional character from the 2007 film Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and was played by Dustin Hoffman.

Recently, Julie Luek wrote an interesting blog post on She Writes, a social networking site for writers. The title was [MAKING THE LEAP] FIVE REASONS EVERY WRITER SHOULD JOURNAL. It got me thinking about my own journaling experiences, and why I’m driven to plumb the depths of my soul. A journal is one tool I use to do that. It’s been a fantastic tool and over the years I’ve grown from simply whining and complaining in my journal, to seeking it out when I need to get clarity. I ask questions and get answers in my journal. My self deceptions are stripped away in my journal. I face myself in my journal. However, as I look at who I am, I know that I’ve always been driven to strip away the layers of ego and discover my true self.

I’ve used a lot of tools on my quest. Books and movies are among them. Even current events can send me off on a journey of discovery. Today, I’m thinking about Syria. It’s just the latest in an interminably long line of incidents where humans lash out at other humans because they’re frightened, hurt, lonely and think there isn’t enough to go around. I wonder if we’ll ever grow up as a species and turn away from such violence against each other. And that brings me back to one of my self-discovery tools: Movies.

You might think that the tragedy of current events juxtaposed along side something as seemingly trivial as a movie, is ludicrous. Just keep reading and see if you can follow my logic.

Movies can be an immensely powerful way to help change our perspective. One of my favorite movies which does this, is The Razor’s Edge. (I’m referring to the 1946 version. I’ve never seen the 1984 version based on the same storyline.) It’s based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. It begins right after WWI, and ends during the Great Depression. Maugham based the main character, Larry Darrell, on someone he met after the war. Larry Darrell is a man in search of himself. He’s looking for something that not many of his wealthy friends can see or understand, but Maugham finds him intriguing and follows his journey with great interest. At the beginning Larry is engaged to the most lovely woman of their circle, Isabel Bradley. But something drives him to leave her and begin a quest to find himself. She, of course, can’t understand how he could leave her. She’s vain enough to think that living with her beautiful self should be enough for any man. And that’s the relationship that shows the main conflict between those who desire nothing more than to maintain the status quo and those who are driven to find answers to the big questions in life. Larry Darrell seeks enlightenment. Isabel just wants to be comfortable and admired.

I bring up this movie, because I think it reflects what’s happening in our world now. It’s not that the two sides of the coin haven’t always been there. I think there are just more people on the side of taking the journey of self-discovery, like Larry Darrell did, than ever before. Those people who don’t want change, like Isabel Bradley, are fighting with claws drawn to keep things the way they’ve always been. But nothing ever stays the same. Humans are born explorers, only now the final frontier is inside ourselves.

I don’t have any answers as to how to end the bickering and violence in the world, except to encourage anyone who has the burning desire to discover who they really are, and find inner peace, to follow their heart and begin the quest. The tools, people and experiences will present themselves once you make the commitment. I know that from personal experience. You don’t need a guru, or teacher to guide you. Everything is inside you.Tough times will arise along the way. But in the end, you’ll never regret your decision and as you find yourself, you’ll help all of us find a more peaceful world.

My Dream is Not Your Dream, and That’s Okay

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou

“Each of us has an inner dream that we can unfold if we will just have the courage to admit what it is. And the faith to trust our own admission. The admitting is often very difficult.”

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.” – Julia Cameron

A couple of things happened to me recently, which helped me get a clearer picture of what it is I want out of life.

First, my brother and sister-in-law celebrated their 30th anniversary with a trip to Mackinac Island in Michigan. When they started a Photo Stream of their trip, I said to Barry, “Why are they going to Mackinac Island? Why not some place exotic like Hawaii, or the Caribbean?”

Barry said, “I don’t know. Maybe they want to go to Mackinac Island. Maybe it’s exotic to them.”

Well, of course, he was right, and that got me thinking. What’s exotic to one person isn’t necessarily exotic or attractive to someone else. Also, Barry and I didn’t take a 30th wedding anniversary trip, because we didn’t have the extra cash. Granted, we took that trip around the world and that’s still good for a few more anniversary trips as far as I’m concerned. But, I had no room to talk about 30th anniversary trips since I hadn’t taken one.

Then I had to admit what was really going on for me. I have dreams of selling enough books, so that I can live the life I’ve always wanted to live, which includes travel to places I’ve always wanted to go. Exotic places, like Hawaii, New Zealand, Italy and revisit some of the places on our world tour. Everyone has a different list, different dreams, and that’s okay. After seeing all the pictures of their trip, I have to admit it looked like a fun place to visit. It’s just not high up on my list. Who knows one day I may get a speaking engagement, or a book signing there. Now wouldn’t that be interesting?

Just now as I’m thinking about how we each have different dreams, some large and some small, I realize that I’ve always had big dreams. I always thought there had to be more to life than what I was living. However, I didn’t think I deserved more. I settled for what I thought I could get. Until recently. My personal work is paying off. I’m feeling different about myself, who I am and what I can accomplish.

I have some pretty big dreams. I’ve been struggling to believe in myself for a long time. Now I think my dreams will come true. Some people may think I’m foolish for dreaming those big dreams. That’s okay. But, in turn, I don’t want to think someone is foolish if what they want is smaller.

It’s funny how Karma works, because last week, when I was at my book club group, I was telling the women that one day, Barry and I want to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico so Barry has more opportunity to sell his artwork. And one of the women said, “That’s a hard nut to crack.” In other words, “Good luck breaking into that closed group of artists.”

Now, I know she didn’t mean anything by that. Sometimes when we care about someone we want them to be cautious. We don’t want their feelings to get hurt. We want to protect them. But, it struck me that she felt the reverse of what I felt about my in-law’s trip. I may be wrong, but it sounded to me like she thought what I wanted was impossible. I’m beginning to see that nothing I want is impossible.

Barry and I’ve got bigger dreams than most of the people we know. Nothing anyone says to poo poo them is going to change my mind about seeing them come true. It’s my responsibility to do the artwork. I’ll let God take care of the rest. I want to remember that, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”- Steven Pressfield. I’m going to give what I’ve got.

Memories of India

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” – Steven Pressfield

Seventeen years ago this month, Barry and I arrived home from our three month trip circumnavigating the globe. It was a trip of a lifetime. The lessons I learned have been invaluable to my personal growth. I would not have been able to understand some of the things that happened to me without my journal.

Barry and I were reminiscing about our trip the other day, and we both agreed that, it’s India we think of most often. India was the most challenging place for us to be. The contrasts were so stark, modern high rise buildings with cardboard villages at their base, people sleeping on the street, whole families riding on one scooter, the din of traffic, the brilliant colors of the women’s saris, the hands out stretched waiting for baksheesh. To say we experienced culture shock is putting it too mildly. I experienced sensory overload. Thank heaven for my journal to help me organize the chaos of emotions I experienced every day we were there.

Last month at our book club meeting, I related an experience from those days in India that I’m just now understanding. I’ve written many pages in my journal over the years trying to understand my feelings about this incident. Something about the book we’re reading, Women Who Run With the Wolves, and the course of our discussion made me relate the story. Here’s what happened.

Barry and I were walking down the sidewalk in Delhi, headed to the government tour office to arrange our trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I felt a light brush on my elbow. I’d seen the mother and her small child sitting near the wall that surrounded the lush grounds of a four star hotel. As we passed, the mother sent the child to beg for money. The touch was so delicate. I wanted to turn and look at the tiny girl, but I ignored her. The day before, we’d taken the government sponsored tour of Delhi, and our guide had cautioned all of us to ignore beggars when they approached us. Even to look at them would invite them to press harder for money. If we acknowledged them, or gave them money, we could be mobbed by others wanting money too. Tourists had been seriously injured and even killed in such situations. My heart was broken and I cried. I cry still when I think of that little girl’s light touch.

One of the women asked, “Why do you feel so bad? Was it because you didn’t give her any money, or was it because you have so much and she so little?”

“No. The reason I felt bad was because I wanted to look into her eyes and see her. All I could do was send out a prayer for her.”

“But at least you did that. Most people wouldn’t even do that.” the other woman said.

Yes, at least I did that. Prayer can be a powerful thing. Maybe it helped the girl in some way. All I know is, the brief encounter with that little girl continues to teach me something. I hadn’t been able to articulate what it was about that encounter that still haunted me until that day. Now I know. I wanted to let that girl know, I acknowledged her existence. I think of her often and every time I do, I send up a prayer for her. She must be a grown woman by now. I wonder what her life is like and if she knows that she’s much more than her life circumstances. I think of her as changing the world in some profound way. She certainly changed my world in ways I would never have imagined. I guess I was ready for the lesson she was teaching.

That brings me back to my practice of keeping a journal and now this blog. We can learn important lessons without writing about them. But, I think it’s important to do the inner work necessary to understand what we’ve experienced, then share what we’ve learned with others. We never know who we’re going to affect. We never know the change we’re going to bring about. I don’t let anyone read my journal. It’s my private friend a place where I can go to make sense out of confusing situations. However, after I’m gone, my friends and family members may read my complied journals and may gain some insights that will help them with their own challenges. I don’t expect my journals to affect large groups of people. Blogging is different.

Blogging is a more immediate journal. I’d resisted writing a blog for a number of years thinking I didn’t have anything important to share. Or maybe I liked the anonymity of keeping a journal. Once you publish a blog entry, your thoughts are out in the world and they can affect people for good or ill. Not only that, you invite comments back about what’s been written. I’ve hidden my true thoughts for so long that I was surprised when I felt the urge to express ideas that I’ve held inside for most of my life. Like the story about the little beggar girl and what I learned from her.

Now that I’ve been writing a weekly entry for three months, I find blogging helps me do deeper inner work. I feel good about sharing my personal outlook on life with others. I guess at this stage in my life, it’s time to share a little of what I’ve learned. I’m excited to say, I’m still learning.

Word Power

“The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, And let it spring from love. Born out of concern for all beings.”

– Buddha, was the central figure of Buddhism.

Words have been on my mind a great deal since I began writing my novel and this blog. That’s not true, I’ve always been fascinated with words. I’m told I spoke clearly before I could walk. None of that baby talk for me. When I was in grade school, my teacher praised me to the class for saying the word “multiplication” clearly, enunciating all the parts of the word. The other kids looked at me with perplexed expressions on their faces as if to say, “What difference does it make”?

My favorite subject in school was English where I learned to love great literature. In college my majors were Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech and my Masters degrees are in Theater Arts and Education. So, as you can see, words and the ideas behind them matter to me.

That’s why I’m concerned. There seems to be a growing trend of speaking before thinking about the consequences of what we’re saying. Is it just me, or are we lashing out at one another more than we used to do? We’re making a habit of using personal invective against one another without realizing that words are made up of energy. When spoken they are sound vibrations that we’re sending out into the world. When read silently, they stir or damage our soul.

Maybe you don’t know what I’m getting at. Okay, let me demonstrate. In the “Declaration of Independence” the line we revere the most is this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” As Americans, aren’t we proud of that document? Would we be as proud if Thomas Jefferson hadn’t been such a good writer? What if it said: “This is what we believe to be the truth, that everyone’s created equal, with rights that can’t be denied. We state that some of those rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It doesn’t have the same ring does it? Here’s another example of a document we hold dear, “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” What if Lincoln had started his address with, “One hundred and seven years ago our nation was created.” See what I mean?

My point is that words have power. We continue to study the works of Shakespeare because of the way he stated his ideas through characters in interesting, sometimes desperate situations. It’s the same with all great literature, but our popular entertainment, with a few exceptions, is made up primarily of reality shows where the “real” people are bickering, tearing each other down with their brutal honesty, or using profanity that has to be bleeped out. What kind of negative energy are we saturating the air waves with and how does that affect us? I’m not saying that a good swear word should never be used. Sometimes that’s the best way to express our feelings. What I object to is yelling them in someone else’s face.

In a fantastic book I read last year, Every Word Has Power, Yvonne Oswald writes about the power the words we think and speak have on our lives. If we’ve got the habit of denigrating ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to be successful out in the world. For that reason she helps the reader notice their self-talk. Beginning to change ourselves is the way to change our outer world. For that reason, I don’t watch all those negative reality shows, or the news. However, because I’m sensitive, I feel overwhelmed by the negativity of our dialogue with each other. I can feel it in the ethers and I feel sad that we’ve lost much of our civility.

Now that I’ve written about the negative aspects of our media, I do want to point out that I see glimmers of hope. I think the big wigs at the networks underestimate those of us who are viewers. The popularity of Downton Abbey, on PBS no less, took everybody by surprise. It’s a literate television show. Oh, there are characters who can deliver a cutting remark with flair. But, we get to see them suffer the consequences of their actions. They don’t get away with being nasty for long. Another glimmer of hope is the fact that OWN is doing better than ever, and while I don’t watch all the shows on that network, the programming is heavy on personal growth and healing. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I know this one blog post, which will reach maybe 50 people, isn’t going to change the way we think about each other, or talk to each other over night. My goal is to be one voice added to many others, saying, we need to pay attention to how we treat ourselves and others. We need to think, and not just drift along. We need to wake up and be conscious of our actions. If we’re compassionate with ourselves, it’s easier to show compassion for others.

Find Your Creativity

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

Steve Jobs

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.

Erich Fromm

“I love fantasy. I love horror. I love musicals. Whatever doesn’t really happen in life is what I’m interested in. As a way of commenting on everything that does happen in life, because ultimately the only thing I’m really interested in is people.”

Joss Whedon

Yesterday I attended my book club meeting. We’re reading Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. When I was thinking of what to write this week, I wanted to write about creativity, but my thoughts were all a jumble. I had no clear idea what I thought about creativity. Then after our discussion, everything snapped into place.

The creative person is a Wild Woman, or Wild Man. There’s a fire in their belly and they must tell their fire story or die. They’re not conventional. They’re often misunderstood. But, we need their message, because their story reflects the culture from which they come. It reflects human experience. Clarissa Pinkola Estés says that stories help us along our inner journey. They can lessen fear, they can help us cut through the crap, and they can help us regain the damaged parts of ourself.

There are as many fire stories as there are people to tell them. The story need not be in written words. It can be in visual art, dance, theatre, music, a finely made quilt, a beautiful garden, a home decorated in a way that invites you in, that opens up conversation. We connect to the stories that speak to some longing within ourselves. If we let them in, the stories can help us heal.

Of course, there are dark stories of destruction of a human soul. I’ve never been attracted to those kinds of stories, but I’m not going to say they don’t help us heal. Maybe those stories provide the wake-up call needed by a segment of the population. After all, we can’t heal if we don’t venture into the dark places of our psyche.

I’m going to close this week’s post with another quote from Joss Whedon. These were his last comments about Firefly fans at the 10th anniversary Reunion panel at Comic Con 2012. I use this quote, because I believe what he describes, happens to us when we allow ourselves to be affected by a piece of art.

“When you come out of a great movie, you feel like you’re in that world.… When you’re telling a story you’re trying to connect to people in a particular way. It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about inviting them into a world. And the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, have made you part of it, part of the story. You are living in Firefly. When I see you guys, I don’t think the show is off the air, I don’t think there’s a show. I think that’s what the world is like. I think there are space ships. I think there’re horses. I think it’s going on in all of us. The Story is alive.”

What stories attract you? Look at the archetypes of the characters in those stories. Which archetypes speak to you? Those are clues to your inner life, the fire within your belly.

Follow the Story

All I want to do lately is work on my novel. For that reason I had a hard time thinking of what to write for today’s post. Then it came to me, share my writing process.

I’m not like some of my writer friends who create a detailed outline and then follow it faithfully chapter by chapter. Once I get the idea, I just start writing. Somewhere along the way I get a picture of the basic story and character arcs. I may write a story or character timeline, but I never stick to it, because I’m following some inner wisdom about how the story should go. I’m always thinking about what I’m working on and ideas come to me while I’m doing the dishes, or vacuuming, while I’m in the shower, or in the nether world between sleep and waking.

I find the more I write, the more I want to write. This is the first time I’ve felt like that about my work, except when I worked in the theatre. Being creative begets more creativity, a deeper self-understanding and joy.

For most of my life I’ve kept my inner life hidden, not willing to expose my true thoughts and feelings to the general public. When I was acting, I could hide behind a character. Now all those pent up thoughts are coming out in my storytelling. My personal philosophy comes out in my work, but when I write fiction, there’s also a bit of mystery about which parts of the book are from my real life, and which from my imagination.

Since I want to get back to working on my novel, I’m going to include a scene from it, which I’m sad to say will most likely be cut. I needed to write it so I could understand why this character, Chloe, would do such a terrible thing. As a former actor, I wanted to understand her motivation, this scene is what came out in the process.

Let me set the scene for you. The main character in the past, Morgan, is going to marry Jonathan, the town minister. The wedding is in two or three weeks time. Chloe, who as you will see, is a damaged individual, thinks she’s in love with Jonathan. So, she tries to get rid of Morgan in an “accident.” Here’s the scene.

After dinner Chloe announced her plans to take her evening walk. “Spring is in the air, Do you want to come Amanda?” she’d asked knowing Amanda would not come this night.

“No, not tonight. I’m tired,” Amanda said. It’s working out so perfectly. Herbert had been angry about something that’d happened at the bank. Amanda had taken the brunt of his rage. She’s so weak. Why doesn’t she fight back? Chloe never stood for such treatment. Her father had always been so loving, stroking and petting her. She’d been able to manipulate him and all his friends into doing her bidding. Herbert was no different. She could get him to do anything she wanted him to do, but he wasn’t very interesting and certainly not handsome. “Herbert, what about you?”

“No. Why would you ask me? You know I never go out for walks after dinner.”

Good. She’d be alone and unobserved. “All right. Goodnight then. I may not get back before you go to bed.” Amanda and Herbert muttered their good nights.

She walked out the door and took a nice deep breath of the evening air. Looking across the street, she noticed that the lights were glowing in the schoolhouse windows. “She’s such a fool,” Chloe assured herself. There’d been one frantic moment when Morgan had almost caught her planting the drug in her tea, but in the end, she hadn’t suspected a thing. “My plan is going to work,” she assured herself again. She took the large jar of oil she’d saved, little by little, from its hiding place near the wood pile. Stowing the oil under her cloak, she followed the path she’d scouted to the back of the schoolhouse.

When she got to her destination, she had to look to see if Morgan had succumbed to the sleeping powder she’d put into the tea. She peeked into the east window. Morgan lay on the floor in the aisle. Ah, she tried to escape. Not this time.

She’d been clever about that too. She overheard Seth ordering the tea and Martha mentioning that Morgan had begun to order it too. “Yes, I gave her a cup one day when she came to the office. I’m glad she liked it so much.” Seth had played into her plan like all the rest. And he thinks he’s so smart. I’ll show him. I’ll show them all. She’d purchased the sleeping powder from one of those nasty Chinese people. They didn’t even speak English, so she was safe.

Creeping to the back of the building, she soaked the pile of kindling she’d systematically stacked up, and the corner of the building in oil, careful not to get any on herself. She didn’t want to make a mistake at this point and get herself caught in the blaze. She lighted the edge of the pile. The kindling caught fire quickly. She stayed long enough to make sure the building caught fire. Then she followed one of her routes to the other side of the main road through town, disposing of the jar on her way.

Her heart was pounding. As she neared the other side of the walkway, she hoped the alarm would not be sounded too quickly. That was the one variable she feared. That Morgan would be saved and she’d have to start all over again.

The flames were just visible above the roof. It wouldn’t be long now. Just then Jonathan appeared and headed toward the schoolhouse. What’s he doing here? He said he’d be gone until very late. She wanted to scream, but the fire hadn’t been discovered yet. She held her breath as Jonathan opened the schoolhouse door and heard his yell down the street. The glow from the burning building was visible through the open door. She heard another yell and another. What are all these people doing out and about when they should be home in bed?

Seth came out of the newspaper office and ran toward the burning building, yelling at the top of his lungs. Max ran from the livery, and suddenly the street was filled with people. She stood there transfixed. Seth ran into the front door followed by Max. Good, we can get rid of him too, the dirty half-breed. Most of the building was now engulfed in flames. It’s so beautiful. The blue, yellow, orange and red conflagration rose up to the sky. But, what about Jonathan? Somewhere in her tiny heart, she knew he was safe. Once Morgan was dead and she told him what she’d done, he’d be so proud of her. But, he hadn’t come out yet. People were forming a bucket brigade. How foolish, it was obviously too late.

“Chloe, aren’t you going to help with the buckets?” Martha was pulling her arm.

“Oh, yes. But not too close. I’m so afraid of fire,” she said smiling to herself. She’d spread that around the last few weeks, how she’d witnessed a terrible fire and was deathly afraid of being trapped in one.

She let Martha pull her along to the end of the line farthest away from the fire, keeping a look out for Jonathan. Where is he? She took the buckets and passed them along as they were handed to her. Then she saw Seth with a bundle in his arms. It was Morgan! Damn him. He was yelling something. The sound of the fire was deafening and then the loud creaking of the weakening roof beams made Max dive out the door to land on the grass. Everyone else near the front of the bucket line ducked. There came a deafening crash as the roof collapsed. The kaleidoscope colored flames flared out momentarily over the heads of everyone on the ground. Screams filled the air as those closest to the fire crawled away from the extreme heat. The town’s people huddled together in the middle of the street. Only Chloe was standing separate, a forgotten bucket in her hand. She scanned the crowd. Where is Jonathan? She couldn’t see him anywhere. An unfamiliar sensation clutched her stomach. He not there. She had to find out where he was. She ran to Max. “Where’s Jonathan?”

“I couldn’t save him,” was all Max coughed out. Tears were streaking his smoke stained face.

“What! You left him in there? Nooooo…” she screamed. Something snapped in her head. He’ll be all mine if… She threw the bucket and ran toward the raging fire. “Jonathan,” she screamed. Hands tried to stop her, but she dodged them and ran toward the friendly flames. She didn’t care about anything but being with Jonathan. The conflagration seared her flesh.With the first inhalation, the flames filled her lungs. As her body collapsed, an unearthly light embraced her. There now, your pain is over.

This is a rough draft, but, I’d appreciate your comments about the scene if you care to reply to this post. I can use the critique. Thanks.

Attacking Others is Attacking Ourselves

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King Jr.

When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.
Bernard Meltzer

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
Mahatma Gandhi

George Zimmerman is found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin and the country goes into attack mode. He’s characterized as evil incarnate. It’s a tragedy that Trayvon Martin was killed in a senseless way. We all feel angry and helpless about what happened to him. But aren’t we killing ourselves to hate George Zimmerman?

Every single religion teaches us that we must forgive our enemies. They don’t teach that so that the person we hate benefits, they teach that so that we benefit. I know from personal experience that when I hold a grudge and refuse to forgive, it hurts me a lot more than it does the other person. In fact, the other person might not even know they hurt me, or that I’m holding a grudge. They may feel perfectly justified in what they did. My hatred and the desire for revenge holds me back, makes me ill and cuts me off from the divine goodness that could come to me. To forgive is the ultimate act of self-love. We can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves.

We need to forgive George Zimmerman not for him, but for ourselves. If you think about it, can we really know what happened on that terrible day? I mean, were you there when Trayvon got shot? Did you see it happen? Were you there in the courtroom? Did you hear every piece of evidence? We can never know what goes on inside another person’s mind. We can’t possibly know what was going on in George Zimmerman’s mind when he shot Trayvon Martin. And we can’t know what was going on in Trayvon’s mind in his last moments. We don’t know the larger purpose of that event.

I wrote last week that we need to give up fear and trust God, or whatever you call God. I need to say here that I call God, Divine Oneness. I chose that name because we’re all connected. Everything in the universe, everything that exists is connected. That’s not just my opinion. Science has proven that we are all made of the same elements as what’s out in the cosmos. So, if we’re going to trust Divine Oneness to manage things for us, we have to let Her/Him take care of George Zimmerman’s fate too. We’re not God. Our teeny little brains can’t manage our own lives, much less all that exists. Nor can we understand the bigger picture of the plan Divine Oneness has in store for us. So we’ve got to stop buying into the idea that revenge is sexy, cool, protects us and balances the books. It doesn’t. It eats away our humanity.

I had two experiences that I think relate to George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. When my husband and I took our trip around the world in 1996, I broke down in almost uncontrollable tears at two different sites. The first was in Notre Dame in Paris. It was a lovely spring day and the Cathedral was full of tourists. The choir was practicing in the choir loft. We entered the Cathedral and began walking the tourist path. To the right just inside the entrance was a life size statue of Joan of Arc. I saw the statue and began to weep. Barry was very concerned. He didn’t know why I was reacting in such a way. I stood there blocking the path while other tourists tried to get around me. Finally, Barry said, “Do you want to pray?” There was an area cordoned off with chairs for those who wanted to pray. We sat there for about twenty minutes while I wept. To this day I’m not sure what made me weep at the sight of Joan’s statue, but I think it had to do with the fact that she was sacrificed in a senseless grab for power. She had a pure understanding of her purpose and she was willing to follow her guidance no matter where it led her. We remember her, not so much the men who burned her at the stake.

The other time I broke into tears, was when we were in Delhi, India at the Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. In the midst of the city, which is crammed with buildings, is a lovely large parklike area. The moment we entered the gates, I felt we were walking on sacred ground. Our Sikh guide was telling us about the grounds and about Gandhi’s life. One of the other tourists asked, “Gandhi was a Hindu wasn’t he? Then why was he killed by a Hindu man?” The guide, who was very tall and elegant said, “It is often the case that men of great vision are misunderstood.” At that moment I was filled with the importance of Gandhi’s message and the meaning his life held for the world. I began to weep. We haven’t learned yet to let go of violence, and Trayvon Martin is just the latest example of the accepted viewpoint that guns protect us. I wept for the loss of Trayvon Martin just like I did for Joan of Arc and Gandhi and all the other victims of senseless violence.

I have a friend who says, “There are no victims, only volunteers.” Both Joan of Arc and Gandhi volunteered to be examples of love, purpose and peace. They left us a great legacy. We need to contemplate the legacy Trayvon Martin leaves, not nurse the hatred we feel for George Zimmerman. As my father used to say, “People who hurt others are in pain themselves.” George Zimmerman most certainly acted out of fear when he shot Trayvon Martin. He’s living in his own kind of hell. I refuse to join him there by hating him, because as A Course in Miracles says, “Attacking others is attacking yourself.”

Trust and Fear

Welcome to my new followers. I’m grateful to all of you who’ve taken the time to read my blog. I hope you’ll get something out of each post and will give me feedback.

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Albert Einstein
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
Dalai Lama

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust and fear lately. Until recently, I was living in fear mode. That’s such a horrible place to live. There was a time when I trusted that I would be taken care of no matter what and that God and I were partners in creating my life. Then I was forced out of a most beloved job and for five years I lived in fear that other disasters were going to befall me.

I won’t go into all the little steps, and ahas that got me to wake up and begin my active spiritual practice again. It’s way too complicated. The point is, that I realized that I’d been so closed off, living in fear, that I couldn’t let anything good come into my life. I blamed God for my misfortunes when I was the architect of them all. When I remembered to look for the meaning of my misfortune, I saw that I’d called it to myself. I would have happily continued to teach drama, but that wasn’t my highest best purpose and my soul knew it. I began to practice trusting God again. And that brings me to what happened July 3rd.

My husband, Barry, had two flat tires on the way home from work. Normally, I would have gone directly into fear and worried myself sick. I’ve written before that we don’t have lots of extra money at the moment. So, naturally, I had a fearful moment feeling that we wouldn’t have enough money to pay for the tires. Then I took a breath. I’ve been practicing trusting that all is well in any given moment. I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths and said, Okay God, I’m trusting that everything’s going to work out. The little snigglet of fear was replaced with calm. We got the tires on the 5th of July. They were cheaper than the two we’d purchased for Barry’s car last fall. There was money left over in our account. Not only that, we have a book reading and signing scheduled for this week, with the potential of money coming in as well as other small amounts all coming at just the right time.

Now, you might think that was the end of that. Oh no. I’m a person who’s always thinking and making connections with what happens to me personally, and the larger world. As I’ve been thinking about fear in my life and how it affects me personally, I’ve also been thinking about how fear has affected us on a national level. The theme of fear has come up in the media again and again in one form or another. Fear on the personal level and fear on a national and global level. And, I’ve been asking myself what can I do to help us heal our fear. What comes to me is that I’ve got to join the conversation about what’s happening in this country.

I’m not someone who’s going to go out and march in the streets. I believe the change begins within me. I also believe what Eckart Tolle says, that “what we resist persists and what we fight grows stronger.” That’s not to say that demonstrations are wrong. They often bring attention to a situation that needs to be changed. It’s just not my calling to be out there protesting, or demonstrating. My calling is the written word. So, I’m going to pose some questions that might help you think about your own fear, if you are experiencing it as your predominant emotion. Do you think we live in a hostile or friendly universe? Do you believe God is loving, or vengeful? Do you believe what’s written on our money, “In God we trust”? Do you like what fear has done to our country? I mean, I think almost everyone will agree we’re in a mess right now. Are you willing to let go of your personal fears? Or, is everything just fine the way it is? If you trusted God to handle your life, how would you feel?

Yesterday I watched the episodes of Super Soul Sunday with Oprah interviewing Inda.Arie. She sang a song that touched me to my core. I want to include just a bit of the chorus. The song is “Break the Shell,” from her new album Songversation. I think the song speaks about how to leave our fear behind. Go check out her album.

“We have a choice to live, or truly be alive. This is your life. Child, it’s time to break the shell. Life’s going to hurt, but it’s meant to be felt. You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself. You cannot fly until you break the shell.”

This is just a snippet of a much larger inner dialogue that I’ve been mulling over for quite some time. Since none of us see the world in exactly the same way, I want to read your thoughts about what I’ve written, so please leave a comment.