The wedding happened!

Give it away! Give it all away!    
-Jennie Nash

The deed got done.
The knot was tied.
The aisle was walked.
The father cried!

Tears came to his eyes anyway.  Mine too.

After months of leaving you bread crumbs in this blog of steps leading up to our daughter's wedding, I had to write and let you know: it happened. They got married. Saturday night. In a big, spacious “industrial sheik” venue — lots of concrete and exposed brick next to sparkling chandeliers and hundreds of bright flowers and candlelight, in the middle of family and friends. 

I’m really happy.

This life is so short, isn’t it? Because it really, truly was just yesterday that Cristina was 4-years-old dancing the chicken dance at her first Father/Daughter Dance. That she was ecstatic when she finally got her braces off in high school. That she was first going away to college, and when we visited her dorm room I eyeballed the floor space and said, “There’s enough room here for my sleeping bag.”

Cristina laughed; I meant it. 

I have loved every single minute of being her mom.

How I’m Writing the Book

Four Chapters to Go (I think). My protagonist Jo has a way of surprising me and coming up with plot twists, but for now, I think I have four chapters to go to finish the first draft. 
Books on Strong Women by Female Authors. Kate Morton has written another suspenseful, intricately-woven beautiful story, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. She masterfully, seamlessly travels back and forth through time, keeping each character squarely in place (including a ghost!) so that as the reader you have the fun of slipping plot puzzle pieces into the right, surprising spots. 

Father/Daughter Dance at the wedding while a tape from their very first one, doing the chicken dance, plays in the background.

Father/Daughter Dance at the wedding while a tape from their very first one, doing the chicken dance, plays in the background.

Back to the phrase up top, I’m quoting Jennie Nash, the founder and chief creative officer of Author Accelerator, the premier book coach program I use. “Give it all away!” from Jennie means don’t be stingy in writing, put it all on the page, don’t hold back. (I’m trying.) 

Meanwhile, I liked the play on words with a wedding being about “giving a daughter away.”  The thing is...

I am not giving her away; she just has this permanent guy by her side.

Warmly,

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How to live a meaningful life

Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for. 
-Immanuel Kant

So simple! I found the German philosopher Kant (1724 - 1804) and his quote after I turned to my iPhone and asked Siri, "What's the meaning of life?"  Her answer came in a second.

"I Kant tell you - ha!" (thanks, Siri)

The reason I asked Siri? It was inspired by a friend I've never met.

Let me explain: I have a separate gmail account to subscribe to blogs and e-newsletters. Maybe you’ve already done this, or have another system for catching content you like that doesn’t have to be read right away. It keeps them from clogging up my other email account. My collection is skewed to writers and marketers. As though they're sitting on bleachers, the group hangs out on the sidelines, friendly, talking among themselves, no pressure -- “read me when you have time!” — it’s an eclectic mix, women and men, and because their names have grown familiar, it's as though if we were ever at the same party, I just know we’d all be friends.

One of these friends is Alison. Last year she caught my attention when I read in a blog about how she packed up her life (and her 90-year-old mom) and moved to Italy. Just up and moved from Arkansas to Europe to pursue writing after spending nearly her entire life in the Midwest. Had never traveled overseas. Doesn’t speak Italian. Every few weeks she sends out a newsletter/journal entry, promoting her Arkansas writing school programs, sharing what her Mom is saying, and the exploits of her tiny poodle, Prose (the section's called "a dash of Prose" - ha!) 

Recently, she wrote about ideas I want to piggyback on today. They come from the book, The Power of Meaning, Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness by Emily Esfahani Smith. To be clear, I haven’t read it, but my friend Alison has and assures me there’s a ton of research behind its identification of the four pillars to a meaningful life.

Let's see what you think of them. As Alison observes, you’d probably guess the first three. The last pillar could surprise you. 

  1. Belonging and Connection. This is an intuitive pillar. We've probably all felt the pain of not belonging, not sensing connection, and the loneliness of not feeling accepted. I’ve found that the less sure I am of belonging, of course the less I reach out for connection, and the isolation perpetuates itself. Touch, the nerve receptors under our skin, fires instantly when coming into contact with something. The absence of connection heightens this sensitivity. There's research about how infants that are held and touched do better -- physically, emotionally and more -- than those who are touched less. This pillar makes me think of two things: Rebuke isolating self-hate self-talk and reach out, reach out, reach out, even if there's no immediate return. 
     

  2. Purpose. “It’s not always easy to find our purpose, but it’s a product of our unique talents, background and interests.” -- so says Alison. The tailwind behind my decision to become a full-time writer came from a potent, nagging mix of restlessness and anxiety, as though I was running out of time, as though I'd overstayed an old purpose and a new one insisted on being found. I believe that we have more than one purpose (even as I nod to Joseph Campbell who said “follow your bliss," perhaps he should have said bliss-es). Sometimes we are called to be there for another — that’s purpose. Sometimes we are called to get through very tough things (betrayal, loneliness, fear) obstructing our purpose. Sometimes purpose can be simple - celebrate a wedding, a graduation, appreciate another. It's the reason we are here. My protagonist Jo struggles with purpose.  “Purpose,” though is not within demographic identifiers - job title, age, wealth, social status. Those labels are impostors to purpose, and like barnacles sail along unseen on the bow of your life until you realize they’re slowing you down. 
     

  3. Transcendence. Oh, an elusive, favorite pillar for me. Not religion, per se, or doctrine or ritual or culture. Rather moments that crack open a brief awareness of the grand magnificence of existence. For instance, I’ve had moments of transcendence watching my son run in a race of raw heartbreaking dominion. Slow down enough and nature can turn the key to a transcendent opening. I remember one night a few years ago, on a girlfriend getaway to Santa Fe, that we four women piled into a car and drove out of town, far away from the city’s lights. After driving up a climbing country road, tall corn stalks on either side marking a long corridor, we pulled over, turned off the car and got out. It was quiet, a light breeze ruffling corn tassels. Looking up, we drew in our breath. The sky was jammed with light — packed with pinpricks of stars, a beautiful tapestry of glittering incandescence — the Big Dipper difficult to find with all the crowded blinking around it. We stared upward. Under such immensity how small, infinitesimally small, our troubles were...then, a stirring in the corn stalks. Another, a few feet away...a chain-saw toting murderer? We jumped in the car. Peeled away. We city girls can’t be too careful.
     

  4. Storytelling. Surprise! Think of it - storytelling is a pillar of a meaningful life. It’s literally a way to make sense of what you've experienced. It’s the means to determine what’s important to you, what your values are, how you went astray and how to find your way forward. Why you’re here. Around the holidays I went to an open house at my financial adviser's office. I met a woman there named Rita. I ended up becoming completely absorbed by her story — her husband’s death, her taking up marathon running, an interest in racquetball, a new companion in her life. I was drawn in, an instant connection. Then about a month later I was helping out at a Christmas charity event, wrapping presents of clothes and toys donated to kids. Over a table of wrapping paper scraps and scissors, Rita and I looked at each other. “How do I know you?” It took a minute to know when we'd made a connection, but not whether we had one. Telling her story had done it, as well as my listening to it. 

I’ve come to realize that in writing my book, while I’m writing Jo’s story, of course, I’m also trying to make sense of my own.

Speaking of which... here's the book update:

How I’m Writing the Book

Weekly Page Submission. After taking the holidays off I’m back on the treadmill of submitting weekly pages to my book coach. My deadline is on Wednesday so each week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday a healthy deadline panic typically sets in. My goal is to try to finish the first draft before Cristina and Jay's wedding.

Movie about a Strong Woman. My friend (in person, not just inbox) Joyce and I saw On the Basis of Sex, a drama telling the true story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the case that overturned the first of hundreds of laws that discriminated between men and women based on gender. Interestingly, it was a case that discriminated against a male. Pair this with the documentary, RBG. Justice Ginsburg is an inspiring example of a purposeful life.

On my refrigerator

On my refrigerator

 The wedding is 40 days and counting down!

I got my first facial peel last week (recommended 6 weeks out before the wedding). A little stinging, not really painful, but what I didn’t realize is that the banana-yellow peel (think Jim Carrey in The Mask) needed to stay on my face for 3-4 hours after it was put on. And I already had booked a hard-to-get appointment with a tailor to alter my Mother-of-the-Bride dress just a few hours after the peel! I called the tailor to explain my face. She said, “No problem.” When I arrived at her work-from-home location, there were four cars in her driveway. Oh dear. I kept my head ducked getting out of the car, skulked up the driveway and rang the doorbell, standing a little off to the side. The door swings open. A woman with straight pins in her headband gazes at me. A few seconds tick by... “You might glow in the dark, honey.” On that note, I think I need to become philosophical again with another quote from Kant: 

Look closely. The beautiful may be small. 

Be well.

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How to begin to innovate

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.  
-Thomas Edison

There is something untidy about a new idea. 

Like a splinter just below the skin's surface, it can persistently irritate and whisper: There must be a better way. 

I was thinking about innovation and my protagonist, Johanna, when the May 2018 issue of Fast Company arrived in the mail. On the cover it announced 2018 winners of world-changing ideas. A couple of examples: 

  • Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) -  small freestanding dwellings on the same grounds as a regular home are an affordable solution to housing shortages. 

  • Patreon - a membership platform enabling creatives (artists, musicians, etc.) to find "patrons," or fans, that make regular financial contributions to fund the artist in exchange for exclusive content.

Two-hundred forty finalists were culled from 1,400 submissions across 12 categories from consumer products to urban design to energy to transportation and more for this competition. Though the article doesn't go in depth into how and why each innovation came about, the ideas break through entrenched assumptions about the way things need to be. For example, the ADU smashes the assumption that a house needs to be on its own plot of land. Patreon shatters the premise that an artist's income is dependent on single buyers. 

So, it's easy, right? Innovate by simply challenging assumptions. The problem is, introducing new ideas can be tough when those assumptions, or the status quo, are backed up by entrenched interests and an organizational structure that profits from it. 

This is the challenge Johanna will face in my book. She will need to think innovatively, against an entrenched status quo. 

During the 19th century, Paris served as a European mecca for artists. The French capital was the largest metropolis in Europe; artists flocked to the art scene established by its famous Ecole dex Beux-Arts, the must-attend academy for all up-and-coming artists. The academy emphasized teaching techniques used by the Old Masters.

The Ecole had an administrative arm, the Academie des Beux-Arts, which held an annual exhibition called the Salon, the most important place for artists to present their work. Showing at the Salon was the only way an artist could make a career: they were eligible to win prizes, to secure government commissions and to qualify as a lecturer at the Ecole dex Beux-Arts or to be a civil servant at the cultural ministry of the Ecole. 

A jury selected the artists for the Salon. Acceptance of an artist meant that their artwork would be hung in plain view. If their work won a prize, it drew the attention of the press where critics wrote in detail about each winning artist in magazine and newspaper articles. Tens of thousands of people attended the public art showing each year giving exhibiting artists wonderful exposure to the public and buyers.

Clearly, competition among artists to get into the Salon was fierce, so winning artists strove to fit into the criteria the jurists were looking for. 

How can Johanna possibly promote her brother-in-law Vincent's work when it didn't fit into the "establishment"? 

Though Vincent's work was not like the mainstream Impressionists, they had been trying. Theo, Vincent's brother, was a partner in an art dealership and tried for years to solicit buyers from his connections, but was ultimately unsuccessful.  And, on his own, Vincent tried to sell his work by getting permission from local cafe owners to hang his paintings on their walls. Only one person bought a painting -- a fellow artist. 

So, by the time it's up to Johanna to decide what to do with Vincent's art -- after both Theo and Vincent are dead and she has inherited all of Vincent's paintings and drawings -- all the usual sales channels have been tried. The assumptions she will need to break through -- the only way to sell is through a Salon connection, women don't belong in business, Vincent was not a legitimate artist but a mentally unbalanced man, Jo is a bad mother for not returning to her parents as a widow, and on and on -- are lining up as I'm thinking through a number of scenes. She is confused; she is a mess. She does not have clear answers yet, but I do know one thing she will have. 

A persistent feeling, an irritation, a discontent, an impatience not to give in to conventional thought. 

The beginning of innovation!

How I'm Writing the Book
Story Genius: Week 7 (of the 10-week class) and we'll still be on the opening scene. I am being challenged to go even deeper in thinking through the action of the scene and its consequences, and, under the surface, why the scene's action matters to Jo and what she is realizing as a result.

Books I'm reading: I finished the novel Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter, on my iPad. Whoa! A serial killer emerged and Slaughter masterfully had me second-guessing whether each guy in the story was the secret murderer. Next up is a (gulp) 500-page Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy, for my W4 bookclub. Finally, still reading the non-fiction Chaos Monkey by Antonio Garcia Martinez. I decided to set it aside for awhile since the investment book club meeting has been pushed into May. 

Meanwhile, on the wedding front this upcoming week Juan and I will drive to Kansas City to check out the downtown venue Cristina and Jay have chosen for their ceremony and reception (Cristina calls it "industrial elegant"...hmmm). I asked Cristina if there will be enough room on the dance floor for my interpretive dance and she said, ".....maybe."  

On another topic, this past week Juan and I attended a fundraiser for our friend Tiffanie's non-profit, Fighting H.A.R.D - Fighting Against Hit and Run Drivers. Tiffanie's sister, Jameca, was tragically killed by a hit-and-run driver.  Since then, Tiffanie has established her organization to raise awareness, educate and provide resources to families of victims. Please click on the link behind H.A.R.D. for more information. 

On my last note - it was easy to think of Thomas Edison as the individual to quote in this week's blog on innovation. His inventions are ideas that broke the mold in their time -- the incandescent light bulb, phonograph, movie camera, and electric power distribution to name a few. He liked to say, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." But the quote I'll close with is even simpler:

There's a way to do it better - find it.

Challenge an assumption!

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Pushing through resistance to change

It was involuntary. They sank my ship. 
-John F. Kennedy
(when asked how he became a war hero)

The unexpected happens: you react. 

Not because you want to or choose to or are following a premeditated plan, but, instead, like the ship that scuttled JFK’s PT boat, you act in order to survive. Lose a loved one. Lose a job. Lose a home. Lose health. With your back against the wall and nowhere to go sometimes there’s no choice but to act in the face of fear and the unknown. 

This specific, heart-rending spot of getting shoved out of a comfort zone is what I’ve been trying to zero in on this week for my book. The moment of no return when my protagonist Johanna must act because of events completely outside of her control. It could be when her husband, Theo dies, or perhaps when he’s sick. Or perhaps when Vincent van Gogh commits suicide. What I do know is that it must be when an external event is so forceful she has no choice but to act. 

It’s the point where the book will start. 

She will be her own worst obstacle because she will be so resistant to change.

Her resistance is normal. As human beings we are wired for survival. We resist change because a new idea can mean leaving the familiar — even an uncomfortable, horrible familiar — in order to move into the unknown or unexpected. 

So a comfort zone may not be good or healthy but it can be really tough to face the resistance to leave it.  It can create the urge to take the easy way out. The problem is the easy way out can mean delaying inevitable change and even losing the chance to leave behind the old and, instead, break through to something new. 

I have two examples that make this point:

  • Nora Ephron, writer and filmmaker, relates in her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, how she was struggling with writing her first movie script when she heard about a hefty inheritance she would be receiving. What a relief - she could stop grappling with her writing and use the unexpected financial gift to pay the bills. Instead, the actual amount turned out to be much smaller so she had to return to the script and finish it. It was When Harry Met Sally. This hugely successful movie  — plus Nora’s succeeding films Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail — are romantic comedy classics. Nora is credited with creating the rom-com movie genre with these films.
  • Will Terry, children’s book illustrator, shared in a podcast interview, of a low point in his career when he'd gotten himself into a financial pickle during 2008’s economic downturn by taking on too much debt. At one point, his father offered to ask a wealthy relative for financial help to save Will's house. Will describes how a voice in his head said, “Yes! Yes!” but out of his mouth came, “No.” And, subsequently, he discovered new ways for his illustrations to generate revenue. Today he credits that single decision to determine his own way as the impetus to discovering new creative ventures. He says, “If I had taken that money, I don’t think I would be doing the things I’m doing today. Today my life feels so much better and happier, almost zero stress."

These are success stories, but, If you’ve ever resisted leaving your own comfort zone, then you have an idea of how this struggle feels. In a way, right now, I feel like I’m doing this every week by choosing to write. So many voices in my head tell me I’m an imposter: "Who are you kidding, Joan?” I saw an estimate that 81% of adults feel they have a book in them. In my writing class I found out the majority of people never get beyond writing three chapters. The numbers add up to more people failing, then succeeding, at writing.

But I do feel sure that if I don’t persist, I will be far more miserable in the long run. It would be so much more comfortable to stop, but the regret will carry a higher cost of feeling disappointed that I didn’t try. 
 
Perhaps this will be how Johanna feels about her struggle too. 

How I'm Writing the Book
Story Genius: Week 6 is this week with a scary assignment from my writing class to write the opening scene of the book, pinpointing the moment of no return for Johanna.
Books I'm reading:  Still reading the non-fiction Chaos Monkey by Antonio Garcia Martinez about Silicon Valley. I’ve also just started the novel Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter, a murder mystery thriller in a small town for my Villa bookclub. 

I’ve been under breathtakingly pure blue Tucson skies this past week at an exercise/spiritual/no-cell-phone spa with a group of girlfriends. It took me a few days of unsnarling mentally to reach a wonderful sense of mental and physical balance. There’s something about the sound of a gentle babbling stream and blooming cactus and mountain vistas that magically melts away tension.

Then on Saturday I travelled to Flagstaff to hug Eric and Angela and take care of fun wedding stuff (67 days away!) as well as meet their goofball greyhoundish dog, Kota. Several times a day he greeted me with startled barking that sounded like, “You’re still here?!!!” Mother-in-laws-to-be get no respect. 

Here’s a final word from JFK:

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.

Time for a change?

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