Sunday, March 29, 2015

Taking on Hate with a Whole Different Kind of Courage

"Hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry."
– Todd Adams, vice-president of the Indianapolis-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Until now, I have largely avoided politics and religion in these posts on the assumption that I would be preaching either to the converted or to the unconvertable. But the situation in Indiana, where discrimination has just been legalized in the name of religion, has pushed me over the edge and has revived my long-dormant activist self: I can no longer stand silently by while a privileged majority masquerading as a persecuted minority tramples over hard-fought rights in the name of religious freedom.

This is not a gay issue, nor is it an Indiana or even a U.S. issue. Around the world, zealots of all stripes feel increasingly emboldened to attack those they disagree with – too often, in the name of religion. Virulent and sometimes violent racism, antisemitism, islamophobia and homophobia are on rise, as are attacks against women, and silence in the face these attacks on human dignity can no longer be acceptable. As Apple's Tim Cook put it today in a Washington Post op-ed, "This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings."

Some have argued that the so-called religious freedom laws popping up in the U.S. (Indiana's is not the first and will likely not be the last) are about freedom of speech. I disagree.

Freedom of speech is not absolute.

Of course, everyone has the right to believe what they choose to believe and to speak those beliefs, however objectionable you or I might find them. However, when those beliefs take the form of legislation that impinges on the freedom, dignity and personal safety of others, it becomes a matter of public policy....or should. When those beliefs take the form, for example, of a "kill the gays" ballot initiative, as is now the case in California (California!), then free speech has been subverted into something so twisted and hateful that it cannot be sanctioned in a civilized society.

By the way, the attorney who has launched the California ballot initiative claims that the state-sanctioned execution of all homosexuals, through his proposed "Sodomite Suppression Act," is the only way to save righteous Californians from God's wrath. Sounds crazy, right? Like something you would hear from ISIS? But it's real, it's happening in this country, and the process of getting it onto the state ballot is underway.

Earlier today, when I posted about the Indiana issue on Facebook, someone suggested that those in Indiana unhappy with the legislation could always leave: "Don't like what is happening in Indiana? Don't go or live there."

Telling people who don't like Indiana's new law that they have the freedom to leave is like suggesting that blacks who didn't like institutionalized segregation should have moved out of the South or that Jews unhappy with the European (and North American) antisemitism of the 1930s should have gone elsewhere.

Yes, moving is a choice...although it's not always a practical or viable choice, nor, in a civilized society, should it be a requirement.

Again, I defend anyone's right to say whatever they want to say....until those words legislatively strip me of my freedom, safety and dignity. For in the end, a democracy built on the tyranny of a majority that persecutes, actively or passively, those who think, believe, act or live differently is more tyranny than democracy...and that has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

In 1935, in the face of rising fascism in Europe, American author and Nobel Laureate Sinclair Lewis published a novel about a populist U.S. senator who is elected president on a platform of reform, patriotism and traditional values. Once elected, he uses a paramilitary force to take control of the government and imposes totalitarian rule. The book's title? It Can't Happen Here.

"It can't happen here," is what the ordinary Americans of Lewis's story kept saying...until it did.

Today, we in North America and Western Europe look at the religious zealots in other countries and say, "it can't happen here." The problem is, it already is happening here – from synagogue bombings in Europe to abortion clinic bombings in the U.S., from radicals in the Middle East claiming a right to kill in God's name to the California attorney who would do the same, for much the same religious reasons.

Is giving Indiana (or Arkansas or Virginia) businesses the right to deny service to anyone who offends their religious sensibilities any different from those who used religion in the 1950s as a justification to enforce segregation and deny interracial marriage...or who used it in the 19th century to justify slavery?

How do we stem this tide of codified discrimination and legislative ugliness? We do it by speaking up and by voting it out – at the ballot box and with our wallets. We do it by sharing our stories – privately with each other and then as publicly as we dare.

We do it by making sure that the people who act out their hatred know that hate has consequences – for the haters as well as the hated.

What we don't do is become haters ourselves.

It's too easy to hate those who hate us, to attack those who would attack us. Ironically, it's not only profoundly unChristian, it goes against the fundamental tenets of every major religious, spiritual and secular humanist teaching. It also makes us no better than those who would strip us of our freedoms.

"Opposing discrimination takes courage," Tim Cook wrote in concluding his Washington Post essay. "With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous."

Yes, we must make our voices and views heard – loudly and forcefully. But we must also do it with compassion and with open hearts. We must be, as Gandhi said, the change we want to see in the world. And that takes a whole different kind of courage.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Novel Screenwriting Experience

I was out for a walk yesterday, reflecting on the afternoon's work on my new novel-in-progress, when a little voice (if you're a writer, you know the one), said, in a not-very-still, not-very-small way, "Work on the screenplay for Sara's Year at the same time as you're working on the novel."

Now, I had always planned to adapt Sara's Year for the screen, just as I did with my Q'ntana Trilogy fantasy novels. At one point, I had even considered writing the screenplay first, as I did with the trilogy's third installment, The SunQuest. But simultaneously!?!!? Insanity!!

"You're crazy," I muttered, a not atypical reaction to my Muse. "How can I work on both versions  at the same time?"

Then I remembered how dialogue-heavy this first draft of the novel is turning out to though I was setting myself up for the screenplay.

"Oh," I said.

Then I remembered thinking, as I was writing that afternoon, how cinematically the novel was unfolding.

"Oh," I said again.

Then I remembered how true to their novels my screenplays have always been.

"Hmm," I said.

Then I remembered that my Muse has never steered me wrong, however bizarre and unconventional its guidance.

"Okay," I said, very softly. "I don't know how I'll do it. But I'll do it."

If you have followed my writings, especially my Acts of Surrender memoir, you'll recognize this journey from resistance to surrender as a fairly common one for me. All that has changed over the years is that, thankfully, my surrender now occurs more expeditiously.

I'm still not sure how it will work. Will I write on the screenplay one day and the novel the next? Will I immediately translate each scene from one form to the other? More likely, the experience will be an organic one that will vary from scene to scene and day to day.

All I can know in this moment is all I have ever known: that I must trust the story to reveal to me not only its trajectory but the optimal ways to express that trajectory, and that I must exercise that trust in the moment-by-moment process that is the creative journey.

No doubt, you'll be hearing more about my Sara's Year experiences in the weeks and months ahead. For today, though, I will open Final Draft to the Sara's Year screenplay and Pages to the Sara's Year novel and await further instructions. If I listen, those instructions will come. And if I trust, they will prove to be perfect...just as they have always been

• If you missed my two recent posts about Sara's Year, look them up here and here

• To read about more of my various surrenders over the years, pick up a copy of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir – on most Amazon sites, from my website, from select other online booksellers or from all major ebook stores

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hijacked by My Muse (Again)!

As 2014 melted into 2015 a few months ago, I felt certain that this new year would be all about this new "Birthing Your Book Guru" I had become...that the coming 12 months would be focused on more actively sharing all I had gained through 11 books and more than two decades of teaching, coaching and mentoring...that I would be coming out of the partial retreat of the past four years and returning to a more vigorous regime of workshops, webinars, classes and clients.

Not for the first time, I was wrong.

Not for the first time, my Muse hijacked my assumptions and pointed my in a familiar direction: toward a new book.

To be honest, I have had some resistance to Sara's Year, the novel's working title. "Hebrew Scripture," A Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, "is full of old men in long beards saying to God, 'You want me to do what!?'" Well, my beard is not prophet-long, at least not yet. But I have been thinking a lot about that quote recently.

As I wrote here a few weeks ago ("A Novel Experience"), this fourth novel is like nothing I have ever written. It's not epic fantasy like my Q'ntana Trilogy. And it doesn't take place in a mythical time and place.

But it is epic in scope: It's a tale of my hometown that spans the 50 years between the 1930s and 1980s. And it has felt so far beyond my literary skill that I frequently second-guess my Muse with a L'Engle-inspired You want me to do what!?

As so often in the past, though, resistance is futile.

Whenever I question, hesitate, doubt or procrastinate (often), my Muse reminds me not only of the title of my memoir (Acts of Surrender) but of one of the book's chapters, the one titled "All That Matters Is That I'm Writing."
So I'm writing. As I write, I'm letting myself be challenged by the breadth and scope of the story and by the unfamiliarity and distance of its setting (I wasn't alive during the first half of the story's timeline; I haven't lived in Montreal since the 1980s; and I now live more than 2,000 miles away, in a different country). And I'm trusting that if these characters chose me to tell their story, then I must either have what it takes to write it or will grow into whatever it takes through the writing of it or, more likely, some peculiar blend of both. (This is counsel I offer in all five of my books for writers, so it's not surprising that I'm being forced to heed it!)

What does this mean for my Birthing Your Book Guru plans? As Yhoshi notes in The MoonQuest, quoting the oracle O'ric, "a forced change in plan is opportunity disguised as irritation."

Whatever irritation I might feel toward my Muse, Sara's Year is an opportunity for me to stretch and build up my literary muscle. It's an opportunity to deepen my ability to journey through difficult emotional territory through my craft. And it's an opportunity to continue to live what has so long felt to be my primary passion and purpose: writing.

In practical terms, it means that my top priority for the next months must be Sara's Year. My next priority, of course, is my existing coaching clients: I know you're reading this, so know that I will always make time for you!

In whatever open time remains, I will take on a limited number of coaching/mentoring clients, by application. And while I will also work toward offering new online classes and coaching groups (also by application), none are currently scheduled or planned.

Another teaching idea, to be executed in what ever interstices of free time I can finagle, is to create a series of downloadable classes that you can follow in your own time and at your own pace. I'd love to be able to say that those are imminent. With Sara's Year now my primary focus, it's hard to say when that project will come to fruition. But as I launch into it, I will be sure to keep you posted.

I will also keep you posted on my progress on (and resistance to) Sara's Year, as I have done with other of my writing projects, in the hopes that it will inspire you to keep writing through your own challenges.

And as always, I encourage you to share with me (publicly or privately) not only your comments on my experiences but your experiences, with your own books-, screenplays-, poems- and stories-in-progress.

And now for the photos included here: Part of the fun of Sara's Year (and, some days, too easy a distraction) has involved Googling for relevant images to help me with my descriptions and to connect with the feel and flavor of the eras involved. Here's a selection...

#1 – A wartime trolley on Rue Ste-Catherine, downtown Montreal's main shopping street

#2 – The Westmount Public Library (the first public library building in Montreal and one of the first in Canada)

#3 – An important reminder!

#4 – Baron Byng High School, where many Jewish Montrealers of my mother's generation went to school

#5 – One of the book's opening scenes takes place in a fictional cafĂ©-bistro something like this one

Can't wait for Sara's Year? Check out my existing books – from most Amazon sites, from my website, from select online booksellers or from your favorite ebook store.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Happy Birthday Roxy, Wherever You Are....

The puppy in this photo may resemble
Roxy, but it's not her. Alas, I no
longer have any photos of her.
Today, March 4, would have been Roxy's 20th birthday.

This cocker spaniel was my constant companion (sometimes my only companion) during the four years and thousands of miles of meanderings that led me from Toronto to Sedona, from my native country to a new one. Then one day, when it became clear that Hawaii was calling me but not her, Roxy found herself a new home and a new journey.

Leaving Roxy behind was one of the hardest decisions of my life and it presaged another even more difficult when, five years later, I would have to leave my daughter in the wake of a marriage breakup.

I tell both stories (and more) in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, where I also reprint the farewell note I wrote Roxy in my journal. Here’s an excerpt from that note…

"Goodbye, Roxy. Thank you for all you have given me and done for me. Thank you for all you have shared with me and taught me. Thank you for all the times you have comforted me and made me laugh. You have taught me well, and I honor and love you for that.

"With both joy and sadness in my heart, I release you from my future that we may both continue to live in the present. I release you to your new family, knowing that they will love you as I have, but in their own way, and that you will love them with the fullness you have loved me.

"I honor you for your journey. I honor you for your love. I honor you for your heart, for your truth and for all that you are. I honor you, love you and release you.

"Goodbye, little one. Goodbye and thank you."

Happy Birthday, Roxy, wherever you are...

• Read more about my adventures with Roxy in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir. Get your copy today on most Amazon sites, from my website, from select other online booksellers or from your favorite ebook store.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Novel Experience

During a radio interview last spring, I was asked whether I planned to write a fourth novel. At the time Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally had only just come out and the idea of taking on any new book project was far from my mind. "Sure, if inspiration strikes," I replied aloud, adding under my breath, "some distant time in the future."

Soon after, though, I found myself in the midst of a series of health scares, and one of the questions I had to ask myself was this: "If I am going to die sooner rather than later, what is it I want to make sure I do and/or experience before I go?" To my surprise, the first answer that bubbled up from deep within was "write another novel."

Still, I was in the midst of preparing for a trip to Los Angeles. Now was not the time to start a novel. I would think about it when I got back.

As usual, my Muse had other plans: "The time for a new novel is now," it insisted "or, at least, next week. Start it when you get to L.A."

As crazy as that sounded – not least because I had no idea what this next novel was to be about – I did just that. One evening, after dropping my daughter off at her mom's, I parked myself at a Santa Monica Starbucks (where else!?) and began to write.

Eight months passed. The health concerns that had so concerned me dissolved and my focus turned to a different book, Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About, and then to a related "rebranding" of myself as The Birthing Your Book Guru.

Little did I know that this guru's most challenging client was to be himself!

My first hint of that came a few weeks ago when I was back in Los Angeles – this time to sign books at the Conscious Life Expo. Although I was nearly 10,000 words into a different book at the time (a new memoir ironically titled All That Matters Is That I'm Writing), it was my "Starbucks novel" that claimed my attention during an odd encounter at the Expo.

The curly haired man with dark, deeply set eyes who walked up to my table never gave me his name, but something about his presence immediately demanded my attention. He ignored my greeting as he studied my display of books. Then with a gaze of almost alarming intensity, he turned his attention to me.

"What's your rising sign?" he asked with no preamble.

"Virgo," I replied.

"When do you normally write?"

If you follow my work, you know that there is little that's "normal" about my work habits. One draft or book might write itself more easily in the morning, another in the afternoon, yet another late at night. That's what I told him.

"You need to be writing two hours before dawn," he proclaimed, backing it up with an astrological explanation that eluded me.

"Oh. Yeah. Okay," I said aloud. Not going to happen, I said to myself. I'm barely functional two hours after dawn, let alone two hours before. But when the next morning I awoke at 4:30, I decided to put the mystery man's theory to the test. I found the few pages of barely started novel on my laptop and picked up where I had left off.

I have been working on the novel ever since, though not before dawn.

It has not been easy.

Each of my 11 books has found fresh challenges to throw at me, and this new novel is no different. From its scope to its research needs to its semi-autobiographical nature, it tests me in every moment – emotionally as well as creatively. And it dares me to trust more fully and deeply than I have ever before dared – to trust myself, to trust my abilities and to trust a story about which I know little, except as it writes itself through me. The result? More resistance than I would care to admit to.

I was thinking about all this last night when a friend texted me: "I just felt called to pick up a copy of Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir," he wrote. "I'm already reading it and loving every minute."

Suddenly I, too, felt an urge to open Acts of Surrender. And once I started, I couldn't stop – reading or sobbing.

Fifty pages later, I forced myself to put the book down; it was late and I could barely keep my eyes open.

What I realized, though, as I drifted off to sleep was that I had needed my own words and the example of my own life to remind me of who I am and what I’m about. I had needed them to get me past some of my resistance. I had needed them to get me to recommit to my writer self and to surrender to what can be the only thing of true importance in my life right now: this new novel.

Not for the first time in my life and probably not for the last, all that matters is that I'm writing.

Conscious Life Expo Photo: