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.)

A better word than courage?

While I was thinking through my idealistic first novel about how telepathy could bring about empathy, compassion and peace on earth, I was already formulating a far different story about the times and circumstances when understanding a point of view is incomprehensible, and when even the most vulnerable need to find the strength to stand up and fight.

I was moving my emotions into the coolers colors that, to me, denoted the “but what about” response to all the good cheer of peace and joy and hope that my first three books were encompassing. In order to write about the one, I had to write about the other.

The word I wanted to describe the theme of my fourth novel was somewhere in between desperation and bravery. It was a word that would call to mind

the children and elders in a village grabbing kitchen knives and pitchforks and fighting in their own front yards with their hearts and souls to preserve what was decent and good in the face of indisputable evil, and, against all odds, triumphing.

I called it courage, but that only scratches the surface of what I was trying to convey. Is there a word for this situation? If not, we need one.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy?, and A better word than hope? )

The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places

After writing a book that takes place in India, and making online friends there, I follow the news from this amazing South Asian country. Much of it is positive and even uplifting.

Countless stories of personal courage and altruism fill the Times of India section called Good News Stories, and everyday headlines tell tales like how the tech savvy country was barely affected by the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware that froze computers in over 100 countries worldwide.

And yet, India has once again made the headlines in the United States with a horrific rape. This time, a jilted lover and his friends abducted and ultimately murdered a young woman on May 9. The details are horrible.

Along with the many tragic aspects of this incident is the side effect of how it serves to further separate the people of this world. No society exists on this planet that does not have its crimes; larger countries have more. Crowding, poverty, stresses from modernization and the integration of different cultures adds to volatility everywhere. But when the awful event occurs in the back yard of somebody else who lives far away from you, it is easy to think  “Oh, that’s the way they are.”

That is unfortunate at any time, but especially now. Thanks to recent events, my own country is seeing a surge of hate crimes with intolerance on the rise. Our world is facing a growing epidemic of nationalism, the frequent outgrowth of which is more hostility, a lack of international cooperation and even wars. Right now, we need all the cross-cultural empathy that we can get.

It’s a delicate matter to feel a sense of commonness when learning of a bad situation that we don’t think would occur in our own culture. (Of course, we could be wrong about that.) But surely it is no stretch to identify with the anger and loss of the victim’s family, with the sense of fear and outrage in the community, and with the confusion and shame of the perpetrator’s family. These all extend well beyond the specifics of the crime, and are woven into the stories of mayhem and destruction of any sort, in any place.

Far away places. They can be scary. They can be easy to demonize and hard to identify with. That is, until we look at the deeper emotions behind the events and see the common threads. Then we can weep for others and wish healing for them, because in our hearts we, too, know what it is like to face sorrow and find the strength to move on.

Enjoy this relaxing duet of two icons of Americana, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, as they sing about “Far Away Places.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

How does courage look?

From SOAR, a leadership development course

From SOAR, a leadership development course

Each of my five novels centers around a virtue or an ideal that I hold dear. Peace, joy, and hope weave their way through x0, y1 and z2 respectively, and every so often on my blog for each novel I go searching for the best images or best songs to represent this theme.

From a post called “Courage” at the blog Ramana’s Musings

Bravery, as found in humans of all sizes, ages and genders is at the core of my novel c3. But for some reason, I’ve left courage alone. Why? I suppose I thought of it as less easily captured by a simple image, or that I thought I would only find the expected photos of warriors. Today I tested this theory, and was surprised by the wealth of poignant images that capture the feeling of courage without saying a word.

From Bplans, a site for business planning

From Bplans, a site for business planning

I’m posting my six favorites here. I’ve grabbed them off the web. This is something I prefer not to do, so to mitigate this as best I can, I’ve set it up so that clicking on the image itself will take you back to my original source, and I attribute that source in the caption. If you like what you see, please go there and show them some love.

From "The Science Of Conquering Your Fears" at the Huffington Post

From “The Science Of Conquering Your Fears” at the Huffington Post

The images did tend to fall into a few categories. Small cats and dogs standing up to or seeing themselves as lions and wolves were popular. Mountain climbers were well represented, as were people jumping off things, often into the water. Many images didn’t make much sense without the words they came with, and I eliminated those for now.  “Best posters about courage” will have to be a category for another day.

From Dreamstime, a royalty free stock photo service

From Dreamstime, a royalty free stock photo service

I was also surprised by the sources. I used images from a site selling business software, another selling leadership courses, a site for stock photos and a newspaper article. You also see photos here from two other personal blogs, both of which look quite interesting. I’ll have to follow them both. Neither listed an orignal source, at least that I could find, or I would have attributed that too.

From the blog

From a post called “Courage” on the blog Velinda Peyton

Because my theme is more about courage shown in every day life and in unexpected places, I did avoid the pictures of  firefighters and of men and women in uniform. This was in spite of the fact that I agree that these people often show amazing bravery, and I have a great deal of respect for what they do. Only one such image tugged on my heartstrings until I could not resist, but it wasn’t the military man who swayed me. It was the little boy, doing his best to stay strong. That’s courage.

handling the difficult delicately

Think Real 2c3 is a book about an important topic  It describes a typical sixteen year old American girl who is confronted by the sale of girls and women when she studies abroad for a semester in India. To all appearances, Teddie and her friends are helpless. They have no way to aid each other, much less any resources with which to stop the larger horrors that they see.

I had a few unusual challenges in writing this book. The first was the age of my main characters and the difficult subject matter. I intended this story to be aimed at adult fantasy lovers of all ages. I didn’t want to gloss over truths, and yet I wanted this book to be appropriate for those as young as sixteen. As a result, the book contains oblique references to sex, both consenting and not, but no direct descriptions. I’ve cleaned up the language from my previous books, although I have included an occasional crude word to convey a sense of reality. Others helped me work this problem to the point where I would be okay with my own sixteen year old daughter reading this book.

The subject matter presented another challenge. Stories need bad guys, but this stuff can get really ugly quickly. I had to be careful not to make this tale so distressing that those of any age would not want to keep reading it. It was important to interject a little humor and some good times and hope early on, both for the girls in direct danger and for Teddie as she begins to discover her powers to help them.

One of my favorite parts of this novel is not in the story at all. It is a mere two sentences in the front matter where I explain the title.

“This book is not just about sex crimes. It is also about the people who find ways to light a solitary candle in the darkness, and it is about how the resulting light they produce makes its way outward in every direction.”

I ended up with a story about how even the most vulnerable can be courageous and can hold the power to cause great change. I’m very proud of my theme and of the way it is handled. This is a book born of love.