Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams

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Author, editor, writing coach and spiritual counselor Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Women on Writing, Funds for Writers, Children’s Book Insider, Transformation Magazine, and Unity MagazineIn her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams, she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, re-label their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your personal and professional journey as a writer, along with who or what encouraged you along the way.

In the likely apocryphal story my mother loved to repeat, I stood up in the crib at 4 months old crying not “Momma, Momma” but “Book-a! Book-a!” I don’t remember this. But like so many other writers, I started early. I still have, from my productions at about age 10, crumbling black three-ringed notebooks, 7×10”, filled with lined pages of painstaking handwritten poems and stories. These notebooks proliferated, graduated to file folders, and now to magically stored computer files with gigantic gigabyte capacity.

From my earliest consciousness, the desire to write has been an inner drive, a necessity, a deliciousness, ever unfinished business. I write to share the wisdom that comes through me. To let others to see and feel through me. To capture the essence of what I marvel at, what moves, fascinates, and intrigues me. To touch others with universal feelings and truths. In my professional journey, like almost everyone else, I’ve got a wall-lining collection of rejections. I continue to explore new avenues for stories and short pieces on writing craft, writing motivation, and spirituality—ezines, blogs, the few remaining print magazines.

My mother certainly encouraged and, for better or worse, thought everything I produced was gold. In high school, the closest individual to a mentor was a high school teacher. I didn’t know her personally but attended a lecture she gave. Her words so moved me that I somehow marshaled the nerve to write to her and enclosed some of my poems. Her response (I still have the original letter) was fantastic! This experience is recounted in “The Writing Mentor I Never Met” (ReadLearnWrite, September 27, 2012. http://readlearnwrite.com/guest-post-the-writing-mentor-i-never-met/)

As an adult, when I share my dreams and struggles with my few good women friends, they are extremely supportive. My husband, though, is my most constant supporter. He critiques my pieces honestly, provides a wider perspective (rejection remedy), gives me the alone time and freedom I need, and makes great salads.

Q: What was the “aha!” moment that inspired you to start writing Trust Your Life?

The moment was rather a succession of moments. First was in my coaching and editing practice assisting adults who return to universities for dreamed-of graduate degrees. No matter how impressive their accomplishments and titles, they often lamented about lost time, feared they would never finish, and voiced destructive perspectives that impeded their progress. Editing their dissertations, I also found myself reassuring them that they indeed deserved to reach their dream, at whatever age. In the process, I developed many steps for helping them, and the experiences formed a major impetus for the book.

The second “moment” was my quest of my own dream. Like clients, I was battling the same doubts and fears about deserving to reach my dream—writing my own work. Writing about achieving one’s dream was what I needed to learn too.

Q: The title is wonderful – how did you come up with it?

I wanted words that capsulate what so many of us feel about our lives. In an early essay that was the germ of the book, I persisted in not forgiving myself for past decisions –such as earning my own doctorate—and felt they were getting in the way of my dream. The title reflects the connection between trusting one’s choices, wherever they have led, and not judging them as misguided, wrong, or blatantly stupid.

The second part of the title tells readers that it’s acceptable—no, necessary—to honor our inner guidance and secret dreams. And I am pleased that both titles are imperatives or, if you will, affirmations.

Q: Who would you say is the target reader that will benefit the most from the universal themes and messages your book addresses?

The first answer is from a generous endorser: “This book is for readers of all ages—I am giving a copy to my sharp 87-year-old relative to show her that ‘getting old’ doesn’t mean coming to the end of one’s ‘useful’ life.”

The second answer: Trust Your Life addresses those who want something that’s gnawing but they can’t yet identify, those who yearn for an often lifelong, sometimes outrageous pursuit they’ve never let themselves pursue. The book is also for those who want to increase what they’ve already discovered and may have embarked on. Readers include but are not limited to Baby Boomers, seniors, empty nesters, and retirees.

Third answer (sorry to be so verbose): This book is for all of us who suspect we’re not living up to our potential but may not know what to do for solutions. Today more people are admitting that the great American credo of consumerism doesn’tsatisfy. The book shows readers how to turn from the chase after accumulation, despondency, lethargy, and fears to identify and activate the dreams they’ve denied.

Q: In the preface you talk about the importance of trusting one’s inner wisdom. How do we know, though, whether it’s the voice of wisdom and our inner self guiding us to make smart decisions versus the voice of our head or our ego?

The touchstones for me, and others, are first physical. For example, “I felt a lightness in my chest, a sense of completion, of everything dropping into place . . .” (p. 75).

Later I relate the definitive answer of a member of A Course in Miracles study group: “It gives you peace” (p. 93). Then I expand: “The voice . . . is certain, calm and strong. It commands without censure and doesn’t waste words. Past all my nonsense, it centers right in” (p. 94).

Q: Are there such things as irreversible wrong turns in life?

No! Every turn is for learning. I go so far, with many others, and say there are no mistakes. In the larger picture, whatever the consequences (and they may have been rather severe by earthly standards), we have made no mistakes but rather have had experiences. When we look back on our experiences and reflect on the march of happenings from one person, event, or situation to another, we begin to see the line of synchronicity, connection, and purpose. In my own case, the academic editing practice helped me in my own writing to write better, longer, sharper, and with more discipline.

As writers, we may recognize the synchronicity: Haven’t you experienced something you thought had nothing to do with writing, or chose to do something you felt was a waste of time? And then . . . a day, week, month, or year(s) later you use this experience in your current work?

So, a major premise of this book is this: There are no mistakes. Even if you can’t immediately see the sense, your life experiences prepared you perfectly for where you are now. Nothing was wasted.

Q: Do you believe in destiny or choice?

I believe in choice. More radically—we choose, on a conscious or unconscious level, everything that “happens” to us. I refer readers to a piece of mine on this topic in Inspire Me Today:“We Are the Creators of Our Lives” (http://inspiremetoday.com/brilliance/we-are-the-creators-of-our-lives/).

Q: Have you ever taken a leap of faith? 

Every time I sit down to write I take a leap of faith. I leap knowing I will be given the right ideas and words. I love American poet Richard Wilbur’s command: “Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. / Something will come to you” (“Walking to Sleep,” lines 3-4).

Another very large leap: In deciding to move to Florida (for many pleasant reasons) from New York City, my husband and I worried, I mean, wondered about missing the city’s energy. A wise spiritual teacher advised us: “You take your consciousness with you.” As we took the leap, we have discovered many like-minded people and relationships, personal and professional.

Q: What’s your definition of spirituality?

Spirituality is recognizing we are spiritual beings on a material journey. Listening and surrendering to our inner guidance. Not solely following externally imposed precepts or faithfully attending church. But we can be religious and spiritual at the same time. Many spiritual/religious movements recognize our inner guidance and meditation. Spirituality expresses in many forms, especially with a good heart.

Q: If you could add an extra commandment to the existing ten, what would it be and why?

Thou shalt listen inside to your Inner Guide, which always steers you right.

Q: It’s often said that “thoughts become things” and that our expectations regarding a particular outcome – be it positive or negative – can actually cause those events to manifest. What’s your response to someone who says, “You’re telling me it’s my fault? That I’m the one who created this? Oh no!”

It’s true. You did. But the good news is that you can uncreate and recreate. The ancient Greeks, who didn’t practice religion in our sense, believed the same. In the book (pp. 4-5), I quote Deepak Chopra: “You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. . . . we have access to an infinity of choices.”

Q: What about people who live in constant denial of their dreams, be it a mindset of unworthiness or a skeptical view that the dream is impossible? Is that repeated state of denial doing more to jeopardize their physical and mental health than they realize?

Denial of our dreams can indeed result in physical and mental health manifestations. In Chapter 3, I talk about this and refer to spiritual teacher Louise Hay’s valuable chart of body-mind relationships. Many others today, thankfully, have added to our understanding, such as Drs. Larry Dossey and Bernie Siegel. Whatever we deny in ourselves, resent, say yes to when we know we should say no (and vice versa), is reflected in our bodies and our outlooks.

Denial breeds anger, resentment, frustration, and self-hatred, and we become depressed and joyless. How can we then pursue our dreams?

Q: So how do we retrain ourselves to generate more positivity in our lives?

First, with affirmations. A wonderful way is in Emmet Fox’s The Golden Key: whenever a negative thought strikes, think of God instead. Period.

Second, with meditation. Daily meditation is a discipline in itself. Our “drunken monkey mind” relentlessly tries to take over, but the discipline is in sitting there and repeating a chosen meditation phrase or following our breath. Eventually the sabotaging mind quiets down and slinks away.

Third, people we associate with. Surround yourself with positive people, not the emotional leeches and “crazymakers” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p. 44). Notice how you feel after meeting or spending time with someone. Rejuvenated? Refreshed? Or depleted? Headachy? There’s your answer.

Q: The theme of forgiveness figures prominently in Trust Your Life. Why is the practice of forgiving not only those who have hurt us but also forgiving ourselves such a critical component of dream fulfillment?

Forgiveness is crucial for our outlook, attitude, perspective, perceptions, and projections (that should cover it). Not forgiving, we’re angry and tight, holding onto old hurts like a favorite childhood doll. We’re using our energy to fuel our resentments and proud rightness. These emotional and psychological activities leave us little for thinking creatively and proactively to pursue what we really want to do. As we forgive even one person, simultaneous miracles occur: We find it easier to forgive our sister, our parents, our boss and coworkers, and even ourselves. 

Q: Why is anger such heavy baggage for most people to unload?

When we’re angry, we think we’re right. Underneath, we also feel hurt and rejected. Anger is also a way to control others and get their attention. For such reasons we hold on—to hurts, slights, insults, betrayals, wrongs, angers, resentments, annoyances—through months, years, decades, and, before we blink, a lifetime.

You know the stories—maybe you have one—of brothers estranged for 25 years over an argument they can’t even remember, or mother and daughter who exchange only frosty greeting cards at Christmas. The anger is heavy baggage because we usually find it hard to put aside our pride and say, “I was wrong” or “Please forgive me.” As we are able to, we’ll feel a great lightness and rush of love.

Q: Do you think the world in general is becoming more spiritual or less so?

Much more spiritual. This book’s popularity, and that of many other spiritual books, attests this. Also, in the field of writing, more publishers and agents are now calling for books in the genres of “New Age,” “Spiritual,” “Metaphysical.” They wouldn’t touch these a few years ago. Spiritually-based blogs and magazines continue to appear. And great teachers like Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer are almost household words, and with television specials.

Too, more people are seeking spiritual resources of all kinds. Articles in mainstream magazines and the Internet feature meditation and intuition-following. Yoga has become widely accepted. Recently, three spiritually-oriented movies became box-office hits— about Jesus, belief in God, and the afterlife. That’s a major shift from the usual action-adventure-thriller-CIA-aliens-monster movies.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

Next: to continue to spread the messages of Trust Your Life. I want to help people realize they are in control of their lives and have the power to build their lives as they wish.

Next again: I am working on Trust Your Life’ssequel: Competition Therapy: Conquer Your Envy Of Others Who Are Where You Think You Should Be. Spiritually based, this book attacks the notion that if you’ve got it, I can’t get it.

Next again: I continue in the academic coaching and editing practice, which gives great satisfaction in helping clients grow and achieve their dreams.

From this practice, I am working on a book helping doctoral students their dissertations, the last and possibly most agonizing hurdle. This book addresses students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties and is possibly the first to do so in depth. The title: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles.

Next finally: Other works perpetually in progress and stages of publication, including articles on spiritual and writing craft topics, personal essays, and several novels in various stages of sprouting.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers are invited to visit my website, www.trustyourlifenow.com, which has an excerpt from the book and other works. Trust Your Life in paperback and ebook is available on Amazon and other sites.

My webinar presentation can be accessed on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95EeqllONIQ&feature=youtu.be

A radio interview about the book on Carla McClellan’s show Vibrant Living show can be downloaded: http://www.unity.fm/episode/VibrantLiving_062414

A chapter titled “Send Love Ahead” appears in the forthcoming book (August 2014) Transform Your Life! Information is available at http://transformation-publishing.com/book/transform-your-life/

Essays appear on the Writer’s Digest blogs. And my contributions to Author Magazine are available at the “Authors’ Blog”: http://www.authormagazine.org/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A great thank you to you, Christina. You are doing wonderful work in so many areas. And for all readers (including myself), I add this: Start or keep meditating. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Dare to be what you know you are meant to be. It is never too late. You deserve a wonderful, satisfying, fulfilling, contributing life.

 

Living a Life of Gratitude

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A Conversation with Sara Wiseman

Drawing from her own experiences, and the wisdom of her teaching experiences with many others, Ms. Sara Wiseman crafted an eloquent description of a life cycle from a spiritual perspective with her book Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing.

I had the pleasure of conversing with her on the subject of her awakening, her teachings, and the subtle ways we are part of a beautiful, spiritual community that is rarely seen but often felt. She has an innate care and elegance of expression that reflects her work.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: Your training, podcasts, and series of mini e-books (Soul Immersion Mini Series) seem geared to help people achieve their own spiritual awakening. What was the moment of your awakening?

A: In 2000, I had a near death experience, and that was when my life began to shift; in that experience, I saw, knew and understood God/Universe/Divine/All at a level I can’t explain; it was transcendent. That understanding changed me—it made it impossible to go back to how I had been living before. From that opening, I started to have a series of other experiences: and in 2008, it was sort of like the floodgates opened, and I received The 33 Lessons, spiritual teachings which became part of my first book. I find the opening continues—every moment is an amazing experience!

Q: Wow! How did you come to discover your intuitive abilities?

A: I believe that if you walk along the spiritual path long enough, you can’t help but become intuitive; and if you walk along the intuitive path long enough, you can’t help but become spiritual! When we understand Oneness—that we are One and all is One, and that there is literally no separation—then intuition is a given.

Q: That’s a fascinating concept; but sometimes it can be draining to connect to others on that level, where there is no separation. What was your process for handling that?

A: I have a lot of compassion and feeling for others—I want everyone to be happy! So I do get sensitive when things aren’t going well for them. That said, it’s not my job or place to fix someone—I’m there as conduit for the Divine. So I work on being fully present when I am with someone, and then when that is complete, letting it go. I don’t have any formal process for releasing energy, as some do. I do limit how many sessions I do per week; that really helps.

Q: Good advice, thank you! What led you to offer the DailyOM distance learning courses?

A: I am so impressed with DailyOM’s vision of offering high-quality, distance learning courses at a sliding rate! It’s very important to me, that everyone has access. Especially people in other countries, where the exchange rates are different and it can be hard to afford things like courses. That’s one reason I do so many free podcasts for my radio show—so that anyone can have access to the information, regardless of income.

Q: That’s cool to be so conscientious of the international (and, in some places, national) economic marketplace. Among your services, you offer intuitive readings and clarity coaching intensives. What is your greatest challenge when it comes to connecting with people in this way?

A: The people who show up to me are such amazing human beings—they are my teachers, as much as anything I can offer to them! My challenge is to set myself aside and be fully present—and then let the guides show me what to notice, say or illuminate. I find it very enjoyable to work with people at that level of consciousness; it’s a very high vibration that we share when we are in session, and it’s wonderful.

Q: Sounds amazing! You have authored six books, including Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing. You move through Birth, Emergence, Connection, Love, Convergence, Expansion, Nature, Awareness, Awakening, Presence, Transition and then you return to Birth. What does this circle represent?

A: There’s a commonality to the life experiences we share as humans—we’re on the journey of soul growth, which is about awakening and opening to an unlimited degree. Each of us has access to this kind of progressive awakening as we move through the container of this lifetime. For example: Connection. At some point in your life, you’re going to experience a profound, real, heart-opening connection to another person. This is a passage of soul growth.

Q: Yes, and another example you include is “Nature”. In your blog post, “October is for Respite, Retreat, Hermitage, Healing” (http://www.sarawiseman.com/3/post/2013/10/october-is-for-respite-retreat-hermitage-healing.html) you share some things we may expect to discover in this month. How does nature affect us?

A: Nature has consciousness, just like we do; it’s just at a different frequency or vibration. When we listen or notice nature—watch leaves moving, or really feel the wind blowing, or have an emotional response to the crash of waves—we shift into that frequency. This is a layer or level where it’s very common to have instantaneous opening, bliss, awareness, messages, visions and more. And, you don’t need to be on a nature trek; you can just spend some very simple time meditating on a flower, or walking in the park.

Q: I could reconnect to those sensations just with the reminder. You deal with so many things that might be hard to express, but you capture them beautifully. What is your writing routine?

A: When I’m writing a book or course, I really focus—I’ll write daily for hours. But when I’m between projects, I do other things—I like to just be in life. I do use a journal continually, to work out ideas that arrive to me from dreams, meditation, nature, all kinds of sources. I write at home, in the mornings, in a tiny little office filled with Buddha statutes and books.

Q: Cool! How have you cultivated balance?

A: I don’t think I have cultivated balance! It is such a life dream, to be able to do this work; I’m so passionate about this field of spiritual intuition! I work very hard, and I have the ability to focus very clearly—but when I need a break I take one. I like very simple things, like walking in nature, or eating, or watching a comedy; just easy things.

Q: That’s neat that you’ve got something fluid that matches life. Is there anything else you would like to say?  

A: I find the challenge of life is very interesting. On the one hand we’re Divine beings; on the other, we’re so very human. The day I have the most extreme bliss experiences might also be the day I snap at a family member—it’s all happening at once. We’re both completely perfect, and totally flawed, and that’s what it means to be a soul in a human container—we’re all of everything.

 

For more information, please visit her website at http://www.sarawiseman.com/.  Reviews of her work can be found at Amazon on http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0738737534).

 

 

A Conversation with Hollye Dexter

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I was introduced to Hollye Dexter through her work on Dancing at the Shame Prom (my review: http://blogcritics.org/book-review-dancing-at-the-shame1/). I gathered the courage to start sharing my writings, and pursuing my own kind of healing, from that collection, and as a fellow editor I could appreciate how much Hollye and her co-editor, Amy Ferris, put into bringing us Dancing at the Shame Prom.

When I met with her (via email), I was not surprised to discover that she has a huge heart, and a passion for empowering others and standing up for those who can’t always stand up for themselves. Some people have a way of expressing experiences so that others feel they are not alone, and they can get a new perspective, a chance to catch their breath, on something that previously felt suffocating and inescapable. It is an honor to converse with her, and to introduce her to others who may not yet know about her and her work.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: In your upcoming memoir, Like Wind to Wildfire, you share with us your journey through the darkness of self-doubt, anger, grief and loss at acute levels, to discovering the gift within your tragedy. What would you consider was/is most surprising aspect of your journey?

A: The fire was only the beginning of loss for us. For several years following, in an unbelievable series of disasters, our lives continued to be stripped from us layer by layer. I think what surprised me most was that I could find moments of true happiness while my life was falling apart. That I could play with my kids, laugh, sing, take long walks and even have a wonderful Christmas when we were financially destitute and alone.

Q: That’s a lovely example of the true strength of the human spirit. You mentioned in an interview with Huffington Post Live (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/30/value-of-suffering_n_4018582.html?mental-health) that you felt you had been trapped in your own grief—how were you able to gain the distance you needed to see the cycle and break free of it?

A: For a long time I couldn’t get over the injustice of what had happened to us. The constant thoughts in my head were: I was a good person, I didn’t deserve this, why is God punishing me? This is unfair. It turned around when I accepted the fact that, yes, it was unfair, and yes, it did happen. So now what? I broke free of it by getting to that place of acceptance, then physically forcing myself to do positive things, even when I didn’t want to, even when I didn’t believe it would help. I went to the library and checked out yoga videos and books on healing the spirit. I wrote a lot, which helps me to process. I literally pushed through it.

Q: Wow, and we’re glad that you did so you could share your story with us now. I loved how you talked about the art of discovering how to be happy when you had nothing. How has this philosophy shaped the way your life?

A: Being in such a broken down place while having two young kids forced me to be resourceful. The utilities are cut off? Let’s camp in the yard and roast marshmallows. No food in the refrigerator? I made pancakes and said, “Hey kids, it’s  ‘crazy-mixed-up-backwards-day.’” My kids loved that. I did those things because I had to – for them. But now I know that it’s possible, and it is the way I live. Even when we are in the thick of hellish problems, we will get outside and take a hike, go to the beach, sit outside and look at the stars. We watch comedies a lot when we’re stressed. Worry and fear are our worst enemies, and do nothing to alleviate a problem. It’s our choice to be happy, regardless of our circumstances. And now that we’ve already survived fire, bankruptcy and homelessness, we don’t sweat the smaller stuff. We know we’ll get through it.

Q: That’s a particularly fitting perspective to adopt during these tumultuous times. What is your process for writing memoir, particularly when you have to face things that are sometimes hard to re-experience or reveal?

A: My first memoir, Only Good Things, is the memoir of my childhood. It took me over eight years to write. It’s pretty explosive in terms of family skeletons and I will most likely never publish it, but publishing was never my objective with that one. Claiming my life, and embracing all of my truth, was the point. It was just something I needed to do. I was in a weekly writing group for several years while writing that book. Every week I’d read a chapter, and receive feedback from my peers It was invaluable. I learned so much from the other writers in the group as well. I am a big fan of writing groups.

With both memoirs, I sort of likened the writing process to vomiting.  You just get it all out, and it’s ugly, and it doesn’t feel great, but after, you feel lighter and freer. While writing Wind to Wildfire, my son was only in school for a few hours a day, so I sat my butt in the chair and wrote like my life depended on it. I did not answer the phone or the door. I didn’t wash a dish. If the cat puked I left it there until my writing time was up. I cried a lot. I had many, many revelations about myself and my patterns. And then my hours were up and I pulled myself back together as best I could and put on my mommy hat. It was intense, I’ll say that much. And I loved every minute of it.

As far as the revealing, author Debbie Ford said that keeping secrets is like trying to hold ten beach balls under water all your life. It’s exhausting. Letting it go was a hell of a lot easier than keeping those beach balls submerged, and freed up so much positive energy.

Q: That’s so true. On your blog, you share your passions for various activist programs, and the amazing things you have done to fight for the rights of others to be treated as they should (http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/p/my-activism.html). What was the first moment that you knew, without a doubt, that you had to take a stand?

A: Oh lord. Well, I organized a strike against my sixth grade teacher for being unfair. Then I got kicked out of Girl Scouts for bucking the rules. So I guess I’ve got the personality for it —  I never could abide a bully.

But then again, life has tapped me for activism. I didn’t seek it out. Regarding my work in gun reform; my brother was shot at seven years old, my best friend was shot eight years ago, my husband’s best friend, a police officer, was shot and killed this year. And then there was Newtown. How could I not take a stand on gun violence? Animal rights- I was sued and had to stand up in court to protect my dog. LGBT Equality- I have two gay brothers.

Q: That’s awesome, because even with so many having reasons why they should take a stand, few are in the position where they feel they can. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. What are some of the things you are doing to raise awareness of this issue?

A: Years ago I worked with Nicole Brown Simpson’s sisters on a domestic violence campaign. My own mother was a victim, and I witnessed it, so the issue is important to me. Now in my position with Moms Demand Action, we are focusing our efforts in October in raising awareness of the extreme danger guns present in domestic violence situations. Nine women are shot and killed every week by their partners. We are working on legislators locally and federally. I recently met with Congressman Buck McKeon (a man who bought his wife a gun for Mother’s Day) asking for his vote on background checks. Background checks aren’t the end-all solution, but they will save a lot of lives.

Q: Thank you. You are also speaking at the Women’s Leadership Legacy Conference in November, as the co-editor of your powerful anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom. Why is it important to speak at that conference, about the subject of shame?

A: I think that women carry so much shame, and it makes us turn inward on ourselves, and outward against each other. Much of it is self-imposed, but so much is imposed by society; body image shame, aging shame, mommy-shame. It’s rampant, and we need to eradicate it. The first step in destroying any kind of toxin is to expose it to light. That’s why I air all my dirty laundry in my writing and in workshops. I hope to set an example, encouraging other women to embrace their imperfection, and accept themselves exactly as they are. The first step is getting rid of the shame—it’s much easier to let it out than to hold it down.

Q: Amen to that! On your website, you offer consulting and editing to fellow writers, and workshops on “Righting Your Life by Writing Your Life” and “Rediscovering Your Muse”. What do you wish to give your clients/attendees?

A: Freedom. Confidence. Joy. Self-acceptance.

Q: Thank you for sharing the songs you wrote on your website/blog, for your previous memoir Only Good Things. You have four albums out, and as the President of the Music Heals Foundation, how have you seen music heal, not only in your own life but in those you have helped to find their own expression in melody?     

A: For almost a decade I taught music and art to teens in foster care and on probation. I ran a ten-week course. They came in angry, shut down and hurting, but within weeks of working on painting, songwriting, recording, I watched them blossom and become lighter. They smiled more. They built trust and friendships. They became more hopeful. It was the most rewarding work I have ever done.

Q: I hope you continue to have more of those kinds of workshops in the future. It’s lovely that you can sing with your husband and kids. Along with your family (and creativity), what are some of the things that have strengthened you and made everything else worth it? 

A: Faith. Hope. Nature. Beauty. Music. And my God I never would have survived without books— they are my lifeline.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: I would like to thank you, Joanna, for your kindness and continued support for both this book and Dancing at the Shame Prom. And I wish you the very best and brightest future with your writing.

 

Learn more about Hollye’s work at http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/, on Twitter @hollyedexter, and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DancingAtTheShameProm.

How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You

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“We look into mirrors,” wrote Pearl Bailey, “but we only see the effects of our times on us – not our effects on others.”

When you study your own reflection, how well do you really know that person who’s looking back at you? Is she someone whose value is forever being held up for scrutiny and comparison to others? Are there dreams she plays close to her chest, as reluctant to divulge as she is to pursue? Is she someone you’d like to get to know better but haven’t a clue as to where you should start?

Authors Courtney Frey and Jen Kelchner just may have the answer to starting your own journey of discovery in their new release, How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your respective backgrounds and what drives your passion.

Jen: I worked with a Fortune 100 organization for a number of years in Administrative Management which is where I began my coaching career. Over the last three years, I have focused on my life coaching, writing and speaking in order to develop solid tools to help others on their personal journeys. I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area and have two almost grown sons.

Courtney: I hold a B.S in Psychology and Human Services and have spoken across the country for women’s conferences in all avenues of women’s issues.  I have a background in social work, sales, writing, and management and am the published author of several non-fiction women’s books. I live in Iowa with my amazing three teenagers, my significant other, and my three energized dogs.

Q: I’m always curious how independent thinkers connect with kindred spirits and decide to collaborate. What’s the story behind how the two of you met?

Jen:  Ours is a crazy story to be sure! Courtney commented on a blog post of a friend of mine and they began to communicate. Then he introduced me to Courtney and it was love at first sight. I read her book and immediately knew we had been divinely placed in each other’s paths. Our stories, although different, had led to the same emotions and wounds to be overcome. I think it took us all of two days to realize we were truly kindred and that our purpose and passions were in alignment.  It would be a fatal error to ignore something so powerful. So, we decided to launch this movement.  All of this took place in the span of about six weeks from meeting to our decision to create change together.

Q: The two of you have also recently founded your own company, www.igniteyourtruth.com. What inspired this decision and how did you go about structuring its development and subsequent launch?

Jen:  We met in April, formed the idea around the first of June, and we went live on July 1st of this year. Three years ago I made the decision to leave my corporate career for the sake of my relationship with my sons (which led me on my personal journey as it turns out). I realized about a year into that journey that my focus was no longer business but people. My sole purpose in life became to affect change in others and places around me.  With each passing month, my focus became more and more laser-like to be bold with my passion and form an outreach. My problem was I really needed a counterpart to walk this out with me.  I mean it is a tough journey to do solo! As Courtney and I developed our friendship in those few weeks, we saw how our energy, passions and visions matched so perfectly. In truth, we created a general outline for the short term and long term visions and just winged it from there.  I designed our website and put our technical arena in place for podcast and off we went. Thankfully, we are both very resourceful gals and we operate from ingenuity and hard work to get whatever we need done.

Q: What strengths do you each bring to the table?

Jen: I have days I regret that I have technical skills as I see my task list grow and grow. My personal gifts really lie in being able to see a big picture when someone else is talking. It is like I see images or phrases forming in the air and can quickly snag those and connect dots. It really helps cut to the chase fast if I’m coaching an individual or helping a company identify their issues.

Courtney:  Thank God for Jen who can organize and deal with the technical side of things, because it’s like Chinese to me!  Because she can magnificently handle the details, I am able to utilize my strengths and networks to really get out there and engage our marketing plan and focus on writing.

Q: What is Ignite Your Truth and who is the target audience for your particular message?

Jen:  It is a movement to bring people into knowing who they are, know their value, having authentic relationships, helping them to change their thinking and embrace their visions. We are loved, valued and accepted.

Q: “Not So Lady Talk” – the name of your new series – seems inconsistent at first glance with the genre of Christian/Spiritual. Was the choice of this phrase just a catchy marketing hook or is there a deeper connection in play to a faith-based platform?

Jen:  That is a great question! At our core, we talk about authenticity. Authenticity and transparency has been missing from the church for generations. Our generation craves authenticity. We are tired, bored and hungry for something real. There is a serious gap that needs to be addressed for women in the church culture, especially for women in their 30’s and 40’s. We are highly intelligent, multi-task and get things done. So, when we show up to a women’s function, we don’t want to swap recipes and chit-chat. We have apps for that. We want high-energy, deep, real conversation. We want to know that we can remove our masks and be unfiltered without judgment so we can address our needs. It might be inappropriate and not-so lady-like at times; but it is real and healing. We are out to redefine what women’s outreach looks like – especially for this generation.

Q: Tell us about How To Look Good Naked, your first book in this series.

Courtney:  This book is really an exposing of our true selves and the journeys we have taken to getting to the truth of who we are.  It’s not always pretty, and it’s very humbling.  However, we wanted to be transparent in that journey so that other women would see and believe that they are not alone, they have grand purpose, and are unique and empowered. We address issues from identity to shame to self-acceptance all while being very vulnerable.

Q: Did the two of you start with a formal outline of what you wanted to cover in the book or were you brainstorming as you went along?

Jen:  We started with a general outline for each chapter. Individually we went about our writing then pieced it together for proper flow. Any time we write, we wait until we feel a specific nudge for a topic. Our guideline helped us to stay on point but we really work as we feel directed individually and weirdly it always ties together.

Q: Were you working in the same room this whole time or communicating via phone/email? What were the advantages/disadvantages of this collaborative approach?

Jen: We live over 700 miles apart and have seen each other one time. We wear out Facebook instant messaging all day long! However, when we write we both unplug and then come back together to review. Somehow it all works together perfectly.

Q: How did the two of you resolve creative differences such as what to put on the cover, how to organize the content, what to add/delete, etc.?

Jen: Thankfully we balance each other very well. Courtney defers to my graphic design talents and she will tell me if she doesn’t like it. Since I’m the “organizer” of the two of us she lets me manage the content, edit and such.

Q: What’s the best part of working with a partner?

Courtney: We definitely balance one another out.  Not every day is an easy day and having a partner who is able to be strong when you are weak, who can pull you up and inspire you, is definitely a key to our success.

Jen: I agree that our being in this together is what is making this work so well. Our personal stories include a lot of being the odd ball in our lives, never really being accepted as we grew up. And, let’s face it that entrepreneurs and game changers are generally odd balls. We push the boundaries of what is acceptable in societal norms – especially as women and mothers.

Q: You share several personal experiences in your book and state that everyone has a story and that story matters. Please elaborate on this.

Jen:  A lot of times we want to run from our stories because we carry guilt or shame with them. We need to encourage each other to embrace our stories and that we are the authors of the chapters yet to be written. Our past gives us a rich history to draw from that can encourage others and provide us with new tools and skills. Our stories serve others and build communities of change. There is freedom in owning your story…it cripples fear and returns the power to you.

Q: What inspired each of you to break through your own layers of roles, labels and inhibitions over the course of dispensing advice to your prospective readers?

Courtney:  I desired first and foremost to be authentic.  If I was going to talk to women about exposing their true selves, I had to be willing to really go there as well.  I didn’t want to just talk the talk; I wanted to walk with them hand in hand through the journey.  I believe that the best support comes from those who have gone through the valleys and come victoriously out the other end. And, if I wasn’t willing to do that with my readers then the message was false.

Jen:  Definitely. In my own journey, the only thing I have found to keep fear at bay is to be authentic and put it out there.  I am empowered when I put my life out there. Fear dissipates. The need for others acceptance becomes invalid. It’s freeing.

Q:  Would you categorize this book more as self-help or inspirational?

Jen:  Honestly, I can’t stand labels and so have a difficult time knowing how someone else wants to categorize it.  It’s a real, honest look at life and humanity. It is inspirational as it offers hope that you can really overcome anything.  It is also self-help because it provides tools and direction. Then again, you could stick it in the spiritual bucket as parts of our stories bring our foundation of faith into the mix.  At the end of the day, it is a book about real people who had messy lives and crawled their way out of life’s pit to embrace wellness.

Q: There’s no shortage of books on today’s market about journeys of self-discovery, introspection and empowerment. What do you feel makes your content unique in this regard?

Jen:  I think for one, we don’t play around. If you ever have a conversation with Courtney or me, you will quickly learn that we get to the heart of the matter fast. We don’t want to waste one more second of someone not knowing just how valuable and loved they are. We are very transparent and bring our very personal stories into the mix so people can engage and relate quickly. We have walked out all of the things we talk about. It is not text book or theory; it is a survival guide built around actual events.

Q: Given that the material is faith-based, will the book resonate with women whose religious beliefs are different from your own?

Jen:  Absolutely as we share universal truths not religion. While Courtney and I have a few moments where we put it all out there from our perspective; we do take care to use words that remain open to universal truths.  At the end of the day, truth is truth.  And the light of love, forgiveness and acceptance will break through any darkness in life.  The tools we provide others to walk through their journeys with are practical, proven exercises or affirmations.

Q: What governed your decision to self-publish?

Jen:  The content was timely and needed to be out there to the masses not just our known group of people. It was so heavy on our hearts and we didn’t feel like we had time to spare.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you started?

Jen: Honestly, we still don’t know nearly as much as know we need to.  Our goal remains to connect to women, not necessarily focus on the business aspect of selling mass books.  I suppose the one thing we do, and it’s where our hearts are, is network and connect to others whose visions are in alignment with ours.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

Jen:  I am a serious Doctor Who fan.

Courtney: I am a sushi loving classic literature addict!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

Courtney:  Our next book in the series is a 15 Day Relationship detox book. We have also had men ask us about a guy’s version of our series so we are exploring that option. And, we are very excited about our speaking and first retreat in 2014.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jen and Courtney: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our business and our latest series; we truly appreciate your time and your passion!

 

The Invisible Storm

Juanima

I am honored to share my interview with Juanima Hiatt, a bighearted, beautiful, empowering woman who courageously shares her experiences with PTSD and her journey to rebuilding her life from the inside out in The Invisible Storm. She writes an uplifting blog and offers a complimentary coaching session to help others create their unique path to healing, balance, joy and freedom. (She welcomes all emails, anytime: Juanima@healingmindscoaching.com.)

Juanima’s coaching practice, Healing Minds Coaching, LLC, utilizes intelligent questions to empower people to discover their own solutions. As Juanima says, “I have a special place in my heart to help people who suffer from anxiety and PTSD get back on the road as the driver of their life, not the passenger… PTSD robs the sufferer of the life they lived before the trauma. There is no going back, but it is very possible to create a life that is even better than what they had before.”

She leads the first PTSD support group in Hillsboro, Oregon, which is growing fast. Juanima has also teamed up with Susan Ulbright (a gifted LCSW specializing in trauma and PTSD) to develop a 10-week workshop on PTSD and recovery, and another weekend workshop for trauma survivors to rediscover the meaning in their lives. The workshops will be announced sometime in the late summer/early autumn.

The second edition of The Invisible Storm will be released in June, with a list of trigger warnings and new information about recovering from PTSD.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Your book, The Invisible Storm, acts as both champion and confidante for those who have experienced PTSD or sexual abuse. When and how did you choose to share your story?

I knew, even while I was in the pit of despair with PTSD, that I would someday write my story. That day didn’t come until May 2010, however, when I was healed enough to look back at my journey objectively, and from a healthy perspective. My desire in sharing my story is twofold.  PTSD is a horrific experience that people don’t understand unless they’ve experienced it themselves. The only way I could help people really understand PTSD was to bring them deep into my world as I suffered through it. From the emails I get from readers, I know it worked.  There are also many myths and misunderstandings about this disorder, and I wanted to give some truths. I also wanted to bring hope and encouragement to other PTSD sufferers. I wanted to show that if one is willing to do the work, he/she CAN recover.

I like how you made it clear recovery can come in many forms. How did you manage to weave everything together to create such a quilt of your life?

I eventually realized that while my daughter’s birth triggered the onset of PTSD, the true source was the sexual abuse I endured as a child. As difficult as it was to write about the trauma, I knew I had to. However, I also wanted to tell the truth about how difficult it was for me to face the trauma, as I imagine it is for anyone with PTSD. As far as the “sources” I used to write it, I couldn’t have written about my therapy sessions without the notes my friend, Traci, took, because I dissociated so badly in every session. The journal entries helped me relive the depth of pain I experienced, though I admit, at times, I didn’t need any help. Parts of the writing were excruciating. I also asked every family member to read the manuscript before I published it. Some of my family members are not painted in the best light at times, and because I love and care deeply for them, I wanted their blessing to write the hard stuff. I know it could have backfired, but everyone was incredibly gracious in letting the story stand. My therapist explained that their part in the story is critical, because every family will relate in some way to certain “unhelpful” behaviors and misunderstandings. I also asked them to read it so they would finally understand what PTSD was like for me. I got great feedback and validation, and I feel very blessed to have such an amazing, supportive family.

That support structure makes a tremendous difference. How did you research the list of resources at the end of your book?

I found every resource listed to be beneficial to me throughout my healing and recovery. When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I researched endlessly online to find out everything I could about the disorder, and what I was up against. It helped me—and my family—as I progressively shared what I learned.

Thank you for sharing them with us. The passages you chose at the outset and the end of your book are lovely, and could apply to anyone regardless of their creed. While you depict your relationship with God beautifully, please share with us your connection.

Wow… that’s a great question. I’m thinking about writing another book solely about my journey with God, because it’s been a roller coaster. The interesting part is that God is like the track. He never changes. He stays the same, always. He is strong and secure and holds us up. I was like the car, however, always moving, wildly changing directions, with lots of screaming involved.

There were times in my life, especially during the worst years of abuse, and the worst parts of PTSD, when I felt completely abandoned by God. I cried out to Him but I couldn’t hear Him answer. I felt so incredibly alone. I can even say that when I was sixteen, I hated Him, I was so full of anger at His lack of caring. Or…that’s what it seemed. What I know now is that God is the same whether we believe it or not. He is always with us, whether we feel Him or not. What we think of God manifests from our beliefs about Him. Believing He is there even when we don’t feel Him or hear from Him is called faith. Now, I understand Him. I know He never left me—not once. I know He grieved when others were harming me. I also know that I have lost so much in my life, and have had so much stolen from me, but I am witnessing today the fulfillment of His promise to restore what was lost. It’s really incredible. I love Him with all my heart, and I know He really does have a good plan for each of our lives.

Wow, thank you. What advice would you give to fellow memoirists?

There is so much power in telling your story, whatever it is. Maybe your goal is publication, or maybe it’s just to get your story on paper for your children and/or family. But what’s important is to not put it off. Don’t delay. Your story becomes a timeless legacy for your loved ones, and if you publish it, it just might become a powerful memento or treasure to a stranger you may never meet. One of the most moving statements I’ve received from a reader was, “Thank you for writing this book. I feel understood for the first time in my life.” I mean…wow. That is a priceless gift I will carry with me forever—to know my story impacted someone like that.

Congratulations for making everything work so you could deliver your story into their hands. What was it like to self-publish The Invisible Storm?

I couldn’t have done it without the incredible people in my life. My sister-in-law, Rebecca Reinke-Merrion of Reinke Creative, designed my book cover. She happens to be an amazing graphic designer, and this was her first book project. I also got lucky and found a colleague looking to trade her editing talents for a book review of her recently published book, and she helped me improve the manuscript immensely. My family—especially my dad and stepmom—read the manuscript multiple times to help me perfect the details (and it’s not an easy read, so my gratitude runs ocean deep for the time they dedicated to it, while putting their emotions aside). I actually enjoyed the process of self-publishing. I decided to go that route because I didn’t want to wait two years to see my book on a shelf. I have too many other projects I want to get busy on!

Yes! What has been your marketing plan?

I use social networking a lot, including Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I have found the Goodreads giveaways bring great exposure to my book! I try to blog uplifting and encouraging posts on a regular basis at my author website and I guest blog whenever possible to discuss PTSD and my memoir. I’m very grateful for every opportunity! I also rely greatly on word-of-mouth. I  do book signings, speaking engagements, and interviews, which are also great marketing tools.

What do you hope to achieve with your book and your message, in empowering those who are affected by childhood sexual abuse (not just the children, but all those that these abuses impact)?

First, that healing is possible, but second, that healing is a choice. The terrible risk of living one’s adult life in denial of the past is a later onset of PTSD. We can’t foresee traumatic events occurring in our lives. My triggering event was the traumatic birth of my second daughter in 2003, and then I had no choice but to face my past abuse. I honestly thought I was over it, but I was so wrong. Abuse affects our lives in countless ways, damaging the core of who we are and how we see ourselves, as well as our perceptions of the world around us. Our behaviors stem from our beliefs, and when our beliefs about ourselves and others are tainted, relationships suffer. My goal is to encourage healing not only within the individual who suffered child abuse, but the relationships with their loved ones as well. Everyone in the survivor’s life is impacted by it.

Yes, the “darkness” spills out in sneaky ways; I’m grateful you capture all sides of the issue. From my experiences with PTSD, let me thank you on behalf of our spiritual kin—perhaps all PTSD is its own kind of “soul murder”, and you shine a light on how to recover ourselves to a semblance of a whole. What do you recommend as people seek that balance between who they were before, and who they became after, the PTSD?

“Soul murder” is pretty accurate. I remember saying during the worst years of PTSD, “I just want to be who I was before. I hate who I am now. I feel like a monster! I want my old life back!” What’s amazing to me is how I now read that over and over—verbatim—from other PTSD sufferers.

First, coming to terms with PTSD—for me—was a process much like grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I went through every stage. I eventually had to accept PTSD, but I also had to accept I would never “get back” the life I had before, or the person I was before. But we are never completely destroyed in this journey.

In the early days of PTSD, I felt like I’d fully lost who I was before, but my little brother made me see that wasn’t true.  PTSD shatters the heart, mind, and even the soul, and yet the core of our being remains—it just becomes overshadowed by the pain and torment of the disorder. But as you recover, and do the work of healing, the shattered pieces start coming back together; only this time, they’re stronger. YOU are stronger. But you have to do the work, and you have to choose every day to do something that moves you towards the person you want to be.

This is what I mean when I say I help people write their new life story. It can seem, while you’re suffering, that life will never get better. It took me a while to grab hold of those reigns and take control again. In these recent years, I started building my life back up again. I kept my vision alive of who I want to be, and stayed determined to never let fear or this disorder keep me from having a fulfilled life. I’m not saying I’m completely free, but my life is so much better, and I’m so much more powerful than I ever was before. My family can attest that all the hard work has paid off. I’m a changed woman, and I’m whole, and I want to remind people that whether we have PTSD or not, we are the author of our own life story. And if you do have PTSD, don’t write yourself that ticket to eternal submission. There is hope for us ALL to recover and have a fulfilled life.

Awesome! On a different note, how is your novel going?

It was put on hold, unfortunately, while I went to school to become a life coach. Now that I’m certified, and my practice is open, I’m working on bringing my passion of writing back. I just can’t stay away from this keyboard for too long! I have a political thriller in development, but I’m also developing a YA novel series. I’m excited about this project, because I have a huge heart for teenagers. Each novel deals with a tough issue such as eating disorders, divorce, domestic violence, abuse, running away, self-harm, etc. I’m close to this because every issue is based on my own life experience. I understand, and more than anything, I want teens to know they’re not alone in their struggles, and there is hope.

Those will be great books, I’m sure. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my heart, my experiences with PTSD, and my message of hope. Somebody once said, “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.” My life with PTSD didn’t start to improve until I embraced the journey ahead (no matter how long it took), dug my feet in, and gave healing 100%. We are all stronger than we think. PTSD instills a lie that it’s bigger than we are, and our only choice is to succumb to its power. But like I said, that’s a lie. There are answers out there that will take each of us forward. There are tools and resources that will help us in our healing. There are people who care and want to see you recover. I’m one of them. I’m always open and willing to share my experiences with others, whether it’s about healing from childhood sexual abuse, or my journey with PTSD.  You’re not alone in your fight. Don’t ever lose hope for a better, stronger you, and an abundant life. And never, ever give up.

New Beliefs, New Brain: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear

new_beliefs cover

Lisa Wimberger, a consummate professional who has dedicated her life to helping others discover a new way of living, delivers her debut self-help memoir/course in rewiring one’s mind to weed out the true stories from those illusions of our mind that hold us back.

I had the opportunity to sit with her to discuss her book (New Beliefs, New Brain: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear), her teaching philosophy and her views on the spectrum of healing.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: In your Acknowledgements page of New Beliefs, New Brain: How To Free Yourself from Stress, you thank the reader as being your inspiration for this work. When and how did you discover you had to write this book? 

A: I value my gut feelings often. I had been meditating in the bath one night reflecting on how I could help in the world. I got a clear answer that I was supposed to write. About a week later a stranger who heard my story at an event I was speaking at told me afterwards that he got a clear message I should write a book. Then about a few weeks later after a cover story came out in a Denver publication about my work with officers, my publisher called me and asked if I had a book. So I began writing!

Q: That came together quite beautifully. How did you assemble the balance between sharing your personal, traumatic experiences and creating an environment where people could engage in their own lives through your exercises?

A: I modeled the book after the way I teach. I know from experience that if the material doesn’t engage someone on their own personal level it will mean nothing. And because my traumatic journey is the foundation for why I do what I do, it’s critical for me to remain authentic and share my “why”.

Q: That sense of authenticity shines in your work. I appreciated reading the real-life stories of Sam, Joseph and Kathy. Are there any notable stories you’d like to share of people who have read your book and have perhaps reached out to you with their results? 

A: I am fortunate to have many stories from clients and from readers. I was just contacted recently by an officer in Wisconsin who was so moved by the techniques, he bought copies of the book for all his family and friends. I have people tell me that since using the meditations they are finally liking—and even loving—their lives.

Q: Congratulations! How did you reach out to other professionals for their reviews before publication (and how did you approach Dr. Perlmutter to write the foreward)?

A: I was very inspired by Dr. Perlmutter’s approach to health and well-being. He’s written several amazing books. I went to Kripalu Yoga and Meditation Center some years back to do a workshop with him and Dr. Alberto Villoldo. After meeting Dr. Perlmutter in person, and his wife, I knew his work and his voice had so much integrity that I couldn’t imagine a better person to sanction my story. I asked him, and after reviewing the manuscript he agreed. I also sent requests to the other professionals whose work was important to me. I feel very blessed to have their accolades.

Q: The subject of self-help is far-ranging but your unique approach simultaneously encompasses the perspective of science, meditation and memoir. What has been your most successful marketing campaign to make your book accessible to those who would benefit most from its content?

A: My most successful marketing campaign I believe is yet to come! 

Q: Sounds exciting! Please share with us.

A: My future plans are to grow the institute as a funnel for all of my work. To lecture more, and to find a PR person!

I position my work for the everyman. I personally feel that the self-help enthusiast may already have great resources. However, the everyman may not know where to start. So I’ve been realistic in my descriptions of the book. I think its availability in the mass marketplace is the first step. I do a lot of blogging and speaking about it in venues that extend beyond the typical audience.

Q: This being your first book, what was the publishing process like with Divine Arts Media? 

A: They were fantastic and made it so easy to work with them. I was on my own much during the writing, although the publisher always answered questions right away. It seemed effortless. I hired my own editor to make sure my finished manuscript was as polished as I could make it.  Once I turned it in, there were some review cycles but nothing much changed.

Q: What a perfect balance between being a self-guided / published author and having the structure and support of a traditional publisher. What was your post-publication process like with Divine Arts Media?

A: They mapped out placement of the book and got it into the national and international distribution market. Beyond that I am my own PR agent. They offer me suggestions but the execution is up to me. The transition [from publication to marketing] isn’t always easy. I am not expert in marketing, nor do I have the time to do another full-time job. So with me as a one-woman show I’m sure the book sales are not what they could be if I had a PR agent, a team, or a larger platform to support all of what I do. I’m working on putting those things in place so that I can spend more time helping people and teaching and less time marketing and selling.

Q: Thank you for that insight. What advice would you give new writers?

A: My advice to new writers is to write. Pipe-dreams aren’t anything until you put it all into practice. There’s no perfect time to start. Just write.

Q: Great advice. As a teacher, consultant, healer, how would you define “education”?

A: I believe education is that which informs, inspires and then hopefully creates. If any of those pieces are missing then the deliverable is only a fraction as powerful.

Q: Beautifully expressed, thank you. How has your academic background (a Masters in Education from University of Stoneybrook, New York, certification as an MBTI, training on psychic awareness at ICI, etc.) and your time in the field (with the Ishaya monks and in counseling others) shaped your perspective on educating others?

A: I feel like I have been fortunate to have had a balance of very formal education mixed with many alternative modalities. This breadth lent itself to my understanding that you can’t just learn in one way. It’s not just about academic information and it’s not just about in-the-moment experience. Our brains want both. So I try to design my work to honor both.

Q: Yes, that balance of left-right brain was evident in your book. How do your companies (The Neurosculpting® Institute, Ripple Effect, LLC and The Trance Personnel Consulting Group) help you free others from stress and fear? 

A: Those business platforms allow me to have a space in which to do my trainings, a structure in which to go out into the world to teach at agencies and organizations, and offer me an online presence so begin to speak with a global audience.

Q: That’s awesome. You really seem to have a pulse on crossing boundaries to promote your message. How does your experience as an international tribal percussionist weave your sense of healing?

A: Percussion is an avenue for intense and euphoric healing. It is when I can get out of my mind and let my body create a message that others can interact with. I use words a lot, so it’s beautiful for me when I can stop talking and continue communicating that way. Percussion and dance are the ultimate experience of being present. It’s meditation in motion.

Q: I also have a deep affinity of music; that ultimate poetry of life. With everything going on, how do you manage to juggle these myriad endeavors?  

A: I actually don’t always know! I often have to meditate when I feel overwhelmed and go back to integrity. The only question I need to ask is “Is this in alignment with my mission on this planet?” When the answer is yes, I know I will find a balance. If I hesitate at all, then I know that’s the thing I have to walk away from. I’m learning that more and more each day.

Q: Life certainly feels like a work in progress. If you could only impart one piece of advice to someone seeking guidance, what would you say? 

A: Deep healing is far more accessible then we might think, but it takes work.  If you’re ready to work, then you’re ready to heal.

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To find out more about Lisa, you may visit her on www.linkedin.com/pub/lisa-wimberger/1/136/633 or check out her website at http://neurosculptinginstitute.com.  

 

A Conversation with Laura Davis

Laura Davis

Laura Davis is the author of seven non-fiction books, including The Courage to Heal, The Courage to Heal Workbook, Allies in Healing, Beginning to Heal, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be and I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. Not only have her groundbreaking books sold more than 1.8 million copies worldwide but she also leads weekly writing groups and memoir writing retreats in the Santa Cruz, CA region, as well as an annual summer writing retreat in Bolinas, California, a two-week writing and yoga retreat in Bali, 10 days in a Scottish castle, and other international retreats. She recently took time from her busy schedule to share what inspires her…and how she inspires others to learn more about themselves through the transformative power of writing. 

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer.

A: Well, when I was in my twenties and thirties and maybe even into early forties, it wasn’t always easy to see the through line. I’ve always been such a maverick and I’ve never been one to follow a traditional path. But looking back now, I can see the connecting threads clearly.

I’ve always been deeply committed to writing—both as a tool for my own understanding of myself and as a means to communicate with others. I have always been able to be more honest on the page than I can be face-to-face. The page is the place where I discover what I think, what I feel, what I yearn for, what I need to say to somebody. The page is the place I come to a decision when I’m standing in the crossroads, and life is kicking me in the butt, screaming: “Move!”

On the other hand, I’ve never written just for me. I love the interplay of author and audience, writer and reader. I published my first book, The Courage to Heal, in 1988, and it unexpectedly (to me anyway) became a huge best-seller, catapulting me into a level of notoriety I wasn’t prepared for. That book was about healing from child sexual abuse, and it was the first book of its kind. My co-author, Ellen Bass, and I laid out the roadmap for healing in a simple, compelling way that just hadn’t been done before. It became the groundbreaking book in the field, the one that has made a huge difference in the lives of generations of women (and men) who had been abused. And it was through The Courage to Heal that I learned the power of the printed word and the awesome, humbling responsibility of being an author with, literally, the lives of your readers in your hands.

Q: You became famous because of the most painful thing that ever happened to you – incest with your grandfather. How did the challenges inherent with this constant exposure in the spotlight ever allow you to heal emotionally?

A: You have to realize, The Courage to Heal came out when I was only 31 years old. I was so young! For a number of years, I was the poster child for incest. Every TV interview I did, every radio appearance, every time I stood on a stage and spoke out to a thousand women who’d lined up around the block to hear me, all I had to work with was my own story, my connection to a power greater than myself, and the determination to reach out to the women in that room, telling them, yes, healing is possible. You can do this.

Because I was so young, and because I was so consumed by my own healing process, incest was my whole life at that time. It was as if the letters I-N-C-E-S-T were just screaming at me from my living room. They followed me everywhere. So for a time, what I was doing and what I was living were in synch. But as the years went by and I healed from my own abuse and began to move on, I no longer wanted to be known as the “incest queen.” I no longer wanted to meet people because of the worst thing that had ever happened to them. I wanted to meet them in a different playground, in a field where the past no longer had such a hold.

Q: Referring back to your desire to meet people in a venue other than than of victim survival, how did you reinvent your sense of purpose?

A: Once I had earned the scary right to create my own life, not one predetermined by trauma, I knew my work had to move on, too. And so I quit the lecture circuit and quit writing about sexual abuse. I moved to Santa Cruz, California (where I live now), met my partner, and started a family.

My books moved in new directions, too. A couple of years after my son, Eli, was born, I teamed up with a wonderful parent educator, Janis Keyser, and we wrote Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.

As I began to heal a long, very painful estrangement from my mother, I started researching, and eventually wrote, I Thought We’d Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation.

Clearly, my books track my interests in life. Right now, I’m writing a memoir about my relationship with my mother and the unexpected, amazing journey we’ve been on together.

When I look at my body of work as a whole, all my books have a similar theme: growth, change, human evolution, healing. Since I’ve always been fascinated with peoples’ stories, all of my books include a lot of those as well – varied, gritty, real, honest, deep, human stories.

Q: “Forgive and forget” is advice that’s commonly dispensed but, in the case of truly heinous acts, is it universally practical, especially if the offender has no remorse nor seeks redemption?

A: “Forgive and forget” is one of worst things you can say to someone who is suffering after being grievously hurt. It isolates people and tells them that shutting down and smoothing things over is preferable to acknowledging and working through the hurt. I would never give that advice to anyone, and I challenge anyone who does. “Forgive and forget” is like slapping a band-aid on a festering wound. I don’t believe we can “make ourselves forgive.” The anger and unresolved feelings just go underground. True forgiveness, if it comes, only arises naturally at the end of a very long, committed process of healing.

Forgiveness is a personal choice on a religious, ethical and moral basis. I have always maintained that for trauma survivors, it is not a necessary part of the healing process. I’ve seen people live through terrible trauma and go on to live productive, positive lives without forgiving their perpetrators. Ultimately, we have to move beyond the injury, let go of our grief and rage – as well as our identification with being a victim, but whether that moving on ultimately includes forgiveness is an individual matter each of us must come to terms with on our own. How can anyone dictate another person’s spiritual evolution?

Personally, I have forgiven my grandfather, the man who abused me. But it wasn’t anything I tried to achieve. That feeling of forgiveness arose naturally and spontaneously after many years of healing, when I’d finally earned the right to put the incest to rest. I had released my grandfather long before that – letting go of my anger and neutralizing his impact on my life. The added forgiveness was a gift, but it was not something I consciously sought or created.

Q: What intrigues you the most about human transformation?

A: I’m fascinated with human evolution – how we carve away all the things that were laid on us or expected of us – in order to become the people we were meant to be. Not all of us make it all the way to the core, but I’m a cheerleader for that true self – for the true expression exists in each of us if only we can get out of the way.

That’s why I love teaching long-term writing groups, because often, students come in thinking they’re going to be working on one thing, and they do, often quite successfully. But then, over the course of months and years, they sometimes peel that initial goal back and something deeper, that they were really meant to write, comes bubbling up to the surface. Before that moment, they didn’t feel ready or safe enough; they never had the proper conditions and support to make telling that story possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s memoir or fiction; the process is the same. And then one day, they’re ready, and the real work begins.

Q: What do you love the most about your work?

A: It isn’t when a writer shares a beautiful sentence (though I can swoon over a well-turned phrase); it’s when a writer tells the real truth. It’s watching people crack open. I love watching my students find their strength, their voices, their own direction. One of my favorite students, Bonnie Harris, once said to me, “Laura, you say you teach writing, but you don’t really teach writing. You teach transformation.” It’s not exactly the kind of thing you go around saying about yourself, but it’s absolutely true.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It’s the challenges in life that teach us the most.

Q: Tell us about the classes you’ve been teaching in Santa Cruz as well as the ways you’re creatively expanding beyond your own community.

A: I teach ongoing weekly classes in both writing practice (a “finding your voice” class) and feedback classes where people working on projects at home bring their work in to be critiqued. I love my weekly students and the intimate community that builds up in those classes.

To expand my geographical range, I’ve also started a free online community, The Writer’s Journey Roadmap, where I send out weekly writing prompts and people can post their responses on line. Over the past two years, that’s developed into a lovely online space for people who want to share their work in a safe, encouraging community. (http://www.lauradavis.net/roadmap)

Q: What’s your favorite thing that you’re doing now?

I love retreat teaching because of the intensity, because we’re all unplugged from life at home, coming together with one purpose – to write our brains out and go deep into our writing. People often arrive the first night of a retreat, looking tense and afraid, and then by the time they’re hugging everyone goodbye, their faces are cracked wide open and they look deeply refreshed. And it’s not just a quick high that fades. I’ve watched people make profound changes in their lives because of something they experienced on a retreat with me.  

I’ve been teaching an annual retreat in Bolinas, California, right on the high cliffs of the Pacific for a week every July–and I’ve been doing that for years. Last year, for the first time, in part because my children are getting ready to leave the nest, I also led an international retreat to Bali. My partner taught yoga and I taught writing, and we teamed up with a wonderful local eco-tour company who kept us in small, local hotels and introduced us to amazing artisans, dancers, shamans, and all kinds of incredible adventures. We used our writing time to document our travels and to dive deeper into the descriptive world. And starting our day with yoga was just divine. I fell deeply in love with Bali and the Balinese people. I can’t wait to go back this June (June 21st-July 5th) with another group of writers (http://www.lauradavis.net/cometobali).

I’ve also added a second international retreat this year–this time to the Scottish Highlands, near Findhorn. It will be at the end of the summer, (August 14th-28th) and we will be living in a Victorian mansion, a sister center to Findhorn. In addition to exploring the gorgeous Scottish countryside, and diving deep into our writing, we’ll be living in a successful sustainable community and witnessing what that means on a day-to-day basis.

Q: What can students expect to learn from these overseas excursions?

A: When I teach, I like to take my cues from the students who come, but in the trips to Bali and Scotland, we will definitely utilize a lot of what we see, hear and experience each day to develop deeper powers of observation and the capacity to better capture sensory detail. These are useful habits no matter what genre we work in. We will use our writing time to glean every bit of insight we can out of our trip, the community we’re visiting, to help us take full advantage of the kind of change and openness only travel can bring.

Writers at all levels – as well as their non-writing spouses – are welcome to join us. Readers can learn more at http://www.lauradavis.net/cometoscotland.

Q: Over the course of your career, what accomplishment are you the most proud of?

A: Like many parents, my marvelous children come to mind first. They’re amazing young people and I can’t wait to see who they become. I’m very proud to have been a foundational part of their lives.

But when I set them aside and look at my literary work, you might think I’d choose The Courage to Heal, and the three other books I wrote about healing from sexual abuse. Those books have been read and translated all over the world, with more than 2 million copies in print. I still get letters (well now, texts and emails and FB messages) from grateful readers who tell me that the books have literally saved their lives. That is immensely gratifying.

But really, to tell you the truth, the books I feel the most proud of are two books I wrote this past fall – two volumes conceived and completed on a very tight three-month deadline. My brother had convinced me we should do something special for our mother’s 85th birthday. We agreed to have a big family party for her around Thanksgiving because that’s when our relatives gather. He said he’d be in charge of the party and I said I wanted to make a book for her.

I put out a call to all our relatives and all of her old and new friends asking for photographs, tributes and stories. The material started pouring in! In three months, I created two incredibly beautiful books – using everything I knew about constructing and writing a book – and printed two copies through blurb.com, and gave them to her. They were filled with her own writings, pictures of her being crowned campus queen at City College in 1937, photos and reviews from her acting career, stories and photos from everyone she had ever loved. Considering where my mother and I were 30 years ago (she was the prime subject of I Thought We’d Never Speak Again), I have a lot be proud of. My mother does, too. We both worked hard at our reconciliation.

My mother has dementia and these books, A Tribute to Temme – Volume 1 & 2, literally gave her back her life. She lives in assisted living now and her world has shrunk dramatically, but every day she looks at those books and remembers her travels, her friends, her former life and who she used to be. That’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of today.

Readers can learn more about Laura, her books, and her workshop retreats at http://www.lauradavis.net. Email her at lauradavis@lauradavis.net.

 

 

 

 

 

Luke’s Tale

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 “If there are no dogs in Heaven,” wrote Will Rogers, “then when I die I want to go where they went.”

It’s a quote that anyone who has ever been rescued by a dog can relate to, for who but a dog can find complete contentment curled up by your side, greet you enthusiastically even if you’ve only left the room for five minutes, and gaze at you through old-soul eyes as if you were the center of the universe. Whether your canine companion is big, little, young or old, Carol McKibben’s new book, Luke’s Tale, is a heart-tugging reminder that our four-legged best friends often know us better – and love us even more – than anyone else can begin to imagine.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your new book and what inspired you to write it.

A: Luke’s Tale follows the obstacle-riddled journey of a couple’s search for unconditional love, told from the point-of-view of their blind dog, Luke.

The novel was inspired by two things. The first was my blind dog Luke who was such an inspiration for me. As he spiraled into blindness, he was my constant companion. He was fearless. He had always been my barn dog before he went blind. After Progressive Retinal Atrophy took his sight, he continued to go to the barn with me every day, and, stuck to me like Velcro everywhere I went. He was never afraid to go somewhere on his own, feeling gently with his front paws as he went along. It was his loyalty and love for me that made him so courageous.

Secondly, I truly believe that couples today give up on their relationships because they place unrealistic “conditions” on each other. But, no matter if you are sick, tired, unemployed, had a bad day or are even angry, your dog will love you. That is why I made Luke, the Dog, the narrator of this story. I want people to see what it means to stick by those they love, no matter how bad it gets.

There are dog owners who would have “put Luke down” because of his blindness. It never crossed my mind. Our love was without conditions. Life is full of ups and downs, and it’s important for people to understand how to ride through the ‘downs’ and why not placing our own expectations on others will strengthen any relationship. This may seem ‘too out there,’ but this message came to me in a dream. That and my blind dog, Luke, were the inspiration for this novel. So, perhaps angels inspired my story? I know that Luke was an angel here on earth, and maybe angels brought the idea to me in my dreams!

Q: Your dog, Luke, is the narrator of the story. What governed the decision to deliver your message via his unique canine perspective?

A: First of all, a dog is the only creature on this earth that loves unconditionally. You can be in a bad mood, sick, speak to him harshly, ignore him, have pimples all over your face, and he will still lick your hand, sit by your side and love you, no matter what. I needed the representative of true, unconditional love to guide the story. I am heavily involved in fostering rescued dogs that have been abandoned and mistreated by their human owners. I have seen the compassion that those in dog rescue offer their canine friends. With this story, I wanted the dog to be the one to rescue his humans and save them for a better life. It just felt like something a dog would do, if he could, especially my real-life Luke.

Q: Have dogs always been a part of your life? Tell us about some of your favorites (including Luke, of course).

A: Yes, I’ve always had dogs since childhood. As I stated earlier, my husband Mark and I foster rescued dogs and help them find forever homes. We currently have two dogs of our own, Neo, a 113-lb. Labradoodle, and Binks (a rescue and black Lab with a heart condition.) Our current foster is Blanca, an Australian Cattle Dog, but we’ve had many fosters – from Beagles to Huskies to Pit Bulls.

Luke was a certified therapy dog, both before and after his blindness. He also played Annie Potts’ dog, Scout, on the Lifetime Series, Any Day Now for three years. He was my constant companion. Luke was one of a litter of 10 born in our bedroom to our black Lab, Leia. We kept three of the pups, along with Leia and dad, Darth. So, we had Darth, Leia, Luke, Yoda and Obe wan Knobe (Tipper for short).

Our current Labradoodle, Neo, is a therapy dog, and Binks, who wasn’t supposed to live past four years of age, is now six and knows how to regulate his exercise to contain his heart problem, along with regular meds.

Yes, dogs are a huge part of my life, as well as horses.

Q: Why do dogs make such good listeners?

A: They aren’t judgmental. They don’t interrupt! They love you no matter what you say.

Q: On a regular basis, the media brings us no shortage of stories about animal abuse and cruelty. Do you see a correlation that people who can harm, abandon and torture defenseless creatures for no reason have just as little empathy for human life?

A: People who can harm and torture defenseless creatures are sociopaths. They have no conscience, no sense of right and wrong, no remorse, shame or guilt when it comes to their actions. What they do is all about them, and this extends to their interaction with human beings. Many a sociopath started out as children capable of unspeakable cruelty to animals and extended it to humans. So yes, there is a correlation.

I have yet to understand people who abandon their pets. And, there are so many animals that have been pushed aside for reasons that I don’t understand. One woman told us she just didn’t “have time” to take care of her dog. It was a case of “you take him or he goes to the shelter.” I have very low regard for this type of person.

Q: Coupled with a growing trend toward no-kill shelters and behavioral training to make stray animals more adoptable, there are numerous rescue missions both here and abroad (particularly in Afghanistan) to find homes for dogs that would otherwise be put to death. Please share your thoughts on why rescue and adoption are such vital issues.

A: I am involved in a rescue that has brought animals from abroad here to find them homes. Rescues are the only hope for abandoned and abused animals. I have never met more caring people than those who tirelessly devote their lives to helping those who can’t speak for themselves.

There is a movement for pet stores to start offering rescues for adoption instead of buying from breeders and puppy mills. I know of several stores in the L.A. area who are displaying rescues in their stores and working with rescue operations to host adoption events for animals needing forever homes.

Because there are countless numbers of animals that are abused and abandoned, it is vital that we trend in this direction.

Q: As humans, we are constantly placing conditions and behavioral expectations on our partners, our children and our peers as “proof” of their love and loyalty; i.e., “If you really cared, you’d do such-and-such for me.” Dogs are completely opposite to us in this regard, steadfast as our best friends even on the occasions when we have been neglectful of their own needs. In your opinion, what are animals – and especially dogs – trying to teach us about the importance of unconditional love?

A: Wow, that’s such a great question. I think dogs show us by example, don’t you? Their entire being is waiting for us, loving us, being our best friends. What better way than to lead by example?

I once heard a story about a little boy who, with his parents, watched his beloved dog pass away at the vet’s. The father posed the question, “Why is it that our dogs live such short lives compared to human life?” The little boy piped up with, “I know why!” The mother, father and vet looked at him simultaneously with “Why?” The little one smiled as he petted his dog’s head, “Because humans come into this world not knowing how to love, but dogs are born knowing how.” Out of the mouths of babes.

Q: When a couple’s relationship is in trouble, there is often a tendency to shut down communications as either a defense mechanism to safeguard anxieties or to avoid overwhelming the partner with problems s/he can’t possibly resolve. Why are these actions harmful to the health and longevity of the relationship?

A: Open communication is the key to a successful relationship. It’s often what is not said, what is withheld, that creates problems in a relationship. Withholding information can be viewed as dishonesty by the partner who is shut out. It also allows the person being shut out to feel disrespected. This, in turn, creates mistrust. There is no real love without honesty, trust and respect.

There’s another factor at work here. Oftentimes, women just want to be heard…they want their partners to just listen to them. Adversely, men just want to “fix the problem.” That, too, can create issues.

Q: “The best thing about the future,” wrote Abraham Lincoln, “is that it comes one day at a time.” Too many people, however, sabotage that future – as well as their present – by obsessing about all of the mistakes they’ve made in the past. How does one get past the fears that are preventing them from “living in the moment” and moving forward, day by day, in a positive manner?

A: I call this self-victimization and have a 7-step method: 1) Decide that you are a worthy human being. Those who live in the past are still hiding behind past events and think they aren’t worthy of better than they have. 2) Surround yourself with winners, not losers. Associate with those who make you feel positive about yourself, who help you believe that you “can if you think you can!” 3) Don’t let others rule your destiny. Take control of your life. 4) Label yourself as STRONG, not weak. Believe in that strength. Know that you can do anything you set your heart and mind to do. 5) Take responsibility for your past and current mistakes, and then leave them behind you. Don’t blame anyone else for your past…it’s all you, baby. 6) Stop living in a “poor little me” pity party. Get out of the doldrums and focus on what you want out of life. 7) Stop always choosing the “easy way out” of things. The easy road is rarely the right road. The bottom line? It’s all about attitude. You may not change the situation, but you can change your attitude about any and everything.

Q: When something good happens, a person is likely to take all of the credit for it; i.e., “I got an A on my math test.” Conversely, blame is usually placed on another party when the outcome is negative; i.e., “It’s all George Bush’s fault.”  Why – and how – is it easier for people to make themselves victims rather than assuming personal responsibility for their actions and taking control of their lives?

A: It’s always easy to play the victim, blame everyone else and never take responsibility for one’s actions. We all have blame moments. But, if we go back to my theme of unconditional love, isn’t it important for us to see the soul inside even the worst of us? And, isn’t it important for each of us, in our individual blame moments, to dig deep inside and take responsibility for our words and actions? If others didn’t place conditions on us in those moments, we might feel freer to take responsibility for past, present and future. Think about how that might work.

Q: Whether it’s a product of technology, insularity, impatience or perceived entitlement, respect for the opinions and property of others seems to be radically falling by the wayside, especially with the younger generation. What are some of the traits of a respectful person and how can those traits lead to success?

A: Trait #1: They’re honest. They don’t lie. People can depend upon them. Think of the heroes we admire in books, movies and real life. Don’t they act with honesty and integrity? Aren’t they generous with others? Doesn’t everyone look up to them?

Trait #2: They don’t lose their tempers, scream, yell or strike out against others when things don’t go their way. In other words, they rarely lose control. When negative things happen to them, they remain positive. They treat people as they would like to be treated.

Trait #3: They are tenacious. They don’t give up easily. They become resourceful when the going gets rough.  They totally get that they can’t change other people or the circumstances, but they can change their attitudes about situations.

Trait #4: They admit when they’re wrong. Instead of sticking to their guns (no matter what) just to be “right,” they fess up to their mistakes, particularly when it lets another person “off the hook” or eases a situation.

Trait #5: They aren’t lazy; they strive. They are hard workers who always want to “get it right.”

Trait #6: They have their priorities straight. They put what is truly important, what will really help others or a situation, above their own needs.

Trait #7: They have an inner sense of right and wrong. They innately know the right thing to do, and they understand clearly when an injustice is being served.

Trait #8: They tend to be role models for other people. Others admire and looked up to them.

Trait #9: They are givers. Most successful people are. They know the “secret” that the more you give, the more you receive when you are genuine about your gifts. We’re talking not so much about money but time and expertise. They operate on Zig Ziglar’s quote, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough people get what they want.”

Trait #10: They have high self-esteem. They believe they deserve success and know they can do anything they go after. They know that a mistake is something that they do and not who they are. They also keep a positive self-image because they know that self-esteem is a state of mind that they have chosen.

Trait #11 – They are loyal, even when it’s tough to do so. They stand behind those with whom they have forged relationships and don’t betray them.

If a person has all these traits, how will that help him be successful? Isn’t it obvious? These are the qualities of highly-successful people in our society-I’m talking Bill Gates; Oprah; Warren Buffet; George Washington; Abraham Lincoln and the like. It isn’t a coincidence that both highly-respected and highly-successful people possess these traits.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on an episodic series for Troll River Publications to be published online in installments. Its working title is Snow Blood. I don’t want to say much more than the story is told through the eyes of a vampire dog…do you see a pattern here?

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your book?

A: I want people to see what it means to stick by those they love, no matter how bad it gets. People need to learn to ride through the ups and downs of life and how not placing our own expectations on others will strengthen any relationship. I mean, honestly, if a dog can love us unconditionally, why can’t we love each other in the same way?

Luke’s Tale is available on amazon.com in both Kindle and print formats.

Please visit www.carolmckibben.com and tell me what you think about unconditional love.

 

Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small

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As a member of the WOW! (Women on Writing) Blog Tour Partnership Program (a community of bloggers who participate in doing book reviews and/or author interviews as part of Book Blog tours organized by WOW!) I had the opportunity to interview Amy Friedman on her contribution to the nonfiction anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small. Amy is a longtime teacher, author, journalist, and editor, with writings ranging from fairy tales to bittersweet memoir. She shares her thoughts on shame, the power of fear and truth, and the transformative freedom of “speaking one’s truths aloud.”

This interview was originally published on Blogcritics at http://blogcritics.org/culture/article/interview-author-and-teacher-amy-friedman/  on New Year’s Day. It was scheduled to be posted on my book blog (www.notionsofagirl.wordpress.com) on January 11th, in coordination with a Blog Tour manager for WOW! (Women on Writing) but when I received Ms. Friedman’s answers during the holidays, I considered her message symbolic of the struggles we all go through when we straddle the expectations, the failures and the accomplishments of the previous year with our hopes and concerns for the new year.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: How were you approached for your contribution to the anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small?

A: I’ve known [coeditors of the anthology] Amy [Ferris] and Hollye [Dexter] for a few years—Hollye took a memoir writing class with me a while back, and Amy and I met when I discovered there was another Amy F on Shewrites.com (in its earliest days, when only 40 or 50 people were involved in the site). At the time Amy’s Marrying George Clooney was on pre-order. I pre-ordered and fell in love with the book, which began a correspondence that has turned into a lasting friendship. I think we’re all mutual admirers of each other’s work, and because they knew a great deal about my memoir in progress at the time, they knew the subject matter I would likely deal with.

Q: What drew you to the project?

A: To be honest, it took me a while to figure out what precisely I would write, and for a while I thought I might have to write about the shame of not feeling shame—that sounds, well, perhaps preposterous, but I’m rebellious, and whenever people have tried to make me feel shame (as certainly happened during all the years I was married to a man in prison and certainly happened to the girls I raised, daughters of a prisoner). But shame permeates our world—I knew the book would resonate with a great many people, and the process of thinking about the subject led me on a long, difficult journey.

Q: Who is your target demographic for Dancing at the Shame Prom?

A: I never think about that question, not ever. I actually think it’s a dangerous question for writers to consider. Writers need to write those stories that knock at their hearts and heads and souls. They can’t worry about what others want to hear. So, well, I don’t. Besides, I’m always surprised by what resonates for people. Always surprised.

Q: Please take us through your process of writing [your piece in the anthology] “The Men Who Stayed Too Long.”

A: Oh, man, if I took you through the process, we’d be here for months. But in essence the process for everything I write begins more or less the same. I ponder the idea, I toss things out onto the page (handwritten—I write first drafts of everything by hand). I play. I read what I’ve written. I wonder about what on Earth I was thinking. I try to find the meaning inside the stories and snippets that appear on the page. For a short essay—2000 words or less—I don’t think a writer can contain more than one big idea, maybe one and a half ideas. I half-feel as if my essay for The Shame Prom fails because I think it tackles a few too many ideas. But I also have learned how to eventually let things go, so I won’t ponder that idea here.

Q: Everything in your essay felt like it dovetailed into one central idea. The major thing I walked away with from “The Men Who Stayed Too Long” was your concept that when we are ashamed of ourselves, we try to hide in our opposites, and in the fantasies of the person we wish we could be. How did that attitude affect your life and your sense of “self”?

A: I believe that’s true, and I’ve seen it manifested both in my life and in the lives of loved ones—we all, I think, imagine what perfection looks like. Take, for instance, imagining what the life of a perfect writer must be, how that person probably works, thinks, lives. It’s impossible not to think about it (in part interviews lead people down those paths, of course). I’ve long fantasized having the success of those writers who are everyday names, who write anything they wish and hand it over to an editor and the editor says, “Yes! Here’s your paycheck!” I lived (and published) in Canada for over twenty years and was not famous but was at least, well, a little known. When I was in my late 40s I moved back to the United States and suddenly I was a “nobody” as a writer, and it took me three or four years to climb out of the slough of despair (and shame) that created, to find my way back to writing because it’s what I love, what I do. I think there’s a constant struggle to look oneself in the eye and say, “This is who I am, and that’s just fine.” I don’t think that struggle ever ends; at least it hasn’t for me.

Q: By your definition, what is “normal”?

A: Ha! No such thing. By spending so many years so closely tied to prison, a little cynicism developed—and there are days “normal” frightens me. Sometimes I fear that if I were “normal” (whatever on Earth that is) I would be dull and uninterested in the world around me.

Honestly, I don’t know what normal is. I suspect everyone has a different definition–what seems “freakish” to one person might be perfectly normal to another, and vice versa.

Q: Among the signs of suicidal behavior are “excessive shame,” “withdrawing from people,” “feeling trapped, like there is no way out,” and “feeling hopeless.” How would you relate those feelings to your experiences of wishing to be someone else?

A: Well, I think people who wallow in a desire to be someone other than who they are usually wind up disappointed when they do not become that person—whether it’s a desire to look different, live differently, own more, know more, do more. Lack of acceptance of self can certainly lead to feeling hopeless, and there is nothing worse than that sense of hopelessness. I don’t know the cure. For me it’s always been fighting to be who I am and to find some way to be okay with that, and learning to surround myself with those who love me (and to shy away from those who do not).

Q: You wrote “What we see on the outside seldom even scratches the surface of an individual’s inner truths.” Please elaborate on this.

A: I think this probably is at the heart of the reason I’m a writer. I write to discover what I think, what I know, what I didn’t know I knew. Writing takes me to depths of understanding (of myself, particularly) in a way nothing else can (except perhaps meditation). I’ve been teaching memoir and personal essay for fifteen years, and if I’ve learned nothing else from this experience it’s that we never ever know at first glance (or the fifteenth) what’s going on inside a person’s head or heart. I believe in listening, closely, and in withholding judgment (every student I’ve ever taught has surprised me).

Q: You talked about the “transformative power of speaking your truths out loud.” How has speaking your truths out loud transformed you?

A: Absolutely—although I think I would amend that to say “writing truth” and I’ll amend that to add: It is vital to be open to what others say in response to your own truths, to listen with an open mind and open heart. But putting what I have to say out into the world has strengthened my sense of self. I know there’s more to say about this, but for now…

Q: What things were you once afraid of, but no longer?

A: I suspect I’ve been afraid of everything at some time or another, but the fascinating thing about fear is that once it’s gone, it’s gone. During the years I was involved with prison, I lived one big fear that all that I was working for—to get my husband released, to keep our family afloat, financially and emotionally—would come to nothing. And in a way that’s what happened, the whole dream exploded. And because I didn’t die, because I came out stronger and wiser and calmer, oddly, I think a lot of fear was burned up in that explosion.

I still sometimes fear rejection—that’s probably the biggest fear—that I’ll write something or say something or do something and receive in turn anger, cruelty, people turning away.

But here’s the thing: That happens, and still, I survive. Some days I hide under the blankets for hours and weep. Some days I can’t face the world. But a good long cry and those kinds of losses and sadnesses and terrors are oddly cleansing.

Q: What gave you the strength to share your truths with the world?

A: I have to say I was raised to be open and honest, by parents who spoke their truths. A vivid memory of youth: Many of my ancestors were lost in concentration camps, my paternal grandmother’s entire family wiped out in the War, my dad a POW during World War II. But when I was in high school, we had an exchange student at the school from Germany. My mom taught at our high school and one day Gaby (the exchange student’s name) came to my mom to ask if she could move in with our family (and out of the home she was staying in where some problems had arisen). My parents welcomed her with open arms, and years later I found out that they had taken much grief from many Jewish friends and family members still seething with anger at all Germans. But that was my parents. I’d seen my dad, an Atticus Finch type, stand up to angry neighbors who did not want an African American family to move onto our street in the early ’60s—I saw that the way to face the world was to face it honestly, and with strength, no matter the consequences.

And when I was 12 and writing came—my window to knowing what I thought, what I stood for and what I wanted to say—I came to see that writing is never any good unless it comes from those deepest and truest parts of ourselves.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you had known as a teenager?

A: What don’t I know now that I wish I’d known as a teenager is a better question. I suppose in a nutshell it would be that life would go on, no matter the angst and pain. But in some ways this question is just too hard—I’m not sure I know the answer. There is that old saw about wishing I were young again but knew everything I know now, but having just spent a good deal of time with my teenage nieces, I’m not sure that’s true. One of the beauties of their lives is the way they think they know everything already—I love that, and I love knowing all the things they’re going to learn, and learn, and learn…

Q: What would you say to someone who considers that keeping up the façade is safer than confessing who they really are, where sharing their true self or secrets might result in physical or emotional harm?

A: I would encourage, gently, that person to write. Honestly, that is what I do. And to meditate. I have done this. I raised two girls whose life in so many ways depended upon keeping up a façade—pretending their father wasn’t in prison because they had taken so much grief and rejection and cruelty from people for something over which they had no control—and throughout their lives I have tried to hold them close and teach them that they are not the people those who judge them believe them to be. One of them has found her way, one has not. I still hold out every imaginable hope.

Q: What are some of the resources for people who need a safe place to be themselves and speak their truths?

A: I think this depends—there are wondrous writing teachers around, and because I’m a writer, that’s where my mind takes me first. There are support groups. I think it’s important for people to find those who will help to nurture them and support them and listen to their truths, and to surround ourselves with those people. But this takes me back to the question of what I wish I had known as a teenager that I know now—I wish I’d known as a teenager that it is vital to surround oneself with those who love and respect us and to give wide berth to those who would judge us (and that those who judge us most harshly are usually merely projecting their own inadequacies and fears).

Q: We’ve talked about shame. Let’s explore the opposite. What are you the proudest of about yourself?

A: I’m proudest of the fact that I have followed my dream, that despite not having become “rich and famous” I am a writer still, a dream that began when I was 12 and from which I’ve never wavered, and that I’ve found my way to discovering how to make a living and to keep producing stories and books. I’m also proud of my teaching, and I’m proud of the people I’ve had a hand in raising—stepchildren (4), nieces and nephews, and some students.

Q: As a writer, what gives you the greatest joy?

A: My greatest joys come in those moments when I’m so deep inside a story, I am flowing, and I know I am onto something—it’s an indescribable sensation, but when I’m there, I know it, and it is, for me, the essence of joy and peace. That and going to the movies or for long walks with my husband who is the greatest imaginable partner and friend. And boogie boarding. I love boogie boarding and just about everything about the ocean.

Q: You have adapted some marvelous tales in your “Tell Me a Story” column, based on folk tales, fairy tales, and mythological stories. What drew you to that project?

A: Oh, alas, that’s a long-ish story. But the short version is this. I was working at The Whig Standard in Kingston, Ontario as a columnist (had been for nearly eight years), and I had a terrifically wonderful editor who was always open to new ideas. My dad was a newspaper junkie, so I grew up on newspapers—and I decided our paper needed something for kids. I told my editor I thought so and he sent me off to figure out what that should be. A librarian at the Kingston public library led me to stashes of old folktales and fairytales and myths and legends that people were forgetting, and she also led me to an amazing illustrator. I proposed the idea to Neil, my editor. He said, “Go for it,” and within weeks Jillian (my illustrator) and I were producing a column six days a week (in those days I wrote one story a week and solicited and edited the other five, but Jill illustrated all six). Within three months, ten Canadian papers had picked up the column, and a year later Universal Press Syndicate came to us wanting to syndicate the column in the United States. We started in 1992 and last month published story #1086 (they run in papers around the world). Jillian is retiring, but I’m still going, with a new illustrator beginning in February 2013, Meredith Johnson. Onward, upward. It’s been fascinating, frustrating, and always inspiring (and I’ve produced three CD audiobooks of the stories as well).

Q: Tell us about The Desperado’s Wife. What prompted you to share your story in its entirety now?

A: Ah, well, I’ve been working on the book for ten years, so it isn’t precisely now that I have been prompted. The book has been excerpted in several places over the years (in The New York Times as “Modern Love”, Salon.com and in a book by Katherine Tanney and Spike Gillespie called Stricken: 5,000 Stages of Grief), and my agent has been trying to sell it for a year or more. But when the Katie [Couric] show invited me to be a guest to talk about the subject and my book, I decided I was no longer going to wait for publishers to give me the green light, and so I have self-published the book and will be on the Katie show [on January 31, 2013]. I think it’s an important story—inspired in part by my longing for prisoners’ families to come out of the shadows, to not have to live in shame. That’s what I hope to talk about with Katie Couric.

Q: You have been teaching memoir for 20 years. What is your most memorable experience as a teacher?

A: I don’t know that there’s one “most memorable” experience as a teacher. The happiest moments are when students discover their voices, when they are able to dive more deeply inside their stories, when they realize—sometimes against their will—that they can tell a story they’ve been struggling to tell. I wish I could say the happiest moments are when students publish their work—and there is some satisfaction in seeing that happen. But I’m also frustrated by the whole publishing world because I think it is not often that truly good work is rewarded—sometimes there are too many other things (fame/hip-ness) involved in publishing decisions.

But I love teaching. I love seeing people making new discoveries about their stories.

Q: One of the success stories from your students is “Amy helped me to discover that a genuine writer did live inside of me and allowed me to grow and develop in an atmosphere truly free of judgment.” Many others speak of the environment you create, and the self-confidence you help foster. What is your teaching philosophy?

A: That’s it in a nutshell, to create an environment that both nurtures and pushes, that doesn’t coddle (I don’t try to be Mama), but that allows a writer to find his or her own way into a story, that doesn’t shut them down. I have a very particular workshop method I use (adapted from a choreographer) that allows only for questions of the writer. In other words, I don’t allow students to write each other’s stories but rather to open doors into the mind that might have been closed by asking who, what, when, where questions. I suppose the whole philosophy would be “don’t shut up anyone, inspire people to speak and discover what it is they have to say.”

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

A: Only this: It’s important to read and to write and to buy books. The publishing world is crumbling, but readers can keep it alive if they try.

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You may buy Amy’s memoir The Desperado’s Wife at her website and receive an autographed copy and bookmark if you place the order before January 15th. To learn more about the anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small please check out their website.