2 MINUTES AND 52 SECONDS

Maybe he was 8, or only 7, but his day of reckoning had arrived. I was sitting in the 
coffee shop with my breakfast companions when the young boy’s sensuous actions pulled my attention away from our shallow conversation. He was too young to be drinking coffee, so maybe he was sipping hot chocolate. He was holding the cup so close to his lips, as though the cup was somehow warming him inside and all over. His movements were slow and tender, and so sensual that I could feel his innate pleasure simmer within myself. It seemed it was not the liquid within the cup that he was deriving his pleasure from as much as the feel of the cup itself against his soft, supple lips. He never once returned the cup to the table and the adults who were sitting with him were far too engrossed in their conversation to even take notice of his pleasurable pastime.

I suppose I was invading his privacy that morning, but I couldn’t stop watching his moves. His eyes were transfixed as he remained vigilant to his task. He was making love to that cup and I had never seen such tenderness in a boy of that age. At that moment, I believe he could have invoked jealousy in the most accomplished of lovers. Whatever he was experiencing that morning, he was the master of his craft and I think of him often, the unknown stranger – the sensual kisser. His actions still serve to remind me that as children we start out with wonder, with passion, and with eager sensuality and somehow we lose it along the way.

Sometimes, when I read a romantic novel, I notice that anyone can do sex, but not everyone can do sensuality. Sensuality involves all of the senses, not just moving body parts. Sensuality requires a commitment of time. Sensuality is a slippery art form for some writers who get caught up in the heated rush of the sex act and forget all about the rest of the senses. I like the way Michael Stipe puts it:

“I’ve always felt that sexuality is a really slippery thing. In this 
day and age, it tends to get categorized and labeled and I think 
labels are for food. Canned food. ” 

No topic causes the water pot to boil faster than a conversation about sex in a room filled 
with women. I sit back in my chair on my school lunch break, take a bite of my cheese sandwich, and get ready to watch the show. Eyes roll and burn as the conversation heats up – “He’s such an ass,” says one woman. “He has no clue what to do with that meat whistle. He doesn’t even know where to put it! After having sex with him, I feel utterly empty and alone. The spot that feels good to me is at least three inches away from where he thinks it is. He’s useless to me.”

I watch good women transform before my eyes into malicious monsters and ask myself, 
”Who are these people? Do I know them?” Their words steam and boil in the atmosphere around me. When the bell rings and lunch is over, I am thankful. I hurry back to my desk to jot down the latest 
quips and quotes in my writer’s notebook about how inept some women think men are when it comes to having sex.

There are huge differences between men and women, and huge differences between sexuality and sensuality. Many women claim that men do not fulfill them sexually, know little or next to nothing about foreplay, never mind afterplay, what’s that? and are insensitive to their needs, likes, and dislikes. Perhaps some of that angry energy that is used to put men down could be converted into words that communicate what is liked, disliked, and desired. Many of us fall short in our ability and our responsibility to communicate in our lives and in our writing just what it is that we want from sex. We tend to operate on the premise that our partner is supposed to be a psychic or something. If we want something specific, we need to verbalize it. We can learn how to play “show and tell.” This can be very sexy and informative, too. When we openly communicate our sexual needs with our words and with our bodies, it can lead to sensuality. Telling is good; showing is better; both are desired.

A wise friend once said, “When you enter the bedroom to make love, you should always leave your shoes outside the door. Inside of those shoes you should leave your head as well. Only then are you fit to enter into lovemaking.” By leaving our head in our shoes, I’m pretty certain he meant to leave our guilt, shame, anger, beliefs, judgments, opinions, positions, conditionings, and prejudices behind in our shoes. It was good advice and I got it!

Another openly communicative male friend shared with me that a lady he was involved with told him that she really enjoyed having her eyebrows massaged during sex. He said, “Who knew?” I must admit, that was a new on on me, but hey, hat’s off to her! She clearly communicated her unusual request and her request was granted.

By open communication and by freeing ourselves of doctrines and hang-ups, not only can we free ourselves up, we can free our writing up, too. We can help our characters to a more sensual experience, one that our readers will feel and appreciate. Purposeful communication. What is not understood is misunderstood. Remember, the road to sensuality involves all of the senses, and when our senses are alive, the written word comes alive as well. Even the fabric in our clothes starts to breathe.

We might even hear someone whisper in our ear,

“Love, let me sleep tonight on your couch, and remember the smell and the 
fabric of your simple city dress, oh, that was so real.” Jeff Buckley, In Music

Otherwise, the best we can hope for in real time and in books is –
“Love is 2 minutes and 52 seconds of squelching noises. ” – Johnny Rotten

Feng Shui suggests that if you are unlucky in love you can put two ducks in your bedroom or place crystals in the southwest corner of your love-making quarters to transform your social life. I think it’s a little more immediate than that. If we help ourselves and each other to feel safe enough to allow our needs to be heard, the energies will emerge on their own. Our writing will become more sensual and our sex lives may improve, too. It’s a win win situation. How bad can it be?

Standing On A Whale on Amazon

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SHORT NAILS AND CALLOUSES

The sheets were crisp and white, just the way he liked them. The gauze blanket was tucked in tight at the foot of the bed. Being a military man, these things meant a lot to him. I hated hospitals and I hated visiting anyone in them even more, but there I was sitting at the foot of 
his bed. I found it odd and ironic that I was sitting at the feet of the man who had caused so much pain for me and my family throughout the years. If I had to think of three adjectives to 
describe him they would be self-righteous, disparaging, and condescending. Still, I was 
compelled to sit at his feet. I started to rub his legs through the lightweight blanket. As I rubbed, I began to feel the greatest comfort 
coming from this shell of a man who had always made me feel “less than.”

Hearing the death rattle in his body made me uncomfortable. My throat felt thick and I wanted to clear it. Then it 
happened. I moved to the side of the bed and took his hands in mine and held them. You can tell a lot about a person by looking closely at 
their hands. His nails had been bitten down to the quick and the callouses were astonishing. I 
had never noticed them before on this once strong, virile, and meticulous man who was now dying from 
cancer. Why were his nails so short? Why was his skin so rough? He was always the one on top of 
his game, impeccably dressed, always in charge. How could this be? That moment changed me 
forever. A tenderness washed over me that remains to this day. It was in those hands that I saw his humanness for the first 
time. I  realized that he was just like the rest of us – vulnerable, lonely, afraid, and uncertain. I watched my 52 year old brother-in-law give up his life that day, but he left his gift behind. His hands had transferred a 
tenderness into me that allowed me to forgive him for all of the pain I’d been through. It was a memorable gift.

There is an almost forgotten language that happens when we are in a natural or vulnerable state. This forgotten language is called tenderness. I am not sure 
if tenderness has been forgotten or simply buried under all of the baggage we carry around each day, but the desire for tenderness is deeply couched in our 
individual psychological makeup. Without its presence, we feel dry and wooden. Both women and 
men intuitively sense when tenderness is present and when it is not.

When no anger or hidden agendas exist, the 
dance of tenderness can possess us. Tenderness can be experienced through 
many channels – a word, a simple touch, a Band-Aid on someone’s finger, a glance from the eyes 
of another – but it is a direct hit experience when it is tasted and it can lead us to forgiveness. Tenderness is a 
meltdown. We are never the same once we experience it. All that exists and 
everything that matters is present with us during times of tenderness.

Tenderness is a magical 
process that transforms our base selves into something of true merit. It is the language of 
the heart and the soul and is therefore existential. Tenderness seems to be missing in our world today. I am on a mission to reclaim it.

“We win by tenderness. We conquer by forgiveness.”     Frederick W. Robertson

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Decals Of Distraction

I had just left work reflecting on how satisfying writing can be. The usual route lured me
home as I drove down Bonaventure Boulevard. I came to the same stop light I have passed for
the last fifteen years, but today as I cast a glance out my right side window, something unusual caught my eye. In the lane right next to mine, a silver-grey car was wearing bullet holes on the driver’s side. I had to look twice to see if they were real. It was reminiscent of the final fatal scene of Bonnie and Clyde. As I studied the bullet holes closely I noticed that they had been professionally applied to the side of the car and I wondered why someone would go to the trouble and the expense to have bullet holes painted on the side of their car. Clearly, the driver was trying to make a statement, but what?

I studied the man driving the car. He looked normal enough. What was he trying to cover up? Was he hiding some flaws or imperfections on his outdated vehicle? If so,what a clever way to do it. Was he trying to draw attention to himself or to the car? Did he need attention that much? The light turned green and the man drove on never to be seen again, by me anyway, but the whole incident played with my imagination all the way home. I didn’t even turn the radio on that afternoon. In some twisted way, it made me think of how we put decals of distraction on areas of our own lives that aren’t working so well. Aren’t we clever to figure out a way to cover up our flaws and imperfections that way, or so we think.

There is a quote by Sondra Barnes that says, “Hoping you would love me for 
myself, I hid from you all of those parts of me I thought you wouldn’t like.” This quote reminds me of what I sometimes do with my writing. Hoping you will like my writing, I sometimes hide what I think you won’t like. It takes a lot of energy to hold down, to hide, to distract. I am still learning that when my characters want to be something, do something or say something I need to let them fly because I now know that some of my best writing resides amidst the flaws and imperfections of my characters.

Every once in a while, there is an edge that we reach when we are writing. I call it the rim. When we reach the rim, we must not stop there. It is imperative to push ourselves beyond the rim, to feel the discomfort and to allow our characters to do, say, and feel what they want to, even when it may seem taboo. This type of taboo writing can feel dangerous at times but it only comes once in a while and if we don’t push through and grab it when it appears, we lose the tremendous energy that accompanies it. I am finally learning to leave the decals of distraction behind and uncover this raw type of writing. It is where the energy lies after all and your readers will certainly feel it.

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As Good As It Gets

AS GOOD AS IT GETS
*****************************
When I was a child, I was badly bothered by obsessive-compulsive behaviors. I could never exit a store in less than an hour because I felt compelled to stop and look at every trademark and symbol on 
each can of soup, cereal box, or toy. If I did not stop and look at it in a certain way, I knew something terrible was coming 
down the pike for me. At night it was worse. I would have to check every lock and make 
sure it was in a perfect vertical position or I knew there would be no sleep that night. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I had to go an odd number of 
times; an even number was not in my reality. I made Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets 
look healthy and whole.

Even as a child, I knew that my parents did not have the 
wherewithal, financially or intellectually, to “fix me.” I had to figure out a way to survive. I 
did a lot of soul searching and decided to self-medicate with self-help books. It was torturous and troubling to have to read that stuff, 
but I was determined to get better. Eventually, I came to understand what I was up to. I was 
trying to make my ‘imperfect’ world ‘perfect.’ Over the years, I have learned to manage my 
obsessive compulsions, but they still rear their ugly heads from time to time, and when they do, I affirm them. I say, “Thank you for reminding me that you’re still there, but I do not need to 
act you out any more.” Then I walk away. I am living proof that we can heal ourselves if we are 
determined and resolute.

I understand now that there is no perfection in life. That is what 
makes life so delicious. That is what makes us keep trying. Once we understand that we cannot 
achieve perfection, we free up a whole lot of energy and the real work can begin.

The Greek word for perfect is telios, which translates “fulfilled, complete; fulfill yourself, 
complete the work you are called to do.” Sometimes we bandy about words without fully 
understanding what they mean. When we look at the root meaning of the word ‘perfection,’ 
we understand that perfection is a process, not an event. Because it is a process, it shows us there is work we 
have come here to do. My work is writing and teaching. Both are my calling and the two are intertwined in me. In order for me to do my work well, I need to allow myself the freedom in which to do it. I used to think that freedom meant doing whatever I wanted to do. Now I understand that freedom is much more than that. Natalie Goldberg taught me that “real freedom is knowing who you are, what 
you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.”

Some of us are obsessed with writing perfectly. We are not called to write perfectly. If everything we wrote was 
perfect there would be no need for the writing process. We 
could all save ourselves a lot of time, trouble, energy, and pain. Most writers, and creative people in general, suffer much. When the book is finished or the project is complete, there is self-doubt. When we learn how to release self-doubt and stop seeking perfection, the very struggle, confusion, pain, joy, laughter, tears, and 
suffering involved in the process of writing becomes meaningful and worthwhile. Writing is cleansing, revealing and healing.

There will always be obsessions; there will always be self-doubt, but even Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets found a way to compromise on his obsessive behaviors to make his relationship work. Compromise is a good place to start. By giving ourselves the freedom to write fearlessly, we will find fulfillment, completion and wholeness, but that’s as good as it gets. We will never find perfection.

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Remember the Centipede

W. Somerset Maugham once said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” This is pure wisdom.

This quote got me thinking about all of the theories that exist in our midst that claim to know how to teach us to write. If the definition of theory is – ‘a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural,’ we might want to ask ourselves a question. What is more important, theories about writing or writing itself?

Theories lead to practice and that which can be practiced is always based on theory. Writing is spontaneous. Writing cannot be practiced or theorized. Writing needs no props, no supports and no theories. You cannot prepare for writing; you cannot rehearse for writing; you can only do writing. To be “in writing” is to drop all theories about writing and simply float in it. If we could “fall into writing” like we “fall into love” we would have it. We don’t need to practice love, we just love. We don’t need to practice writing either. We just need to sit down and write. The rest takes care of itself. Writing is fundamental. It is an existential experience that needs no theory to help it along. Nevertheless, in an effort to clarify, explain and show us how to write, numerous theories have been formulated that often confuse, puzzle and prohibit one’s natural ability to write.

There is a famous anecdote about a centipede who was walking down a path one beautiful sunny morning. A philosopher frog was sitting by the side of the road with a puzzled look on his face. He asked the centipede, “Wait. You are doing a miracle. A hundred legs you have. How do you manage? How do you know which leg comes first, then second, third, fourth and so on…all the way up to one hundred? Don’t you get puzzled? It looks impossible to me.” The centipede stopped and answered. “I have never thought about it. Let me contemplate for a while.” After standing there for a few minutes, the centipede started to tremble and fell right down on the ground.

Too many theories can cripple our ability to write in the same way. Writing needs no theory and those who write and have been in the zone know this. When we simply write, without thinking about what we are writing, our stories flow naturally. The magic of writing is unexplainable and it is real.

There is nothing wrong in listening to opinions and suggestions about writing, but in the end it boils down to the relationship we hold with ourselves. Do we trust others more or do we trust ourselves more? It is our poem, our story, our voice. Who can tell it better than us? Once our story is written, there are plenty of talented editors to help us clean it up.

When I teach my writing classes, I tell my students up front that there are no magical workshops, classes or webinars that can teach them how to write. I don’t teach theories about writing in my classes. I present writing challenges, techniques and activities that stimulate, engage and inspire writers to show up at the page and put pen down on paper.  I know that if I teach individuals how to trust in their intrinsic ability to express themselves, those individuals will know how to write naturally. Soon their hearts will be leaping and their stories will be jumping off the page.

So, the next time you’re tempted to follow some writing theory, remember the centipede. Writing is as natural as walking when you leave the theories behind.

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Go To The Heart Of It

I sit outside of Starbucks on a “detail-gathering mission” – something I often do to stretch my writing form. I see a Cheney Bros. truck driver unloading boxes for a nearby restaurant; four green umbrellas flapping in the breeze; casual customers sipping various shades of coffee; young women donning sequined hats, stomach tattoos and blue hair; the BB&T Bank across the street; and tiny birds pecking at crumbs from a leftover pastry at my feet. I hear traffic humming, horns blowing, sirens wailing, birds chirping and casual laughter and conversation all around me. Every time I do this exercise, I am reminded of how details connect us to our world.

I sit with my one year-old grandson and watch his hands grasp a blade of grass, a piece of string or a tiny bead. He scrutinizes each object with a wide-eyed wonder and doesn’t let go until he has gone to the heart of each item. Being a grandparent has improved my ability to notice detail. When I was a mom, I was too busy doing laundry, changing diapers, paying bills and buying cheese to appreciate details. Now, I see my world through the eyes of my grandson. This ‘second chance’ I’ve been given to notice the details in my world has improved my ability to write description.

When I go to a wedding, I don’t just look at the flower arrangements, the bride’s gown and the wedding cake and say, “How Lovely.” Now, I see the blue marbles at the bottom of the clear vase of water; I study the hand-sewn sequins and beads on the bride’s dress in the shape of a heart and I smile when I notice that a small visitor’s finger couldn’t resist the frosting on the first layer of wedding cake.

Details are everywhere. They are the glue that connect us to our world and to each other. Details are the vehicles that take us beyond what we look at and experience in this world. So how do we go to the heart of details?

The answer is found in the approach. When we go to a place we have been to before, when we look at a friend we see every day, or taste the same meal we have tasted many times, we forget what the first time was like. It is always the first time if we make it so. Noticing detail is a conscious decision. With a little awareness, we can make a decision to experience the details in our lives as though they were happening for the first time. When we master the art, we won’t need to worry about Show versus Tell. The Show will be in the details and our readers will see, hear, smell, taste and touch our writing like never before.

There is a wonderful story about Chandragupta, one of India’s most brilliant military leaders in 321 B.C. Chandragupta was on a mission to seize the northwest from the Greeks and attack the kingdom of Magadha. One morning, while planning his strategy over breakfast, Chandragupta witnessed a mother scolding her child for eating from the center of his plate. She told her son that the center was hot and advised him to eat around the edges until the center was cool. Chandragupta thought about her wisdom and recognized it as a powerful battle strategy. He had planned to attack the capital city directly, but upon hearing the woman’s words, he decided to weaken the kingdom of Magadha by nibbling at the borders for a while before seizing the capital city.

Perhaps we can apply some of this wisdom to the way we approach the details in our world. The next time we go somewhere, taste our food, or look at someone or something, we can nibble at the borders for a while. We can enjoy the experience, take in the details and then, we can make a conscious effort to go to the heart of whatever it is we are experiencing. We may be pleasantly surprised.

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Know Your Place

I stand in line at Starbucks with my husband. He orders his routine grande decaf with room for cream and I order my usual iced soy latte. I see the same faces behind the counter, the same people hunched over their lap tops, the same tempting pastries in the glass case, the same drinks on the overhead menu, and wonder—when do we leave what we know?

This is what I love about writing. We can leave our routine in an instant. We can leave the city and the state we live in. We can explore new continents, new worlds, meet new people and have new adventures while sipping on a latte at Starbucks.

When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t want my story to take place in south Florida where I have lived for many years. It would have been easier, because I know the beaches, I know the sand, I know the traffic, I know the restaurants and I know many of the colorful people who live there. This time I wanted to leave what I know behind and venture out of my comfort zone, so I chose Patra, Greece for the setting of my story.

I gathered as much information as I could about this strange and wonderful city. I researched the weather, the people, the landmarks, the terrain, the flora, the fauna, the local taverns, the culture and the customs. I studied travel brochures and gazed at photographs of Patra deep into the night. It was exhilarating to learn about a place I had never been to before.

Several people who had read my novel were surprised when I told them I had never been to Greece.   They were certain I had been there. This affirmed that I had done my job. “How did you do it?” they asked. My answer was simple. If you know your place, you can go anywhere in the world with your writing.

I wrote about Greece without ever leaving home, but then again, Shakespeare wrote about Julius Caesar without ever going to Rome. Born and raised in England, Shakespeare researched and read about the settings, the fields and the time periods he wrote about. Shakespeare taught us a lot about place. He didn’t burden his readers with rambling descriptions of any one place. He gave the reader just enough description to create the feeling for the place he was writing about and then he moved on. Shakespeare was a writer who focused on his characters and the interaction between them to tell his stories. He didn’t depend on fancy places, high speed car chases, gruesome scenes or bloody explosions to carry his work. Shakespeare knew the places he wrote about and allowed his characters to romp freely in them.

So, whether your story happens in the halls of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. or in a coffee shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2015, do your research. Know your place well enough to convince your readers that they are there and then get on with your story.

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