I am a fiction writer who struggles with fiction. Even with a Masters of Fine Arts expressively devoted to the study of fiction. I wanted to study the land of make believe that resides in the recesses of my mind. But it’s been twenty years and I have a novel manuscript that just didn’t feel right. Wasn’t up to snuff. No matter how much coaching or residencies or conferences I took, no matter how many writing dates I set up.
It dawned on me yesterday while on my journey that the reason I’ve been having such a hard time is simple. Because you know what? This world, this dimension we’re living in, IS fiction. We are, many of us (myself included), pretending. We are born into this world completely enthralled and free. Sovereign. Yet as we grow older, we are sucked in by the agreements of our time, our culture, our ancestral beliefs that have been passed on over the years.
We begin to act on this great stage. We slip into our roles.
I’ve been playing the Fool.
The Not Good Enough.
The One Who Can Never Figure it Out.
The Good Girl.
The Good Wife.
The Good Daughter.
The Good Mother.
The One Who Fights For the Others Like Me
Subverting the Binary
What roles have you been playing, dear reader?
I am tired of the masks. The roles I’ve been playing. The Good Girl. Afraid to be Bad. But what if Bad is really Good? What if “Bad” is the way in?
What if we can subvert that notion of binary:
Accessing the Portal
What if we can integrate all of it? What if “crazy” was a portal? A portal to truth? What if “ugly” helped you fall in love with who you truly are?
Last night, in bed with my husband, I truly let myself become ugly. I saw his judging eyes, I saw my monster face. And instead of running away, I went toward the fear of being perceived as “ugly,” not conventionally beautiful. Lies I’ve been feeding myself all of my life in THIS world, stuck in a negative thought loop.
Yet as I loved my ugliness, as I embraced the horror of being truly monstrous, I was no longer numb or dead. I could feel pleasure again. Truly feel pleasure in a way I never have. And must I remind you that we need pleasure in our lives. Pleasure in all the ways. The way the light falls on the verdant grass, the way a body of water shimmers in the sun. The warmth of your compassionate hand on your heart. How each of us are jewels, if only we would remember.
The portal was open. And I was no longer pretending.
I am remembering.
I woke up around 3am and haven’t been able to really go back to sleep. I’m here now at 6:26am about to virtually meet Julie to write via Zoom, physically located on the 3rd floor of our apartment building. I’ve been feeling all sorts of emotions, sensations and thoughts.
The eczema on my neck is more pronounced, like a raised brownish-red scar or hickey. A manifestation of perceived failures and disappointments. The sense that I can’t seem to meet obligations, expectations. My procrastination and failure disappointing all the people in my life. I’ve been eating more sugar, more flour. I’ve been drinking more alcohol. I’ve been MIA and unable to be accountable as much to people, get back to those I want to get back to. Everything just feels like too much. I have stopped exercising. I’m barely meditating. I stopped tracking. I feel like a hot mess. Yet on social media, I prop myself up as though I’ve figured it out. I haven’t. I feel like I’ve been preachy but can’t seem to walk the walk, just talk the talk. So sick of myself.
I just want to disappear. I just want everything I don’t want to do to disappear.
My eczema on my neck and the crease of my right arm is itching.
I feel like shouting: Get over yourself!
I want my ego to leave.
I want to feel ease.
I feel locked in. By others’ expectations and my own.
I feel like a fraud. I’m barely keeping up.
I feel like jamming a sock in my mouth.
Although I don’t want to kill myself, I can understand the tendencies, the ideations.
Sometimes, you just want the pain, the internal prison of anguish, to simply stop.
That’s why I love LSD. That one time I did it, I realized I could disappear. I could drop my ego. Just pure ease. I could feel as if time were standing still. There was no such thing as “out of time.”
. . .
I just meditated to the self-compassion meditation that Julie sent me a while back, with Dr. Kristen Neff. It did make me feel better. To remember that suffering is part of the human condition. That we all fail. We all make mistakes.
I remember my mom tumbling onto her knees, begging Jehovah for forgiveness, for being “so imperfect,” so “full of sin.” To this day, I’m not sure what my mom was suffering from, but honestly, the last day or so, I can relate. That ache inside wanting to be cleansed, to be redeemed, is real.
Life is a rollercoaster. A ride of ups and downs. And what a ride it’s been. I am sad as I look out the window outside, seeing two cranes face each other as the morning light in the sky begins to brighten. It’s now 7:07am. My breasts ache around the edges as I type. I’m not quite here. Yet I type, I think.
I hate that I don’t know quite what to do.
Today is October 1, 2020. Today around 5pm there will be a full moon. Julie and I usually plan to the lunar cycles.
What is my plan?
What will I do with this life that I have left? How will I design a life that matters?
How do I not alienate people and spread bad energy all over the place? How can I heal others when I am so far from healing myself? And how is it possible to heal others and yourself when the outside world is so toxic?
How do you love the white people in your life?
How do you love the nonwhite people, including yourself?
How do you write or think or act without triggering yourself or others?
How can you revise a novel when you don’t even know what to do? Perhaps I need to read a novel that I truly love. Perhaps I need to write a memoir. Perhaps this novel isn’t working. It’s not doing what I had hoped it to do, following formulaic writing techniques that make me feel like I’m doing it wrong, that I’m stupid and dense for not getting it. Especially when everyone else is getting it. Not me. I’m just standing there alone, stupid, naked and raw. Just unable to move fast enough. Not able to move forward. Stuck. Perhaps I’m moving in the wrong circles. Perhaps I’m not feeling safe. Perhaps I’m not feeling seen or heard. I am feeling judged, shamed, silenced. I am feeling compared. Guilt is not the whip I want to guide me towards success. How much of it is mine and how much of it is their’s?
Clearly I am attracting this into my life.
Is the answer in CODA? Isn’t that finite? Final. The end? That’s what I interpret it to be as someone who once read sheet music to play the piano. I think this is what that is.
The words are not tumbling out the way I want them to this morning. I am a puzzle I’m still trying to put together. I am a ball of knotted and tangled yarn I am slowly, impatiently, attempting to unravel. Self-optimization feels like a joke. Just when you think you have something down, you realize how you really don’t quite know the answers. There are no experts. How can you study yourself? Your mind? Your body? And are psychedelics, especially high dose ones, truly the answer to self-inquiry?
I am trying to figure out what I want to figure out in life. I am 48 years old. Is it too late?
What if I dropped EVERYTHING?
- My novel I’m revising
- My job as a virtual assistant
- All of my clients
- All of the unfinished tasks I said I’d do
- All the obligations
- My marriage
- My kids
- My parents
- My siblings
- My friends
- My apartment
- My Instagram account
- My blog
- My books
- My ecourses — all the ones I signed up to do but can’t seem to finish
- My diet
- My bills
- My ego
- My fitness routines
- My anguish about racism
- My goals and dreams
- My fears around Covid and rising anti-Asian hatred
- All my fears
- All my stuff
- All the people to get back to
- Wanting others to respect me
- Wanting fame and wealth
- Wanting success and healthspan
- Wanting youth and beauty
- My constant procrastination
- The over-promising and under-delivering
Who would I be? What would I have left?
Who am I without all the stuff? Who am I without a title, a job, a role? Without my usual identities?
Is this what Pema Chodron did when she left her children and life to become a monk?
Who am I without all the doing, all the striving, all the dreaming?
. . .
Quite honestly, I feel fucking free as I write this.
In fact, as I walked to the bathroom feeling happier than before it dawned on me that I had managed to resurrect myself via writing just now. This hypothetical question of “what if” shifted the negative energy inside me and gave me hope.
When I came back to my laptop, my friend and accountability writing partner, Julie, reminded me, as I read back to her what I had written here: “You are already writing. Like the playwright, Irene Fornes, you are writing to live.”
Who knew I had the power to write myself out of a funk? Who knew that by simply naming and dropping everything (even hypothetically) onto the page, it could make me feel better? Make me want to stay, rather than disappear?
This is truly the power of words. May you find the power within the next time you find yourself in a funk.
These are the books I can’t wait to read in these uncertain times. Wanted to share!
- Bliss Brain: The Neuroscience of Remodeling Your Brain for Resilience, Creativity and Joy by Dawson Church and Dave Asprey
- Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality by Dawson Church and Joe Dispenza
- You Belong by Sebene Sellassie
- Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, From Soul to Psychedelics by Julie Holland, MD
- The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness by Rhonda V. Magee
The black grackle with the purple-green
iridescent sheen ambles by closer to me,
seated on a park bench facing Lady Bird Lake.
She knows nothing of social distancing.
A gray-black pill bug slowly traverses
the ground, aiming straight toward me
as I walk past the now-closed library.
He knows nothing of social distancing.
The yellow-brown striped bee,
god forbid, lands on my thumb
as I walk toward the side
of the Butterfly Bridge
that isn’t closed .
She knows nothing of social distancing.
A homeless man smiles when I ask
him if he’d like a breakfast taco and a coffee
when I stop, my first time outside, to support
a local Austin restaurant still open. He
walks closer, his dirty striped blanket draped
over his shoulders. I put my hand up to signal:
“stop, don’t come any closer.”
We are both still learning about social distancing.
The last time I blogged was before the Age of Coronavirus. It felt like ages ago, a whole different world. Right now I’m inside my apartment holed up with my husband and son feeling like we’re on the Titanic, watching from our port hole windows as the world feels like it’s drowning. Like a disaster movie merged with a zombie horror plot. As an introvert, someone who occasional struggles with social anxiety, socially distancing from others isn’t as worrisome. But with rampant xenophobia on the rise, as an American of Chinese descent, a mother, I have an extra layer of worry now. Yet, strangely, I am hopeful that from this uncertain time will give birth to something anew. And even if that doesn’t happen, I’m glad there are soothing songs such as this one by Max Richter.
And for other soothing concerts and songs that help activate your parasympathetic nervous system to build up your immune system, there’s this.
“Let’s water the seeds of joy!” I just told my writer friend as we signed off our daily 5/5. It’s Saturday and it’s almost 7am, 6:55am to be exact. It feels good to be up earlier and getting our 5/5s, our quick dip into our novels, out of the way. I actually thought of three scenes that haven’t been written that could be added into the novel revision for later.
Yesterday, my friend reminded me that showing up for ourselves like this, showing up for our fiction, was actually action towards watering the seeds of joy. A meditation teacher and Buddhist studies professor, my writing friend had taken this from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Your mind is like a piece of land planted with many different kinds of seeds: seeds of joy, peace, mindfulness, understanding, and love; seeds of craving, anger, fear, hate, and forgetfulness. These wholesome and unwholesome seeds are always there, sleeping in the soil of your mind. The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow. Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow. When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy. When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry. The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.
I realize that working on my novel, on any creative writing, is an act of watering happiness, of watering seeds of joy.
Also this morning, I woke up with the realization that taking action on stuff I’ve been procrastinating, out of usually the most irrational of fears, is also part of watering the seeds of joy.
Stuff I Want to Take Action On:
– Finally writing that draft to help a friend.
– Work tasks I’ve been putting off for clients related to social media posts, podcast work, copywriting, ghostwriting blog posts, transcribing interviews, book reviews
– Truly doing more work on my novel, especially with the novel revision tasks on scenes, characterizations, dialogue, structure, plot, research on timelines
– Other creative writing I’d like to write, edit and submit (to add to the Literary Rejection Tracker I’m gonna make in either Google sheets or my bullet journal)
– Earn more money by actively searching for another client or two. Or a gig/job. With the goal of helping my family and helping others (I’m inspired by this article about Keanu Reeves and his approach to money — wow. Just wow. Instead of making money the end-all-be-all reason to be “successful.”)
– Having an honest “Money Meeting” with myself and partner about how much more money we need to earn to truly feel financially secure and not stressed out about bills
– Learning how to spend less and budget, having a better relationship with money
– Planning my week, quarter, year (thanks Aypril for telling me about Kate Northrop’s DO LESS book and planner!)
– Tax related stuff (ugh) for my freelancing business – writing, editing and virtual assistant work
– Getting back to people on email, calls, texts, IG, FB, WhatsApp. (Now why are there so many ways to contact people now? More ugh.)
– Organizing all my post-its, file folders, organizing my laptop desktop
– Unsubscribing from newsletters and shrinking my 40K emails in my in-box
– Planning meals so I don’t get bored, feel deprived, or eat out
– Reading the books and articles I’ve been wanting to read
– Doing the many e-courses I signed up for (or truly let go of ones I know I’ll never do)
– Coming up with an exercise plan I can follow most of the time (that isn’t taxing on my body and hormones as a woman in her late 40s)
– Cleaning out my closet, donating stuff,
– Signing up for places and/or orgs to volunteer that I care about
Why Taking Action Is Important to Reducing Stress and Fear, Helping to Water the Seeds of Joy
Taking “action”, Marie Forleo says, “is the antidote to fear.”
Every podcast and book I’m reading talks about how STRESS is the major culprit to inflammation, even if you’re eating all the right things. If you’re so stressed out, it can wreck your gut, your ability to even digest nutrient-dense foods, so the more I can reduce unnecessary stress in my life, the more mentally and physically healthier and happier I’ll be.
I realize that much of my stress in life comes from anxiety about what other people will think, a form of social anxiety. Fears about perceived judgements, criticisms and rejection. So I take on more and more stuff. I promise others and myself that I’ll do x, y and z. I give out dishonest yes’s when I should have given out more authentic no’s.
Now my life has become a mountain of perpetual procrastination. Procrastination that leads to shame and guilt and stress. I begin to think negatively of myself, worried even more about what other people must surely think. Especially now that I’ve let so much time pass by and still haven’t gotten back to them, missing deadlines, often even ghosting people and feeling more and more like an asshole.
Yesterday, I heard Kate Northrop (in her DO LESS cyclical planning workshop) say something that really resonated with me:
“Procrastination is your body trying to keep you safe.”
She said her own focus right now is on “healing my central nervous system. Her focus was to…
Find tools to “activate the parasympathetic system, to rest and restore,” tools such as:
- Shaking – Honestly, I have never heard of this or tried it. But I just watched this video I found via Dr. Google. It’s a technique called TRE. (Not Time Restricted Eating, which my partner and I like doing most of the time, but this TRE stands for Trauma Release Exercises.)
- Breathwork – “Your breath is filling out your back ribs” (How Kate describes it)
- EFT/Tapping – This I’ve tried taking a virtual writing and tapping retreat once with Kate Marillat that was really healing; my other writing friend in Hawaii also introduced me to Nick Orner’s free tapping summits
- Yoga – I used to do this a lot, but hardly do it anymore, except once in a while when I can’t sleep or relax, I’ll pop on one of these Yoga with Adrienne sleep videos before bed.
Here are some tools I’ve learned that activate my parasympathetic system, that water the seeds of joy:
- Meditation – This is usually done once to twice a day before I’m in fight/flight mode to help me learn how to have more spaciousness in my life, to quiet my mind before the day begins, and ideally a second time in the afternoon around 2 or 3pm — I learned this via ZIVA, which combines breathwork, mindfulness, meditation and manifesting into one sitting; but as of late, have been having trouble fitting the second meditation in
- HeartMath – This really has the ability to make me feel relaxed in a few minutes, especially when I combine that with remembering a person or animal or time and/or place that gives me bliss, and I remember that time I did LSD, truly integrating this one-time experience in my life and imaging that into my cellular memory; another memory is of a dog we fell in love with named Merci at the RV park in La Paz, Baja Sur, Mx, who sat on our RV mat every morning, tail wagging, waiting for us to appear.
- Massage – I really need to do this more often. Seriously. I don’t remember the last time this even happened. Actually, it was a year ago on my birthday in Mexico, when we were still living full-time in our RV, while passing through Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. I had an energy healing combined with some massage, plus a reading via the Mayan Calendar with a former-writer-turned-energy healer-and-shaman.
- Walk with peaceful/healing/inspiring music – Like this.
- Creative Writing – When I’m really in the flow like the time at April’s online writing retreat, when I felt expansive, not constricted, eager to create and explore, no sign of fear. Or Kiala’s online writing circles where she presents us with a prompt, often from her creative writing prompt deck or Tarot card.
- Doodling/Art Journaling/Collaging via Soul Collage – My other writer friend who is also a creativity and business coach has amazing creativity online classes and retreats. She’s the reason I was able to transition from working as an English instructor at a community college (a job I simultaneously loved–for my students–and hated–because of ridiculous rules, bureaucracy and my then-crippling-social-anxiety) to a remote freelance and location-independent worker who mostly does client work wearing nothing but PJs–or sweats–most of the time.
- Bullet journaling – Planning or tracking or taking notes in my bullet journal calms me down like meditation does; I get such pleasure out of tracking and planning by hand. I’m a lover of minimalist bujos. Especially hers. My own bullet journals tend to look sloppy and not so minimal. But hey, I like to try.
- Being out in nature – Like many of the times we were living full-time and traveling in our RV, boondocking next to a river, a desert, a canyon, a lake, the beach, the sea, the ocean, under the trees, on top of a mountain.
- Psychedelics like psilocybin or LSD used with the intention to heal. The one time I did it as an adult at Burning Man a few years ago, it was better than any spa experience: no worries about time or ego, just plenty of love and compassion for self, seeing the world through child-like eyes with wonder and awe. It was truly better than any spa experience I’ve ever gone to. To let go of any anxiety or worry about anything or anyone: now that is true freedom, true bliss!
- Brainspotting – I was a guinea pig for my therapist friend, Karen, who had me try this healing tool that immediately made me feel relaxed. Amazing just how moving your eyes on the X/Y axis can help you to stop stressing so much, within minutes!
- NADA Protocol – I can’t believe I stumbled onto this free community wellness hour in Austin via the AOMA graduate integrative school of medicine that offers this acupuncture protocol that helps with addiction or healing emotional trauma. You sit in a circle of strangers as interns stick paper-thin needles into your ears and you meditate in silence for 30 minutes or so, followed by a guided meditation and visualization through Julia. Funny story: I actually discovered her while searching in MAPS’ directory for therapists/healers who can integrate psychedelic experiences shortly after attending MAPS’ first psychedelic science summit in Austin this past November. Her website listed her free community wellness hour and I decided to go. Now I have designated Wednesdays for self-care when I can happily go sit with strangers sticking needles in my ears in sublime silence!
- Playing music – Either on the piano, keyboard, or guitar. We used to have a keyboard but it’s somewhere buried in our storage unit. But when we first began our RV trip, Darrell picked up a steel-stringed guitar so we could possibly learn it as a family. Except for a few times we tried to learn in front of a campfire in the Southern California desert, we’ve largely abandoned it, using the guitar as a decoration in our new apartment. Well, last night, after listening to a podcast with Abel James discussing music’s role in neurofeedback and neuroplasticity and their combined love for playing music, I had a sudden craving to learn how to play guitar. I can read music from years as a kid playing piano and Jehovah’s Witness songs for my mom on demand, but I can’t, for the life of me, understand how to play a guitar. That changed when I discovered Fender last night. I started a free 14-day trial and decided it would be a gift to myself. The hours flew by and I actually learned how to play my first chords! (I.e., G and C chords). And I played a riff from The Rolling Stones: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. Talk about activating your parasympathetic system!
- Prolonged Fasting with Low GKI (2 or under) – Around Days 3 or 5 I tend to get into a state of utmost euphoria, noticing how vivid the colors are in nature, more aware of my senses. The anxiety is gone, especially social anxiety, and I just feel calm, grounded and focused without much internal drama or rumination. Note: When my husband had cancer in 2014, and I wrote about it here, and was using a therapeutic ketogenic diet formulated for cancer, he aimed to have his GKI where Thomas N. Seyfried recommended it to be: As close to 1 or under as possible “to blast insipid tumors.” While doing my last 7-day water-only fast, there were several days my GKI was hovering under 1, and those days I was especially calm in my mind!
- Eating Keto or Carnivore with a Low GKI (3 or under) – If I’ve been staying fairly strict keto or carnivore, and build up a string of days with a low GKI, I tend to notice that I’m less stressed or anxious, able to focus more. I recently experimented with going off carnivore for a week after going for 30+ days and this past week, my GKI has shot up sky-high, at 55 or 60 (I check and track my GKI via Heads Up and Keto-Mojo), or a non-existent GKI due to zero or “lo” ketones on my Keto-Mojo and higher than usual fasting glucose numbers above 100 mg/dL; remember that you are in ketosis when you have a GKI of under 9. Even my functional nutritionist reminded me to anticipate potentially stressful situations by lowering my GKI. She has seen the GKI graphs I send her via Heads Up. And knows about my many years of tracking that marker, as well as how I’ve noticed a correlation between higher anxiety and depression when my GKI is high or completely non-existent due to having zero ketones.
Anyhow, today’s goal is to take action on some of the tasks I’ve been putting off due to fear. I think the more I can chip away at taking actual action to face the fear, and fit in tools of bliss like the ones mentioned above throughout my day, and life, the healthier my mind and body will become. (Not the LSD, of course, as I have no idea how to even begin to get that stuff, nor do I believe that I’ll need it in the near future–just the mere memory of that day can activate my parasympathetic system!)
A Reminder About Fear for Myself
I can either …
Fuck Everything And Run (F. E. A. R. – the very definition of procrastination).
OR I can
Face Everything And Rise (F. E. A. R. – the very definition of a badass!).
You know what? I choose to be a badass today! I choose to water the seeds of joy.
While at San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, last year (when we were still living in a RV full-time as a family last year), I did a Mayan energy healing with a woman named Azenet who had quit her job as a journalist to become a Shaman and energy healer. Using the Mayan calendar, she gave me a reading. Having never done anything like this before, I was skeptical at first. She talked about closures and circles. But she also talked about animals that came up for me. One of them was the spider. She said the spider was brave. It had the courage to leap before it even knows where it’ll land. The spider, I realized as she spoke, was a symbol of courage and facing one’s fears. Instead of being scary, this little creature was inspiring in its many abilities, to spin beautiful webs, to leap from soaring heights into the unknown.
How can I be like the spider and spin a web without fear or internal drama, just do the thing, and weave projects and tasks into completion, to close the unfinished circles in my life and find closure? Projects like my novel and other writing I’ve been yearning to finish. Being able to earn more money but in a way where I know that what I’m doing is actually helping others?
How could I channel the spider’s courage into my own life?
What is the role of resistance?
Why do I resist doing some things that I say I want to do?
Yesterday, while listening to my writer friend’s WhatsApp message about her resistance as of late to meditating and journaling, she said that she wasn’t sure why she was resisting it so much. That perhaps, it had to do with something she needed to chip away at. Listening to her personal struggles with resistance of something she once loved made me think of my own.
What does resistance mean? What does it mean to resist? There is that saying that actually came up yesterday in the HeartMath AddHeart call: “What you resist, persists.”
Resistance as a noun brings to mind a group fighting against an evil force and injustice. The Resistance in the movie Star Wars, for instance. They were rebels in orange cloth jumpsuits fighting Darth Vader and the Emperor and their faceless armies dressed in hard white plastic armor. The hashtag #Resist calls to mind everyone that is progressive and liberal fighting against the forces of -isms right now in our country in the Age of Trump.
But the resistance I’m talking about, that my writer friend is talking about, is internal. A resistance of the inner kind. It’s something like a knot that forms and rises from within, becoming more and more stubborn in its desire not to be unraveled. It forms a hard knot that grows larger with each day.
For me, the resistance from taking action makes me rot inside. Whether it’s a work thing, a writing thing, or getting back to people, I get into a rut. It’s difficult to remember how to unravel this rock-hard knot, and I begin to resent myself and others. I rant or I run. I ruminate. I can easily become ruthless and reckless and then filled with regret. Until I repent like the Prodigal Son, retrench, remember, recommit and begin to rise again. A lot of it, I’ve realized, has to do with the fear of rejection. To be resilient, we must face rejection. To remember that every day, every minute, you can reset. You can remember your why and your role in life. Then you can truly relax.
So today, I remember. I reset. I recommit. I’ll face this resistance inside me and rise.
I’ll face rejection in the face to become more and more resilient with each day.