Life is lived one breath at a time

For seventeen years, I have followed a Buddhist path. I meditate, study Zen, read books written by great masters like Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Han, and practice Mindfulness throughout my day. It is because of my practice that I am able to manage the chaos that comes from raising a child with disabilities. But despite all my practice and study and research, I had hit a spiritual brick wall. It was time to find a teacher.

Rev Zenju Earthlin Manual is the woman I consider my teacher. Ever since I heard her speak via a Zen Center podcast, I knew I had to meet her. I read her books, followed her blog, listened to all the teachings I could find, and finally contacted her to ask for a meeting. A few days ago, we met at her Oakland “Still Breathing Meditation Center.”

Rev Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

The first thing that struck me about Rev Zenju was her calming voice and smiling eyes. She seemed tired, but eager to meet me and talk. As soon as we sat, she offered me Jasmine tea and then she asked what she could do for me. I told her about my child, my struggles with grief and worry, how hard I’ve been practicing and learning about Buddhism because I felt it helped me take better care of myself and my daughter, and how I felt that I’d gone as far as I could on my own and I really needed a teacher to tell me what to do next.

She smiled and urged me to stop practicing.

Huh? I thought practicing was the most important thing.

Shaking her head she smiled again and said, “You’re too much in your head. You need to be in your body.”

Then she reminded me that life is not a journey or a path. The eight fold path isn’t a roadmap and there are no steps to master in some kind of enlightened sequence. I have spent so much time studying and practicing I’ve forgotten that the point of all that study is to live. Just live.

“Life is lived one breath at a time,” she said. With those words, a great weight was lifted from my chest. We laughed about the ways we both fight so hard to figure things out and make plans. You’d think living would be easy, but it seems to be the hardest thing for everyone.

Studying Buddhism and practicing meditation has strengthened and sustained me. I have learned how to balance the chaos and have compassion for myself. The basics are there and I know the path. Now it’s time to live.

Breath in… breath out… breath in… breath out…

I hope to return to “Still Breathing Meditation Center” each month and meet her other students. And I hope Rev Zenju doesn’t mind if I call her my teacher.

Still Breathing Meditation Center

Summer, bored kid, publishing, and no time to write

My fingers feel tight as I stretch my hands outward, forcing the muscles to loosen. There is a large spot of something sticky on my computer screen; is it a mocha splash from last Spring? I blow dust off my keyboard and sneeze. How long has it been since I’ve written anything?

Every summer is the same: my daughter is out of school and bored. She and I try to find things to do in this small town. Because of her disability, going outside in 95 degree weather is impossible. While other kids swim, hike, go to camp, or ride bikes, my daughter hides from the heat and counts down the days until school starts. We do our best to have fun by doing crafts and escaping to the city as often as possible. At least in the city there’s an air conditioned shopping mall, aka Mecca for teenage girls.

At last, school started. My daughter is happier, and I can write again.

Ebook cover 978-0-9797152-2-8

Besides being a full time, busy mom all summer, I also launched a new book through my press, Medusa’s Muse. Publishing takes as much concentration and energy as writing, and this book seemed to take even more. All summer, I struggled with printing problems, last minute manuscript issues, legal questions, and budget constraints. Shannon Drury and I worked hard marketing her book, and then just when the book launched and all seemed smooth sailing, Shannon broke her wrist. Not a fun way celebrate the launch of a first book. But the book is alive and slowly gaining readers. I am so proud of Shannon’s book and my part in creating it. It was my most challenging book so far and I learned a lot, but I am so excited about this book I would do it all over again.

My daughter left for school on the bus this morning. I pour myself more coffee and return to this long ignored blog. Now, what shall I write about…?

It Just Got Even More Expensive To Make Your Book “Visible”

MedusasMuse:

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with the Bowker website. Now I’ve found this article about the cost of ISBN’s. Is the rise in price a way to weed out indy publishers? Or just the cost of publishing books?

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

BOSTON, Massachusetts — Bowker, the US agency for ISBNs, has raised the cost of a pack of 10 of these book “identifier” codes, from $250 to $295.

And thus, it just became even costlier for an American self-publishing author to buy the universal identifier(s) needed to make a book “visible” to book-market tracking services.

Ironically, some observers will say that the move further hobbles the ISBN, itself. Its validity already is being called into question, as pricing and an association with old-industry “gatekeeping” continue to erode its usage. For some time now, the ISBN has been unable to give us a full picture of titles active in the market.

On Tuesday in Berlin at Klopotek’s highly regarded annual Publishers’ Forum, industry consultant Brian O’Leary will call on the international community to consider changing “the roles of standards and their governing bodies.”

And…

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The Writing Process – a blog tour

Thank you so much Natasha Yim for inviting me to the Writing Process Blog Tour. It’s fascinating to learn about each writer’s creative process. Click the link to Natasha’s blog and learn more about her process. Then follow the links backward for some great insights on writing.

But first, read my responses to the writing process questions.

1) What Are You Working On?

Currently I’m writing a middle grade fantasy chapter book for Goosebottom Press, but I’m sworn to secrecy on the exact subject. Let’s just say it’s about a really feisty girl with the power to change the universe. I’m also writing another play, this time set in the 1980’s. This new play is more dramatic than my previous two plays, but will still have plenty of comedy.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Writing for middle grade readers is a new adventure for me, one I’m really enjoying. After reading several middle grade books to familiarize myself with the language and nuances of the genre, I’ve learned that middle grade readers are more savvy and sophisticated than I realized. Your average 11 year old loves a scary scene. Maybe we can thank Harry Potter for that. I can’t really say how different my work is, because I’m still learning. All I know is that I love writing for this age group and hope to write more books.

Now, if you want to ask me about my plays, the number one thing that makes my work different is that I typically write more parts for women actors than men. It is a common complaint in the theater that plays seem to be written for and about men. Unfortunately there are far more actresses looking for parts than actors, so competition for good parts is horrible. I decided to do something about that. Plus, having a background in drama helps me create plays that provide theater companies what they need: parts for women and simple sets. Most of my plays take place in one setting, which means a theater company can save money on scenery design, or go full out on one set.

3) Why do you write what you do?

When I was a child, Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author. I devoured her books! When I grew up and started writing, I longed to write for that age group (middle grade) and explore some of those darker subjects. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.

I started writing plays because I’m lazy. Writing description is hard for me, but dialogue is easy, so I followed my strengths and discovered I can create great stories with just people talking. And it helps me finally use my BA in drama.

4) How does your writing process work?

Typically, I start with a situation. I’ll get an idea about people in a setting and one of them wants something from the other. But at first, I don’t know who the people are. So I’ll start writing the scene, just letting the language lead the way. Suddenly, one of the characters will take center stage and her desires will become clearer. I’ll hear her voice in my head and once I have that, the plot develops. Now the real writing can start. Occasionally I might discover that the character I’m following isn’t actually the main character. A different character will take charge and the story might go a direction I didn’t imagine. How do I keep any control over this chaos of my imagination? By focusing on my original idea, that one scene that started it all. If I write too far from that original point then I know I have a new story and I have to decide to pursue it, or go back. But generally, the first image is so strong it guides me.

I don’t like too much of an outline at first; I like to follow the characters. Once I have a very clear idea of who all these people are and what they want,  I’ll plot the scenes. Ultimately, there has to be a story, not just characters interacting.

Before I even brush my teeth, I write in the morning for an hour. If I start doing anything else before I write, I won’t write at all that day. I’m also a mom and a publisher, so those two jobs take a lot of my time. If I say, “I’ll just start the laundry before I write,” I will start doing other things “for a minute before I write.” Then my writing time is gone. Let the laundry wait. Write!

The blog tour continues on June 9th with writers Shannon Drury and Kirsten Imani Kasai. Follow the links in their bios to visit their websites and next week you can read their answers to the Writing Process questions too. 

SHANNON DRURY is a writer, at-home parent, and feminist activist. She writes a regular column for the Minnesota Women’s Press and served six years as the president of Minnesota NOW. Her book, The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century, will be published by Medusa’s Muse Press August, 2014. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

KIRSTEN IMANI KASAI writes horror, erotica and sci-fi/fantasy. She is the author of the novels “Ice Song” and “Tattoo” (Del Rey/Random House), “Private Pleasures” (Renaissance), and “Rhapsody in Snakeskin” (Renaissance), a collection of poetry/short fiction. She is the co-founder of the horror/spec fic literary venture “Body Parts Magazine.” Her experimental prose/poetry piece, “mice,” will be published in the spring 2014 issue of Canada’s “Existere Journal.” In May 2014, she participated in a 10-day artists’ residency and festival in Romania, where she dined with the mayor of Borsec and read her locally-inspired poem “The Truth about Decay in Transilvania” in English and Romanian. She’s recently completed a poetry chapbook “The Atmospheric Mysteries of a Steaming Corpse” and is the recipient of the Anitoch Los Angeles Library Research Prize for her critical paper “Redefining Utopia: How Feminist Utopian Literature Can Serve as a Model for Creating Workable Futures.” Originally from Denver, CO, she lives in Southern California with her children and her partner. Visit her at www.IceSong.com and www.facebook.com/kirstenimanikasai.

And for fun, write your own responses and post them here as a comment, or on your own blog. I’d love to learn more about your writing. 

Research counts as writing, right?

For the past three months, I’ve been immersed in research for a new writing project. I’ve spent many happy hours exploring the culture, history, mythology, language, terrain and daily life of a society I knew very little about, until now. I can’t tell you what  the subject of all this research is about because I’m sworn to secrecy. But I can tell you that the subject thrills me to my creative core. 

Unfortunately, my love of research has led to an absolute abandonment of writing; even my blog has suffered. I eat, breath, dream, and drink the world of my newest book project. I hear the language in my dreams. The civilization died thousands of years ago, but they are as alive to me as my own neighbors.

I can spend every day for months in a library surrounded by dusty books on a single subject and not lose my mind. Or maybe I do? Do other people love research as much as I? In grad school, I loved my thick text books and all the knowledge they contained. I read chapters I didn’t have to, just because I was curious to find out what they were about. 

Imagine me, a pale, too thin woman wearing thick glasses and an oversized sweater huddled over a book with such fragile pages I have to read them wearing cotton gloves. The room is dark, except for the brilliant light from the lamp on my table. My tea is cold and my leg has fallen asleep, but I can’t stop reading. I can’t stop learning. 

Others might find it a nightmare. Why would anyone want to spend their whole life in a library? But to me, that sounds like heaven. There are a million stories in the library, and a million more waiting to be written.  

I missed my calling; I should have been a research librarian.

But it’s time to set my books aside and write down what I’ve learned. It’s time to craft a story out of all these fragments of facts. Have I learned enough to make my characters breath again? We’ll see. 

“Dancing with the Stars” is the greatest dance porn since “Dirty Dancing.”

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It’s a new season on Dancing With The Stars, which means I am once again obsessing over Cheryl Burke, Valentin Chmerkovsky, Mark Ballas and Karina Smirnoff. I’m watching fierce dance routines and booing the judges as if ballroom dance was a football game. The “stars” don’t matter to me (how many “reality stars” are there on TV?). I love the Pros, the dancers who train, teach, choreograph, plot and scheme their way to the mirror ball. Why do I love this world of spray tan, fake eyelashes and glitter so much? Because Dancing With The Stars is the greatest dance porn since Dirty Dancing, and I love dance porn.

I admit I’m a little embarrassed by my obsession. I’m an intellectual feminist with a Master’s Degree and a publishing company. But here I am, every tuesday morning (I don’t have cable, so I have to watch it online,) applauding Emma Slater’s creative choreography. In the middle of the night, I’m scouring Twitter for #DWTS comments. I become frustrated that I can’t vote because I’m watching it the day after, and I know exactly how it feels to have to TiVO a basketball game because you couldn’t watch it live, and then have someone tell you who won.

Dancing with the Stars is my escape from the chaotic, stressful, overly-serious world I live in. It feeds my inner child who longs to be a ballerina. When I was little, I was obsessed with ballet and longed to be a dancer more than anything in the world, but we lived in Lake County, California, far away from any dance classes. So I practiced plies’ in my room while studying a book on basic ballet positions, eventually screwing up my knees. The love of dance never left me and I was finally able to take my first class in college at the age of 19. I danced in a troupe for five years and loved every minute of it, even choreographing three productions. Later, I choreographed two shows for children. Yet again, I live in a town with limited dance opportunities, and being a mom keeps me home. I channel my longing to dance into my writing and publishing, but the desire has never left. I’m too old to be a ballerina, but I know I would be awesome at Tango. All I need is a teacher.

Every day at 4:30, I dance to electronic music on Pandora. Dancing is how I de-stress. At the end of my work day, right before I switch into my mommy day, I shake my ass as fast as I can in my kitchen. My daughter thinks I’m crazy, but sometimes she’ll join in. Occasionally, a Tango rhythm will come on and I’ll pretend that I’m dancing with Maksim Chmerkovsky (and that man can dance a tango!).

We forget to play when we grow up, and before we know it the burdens of life drag us down like quicksand. It seems we only remember to be silly when we’re on vacation, or drunk. Why not do something ridiculous every day, like Tweeting about #DWTS or dancing for 30 minutes in your kitchen? Ridiculous is good for you. Silly lightens the load. Just ask any 10 year old practicing ballet moves all alone in her room. What is better than dance to make you feel alive?