Monsters in the Sea of Distraction (Rescuing the Muse)

I’ve lost count of how many times I have attempted to cast my tiny vessel out into the Seas of Distraction, to traverse their waters and find myself triumphantly on the other side, one step closer to my Muse locked away in her dragon guarded castle. Every day I tighten the ropes that hold my little raft together and push her out into the unrelenting waves. Each time I set out the sky is a bright and cloudless blue. By the time I make it fifty feet away from my isolated shores, they have darkened. Gray clouds heavy with rain roll in from the horizon, bleed across the sky as the wind rallies it forward. Each time I cling to my little raft as the waves pummel me to the wooden deck, intent on knocking me down like set of bowling pins. 

I can feel a stirring in the waters around me, a shadow moving beneath the frothing surface of the sea. I cling tighter to my vessel, squinting through the salty spray flying back at me from the bottomless abyss. I am afraid to look, hoping and praying that the movement I catch out of the corner of my eye is just a trick the water is playing on me. But no, I have spotted this beast from the safety of my shores, turned my head away time and again when the serpent of the sea railed against the Earth. The shadow circles slowly, not quite touching my vessel, but I know it is only a matter of time. I know she is waiting, sizing me up; the mouse that has come out of its hole to play.

The slap of flesh against water electrifies the air behind me. I whip my head around and just make out the tip of a tentacle slipping back below the waves. She is toying with me now, waiting to see how I will react. But there is nothing I can do from here. She is too large and I carry no weapons. So I do all I can; I cling to my raft and pray she gets bored. 

Another slap echoes to the left of me. I close my eyes and refuse to look. Why watch my own destruction when I am utterly helpless to change anything? The raft jars as the next slash hits closer to home. A hefty jab pushes my sorry excuse for a boat high in the air, and suddenly I’m flying through the salty sea spray before plummeting back to the frigid waters below. The waves wash over me, flooding into my lungs, tearing me from the little wooden deck that is my only salvation. I find myself sinking into the sea, unsure of which way is up and which is down. I kick and thrash, desperately searching for the sanctuary that is the open air. But I can’t find it before everything goes dark.

I awake with fresh air in my lungs and an expanse of twinkling little lights speckled across an expansive blackened sky. Not even the slightest breeze is ruffling my clothes, which are stuck to my body, crusty with sand and dried salt. The storm has once again passed. I know without even inspecting my surroundings that I am back on my island. Driftwood settles on the beach beside me, carried in on a lazy tide. The remnants of my tiny ship, my only companion in this desolate place. Tomorrow I will collect the pieces, lash them together, and try once again. Perhaps I will only get through one wave, perhaps I will finally make it to that distant shore. But for tonight, I will lay back in turn my face to the stars. I have not given up, no, not yet. 

The funny thing about a bad habit: it doesn’t want to let you go. My Digital Detox: well, let’s just say that I have fallen off my raft a couple of times in the attempt. It’s harder than you think to release a lifeline when you are afraid of drowning. I thought that this journey would be a simple one: declutter my mind by simplifying my life, rekindle the spark of inspiration with all that fresh space. I thought a week away from Shop Titans and Facebook would give me the clarity that I needed to focus on my goals. And yet, what I learned: the distractions are merely a symptom of what is truly wrong. To cross the Sea of Distraction you have to understand why you decided to swim to that little island to begin with. And this, my friend, is the most terrifying monster of all.

It is never an easy task to look within yourself and search for your own monster; that little gremlin within you that’s constantly fighting your every push towards success. I buried myself in distraction to keep my brain from turning to the one thing that could cripple it. I left my mind intentionally shallow because I was terrified of how deep my waters could go if I allowing myself to truly explore their depths. It can be a dark place at times, diving into the heart of your own soul.

I used to be laser focused, I could do it all: work full time while taking a full load of college courses, walking the dog every night and maintaining my relationships while still keeping up on my TBR pile. I could finish a first draft of an entire novel in less than a month and still have some energy leftover to edit. I could kick ass, take names, dance backward in high heels and smile about it the whole time. Granted, I worked myself to the point of panic attacks, so I can’t say it was always healthy. But I could do it. I could put my head down and work. And now? Now I keep myself so busy with mindless activity that I never stop to think my own thoughts. It was safer that way, I reasoned. If I didn’t slow down, then I wouldn’t have time to feel everything, I wouldn’t have time to consider whether I had truly dealt with the demons I claimed to have slain already.

My biggest problem when breaking away from distraction? The silence it left me with.

When you slow down and stop staring out at all of the shiny things in the world, you are forced to look within yourself. If you are anything like me: you perhaps have a few boxes that haven’t been unpacked yet. When you slow down, you are forced to open up those little cardboard nests and delve into what they have to offer. You will be tempting to shy away, to turn up the music as loud as you can and shut your eyes so you don’t have to look. But if you do that- the monster will just toss you back into the sea, and you’ll be starting back at the beginning; do not pass go, do not collect $200.

My distractions stem from events that took place a year ago. I was on a very particular path, one that filled me with the most immense joy I have ever know. And then the world shattered and swallowed me whole. Suddenly everything I had been so sure about went up in flames like it had been drenched in gasoline. I was left standing there in shock with the ashes raining down around me like snow. I spent the next year rebuilding, recreating a version of me I could live with. But there was a portion I didn’t touch, a piece of my future I still couldn’t sort out on my own. I spent the next year in a self-imposed limbo: too terrified to ask myself “What now?” What would I do if I path I had planned for my whole life eroded away, what would I do if I could never find it again? I didn’t want to answer the question. So I didn’t let myself ask it. I turned away and looked at something else until the desire for questioning had passed.

I built up these tiny habits all in an effort to fill the silence that my brain desperately wanted to use for thoughts I wasn’t ready to explore. I became too good at my own game, running to distraction until I began to veer towards it without any prompting, building habits out of nothing; habits that still don’t want to be fully broken. I pretended it wasn’t a problem until I couldn’t pretend anymore. When you fill every crack with something loud and shiny, you begin to lose focus. The distractions sapped away the thing that I prized above everything else: my spark, my voice, the creativity that makes me feel like I’m actually engaged in this life. It was time to break the cycle and face the truth I had hidden from.

I’ve been fighting this monster for several weeks now. Truthfully, I expected to be well on the path to adventure, the Muse nearly in my grasp. But I didn’t anticipate the strength of the beast I had created. One day I will be great: allowing my brain to wander in the silence, phone away, words pouring from my pen onto paper, rediscovering the things I was once so passionate about. And then other days I am lost in the sounds, filled to capacity with everything bright and shiny. I am playing a tug of war over my own attention.

And yet, a few days ago I think I may have finally made some progress. After a week of near-panic attack moments I found myself on the verge of tears for no apparent reason as my partner and I drove to his parents’ house for dinner. I was staring out at the trees and the river as we drove towards the town of our childhood, and something cracked inside. Finally, I spoke up, filling the silence in the car with the questions I was too afraid to ask on my own, “What do we do now, if this never works out for us? What will happen if I have to find a new path? What kind of life will help me find a new happy?”

I didn’t have an answer that night. But we started talking over milkshakes from our favorite drive-thru. It was liberating in a way, facing these questions that had haunted me for a year- but facing them with someone beside me, someone who knew how to turn my worst-case into something less scary, someone who had survived the same heartbreak I had when the earth shattered a year ago. Saying it out loud made the fears less powerful, it dulled the pain because it acknowledged that it existed.

I still don’t have an answer to my question. I still have no idea where my path is going to lead. But I’m finally learning to take steps towards something, even though I’m entirely sure what that ‘something’ is. To defeat the monster you don’t have to come up with the perfect solution. This isn’t that kind of story. To slay the beast you must simply stand your ground and face it. You have to surrender to silence and learn to live in it again. You have to stop hiding behind screens and noises and shiny things.

The first monster you will be forced to face as you wade through the Sea of Distraction: the one you created yourself, the one that is keeping you locked on your island. Good luck, my friends, it is an unrelenting foe.

The Sea of Distraction: Digital Detox, Day 1 (Rescuing the Muse)

The Adventure Continues: Rescuing the Muse (Creativity Quest)

The fire burnt down to embers as we tossed and turned through the night, each pretending to be lost in our own dreamland to avoid speaking to the others. Admitting we were afraid of today could have broken our resolve, kept us shivering on this lonely island instead of taking the first steps to find our Muse, locked away in a distant tower. Now that the sun is beginning to creep above the horizon, we sit, staring blearily at one another. The moment of truth has come.

We douse the coals, though there is nothing left on this island for the flames to dance with; we used every last scrap to build that puny little boat we expect to sail on. For the past week we toiled away with the driftwood that washed ashore, lashing it together with bits of rope braided together from the sea grass. Our vessel is small and shoddy, but she floats; and as castaways in this dangerous sea, we could hardly expect more. Every day as we toiled away we kept our eyes on the horizon, half hoping our daring Muse would have found a way to rescue herself and come back to us. But alas, we must be the heroes of this story.

We take a deep breath, look out at our island one last time, and step onto our tiny craft. Pushing out into the roiling waters that have surrounded us for ages, stealing our motivation and locking us in this solitary place. It is time to do the unthinkable, my friends; traverse the Sea of Distractions. Few make it across these waters; many find themselves flung back on the shores they tried to leave. But not us: for we know the secrets to these waters, we know where they get their strength. And we know how to fight.

Creativity Quest
Map created using inkarnate.com

A Digital Detox in the Sea of Distraction:

It is no secret that one of the largest enemies in the fight for creative control is the technology we wield like modern-day wizards. Our devices can be the perfect little weapons for mass distraction, siphoning our mental energy into clickable games, social media, the constant bombardment of alerts and notifications. Now, I want to be clear: I don’t think our techy sidekicks are evil; far from it, much like Kylo Ren, they have the light and dark sides coursing through their veins. What makes all the difference is how you decide to channel that energy. And I will be the first to admit: it is far easier to channel that energy towards distraction instead of creation.

Now, I tend to be a bit leery of studies that lump all screen time together; as someone who works at a desk when I’m not moonlighting as a super hero (or villain?), I will automatically clock in nearly eight hours of ‘screen time’ just from work alone. And not all screen time is created equal, in my opinion. I do most of my writing on a laptop because I have an easier time keeping up with the flow of the mental story I’m working through than when I am putting pen to paper. That being said, I know that I have a lot of room for improvement.

The brain is pretty astounding in its ability to adapt to new experiences. This skill is known as neuroplasticity, and it is the reason we can readjust so easily to a changing world. In 2008 a study conducted at Dundee University in Scotland found that adults who grew up in households with black-and-white TVs were more likely to dream in black and white. Younger participants who grew up with screens full of technicolor almost always dreamed in color. This is a small change, but it just shows you how susceptible the brain is to the evolving technology in the world around us.

It used to be an insult when someone compared your attention span to a goldfish: and yet, new studies are indicating that in the future this could be more of a compliment. According to a study done by Microsoft, the average human’s attention span was calculated to be about 12 seconds back in 2000. Today it is more in the range of 8 seconds. To give you a frame of reference: a goldfish clocks in at 9 seconds. We are going the way of the guppy. While many things could contribute to these numbers, it is true that there has been a steady decline since the invention of the smartphone, and anecdotally many people would agree that they noticed a difference when they started relying on their gizmos more (at least I have).

The term ‘popcorn brain’ has even appeared in recent years to describe the effects of too much screen time and over-connectivity. Popcorn brain describes the way we can become so hooked to the electronic multitasking that we are often expected to do, that we begin to crave the fast-paced way we can bounce between topics. The fallout from this: the slower-paced ‘real world’ can’t hold our interest in the same way that it once did. Ever find yourself reaching for your phone when you are waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom, or standing in line: the slow-paced life just isn’t catching your interest anymore. Pop, pop- so goes your adrenaline-craving brain.

So how do you fight your favorite frenemy when tech is the way of the world? I’m not saying to completely disconnect: that’s not feasible, and in many ways it’s not necessarily ideal. There are so many positive things that can come from our techy world, so many avenues of inspiration available to walk our Muse down. No, the trick is to attempt to be a bit more responsible with our tech lives; to use our powers for good, not evil.

Step one in the Digital Detox is very simple: lift your eyes from that screen and take stock. How much time do you spend on distractions? Can you allow yourself to just sit somewhere for five minutes without pulling out your phone and idly scrolling? Is there a particular app that you feel you may have an unhealthy attachment to? Or perhaps one that makes you feel better about the world around you?

Try not to laugh at this next suggestion: you can even download an app to help you keep up a tally of your usage. You might be surprised at how many times you unlock your screen, how many minutes you spend scrolling through pictures you aren’t really looking at or glancing at headlines when you never read the articles. Often times there are patterns in your day that you might miss without the visual pie charts staring you in the eyes.

What did I learn about my own habits? My favorite kinds of distractions come in an audio format. Most of my filler time is spent with an audiobook playing while I click away at one of those easy games that don’t require much thought, just a lot of thumb taps or puzzles. I also like to fill all of the little nooks and crannies of my day with tiny little check-ups that add up to a whole lot of time. I have a tendency to check my phone for something simple: like the time, without actually registering what I’m reading, so I have to check it again 12 seconds later. My attention span doesn’t seem to be much better than Dori’s as she’s helping to find Nemo.

I also noticed the way my distracting tendencies skyrocket when I am feeling a particular amount of stress. All of my numbers jump, and I dive head first into the closest Kindle book or puzzle game to keep my brain from racing through my usual symptoms of anxiety. Unfortunately for me, distracting myself from what is really important usually tends to increase my anxiety, which in turn makes me want to create more distractions so I don’t have to focus on the anxiety- and you see how this snowball is suddenly large enough to take out an entire city block.

So what do I want? What am I hoping to regain with a digital detox? It’s really quite simple: my sanity. I want to rediscover my focus so that I can actually finish one of the ten thousand articles I have tabbed on my computer. I want to be able to put the phone down and sit on a bench watching the world around me. I want to be content in my own head, comfortable with my own thoughts. I want to feel like I am in control of my life again. I want to feel like my brain has the space it needs to think clearly and rediscover the creative energy that used to drive everything I did. I want there to be balance in the force again.

Once we have a good baseline, it will be easier to find the right way to battle these waves and navigate the treacherous creatures below the surface. It is important to be honest with yourself about your habits; both good and bad, and attempt to root out the cause. Having insight and awareness will make at the difference when trying to reach the distant shore.

Rescuing the Muse (Creativity Quest)

She stands in the window of the tower, staring forlornly at a world she no longer belongs to. She remembers what it had been like, back when she could escape these four walls that held her. She remembers the way the dewy grass felt underfoot as she ran across the early morning fields. She can picture what it was like to sit beside a crackling fire sharing stories, fingers sticky with melting sugars and cheeks sore from laughter. The girl sighs, turning back into the dark and dingy room. That had been her life before; before the monsters came and stole her away in the dead of night. They whisked her off to this far away place and locked her in a fortress, destined to be forgotten by the world below.

I sit cross-legged with my eyes closed, picturing the tower from a thousand bedtime stories. I can envision the young captive, hauntingly sad eyes staring straight through me. My Muse, trapped behind a wall of my own making, held captive by the dragons and monsters I, myself, created. This isn’t the first time the damsel in distress needed rescuing; though the walls to this tower seem much thicker than they once were, the monsters are bolder, aware of all of my usual tricks.

Nonetheless, I take a deep breath and picture a tiny little hero stepping onto the field, long brown hair blowing in the wind in the striking way that only Hollywood can achieve. Her tall leather boots are tied all the way up her shins. Her traveling clothes are bedraggled and threadbare from the climb to this precarious place. The hilt of a silver sword glints at her hip , and a roughly hewn wooden shield bounces against her back as she steps forward. She takes a moment to tie her hair back into a neat little bun before squaring her shoulders and grasping her weapon in one hand. She glares at the tower, eyes scanning every brick and grasping vine of ivy on its way to the top. She is here to save the damsel, to rescue her Muse from the grasping clutches of the emboldened enemy.

My inner struggle with writer’s block has turning into a raging battle. It has become a ruthless war of creativity; a struggle for the words that will save the Muse from her dragon-guarded keep. In truth, it is no wonder that the inner war has grown so intense; I never slow down long enough to allow myself to create. By the time I am finally able to sit down and spill a few words from my soul, I discover that the well has run dry. I am simply exhausted.

We live in a world that is constantly vying for our attention, overly connected and tuned in to every shift of the wind. We fill every single moment with a distraction, not wanting to miss out on anything important. We don’t even notice our attention span starting to ebb as we switch from reading entire magazines to glancing at snapshot headlines. We never realized that we were locking our Muse away behind a wall of notifications, locking her in a paper mâché prison of to-do lists. We fed the beasts of distraction never realizing that they were suffocating our creativity. We didn’t notice until we ran out of words, until the mocking blank page was too painful to stare at anymore.

Cultivating a mental and physical environment for creativity is a daunting task in the modern age. And yet the only way to rescue the Muse is to fight for her; to give her the nurturing space that will allow her to fight for herself. So, how do we save her, my friends? Like any true adventure: we must peek at the map.

The Map to the Muse:

Creativity Quest
Map created using inkarnate.com

My lovely band of wayward adventurers, we are currently marooned on the Island of the Lost (bottom left of the map: that little campfire, that is our humble little home base). The mission: to get to the upper righthand side of the map: the dragon-guarded keep imprisoning our Muse. To begin this journey we must do the unthinkable: traverse the Sea of Distractions. Do not let it’s alluring waves fool you- this trek is not for the faint of heart. To survive this first challenge we must do the single thing that strikes fear into the hearts of even the bravest traveler: learn to be bored.

Science has shown a direct link between boredom and creativity. There is a reason why most of us get our best ideas while in the shower (about 72% of people have reported this is where most people have their greatest eureka moments). There is something about the combination of a mind finally able to wander aimlessly in whichever direction it chooses, coupled with the vulnerability and intimacy of standing naked under a stream of water. Our brains are wired for stimulation; and when we can’t get it from the outside world, we create it on the inside. Boredom gives your brain a chance to fire different neurons, processing events that have taken place, making new connections between unrelated ideas, working through problems, and providing insights that can lead you down the path of inspiration.

Unfortunately for us, we live in a world of constant connection. We are on a never-ending loop of notifications, plugged into the world around us, desperate to soak it all in so we don’t miss anything. While technology is capable of making our lives so much better: connecting us to people we would never meet otherwise, giving us valuable information with the tap of a finger, or simply help us manage our day-to-day lives; it is also far too easy to get drunk with the power you carry in the palm of your hand. Much like Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, our techy sidekicks have both the light side and the dark side within them. Unfortunately for me, I seem to be slipping towards the dark more often than not.

This first hurdle for me is going to be one of the hardest: detoxing from the distractions in order to open myself up for more creative thought. There will be a lot of trial and error, perhaps some painful insights and diving deeper into the root of why I let my monsters steal my Muse without much of a fight.

Tonight we gather around the fire one last time before climbing into our rickety row boat in the morning. So tell me, my friends, when you face the Sea of Distractions: what kind of monsters are lurking below the surface? And do we dare to face them together?

SoFar (embracing another’s creativity to find your own)

The yellow lights glittered against the darkened windows, blankets strewn across the wood floor. Two lone guitars stood sentinel at the front of the room, enticing us as we circled around. Like little kids crouching around the campfire, we waited with a hazy anticipation. Bottles of wine and cups of tea were discreetly passed amongst friends as all settled in, curling closer together as bodies spilled into the nooks and crannies.

We were seeing the double life of this room, the secret identity to the superhero that welcomed our little band of adventurers to walk its floors. That morning women had gathered in this space to perfect the lotus pose, slip into downward facing dog, breathe deeply standing in warrior, relax into child’s pose. This was the last place you would expect a live concert to be held. And yet, here we were, all faces turned towards an amp and two lone guitars. Eyes roved the audience wondering who the singers would be; which artists would share their beautiful creations with us?

I had never heard of SoFar before; it still feels like a secret that I’ve been let in on, like I’m carrying the code to discover the speakeasy behind the wall. Once upon a time in London there was a man who was a bit disillusioned with the way we experienced music; you go to a small venue that’s too loud, everyone is staring at their phones or talking over the artists that only want to share with the world the thing that they love. In a society that prizes moving at the speed of light, no one was slowing down to truly enjoy the inspiration of one another’s creative ventures. It needed to be dialed back, we needed to give ourselves the space to embrace the gift we were being given. 

So in 2009 Raffe Offer decided to create his own little intimate setting; he invited a few friends over to listen to a live performance while sitting on his living room floor and sharing a couple of drinks. Little did this tiny band know, this moment would prove to be the spark that would ignite an international movement. A decade later hundreds of secret shows are put on every month in 444 cities all over the world. As fate would have it, one was taking place in a tiny upstairs yoga loft right in my own backyard.

Legs crossed, we all sat and listened; not a single phone in sight as one by one the performers took our impromptu stage and shared with us the passions that breathe life into their souls. There is something mesmerizing when you share in a moment like this; one soul telling a story to another. Because truthfully, that is what it was; every single song had a story, a reason for being. From the inner workings of another’s life it had percolated and come to fruition, it had burst from the mind of these strangers and made its way to us. Dark truth and deep-felt pains were the lifeblood of the beautiful words shared to a crown of perfect strangers. It was a gift humbly given, a glowing treasure that would spark the dry kindling in another soul.

I’ll admit, I’ve been in a bit of a creative drought these past weeks; fear of the stories percolating below my surface have left me feeling trapped in my own skin. The words, while so colorful when bouncing around in my skull, dry up when I attempt to put pen to paper. I’ve felt as though I’m on the edge of a cliff, the panic setting in as I wonder: who will I be if I can’t write? When a lifetime is spent with a singular identity, it is terrifying when you feel the foundations shake underneath you, threatening to take the one thing you always thought would be a certainty.

And yet, there these strangers were; taking the dark and twisty moments in their lives and creating something beautiful with it. They were not worse for their misfortunes; no, they were more powerful because of them. The authenticity in their voices shook me, the strength in their journey inspired a hope to carry my own. There is something magical about being privy to observing the way another person carries their vulnerability on their sleeve, willingly sharing pieces of themselves. 

The obvious joy they felt for what they do reminded me again why I keep plucking away at keys the way they must pluck away at chords. Even if no one ever listens, the act of telling a story is a beautiful and brave thing. It is a healing thing. And, when given the chance, your words will strike a chord with another; perhaps helping them find a voice they thought they had lost.

SoFar I have made it. SoFar I am still here, I am still trying. SoFar I still have an ember inside that can burst into flame if I give it the space it needs to grow. All it took was a couple of singers, glittering lights and an after-hours yoga studio.

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2020 Reading Challenge

The pile of books I own but haven’t read would astound even the most astute hero. Hermione Granger, Belle, and Rory Gilmire might all hesitate before attempting to climb my particular TBR mountain. To give you an idea, I could start a new one every single day for the next 4 years and still not reach the bottom of the stack. I know: it’s one part impressive, one part startling, and two heaping spoonfuls of overwhelming.

Every year I make my pledge to Goodreads and write out my own little reading challenge for the year. For those who don’t feel the need to obsessively track every book they have ever read, Goodreads let’s you set a personal challenge every year and keeps track of it throughout the next rotation around the sun. I am a diehard, I will admit it. There is something so satisfying with watching your total tally tick slowly upwards knocking down my mountain one paperback at a time.

And yet, every year there is a single glaring issue with my plan: I continue to collect more than I read. This past year, for example, I bought twice as many books as I was actually able to finish. And then in December I gave myself a panic attack realizing how long it would take me to even find the halfway point of my current pile. How large would it grow to next year? And how many gems were stagnating in my personal catacombs, forever waiting for me to grace them with my attention? It was time for a change.

This year I’ve decided to try something a little bit different. Instead of following a pre-perscribed challenge full of obscure criteria surrounding colors, birthdates, or numbers of penguins on the cover (I can’t say I’ve actually come across this particular gem in my challenges, but I feel like it will be my personal mission to create it myself at some point this year). I’m making my own personal goals to follow through on. So without ado: the TBR-Crushing m
Master Plan of the book fiend.

Goal #1: End the Year with Less Books than I Started

Its a shocking concept, I know! Actually read the books I buy? What? I’ve never considered this before! I’ll be honest, I will never be able to stop getting new books. I’ve tried that path, and it didn’t work. I love being able to pick up the newest book in a series I’ve followed for years, or try my hand at a little nugget that alights my interest like an ember sparking dry grass. I don’t want to deny myself these small pleasures in a world that has so much to offer. So instead, I’m going to focus on actually reading books as soon as I buy them..if it seems worth reading right that moment, then I can get it. It jumps to the front of the line. No wasting time and money on things that look tangentially interesting- or even worse, things that I want to be interested in, but I’m really not. If I read every new book I buy, plus a few from my tombs- poof, I will end the year with less than I started. Even if it’s just one less- that’s still better than I’ve done for year.

Goal #2: Be Willing to Say Goodbye

I am a sucker for finishing what I have started. I can’t help it. I have slogged through books that put me to sleep, taken my headphones out without realizing I forgot to hit pause on my audiobook, and flat out didn’t care to go backwards before. I am learning that just because I own it doesn’t mean I have to like it. And if I don’t like it, I don’t have to waste the precious time I could be spending on one of the other hundred(s) waiting in line for their own chance to be seen. Not every book will light a spark in every person. I don’t have to try to be the right person every single time. I can say goodbye and set them down in the DNF pile to give to someone else who might appreciate their charms.

Goal 3: Quality Beats Quantity

I will admit- I have rushed through my share of books in an attempt to increase my tally, to make my little dent a bit more noticeable. I have picked out my quicker reads and left larger tomes locked away just to hit my numbers at the end of the month. I’ve turned reading into a task to be checked off of a list at the end of the day. I forget to find enjoyment in what I love. I commit the worst crime of all (even worse than bending pages to mark my spot). I don’t absorb or retain the words because I’m in such a hurry to get through them. So this year- I set my Goodreads goal low. I take breaks when I catch myself getting caught up in numbers. I prioritize other things: like my writing, or a bit of yoga to give my poor little brain a rest. No more distractions with books; it’s time to let them inspire me again with all of the beauty they have inside.

Goal 4: Variety is the Spice of Life

There is one goal that will not change: variety in my reading. I still want to experience pieces of the world that I wouldn’t normally, to learn about people with a very different perspective or experience. I want to soak up everything that books do best- teach us about one another and ourselves. But I’m not going to force myself into a rigid structure. I’m going to follow the flow of my interests wherever they take me- goodness knows I have enough fodder to keep myself inspired no matter where my imagination roams. This is the one thing that I always did right.

Goal 5: Share what I Love

I am not a huge fan of writing book reviews; I know, it’s a bit silly when you realize that I have a blog dedicated to creating and consuming books. But I have always hated the idea of being critical of another artist’s work, primarily because I know what it’s like to create. Book reviews and opinions are so subjective, and I wouldn’t want to turn someone away from a book that could wind up being their literary soulmate just because it didn’t speak to me personally. That being said, when I find something that sparks my interests, I am the type who will gush about it, yelling from the rooftops. So from now on: I will spend more time sharing the things that spoke to me, telling you all about the books that touched me, made me reconsider my life, or just plain taught me something interesting and new. After all, when you love something, the best thing you can do is give it wings to fly.

So cheers, my dears- to another trip around the sun. May we find inspiration and adventure beside newfound characters. Mau we find comfort in the tried and true friends of years gone by. May we explore and experience. But most of all- may we enjoy this journey.

Naming Your Fears (the core of writer’s block)

The firing synapses in my brain went quiet the moment I turned my eyes to the blank page. My mind was suddenly as still as the world during a 3am snowfall. It was peaceful and oh so infuriating. I am a lover of words, a connoisseur of the scribbled pages. I adore the way these tiny symbols can carry the weight of the world within their thin lines and looping forms. And yet the second that I find myself hovering on the periphery of a blank page, everything goes blank. I am alone with a blinking cursor that mocks me with every single blip of its heartbeat.

So here I sit, practicing in an exercise of futility; fighting the writer’s block by writing about its very essence in flowery descriptive sentences that stretch off into the sunset. I fight with pointless words that won’t ever see the light of day, hoping that each syllable I string together will slash at the tentacles holding my thoughts hostage. I feel like a hero in all of those fantasy books I’m continually reading, although I probably look a bit more like Don Quixote charging at windmills. That’s okay, I always found his pure devotion a bit enthralling, so I guess he is the perfect mascot in this little game.

It feels silly, really, to be writing like this. But perhaps there is a purpose, chipping away at the fear and anxiety that I can’t do it by…well, just doing it. Perhaps there is power in this Sisyphean task. At least I haven’t completely given up the fight, staring up at the crest of the hill and focusing on each individual step towards my goal. It’s almost liberating, in a way, jotting down words to describe the monster that has been haunting you for far too long.

It has been too easy lately to live in the world of distractions and ignore the passions fizzling away inside my chest. I’ve been losing myself in books, tv shows, games, errands and chores, time with friends and family. I’ve been getting caught up in making plans and resolutions; all while carefully ignoring the difficult things that will bring real meaning to my temporary existence. If I don’t create, then I don’t have to be disappointed if the outcome doesn’t match my expectations. It’s a game of Schrodinger’s cat; at the moment I am both an amazing writer, as well as an awful one.

The truth is, if I don’t write then I don’t have to face the fact that I’ve let my voice slip away; I’m like Ariel after she made her deal with the Sea Witch. My ideas feel stale and overdone. My words are rusty and dry. The touch of optimism and humor that normally colors my work feels like an insincere shadow. And perhaps this is where we reach the real crux of the issue, the reason why I have been so damn afraid to put pen to paper and send it out into the world. I am different, the past year has changed me and I fear that it may have changed my writing too.

It is no secret to those who know me that the past year was the hardest one I have ever struggled through. My earth cracked and swallowed me whole; the fall left me shattered and lost. I have spent the past twelve months picking through the rubble of my old life to decide what was worth carrying into the new version of myself I was building. I glued each piece back together with intention and love; and I’m proud of my new mosaic, although it only bears a slight resemblance to what it once way. I am not afraid of who I have become. But I am afraid that I have changed too much, that I am no longer the same creator that I was.

Writing is such a personal endeavor, colored by everything we experience and encounter in our lives. It is impacted by the people we surround ourselves with, the news we read, the tv shows, books, movies, music, and art we consume. Our words come from a deeper place. So it stands to reason that when that place has changed shape, it is inevitable that our work will too. Truthfully, I am a bit afraid to see the changes. I am scared that I just wont be any good.

I am aware that this is a silly fear; change is not always a bad thing, and I’ve always known that my work could use a bit more grit, more fire and fury. I guess I’m worried that I wont rediscover my lighter touch; that I will be too dark and twisty to recognize the words I always loved. Where there was confidence and fire, I now find insecurity and trepidation. I am gun shy and world-weary. I don’t know what will come out of my soul and find life on the page.

And yet, here I am; still writing gibberish and nonsense about writer’s block, poking at a sleeping dragon to see if it awakens, naming my monsters and charging at windmills. Perhaps not all hope is lost, if I’m still willing to be optimistic enough to try. Perhaps it’s time to release my fear and see what words are dancing around inside of me. Who knows what I am bound to find if I keep pushing through the anxiety.

To the little monster who’s been sitting on my shoulder whispering in ear that these words will not be good enough. So what? They are here, they fought their way to the page, and are staring proudly back at me. My words my be brittle and unsure, but they will get stronger. I will find a new voice to suite the new me. I have named the monster, revealed it for what it really is. I will be like brave Don Quixote, charging at my wordy windmills in order to slay my dragons.

A Queen’s Heart in Dracula’s Home (overshadowed by the darkness)

We all know the infamous tale of the darkest creature of the night. The tale of Dracula is one that has inspired the heart and minds of thousands of creative souls. I’ve read the book several times and never failed to find something new to fall in love with. I’ve been guilty of writing my own vampire tales that wound up being more of an excuse to dive into the lore surrounding these intriguing creatures (more on that as we get closer to Halloween).

It is famously said that Dracula’s Castle was based on the real Castle Bran, nestled on a steep cliff wall in the countryside of Romania. I knew this when we started planning our trip to this beautiful country. We would be attending a friend’s wedding in a small town known as Campulung- a gorgeous place all on its own.

The view from our hotel in Campulung, Romania

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Bran was just over an hour away from Campulung. Naturally, the literary lover in me didn’t have any other choice but to follow the calling of her heart straight to the castle on the cliff.

First and foremost, although Castle Bran in nicknamed Dracula’s Castle, I will be the first to admit that the strings tying the two together are about as thin as a spider’s web. It is said that Bram Stoker may have used a picture of Castle Bran that he happened across in a book as his reference point for the castle in his twisted tale. All we have to go off of is a description: a castle situated on the edge of a high cliff with a river running below it, sittin in the area of Transylvania. While it does fit the bill, there isn’t much more to go off of.

It wasn’t until later that I discovered a story surrounding the castle that piqued my interest, a tale far stranger than that of a fictional creature of the night. I was enraptured with this tale because was a true one, and often it seems that fact is far stranger than fiction. The story I will now tell you concerns the heart of a long-dead Queen who once roamed the uneven halls of Castle Bran. In fact, you could easily claim that she breathed fresh life into the place- and left her heart behind.

Queen Marie of Romania was given Castle Bran on December 1st, 1920. The castle, built progressively through the 1200s through the 1300s, was in bad shape when it came into her possession. But the Queen felt a tug in her heart for the old place. For a decade she set about the task of remodeling and improving the fortress. She even discovered secrets that had long been lost to history, such as the hidden staircase that was locked behind a fireplace.

She fell in love with the castle, spending many of her summers within it’s slightly crooked walls- a charming feature she refused to let the architects change during the restoration. She opted to emphasize it’s original beauty without forcing it into the ‘modern’ standards. But the Queen’s devotion went far deeper than many would expect.

Upon her death in 1938 her final Will was read. The Queen bequeathed the castle to her daughter because she said thar ‘only someone who understood the castle’s heart should possess it.’ But she did have one other request. Queen Marie asked that her own heart be removed from her earthly remains and laid to rest in the castle she so deeply loved.

In an attempt to see to these wishes, her heart was removed and placed in a small silver box, which was then encased in a gold one. For a while the box lay in Stella Maris Chapel until it could be moved to Bran in 1940. Originally the box was placed in the woods outside the castle, near the little wooden church. Her daughter eventually moved it into a carved niche inside the solid rock of the cliffside. A simple marker was placed so that others could show their respect for the Queen, seek her comforts and ask for her advice. The Queen was able to rest peacefully there for a time.

Yet, as so many stories do, this one takes a darker twist. If you ever decide to visit this beautiful country you will see the damage wrought by the communist regime who held power for a number of years in the region. If you speak to the locals they will tell you tales of their own time spent as children starving, attempting to survive off of ration cards. You will see cows and chickens roaming the streets and you will understand why. They will tell you tales of their beautiful architecture and history- demolished for ugly and unimaginative communist structures. You will note these differences as you drive through the towns and villages. The Queen’s heart was but one of the disrespected and ill-used artifacts of a proud history.

When the marker commemorating her heart’s resting place was desecrated, it was moved for safekeeping. For years it was locked away in the basement of a museum in Bucharest. There was an outcry, but one that was not heeded for many years. It wasn’t until 2015 that an announcement was made: Queen Marie’s heart would be moved, but not back to Bran. No, it would never find it’s way back to those hallowed halls to once beat for. Instead it would be respectfully held in Pelisor Castle, the place where the Queen breathed her last. By many this was considered a victory, and far better than the dusty museum cellar she had been left in. I can help but wonder if her spirit stayed behind in the true home she so dearly loved.

When you step up to Bran Castle you will see an impressive sight; this grand creation perched on the very edge of a cliff. You may walk through the halls and feel a bit underwhelmed. You were fed tales of Dracula and darkness; and yet this is a far cry from that. You will peek into the Queen’s chambers and know nothing about her, enjoy climbing the secret steps she discovered. You will walk away and never know the hidden tale of a lost Queen’s heart. You will stare into the trees and picture things that go bump in the night, not small gold caskets that glint in the moonlight.

You will leave this place thinking it represents darkness and death, when its true legacy is one of love. Queen Marie believed in the life of this place, she believed in the soul and the heart of the castle. Perhaps the story here is far better than any fright you could give yourself. Do not forget the tale of the Queen who so openly loved a place that she truly gave her heart to it.