Category Archives: Life

Life and other things that get in the way of writing.

Personal Mission Statement: Scholar-Warrior

WarriorScholarGrungeI’ve had very mixed feelings over the call for personal branding as an author or even just as an individual living in the 21st century. “Branding” sounds like “rut” to me; we don’t like it when our favorite brands change, right?

So I’ve been playing with the idea of a personal mission statement instead, trying to boil down concepts about the “right way to act” that I have absorbed over the years. Not surprisingly, many of the lessons I absorbed came from fantasy fiction — ideas about honor and defending the weak, about self-reliance and strength of conviction. But as I’ve grown, I’ve modified those early ideas a little, informed by feminism (most of the fantasy I read as a child was written by men about boys and men for boys and men) and Zen Buddhism and Taoism, among other philosophies and movements. For example, originally I thought a warrior needed to engage in physical battle. However, I’ve since read about the concept of a spiritual warrior and experienced enough  other kinds of fights — for justice, for freedom, for health, and so forth — to understand that warriors come in many forms. As do, of course, scholars.

So here’s where my personal mission statement is right now, in the form of a graphic. It isn’t perfect. I’d like to add something along the lines of “In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped” … the acknowledgment that having a mission statement is itself kind of unnatural, an attachment to a certain self-definition or -aspiration that can be problematic. For now, “cultivate wisdom” encompasses that awareness.

Despite those problems, it seems to me to be a useful exercise, if nothing else because it’s helping me put into concrete terms those concepts that have guided my actions — what I’ve thought I’ve had to live up to and/or felt guilt about when I’ve failed to do. Knowing these things about myself, I can begin to modify this mission statement if I decide that it’s not good for me or others, after all. And until then it will serve as a personal reminder and inspiration.


New Year’s Resolutions 2016

cosmic_mandala2_In January 2015 I wrote that “Let Go” would be my watch-phrase for the year and added, “So in 2015 I’m going to let go of some of the many demands I put on myself.”

Indeed. In July 2015 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and I suddenly had to let go of a lot — my martial arts, my writing group, my gaming groups, my plan to lead a travel-study course to Italy in summer of ’16, my self-image as a strong and healthy person, and any last lingering illusions of immortality I might have harbored. I didn’t give up work, although I did drop the class overloads and reduce my office hours.

That’s not to say that my life became simple, of course. There’s nothing simple about dealing with a life-threatening disease. It’s involved surgery, multiple medications, physical therapy, chemotherapy, and — of course — constant insurance wrangling. But I’ll finish my six-session cycle of chemotherapy on Jan. 4 and begin seven weeks of daily radiation therapy in February. Then I’ll continue to get infusions of one of my meds every three weeks until September. I’m hoping to get my port out and finish everything but drug therapy before my birthday in  November.

My 2016 New Year’s watchword, then, is “Recovery.” That said, I know that recovering will be a slow and uncertain process, and it certainly won’t happen quickly. Still, as the months pass, I hope to return to my normal primal diet, currently abandoned in favor of “eat anything that sounds good and doesn’t make me sick”; regain my lost strength and endurance, which will include discovering the limits of my new post-surgery normal; return to my regular teaching and department-chair work; and revive my temporarily suspended pastimes of writing and international travel.

So here’s to 2016 — may yours be full of health and well-being!

Catching Up

keepcalmAh, the academic year is over and I’m (mostly) free! Check out my students’ comic book final projects over at ComicComm.Com!

Current writing project: With my housemate traveling for a week, I’ve usurped the kitchen table with my laptop and Right of Rule notebooks, incorporating my writing group’s comments. If I work really, really hard I might have them all in before I head out to Croatia for summer vacation….



The Next Step in Minimalism

orchid_sd2_After simplifying one’s environment, the next step may be to simplify one’s mind.

To create open space in one’s house, one must declutter the house — remove all the unnecessary Stuff. Then, suddenly, space appears.

“In the same way, to bring about contentment we need a consciousness that is like creating space. It’s not about having more, accumulating more. Rather it is about letting go of this and that. When we let go of everything we see that the space we want to create is already there.”
—Anam Thubten (2013) No Self, No Problem: Awakening to Our True Nature. Boston: Shambhala, n.p. [Kindle Edition].

Decluttering our environment requires us to give up our attachments to Stuff. Sometimes that’s difficult; we have deep emotional, psychological bonds to some of our Stuff that we need to detach from (the souvenir is not the trip; the heirloom is not the lost loved one) in order to let our clutter go.

Decluttering our mind is similar. It means giving up our attachments to Self: e.g., the stories we tell about the way we were in the past, the way we are now, and the way we will be in the future if only we do this, or refrain from doing that, or can achieve something else. Thubten reminds us, however, that “there is a big difference between giving up everything and giving up the attachment to everything.”  [emphasis added]. Perhaps we can’t entirely forget those stories; I suspect it would be difficult to do that and operate in the normal, everyday world. There’s a tradition of the “mad monk” for a reason! But I imagine we can avoid letting those stories direct us or limit us while acknowledging that we have believed in them in the past, and that others may still believe them about us. Oh, well. Accept it and move along.

Self is a form of Stuff.

Those of us who have been successful at decluttering our Stuff might want to take up the more daunting challenge of decluttering our attachment to Self next.

Image Source: Skydancer (Jo Pagliassotti).

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Daily Loss

tao_circle_black_400x400Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss

Tao De Ching

As a professor, my head is often too full — reading books and accumulating knowledge is part of my profession, and I can’t easily call a halt to it at this point in my career, although I have been growing more particular about what I choose to put into my head.

As a person seeking simplicity, I keep attempting to pare down, to lose.

I have been deleting more and more of my past posts on this blog. Most of them simply tracked my progress as a writer — sales, rejections, marketing issues. Who cares, now, about what stories I sold eight years ago?

Whenever I take another really significant step toward simplification, I feel a moment’s nausea as a lifetime of social conditioning rebels against the thought of letting go. I wonder when I will finally be able to let go in peace?

Uncluttering Facebook Updates

clean-facebook-wallAm I the only person who periodically unclutters her Facebook timeline?

I was wondering that this morning while I went back and deleted some of the less-significant status updates I’d written, such as grumbles about being on campus grading over the weekend or comments about articles I found interesting at the time. I figure Facebook posts are the same as physical belongings and digital files — if you don’t love ‘em or use ‘em regularly, get rid of ‘em.

I suppose I could purge the whole thing … how often do I go back and look at those convention photos from two years ago, anyway? … but so far I haven’t reached that stage of digital minimalism. I don’t really mind having old posts sitting in my timeline; I just think they ought to be periodically curated.

But maybe I’m just strange that way…?

Image Source: Le Free Logiciel

New Year’s Resolutions

nonattachment-600x600I’m not one of those people who hates New Year’s Resolutions and/or gives them up after a few weeks. I love the feeling that every year is a fresh start, and I’ve never had a problem keeping a resolution. To be sure, my resolutions tend to be broad — I make a sweeping resolution, and then I spend the rest of the year figuring out the habits and hacks it’ll take for me to meet it. All that advice about measuring and quantifying and tracking your progress? Not my thing. I figure I’m either doing better or doing worse, and it’s usually pretty easy to tell which.

In January 2014, my resolution was “simplify,” born out of desperation after completing my first semester as department chair at the university — an appointment I didn’t want and don’t enjoy, but that I’m stuck with for a six-year term. I realized after that first highly stressful semester that I needed to cut back on other things to accommodate all my new responsibilities. So 2014 became a long search for ways to simplify my environment, my duties, my commitments, and my thoughts. I gave up a handful of long-term projects and social events; purged another, deeper layer of my Stuff; bumped up my morning meditation time and read more Buddhist texts; completed some lingering to-do projects that had been nagging at the back of my mind; and developed systems at work that help me keep track of my new duties. Would I say I live a simple life now? Nope, not at all. My life is simpler in some respects — maybe even simple enough to keep me sane for the next four-and-a-half years — but until this department-chair obligation is off my back, my life will never going to be as simple as I’d like. (If I’d wanted to manage people, I wouldn’t have become a professor!)

So in January 2015, my resolution is “let go,” which was inspired by identifying my biggest day-to-day stressor last year: myself. ….I can’t tell you how many times a day I say to myself, “I should—”, “I have to—”, “I’ve gotta—” And not later; now.

However, it turns out that very few of the things I tell myself I need to do are necessities, and even fewer need to be done right now. So in 2015 I’m going to let go of some of the many demands I put on myself. It will be challenging, because those demands have gotten me a long way in life. But I’m already making a few changes — like deliberately correcting myself from saying “I should” to saying “I want,” “I’d like to,” or “I choose,” instead. Or asking myself, “do I need to do this right now?” and, sometimes, calendaring it for later. I’m also trying to let go of my expectations of other people.

The deeper challenge, of course, will be to dismantle those core expectations about myself and the world that make me think I “should” or they “should” be one way and not the other. While I certainly don’t expect to achieve it any time soon, if I spend the year asking myself how and why my beliefs are driving any particular pressure I’m putting on myself, I think it’ll be a step in the right direction!

So that’s my 2015 resolution: Let go.

Image Source: Red Lotus Mama



Goodreads-iconSo, let’s see. I started logging the books I’ve read into Goodreads on March 2014.  Since then I’ve read 253 books (this is not counting the books I started and put down as too bad to finish and a handful of short free ebooks that didn’t seem worth the effort of writing down), for about 25 books a month. Yeah, that seems about right….

Keeping track of my day-t0-day reading has been an interesting life experiment, but as part of my effort to simplify my to-dos and focus on my writing, I’m going to stop recording everything I read and adding it to my Goodreads bookshelves. I’ll continue to update Goodreads whenever I’ve read something that I feel strongly enough about to recommend to others, but I’m no longer going to keep updating it with every new book I’ve finished. I  hope you’ll understand and forgive me — and not assume that what you see on my Goodreads shelves continues to represent my regular reading habits!

Cheating on My Love Affair with Minimalism

horribleAt a convention recently another writer raised an eyebrow at my steampunkery  and asked, “Do you have a whole closet full of costumes?” I stammered a little and then reluctantly confessed to having made a couple of incompatible lifestyle choices.

You see, for all my years of pursuing minimalism, there’s one part of my life that remains less than minimal — my “special events” wardrobe.

Day-to-day, you’ll find me in jeans, black v-neck tee, and boots. That’s my Uniform, plus a blazer when I’m teaching or a flannel shirt around friends and family. I have a handful of blazers, flannels, and boots, so it’s not utterly boring, but it’s certainly limited and doesn’t take up much closet space.

But then if you go to, ahem, the other side of the wardrobe, all of the sudden you’ll be confronted by cloaks, vests, corsets, overcoats, ascots, gloves, belts, hats, goggles, masks, replica weaponry, and the velvet doctoral robes that get yanked out twice a year for the university’s opening convocation and  commencement ceremony.

Sometimes I fantasize about getting rid of it all — usually around the time I’m packing to go to a con! — but….

Not yet.  :-)

Brown Belt

kempoLast week was intense; I finished the first draft of Right of Rule on Monday night and earned my brown belt in kempo on Saturday! Writing the novel took a lot longer, but those five-and-half-hours of martial-arts endurance test were the most intense physical challenge I’ve faced in my life.

I was pretty anxious about the test. Even though, intellectually, I knew that (a) my sensei wouldn’t have sent me to take it if he didn’t think I knew the material well enough to pass, and (b) worrying would do me no good at all, I still couldn’t help fretting over that week before the test, as I refilled my plate with protein and drank yet one more bottle of Gatorade. I practiced my forms and techniques every day, until I was starting to fear that the practice was doing me more harm than good.

And then, the test! Every time I messed up I cringed, then tried to hide it, knowing that the black belts were circling our little test group like tigers looking for weaknesses. Around hour four I was grimly telling myself to just keep putting one foot ahead of the other each time we had to run from one part of the park to another. All I have to do, I thought, is keep moving. It was about then that I started getting loud. I’m normally a quiet person and a quiet fighter; my kiai is more a hiss than a shout. But exhaustion and desperation had dropped my inhibitions, and I was shouting to encourage my friends and myself and to prove to the masters that I was still in the game.

Then, when we finally headed back into the dojo for the final part of the test — sparring — I had gotten my second wind. I had to spar twice, and I was able to stay aggressive and mobile both times (although the next day I discovered that somewhere along the line one of my opponents had landed a good one on my ribs — grooaann!), doing a lot of loud and, for me, atypical kiai-ing in the process.

And of course, as the photo proves, in the end I earned my belt (I’m the one on the left).

Let’s be honest: I don’t enjoy endurance testing, and I roll my eyes whenever the rhetoric in my martial arts system gets too macho. I’m a 47-year-old, female, introverted professor; I practice martial arts for fitness and as a little personal “travel insurance” during my trips abroad. (Although, as a writer, I do enjoy the graphic descriptions of mayhem that my sensei delights in providing whenever he demonstrates the street application of a technique!) Nevertheless, I will reluctantly concede that this brown-belt test taught me exactly what I’m sure it was intended to teach me: that I can face a challenge that mentally and physically intimidates me and that I can keep moving and fighting even after I’m exhausted. And I confess that knowing that gives me a particular type of confidence that I didn’t have before I took the test.

But I’m still very grateful that my next rank test will be a long time from now!