cosmic chaos

cultivating calm & creativity in my corner of the world

Archive for the category “Life Lessons”

Sooner or Later, We All Sing the Blues

I’ve been in a funk for the past few months.

It seems like at the end of December/beginning of January, I always get excited about the possibilities of the new year. It’s the new calendar syndrome — a blank slate just waiting to be written.

Except, this year I just can’t seem to pull it all together. Instead of  tapping into vast creative opportunities, I have found myself lost in Netflix and Bejeweled Blitz marathon sessions.

I tried to trick myself into becoming productive.  I decided to really focus on my art again.  I had squirreled away canvases and paints just waiting for the day I could start experimenting.  I bought a tabletop easel.

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And there the canvas sat, on my kitchen table, mocking me. I stared it repeatedly but could not muster the courage to pick up the paintbrush to start.

I decided to go for something less intimidating — sketching. So with a very inexpensive sketch pad and a No. 2 pencil, I began to draw.

I am a little out of practice, but the whole point was to just do it and hopefully get better along the way.

So I started.

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My wolf cub did not turn out very well.  But I was drawing.  So I kept going.

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The picture of my son turned out a little better.

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At first I was not happy with my wolf sketch, but the longer I looked at it the more I liked it.

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My lady is not perfect but better.

Tonight, after sitting ignored for a month, I picked up the paint brush and added paint to the canvas.  It will need a lot of work so I am no where close to showing it. My first images where totally wrong so I had to paint over them and start over. But that was ok.  In fact, I realized that this first canvas is  learning process.  Whatever I do is ok because and I am doing something new and creative. Hopefully, it will be what I need to break out of my funk.

From time to time, we all get the blues.  Maybe it is because we are overwhelmed at work or at home.  Maybe it is because life just got hard and we don’t know what to do. Or feel helpless to do anything.  Maybe it is when we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking. We feel down and move to avoid feeling or thinking. So we do something mindless like zoning out in front of the TV or computer. And then we beat ourselves up for wasted time and opportunities.

Every journey starts with one step. Sometimes our path is blocked and we have to back track before we can move forward again.  The important part is making that step. Then keep stepping.

 

 

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Lessons Learned – Part 2

“If You Build It, They Will Come — Not!”

After many years of writing, re-writing, and querying I finally published my novel Blood Adversaries as a both an e-book on Kindle and in print.  As I pressed the publish button, I imagined my book traveling through the internet to find its way into the hands of eager readers.

I had done enough research to know that I would need to promote my book.  I created an author page on Facebook. I announced the release on my blog and on LinkedIn.  I outlined ways to promote my book.  I thought I had a solid promotion plan.

What I found was that it isn’t all that easy and sometimes life just gets in the way of committing all the time necessary to promoting.

The majority of my marketing plan centered on social media.  I had read tips on using Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Goodreads as conduits for creating an author platform and promoting a book.  So I created author pages, shared links to my book and blogged about my book release.   I contacted friends who liked the paranormal/horror genre and asked them to share my link with their friends.  I scheduled a free giveaway of the Kindle version of my book on Amazon.  Then I sat back and waited for the likes to come in and books sales to happen.

Except — it didn’t.

Just a few weeks after releasing my book, my husband was sent out of state for a four month work assignment.  My time was consumed with taking care of my sons with their very active schedules and our home. Then my work position changed increasing my responsibilities threefold.   There was not a lot of time for promoting my book.  Before I knew it, a year had gone by and my book sales were minimal.

My takeaways on promoting a novel?

  1.  Authors absolutely need an electronic presence.  Social media is a key element to promote authors and books.  But social media alone is not enough.  Authors still need to have face to face meetings to promote themselves.
  2. You have to get out of your comfort zone.  Talk to people.  Plan a book signing.  See if you can be part of another event.
  3. Keep at it.  Rarely is there a true overnight success.  Read about some of the best know breakout authors and you will find years dedicated to writing and self promotion before they become household names.
  4. Really, keep at it!  Promoting a book is an on-going process.  Add new things.  Build on what works.
  5. Stuff happens.  Things don’t always run smoothly.  If you stall, don’t let it stop you.
  6. Just do it!

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Lessons Learned – Part 1

“It’s Not as Easy as You Think”

Twenty years ago, snippets of a story started swirling in my head.  I jotted them down and kept asking myself what happens next.  On and off, I worked on my little story until I knew the characters intimately.  I thought about these characters all the time.  About five years after I had started, I had a complete story.  My first novel was done.  I set it aside to rest.  I needed a break from my story.

A few months later I read my novel. My excitement melted away as I realized that it was horrible.  There were holes in the plot, cliche scenes and bad transitions.  It didn’t work. But I loved my characters. I knew they had a story worthy of telling and was not willing to give up on them.  A couple of months later, I decided to started all over.  I tore my novel apart and re-wrote everything.  This too took a number of years to complete.  But finally, I finished.

I began the query process, convinced that it would only be a short time  before I landed an agent and soon after that my book would be in bookstores all over the country.  Except, it didn’t happen.  I started getting rejection letters.  In fact, all the queries I sent were rejected.  There is an old adage that if you continue to have the same issue with people over and over, maybe you are the problem.  Once again, I re-read my novel with a critic’s eye … and I found it lacking.  Back to the drawing board.

I took some time and re-wrote my entire novel. I studied writing magazines and updated my query letter.  Then I started the query process again.  This time I actually got some interest.  Several agents asked for partials (the opening chapters of the book) to read. Alas, those too ended up being rejected.  But I felt really good about my novel. Several people who liked the paranormal genre test read my novel and the feedback was very positive.

I decided that if I truly believed in my book, I needed to self publish.  So I released Blood Adversaries as an e-book through Amazon Kindle.  E-books are great.  They are easy to obtain and convenient.  Storage is not a problem.  But book signings are a little difficult with e-books.  When I went to my writer’s guild meetings, I couldn’t help being a little envious of my fellow authors who had print versions of their books they could actually hold in their hands.  At a book festival I attended, I learned about Create Space.  It wasn’t long before I had a print version of Blood Adversaries available.

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My takeaways from this process?

  1.  Writing a novel is both art and skill.  You can be a gifted writer but you still need to take time to learn the writing process.
  2. You have to be critical of your own work.  You can love your story but to make it publishable you have to be willing to make changes to improve your novel –changes that sometimes alters your original characters and story lines.
  3. Rejection is not terminal.  If you put your work out to the public, some people will love it, some people will be ambiguous and some will hate it.  You have to be confident in your own work (and yourself) to face rejection and keep on going.
  4. Where there is a will, there is a way.  Today more than ever you can get your work published.  Research the options and know what you are paying for.  At Create Space, I was able to use their templates to upload my manuscript.  I edited my own work and designed my own cover.  The only costs I had were the printed proofs I purchased.

10 for the Win

I have always struggled with clutter.  As a girl, I remember going to friends’ houses and their rooms were neat and orderly.  I never seemed to be able to accomplish that.  I just didn’t know what to do with my stuff.  I also hung on to every little item that reminded me of someone or someplace.

As an adult, I’ve had “junk rooms” in the places I’ve lived.  As my children got older, the “junk room” became “junk areas”in main rooms of the house.  At some point, things got out of control.  When there was going to be company coming over, items got swept into boxes that were hidden in closets.  At some point, there just wasn’t a place to put stuff and it got left wherever.

Last year, I got to the point where I decided that enough was enough.  The things I was holding onto were stressing me out, not making me happy.  I decided it really was time for a change.

I’ve subscribed to different blogs and Facebook pages for tips on becoming organized and decluttering.  Then I realized that my life didn’t always fit into someone else’s schedule or plan of how to get organized.  Often I would become overwhelmed and avoid doing anything at all.

The thing is, nothing changes without effort.  And with some effort, I found a method that is working for me.

Everyday I commit at least 30 minutes to an hour for cleaning my house.  First, I maintain the areas that are already straightened.  I very quickly go through the house picking up stray items and putting them away.  I sweep or vacuum the rooms that need it.  I make sure dirty clothes go into the utility room. Then I go through 10 items in each room and decide if the item is trash, recycle or keep.  If it is keep, I put it away in it’s permanent home.  Ten items don’t take long to deal with.  Because I know it is a limited amount, I can tackle it and move onto the next room.  I am not doing anything in my sons’ bedrooms at this point.  Eventually, I will but my attention is on areas that other people may see.

I’ve been using this system for a couple of months.  There are days I get off track, especially if there are school, sports or Boy Scout events going on.   But I have seen great progress.  I have thrown away a lot of items that where clearly trash, but just kept getting moved from one place to another.  I have recycled a huge amount of paper, especially junk mail that never got sorted.  I have gone through clothing and donated bags of things that I realized I didn’t want or need anymore.  Some days, I have extra time and I am so happy with my progress that I do multiple rounds of sorting 10 items the rooms.

I don’t think I will ever be a minimalist.  There are things with sentimental value like cards signed from loved ones now deceased that I choose to keep.  But I’m being more selective in what I keep and with what I choose to bring into my home.  I’m constantly asking myself “Do I really need this ?”  Quite often, the answer is no.

 

Winter Weather Alert

The normally temperate Upstate South Carolina was hit with freezing rain yesterday.  Icicles grew outside of our windows.  With the dark came the icing of trees.  Roads were salted earlier in the day and remained quite drivable.  Our issue is the exposed power lines that run throughout the county.  Ice weighs down tree limbs and power lines causing breaks and outages.  We’ve been lucky.  So far our power has remained on.  That’s so important for those of us who use well water — no power means no water.

Only a week ago, the daffodils has begun to pop through the earth and bloom.  Pretty yellow flowers announcing the approach of spring.  Now they lay frozen on the ground.

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Sometime during the night, a huge Oak tree fell beside our driveway.

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The trees were encased in ice.

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As I walked outside, I heard the drip of the ice melting followed by the trickle of ice hitting ice as it fell to the ground.  Ice is heavy, weighing down the tree limbs.  Limbs bend and give at least to a certain point.  I heard the popping of wood as the weight reached the tipping point and the wood began to give.  Then there was the splitting of limb from tree as it came crashing down to to the earth with a resounding boom.

Ice is beautiful but destructive.  This little bit of frozen water can tear away limbs and even uproot the mighty Oak.  That is the balance of nature.

 

Refresh

I love where I live.  I really do.

I’m fortunate to live on several acres of land surrounded by natural woods.  I can walk out of my door and stroll leisurely though a forest.  I have a large front yard that used to be a pasture.   My house is surrounded by oak and pecan trees.  There are all manner of birds that visit and nest here.  Often when we come home during the fall, we have several deer munching on the persimmons that fall from the trees.  It can be a paradise.

But this is also where I deal with the everyday demands of life.  Cooking, cleaning, mediating family squabbles or sometimes being in the middle of a squabble.  Stressing over work, family, bills and the future.  It can drain away the creativity.

I have been longing to get away.  Last year, my family was fortunate to be able to vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a week.  This year, a week vacation was not possible.  An overnight trip to the beach planned for June had to be cancelled.  So I was thrilled when we could combine dropping my son off for summer camp with an overnight trip to the mountains.

The drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway led up into the clouds themselves as we stopped at the highest peak along the Parkway (North Carolina).

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There was interesting flora.

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We went to Mt. Mitchell State Park and climbed to the observation tower.  At 6684 feet above sea level, it is the highest point east of the Mississippi.  However, the clouds had moved in obstructing any view.

On the way back down the Parkway, we were surprised by an amazing sight.

 

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This was the first full rainbow I had ever seen.  The colors were so bright and vibrant.  It was truly a gift.

There was also a reminder of the magic of our surroundings.

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We stayed in Hendersonville, NC where I found a mountain mermaid …

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and met a new friend.photo (8)

This special kitty has extra toes on his paws.

Our lives are full of miracles but the routine of everyday living can block our appreciation of these.  We all need a chance to stop and breathe.  Sometimes, we can do this at our homes.  But sometimes going somewhere new is just what we need to be refreshed.

 

 

Seize the Day

Today is a rare day in South Carolina – a snow day!

It started yesterday around 4:00pm while I was still at work.  Small flakes of white whirled almost invisible in the day.  The evidence was the layer of white that coated the vehicles in the parking lot.  By the time we walked out, the snow was steadily falling.  I relished the crisp air and clean smell that accompanies the snow.  I lifted my face to let the snow kiss my cheeks and nose.   We see so little snow in South Carolina that the smallest amount brings a frenzy of electric anticipation.

For the next few hours the flakes continued to come down.  But there was a lot of melting on the paved roads.  With low overnight temperatures, freezing was inevitable which led to mass closings today due to icy road conditions.

Here was another rare treat — an unexpected day at home to do what I wanted.  I’ve been editing a manuscript that I had put to the side may months ago.  I have a deadline in place to finish the manuscript for a submission.  Interestingly enough, I’ve found that deadlines spur my creativity.

Another creativity boost happened today.  I got to take a leisurely stroll through the snow blanketed woods.  I love a walk in the woods anytime, but especially when they are coated in snow.  Instantly, I go back to my childhood and look at my surroundings with wonder.  As I do so, story ideas run through my head and I feel energized.

Days like today are gifts, a break from the normal routine that reminds me of those things I truly enjoy and why I write.

So here’s to you – hoping you find your creative gems!

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Our barn — not yesterday’s snow but a favorite memory.

Oh, the possibilities

A few days ago, I bought a 2014 calendar.

I love picking out a new calendar.  I like seeing the different designs and colors, trying to decide which reflects me.

There is something about opening up a new calendar that is totally blank with pages just waiting to be filled.

New calendars are a physical representation of the new year.  You can actually see the blank slate just waiting for you to complete.  I always feel a little excited about the possibilities of the new year.  Now is the chance to make changes you want to make, to schedule activities you forgot to set aside time for, to mark off time for new adventures.

Thankfulness

For the past couple of years, I watched as friends posted their 30 Days of Thankfulness on Facebook.  Sometimes I would post a blanket thanks for my overall blessings, but that was as far as it went.

I have several friends who regularly keep a Gratitude Journal or Journal of Abundance.  In fact, it seems like I’ve been seeing almost monthly articles — both on-line and in print — about the power of gratitude to make a positive impact in everyday life.  I thought why not give it a try in November.

So this year, I participated in the 30 Days of Thankfulness, dutifully posting on Facebook my daily thoughts of appreciation.  I tried to tie each thanks to something that happened that day — a meaningful church celebration, time spent with family and friends, thoughts about love ones.  What I found was that once I started thinking about things to be thankful for, I kept finding more.

November was an interesting month for me, full of changes in my work and home life.  Whenever something would happen that could have made me upset or depressed, I weighed it against the good things and told myself not to dwell on it.

In my profession I work with several counselors, so I have learned some points about different therapy models over the years.  In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, there is a triangle that is used to explain an aspect of this module.

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(Image from psychminded.files.wordpress.com)

Basically, the triangle illustrates that how a person thinks affects how that person feels which affects what that person does which affects how that person thinks.  Someone who focuses on negative thoughts feels negatively which influences her to act in negative ways and reinforces the negative thoughts.   Focusing on positive thoughts can lead to positive feelings and positive actions, reinforcing positive thoughts.

I think this is the benefit of expressing thankfulness, gratitude and abundance — a way to reinforce positive thoughts, feelings and actions.

Now that November is over, I won’t be posting my thanks every day.  But I do plan to take time to reflect on my blessings.  My foray into thankfulness gave me some perspective.  Even on my worst day, there are many people in this world who would be willing to change places with me.  My problems would still seem like blessings to them.

So this season, instead of longing for what I don’t have, I plan for concentrate on all the things to be thankful for.

Nostalgia

I love KitKat Candy Bars.  Crispy sugar wafers covered in milk chocolate.  What’s not to love?  But it’s not just the delicious taste that fosters my fondness for KitKats.

When I was a little girl, my brother and I got off the school bus at my grandparents’ house.  My mother taught at a local school.  We stayed with my grandparents until my mother got home.  My grandparents, like many others, stocked their kitchen with goodies they knew the grandkids liked.  KitKats were a frequent treat for us.

KitKats are a comfort food for me.  The sight, feel and taste of this candy transports me back to happy days of my childhood.  I think of how special I felt knowing that my grandparents bought treats for me because they loved me.  I remember playing cards with my grandmother.  Sometimes, I would sit with my grandmother and watch her crochet.  She taught me the basic stitches and bought me my first crochet needle and thread.  Even though I tried, I couldn’t keep up with her nimble fingers.

My grandfather died a long time ago.  My grandmother has since left her home and now lives with my mother.  Earlier this month, my grandmother celebrated her 97th birthday.  Maybe that’s why the last time I was at the grocery store, I bought a whole bag of KitKats.

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