Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yellow Highlighter ...

… orange or lime green … take your pick from the pallet of hues for giving emphasis to points you want to remember when you’re reading. I can’t imagine life without these handy tools to help me see at a glance what’s important. They are memory joggers I have used ever since I can remember (high school? college?). They are even bigger godsends in these days when our minds are increasingly stuffed with too much information.

But there are other markers for highlighting, and they are figurative, not literal. They work as a cosmic hint for getting our attention--or as bookmarks for a place in memory that we need to note for later follow-up. They can mark a specific incident or verbal exchange. In the moment, they stir a feeling of discomfort or significance, often that we can’t yet identify.

Here’s a recent example, which takes a little intro:

My close circle of women friends—my spiritual support team—take an annual trip near Lake Tahoe to the cabin of one of our members. Over the past couple of years, we have started to do
Soul Collage, a great artsy and intuitive way, essentially, to make your own personal tarot deck. If you’re familiar with tarot and know the collage based Voyager deck, think of a process where you create your own unique version.

Running late, as ever, I was eating my cereal the morning we were leaving for Tahoe. In-between spoonfuls, while chewing, I was cutting last-minute images out of magazines for our Soul Collage session at the cabin the next day. An ad with a $100,000 bill caught my eye. I said to myself, “That goes in one of my cards,” and I snipped it.

I had these errands left to do: chiropractor, get gas, get coffee, and get cash. I hoped to combine coffee with cash, thinking that if I used my ATM card, they’d give me cash back. Not Starbucks’ policy. Drat.

That meant that I’d have to go a few doors down to the Safeway and hit the ATM. My bank, Wells Fargo, has a branch inside the grocery store. After getting my 40 bucks, I put my purse on the little podium with the ATM envelopes and various banking program brochures.

Something caught my eye … a brochure with a $100,000 bill on the cover. The $100,000 bill I had clipped less than an hour before out of that magazine was still in yellow highlighter in my visual memory. I picked it up.

It was a contest for financing your dream, and the bank was giving a $100,000 prize for the best short essay … but the deadline was that day. There were only two ways to enter, by mail and online, and it was too late to post something …

… so I phoned ahead to my friends and asked someone to take their laptop on the trip so I could spend an hour cranking out my 250-word essay. With a little help from my friends—we have great synergy—we titled it Banking on Boomer Insights. It’s a proposal to create a press that would help me and other boomers write and distribute our memoirs and books on other topics of interest to the More Experienced (ME) Generation.

As I say in Hot Flashbacks, we need to reclaim the custom of indigenous people everywhere of giving back our wisdom to our communities … of teaching them how to really live …

… and if learning is the subject, we’ll need those highlighters. I can almost hear them squeaking …

Not only do I hope I win the contest; I’ll be just as happy to know I illustrated how opportunity is in plain sight if we only learn to play the symbols. Think of the chances we pass up just because we don’t get the hints the universe puts right in front of us every day.

Here’s to having the eyes to see yellow—and the ears to hear that delightful squeak

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dreams—Waking and Sleeping

Dreamwork—helping people access and decipher the messages in their own night movies—was one of the services I offered in my former astrology-plus practice.

I have been a dream catcher for as long as I can remember. After journaling my nightly entertainment and instruction for decades, I understand my own dream code. This is what it takes—writing it down and taking persistent shots at analyzing the content, until you see the patterns, rhyme, and reason. Once you get the hang of your personalized symbols, the sky’s the limit on self-understanding.

Free guidance in your sleep. What could be more laid back? Effortless?

Even more enticing: This symbol system spills over into waking life. For instance, I got the message that it was time to look for my birth mom when the topic of adoption kept coming up in every other conversation and a magazine connecting adoptees and birth parents appeared in the window of my local bookstore. The one I passed every day and could not miss if I tried. A series of dreams about happy reunions complemented these waking hints, although the characters in the stories varied.

As you can see, the message I was supposed to “get” was a very simplified nugget of the material I was receiving. My world kept repeating “adoption, adoption” and my dreams whispered “happy reunions, happy reunions.” By not being hung-up on the details—by zeroing in on the simplest core message—my dreams came true, both sleeping and waking, in a happy reunion with Original Mom in 1986.

This reminds me of two of my favorite dreamwork techniques. One is to nugget your dream down to a single sentence, like a blurb in the TV Guide. Example from last night’s dream: Woman returns to her childhood home to find it renovated and moved to a different location.

I was the woman, but it’s better to take yourself out of the description, in case you or any other star is symbolic. Could be I represent someone else, as dreams are notorious for morphing one person into another and substituting one person for someone else with similar characteristics.

My childhood home represents security and happiness to me. My time in that little brick house were the best years of my life.

The blurb nuggets it down to a simple concept. The house can change in appearance or location, but I can still find what it represents in an uncertain world—stability.

The other technique I love is titling dreams. I took a workshop once where I learned this trick, and it has helped me vastly in dream synthesis—discovering the core message. It’s important to use your first inspiration in titles, as they are usually spot-on. I called my childhood home dream, Happy Childhood Home: Moved, Redone.

There are many other techniques I have developed over time, but the most important thing I want to share is that dreams are the portal to intuition and learning to use divine guidance toward abundant living. In order to mine your subconscious, you have to go down the shaft and hang out there—a lot. I know some people are scared of the dark, but remember that little light the miners wear on their heads to guide them on their way? Right on their third (intuitive) eye? It symbolizes insight, and the stuff they seek is treasure.

So, what if you’re somewhat new at all this? How do you get started?

If you don’t already remember your dreams, here’s a medical fact. You have them; you simply have not invited them into waking memory.

Here are some helpful dream memory tips:

  • Get enough sleep. I dream triple the content on days I can get 8-9 hours.

  • Avoid stimulants, especially caffeine, beyond morning

  • Avoid alcohol at night

  • Anything deeply relaxing before bedtime enhances—lavender baths, meditation, tense/release of muscles

  • Pray about or affirm your desire to remember your dreams. You can even write a note to your Higher Power requesting guidance on a specific issue and put it under your pillow.

  • Keep a note pad handy to jot down memories first thing upon waking, even in the middle of the night, along with a high intensity reading light that won’t bother your partner if you share a bed.

  • Put the herb mugwort under your pillow, which you’re likely to find at your local health food store. The scent stimulates dreams.

  • Use flower essences that evoke dreaming.

Dreams are so integral to the intuition and insight needed to have a cool life, no matter what your age; I encourage you to invite them into yours wholeheartedly.

Dreams are like people. The more you court them and pay attention to them, the more they’ll want to hang out with you—and share themselves.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's Done!

Crack open the champagne! Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights—the book—is done!

I’m midway through my first full read-through with edits; then, I’ll send it off to several volunteer readers while I beef up the plan to find an agent and/or publisher--or decide to self-publish. I sense that the right road to take will be revealed in the next few months. My earlier attempts to find representation may have been premature. Like working a complex puzzle, I didn’t get the complete picture of what the book was meant to be until most of the pieces fell into place. Therefore, I couldn’t pitch it in a way that fully conveyed its aim and impact. So much for outline versus “writing by the seat of your pants.” In my experience, a bit of both is best and produces the most creative results.

Here’s my bestseller list blurb (think big!):

New Tagline

Eat, Pray, Love meets Sex in the City, Boomer Edition. Don't get old. Get ready for your next phase of fabulous and fulfilled.

Target Audience
One of the big clarifications that came into focus the closer I got to the finish line: The target audience of this book is definitely women baby boomers. While there is plenty to interest men and up-and-coming younger women (as long as you live an average life span, everyone will age), boomer women are the pioneers with the motivation and skills to reinvent aging. We are not only the unique generation that survived the ‘50s Happy Days and the ‘60s Counterculture, those polar opposites in our somewhat schizophrenic coming of age. We also have always done it our way, one of the reasons we have been called the Me Generation. Now we are morphing into a new ME Generation, which stands for and celebrates our age group as Most Experienced.

The skills that often come naturally to women because of their hormonal make-up—intuition and insight—are half of the equation needed to find your own personal path to cool later living. The formula is Intuition + Insight + Analysis + Synthesis = A Sensational Seasoned Citizen. Hopefully, watching how I worked the formula in my own life will inspire you to mine yours for all its worth and to discover not only your personal curriculum to a fulfilled life, all the way, but also how each lesson learned opens the path for the next hint on how to have more adventures in fine living.

When it comes to naming your book baby, writers must accept that our brilliant christenings are what they call in the publishing biz working titles. Often the publisher’s marketing department has the last word on which title sticks based on its selling power. My first working title for this book, which I still love and in many ways prefer, was Hot Flashes of Insight! The reason it wasn’t a keeper:

“So, what is it, a book about menopause?”

This was the initial reaction of a young male guest editor in an online class I took in the mid-‘90s. (Yes, I’ve been incubating this project that long.) For many of us, the less said, read, or experienced about “the change,” the better. The only role hot flashes played in my life were to heat up my already warmed-up intuition to boiling. The emphasis is on the insight. Hot flashes were only the vehicle. And, besides, if we’re talking about the years approaching and beyond Social Security, for most women, the flashes are long gone. I did not want it to be mistaken for a book, humorous or otherwise, about surviving the Great Hormonal Transition.

My original subtitle for Hot Flashes of Insight! was Flashbacks on Passion from the Fast Lane to Social Security.

Today’s working title and subtitle:

Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights
Hints in Plain Sight for a Cool Later Life

I would welcome your feedback on these titles/subtitles. Say, for instance, you just love that first title. I could easily be persuaded to go back to it, as long as the subtitle deflects any bad memories or future fears of the menopause from hell. Then, if it’s not my future editor’s favorite, I can produce proof that my earliest readers beg to differ. After all, it is your reaction they are trying to anticipate.

AARP Contest

I am a nut for writing contests, my version of roulette or playing the slots, an indulgence I seldom allow myself. I’d have to admit on objective analysis that I’ve probably lost more on writing contest entry fees and won less money in them over the years than on my casino trips. Casinos I only do once or twice a decade. Writing contests? Usually several times a year.

I don’t spin three cherries in contests as often, either, but once in awhile, coins kaching in good volume out of the literary one-armed bandit. (Try writing with one hand.)

In 2005, I won $200 and first place in the Yosemite Writers Contest for a mini-proposal of Hot Flashbacks, while it was still called Hot Flashes of Insight! The real “in” it gave me was incentive—to retire early and get this show on the road.

My latest contest is Borders & AARP’s Your Next Chapter short essay competition. It celebrates AARP’s 50th anniversary and focuses on what people over 50 are doing with their next leg of life. Hot Flashbacks is so on target with the contest subject matter, I’m hoping for a fighting chance to win. My book even features a chapter called The AARP Card—a reprise of my reactions to receiving my membership card as I approached the big Five Oh, primarily of screaming denial that I might be getting older. Who knew this was the year AARP would become eligible to receive its own membership in the 50+ club!

Next Steps
I’m brushing up my short forms of the book—synopsis and chapter outline—for the annual writers contest at California State University, Sacramento. There I’ll have a chance to do a whistle stop or speed date with several agents and editors. This is an opportunity for a one-on-one pitch. The last time I did this, I was very early into the project. With a finished product, I have a lot better chance to make meaningful connections. And we have established, three years ago, I didn’t know completely where this book was headed. Here’s to the excitement and wonder of discovery. That’s one of my favorite parts about writing.

How to Help Make It So
The photo is of me signing Capital Crimes:15 Tales by Sacramento Area Authors at our March 2008 book launch for the mystery anthology published by my local Sisters in Crime chapter, Capitol Crimes.

In indigenous cultures, women often give birth in a circle of other women who support and cheer them on through their ordeal of delivery. It is a ritual of shared joy and experience that not only bolsters the new mother; it also honors the truth that all creations belong to the community. “
It takes a village,” Hillary Clinton told us in her book title, to raise children. Same goes for nurturing our ideas and stories that make up our larger cultural reality. I now realize that in creating this blog, I have replicated that circle of support. Thank you for being my midwives!

On the spiritual level, what we see is what we get when it comes to manifesting our visions, and visions held collectively are even more powerful in the Dreams Come True Department. So, memorize this image of me signing books and see it in your mind often. Send good energy. How can I lose with friends like you and a mind meld so mighty?