Wednesday ROW80 Update and Some Blog Fun

Last week I was very honored when  Alicia Street gave me the “Versatile Blogger Award.” Thanks, Alicia!

The award has several stipulations. One: I have to tell you seven random facts about myself (see below). Two: I have to post the lovely logo on my site, which isn’t a problem because I love pretty, shiny things. And three: I get to pass it on to other bloggers.

I am pleased to bestow the Versatile Blogger Award upon these people. Perhaps some of you have already received it, but I wanted to name you anyway:

David N. Walker

Kendall Grey

Coleen Patrick

And now, as per the rules, here are seven random fun facts about me:

1.)    My husband and I were together for 10 years before we tied the knot. (Hey, fools rush in.)

2.)    My favorite book is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Hilarious. Delightful. Perfect.

3.)    The only thing that bugs me more than people who don’t use their turn signals (I’m not a mind-reader!) is people who wear pajamas in public. If you’re well enough to go to the grocery store, you’re well enough to wear actual pants.

4.)    I hate peaches. Don’t know why. Just do.

5.)    I love roses, especially coral roses.

6.)    I am NOT a morning person.

7.)    I am not weird. I am delightfully quirky. 🙂

My ROW80 check-in:

  • Monday I wrote 958 words. Today I wrote 615, bringing the total to 1,573. I tried the old trick of opening a blank Word doc and seeing where the muses take me. It worked out nicely tonight.
  • Working on my goal of blogging Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Sunday #ROW80 Update:

A quick post tonight on my ROW80 goals. Here we go:

1.) I wrote 1,600 words in “Pierce My Heart.” Still shy of 3,000, but getting there. I also did some background writing and attempted to do some plotting. This story is still squirming around. It’s too complex to be a short story but doesn’t have the multiple plot threads of a novel. It should land square in novella territory, but since I don’t have a final word-count goal in mind, I’m having trouble pinning this one down at the moment.

2.) I blogged Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, so I hit goal No. 2.

On the day-job front, I finished an economic-development article, so there’s one deadline wrapped up. I’ve determined that deadlines are like gray hairs. When one’s out of the way, scads more seem to pop up to take its place. But hopefully the day-job craziness slows down a little bit and leaves some additional room for fun and creativity. Lucky for me, tomorrow is a holiday, so I’ll have a full day set aside for writing (and laundry). 🙂

Finally, I’m delighted that one of my fellow Team WANA1011 members (*cough* Alicia) has honored me with a blogging award. Join me later this week for more information–and as I pay the blog-love forward.

Have a great week! I hope 2012 is treating everyone well and the writing, reading, blogging, and life in general is going smoothly.

How to Evoke the 5 Senses and Create a Meditation Space

Meditation can take our lives from drowning in deadlines to sailing on a sea of tranquility. Carving out a special space for the practice, which can take the shape of anything from a simple yoga sequence to guided imagery to reflection on a religious passage, means we’re more likely to take a few minutes each day to ground ourselves and reflect. The practice allows us to cultivate relaxation, gratitude, and awareness.

I take my own life as the perfect example: I’ve spent this week on a tight deadline for an article for work. I know as soon as I finish this story, several more will emerge from the sidelines to take its place. Between dog-walking, doctor’s appointments, paying the cell phone bill, and cooking dinner, how do we find time to focus on nurturing our deeper selves? Between jobs and hobbies, friends and family members, eating and exercising, how do we make a space to reflect?

The first step can be a small one. We simply make a place for that reflection. What better way to ensure we meditate than to create a space in our home–whether it’s a small corner or an entire room–especially for this practice? Here’s a guide to creating a meditation space, one sense at a time.

Floor pillows, available at www.westelm.com.

Floor pillows, available at http://www.westelm.com.

1.)  Touch: For meditation, comfort is key. Few of us can meditate while seated in an uncomfortable high-backed dining chair. Meditation requires a mix of focus and relaxation. Touch means comfortable surroundings. A floor cushion, folded blanket, or yoga mat provides the necessary foundation for good practice. Add comfy clothes (my go-to is yoga pants and a tank top) and just say “om.”

2.)  Smell: Scent is powerful. It can ignite the first spark of attraction or trigger a memory. Lightly scented candles can set the scene for a meditation, though overwhelming smells or chemical fragrances can trigger migraines or asthma attacks for some. If the smoke of incense isn’t your thing, consider a much more subtle alternative: an aroma diffuser, such as these, sold at Mountain Rose Herbs, which also offers an assortment of essential oils. Add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice–anything from eucalyptus to bergamot to lavender–and allow the scent to waft through the room. Electric diffusers that use a light bulb instead of a tea-light candle are also available from other retailers.

3.)  Sound: Few things are as personal as our taste in music or the sounds that produce a sense of relaxation. This can be a Tibetan singing bowl or a gong, so that you’re in charge of the sound; a podcast of nature sounds, anything from bird songs to ocean waves; the soft strains of Vivaldi; or complete and utter silence. Even if you’re in a space that’s normally full of the hustle and bustle of the household, try to make it as quiet and serene as possible. Not even the most disciplined of us can truly focus on a meditation exercise when surrounded by a cacophony of car horns and crying children. Having music or nature sounds also gives us something to focus on. That way, if our minds wander, we have something to draw us back into our practice.

4.)  Sight: Don’t forget to set the stage for tranquility. Anything from the art on the walls–whether you fancy the pastel hues of Claude Monet or the black-and-white nature photos of Ansel Adams–to the statues and knickknacks we surround ourselves with helps us relax into a receptive state of mind. A small, low table can become a makeshift altar when we add a few meaningful items. Houseplants or fresh-cut flowers, statues of deities, inspiring artwork, and relaxing colors can all play a role in finding our inner zen. If you can paint the walls, bright red probably isn’t the way to go. Cool tones like blues or greens, earth tones like adobe or khaki, or a middle-of-the-road hue like purple whisper (not shout) zen.

5.)  Taste: Taste doesn’t typically come into play when creating a space for tranquility. But consider brewing yourself a pot of green tea to have nearby. At the very least, pour yourself a glass of filtered tap water. (Bottled water consumes more natural resources than water straight from the tap.)

Whether you have an entire floor or a small nook, an hour each morning or a few minutes each evening, setting aside a time and a place for meditation can benefit body, mind, and soul. Creating a space for meditation practice encourages us to carve out that time in our busy lives. The practice can rejuvenate our creativity, alleviate stress and anxiety, and help us head off stress-sensitive conditions like high blood pressure, migraines, and depression. Create your space one breath, one object, and one sense at a time. Then relax and enjoy.

Unwritten Bios: How the Places We Live Shape Us

“These fields stretch out like patchwork on my granny’s quilt. She used to tell me, ‘Life is a series of strange and mysterious things.’” –Jewel, “1,000 Miles Away”

The view from Buffalo Mountain in Southwest Virginia

I’m from western Pennsylvania, a distant and strange land also known as Steelers Country. Two college degrees, countless travels, and a few moves later, those mountains still live inside me. I know people who are ashamed of where they come from. And I can’t be. I’m grateful. My ancestors—who came from Ireland and Germany to settle in Pennsylvania in the mid-19th century—made incredible sacrifices for me to have a shot at my dreams. I’ve always known how hard they worked and how much they gave, and I’ve always given life, love, and art all I’ve got.

My great-grandfather worked in the coal mines; most people in my hometown (which is named after the freakin’ coal company, no lie) can trace their roots to the coal companies in some way. It was a shit job, too. He once walked home on a broken ankle. Another time, his clothes burned off in a fire. He was a coal digger before he finally landed a “safe” job riding the back of the cart that went down into the mines to be loaded up with coal. He had to jump off the cart and flip a switch that determined which set of tracks the cart would go down. One day, not long after landing his “safe” job, he was killed when the cart jumped the tracks and pinned him. He was 40 years old. My grandmother told me, point blank, “He had a horrible, miserable life.” I wish he’d had better. If he sacrificed so his children and children’s children and on down the line could have better, I am eternally grateful for it. I try never to waste a day of it.

Now, I’m glad I don’t live in western PA anymore. There wasn’t anything left for me there. The job market had dried up, and my hometown didn’t have much to offer, not even a bookstore. But I still carry the stories of my ancestors with me. Because of their sacrifices, I’ve had amazing chances. I’ve earned two colleges degrees, taught at a major research university, and, best of all, had the chance to practice the craft of writing. I’m a storyteller, and that is an amazing gift, one for which I am eternally grateful.

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been nearly six years since I left my hometown. It feels like so much longer. Today, my life is full of a new place, the beautiful mountains of Virginia and the small town I currently call home. No matter where I go, this place will stay with me.

The places we live, even if we leave them, remain inside us. They get under our skin, shaping us in ways we can’t understand until we’re away. I learned about magic and possibilities in the mountains surrounding my family’s farm. I also saw firsthand how fragile the land is, how irreplaceably precious. I’ve seen slag heaps so high they look like mountains themselves and water permanently tainted sulfuric orange thanks to acid mine drainage. But there are many places where the land is not scarred, and unspeakable beauty dwells there: ferns and grapevines, maple and apple trees, and tiny creeks swollen with clear water in the spring.

Today, nature infuses my stories. I can’t help but let it. In so many ways, my stories are born in the natural world. A full moon, a constellation, morning mist at the brow of the mountain, a tree’s gnarled roots, or the ocean’s lullaby—these are the birthplaces of my stories.

What is your unwritten story? How have the places you’ve lived left their traces on your soul?

Sunday ROW80 check-in and this week’s inspirational quote

This week’s word count is a whopping 958 words. Sadly short of my target of 3,000, but it’s better than nothing. Slightly disappointing, but hopefully next week is better.

I had to take a writing hiatus late last year (I know, boo!), so I’m still getting back into the groove. Normally, I aim for about 7,000 per week, but I’m also blogging now—and still finding my new routine for 2012. Since one of my goals for this year is not to burn out, I don’t see myself shooting for 7K/week anytime soon.

I blogged Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, so I met my goal of posting three times per week.

Today, I’m off to clean my apartment, which desperately needs it. In addition to the normal vacuuming and dusting, I’m considering doing a brief space-cleansing ritual to officially ring in the New Year. Before I go, here’s some inspiration for your week. The pic is from a place I used to live: a lovely little farm near the river, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Enjoy!

What about you? Did you meet your goals? Surpass them? Or are you still working your way up?

mountain trail; property of the author (Janelle Madigan)“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting.” —Buddha

ROW80 Goals and the ‘Latte Effect’ of Writing

Like many of my writerly friends, I’m a very goal-driven person. Think about our job: We write books in the hopes that someone will publish them, read them, benefit from them. That can’t be done without a strong sense of direction. So we set goals, tangible manifestations of our dreams.

I keep those goals near me wherever I am. The whiteboard in my home office lists my writing goals for the year. The sticky notes program on my computer desktop reminds me every time I turn on my laptop. The row of post-its on the bottom of my work computer helps keep me on track when I’m on several different deadlines at once. I believe in taking methodical approaches to big goals. One step at a time.

Don’t believe me? Consider the “latte effect.” In the world of personal finance, the latte effect is used as proof that many of us can, in fact, afford to save up for a rainy day. If you buy a latte a day, five days a week, at $5 a cuppa, that’s $1,300 in one year. Save that money instead, and you’re off to a good start with your savings. In 10 years, you’ve saved $13,000—not too shabby. (I feel obliged to add a disclaimer. I am not Suze Orman and am in no way qualified to give financial advice.)

But imagine if we sat down and said, “I need to save $13,000.” That figure is overwhelming. Maybe 10 years (120 months) is overwhelming. If we think of it instead as $5/day, $25/week, it becomes tangible. Most of us will never hold $13,000 in cash. But $5 or $25 is far more accessible.

Whether we’re saving for a rainy day or writing toward a finished novel, we can use the same approach. The latte effect shows how a little bit of effort each day can add up to a decent chunk of savings over the long haul. What if we wrote 500 words a day or for 30 minutes daily? Over the course of a year, if we write six days a week at 500 words, that’s 156,000 words. Suddenly, writing a novel doesn’t seem so daunting.

I was drawn toward A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) because it’s the “writing challenge that knows you have a life.” I can’t do NaNoWriMo because I’ve taught every fall for the past few years. And the last few weeks of the semester, the beginning of the holiday season, and the writing community’s version of the Insanity Workout don’t mix well. I still managed to write an estimated 125,000 words last year—and that’s not counting back-story, deleted scenes, etc. Little steps, big goals. So I’m hopping into ROW80 because it’s exactly my kind of challenge: set your own goals, and stick with them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all deal.

So here are my ROW80 goals. Feel free to hold me to ‘em. 😉

1.)  Write 3,000 words per week on Pierce My Heart. The story, which started off as a longer short story, is now a full-fledged novella. We’ll see where it goes from there.

2.)  Blog three times per week. Expect to see me on Wednesdays and Sundays for ROW80 check-in, as well as on Fridays.

3.)  Revise the Pierce My Heart synopsis. Don’t expect that one until closer to March, as I revise and expand the story.

So, now it’s your turn. What are your goals for 2012? How are you approaching them?

Learning from Icarus: A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution

In 2012, I’m taking a different approach to the ol’ New Year’s resolution. It’s not something concrete, as mine tend to be (write 200,000 words, do yoga twice a week, etc.). I’ve settled on something a little different, but far more practical.

For those of you who follow my blog regularly (an act that I truly appreciate, BTW), you know that I’ve made some changes in the last few months. The biggest change is that I quit my teaching gig to give more attention to other areas of my life, especially writing. I have to admit that I’m not always a risk-taker, and leaving a paying job for a non-paying one was certainly a risk.

It’s part of a new approach I’m taking to my life, one I should have taken a while ago. So please, use my tale as a cautionary one, if you’d like, and learn from my mistakes.

I don’t know why, but somewhere along the way, I developed a negative pattern: the inability to say no. Not “no” to drugs or bad ideas. But “no” to opportunities, to good ideas, to exciting chances. It doesn’t sound like a negative thing. How could drive, determination, and ambition be bad? How could saying yes to opportunities be negative? I learned the answer: when doing so pushes you further away from the path you want to take; when trying to do everything leads you to be overworked, uncreative, and burnt out. All work and no play really does make Janelle a dull girl.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tendency to overreach. Like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and plummeted into the ocean, I’ve tended to push myself too far. I stretched myself too thin, wanting to do and be everything: a PR gal, an editor, a writer, a blogger, a teacher, and so on.  I don’t think even Wonder Woman could pull that off.

As a result, my health began to suffer. I worked nonstop from morning until my head hit the pillow at night. I was doing things I liked, but I was too busy and worn out to actually enjoy them. And thus, I worked myself to the point that I burnt out.

Greetings from Hilton Head Island, S.C.

I spent the holiday season in gorgeous Hilton Head Island, S.C., combing the beaches, eating at great restaurants, snuggling up with my hubby, flipping through magazines (my dirty little addiction), and getting some much-needed R&R. And after toying with a number of New Year’s resolutions, I came to this conclusion: My resolution? Treat myself better. Say no. No to overdoing it. No to pushing myself to go jogging when I’m already exhausted. No to working around the clock. I don’t have to accept every opportunity that comes my way. So I’m going to say yes to what I really want out of life: a writing life, a life well-lived, happiness, art and creativity, time with family and friends.

Writing books isn’t just what I want to do; it’s my purpose, my calling, and my dharma. I won’t be truly happy unless I make room for storytelling. This blog is part of that journey, because storytelling isn’t something we do in solitude. It’s a collective journey. We have to listen to ourselves, our characters, and each other.

So 2012 is the year of drawing the line, a year of boundaries. I’m not working at 10 o’clock at night. I’m not working through lunch. I’m not neglecting myself, whether that means nurturing my body or my creativity. So a word to the wise: Just because you can push yourself further doesn’t mean you should. Save the cheetah speed for the big deadlines, not the everyday.

Ultimately, New Year’s resolutions only work if they are part of our larger journey. We have to weave our resolution into our overarching goals. And my resolution is to make time for me—mind, body, and soul. So when you make your resolution, whatever it may be, make sure you’re thinking about what you really want, what you really need in life. What’s most important to you? As my father-in-law recently reminded me, we only get one life. We can choose how we live it. Make a resolution that suits you and where you want to be and go.

Author Louise Behiel offers a list of questions that can help you tailor your resolution and make it a perfect fit this year. Check out her tips here. And Martha Beck, life coach, author, and frequent contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine, gives her advice for how to finally keep that resolution.

Do you have a New Year’s Resolution? What are your goals for 2012? And how does your resolution fit into the bigger picture of your life and your journey?

Singing to the Muses: Pearl and the Beard

I recently saw a band that inspired me as a writer, not just because their songs roused my inner storyteller, but because they take risks as artists: Pearl and the Beard. What they’re doing is so unique, and I’ve always admired artists who follow their medium, dedicate themselves to their craft, and make it shine. Their voices are powerful, their instrumental accompaniment unique and strong. Their work reminds me that there are indefinite combinations of words, notes, or brushstrokes—infinite possibilities for how we make art.

Art feeds our creativity; it awakens the deep self and the stories and songs that sleep inside of us. I love going to a concert because I get caught up in the energy of the music. Whether it’s the symphony or a string quartet, an aria or an a cappella group, an acoustic performance or an electric one, music, like a good story, can transport us.

So here’s a taste of Pearl and the Beard’s music. I hope it inspires you as it has me. And, as Moss of “IT Crowd” once said, “You best put seat belts on your ears…because they’re about to go for the ride of their lives.”

Mine: Own Your Body, Stand up for Your Sisters.

My LJ pal silk_noir roused my inner feminist with a recent post challenging supporters of women’s rights to “claim” their bodies. She urged us “to raise awareness of the sliding status of women’s reproductive health, the increasing lack of agency our representatives are willing to allow us, just the damn reminder that our bodies belong to ourselves–and we are the ones who must suffer the consequences of the future if we don’t act.”

I couldn’t help but accept the challenge:

mine.

Yes, that's my belly. And yes, that is red lipstick--Revlon's "Rum Raisin," if you're wondering.

That’s right. It’s my life, and it’s my body.

As a writer, I try not to use my blog as a political forum. My readers will come from many different backgrounds, and I will always respect that. But my body is mine (as you can see), and I’d like people to leave it alone. I don’t want to tell others what to do with their lives. I’d like the same respect. It is possible to hold true to your own beliefs while respecting those of others.

Women deserve the right to make decisions about their bodies. We deserve the right to have access to birth control. We deserve choices. We shouldn’t have to write “mine” across our bellies to remind the world that, as my friend Em once put it, “women are people, too.” I’m saying it for anyone who needs reminding.

So what about you? Are you in? Take the challenge; claim your body.

Own it, sisters. Take. A. Stand.

Creative Blocks and Feelin’ Rebellious

For a rebellious person, I am remarkably straight-laced. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I don’t need drugs or alcohol to have a good time, and, as I already can’t run a mile without my lungs burning like Hades, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to make it worse by smoking cigarettes.

No, I’m not a party girl. I go to bed at 10 p.m., though if my insomnia kicks in, I’ll scribble on the yellow legal pad I keep next to my bed or read a book or magazine. I play by the rules, pay all the bills on time, stick to the speed limit, and park only in the designated areas. I am, for all intents and purposes, a good girl.

Yet I am fiercely creative, passionate about my beliefs, and, as an artist and an intellectual, willing to take risks in these arenas. When it comes to the laws of men, I am tame. When it comes to the vast, uncultivated territories of the heart and self, I am a wild pony. To be an artist, we have to be. An artist’s job, whether her medium is canvas, page, clay, or the stage, is to learn all the rules, see how elastic they are, how much they can be bent, and then to twist and weave those rules into all sorts of unusual shapes. In the wild world of creativity, I am a rebel.

the inner rebel

Lately, my inner rebel has reared her fiery head. Her hair changes every time I see her, from pink-streaked to fire-engine red to un-dyed and uncut, her clothes destroyed and paint splattered or sleek and sequined. Do you have a side of you that likes to rock out to Bon Jovi, driving through town blasting “Livin’ on a Prayer” with the windows rolled down?

Lately, my life has been wrapped up in deadlines and rules, and remarkably little writing has been getting done. My day jobs and chores have taken over. I’ve been feeling restless, yearning to uproot myself and do something spontaneous. Crazy for me isn’t what most people think of. I have no desire to go out and get wild and crazy in the typical sense. I can’t imagine why anyone would.

Crazy for me is a Wiccan ritual under a full moon, a desert yoga retreat in search of serenity, getting my hands dirty in the garden, opening a notebook or blank Word document and following the muses’ furious chatter. Crazy for me is creativity. Creativity is coming alive.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

Our lives should be a balance of stillness and electricity, yin and yang, the usual and the unusual. When the balance gets thrown off, for me, that’s when the restless rebel rears her head. We all need to play and have fun. When I’m bored and fenced in, the inner artist wonders why I’ve only got two tattoos, why I haven’t lived in Paris, or why I’m ignoring all of the stories and poems that long to fight their way to the surface.

But I know enough now to recognize that I don’t need to hop in my little blue Yaris and drive to Arizona or yank out my passport and catch a plane to London. And I’ve always known that I don’t need parties full of people or glitter in the air. What I need is a blank page, an open mind, and a space for my restless imagination to run wild.

When I’m restless, it’s the wide open space of the page that I’m craving. That’s the artist in me. As long as my creative side has a space of her own, I’m on the right path. Even the quietest, the tamest among us has a rebellious side.

What about you? How do you rebel? What makes you come alive?