Sunday, February 26, 2012

Be Inspired: Getting Started II

"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. 
You can only see as far as your headlights, 
but you can make the whole trip that way."
~ E.L. Doctorow

Doctorow quote from...
The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write
("Getting Started" Section)

Photo: Peter Roome

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Past is Passed

"Writing is alchemy...truly a tool of wizards, witches and sorcerers. It’s the magic wand, the incantation, the wave of the hand that transforms all..."
~ The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write

One of the joys and sometime frustrations of writing from a place of deep surrender, I have found, is that the lessons of my words continue to echo in my life long after they were penned and published.

This seems particularly true of The MoonQuest, which, somehow through the miracle of that process, still regularly offers me reminders of its wisdom. If a few weeks ago it was about fear's sticky presence in my life, today it's about how the weighty baggage of the past can throw me back into doubts and second-guessing, can prevent me from moving forward...from taking off.

Last night, through the weird serendipity of the Internet, I learned about the death in January of a man who had once been a close friend. I met J. when we were both in our 20s, at the Montreal gay Jewish group that was so integral to my coming-out process in the more restrictive 1970s. After a brief mutual attraction that went nowhere, we became good friends. That friendship survived relocations and emotional turbulence but foundered on the shoals of one major life change: In 1998 I fell in love with a woman and got married. Although my other gay friends were initially confused, they quickly rallied, wishing me happiness in this unexpected turn in my life. J., however, seemed to view it as a betrayal of my gayness. We never spoke again.

I thought about J. off and on over the years. I even Googled him a handful of times. But his web presence was minimal and I never found a way of making contact...not that I'm certain I would have reached out had the option been available.

Last night, to help satisfy my addiction to the new Pinterest social network, I was online searching for a photo of the Toronto café that J. once held the franchise for. One of my Pinterest boards is titled Favorite/Storied Cafés, and his downtown Second Cup outlet, around the corner from my first Toronto apartment, definitely fell into that category. What I found instead was a photo of J., attached to a weeks-old obituary. He had died January 27 of an unspecified illness.

I was stunned...for many reasons.

Although I've experienced much death in my life, and from an early age, this was the first death of a contemporary at an age (mine, 57) when I'm increasingly aware of mortality. Both my parents died young: my father (though he wasn't my natural father) at 56; my mother at 61, J.'s age.

So of course, J.'s passing reminded me of the march of time, not a bad thing, and of the importance of focusing on what's important. I know little about J.'s life since our last conversation in 1998, so I can't know whether he, like my mother, died with the regrets of an unfulfilled life. I hope not. I do know that in my more centered moments, I have no such regrets. I've done my best to follow my heart and live my passions, to be true to the highest imperatives I can touch and to walk the talk of my writing, coaching and public speaking. If I were to die tomorrow, I would like to think that I would be able to look back with satisfaction over a life lived both transparently and authentically.

That's the theory. In fact, J.'s death prompted a different kind of life review, one filled with doubts, angers, fears, resentments and a renewed clinging to a past I thought I had long ago jettisoned. As the evening wore on into a sleepless night, my mind dredged up more and more images, emotions and incidents from those past lifetimes of mine, each memory drenched in a level of anxiety I never encountered in the full-time life review involved in writing this memoir.

You could say that it's normal for the death of a close friend to spark such introspection and retrospection, and I would agree. But J. had not been a close friend for nearly two decades. Our once intertwined lives had already begun their unraveling when I left Toronto for Nova Scotia in 1994.

As I write these words, I see something I hadn't noticed before: that J. was an integral part of my adult life prior to my creative and spiritual awakening. That's not to diminish J.'s spirituality, which was certainly present. But my spirituality moved off in different directions from his, and my life moved off with it.

What I have been reliving in the 18 hours since learning of J.'s death is an early adult life devoid of conscious creativity, conscious spirituality and conscious surrender...a simpler life in many respects, though one infinitely less fulfilled. What I've been mourning through the night, even more than J.'s death, is the death of that earlier life, of those old places within me that J. represented.

A large piece of that Mark David Gerson died with J. It was a piece that I didn't even know still lived inside me; I'm startled to discover just how big that piece was.

What does this have to do with The MoonQuest? There’s a coronation scene in the novel where Crown Prince Kyri is directed to throw all the jeweled accoutrements of the old king’s regalia into the fire as he and his subjects-to-be chant, “The past is passed. We let it go.” Only when Kyri stands naked before the crowd, with all that could encumber him to his father’s reign consumed in the ceremonial flame, can he begin to chart his own course as monarch...can he truly begin his own life.

It has taken me the full 18 hours since learning of J.'s death to realize that I must build a similar pyre for the remnants of my old life. While I celebrate J.'s life and his place in mine, I can neither dwell on it nor worship it.

In that same MoonQuest scene, the newly crowned Kyri refuses to let his father, who has abdicated in his favor, kneel before him. Instead, Kyri drops to his knees, to Fortas's discomfort. Softly, so that the crowd cannot hear him, Fortas urges his son to his feet.
“Do not bow to me, my son. I stand here as the past, and you must never worship the past. Honor living your reign, by learning the lessons I could not. You called me ‘my lord.’ The past is not your lord. Set your sights on the future, my son, my king. Set your sights on the future by seeing to the present. Don’t, I beg, let your vision linger longingly on the past. Let it go, my son. Let it all go.” He embraced Kyri then held him at arm’s length before releasing him. “Let me go.” Then...not looking back, [he] walked through the archway and out of the castle. 
Kyri never forgot his formative experiences with his father, nor will I forget mine with J. I will also not forget J.'s generosity, warm-heartedness and compassion, or the loving friendship we once shared. At the same time, that lifetime in my life is over, as J.'s death eloquently reminds me. The past is passed. It's time to let it go.

P.S. Last night, inspired by a graphic I saw on a Facebook friend's Timeline, I grafted the caption "ready for take-off" onto an image of an airplane soaring into the sky. I already knew about J.'s passing but made no conscious connection between it and the creation of a new wallpaper for my cell phone. Only in writing this piece do I realize that J. and all I allowed him to represent in my life is baggage that exceeds my allotted allowance. I cannot take off until I lighten my load. The past is passed. I let it go.

One final note: After all these years of writing (I began The MoonQuest in 1994), I shouldn't still be surprised by its alchemical power in my life. Only by writing these words this morning have I come to understand why J.'s death so overwhelmed me. As I wrote in the epigraph to The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, another book whose gifts continue to follow me: "Writing is alchemy...truly a tool of wizards, witches and sorcerers. It’s the magic wand, the incantation, the wave of the hand that transforms all..."

The past is passed. I let it go.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

To the Other Side of Fear

There's a scene a third of the way through my novel The MoonQuest where the four principal characters discover the true nature of their quest. On the surface, Toshar, Yhoshi, Fynda and Garan are on a journey to restore storytelling to a land silenced by tyranny and, through that, light to a long-darkened moon. In reality, their true enemy is not a brutal king. It's fear.
"All Bo'Rá K'n's power emanates from a single source, from a single weapon: Your fear. Stay together, refuse your fear its power and your mastery will rival his..."  
Later in the story, Toshar asks the Dreamwalker Na'an whether he will always feel fear clutching at his throat.
"Just as fear has not stopped you from reaching this point in your journey, it will not stop you from continuing, unless you submit to it. Don’t submit to it, Toshar. When you do, Bo'Rá K'n grows stronger."
Both scenes have been much on my mind in recent days as I've come to see the many ways fear still dominates my life.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Fear permeates our social and political culture more than ever before. Just read any newspaper, listen to any newscast, or browse your Facebook or Google+ feed. Or follow the current Republican primary, which has taken political terror-mongering, already a slime sport, to a new, fear-based low.

Yet, I was surprised. Over the past two decades I've faced many of the Bo'Rà K'ns in my life and moved, as Toshar was guided, through to the other side of more fears than I can name.
“Feel your fear, Toshar. Then pass through it to the other side, where your destiny awaits.”
Today, thanks in part to my experiences writing The MoonQuest , I'm more fearless than I have ever been, and my destiny feels so near that I can graze my fingers against it, even if I can't yet grasp it.

At the same time, I'm closer to the edge than at any other time in my life. I gave up my rented condo 18 months ago and let my car go 14 months ago. My current bank balance, in the low three digits, isn't the lowest it's ever been. But when it has been lower, I've had a job or client or contract...or some prospect. I have none of those today.

Wait, that's my fear speaking...

What I do have in abundance is my faith...not in some bearded deity but in that infinite mind that resides within me, that force, as I put it in an earlier post, "that has a much clearer sense of what will serve and satisfy my deepest (often hidden) desires than the childish cravings of a limited mind ever could."

Over the past year and a half, that infinite mind has called on me to commit to my writing, and I have surrendered to the call -- fully, unconditionally and in ways I could never, in my past fear, have conceived.

The result? In 18 months, I've penned two drafts each of The StarQuest book and screenplay, two drafts of The SunQuest screenplay, one draft of The SunQuest book, and a first draft of my Acts of Surrender memoir. Never before have I written so quickly, nor have I ever been this creatively productive. To put that in perspective, it took me seven months to write a first draft of The MoonQuest and 11 years to complete an initial draft of The StarQuest. I wrote my first draft of The SunQuest book in three weeks.

As well, The Q'ntana Trilogy film projects (The MoonQuestThe StarQuest and The SunQuest), while not moving forward as expeditiously as I might like, are coming together more speedily now than they were before I surrendered to a full-time writing focus.

Through this time, although I have lacked home and car of my own, I have always had a roof over my head and access to a vehicle (important when the nearest shopping/public transit is an hour's walk away). And, somehow, funds have always shown up to cover the remaining necessities. For all those miracles, I have been grateful beyond words.

Then, a few days ago, with disturbingly dwindling resources and no sign of a fresh miracle, I determined that something needed to change -- dramatically and demonstrably. Not my commitment to writing, which remains of prime importance, but chunks of the rest of my life. February, I proclaimed, would be the month when my circumstances would begin to shift, when I would exit survival mode and begin my ascent toward prosperity.

That's when the fear kicked in.

It wasn't anything specific, like fear of success or financial anxiety. Ironically, I was less frightened by my few hundred dollars in the bank than I had been when my balance was triple that. No, it was more insidious and Bo'Rà K'n-like than that.

I didn't even initially identify it as fear. But fear it was. I knew it when I happened on the phrase "refuse your fear its power" from The MoonQuest. The instant I read that, my heart began to race and my stomach knotted up. When I reworded it more personally -- I refuse fear its power! -- my palpitations and queasiness worsened. And when I decided to speak it, mantra-like, in every moment of anxiety, I found myself repeating it, practically nonstop, all day long and amid a discordant medley of physical discomforts.

I'm still repeating it several days later, if somewhat less often.

I realize now that the moment I proclaimed February "dramatic change month," I set in motion all that would be required within me for that change to take place. What's required? That I drill down to the next levels of fears I have carried within me all my life...all my lifetimes, perhaps.

It's not about identifying individual fears and taking steps to reverse them. My individual fears are irrelevant. They are merely symptoms of fear's presence as a pervasive, overarching energy in my life. Of course, it's that same energy that dominates the world outside my psyche. But I can't dissolve it from my outer world unless and until I'm able to dissolve it from my inner world.

At other times in my life, just the prospect of tackling such a deeply rooted issue would have overwhelmed me, filled me with dread. That I'm now able to approach it with more equanimity is, itself, a measure of the distance I have traveled.

Equanimity, yes. Comfort? Hardly. It feels as though I'm (once again) experiencing a radical renovation and overhaul, from the inside out. If fear has been much of the glue that has held me together, letting that fear go is forcing me to make way for new inner structures, adhesives and foundations.

Like all transitions, this one is awkward, sometimes painful, often disturbing.

I'm the mountain lion in mid-leap from one cliff to the next, with no paws touching ground. I'm the Tarot Fool who has already stepped off the precipice into the unknown. I'm the version of me I once experienced in meditation, who has finally and reluctantly let go of the roof ledge of an old high-rise office structure, only to find himself floating feather-like into the arms of the Divine.

Where will the mountain lion and Tarot Fool find themselves when they land? Will February propel me any closer to my destiny? Come month's end, will I have been able to do more than graze destiny's edges with fingertips of yearning? Will my fortunes improve demonstrably through this exercise? I can't in this moment know.

What I do know is that fear is a sticky, swampy morass through which little can move. If I don't reclaim my power and deny Bo'Rà K'n his -- as Toshar did in The MoonQuest and as Q'nta and Ben must in The StarQuest and The SunQuest -- then fear will have won.

At the beginning of The MoonQuest, Na'an tells an elderly Toshar that unless he commits his story to parchment -- something he has spent his life resisting -- he will not be free to "move on to other realms, set off on other journeys." I have always seen Toshar's reluctance as an expression of stifled creativity, a clear theme in the book. Now, though, I see that his fear holds him back...just as mine has held me back.

I did not want to write this coda to Acts of Surrender, a manuscript I thought to be complete. As vulnerable as I have allowed myself to be in the book (and in this blog), I did not want go deeper in a public way with my fears. Like Toshar, though, I can't separate my fear, my self-expression and my place in the world. And so, like Toshar, I have surrendered to the story told to me by the shadows, my shadows.
I see it all now, in the leap of light against dark. The shadows will tell me the story and I will write what I see. I will write until my fingers and beard are black with ink. I will write until the story is told. Only then will I be free to continue my journey...
...Whatever that journey is, wherever it chooses to take me.
"You either trust or you do not. There is no halfway in between."
Mark David reads an excerpt from The MoonQuest

All quotes are from The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy, (c) 2008 Mark David Gerson. Please credit both book and author when reprinting.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Write What You Know? (video)

"Write what you know," the writing guides insist. But what does that really mean?

In this video and in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, I insist that it's not about external expertise (although research can certainly be required sometimes). Rather, it's about writing from that inner place of emotional truth where you already know all you need to know.

Write what you know? If you dare!

Direct to link to the video

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