Z is for…Zabuton

A zabuton is a type of meditation cushion. Mine is a flat rectangle that serves as a base for a smaller zafu (a round meditation cushion) or a meditation bench. I’m making it sound like I have a robust, sustained meditation practice. In truth, the cushions get far more use by my cats than by me. But my lackluster meditation practice is perhaps a topic for another day.

I went to a panel at AWP about authors and social media. One panelist made the observation that any work authors do on social media should be to support their writing, not to take the place of it. While I’ve dedicated a bunch of time to the blog this month (and will be scaling back for a time starting tomorrow), my blog – and the  A to Z Challenge in particular – have supported my writing, just as the zabuton acts as a support for meditation:

  • The challenge helped me develop my blogging voice and also spurred me to consider how I continue to develop my own voice as a fiction writer, as well the unique voices of my characters.
  • The challenge provided 26 opportunities to write succinctly and quickly. I’ve already seen this lesson at work in my shorter and longer pieces. When I was working on my fiction this month and laboring over a scene, this was part of my inner chatter: “Get to the point already, Julie.” It was usually good advice.
  • The challenge offered time and space to reflect on – and share – the contours of my writing career as it currently stands, especially in the context of my life. There’s something very powerful about sharing some of my innermost thoughts, fears and hopes for writing with the wider world.
  • The challenge facilitated connections with other bloggers and writers. While I didn’t visit as many blogs as I intended this month, I have the whole list of participating blogs to visit over the coming months. And through the generosity of other bloggers who visited and commented on my posts, I’ve already found several kindred blogging spirits.

Thanks to everyone who made this journey with me, whether you read snippets here or there or if you read every single post. A special thanks to my readers who get new posts delivered to their inbox. That’s a lot of mail from me in the course of one month! Thanks for sticking with it.

I’m off to rest – wishing all of you time and space to reflect on all the things that support your lives, as well as the courage to discern and make necessary changes.

U is for…Unraveling

Over the past decades of my life, I have constructed quite a sense of self identity: I am a Buddhist. I am an introvert. I like to wear jammies and visit cemeteries. I tend to get obsessive about certain people (hello there, Bruce Springsteen). I am reflective. I have a short temper when I’m stressed. I am a hard worker (except when I’m not). I like to take walks and be near the water.

The list goes on and on. We didn’t even get close to my love of water bugs or my irrational fear of Animal from the Muppets.

I am also a writer. I’ve constructed an identity around this concept, too: I write best with a pot of tea and a comfy chair. I have to have huge blocks of time in order to write well. I like to edit with purple pens. Deep down I think I’m not good enough to be a writer.

I do not pretend to grasp even a fraction of the Buddhist teachings on anatta, or non-self (but follow the link for an excellent teaching by Gil Fronsdal on the topic). I do know that a part of the teachings relate to the ways in which we cling to certain beliefs about ourselves and say, “This is who I am and it won’t change.”

Can I write without a pot of tea? Sure. I’m doing it right now, in fact. Can I write without big blocks of time? I prefer the blocks but when life gets hectic, I can write bits and pieces here and there. What happens if the world runs out of purple pens? Gah. Say it ain’t so! But I’ll cope.

How about this one – Am I really not good enough to be a writer?

No. That’s just the voice of doubt speaking. It’s a powerful, seductive voice. It’s one that I believe far too often. But it’s not a fixed, permanent feature of myself. I can explore the voice, investigate what’s behind the doubt (mainly a lot of fear), but I don’t have to listen to it or believe it.

The point of all of this is the importance of unraveling our sense of self, especially the times when we get rigid and cling to certain patterns or false beliefs about ourselves. If I didn’t unravel the voice that says, “You’re not good enough,” then I might actually believe it. And then where would I be? Probably awash in regrets. It’s hard to unravel some of those deep patterns but it is worth the work.




Q is for…Quietude

I wouldn’t be able to write without quietude. In addition to being a lovely word, quietude indicates a state of calmness or stillness. On the surface, this relates to my writing environment. Even though I like to listen to music when I write, sometimes I need to turn off the music to really concentrate. (Or if I’m writing in public I might leave the earbuds in but turn off the sound, but that’s mainly because I’m antisocial like that.)

But the kind of quietude I’m talking about points to a deep, inner silence. When I was working on my New Years Unresolutions a few months ago, I realized that simplicity was important to me and how I write. I prefer to write at home. I can ignore the dirty dishes and piles of laundry no problem. I get caught by the projects that I never quite get around to finishing: the digital photos piling up on the camera, the baby books I always meant to finish, the massive stack of files from my grad school days that could stand to be purged.

I decided to declutter. I asked myself if these projects were worth doing. Some of them were. I finished the baby books over break. I made a schedule for when I’d download pictures from various devices (twice a year). And I decided the grad school files could wait another few decades or so. I got rid of some of the mental and physical barriers that wanted to keep me from writing.

When I’m stuck in my writing (or life, come to think of it), I tend to look for distractions, to make as much noise as possible. Lately I’m remembering to  breathe deeply and sit still instead of rushing off to check Facebook or send that snarky email or worry about work. These habits are harder to break but they are softening and bending. It’s worth it.

Writing is awash with inner voices.  If I cultivate quietude, if I set aside the distractions of environment and circumstance, I hear all of those voices more clearly. Some of the voices are harsh, the voices of self-doubt and judgment. When I am quiet, I am better able to recognize and dismiss them. Then, as I sink further into quietude, I’m able to hear the precious voices of character, setting, plot and story.