Monday, October 31, 2011

Win Pug Hill!

I love this book. Pug Hill is the story that introduced me to Alison Pace's writing. I thought I'd like her in person when I read this book (and was increasingly certain we had BFF potential once I read her other books). But then when I ACTUALLY met her in person--at a NYC roundtable for authors on Twitter--I learned that she's even more fantabulous than her characters...and that's saying something. We bonded over her description of a "peculiar Clumber Spaniel" in one of her stories, and now she sends me pictures of Clumbers whenever she sees them plodding around Manhattan, because alas, I've never seen one here.

So today on Trish's Dishes we're celebrating the release of the mass-market paperback edition (translation: fits into pockets and small purses!) of Pug Hill. And YOU CAN WIN A COPY! Signed by Alison! She will even personalize it to say...well, whatever you come up with that you'd like to have her write about. She has lovely handwriting, so if you'd like her to spell out her philosophy on puppy training, or why she uses a certain type of leash for her dog Carlie, or even how she keeps her hair so shiny...ask away!

To win:
Leave a comment below & tell us: If you could have any type/breed of dog in the world, what would it be?

You will LOVE this story :)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lessons learned (in a bunch of bars!)

It snowed this weekend! Not typical weather for October in Cambridge. Even THAT DOG looked at me this morning with a, Surely, you're kidding expression when her paws sunk down into the slushy mush that was all over the yard. Church was canceled due to downed power lines the next town over, so we had an unexpected, fab day of lounging on the couch, reading, and watching TV.

We spent the later part of the afternoon watching a marathon of a show I'd never seen before called Bar Rescue. Oh, how I LOVE this show! An expert comes into a failing bar and works with the owner & staff to turn things around. It's an amazing example of the power of business savvy & being teachable.

We all get into ruts in life where we don't see what we're doing that holds us back. This show illustrates the power of having outside expert eyes coming into help. It's just like working with an editor, or a nutritionist, or Stacy & Clinton on What Not To Wear. Our human tendency is to defend what we've always done, justifying the status quo. If we give into that base instinct, we miss out and we don't grow. But if we can squelch our ego for just a few minutes, LISTEN and LEARN, it can change the course of everything we do from that moment on.

This happened for me in the editing of my first book. When my contract deadline came, I was confident that what I handed my editor was the (brilliant, genius) best I could do. Then... my editor SCHOOLED me on literary structure, showing me how to take the lump of raw, doughy story I'd handed her and shape it into a fully baked narrative. I could have balked, and fought, and remained stubbornly certain of how perfectly I'd captured every moment. But I didn't. I listened, revised/rewrote almost every page, and drafted a couple of entirely new chapters. It was hard work, and demoralizing at first. I didn't have it going on nearly as much as I'd thought. But...

I've been thankful ever since that I sucked it up, listened, learned, and put in the effort to change. The book is SO much better...and now I understand writing in an entirely different way. A worthwhile squelching of my ego :)

Have you ever had this happen?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Does shivering count as exercise?

Okay me out of the madness:

It is ARCTIC COLD here in Cambridge. And yet I can't bring myself to turn on the heat because every year I have this strange goal of waiting until November 1st. As if that's a THING for which one gets a metal or something.

It's not. No one--not one single person, including my mother (who has had her heat on for days already) cares if I shiver and freeze until November 1st. And yet I feel like I'd be failing if I turned that little dial from "unspeakably cold" on up to "okay to take your jacket off inside."


And why don't I feel similar anxiety over missing my more important goals? You know, the one about running enough miles on the treadmill that I fit into that certain pair of jeans? Or the one about writing 300 words per day? Clearly, I need a perspective alignment of some a tune up on a car, where they make sure your tires are all pointing in the same direction...and that the chosen direction is FORWARD, not off to the side.

I'm going down to turn the heat on RIGHT NOW. I'm not ashamed...I'm not ashamed...
Am I the only one with ridiculous non-goal goals like this?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Yesterday in the comments, the lovely Sarakastic claimed that she can't juggle batons. To which I respond: It's not that you can''s just that life hasn't given you enough opportunities to try!

I looked online for a good baton juggling tutorial (I was planning all sorts of helpful tips, like how the ends of the baton should never come flying toward your face). But instead I found this video, which is worth at least 1,000 words.

This is a girl who competed at the World Championship level. She's amazing! And yet right in the beginning of the routine, she drops 2 of her 3 batons. Now, if you've never dropped a baton, here's the thing: they don't just lie there, waiting for you. They ROLL. And if you drop 2, they roll in opposite directions, and you have to CHASE THEM. (It's like life, that way). So this girl chases her batons all across the floor...really, there's no graceful way to do that (trust me). But then--rather than racing off to the locker room in shame, she smiles and gets back to work, winging those batons in the air like it's no big deal. Now, confession: I've always thought that the move where you rolling the baton around on your shoulders with your head look a bit like you're having a seizure... but when everything is in the air where it belongs? Masterful! Check it out:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uniquely Suited

So the hacking woes continue...but I'm not losing my cool. I've set up a new email account, so if you'd like to reach me, try TrishRyanAuthor AT gmail DOT com. Eventually I'll set up a non-gmail account, but this should stem the tide of disaster for now!

On a funner note (and yes, I claim "funner" as a viable, if awkward, word), I read this question yesterday, and I've been pondering ever since:

What about God am I most uniquely suited to reveal to others?

It came from a book called To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future. I'm about halfway through, and there are tons of equally provocative questions. But I think this one might be most important.

My answer came almost immediately: I'm uniquely suited to reveal that God wants to bring us to happily ever after. But (caveat!) we get there on His terms, not ours.

This was a real "aha" moment for me. There are five different writing projects I've been trying to juggle for the past year or so. I can't juggle anything but batons, so I pretty much dropped them all, and have spent the past few months picking them up one by one to reacquaint myself and inspect the damage. In other words: lots of wondering, very little progress.

But as I look at each project through the lens of what I'm uniquely suited to do, three are clearly more in the "hobby" category--fun, but not compelling--whereas the other two seem to have "NOW" stamped across the front in a way that wasn't true before. This is exciting stuff, and it all came from a couple of minutes spent with one question.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Write it down

I've read two memoirs in the last week or so (this one and this one). They have me thinking about the power of writing down our stories (even if we don't want to publish them). Not so we can MAKE something happen, necessarily. More that life goes a little better when we remember.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and A Maze of Grace is that they remind me of how uniquely (and bizarrely!) my life has unfolded. These stories are real. They lay out the details of all these unexpected collisions between me & God, and how synching up with him has kept things moving along at a rather breathtaking pace ever since. And because I wrote it all down, I have no business whining, "Waaaa...God must have lost my file!" (although, of course, I do). Skimming a few of those pages, I'm forced to concede that life looks very different in the big, aerial view than it does in the narrow bit of each day that I see.

And these pages protect me against the false-security of a 10 year plan, because really: who could have planned any of this?

My point? YOU should write things down, too! Even if you think your life is dull right now, I'll go out on a limb and say: It might be dull, but it's meaningful. Things that seem unimportant now might be key aspects later to a mystery you'll want to unfold, or a progression so subtle you didn't even see it happening.

Do you keep a journal?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday: Stuff! and Things!

I'm back from yesterday's adventures, happy to see that we've all kept our new superhero identities to ourselves...It's enough that YOU know you have special powers that will be used at IMPORTANT MOMENTS to help FIGHT BAD GUYS and SAVE INNOCENT PEOPLE! Until then, we should all practice getting in & out of our costumes. And the's harder than it looks ;)

A few "share the love" links to send us into the weekend:

A TV show I'm loving: Prime Suspect, starring Maria Bello. Her character is nuanced and uber faux-tough...she does a stellar job with it. And the writing is so good that I'm swept right into the plot, hanging on every line of dialogue. There are fantastic moments of snark woven into unexpected moments--kudos to the writers.

2 books I'm excited to read: This weekend will have an unintentional grief theme, as two books I requested weeks ago from the library came in at the same time: The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen, and Closure: the Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us by Nancy Berns. (I'll follow this up with a Jerseylicious marathon to keep things from getting too serious!)

A blog post I appreciated: Novelist Allison Winn Scotch had some good thoughts about writer's block this week. Two things she said struck me. First: "I know myself well-enough to know that I have a decent work ethic, and if I truly cannot bring myself to get excited and/or motivated to write, I probably need to give myself a break." And second: "Whenever I find my manuscript flagging, I find that the best kick in the pants is to throw a major obstacle at my characters. A break-up, a job loss, some sort of emotionally devastating event, etc. If you write this, you are thus forced to write MORE because you have to figure out a way to resolve the problem." Simple, wise, true. Love it! I'm dreaming up some thoughts for next week on how this applies to memoir.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Something to do on a Thursday

I'm leaving town on an adventure this morning (that does not involve either Madrid or an email scam asking you all for money), so no new blog until I return. Until then, what are YOU doing today?

Need ideas? How about, if you don't have anything else exciting planned, become a SUPERHERO!?!

Instructions to the left :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hacked: the upside

My gmail account was hacked last night, wiping out my inbox & sending a message to everyone I've ever known detailing an "urgent & unannounced trip to Madrid" in which I "encountered some difficulty." Apparently, Western Union is the best way to send money to help.


The irony is, just yesterday I was reading a book that mentioned how the Bible encourages us to rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances. I was going to blog about this, asking how it goes for you if you've tried it, admitting that it's something I struggle with when things get hard. I'm never sure if I'm supposed to give thanks FOR the difficult things in life, or thank God for the assurance that somehow (even if I can't understand it) He is working things out for good and I can trust that. (As one person told me, "God's will is what we would choose if we knew all the facts.")

I didn't get to write that blog. I had to deal w/the hacking: a year of emails deleted, my account compromised, the gmail help page saying, "So sorry...there's not much we can do." It was as if some vile form of evil out there was laughing, saying "Let's see her give thanks in THIS!"

But then (I'm learning that with God, there's usually a "but then...") I started getting emails...and text messages...and DMs on Twitter...from friends near & far, telling me I'd been hacked. Many included little updates on how they're doing: one has written a book, another said this reminded him to pray for me, and I even scheduled a long-overdue lunch with a third. Such fun in the midst of resetting my password and trying to recover what was lost (then realizing I can't: it's lost).

The Bible says that when vile evil intends things for our harm, God will find a way to use those circumstances for good. This morning is a fun, vivid reminder of that for me--reconnection with friends, gratitude that I'm not lost & penniless in's been a much "bigger" morning than I anticipated. I'm praying...thankful...and rejoicing. All before breakfast. Who knew such a thing was possible?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Write a book in a year: the not-so-secret formula

I'm preparing to lead a writing retreat in December (this one is a private event for a group, but for those of you who've expressed interest, I'm working on dates & locations for a retreat that will be open to all, hopefully early next year).

Part of my preparation is thinking about TIME: how, when we take on a project of some magnitude (and I can say from experience that that writing a book is a PROJECT OF SOME MAGNITUDE) we need to carve out time to pursue it. Intentionally--not just in a hap-hazard, I'll get around to it at some point kind of way. There's a cost to pursuing any big goal.

Before Steve and I were married, I lived with a roommate who decided to train for the Boston Marathon. (She called her quest, "From the couch to the finish line!" because up to that point, the joke went, she'd only ever run to the fridge for a beer). Winters are dark & cold in Boston, and yet every night after work...and way too many Saturday mornings...she headed out to run, building up her mileage so she'd be ready for the big day. Ironically, the day of the marathon was unseasonably hot, so after four months of training in sub-zero weather, she sweated out her 26.2 miles in 92 degree glaring sun. But she did it. (Then she had a beer!)

For writers, our training looks a little different. We have to write. We build up pages, not miles. But if we don't do the day-to-day work, we don't even make it to the starting line. You can gimp through a marathon without training...but you can't fake a book. It's the one thing (other than being from Maine) I have in common with Stephen King: we both have to write our books, word by word. The adage about butt-in-chair/words-on-page is universal.

I have a post-it on my screen reminding me of the basic logistics of writing a book. It's from 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, where the author boils it down to this:

If you want to write a book in 1 year, you need approximately 75,000 words.
If you write for 50 of the 52 weeks, that's 1500 words/week, or 300 words/day.
In other words, totally doable.

Of course, if you're a memoirist, there's the pesky problem of needing to wait for each section of your story to unfold, if it hasn't already. But for the most part, anyone can do this.

And yet so often, we don't. If writing a book is one of your dreams, consider:
What would it look like for you to add "Write 300 words" to your to do list every day, in the category of things like teeth-brushing and food consumption where you don't go to bed until it's checked off?

Might be a fun experiment :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

What I learned at NEIBA

What an inspiring weekend! I'm a little giddy, just thinking about it. The highlight I want to share with you is from my first trip to the New England Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference. NEIBA is a three-day event where indie booksellers get together to learn, grow their businesses, and think about coming trends & how to serve readers well. It's a celebration of loving books, appreciating the value of stories, and understanding the feeling of possibility we have when we plunk down our cash searching for something (entertainment, hope, new perspective, education...) in words someone has written on a page.

(Searching for a picture to go w/this post, I found these words from Boston Book Bums, describing last year's conference: "books are a fascinating beast. They are both solitary and communal. They are personal yet commercial at heart. We often read alone, in a vacuum, yet are eager to share and talk about our beloved books in groups. Yet the chance to really socialize, to branch out in a “uber-book” environment is what makes expos like wonderful. Gatherings are the social flesh and blood hub of writers, publishers, agents, buyers, sellers and readers... One cannot plant a seed without going into the field." Exactly!)

Friday, I went into the field! I'm not a bookseller (although I'd love to be, even in these strange times!) so I went as a blogger/book reviewer the third day, to the expo-style event where publishing houses set up displays to share advance copies and build buzz about their new titles. And what I experienced there was so wonderful: the book world working the way it's meant to. Here's what I mean...

At each publisher's table, I introduced myself as a blogger who likes to review mostly memoirs and upmarket women's fiction. At the first table, I was given two books that seemed like good fits. The second table was Hachette (my publisher), and I must admit that I was thrilled when the sales rep saw my name badge and said, "'re one of our're family!" But I got more than a nice "atta girl" from that table. After the rep graciously handed me a big bag for books and said, "You'll need this!" something his colleague said (I don't remember exactly what?) prompted me to change my question. I said to the them: "Never mind what I usually read and review. What are YOU super excited about this season? Tell me about it!"

This change of question led to a fun conversation there, and at every table...and the most bizarre array of new reading material I could possibly imagine. For those of you who enjoy book recommendations/reviews, we've got a wild ride ahead! And I met some of the neatest people, including one woman who I've known via Twitter for months (we both kept saying, "I know you from somewhere...but where???")

I left with that Hachette bag FILLED with books...and a sense that my world had expanded.

So TODAY I'm wondering: what can this teach me about the other interactions in my life? I tend to look for commonalities--points of connection--with people I meet. But what if I simply asked, "What are you super excited about right now? Tell me about it..." and waited to see where that took us?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Friday: Share the Lie!

Brilliant author Laura Zigman shared this video via FB, and I ordered the book immediately. I am FASCINATED by this...especially since watching it reminded me of a moment from this past weekend, when I noticed that I was shaking my head "no" to something while giving a positive response. I was telling the truth (I think!?!) The question was whether I'd been to a restaurant before, and I had, so I said yes...and yet, according to this video, such a discrepancy between what you say & your body language is one of the top indicators of lying.


If this author is right--and I suspect that she is--we're hardwired to lie. How do we handle this? And what do we do when we suspect someone else is lying?
(I'm filing this post under "deep thoughts for a Friday"!)

Book Fun in Beantown

This week is a CORNUCOPIA of literary fun here in New England!

Tonight, Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and The Untelling, is reading at Harvard Bookstore. My friend Lady D (the fabulous unofficial social coordinator for Boston-area writers) has organized a bunch of writerly-types to gather apres to fete Tayari with drinks and (one imagines) scintillating conversation. I plan to share how I had to Google the proper spelling for both "cornucopia" and "scintillating" to finish my blog post this morning, which I'm sure will make everyone in the room feel comparatively brilliant!

Tomorrow will be my first time at the New England Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference. I'll be looking for: 1) a miraculous way through rush hour traffic between Cambridge & Providence; 2) great new books to review here on the blog, and 3) a better understanding of the retail side of publishing and how things are going up here in our neck of the woods. And honestly, the chance to bask in a convention center FULL of fellow book lovers? Bliss!

And THEN (as if these two weren't enough!?!) Saturday is the Boston Book Fest, which is seriously one of the reasons Boston is the best city in America.

The Red Sox are long gone, snow is on the way, and it's raining all over our foliage. But this is still THE PLACE TO BE for literary dorks like me.

And now, fine readers, THREE QUESTIONS for YOU!
Where are you right now? Why is it an awesome place to be?
And... what are your tips (other than sharing spelling mishaps) for unusual and interesting cocktail party conversation?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On endings, happy or otherwise

I sat down to write about endings: How they're hard and painful--as in "ouch, I ran into a wall!"--but often necessary. But then a link on FB caught my eye. I think they're connected.

The link was to a blog post by a well-known writing teacher describing how, in the early stages of his writing, his pursuit of his craft cost him everything: his relationship with his parents, his marriage, any hope of a job. I think it was supposed to be a romantic tale to encourage others to persevere, but what it made me think was, "Holy crap, nothing is worth that..."

But then again, what do I know? I wasn't there. Perhaps he never had a good relationship with his parents? Maybe the marriage was doomed from the start? It might totally have been worth it. Some endings are necessary.

Here's the quote I planned to start out with today, wise words on endings from my favorite NJ Housewife, Caroline Manzo: "There comes a time when you have to recognize that the tides are changing. I recognize that now. And it's sad."

She's describing the end of a friendship. Which is sad. But what I appreciate is her acknowledgement that the sadness doesn't change the reality: the tides have changed; things aren't what they were before. We all face situations where the challenge is to respond to what IS, rather than what we remember (or how we wish it had all turned out).

Even in sadness, there's good news. Because THIS crush of metaphors: changing tides and running into walls that weren't there 5 minutes ago and heartbreaking betrayal? This is what good art (and good life) is made from, if we proceed with care and courage. I think that might be what that writing teacher was getting at.

I'll leave you with this related thought, from Oswald Chambers:
"Spiritual truth is learned by atmosphere, not by intellectual reasoning. God's Spirit alters the atmosphere of our way of looking at things, and things begin to be possible which never were possible before."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Congratulations, Lora!

After a highly scientific selection process (akin to eeny-meeny-miny-moe, but much more complex!) the winner of Brennan Manning's All is Grace is....


Email me your home address and I'll drop the book in the mail to you tomorrow :)

Friday, October 07, 2011


Steve brought this home. He says it's a pear. To which I say, Someone needs to contact the people at Pear Production and let them know of a specifications fail...

Friday: Share the Love!

I'm starting a new tradition, designating Friday as "Share the Love" day. I'll post links to blogs, books, reviews, articles, interviews & other assorted things that will brighten our weekends. Sometimes, like today, there will even be PRESENTS! I like the idea of capping off the week with a little celebration of how much good and fun (not to mention inspiration & encouragement) is out there in the world :)

So today! Some links to people I love...some in person, some from afar:

--If you're feeling like your life has taken an unexpected twist or 2 as you soldier on toward happily ever after, check out my friend Elizabeth's blog on trusting God, "Never Deprived." (Then read the About page on her blog, which has one of the most helpful prayer tips I've seen in a LONG time..and it's SIMPLE, so even I can remember it!)

--If you want a good giggle that will make you think, " I do that?" check out Gretchen Rubin's post, "7 Tips to know if you're boring someone."

--My friend Liz says a heartfelt goodbye to her sweetheart of a dog here, and Kristin Armstrong shares the pain of making tough end-of-life choices for her pup here. Both posts made me tear up, hug THAT DOG until she squirmed away, and think about how good it feels to be part of this unique cycle of love and devotion that comes with a canine creature.

--And finally...a present! The nice folks at Cook Publishing sent me a copy of Brennan Manning's new memoir, All is Grace. I have notes all over my advance reading copy (if the title sounds familiar, I blogged about it here), and I'd love to pay this crisp new hardcover forward.

Hmmm....what would be a good question??? I know...If you'd like to win this copy, leave a comment below (or on FB) and tell us...Do you like holding hands? A tad random, but I wonder about this...because sometimes holding hands is all zappy and sparks fly and it's a sign of all good sorts of connection. And other times it's awkward and messes up how you walk.

What say you? Weigh in with your thoughts & I'll announce a winner next week :)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

What Steve Jobs (just) taught me

I love this tribute to Steve Jobs from my friend Elizabeth on her blog (picture, courtesy of the WSJ), especially this point:

"By 1997, Apple was floundering and had $2 billion in losses over two years. Who did they call? They guy they fired in the eighties. Did Steve hold a grudge and say, "Thanks for buying my new company, but you fired me, remember? I'd rather take my $400 million and watch your rapid decline from a far." Nope! He came back and took over as the interim CEO.... [I]n his last decade of life, he took those $2 billion in losses and turned Apple into the world's most valuable company at $350 billion."

We all want to leave a legacy, and watching the outpouring of appreciation and gratitude for Steve Jobs across all forms of media today is inspiring. Elizabeth's point helps me remember that sometimes, the opportunity to REALLY make a difference comes from rising to the occasion.

The day my salon dreams came true

I have always been a little bit in love with the notion of a salon. Not the Steel Magnolias kind, where you get your hair permed & tinted while crying about your husband Beauford's wayward ways. Rather, the sort one reads about in European history, described by Wikipedia (source of all truth & knowledge) as "A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation."

Yesterday, friends, I hit the salon motherlode :)

FIRST, I had lunch with my friend Broadcast Media Girl. We ate at John Harvard's, a local chain restaurant, so I'll just take it on faith that at somepoint back in the 1600s JH himself thought, "I bet those turn-of-the-century girls are going to need a place to talk...and it should be near discount retail and a giant shoe store..." He was right! I thank him for the inspiration. BMG and I spent the afternoon laughing, taking about God & boys, and, erm...refining our taste. Yes, that's exactly it!

THEN, Steve and I spent the evening at a birthday celebration dinner for my friend the Organized Gorgeous Gourmet (aka Julia...I'll out her so you can check out her book, because she's living proof these anti-aging tips work). Anyway, Julia inspires me--for her stealth alone...a little-known secret: she remains forever young by gathering her friends each year & feeding us gluttonous amounts of custard pie--so that salon condition was met. And the conversation...well, educational doesn't even begin to cover the ground the 8 of us covered. Here's just a sample of what I learned:

-A rat is different than a mouse, and you can't mate them...even if you're trying to get a donkey.

-The way to get a flying squirrel out of your attic is to obtain a fox, get it to pee in a cup, then dry the pee and spread it all over your home. (This has the added benefit of ending your hospitality obligations to all but your heartiest friends and family).

-Rumor has it that some audacious team in New Hampshire has asked ousted Red Sox manager Terry Francona to be their new guy in charge. His compensation package would include a few thousand dollars AND half-off burritos at the concession stand.

Good stuff, right?!? I woke up feeling enlightened, entertained...and newly aware that 2 slices of custard pie is 1 too many if I'm going to be laughing that hard for that many hours. It was practically aerobic.

What did YOU learn yesterday?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Oh to have a LIFE PLAN!

I just read another blog post--a good one--about making a LIFE PLAN. (I capitalize because the term just seems to demand it.) I found myself getting sucked in yet again. Oh, the allure of this promise: that if I write down what I will do and how the world should respond, commit to acting on this plan and checking in on it quarterly, then PRESTO! ABRACADABARA! SHAZAM! things will unfold more or less the way I've laid them out.

It's never happened. Not even once.

I don't think life plans (or day plans, or to-do lists where you rank your priorities with little letters and then cross reference via many highlighters) are bad. I have friends who do this regularly and find it sooo helpful. I envy those friends (and tend to ask them lots of detailed, bordering-on-nosy questions about how they pull it off) because I've tried and it doesn't work for me.

I'm good at the first part: I can describing my GOALS, break those goals into NEXT ACTION STEPS, and even put DEADLINES on each of these to hold myself ACCOUNTABLE. (See...I know the lingo!) I have a tiny bit of artistry in me in terms of coloring within the lines, so some of my life plans have been festooned with color and sparkle; veritable works of art. But not a one held up in the shifting tides of real life.

Here's the thing: LIFE is bigger than my plans. I'm not the author of this story, no matter how much I like to pretend I am. Circumstances change; people turn out to be different than I expect (in ways that might be better, worse, or simply SURPRISING!); tragedy and disappointment, excitement and opportunity blow through and changes the landscape... Really, here's no quicker way for me to precipitate some sort of "out of nowhere/wow, I didn't see THAT coming" change than to make a plan.

So I wake up each morning a little wide-eyed (at least when it's not allergy season), look up to the ceiling (you know, because that's where God lives...) and await instruction.

***Late breaking additional thought!***
Just read this quote from Seth Godin (in a blog post called "failures and the dip" which makes me feel like third graders are making fun of me...) that seems relevant: "The hard part is deciding to do something, anything. Once you've decided to move, at least you're going. Might as well make it worth the trip."

I agree! Makes me wonder if it's less that I don't have a life plan, and more that I tend to take the scenic route? I'm almost always moving, and even the bumpy rides provide hours of memoir material & entertaining cocktail party stories. In other words: worth the trip. Thanks for the perspective shift, Seth :)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Consider the Patterns

I'm often caught up in thoughts about how some study on human behavior applies to writing. Last night before bed I read a blog post from Donald Miller about intuition and decision making, and the bottom line was this:

Sometimes we just sense that something is wrong or off, and we should pay attention to that sense. What may be happening here is that our subconscious is picking up on a conflict in patterns...things are not as they should be, given the information we have.

This is not always a bad thing.

When I danced in college, I had no training in ballet (I took my first barre class at 19). What I discovered was that much of ballet is about patterns: three tendus to the right, followed by one to the left; three to the left, followed by one to the right. As I found the patterns, I could mimic the movement. It was soothing, an entire world laid out in knowable patterns. And somehow--I never quite understood it--when I focused on training my muscles in these patterns, it enabled me to do all sorts of more interesting things later, when given more complex choreography.

In writing, I wonder if the same is true: We (or our characters, if you write fiction) need enough pattern so readers can know who we/they are. And yet too much pattern makes our lives (and thus our stories and characters) dull, rather than comforting. Often the BEST moment in a book is when a heretofore predictable character goes completely off the beam.

Consider the picture above, of the New York City Ballet. From a foundation of years of predictable pattern work at the barre, these dancers now have the capacity to create something much bigger, more interesting...and unpredictable. So we watch, wondering what will happen.

Think with me, if you will, about these questions:
1. Are you mostly predictable, or does your story have some swerves?
2. Has that changed has you've gotten older?
3. If you write fiction, are you comfortable letting your characters do something unexpected?
4. What is one unexpected thing you could do today, just for practice?

If you want to answer #4 in a comment below, that might be fun :)

Monday, October 03, 2011

Best of Boston (8 year old girl edition)

Superfun weekend with THAT NIECE. Our parade was rained out, but that's okay: we discovered the REAL benefit of living in our city!

If asked, some people might say that what makes Boston great are the opportunities for learning and cultural enrichment: the Science Museum, the Aquarium, the Museum of Natural History (which one friend calls "the Harvard Stuffed Animal Museum"). THAT NIECE has skipped & sparkled her way through each of these fine establishments. And yet this time, she discovered something far better about our metropolis, something she'd never even imagined possible: We have a Petco store in almost every town.

What started as a visit to one store to buy a toy for a friend's dog (followed by a rained-out trip to Boston Common) became a mission of vast proportions, intense focus, and more miles than I can count. All told, we visited 5 stores in 2 days. THAT NIECE was slobbered on by a sweet rottweiler, leaned on by a greyhound, yapped at by countless tiny things bred to fit in teacups, and patiently tolerated by a baffled German Shepard who'd barely made it through the door before being engulfed in her love.

My sister and I kept reminding her: "Ask first!" lest her stalking truly frighten both dog and owner, and she was good about that. But the one time she was told, "Well, my dog is nervous around kids so you'd better not pet him," THAT NIECE looked so totally confused--how could this lady not understand that her love was exactly the thing this nervous little creature needed most in the world???--that she just stared forlornly, not speaking, then wandered after them them down aisle in case the lady changed her mind. But later, when she came across the doggie daycare room in the back of the store she said to us, "It's good that we have to was almost too much wonderful."

It made me think of a chapter from the fascinating book Switch, where the authors discuss studies of how positive emotions such as joy, interest, or pride in a job well done broaden our thinking and build our repertoire of thoughts & actions, giving us more options to respond to everyday challenges. It's a different type of learning than what one might find at a museum, but important! I forget this WAY too often. I'm grateful to THAT NIECE for the reminder :)

What was the last thing that brought you joy?

What might the next thing be?