Research is Empowering

Research has enhanced my life. It is fulfilling and empowering. I am a stronger person because of it. Since I left my marriage and dumped the kids (they’re in their twenties), I’ve found I have a zest for research.

The most energising form of research is the ‘follow your curiosity’ kind – the Big Magic kind extolled by Elizabeth Gilbert. That is, when you find a subject that interests you, investigate it, read about it, fall into the rabbit hole of the internet for it.

I’ve done this a lot for the writing of my novel, researching everything from Hindu cremations in India to nursing homes in Donegal, Ireland. However, it’s likely my enthrallment won’t equal my readers’, so not a great deal will make it to the story!

The value is in the knowledge I’ve gained, not how much I choose to share with the world. For research to be life-enhancing, it needs to be fascinating. And that’s all! It doesn’t need to serve a purpose. Although, often, it will.

Topical affairs such as gay marriage, live animal export or the Queensland Adani coal mine need to be researched, for us to have a rational, rather than emotional, opinion. It’s dangerous to only listen to the lobbyists, or political parties, news or social media. Research across the board, will, hopefully give us a balanced and purposeful view. Once we have a sound basis, there’s nothing wrong with throwing some emotion into it too. That makes us passionate and I’m all for that!

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve typically been a fence-sitter. I have undervalued my intellect and therefore deferred to others who I’ve had more faith in. I am also fearful of conflict, preferring to run away than argue. But research is making me stronger. I’m learning new things and forming opinions on the way. It’s liberating and gives me independence. Even if I’m still reluctant to share my view, at least I know what I think. This kind of research is empowering. And it’s relatively new to me.

I first read about this in a book called ‘Storycatcher.’ The author, Christina Baldwin, said: ‘Activism in one area of your life builds a sense of empowerment in all areas of your life; you are a more assertive citizen and so is your family and wider circle of friends, for you inspire each other into activism by giving each other hope.’

Case in point, the sixteen-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who has sparked a worldwide movement of school children expressing their feelings about climate change. I hope that these children are inspired and encouraged to research the topic and form an opinion. It is an opportunity for them to learn, have a view and not be afraid to express it.

I was going to tell you about my research into banks and the one in which I’ve selected to open an account. But it seems too boring now. I’ll just say this: sometimes research is just plain necessary! But if it’s important, it can be fascinating. Researching banks has given me a knowledge I didn’t have. And I was able to make a sound decision. That is fulfilling! That is empowering. That has enhanced my life!

What have you researched that has made you stronger?

 

“I am woman, hear me roar.” Helen Reddy.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticised anyway.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

Plotting, Planning and Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the highest form of Procrastination!

I know, I’ve been down this path before – in LIFE and in the BLOG.

My writing is slowed by painstaking planning. There are two types of writers (so say actual writers who’ve written and published books): Plotters and Pantsers. One does the whole PLOT thing in a rational and methodical way and then does the story writing. And the other writes ‘by the seat of their pants,’ creating as they go along (or being told what to write by the characters themselves!).

I believe most writers fall somewhere in between – on the writer-type spectrum.

I’d love to be the creative type who simply has the story flow out of them. Those writers are sublime beings to me. They’re REAL WRITERS!

I’m on the other end, maybe one point off extreme PLOTTER. I love making notes, researching, reading writing-craft books, listening to authors speak in interviews, following them on Facebook….

I nod my head and take more notes.

I’m amazed that I even have a first draft. If you read it, you wouldn’t be so amazed, because it’s really crap! But that’s okay: it’s in the RULES – a shitty first draft is how it’s supposed to be! Ten points for me!

Now that I’m in second draft stage, I’ve stalled. I’m the plotter, the planner, the perfectionist, and I have a sneaking suspicion, the procrastinator!

I re-did my CHARACTER PROFILES – in extreme detail. They’ve changed a little over two years, and I was getting confused, having to check through realms of notes, even for things as basic as family names. My character profiles are beautiful: tables that have headings like BACKSTORY, QUIRKS, CONTRASTING TRAITS. They’re the kitchen sinks of character profiles! With two vacant rows between each heading! You get the picture? And I have three protagonists, so I got to do three!

Next step: THEMES. Which character expresses what themes? Easy. Done.

Then there’s the CHARACTER ARC, which is another way of saying TIMELINE, in my mind. I can spend days on this! The 10-25% mark where the reader gets a glimpse through the persona at the essence of the character, the dark point at 75% etc. Whoopee! Days of perfect planning.

It might seem like this is all important stuff, and I obviously think it is, because I’m doing it. But is it really necessary? Am I overthinking it? Have I read too many craft books and had too many lessons? Is this just putting off writing the story? Is it PROCRASTINATION?

Or am I the most perfect planner ever?

I don’t know, but I better Post this Blog and get on with it. One day, I might finish the damn book!

Ironically, it’s called The Rest of Their Lives. I won’t say any more!

Follow Your Heart

TOASTMASTERS has been a great life enhancer for me. Not only have I found new, caring, intelligent friends, but I’ve been able to develop my VOICE. This is a WRITER thing but it’s also very human. We all want to be heard, feel valued and understood. Most people join to develop themselves somehow. I joined because I wanted another reason to write. I’ve not only found an outlet for my writing, I’ve found a group of people that encourage me, make me feel strong and interesting. I can speak without fear of judgement and this is a confidence booster.

I’ve included here today, a SPEECH I made a few weeks ago, on my return from the Great India Interlude. I hope you enjoy it and feel inspired to follow your heart, like I have.

***

Have you ever had a strong desire to do something that’s not totally rational, or predictable or convenient? Something that pulls on your heartstrings despite your mind saying, maybe that’s not sensible?

Six years ago, age fifty, I did something out of character. I packed the dog, hired a motorhome and left the family for a six-week time out! It was a dream that turned into a life changing journey.

Two years ago, I changed the course of my life. I left my marriage.

It was an action that was neither predictable or convenient. I stepped into the abyss and it took courage. Why did I do it? Because I knew, deep in my heart, that I would never be all I could be if I stayed.

Two months ago, I boarded a plane for India. This may have been rational and predictable. After all, I am writing a novel that includes India and I am known as adventurous. But going to India alone was going to be challenging.

I was nervous about being a single woman travelling alone in a country where native women only travel with their family. If alone, they risk being thought of as reckless or having loose morals. I was nervous about getting sick, finding my way, getting accosted.

But the twinges in my tummy weren’t from nerves. They were flutters of excitement. I wanted to be alone in India, to immerse myself in the place, in the crowd, with the noise and cows and colour. That was what was pulling me there.

I’d been there before and travelled like a maharani. But the India I craved, was amongst the commoners. I wanted to connect empathically.

My book is the story of three women who have the courage to start again (any similarity to me is coincidental!) and one of them lives in India for a year. I wanted the trip to be my version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, maybe Bollywood style.

So, despite my fears and friends’ words of caution, I embarked on my journey. In transit, in Hong Kong, I faced my first challenge. I missed my connection! This was stressful and I wondered if the trip was really a good idea!    I appealed to the gods, asking if I really needed such a lesson. I pulled myself together, found my offloaded suitcase and figured out how to get to Mumbai that night. Arriving at 3am, there was no one to meet me. I had no cash and I needed a taxi. With the help of a kind Indian man, I figured out the foreign ATM machine. Then I set off through the dark, quiet, deserted streets with a taxi driver who spoke no English. Friends’ words of caution were firmly blocked out.

After this initiation by adrenaline infusion, things settled down. My days of research in Mumbai were glossy with success. The help I had was beyond my hopes. Nothing was too much trouble. I found where my character lived, shopped and cremated her husband.

The next part of the journey was a nine-hour train trip to Goa. Another example of facing my fear and doing it anyway (thank you Susan Jeffers) Online horror stories of women-solo-travellers on trains and the cautions from friends had me alert, but concern was unwarranted. At 5am I was escorted by a guide to the right platform and the first-class carriage. The carriage was comfortable and fellow travellers looked agreeable. No scoundrels in sight. The most unpleasant part of the trip was the man on his mobile, shouting ‘hallo, hallo,’ every time the signal cut out.

Goa is a seaside resort town and very relaxed. On my first night, I settled at the garden bar of my resort to listen to the traditional Indian band.

A bellydancer wove through the tables and grabbed my hand. I leapt from my chair, my inner bellydancer coming out to play. Travelling alone is liberating because there’s no-one you know to bear witness to your actions.

As I returned exhausted to the bar, a fine-looking English gentleman sung my praises. I was charmed as we chatted, especially when he told me he bred and showed spaniels. We ate dinner together and laughed at our stories.

I began to think I’d met my soul mate. I was quite besotted. And then he said four words that changed everything. “As a gay man……”

After I recovered, we went on to have dinner together every night.

Determined to never think of romance again, I concentrated on spirituality. One evening in Udaipur I attended a puja, a Hindu ceremony.

I mimicked the worshippers: hands together, sitting cross legged, lining up with the ladies to run holy water through my hair and accepting flower petals. As I made my way through the little alleyways back to my hotel, I almost skipped.

I could tell you twenty other stories: of conversations with women, of feeding dogs and kissing cows, of lascivious looks by young men in villages, embarrassing massages, disturbing road accidents, Bollywood movies with no subtitles, falling a little in love with my guide in Varanasi, clever beggars, and trudging through the snow before dawn to watch the sun                          rise on the Himalayas.

But I’ll just tell you this one. I wanted to get some advice from a traditional Hindu doctor. I had a hand drawn map from my guide in Varanasi and I was told it was an hour-long trip. I was deliberating as to whether it was worth it and was sharing these thoughts with a Swiss woman at my hotel. She looked me straight in the eyes, touched my arm and said, “You have nothing more important to do today!” So, I went.

As I stepped around the cows and into the white building, I was greeted by the doctor. I shared my concerns. His final words were, “You’re fine. You have everything you want in your life. Meditate, fast and you will be well in body and mind. Concentrate on writing your novel.”

Some of life’s greatest moments come when you’re not totally rational, or predictable, or comfortable. They come when you feel that pull on your heartstrings and you go with it.

Follow Your Heart (2)

I Want To Be Free

Have you ever felt like life is a school that’s handing out too many tests? Like there’s too much homework to do and you just want to go out and play? I have! Right now! I’ve had enough!

Life isn’t bad! It’s a good school: the grounds are picturesque, and the building is comfortable. The food is healthy and classmates friendly.

But I feel like I’m running the same circuit and the tests, the hurdles, just get shifted around.

I want to run free. Cross-country.

I’m currently trying to end one stage of my life: that stage where I fell in love, got married, had children, raised them, then found that the air I shared with my husband had gone stale and didn’t sustain me, or him, anymore. Some people can keep that air fresh and invigorating. That wasn’t the case for me. The window was closed and I had to break the glass to jump free.

I want to start the next stage. The only thing is, I’m still not free. I’m still stuck in the grounds! I’ve been here for two and-a-quarter years, trying to scale the boundary walls and only getting part way.

The tests have been emotional, physical, psychological and legal. Sometimes they stand alone and sometimes they’re mixed together.

I’m not going to go into details until I’m well and truly out of, or in, the woods! I may be legally divorced now but the legal and financial proceedings go on.

What do I want to do when I get to go out and play?

You may be wondering: Do I want a new partner? No! (Unless I was offered Kevin Richardson, Lion Whisperer.) Do I want to travel to obscure places that no partner would want to go? No! (Unless you call the Australian Outback and country towns, obscure.) Do I want to be a cougar? I’m too old! And No, anyway!

I just want to be me! I want to follow any path that intrigues me. I want to learn new tricks. Make discoveries. Achieve greatness in my own mind!

I want to be free to make decisions for myself, learn new skills and make each day count towards a fulfilling life.

The most fulfilling thing I could do right now is write, every day, towards completing my novel. The story and three characters consume most of my good thoughts. Those thoughts make me happy, even when I’m struggling! Those thoughts are play! (The other good thoughts are privately to do with Kevin Richardson)

So, Life! Here’s a plea. Can we get the tests over with? Can we say, enough with the homework, go out and play?

Go! Run! Be free! Yehargh!

 

Disclaimer: I apologise if Kevin Richardson is married! I haven’t actually stalked him to find out! 😉

www.lionwhisperer.co.za

https://www.instagram.com/lionwhisperersa/?hl=en

May Tolerance and Humanity Win

The act of one maniac in New Zealand last week has caused life-long devastation to so many people. Whether it be a terrorism attack, hate-crime or act of insanity, is irrelevant to those directly affected. The only good that is coming out of it is how people all over the world are banding together in love for one another. We are all human and therefore, essentially the same, no matter what our beliefs, culture or traditions. Maybe this tragic incident will have a ripple effect amongst different groups, revealing that people can overcome differences and be tolerant of one another.

It is ironic that I was busy blogging about my own shortcomings of tolerance (nothing to do with racism) when my friends started messaging about the violent act in New Zealand. I was unaware!

I have nothing more to say other than my heart goes out to those directly affected, and the world in general if you believe that this was an act of terrorism. I believe that it was more an act of one (or more sociopaths) that insanely think they’re more important than others.

I would like to share a story of my visit to Kolkata where I was pleased to see how different religions and people from various backgrounds, can get on so well together in a close community. I believe Australia and New Zealand are very much the same.

I did a walk through an area called the grey area, the area between the white area (the British Colonials) and the black area (Indian nationals but more specifically, locals) at the time of British rule. I didn’t name these areas. That is what they were called (and still referred to in an historic discussion).

The area has a great Chinatown and mixed European influence, as well as Indian influence from areas outside West Bengal. The point is, these descendants still live and work here. They love it, and my guide, Manjit, a professional and world-renowned photographer, is there to prove it. He is a Sikh and therefore his family came originally from Punjab. He is passionate about the area and does these walking tours to show it off to tourists. (See www.calcuttaphototours.com and Instagram)

The religions that I saw on display, side by side, were Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Muslim and Sikhism (and of course, Hinduism which is never far away in India).

There is a beautiful Synagogue, called Maghen David, which was built in 1884 on the site of the old synagogue. Unfortunately, the remaining Jews are too few to have a rabbi. So, guess who looks after this beautiful building, on a voluntary basis – cleaning it, maintaining it, and showing people like me through it? The Muslim community!

We are all the children of the Universe or earth or God or just other humans! Whatever we believe, we’re all the same makeup. Don’t let us forget that and allow learned differences to interfere with how we get along! Let’s hope that the tragedy in New Zealand might cause a butterfly effect for good.

Peace and Amen.

 

Tolerance

Self help books on motivation, reaching your goals, understanding yourself and others, finding your path and getting things done are what I’ve been thriving on for the last few years. They advise to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, leap and the net will appear, commit and Providence will assist etc.

I love these books and they all contribute some part to my makeup, thoughts and actions.

But sometimes, they just don’t work. Or more correctly, I can’t do what they say!

I’m motivated to reach my goals. I want to write every day and have a book written by the end of the year. But menial tasks get in the way. Like the washing, or car service, or answering emails, looking up files, organising handymen, preparing tax documents, going to the dentist….

I understand myself: I know what drives me, what I value, who, what and how I love, what I need for a peaceful and joyful state of mind. I’m pretty good at understanding others. I have empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence.

Considering this, you’d think I’d be a hotshot at self-management, staying calm and focused, getting along with everybody, not being disturbed by change or noise or people’s behaviour.

Well, as they say, scratch the surface…

Thankfully, my surface has thickened over the years – in both senses! But in the sense of being calm, tolerant or impenetrable, it’s not thick enough yet!

Barking dogs drive me crazy and interfere with my otherwise laser-beam concentration. They cause so much interference on the receiver of my mind, that I can’t hear anything else. (This is ironic, considering dogs are one of my favourite things on earth.)

Requests for information, administrative tasks, problems with phones, computers, internet, health issues, legal issues – they all irritate and interfere with the big picture. They’re a different kind of barking dog!

And then there’s those people in your life that simply press your buttons – those buttons that make you feel tense, anxious, snappy, unkind, and absolutely seething. Hopefully none of these feelings escape the thickened skin, and you remain looking magnificent. But they might. Because the skin was penetrated in the first place. Those people have teeth, they’re biting dogs. And, in this blog, shall remain nameless!

This blog post was a spin off from frustration. I’m venting! My lessons haven’t been learned well enough yet. My tolerance is not as high as I would like it or as high as I thought a few hours ago. I’m not ZEN yet. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop trying.

Obstacles are good. They teach us what our shortcomings are. They show us that we need to try harder. They push us to be clever and find ways around them. Another lesson –  the journey would be bloody boring if it wasn’t for the obstacles. (Talk to anyone that’s driven across the Nullarbor.) We just have to learn to go more slowly, breathe, notice the view and figure out the best way to pass them.

I feel much better now. Writing it down has always helped me re-establish calm. I feel tolerant again. I feel like I’m a better person: kind, compassionate, focused and driven.

Until next time!

Bogged Blog

Travelling around India researching my novel, exploring only for the joy of it and seeking a stronger connection with the place, I thought I’d write a lot on the blog! Unfortunately, I was too busy being in the moment and enjoying myself! I was so happy, my blog got bogged!

It’s ironic, isn’t it?

But it makes some sense. When we’re low, we’re generally not as active. We withdraw into ourselves and spend more time thinking. For me, I spend more time in my journal. My journal is how I vent and work through my problems, come to resolution or decide on action.

My blog is an online, next level journal. I express my resolutions and the conclusions I’ve come to while deep in thought. But it’s also a place to express appreciation of my world and share my joy. It seems though, if there’s too much joy, there’s no time for this!

I’m sure excerpts of my India trip will filter through now that I’m home.

I was partly in India to see how I went travelling alone in a place so crowded and different from the world I know in Australia. I’ve learned that by pushing my boundaries and doing something I’m a little unsure about or even fearful of, I get stronger. I see that I can do it and that makes me more confident. The India trip certainly did this.

I’m pushing my boundaries in attempting the novel I’ve set out to write. Disciplining myself to write Draft 1 last year was a big start. I found I had great discipline when focused on the goal. I was proud of myself and shared my dream with friends and family, making myself accountable, saying, I’m writing a book! I’ve done many courses and read craft books in order to keep the learning process going. I’ve found new friends amongst people who share the same dream.

This year I’ll be writing Draft 2 and 3 in the first half and second half of the year. I aim to have something good enough to share with beta readers and publishers by the end of this year. I’ve embarked on a course at the Faber Academy called Write Your Novel. The intention is to learn, commit to constant writing and be with a group that all has the same focus, something I’ve found is invaluable in keeping me going. It will be a challenge. I’ll have to treat it like a job if I’m going to achieve the 5000 words I want to complete each week.

And my blog will be part of that job. It was started to give me an online presence, find my voice and get known as a writer. I’ll share what I discover: my deep level thoughts, what I find funny or what makes me emotional.

I’ll end this Post with a quote from the movie Grace of Monaco (not a great movie but this advice from the priest-friend to Grace, is superb!)

“You are the fairy tale, the serenity to which we all aspire, and peace will come when you embrace the roles you have been destined to play: devoted mother, loyal wife, compassionate leader. Up against a task larger than yourself, you will overcome your fear.”

If only all women* who choose to be the support person, carer and life-facilitator to the children and income earner, had such recognition! Don’t you agree? (*some men choose to be this person these days, and Bravo to them!)