I write because it’s cheaper than therapy

It turns out you can buy a whole collection of “cheaper than therapy” t-shirts and most of them make the valid point that doing something physical, or doing something you love, is good for your mental health. I guess the remaining ones (mostly about chocolate, wine and beer) make the point that the occasional indulgence is helpful too.

Most people I know who write, do include “writing as therapy” as one of their reasons. Sometimes it is the main one. I’m no exception. Writing anything is an outlet for me, and it is one of the reasons I blog, and at times keep a journal. In some ways the journal is the best mental health tool, because it is a place where I can explore my own issues without giving any thought to a reader.

However, fiction provides a sort of veil between my raw emotions and a make believe story while it allows me to delve deep into issues that might never surface in something more contained like a journal. Creating a plot has a certain non-linear element of surprise to it that can take me exactly to the places where I least want to go.

When I started my first novel, I promised myself I would do my best to write without fear. Some of that entailed pretending that no one I knew would ever read my book. (I still have to pretend that sometimes.) I got the chance to go to Ireland in the middle of my first novel, and toured the Jameson distillery. I was surprised to learn that every bottle of Jameson contains the two Latin words “Sine Metu.” Without Fear. Well, Mr. Jameson and I seem to have things in common.

I have a theory about writers block. So far, in my case, it is caused by one of two things. The first, and easiest to solve, is that my body needs something and I’m ignoring it. Usually it’s sleep, but sometimes it’s food or water or even a trip to the bathroom. My brain will eventually cease to create until I care for myself.

The other is that I want to go somewhere with the story and I’m censoring myself. Occasionally it’s because I have another direction I want the plot to go, but more often it’s because something deep within wants to take the story into territory that bothers me. I’ve learned that my muse becomes silent until I relent and stride into the dark forest that is scaring me so.

There, I find the demons that have my particular number, and as we stare each other in the eye, I become a little stronger and they become a bit less terrifying. As I write them into the ordinary, I turn them into creatures of the light.

The forest is huge and the creatures are many, so it’s not like this writing thing is a quick road to complete mental wellness, at least for me. But I do recognize that writing forces me to confront my worst of everything, and with the confrontation comes a measure of understanding.

While looking for information for this blog, I found a great post written by “The Angry Therapist” on tips for dealing with life if you can’t afford therapy.  I found the entire article worthwhile, and some of it surprising and wise. I especially liked tip seven: share your story.

A final word about therapy. Several people I’m close to either see or have seen a therapist and each one of them has benefited from it. It is, I’m told, expensive and hard work, but with the right therapist and the right attitude, it can be life altering. So please understand that I don’t mean to claim here that writing, or any other activity, can or should replace therapy when it is needed, or even wanted.

Therapy may be something I’ll try someday. Much as it may help me, I’m confident I have enough garbage in my head that writing for my mental health will always be an option for me. Besides, I have six other fine reasons to write, and there are four of them I haven’t given much thought to lately. One of them I’m kind of secretive about, and it will be the subject of my next post.

(Read more about why I write at at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, and My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing.)

Moments and Movements

It’s easy to hear commentators describe the “me too” moment and feel cynical. It is tempting to lump it in with the marches for science and climate sense, and the recent amazing push by high school students for gun safety laws, and all the writing and calling so many of us have done for so many causes, and conclude it has all been useless because things aren’t any better. Is it true?

My husband and I have a fondness for procedural crime dramas, and we’ve recently gotten hooked on a series about a Wyoming sheriff from a decade ago. He and his wise Native American friend Henry handle all manner of mayhem, but a recent episode about sexual assault took a turn for the serious when justice was not had. The young female Cheyenne survivor was referred to a group of Native American women who met monthly to help women in her situation.

“How long has this been going on?” Henry is asked. He gives the questioner a funny look.

“Forever,” he answers.

The writers got that one right.

Yet, what we forget is there has been change, in this area and so many others. Both laws and attitudes about sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence have slowly crept towards reasonable, as have our laws and attitudes in other areas of human fairness.

I understand there is debate about Martin Luther King’s quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Some argue these words discourage the hard work needed to make a better world. I see the quote  differently. I think it means that if we do the hard work, if we raise awareness and argue for fairness and believe in justice, then slowly, the inherent goodness in the human soul will respond with a gentle lean towards what is right. I think the quote means that ultimately humans are a moral people who understand and wish for goodness. Given time and encouragement, they will grow in that direction much as a plant grows towards the sun.

No single event ended segregation, no one protest stopped the Vietnam war. But over years, the hatred behind racism and the futility of needless conflicts fell out of favor with mainstream American, and differences were made. Perhaps too little. Certainly too slowly. But it was undeniably better than if there had been no progress at all.

So I try to remain hopeful as I listen to the “me too” hype. Nothing will be particularly different tomorrow. The success of the movement will be apparent a generation from now, when mothers tell their daughters how bad it once was, and the daughters have trouble believing them.

 

woman traveling alone

She’s prohibited in a few places, and frowned upon in many others. Some fear for her safety, others decide she is asking for trouble. Few cultures, if any, are totally comfortable with a woman traveling alone.

These days, she travels for her work, sometimes, and that is understandable. Other times, she is on her way to help aging parents, or to meet friends or family, and of course that makes sense. But what about the woman on a journey, a whole journey, by herself, simply for the sake of enjoying herself? At best, it seems odd to many.

Yet, she does exist, and she wants to go places.

Women have more money than in times past. They also have (on the average) more of a yen to travel. Spouses, relatives and friends may want to go, too, but when they don’t, women are opting to go alone. For many, joining a travel group provides an easier, and possibly safer, way to do this.

Now, I’ve always been someone who enjoys researching a destination and making my own plans. The internet allows for fabulous discoveries for someone willing to invest the time, and I prefer to move on my own schedule and get off the most-traveled path. But I also have always had someone, usually my husband, traveling with me, and I wonder if I am up to taking  similar trips, to a foreign country very different from my own, by myself.

I recently went to Peru, and did it with my first tour group.

There were a lot of considerations. I wasn’t traveling alone, but with my daughter, and I didn’t want the role of tour guide. I was concerned about our mutual safety, our poor grasp of Spanish, and the fairly daunting logistics of getting from Lima to Cuzco, dealing with a 12,000 elevation change, then navigating buses and trains through the Sacred Valley, and securing two of the carefully controlled tickets into Machu Picchu and then doing it all again in reverse to get home. I knew I could manage it, but it sounded more like work than fun.

So I used the internet to find a company called G Adventures, and read about their modestly priced, no-frills modular tour concept. It seemed to include them doing the hard part (clean yet cheap lodging, train tickets) and us handling our own arrival in Peru, shopping, dining and all extraneous activities. I liked the approach.

When our group of sixteen convened for the first time at a hotel in Lima, we were an eclectic mix of two mother-daughter combos, two sisters with one’s husband, a married couple, a pair of twenty-somethings, and five solos travelers. We hailed from Canada, the US, Germany and Australia.

Four of the solo people were men, and one was an independent young professional woman who impressed me with her approach. She’d always wanted to go to Peru, and finally accepted that it wasn’t a priority for anyone else she knew. So, here she was.

That’s the way to do it, I thought.

We had a great time in Peru, and the tour thing worked out quite well as this was one destination where having some help was wise. I took away more from this trip than happy memories and fine photos, however. I took away an idea.

You see, there are a lot of places in this world I want to go. Many of them do not interest my husband at all. Relatives and friends may be persuaded to go to some of these with me, but hey, I don’t think I’ve got anyone who wants to see Kyrgyzstan as bad as I do.

Guess what? G Adventures offers a trip there. They also do to Bhutan. And Cambodia. And Antarctica. And there are other companies like them. And maybe, after doing some of these, I’ll feel ready to tackle more difficult destinations on my own. And maybe not.

Either way, the world is my oyster, as long as my health and my funds hold out. You see, I came home from Peru with more than pretty scarves and coco candy. I came back with a plan; a plan of how to be a woman who travels alone.

(For more on my trip to Peru see What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you and History at its most exciting.)

eNOugh

There are many reasons I’m proud to live in Buncombe County, North Carolina. One of them is the serious approach taken in recent years to halt domestic violence. This is a region of the country, and a culture, as prone as any in America to the old school belief of turning a blind eye towards what happens inside a home, but the attitudes of Appalachia are changing.

Physically assaulting another human is a crime, as What the media and politicians get wrong about domestic abuse.” Police in Asheville and surrounding areas have embraced this fact, and implemented specific training and procedures to ensure this particular crime is no longer drastically under reported. Asheville maintains a domestic violence hotline, and a shelter for victims of intimate partner violence who have no where safe to go as they begin a new life.

I’m glad this movement isn’t restricted to the mountains of Western North Carolina where I live. Across the nation, and around the world, more people are waking up to the lack of justice inherent in assuming a person must tolerate whatever abusive behavior their spouse exhibits. They are also waking up to the cost to the community in terms of medical care, lost work time, resulting trauma to children involved, and lost contributions to society.

Most people understand the embarrassment and emotional difficulty a women encounters when she accuses her husband or boyfriend of violence, and most people are not surprised to learn that false claims are rare. They do happen, however, most commonly in cases of a custody battle. The police use techniques similar to those used in questioning witnesses and victims of other crimes to determine if the claims are credible.

Did the woman talk to others soon after the event? (If true, she often does.) Was her story similar each time? Did she use identical words every time? (Repeating a story verbatim is a sign of lying.) Did she seek medical help? Try to get a restraining order? Take pictures of her bruises so she would have proof later when she found the courage to speak up?

Law enforcement does not deem every claim of domestic violence to be credible, although they find most are. Once they do make this determination, however, most people agree the woman has been assaulted and deserves the same justice as any other victim of a crime.

Most people. I felt sick to my stomach when I saw this on the news.

In what sort of law and order society do we praise the accused perpetrator and wish him well, while offering no sympathy what-so-ever to the credible victims and no mention of the nastiness of the violent crimes of which he is accused?

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America. No matter what your politics, it is a very scary place.

Spending time

“He asked me out again. I don’t really want to go. But maybe I should. What do you think?”

It’s a common conversation among women.

We continue to have a system in which he is more commonly the inviter, causing plenty of problems for him, and she is more often the invitee, causing another set of problems for her.

She deals with the invitation that never comes, or comes too late, and with finding creative and kind ways to decline the invite she is positive she does not want. Perhaps the trickiest one, though, is the chance to spend time with someone she’s pretty sure she’s not going to want to see more often, but …

This problem, of course, isn’t confined to dating. We’ve all had nice enough acquaintances who’ve tried to include us more, but we just didn’t see that much in common. We’ve been invited to be on teams or join groups that sort of sounded like fun, but weren’t really. It’s usually flattering to be invited, and for reasons of upbringing, personality or societal expectations, most of us find it hard to say no.

We shouldn’t.

Too many people spend too much of their limited free time doing things they aren’t all that interested in, with people they don’t particularly enjoy. I think it’s time we give ourselves far greater permission to treat our time as the resource it is, and learn to say “I don’t want to join you” in a way that is both kind and firm.

Yes, doing this requires a certain amount of courage.

A few days ago I found myself on the listening end of the conversation I started this post with, and was surprised at the vehemence of my answer. Maybe it was because she had just been telling me how hard she was trying to save money, and how poorly it was going. Something clicked.

“What makes you think your free time is any less precious than your spending money? It’s more precious. Hell yes, you say no if you don’t feel like going!”

Then I started to think about the words we use to describe both of these concepts. We have money. We spend money. We have time. We spend time.

Do we spend anything else? I don’t think so. Even our language acknowledges that time is a resource as precious as our wealth.

A few years ago, two former co-workers I hadn’t seen in years came to my home town and invited me out for the day. They seemed surprised and miffed when I declined. The reaction bothered me, and I remembered writing a post then about saying no to things you don’t want to do. I just found it and it’s called No, I actually don’t want to spend time with you.

I reread it and I stand by it. It’s never necessary to be rude. It is fair to be tired, over-committed, in need of some down time or just plain not interested. It is okay to try something, including an activity or a relationship of any sort, and decide this isn’t a thing you want to keep doing.

We go to great lengths to keep a thief from from spending our money. I think we’d be well-served if we were as vigilant about not letting others take over how we spend our free time.

(For more thoughts on how to use one’s precious time wisely, or poorly, see Live like you are going die?)

 

 

Designing your own book cover, part 4

My easiest cover by far came with c3. It was the most difficult of my books to write, so maybe some sort of universal balance was at work. I’d barely begun skimming through the Shutterstock collection when I found not one but two backgrounds I loved. Which to use? I decided I’d send them both on to Jen at Mother Spider and let her decide.

I knew I didn’t want the image of Teddie, my hero, to be a photo. This was a book about out of body experiences, and a clear likeness seemed too stark. I wanted something vague, more like a sketch. She had to be young, dark-haired, and there had to be green involved.  I didn’t expect a lot of results when I combined all these search parameters, and I didn’t get them. However, the one image I got had potential.

This drawing of a young woman possessed the ethereal quality I wanted, but didn’t fit the cuddly softness I felt was part of Teddie’s personality. I played with it a little, and was happier once she had a rounder face and the soft brown eyes I envisioned.

The next challenge was to find a way to show an out of body experience in a single image on a book cover. I thought of showing her face three times, each one more transparent than the last. Also, I wanted a white bird because, well, it was symbolism I liked. I took all that and came up with the two straw man versions below and sent them off to Jen.

Jen did three brilliant things. First, she layered one of my backgrounds over the other to create an orignal and beautiful backdrop. Second, she got rid of the bird. Third, she rearranged Teddie to look back upon herself, conveying the idea of out of body in a way my linear images never could.

When this cover came back, I loved it instantly. She humored me by adding in the crescent moon instead of the dove, and we dinked around trying to match the font of my two-character title to the previous three books, but otherwise not a single revision was made. There was no doubt in my mind this was the cover c3 was meant to have.

Recently, I did some light editing and clean-up on all of my books, mostly to remove the links from all versions as they have become impossible to maintain. I decided if I ever wanted to make a tiny modification to the cover, now was the time.

Was there anything I wanted to change? Anything at all?

Well, I’d never been entirely happy with Teddie’s porcelain doll white skin or her sensuous lips. I thought a faint pink blush would make her look more human, and thinner lips more age-appropriate. I tried a make-over and was pleased with the results.

The new Teddie, and her beautiful cover, are shown to the left. It’s a joy when something comes so easily and works out so well.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 1, part 2 and part 3.)