The Muse Will Show

The muse will come when you stop messing around on Facebook or goofing off on Twitter. Reading other people’s stuff sometimes inspires the muse, but the muse can be prickly, even jealous. Ignore your own creativity? The muse runs away. The muse doesn’t like when you spend too long working for other people and not long enough on your own. If you don’t care about your creativity, the muse won’t either.

This is where I am writing, — in a room with a window seat, looking out on Lake Champlain. The muse likes a room with a view.

The muse will show up when you let go of perfectionism. When you stop comparing yourself to all of the successful, rich people you get bombarded with every single day. Those beautiful people get to your muse. Those people are like vampires, making you run into your house and lock your front door.

The muse doesn’t like when you choose safety over the midnight walk in the woods. The muse loves to roam too and wants you to live on the edge of a cliff, not in the cocoon.

The muse will show up when you put fingers on the keyboard and wipe away the blank screen.

The muse will show up when you stop cleaning the kitchen.

When the muse shows up, it’s not work. It’s play. You just have to get out of your own way. Something, some brilliance — seriously! – will flow through you. You will sit back when you are done and go, “Wow! I did that!” But no, you didn’t do that. Not alone any way. You were the conduit. The creative spirit, the muse, flew through you and is now flying away because your ego — such a barking dog — chased it away.

And tried to take all the credit. But that’s okay; that’s the ego’s job.

The muse will be back tomorrow. Or later. But won’t/can’t stay forever, because you have to eat and go to the bathroom and chat with your kids and make dinner and throw a load of laundry in the washer and gossip about the neighbors and, don’t forget, you’ve got to pay the bills.

I know, as an artist and writer, I can visit the muse when I jot my ideas and images in a little notebook, even when I am away from my keyboard or canvas. I use Field Notes, a product. But I get no money (or respect) from Coudal Partners for this endorsement. Although occasionally, I swipe pack of Field Notes when I am at the Coudal household.

As Field Notes saying goes, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

I want to write more about my prickly, beautiful, sensitive, strong muse. But I have to go for a walk. I have to stretch my body. I have to take my time. I have to let my muse fly.

This post was inspired by the Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book that made me to take my muse seriously.

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Starting Anew

Elaeocarpus holopetalus - Mount Imlay Rainforest

Elaeocarpus holopetalus – Mount Imlay Rainforest (Photo credit: Poytr)

I have loved my job for so many reasons for so many years. Just because you love someone or something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let it go. Like parenting. My kids want to go to camp or on school trips. I love them but let them go.

Without going into all the deets, my workplace has offered a voluntary severance package to everyone. And I’m taking it (effective within the next couple of months).

Sometimes work grows around you like a vine in a tropical rain forest, hitting the top layer and you’re still on the forest floor. Or sometimes work’s part of the undergrowth. And you’re reaching for the sky.

According to the internet, (which we all know is NEVER wrong!) there are four layers to the rain forest (and these coincide with where we are on any given day):

  • the emergent layer
  • the canopy
  • the understory
  • the forest floor

I think the point of life is to grow wherever you are. Life is only about growth. Or maybe the pursuit of happiness. That’s all.

And I need to grow. And pursue my happiness. We all do.

To such an end I’m starting some projects such as offering a querying and getting published workshop in New York on August 16 in partnership with Kelly Wallace who’s offering the workshop in Portland on August 18. We’re working on the website. We’re onto something.

We’re on the forest floor or the emergent layer, continuing to grow, starting anew.

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WordPress WordCamp

After last weekend’s workshops, I felt a swift kick in the pants about my blogging habits. I realized I need to up my game and move from amateur status to pro. I’ve been dabbling and I need to commit.

In the workshop, “Triple Your Post Frequency,” Andraz Tori of Zemanta said blogging is like working out — You need to make it a habit, break a sweat, and sometimes hire a coach.

The workshops opened my eyes to the number and variety of people working with WordPress, our blogging home. A ton of hat-wearing dudes and chicks are using WordPress as a platform to develop websites. (I love the word platform, I always think of the public park district pool and the platform from which I jumped (and others dove) into a cool summer pool.)

The pre-party for WordPress WordCamp speakers and organizers at the Mad Hatter.

My workshop was on the topic of Social Media and Social Movements. When I saw my time slot, 9:30 am, I worried that it was too early to get enough activists to make the workshop lively – as I’d built in time for small-group discussion.

Thankfully, about a dozen bloggers showed up — including Ron Suarez, an Occupy Wall Streeter.and Yangbo Du, a global social media guru.

At the end of my workshop, a bunch of people started trickling in. Cool! Had word gotten out through Twitter how much fun we were having? How awesome my workshop was? No, Frederick Townes, lead techy for Mashable, was speaking in the room after me and people were jockeying for a good seat.

No matter. I’ve committed to posting more regularly. I am going to post on this blog every Sunday and post on MBCoudal My Rules every Friday. And then post on My Beautiful New York and Health and Fitness whenever the spirit moves me.

Because, much as I try, I cannot schedule or legislate my creativity. My muses are wild; they cannot be tamed.

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Comment, Like, Cheer

I love to like. Do I over-like? I wish there was a love button. Then I could crank my love into overdrive.

I think everyone needs a boost; everyone wants their stuff to be liked. My friend Amy once told me everything we do or say is either one of two messages — “I love you,” or “Please love me.”

On Facebook , there’s the handy-dandy like button, a thumbs up. And on Twitter, you can retweet a tweet to show your favor. On a blog post, you can like or comment.

Best of all is the cheer button at 43 Things. Here are my 43Things.

You get only 5 cheers a day. Once you start complimenting or cheering others, you don’t want to stop, so once you hit your 5 cheer limit, you have to stop cheering people online and start cheering them IRL (in real life). Being a positive person is contagious. And you’ get back as many cheers as you give.

I love making New Year’s resolutions at 43 Things and one of my resolutions will be to admire, to like, to comment, to praise, and to cheer more — online and IRL!

Getting the most out of writing conferences

Gill and Coudal at the National Arts Club

Yesterday I was studying memoir with the International Women’s Writing Guild at the National Arts Club. It was a great group of women in New York’s most beautiful brownstone.

This morning I was journaling about how much I love writing conferences and being in community with other writers. I also love Twitter chats around the hashtags #blogchat and #wjchat (web journalist).

Writing is a solitary endeavor so communing with other writers online or in person inspires and energizes me. I fill my soul with other writers’ stories and feel less lonely and more courageous when I return to my writer’s desk to write my own story.

Here is advice on attending writing conferences:

  • Sit in the front, pay attention
  • When a volunteer is called for, raise your hand
  • When a question is called for, have one ready
  • Make one friend
  • Tweet one quote from the speaker
  • Tell someone about your big secret project
  • Share the struggle, share the joy — be honest

I mostly took my own advice:

  • I sat in the back, but I paid attention
  • When a volunteer was called for, I read something funny about marriage and work being overrated (got some nice laughs)
  • I made a friend who is heading to Abu Dhabi to report from a falconer conference
  • I tweeted, “Writers make the invisible visible” -Eunice Scarfe #iwwg
  • I told Judith Glynn about my secret project
I love IWWG women’s writing workshops because, beyond the juicy substantive information, i.e., Eunice shared a ton of unknown delicious memoirs, there is always depth, laughter and understanding among women writers.

The International Women’s Writing Guild is a fabulous group that has empowered me as a writer, by giving me mentors and a sense of belonging.

Keep It Brief

For greatest impact, when writing a blog post:

  1. Say it simply. “Hello.”
  2. Then get out. “I must be going.”
  3. Use short sentences. “Just do it.”
  4. Keep the words to one syllable. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” – Ronald Reagan
  5. Use short, punchy sentences. “In modern war… you will die like a dog for no good reason.” – Ernest Hemingway

Maybe this is why Twitter is so fun. I have to be lean in my writing. I have to convey a lot with just a little — 140 characters.

I love Twitter. I love its brevity. I love getting to know a person just from their short status updates. The man who says good morning from Japan, the woman who lists what everyone’s reading, the writer who posts opening lines for short stories.

I like to skate on the surface and sometimes click on the link and go deeper.

But sometimes — like right now, there’s not enough time to go deep.

This photo has nothing to do with the post. I took it at Bossey Ecumenical center in Switzerland.

There’s profundity in simplicity. So keep it brief.

Hello. I must be going.

Social Media Mania

I’ve been trying to post on one of my blogs every day for the month of June. Yesterday I was dragging. I didn’t have anything to say, couldn’t come up with a good idea, had too many social occasions to attend. One of those occasions was our monthly Lunch and Learn workshop which is a venue for our brilliant Communications staff to share their expertise.

At yesterday’s lunch, Beth Buchanan of the web team gave an awesome Prezi.com session. The title? Social Media Mania. It inspired and informed the two dozen of us there, half of us experts (ahem! like moi?) and half beginners (moi aussi!). After Beth’s session, I felt energized to get through my slog of a daily blog.

Here are a few take-aways from Beth.

Beth's profile pic!

How do we get into social media?

  1. Sign in
  2. Listen
  3. Engage
  4. Evaluate

I’m not particularly good at Numbers 2 and 4, but I am going to be!

Buchanan emphasized a few best practices for social media. Such as “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, think before posting.

Social media is a conversation, not a monologue, she said. So don’t swamp people with your point of view without taking an interest in theirs.

Another novel concept — and why haven’t I thought of this? — Have a social media strategy and make it work for you. To get thinking about this, start with the question, Who is my audience? (How am I supposed to know!)

I loved some of Beth’s quotes (and did tweet them during the session), like this one: “You establish who you are by what you post.”

On Twitter, Beth said if you’re tweeting for a company — for every three business posts, include one personal post. Duh! I microblog on Twitter for New World Outlook magazine @NWOMag and for myself @MaryBethC but I don’t cross-over; personal is personal and business is business. But I’ll try to cross-pollinate, just like Beth Buchanan, the social media maven at Global Ministries, does. Thanks, Beth! @BJBuc and @connectNmission !

Beth is the friend and colleague who got me started on blogging, Facebook and Twitter. And now there’s no stopping me! At least for the month of June!

A Message from Judy Blume

There was a message on Twitter from Judy Blume to me. My breath caught in my throat.

I had been walking on Broadway for 30 minutes, heading to work yesterday morning. I stopped to check my phone. I was super excited to read what she, one of my heroes and the author of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, wrote to me.

See, on Monday I’d written to Ms. Blume:

@judyblume we have a mother daughter bookclub in #nyc Could you stop by #uws Sun, June 4? we are reading #Deenie THANKS SO MUCH!

Ms. Blume’s message said, “– love mother/daughter book clubs but won’t be NY then. Say hi to readers for me. Parental expectations-should be interesting.”

So I emailed the “Hi!”  from the great author to the mothers and daughters in our book group. And now I pass on Ms. Blume’s hello to you, blog readers. And rest assured, we will discuss parental expectations — and much more — at our next book group!!!

Happy Reading, everyone! (Here’s my post from our first mother/daughter book club https://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/mother-daughter-book-club/. )

When Kids Are Mean to Mom

My preteens have mood swings that take them from an attitude of a toddler to an adult in a flash. Take tonite. 

C. storms into our small NYC kitchen where her father and I are already tripping over each other fixing dinner.

“I’m starving.”

“Good, I’m making arroz con pollo, your fave.”

“I hate it. I am starving. I haven’t eaten anything.”

“Have a strawberry. Have yogurt. Dinner’ll be ready in half an hour.”

“I hate it. I’m starving.”

“Hey,” I said. “I don’t like anyone being mean to anyone else. Including you to me. I told you we’re fixing dinner.” I could feel my patience beginning to snap. I walked away. I didn’t want to yell. I took some deep breaths. She stormed ahead of me, into her bedroom and began to slam the door. I caught the door before it slammed and closed it gently.

Then, okay, yes, I gave the middle finger to the closed bedroom door. (I know, I know, I’m immature too!)

I grabbed my phone. I tweeted my friends, “I’m the nicest person in the world. Why is my daughter mean to me?” I got nice feedback. Like @katejenian “@MaryBethC You are there for your children to be mean to, as you will forgive them, and they know it. They also get over it (I did). :)” and @MegP4 said, “@MaryBethC Oh, can I soooo relate to this. Sorry.” And nycdavidwebb said, “you are indeed a nice person.”

I felt better. Venting to cyber friends cooled off my hot, mad attitude towards my little ingrate.

I heard C. singing in the kitchen. I peeked around. I watched her climb on a chair and nuke herself some old tacos smothered in cheese and black beans. She was making herself some nachos. She was singing, silly, happy. I couldn’t stay mad.

I let it go.

This preteen age is tricky. They have mood swings. They want what they want. And they yell and disrespect people, even me, their mother! Yet they still need me, want me, and cuddle me. It is an age of letting the door slam gently (and then, giving the closed door the finger!) 

I can’t remember, but it’s highly probable I had mood swings too.

Daily Blog

For about 66 days I posted on one of my four blogs every single day. I started January 1, 2011.

I may keep up the daily habit or begin to post weekly.

Here’s how I did it:

1) Connected with a community of writers (Twitter, Facebook, 43Things, MediaBistro) 2) Gave myself permission to write only 100 words 3) Wrote early in the morning, late at night (and occasionally on my lunch hour) 4) Told myself ‘It will only take you 20 minutes’ 5) Showed my vulnerabilty 6) Showed my awesomeness.

For extra credit: 

1) Included photos 2) Told a story with a beginning, middle and end 3) Promoted books and philosophies I believe in 4) Piggybacked on other bloggers’ good ideas 5) Commented on others’ blog posts.

What I learned:

1) That writing improves your self esteem 2) That there is always something to write about 3) That I began to organize my life and thoughts around the four different blog areas — fitness, writing, spirituality and New York 4) That how-to posts and completely honest posts were the most popular 5) That my writing, especially the first couple of paragraphs, have to be simple and not witty (Humor comes later. Explaining the point of what I’m writing comes first.)