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Purple Jumpers & CreepyMen – A Writer’s Inspiration for Laughter & Character Development

make a girl laugh

Reality, as it occurs, has left me confused about whether I’m always surprised, or never surprised by people.

As a writer, people-watching is something that I consider research. How I will use the woman in the sparkly,-velour-grape-purple-jumpsuit with the fanny pack who took each and every article out of her cart in the Cosco parking lot while traffic jammed behind her, has yet to be determined.

I do know where I’ll use the selfish, immature beaut who thinks the world revolves around them. As do I know where to use the classically, sexually-repressed, straight-laced perv. White trash and neurotics are always a great supporting cast to people who obliviously flaunt their own style.

This week I’ve been cornered by two over-sharers. Both male. Both blissfully thinking that their fascination with the minutiae of their immediate environment is worthy of highjacking the attention of a complete stranger. Both the sort of fellows that made me want to hold my breath to stave off breathing in what I thought for certain would be a thick, musty, I-wash-my-clothes-every-three-weeks scent. Creepy men.  Both classic characters whom I’m quite happy with leaving on the page and never having to encounter in real life.

I take in the world around me, and find myself laughing at most things that render others gobsmacked.  My go-to response is laughter and often times, curiosity. What on earth makes these people tick? How can we all be so different when it comes to how we normalize the treatment of others?

WTF is a regular thought that goes through my head with each and every interaction with most people. Followed by laughter. After all, most things are fixable. For everything else, there’s gin.

As I get back into my writing routine for fall, I hope to maintain my own playful response to the madness around me. I challenge you to do the same.

 

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When to Retreat

This is itSpiritual care retreats aren’t for everyone. The longer I go between breaks, the more I wonder if they’re for me, if I’ve got anything left in me to nurture and to bring to the world other than a curmudgeonly attitude requisite for being a veteran mortician.

Today, I plowed my way through the two-lane-traffic-corridor from hell that takes you out of the GTA and to Kingston. It’s an exercise in patience and dreaming of creative ways to free our highways of transport trucks and drivers who do not obey the left-lane-is-for-passing rule.

I muttered through traffic, rolled my eyes at the lack of parking signage at the retreat location, and cursed the universe in general for having the rain start just as I was wrestling my basket of yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket for deep relaxation out of my trunk.  I have under-packed for retreats before, and I was determined that based on the wet forecast, this was not going to be one of those soggy times. I looked like a 44 year old-yoga-pant-and-pink-sweater-wearing-mule trying to get all three bags  inside on one trip.

I was appalled at the woman who let me struggle with the door to the registration lounge without helping me, and the lack of smile on the face of the registrar. This is not Buddhism! Buddhism smiles for crying out loud! I could not get to my little room fast enough so I could dump my suitcase, prep for the mediation hall and ensure my precious bottle of South Australian plonk was safely stored next to the second draft of my novel.

This is how I entered my retreat space; frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give the world not a single, but a double salute using my middle fingers.

And then I entered the retreat space. I hastily set out my mat and cushion in the middle of the room and plopped myself down to breathe. Ha! To breathe…think about that one. Just taking a single, deep, focussed breath can do so much. For a veteran with this particular group, my entrance was anything but mindful. I did not bow. I did not do all of the small, but mindful ritual requirements of coming into such a sacred space. That was my first wake-up call. I needed to be exactly where I was.

I changed course, focussed on the minutiae of what I was doing, and in doing so,  I found myself at home. In observing my breath, the bell, the noble silence at the dinner hour, nourished by lip-smacking vegetarian food, in the dharma group listening, and finally back in my room (with a glass of contraband wine), alone with my thoughts.

Again I am reminded how precious these times are. I’m reminded how they crystallize my intentions, and help me manifest the kind of person I try to be.

I raise a glass to that…after all, nobody is perfect!

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When the Community Board is Empty

Most of you know that I have recently moved. I live in a very strange community that has come to make me appreciate the effects of foreign property investment on our ‘communities’.  In effect, all of the empty grand homes in our neighbourhood  are mostly empty, with lights on timers, regular professional landscaping, and someone who clears the local newspaper and flyer delivery from their front porch. There is no neighbourhood here, only bank accounts in the form of houses.

It robs us of community. It robs us of mom and pop shops able to keep their doors open to provide goods and services for the neighbourhood.

Yesterday I popped in to a local  Starbucks for a delightfully refreshing iced drink, and while I was waiting for my sweetie’s pour-over, I turn to the community board as I’m often want to do.

This is what I saw;

A picture is worth a thousand words. Nothing. There is regularly nothing related to community posted on this board. Despite there being a steady stream of people in line to buy their caffeinated bevvies at all hours through the weekdays and on the weekends, there is little if any sense of community.

I’m a writer, and admittedly, I’ve spent way too much time in coffee shops picking away at my keyboard, and I’ve spent way too much money on coffee. I have however honed a keen sense of place while I’m out and about mooching free office space.

I have never (not even once) settled into this location for my hour long writing sessions, arranged for a meeting with friends, or lingered any longer than it takes to make my Sunday-morning-one-bag-in-one-bag-out herbal tea.

This weekend in Toronto while getting settled in to a workshop, I was recommended to a coffee shop just down the street from where we were gathering. And this is what their community board looked like;

 

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Mallo – Located at 785 Bathurst Street. Worth becoming a regular meet-up spot. Definitely make time to try their absolutely delish menu.

I stopped, took off my coat, enjoyed a cup of tea, and ordered one to go. The staff were so friendly, and vibe was so great, that I came back again after my workshop and tried their menu with a pal who was in the neighbourhood. $70.00 later I felt like I had a new place to add to my favourites. Lesson learned; a sense of community translates to profit.

Earlier this week, I was back in my old stomping grounds at my favourite Starbucks in Mississauga, and their community board looked like this;

community board

 

When your community boards are empty at informal meeting spaces like coffee shops, there is a fundamental problem within the local community. There is a disconnect.  People go out to write, to gather, and to get their over-priced half-caf-low-fat-made-exclusively-for-me beverages because they are craving connection as much as they are craving sugar and caffeine.

When your community board is empty, I challenge you to go out and find one that is overflowing with posters for yoga in the park,  poetry readings, amateur nights at the local coffee house. I guarantee you’ll be a happier, healthier person.

 

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February is For Love Stories – Not Just Fairytales

Aggie the cat was stretched out on the roof, just past the glass of the window that was tipped open to allow her coming and going. Taped to the glass was the vintage orange, cover of Tennessee Williams’, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. You would have had to be a complete idiot to have missed the pun.

It was tucked up in the reading room of Shakespeare and Company that I read, in its’ entirety, Neil Gaiman’s, Art Matters. Amongst all of the old, hard cover, well-bound books that had possibly been in the hands of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway or even Gertrude Stein, I soaked up the love of storytelling written by one of our contemporary masters.

 

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Valentine’s day is the one day a year that we set aside to tell our love stories. There are very few of us who have lifetime love stories to tell, about meeting, marrying, raising children, and living into our twilight years hand in hand with our soul mate.  But this isn’t the only love story. Love does not follow a script. It follows the heart, and hopefully, if you are lucky enough, you have, by mid-life ,a small collection of stories that continue to inspire you.

Spending time in Paris, tucked up on the old daybeds of Shakespeare and Company will always be one of those stories. The syncronicity of how I met my late, angel-to-artists friend Nick Beat is another.

Stories are the thread that binds the fabric of our collective experience. Sharing them should be treated as a sacred honour, worthy of our full attention. Worthy of dedicated time to gather and share.

February is mostly past. Valentine’s day is over. Our love stories involve more than romance and fairy tales. Don’t forget that. Celebrate all of those things that make you vibrant; tell your stories.

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Making Room in My Jeans for Enchantment

distractionBecause of my inability to focus, my jeans are getting snug.

As in, I’ve gone beyond muffin-top to mid-section-souffle. I’ve been home a lot lately, and although I’m busy as stink caregiving, I have lots of time on my hands while I stay up way too late and overthink everything.

Today, while having a meltdown (likely a bloodsugar low), I ate another of my beautifully decorated sugar cookies, gave myself a tummy-ache and got to thinking while I laid down to sweat it out. Perhaps I should just really focus on what makes me feel good.

And what is that?

Well, it’s my writing, my inspiration, or ‘enchantment’ as Elizabeth Gilbert refers to it in her book, Big Magic, (a book every creative soul needs).  Given that my nervous baking habit has made me pack on pounds and feel like crap since I’ve been at home for the past number of weeks, I couldn’t help but listen when my nauseous tummy and tight waistband went from a whisper to a scream; “QUIT BAKING THIS SHIT!!!”…and in a much more kind, caring voice, “Do what you love sweetheart.”

One idea from Big Magic that stuck with me the first time I read the book is,

However, I’ve always had the sense that the muse of the tormented artist – while the artist himself is throwing temper tantrums – is sitting quietly in a corner of the studio, buffing its fingernails, patiently waiting for the guy to calm down and sober up so everyone can get back to work.”

I have a lot of interests; baking, cooking, reading, writing, yoga, gardening, being an enthusiastic sports mom…and the list goes on. These are the equivalent of my temper tantrums. Convincing myself that I don’t have enough time to write is akin to a temper tantrum.

I’m so funny.

I have time to do most of my hobbies, except write.  Why??? the only explanation I can come up with is that my upbringing as a hard-working-protestant-country-girl saves the best for last. “I’ll write after I…..” And then the day is finished. I have no energy left for the good stuff.

It’s hard to think of a tortured artist baking and decorating cookies, but it’s my very civilized-flirting-with-diabetes form of torment. But it is no more. No more half-hearted attempts at making slippers, meringues, paintings, blankets or any other whim I get snagged on while cruising Pinterest.  No more tummy aches and sugar lows. No more cursing myself for my jeans getting even smaller.

In Big Magic, Ms. Gilbert talks about enchantment, and whether you meet it with the resistance of the stereotypical tortured artist or like gracious host who makes room for it.

I’m going to try and be the gracious host. And that includes not wearing pants that are way too tight.

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The Hottest Date

writingdateLike sand through my fingers, it just seemed to slip away. Almost like that’s how it was always meant to be. Withered up alongside all of the tidy, check-marked boxes of my responsible, adult life.

It was part of my life that I cherished dearly. It was something that belonged to me and only me. It was the reason I stayed sane and productive and didn’t just get in my car one day and never come back. Don’t get me wrong, I would have taken my kid with me, and I’m sure we would have had an awesome playlist, but you get where I’m going with this.

That little scrap of sanity was my weekly writing date. More often than not, I would find myself at the AGO, or at one of my favourite Starbucks in Mississauga. At the museum it was poetic verse in a small Moleskine, with a glass of wine and lunch. At Starbucks I usually had my laptop and a latte, maybe a scone if I felt indulgent.

It sounds very simple, and not like much of an oasis of luxury, but it was luxurious solitude during a busy time of my life.

Now I have a beautiful writing room with windows and an altar, and enough of my precious book collection lining the walls that I feel justified in my efforts to write something of significance.

But my writing dates have stopped. I’ve stopped taking myself out, and being inspired by other people’s art, or even the regulars at my local Starbucks. And I miss it.

One of my resolutions (I hate resolutions) leading up to (so as not to be an official new year’s resolution) the new year is to take myself out on weekly writing dates again.

I can already picture myself at the McMichael gallery, swallowed up by the beauty of the gallery and the grounds, completely blissful in my solitude. I’m excited to slowly become a regular at my local cafe, where they wonder what I’m writing, but they know exactly how I like my coffee…steaming hot. The hottest of dates are always the ones that kept me creative, interested & engaged. I hope to see you out there fanning the flames of your own creative fire.

 

 

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What did you win? ~ What didn’t I?

do what you loveYah, last year I jumped on the speeding wagon of NaNoWriMo and fell off almost immediately.

This year I won. I won!!!

What did you win?

I actually completed the first draft of my novel. Which leaves me with over 200 pages of crap to edit during the next few months.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling. But I do think I’ll be a hell of a lot more interesting, joyful and fulfilled than a lot of people my age who have no other hobbies than gossiping, bitching and the occasional hangover.

Hobbies, interests, and stepping out into the world to be exposed to new ideas and different people helps to make us better people, or at the very least more engaged.  Apathy after all is really not just the biggest sin against humanity, but it’s boring as hell. I daresay it’s even found lingering as the cord that connects the seven deadliest of sins.

So I met the goal of NaNoWriMo, got out to meet other writers in my community, and managed to inspire myself to think more intensely about the art and craft of storytelling. Which in turn turned me toward book reviews, essays and text books. And of course that led me to reading  new books, articles and interviews by authors of very different ilks.

The win of NaNoWriMo is not simply the word count or the first draft, it’s actually keeping people engaged with a world bigger than just themselves.  A world that ever more seems to be frightening, contentious and less likely to change just because we care.

If you’re not a writer, this definitely won’t be your thing, but you may find it via a few words on the page. If not, I beg of you to find it somewhere. Find something that makes you happy, interact with other people even more knowledgeable and passionate as you are, and  make a difference in your little corner of the planet. Create your pocket of joy and goodness so that it spreads and connects to another. The world will thank you.