True North

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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When I think about those two big scary questions–Who am I? Why am I here?–clarity usually comes to me in flashes; in fragments I try to force together like puzzle pieces. Sometimes the burst is so bright, everything illuminated, that I feel a sense of purpose and conviction so supernatural in its potency that I know for a fact God is speaking to me. Other times, the glimpse is so brief that I feel more lost and alone than before.

Which has led me to ponder new questions: How do I find my North Star? How do I keep it in my sights through the storms, the darkness, and the doubt that follows?

For the past month these questions have consumed me and I’ve let them. Even though I’d committed to daily blogging, as long as these questions were on my mind, I felt like I didn’t know what to say. Even though I desperately wanted to finish my current WIP, as long as these questions were on my mind, the act felt useless.

Because I need to know the why.

Why was I telling this story and all the others that have been fighting for my attention lately? Why are these characters so important to me? What do I want my readers to know and feel about them? What do I want them to do with those revelations? Are there other ways I can spread my message? Am I really even clear on what that is?

Some people just want to be writers, putting out a book as often as they can, whether that’s once a year, once every two years, once every ten. Pen to page, day after day. For them, that is the work. And that is beautiful. That is admirable.

But I’ve been feeling this pull lately, this stretching of my spirit to do something…more. Not something else. Not something that isn’t still storytelling. But something more. Bigger. Greater.

For months, I’ve thought that it was my fears that were getting in the way, that my anxiety was the distraction, that my problems were caused by a lack of stamina and focus. Instead, what was getting in the way was this other voice. So faint I didn’t even realize it was there.

Maybe it wasn’t even a voice. Not in the beginning. Maybe it was more like a nudge. Move. Grow. Change. It’s okay. I am with you.

But I wasn’t listening. Because I thought I already knew the answers to those big, scary questions.

Who are you?

A writer.

Why are you here?

To tell stories.

Those answers are beautiful. They are admirable. But they are also wrong. Because they are incomplete.

Usually, when we think about our life’s purpose, we start at the macro level. We approach it with giant expectations and then we crush ourselves beneath the weight of never meeting them. If we’re a writer, we might think that we have to write a book as influential as Harry Potter. Something that cultivates the values and beliefs of an entire generation. Something that reaches the far ends of the earth. That makes us rich and famous.

But what if the key to unlocking our potential is thinking much, much smaller? Not thinking that our potential is small. Not thinking that our gifts are small. But small in the sense that we are snowflakes. That the pattern of purpose alive in me is different from the purpose that’s alive in you. That it’s the subtleties and nuance of our nature that allows us to have the greatest impact because that’s what allows us to connect with the specific people who need our gifts the most.

I think I’m starting to figure out my true gifts, and more importantly, who needs them the most. In other words, I am inching towards the real answers to those big, scary questions and as the answers loom on the horizon, I can already sense that they will be much bigger and much scarier than anything I could have ever imagined. But big and scary doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes big and scary means joy. Sometimes big and scary means freedom.

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Trust

Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

Self publishing taught me so much about my ability to persevere and to solve problems. It taught me that I can trust my intuition and that no one but me gets to decide whether or not I share my art. Not gatekeepers at a publishing house, or current market trends, or white supremacy.

This sense of agency is exhilarating and something I have come to value deeply. But, as I often tend to do in an effort to protect myself from pain and rejection and failure, I have been clinging to this sense of agency, this solitude to my own detriment.

I keep forgetting that self-publishing didn’t just teach me that I can accomplish great things on my own but it also taught me that to be successful at something scary, something new, it’s important to reach out to those more experienced than you. To find teachers and mentors and people who can help you find your way.

Self publishing taught me that people are inherently generous. It’s intrinsic to our human nature to want to help one another. I’ve met so many people, strangers, online who were willing to give me advice without asking for anything in return. There’s this sense of community among indie authors bolstered by the reality that we’re all in this together. When one indie book succeeds and finds an audience, we all rise with the tide because it gives the entire industry more clout and more exposure.

But it’s easy to forget these things too. The good in people is a light so easily snuffed out by division and competition and distrust.

One of the reasons I was so proud to be an indie author was because of my distrust of traditional publishers. There weren’t very many books about POC and this made me suspicious, then angry. I dreamed of seeing my books in bookstores, of a little brown girl with crazy curly hair scanning the covers, her eyes widening over a character I created who looked just like her. But because I didn’t think these stories would align with a traditional publisher’s agenda, which at the time seemed to be to whitewash everything, I stopped querying agents. I stopped pursuing their acceptance. I stopped needing their permission.

I believed distancing myself from those dreams and the gatekeepers who held them was protecting me from something. But letting those fears and suspicions fester only meant that when publishers finally started to put out more diverse books I didn’t get to be a part of that positive change. I’d let myself believe that there was no one in traditional publishing taking on that fight. That wasn’t true.

I just wasn’t looking for them, which is why I didn’t find them, and why it was easier for me to maintain my self-righteous attitude about the whole thing.

What I’m beginning to figure out is that trusting the Universe means trusting the people in it. If we are all connected via universal intelligence then learning to strengthen your faith in the Universe really means learning to strengthen your faith in that connection. In people. People who are imperfect and unpredictable.

People who are inherently generous and helpful.

I want to believe this about people and I want to be able to open myself up to new relationships without being suspicious of someone else’s agenda.

This is one of the reasons I’ve started querying again. I want someone on my side who believes in my art as much as I do. There are amazing people working in publishing who are championing diverse books and making a way for so many other POC and people from marginalized communities to break into the industry. And these people have been tirelessly working and fighting this fight for equal representation for years. I want to join in that fight with them.

But that means letting down my guard and letting people in. It’s one thing to open yourself up to the Universe. It’s another to embrace the human beings who give it meaning. But that’s what we’re here to do for each other. To witness each other’s successes and pick each other up after our failures. To teach and learn. To make this crazy, chaotic, beautiful mess of an existence mean something.

To do that we have to trust in the fact that we can’t do it alone. No matter how much safer it might feel. We’re in this together and that is not a scary thing. It is a thing so full of hope. A realization that should make us feel strong and brave and completely invincible. When we trust one another, when we love one another, that is exactly what we are.

Stranger

Mental Health

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Lately, I’ve been so entrenched in the details of the reality I’m trying to manifest that the reality I’m currently living in has started to feel a little…strange. Or maybe I’m what’s strange. Either way something has changed and at first it was quite startling.

Yesterday, I talked some about how important my environment is to my creativity, and honestly, to my overall mental health. So obviously, my classroom is pretty cozy. There are lamps and twinkly lights everywhere. The wall space above my desk is covered in cool art and wall hangings and my windows are framed by some awesome geometric curtains.

I tried to create a space where I feel comfortable. Since I teach ESL, I receive new students all year long. I like to think that the environment I’ve created makes those newcomers feel comfortable too. I can only imagine how terrifying the first day of school in a different country can be. I try to use the design elements in my classroom to communicate as much positivity, security, and inclusivity as possible.

Usually, when I walk into my room, seeing those elements makes me happy. But yesterday, when I turned on my classroom lights after a long three-day weekend, I had this incredibly odd feeling. Like I was a stranger entering a space that didn’t belong to me.

I didn’t feel upset or angry or really any negative feelings at all. I felt detached, maybe even a little confused. Almost like waking up from amnesia.

It got me thinking about where my head’s been at for the past several weeks. My practice hasn’t been perfect. Those fears and doubts still creep in now and then. But I have been extremely dedicated to trying to stay positive and take action where I can to manifest the things I want.

And I’m starting to believe that’s how this whole thing works. I felt strange stepping into my classroom yesterday because my mind was already living in the future. In that reality I am a writer and full-time creative. In that reality I am content and stress-free. Teaching is the opposite of stress-free. In fact, the more overworked and overwhelmed you are the more you are rewarded–usually with more work.

Now I have these two realities, almost these two different people, yanking me around in this tug-of-war. Eventually, one of them is going to have to win. I want to be ready to make that decision. I want to be sure. If that means getting uncomfortable, I have to be willing to endure that too.

In the meantime, I am incredibly grateful that the work I do is meaningful and makes a difference. It might not be what I’m meant to do forever but my classroom is not a cage. It’s more of a…chrysalis. A place to grow and change. But also a place I’ll eventually have to break through if I want to discover my true potential.

Maybe that’s what comfort zones are for. Barriers we break through in order to fortify our minds and find our gifts. Maybe we should keep that in mind the next time we feel the urge to build a nest, whether that’s decorating our classroom to the nines or renovating our home. The purpose of the nest isn’t to protect us from all of the dangers of the outside world. The purpose is to provide us with temporary safety while we’re still learning to fly.

DIY Your Life

Motivation & Inspiration

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I spent the day removing the popcorn ceilings from my bathroom. Well, a third of my bathroom. Then my arms got tired and the mess all over the floor, the walls, my bathtub, and my face still loomed in the distance. I decided to start cleaning up before I collapsed and then woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom only to discover that it was buried under a sopping mess of ceiling shavings.

At the beginning of the year I decided that instead of using every second of my weekends to write (which I’m already doing a good job of prioritizing during the week) I would use them for rest, planning, and a list of DIY projects that have been pinned to my Pinterest boards for months. So far we’ve (partially) built two nightstands, a headboard, and today I began the process of bringing our ceilings into the modern era.

One of the things that self-help gurus suggest doing in order to help you manifest the life you want is to make some changes to your environment in order to signal to the Universe that you’re ready for change. I think design can also signal to the Universe what kind of changes you’re ready for depending on how the space makes you feel.

Being a full-time writer means working from home and I want every space in my home to be conducive to creativity. I want to feel inspired in my home. I want to feel comfortable and safe.

I’ve spent a lot of time envisioning what each area of the house will look like when we’re finally finished renovating it. I’ve pictured myself at the kitchen banquette, writing on my laptop while I look out the window at my dog chasing butterflies in the yard. I’ve pictured myself reaching for the book on my nightstand, the soft glow of the Edison bulb table lamp washing the pages in gold as I read.

In order to make these dreams a reality I’m setting aside a small budget to put towards actually purchasing those items on my wishlist–pillows, curtains, power tools–and taking action by starting (and hopefully finishing) small projects that will create some manifesting momentum. By putting my energy towards these things, I am slowly transitioning my reality, and openly inviting the Universe to help me make meaningful progress toward my goals.

Whatever your goals are, ask yourself what you’re doing to invite those things into your life. Are you making room for them in your heart, in your home? Are you attracting it to you with your thoughts and actions?

Changing my environment is how I’m choosing to initiate this process but you can choose something else to focus on. Maybe you invest in yourself by taking a class or setting aside some time to study your craft by watching YouTube videos. Maybe you do some Marie Kondo-style tidying and actually open up the physical space for whatever it is you’re trying to manifest.

The point is, thinking about your desired reality is only half the work. You also have to take action in some tangible way that lets the Universe know you are ready. Even if the change you make is small, it’s still progress. One step towards the edge of the diving board. A few more steps and then all you have to do is take a deep breath and jump.

This is Not a Coincidence

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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About three weeks ago I began this new spiritual practice of chilling the f**** out. What does that look like? Well, it looks like daydreaming with focus and intention, taking action where I can to turn those dreams into reality, and trusting that the Universe will aid me in this quest.

Staying in that place of total trust is not easy and I am imperfect at it most of the time. But I desperately want to trust and it’s this desperation that forces me to correct myself anytime my thoughts start to drift somewhere dark and full of doubt.

Just a few days after I decided to release all of my fears and worries and start believing in the awesomeness of my own existence, I experienced some small miracles, which I blogged about in this post. You might have read that list and seen nothing more than a string of random coincidences. A few weeks earlier and I would have too. But choosing to see them as coincidences would have meant I was analyzing them through the lens of fear and pessimism.

Let’s face it, people who are afraid, people who are pessimistic are not exactly good at spotting miracles, mostly because they’re never looking for them. But if you are looking for them, you start seeing them everywhere.

Back in October of 2018 I decided to take my novel, Pen & Xander, off of all online retailers so that I could query it and try to find an agent. In that moment I had felt this tremendous urge to make a change, to take a risk. But even though I decided to do the scary thing and leap, nothing about my mindset had actually changed. I was still self-sabotaging by thinking thoughts like: If I query this and get rejected then I’ll finally have permission to distrust and therefore reject the notion of being traditionally published altogether.

That’s right. I wanted permission to stop going after this dream. So even though I was putting myself out there by querying this novel I was still doing it from a place of fear, doubt, and extreme distrust.

Another way I self-sabotaged? I only sent the novel to two agents (there were only three on my master list but one of them was closed to queries). Yeah, those odds weren’t great. But I purposefully set it up that way to increase my chances of failing. I wanted to fail because, not only would it reinforce all of my worst fears, but by manifesting those fears I could finally face them instead of living in the anticipation of them. Which is so much worse. *eye roll*

If this all sounds insane to you, that’s because it is. It is absolutely insane to try to conjure the things you fear but I would argue that most of us are engaging in this very act on a pretty regular basis. I’m just willing to admit it.

The first agent sent me a form rejection about a month after I queried. The second agent didn’t reply at all. On her website she said that if writers didn’t receive a response within six weeks it was an automatic pass. Six weeks came and went and I just assumed that I was being rejected again.

Fast forward another month and there I am, in the midst of a quarter life crisis, reading about the law of attraction and universal intelligence and having all of these epiphanies about my career and life’s purpose. Shortly after, I decide to give this whole trusting the Universe thing a shot. I make an 18-month escape plan, focusing mostly on the milestones I want to reach, the amount of money I want to make, etc., and not so much on the how. Because in the past, the how, is where I always seemed to fall apart. It’s where I crunched the numbers–time + money = never gonna happen–and inevitably discovered that what I wanted to achieve was impossible all on my own.

But I am not all on my own. Or, at least, I don’t have to be.

I’ve been working really hard to operate under this assumption for the past three weeks. I take action where I can and trust when I cannot. I believe with everything in me that as long as I am making progress, I will eventually get to my ideal destination.

Today, almost twelve weeks after I sent my initial query, the second agent I contacted sent me a request to revise and resubmit.

Now I have two choices. I can choose to view this through the lens of fear and doubt and believe that there’s no point in revising this novel, in putting myself through such a grueling process, in trying again. That responding after twelve weeks must mean this agent isn’t really interested, that the manuscript must need too much work, that I will never be able to meet her expectations with a new draft.

Or I can choose to view this through the lens of optimism and believe that trying is all I have to be willing to do in order get the things I want, it’s all I have to do to demonstrate my faith, to prove myself. And that the timing of this agent’s response is actually perfect because now I can approach this rewrite with a positive mindset that has been fortified by all I’ve learned about myself since then.

I choose to believe that this is not a coincidence.

The person I was when I wrote the TGIB series didn’t believe in coincidences, which is why my characters, two star-crossed lovers who meet and fall in love in a dreamscape of their own creation, didn’t believe in them either. It’s also why I was able to sell almost 100,000 copies of those books. Because I believed I’d written something worthy of being read. Because I believed there was no plan B. I was going to be a writer no matter what and those books were going to play a crucial role in getting me there.

I choose to believe that this is a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.

Even if this agent doesn’t offer me representation, this rewrite must be essential. A door I must pass through even though I have no idea where it leads. That’s okay. I don’t have to know where it leads. I just have to trust that if I can be courageous enough to take that step it will all be worth it in the end.