Pause

relaxStop everything.

Just for a minute.

Take a pause and think about your now.

Your breathing. How your body feels. The emotions. The possibilities.

It’s easy, especially as an artist fighting to get a creative outlet into your day-to-day, to lose sight of the contentment of now under the flood of desires and hopes and challenges and plans pushing us into tomorrow.

But we need to pause and soak in the now from time to time. You know, just take a deep breath and relax into the contentment of the moment.

Don’t let this opening month of 2015 pass without taking a pause to take it all in.

Inspired by zen habit’s recent post The Contentment Habit–read it!

How is your now? What do you have in store for 2015?

War as Entertainment: Ethics of “American Sniper”

“Most of America is tired of hearing about Iraq. But now, they’re at least open to being entertained by it.”

—Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq War veteran and activist, in a Variety guest column

Chris Kyle, American SniperThe statement sounds pretty harsh. But as I sat in the movie theater this weekend watching American Sniper’s tense war scenes and homefront personal struggles, I had to question myself about why I was there, and if it was okay to make real, current events into entertainment.

To relieve some of the tension you’re feeling. Rieckhoff himself says he’s okay with it: “It’s tearing open a shameful national boil of a discussion that’s been bubbling below our collective skin for far too long,” he wrote. “And with that, it performs an exceptionally important public service in a way only film can.”

Whew. Right? I’d rather piss off Michael Moore than a veteran any day.

However, there’s still a serious question in play here—is it ethical for the entertainment industry to mine horrific real-world events like wars for box office hits? It is ethical for me to hand over my money for the pleasure of partaking this kind of entertainment?

I’ve wrestled with this many times, and I’ve come to take issue with the word “entertainment” when applied to movies like American Sniper more than I take issue with the film itself.

Movies—especially popular, box-office-hit movies—blur lines. We call them entertainment, and most of the time they are. Heck, it’s the name of the entire movie-making industry.

But movies are also art. And good art does not “entertain” so much as it engages. Good art forces our eyes and minds to wrestle with things we maybe would rather not. It forces us to see things we would not see on our own, and then think about what this new thing means.

And this is something American Sniper does well. If you haven’t experienced war, if you haven’t struggled with a loved on returning from a tour, or struggled with PTSD, your eyes are forced open a little wider by this film.

So is it okay for “entertainment” to take on something “serious”? It’s not just acceptable, it’s a responsibility.

Ideas are Disposable

Forget about tracking every idea carefully in a thought journal. Your ideas are disposable. (Tweet this.)

So are mine. And I habitually treat them that way.

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I’ll have a few article topics or tactics to try pop into my head, scribble them out on whatever paper is closest to me, and then … well, the paper gets lost, or I simply don’t follow up to pull them into anything more organized.

I know, I know. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of a shiny new idea. This new idea is THE idea. It is The One. It is everything. There is something very exciting and compelling about the newness of a good idea.

Go ahead, love the shit out of that idea. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t get too attached, either.

Because no one idea is the magical silver bullet that will save you, or your business, or your product, or whatnot.

It’s not about the idea—it’s about having the idea-creation mindset. (Tweet this.)

That is the beautiful thing about ideas. There’s always another one about to roll along. And if you’re like me, you’ll even have the same ideas again, if you lose them once. It’s not about clinging to every idea you have. It’s about having the ideas.

You’ve had more than one idea in your life. You’re going to have even more of them. And if you cultivate a mindset that ideas are everywhere and can be inspired by anything, if you keep on the lookout for them, your brain is going to just explode with creativity.

And you’ll have more ideas than you could ever actually invest in.

Which brings us to the point. The question is not, how do I hold on to this idea? The question is, which ideas are the ones worth pouring my time and effort into?

Because the one thing that gives an idea meaning? Action. (Tweet this.) All the rest, the ones you don’t get to—just toss them aside and keep looking forward.

Being Your Own Cheerleader

being your own cheerleader
Image by Keith Allison via Creative Commons

At the beginning of September, I realized I was not satisfied with the results of my existing fitness plan and decided to try a completely new approach I’ve never tried before—heavy weightlifting. (Bear with me a minute — there’s a point.)

About eight weeks in, I can see some signs of improvement … I’m lifting heavier weights every couple weeks, and I can certainly feel some difference in the size of my actual muscles, too. But do I look like the lean ripped gym rock stars that scroll in my Pinterest feed? Not even close. So I end up feeling frustrated and discouraged.

Which is, of course, ridiculous. In all likelihood the images I’m aspiring to aren’t even real. Not to mention anyone that ripped has been blessed by genetics coupled with years and years of dedicated weightlifting. And yet I want instant, perfect results.

I get like this with my writing, too. (See? There it is. Point.)

Over the last four years, I’ve been dedicated to writing fiction daily, I’ve decidedly gotten better at my craft. But the fact that I don’t have a published novel yet? Some days the failure to meet that irrational expectation (some people take 10 years, or even longer, to finish a novel, let alone the years it takes to acquire an agent, and then a publisher, and then bring a work through the publisher’s editorial process and get it on the shelf) makes my accomplishments so far seem like nothing.

Even worse, no matter what I put into reaching a goal, once I reach it, it no longer feels like a big deal to me—I fail to give myself credit for all that went into reaching it. As Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me.” Or in other words, if I can do it, anyone probably can, so it’s not that big a deal.

The problem here, of course, is that all this talking down to myself does nothing to help me on this very long journey to reaching my publishing goals. The way to keep yourself going through this rocky process is to be positive, give yourself the love you deserve, and celebrate the small accomplishments along the way.

It’s not always easy to be your own cheerleader. But it’s important. So rah rah shish boom bah. Etc.

Here’s a few ways I’ve found help me do this:

  1. Being self-aware. I feel lucky to be aware enough about myself to be realize when I talk myself down and what triggers it. It just comes from lots of listening to the voices in your head. Journaling can help with this.
  2. Getting outside perspective. I get this from my loved ones, from my writing group, and from reading blogs and engaging with the online writer community. I especially love stories from other writers about their journey to publication. This helps me grow, keep a healthy perspective on the process, and remember how far I’ve come.
  3. Talk about it. Share your process with aforementioned outside support. Stating your accomplishments out loud can make you more aware of how far you’ve come. Just having people to celebrate with can make you more likely to celebrate your small victories.

Inevitably, we’ll all get discouraged sometimes. But with some coping mechanisms to help us stay positive and keep perspective, we can stay on course. Remember to celebrate those little victories along the way to keep you going while you keep your eyes on those bigger goals.

How do you keep yourself going when process is slow? How do you celebrate the little victories along the way?

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‘The Dirty Truth’: Don’t Follow Your Passion

My husband stopped my writing last weekend to read an article from Mike Rowe’s The Dirty Truth (the Dirty Jobs guy).

You can read the full article here, but the key point can be summed up with this:

“Like all bad advice, ‘Follow Your Passion’ is routinely dispensed as though its wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not.”

What does someone trying to chase a passion do with something like that? It’s all about keeping one foot on the ground while the other chases those dreams in the clouds.

Maintain a solid foundation.

If you’re only going to be happy making a living off your passion, you may want to reconsider your situation. The stereotype of the starving artist whose desperation drives their creative vision is outdated. Instead, find a way to support yourself so that you are comfortable and can sustain a happy, balanced life while you shoot for the stars.

Seek opportunities to develop.

Find a community in your area that lets you interact with others who share your passion. Take classes. Stay connected. This keeps you in touch with the industry and gives you a network of support and the outside perspective critical for growth.

Let passion spill into the rest of your life.

Just because there is a creative passion project you’re chasing, that’s no reason not to live the rest of your life passionately too. I think a lot of creative do this naturally, but it can be just as easy to see a day job as nothing but, and think you need to keep all your passion locked up for that one thing. Not so—passion breeds more passion. Share it, and it comes back to you.

In conclusion, well, I think Rowe said it best:

“Passion is too fickle to be guided by, but too important to live without – don’t let it lead you, but always take it with you.”

 

How does your passion fit into your life?