A Turning of the Wheel

By Cynthia Ray
We have come once again to the end of the year, the turning of the Great Wheel, a new

cycle of life1cycle. There is the sowing, the reaping and the resting. During this time of rest, we can choose to look back at our experiences, the fruits of our labors, our life and determine what we would like to continue, to discard what did not serve us, or what new things we would like to plant in the new year.

Questions I ask myself:  Did I create to the full extent that I wanted to, or that I could? Did I procrastinate or put aside my true calling in service to some idea of “should”?  Did I sacrifice joy on the altar of worry, perseveration or illusion?  Did I spend time with those that I wished to spend time with–the people I love and care about?  When I spent time with them did I show them how much they meant to me?   Did I do things that took me in a direction I did not want to go?  How did I respond to the trials and tribulations of life?  Did I see the gifts in every moment?

Do you remember Marley’s ghost in the Christmas Carol? He wore miles of heavy chains that he had forged in his lifetime. These chains were forged with his thoughts, his actions and deeds of both commission and omission.

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Perhaps we are also dragging around chains of bondage that we ourselves have created – but the whole point of Dickens story is that our past does not have to dictate our future. It is the choices we make right now in the present that change our future. Scrooge, when confronted with possible futures being created based on his current actions, chose to change.

In the Tarots Deceiver (Devil) card two figure stand draped with chains. The chains, however have no lock and key, are not bound tightly. All they need to do is choose to lift them off, and their self-imposed bondage is over. It is always our choice, in this very moment to abandon old patterns, old ways of being and step into something different. It all comes down to free will, choice and our own will and desire for aligning ourselves with our highest possible strivings.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 008 The Deceiver #15

Scrooge was helped by intervention outside himself and so are we. There are friends, books, inspiration of others, mentors, teachers that have gone before us, or surround us now that we can turn to for guidance.   There is our own inner voice that constantly whispers to us, if only we choose to listen.

So, I wish you in this new year, the joy and strength of breaking old patterns, of putting aside chains of bondage that no longer serve you, and doing that which gives you joy.

breaking the chains

The Space Between

By Cynthia Ray

I’ve been exploring the space between things over the last few months, in my life and in my art. It all began with Viktor Frankl. In Mans Search for Meaning, he says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Frankl.jpgWhat he said about the space between stimulus and response fascinated me, because our words and actions seem so automatic, I couldn’t imagine having that much self control, so I spent time observing, trying to find that space. After a while, I was able to slow down enough to feel the space between, but not enough to change or stop my response. I kept at it, and eventually, after much practice, I was able to slow down even further, and could remain poised there, between the catalyst and my reaction, long enough to choose a new and different response than I had automatically followed in the past. It’s an exhilarating and powerful tool, but like anything, requires practice.

But the space between things is much more than the space between stimulus and response. All of art is about the space between. Where things are placed, how far they are from each other in relationship to each other in a painting is more than just perspective. It is balance between what is and what is not. Music is the space between notes. If that is true, then writing is the space between the words.

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The Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading by Paul Saenger talks about how the spaces between the words were consciously created to move us from oral to a written tradition. We take all of that for granted now, but it was not always so.

He says, “Over the course of the nine centuries following Rome’s fall, the task of separating the words in continuous written text, which for half a millennium had been a function of the individual reader’s mind and voice, became instead a labor of professional readers and scribes. The separation of words (and thus silent reading) originated in manuscripts copied by Irish scribes in the seventh and eighth centuries but spread to the European continent only in the late tenth century.” This resulted in the spread of reading and education among the common people, not just the elite.

Not only does the space between words give order to the story, and make it possible to find the story in the words, but those spaces also carry deep meaning and impact. What is happening in dialogue? What is not said? Sometimes what is not said is far more powerful than what is said and carries a message that can break us apart.  Its not the words that are said, but the ones that are not.  Sometimes the best dialogue is not dialogue.

I started watching what my characters were doing in the space between their actions, in the space between their dialogue, in the space between the catalyst and their response. It is a wonderful place to explore interaction, feeling and nuances.  Looking at what is not, rather than what is, or at what is between what is and what is not.

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If we slow down and take the time to pay attention to that which is hidden right in front of us, we can find those vast in-between spaces in ourselves and the universe we live in to inform our relationships, our lives and our art.

In the space between

the in breath

and the out breath

lie all the worlds

In the place

between heartbeats

all the worlds

tumble to silence

between one thought

and the next

stillness extends out into the universe

                                       C. Ray

An Exhibit for Writing by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

I enjoy visual art in every form. It feeds an energy within me like food fuels the body. So when I’m visiting a new town the first thing I search out are the art venues. I recently visited Austin, Texas and toured The Blanton Museum of Art. I had two glorious hours to roam before being confined in a hotel conference room for the remainder of my stay. I play a game with myself when viewing art installations. First I visualize what the piece is saying to me. Only after I hear it speak do I read the artists statement to see what the artist wished to convey. Two of the installations spoke loudly, causing me to pause and view my chosen forms of creative expression in a new light. Each form of expression I use is tangible; however, until I was exposed to these particular art pieces I had not realized how much one (painting) was more so than the other (writing).

In my home, in the time it takes me to walk from the entryway and turn right into the living room I can view the progress I’ve made as an artist. Paintings from my early endeavors, to current day, hang side by side. If you were to enter my home and turn left from the entryway and walk down the hallway, you’d be in my studio where it’s quite apparent an artist is in residence. In the studio other than the usual paint spattered easel, paint tubes and paint brushes, you’ll find vertical stacks of framed, not framed, wrapped and not wrapped canvases. Some are complete, some are in progress, some are stark white just waiting for a vision to be created; and finally some would better serve the world if they became kindling for a nice campfire. Yes, from the visuals to the smell of oil paint and turpentine you and I would both know I’ve spent many, many hours painting. And if I so chose, I could display my art in an exhibit to a much broader audience. Thus my painting is a very tangible part of my home.

On the flip side, my other creative outlet of writing is not evident when entering my home or as I walk around searching for a muse to suit my current story. The only tangible evidence would be if you or I spent hours sorting through the many books on my bookshelves. There we would find Shadowspinners, A Collection of Dark Tales. Within its covers is a short story with my name as author. I do have many notebooks hidden in drawers, stories packed in plastic bins and of course my computer holds file upon file of the imaginary lives I’ve woven into short-stores, poems and even a half-finished novel or two. Don’t you as well? But as I said they are not evident, not hanging from walls. Even in the homes of my prolific, and well-published writer friends, while they have their books scattered amongst others on shelves, there is little evidence of the months and years they’ve spent stringing word after word together to create story. And now in this era of e-books and e-zines, holding your printed story as it sits between two covers is even less likely to occur. So instead of a pile of published books you have an inventory of e-books on sites such as Amazon. I’ve spent just as many hours placing black words on white paper as I’ve spent brushing paint on a white canvas. I realize writers can have an exhibit of sorts , when they publish a new book and they have a book signing. If you are lucky enough to have printed copies what a wonderful feeling of accomplishment it must be to sit at a table surrounded by your creations. But the realization that writing is not a tangible presence I can view as I walk through my home struck me as quite unfair.

The art exhibits I alluded to at the beginning of this blog led me to ponder how to exhibit, in my home, the many hours I spend writing. As I mentioned, the thing I most love about art is how each of our interpretations is filtered through our own view and lives. I’ve listed the artists name and gallery below each photo as I’m only giving you my interpretation of the piece. Each of these artists have a much more profound statement they wish you to understand when viewing their art. The deeper meanings revolve around their own unique time, political atmosphere and country in which they originated. I encourage you to view the artist’s statement of each piece.

In the first exhibit the artist marks the passage of time by creating one-inch thick plaster tablets each day. The number of tablets created each day varied depending on how much time the artist had available to create them. Each tablet is stamped with the date it was produced and organized into stacks recording each day’s labor.

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2244 Modules” Isabel Del Rio                  The Blanton Museum of Art

         While viewing this piece I was a voyeur into writers workspaces prior to the computer age. It reminded me of the photos I’ve seen of mounds of paper surrounding infamous writers in the offices or closets where they created life-altering works of fiction. After viewing this piece, in my mind, I was pulling all those stories that lay hidden in bins and drawers and printed pages from my computer. I could see them stacked in towers based on year or month created. I may actually take the time to do this someday, but for now just the image floating across my brain makes me smile. What an exhibit it would make! How many rooms would your stories fill? How many homes?

In the second exhibit the 600,000 coins on the ground represent for me each word placed on a page or typed on a screen. The 2000 suspended cattle bones represent each story agonized over until it’s finally sent out into the world for acceptance or rejection. This gave me the idea for a small exhibit I can actually display in my home. I will place a coin in a beautiful glass bowl for each page I write in the year 2016. Perhaps I will place a penny for a page or a nickel for a short story or a quarter for a chapter. It matters not what my final decision is what does matter is the visual it will represent. It also doesn’t matter if an hour later I delete the entire paragraph or chapter. What does matter is it existed and is a part of my journey as a writer. Unfortunately I don’t think I can find enough bones for the agony portion of my exhibit. But, I am most pleased that I will now have something tangible to represent writing in my life. Each time I add a coin to my bowl the mere sound will reflect another page in a story. And as I walk through my home and reflect on the paintings covering its walls and by the ever-increasing bowl of coins I will know I am progressing, not just as a painter, but as a writer as well.

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“How to Build Cathedrals” Cildo Meireles             The Blanton Museum of Art

          I’ll happily share a photo of my overflowing bowl at years end. What will the exhibit for your writing be?

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A Dose of Old-Fashioned Encouragement

By Cynthia Ray

 Encouragement means to hearten, to instill courage. It is when someone sees the potential and promise in us that we are only dimly aware of, if at all and makes it known to us. It is surprising, inspiring and a gift. Encouragement comes from the French word, Coeur meaning heart.

On the other hand, the word motivation is derived from the Latin “motivus”, a moving cause-activating properties. Motivation is about engaging the mind and the will to get something done.  Motivation is about a kick in the butt, encouragement is about opening someone’s eyes to their own potential.  Motivation might get you to do something, but encouragement can change your life.  I don’t know about you, but something about motivational quotes and posters makes me want to run screaming for the nearest door.

It is interesting to note that the use of the word encouragement has declined since the 1800’s, while the use of the word motivation has skyrocketed. A word that barely existed before 1900’s came into vogue as part of the study of psychology, and interest in what motivated the worker. Today we have careers dedicated to motivating others to “be the best they can be”.

I started thinking about the power of a few simple words of encouragement after I participated in a recent Facebook challenge. The challenge invited me to post my own nature photographs every day for seven days. The reception of and response to my photos surprised and encouraged me to consider things in a new way, to understand my creative “stamp”. This inspiring and contemplative experience showed me how others perceive something about me through the pictures I shared, that I had not considered or seen myself and gave me a push to expand beyond the preconceived borders I’d put on myself.

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When I first started writing, the encouragement of seasoned authors and mentors was the spark that set me on a path that enriched and changed my life. That’s the thing about encouragement. It is life changing. We can do that for each other.

All we have to do is pay attention, and reach out. We may never know how our words and actions impact someone, but recently I ran into a young woman that I used to supervise in a doctors office. She’d had lots of potential and I worked with her to develop it. She told me how my belief in her and encouragement had led her to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant, which she had not had the confidence to do before that.

Young people, new and emerging artists, writers, visionaries need us to see the potential that lays dormant, and to reach out and affirm in them what they might know but be afraid to do or be so they can go on to change the world.  Set off some sparks!

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The Beauty of Broken Things

By Cynthia Ray

Webster says a blessing is “something that helps you or brings you happiness.” What if we are lonely, or living in poverty, or addicted to drugs and alcohol, or facing foreclosure, or losing a job?

Do we expect life to be without pain or sorrow?  Do we expect everything to go well all of the time?   No, and yet we are always surprised by loss, pain and sorrow.  We don’t expect it to happen to us or someone we love.  It is always out there, happening somewhere else, to someone else; until it isn’t.

I have come to appreciate the shadows and the sorrows of life.  All of the pain, suffering and brokenness in my life created a space in which I could do inner “alchemy” to become the person I am now.

I look at friends who have suffered with debilitating disease, with loss, with grief, and see them transformed by the experience, shining  like a lantern to me, giving me hope and inspiration on my own path.

People that have struggled and experienced pain may become like the Phoenix that rises out of the ashes to become a new thing, a better thing than they would have been had they never suffered.  In the middle of the fire, the burning is pain; in rising from the ashes as a new thing is victory.   That victory then is a help and hope to those who are still burning.

Phoenix-Rising7

If you are broken now, you know that you will become whole. If you are whole, you know you will become broken. And in that cycle of breaking and healing, we become more human. All of our stories are about the human experience, in all of its exquisite beauty and all of its horror.

If  there was no sorrow, no conflict, no unhappiness, no war, no greed, no pain, there wouldn’t be any stories. Stories are always about the brokenness. I don’t know about you, but without stories, life would be shorn of much of its meaning and beauty.  Stories show us the way.

Each of us hold a piece of the whole story, and when we tell that unique and special story, our voice adds to the symphony of voices singing, speaking, laughing and crying, weaving a fabric of humanness that keeps us connected.

Today, I am thankful for all of you writers and readers, for your stories, for your voice, for your unique “you-ness”.  Know that the world would be less perfect and beautiful if you were not in it.

 

Rejected!

By Cynthia Ray

Like the man in the video, a recent form letter rejection rocketed me into a worm-hole of dejection, depression, and lethargy. This gray soup of self-pity, anger and bitterness lasted for five very long minutes before I talked myself down,  but it made me consider better ways to handle the inevitable rejection.

First of all, even reading the definition of REJECT makes one feel bad:

Reject: verb \ri-ˈjekt\

  1. To refuse to believe, accept, or consider (something)
  2. To decide not to publish (something) or make (something) available to the public because it is not good enough
  3. To refuse to hear, receive, or admit : rebuf
  4. To cast off

Hmmpf!  Let us reject the definition of rejection. It turns out that rejection is part of the publishing cycle, and has nothing to do with whether the manuscript is good enough. It is part of the natural and inevitable consequence of the act of submitting manuscripts. As spring follows winter, publication will follow rejection as long as you don’t give up.   We are in excellent company when rejected. A post from Writers Relief give some illuminating stats:

  • John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) received 134 rejections.
  • Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) received 121 rejections before it was published and went on to become a best seller.
  • Gertrude Stein spent 22 years submitting before getting a single poem accepted.
  • Madeline L’Engle received 26 rejections before getting A Wrinkle in Time published—which went on to win the Newberry Medal and become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times before being published and becoming a cult classic.
  • Stephen King received dozens of rejections for Carrie before it was published (and made into a movie!).*
  • James Lee Burke’s novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years and, upon its publication by Louisiana State University Press in 1986, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

How can we stay motivated to keep sending out stories in spite of the ugly spectre of rejection?  

Celebrate!  You only have a rejection because you sent a story out. One critique group I know hands out candy to any member who announces a rejection. They believe that rejections are a wonderful sign that you are writing, submitting and going about the business of being a writer. Why not have your reward planned in advance so that when the rejection comes you can pull out that hidden bar of exotic chocolate. And, of course, keep a bottle of champagne on hand to celebrate eventual acceptance.

Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s often not even about your story. It’s about editors preferences, who else might be submitting, the time of day your story rose to the top of the pile or whether the editor had a fight with her partner that morning.

Don’t change the story. Writers are sometimes tempted to mess with their story every time it is rejected to see if they can make it better. Don’t do it. You thought the story was good enough to submit. It still is. Send it out again.

Plan to be persistent. Liz Cratty advises writers to make a list of ten possible markets for their story. Then send it out. If it is rejected, send it out THE SAME DAY to the next market on the list.  When you get to the bottom of the list make ten more and keep going until the story is published.

Always have several stories out at one time. You will always have something to look forward to if one is rejected.  And statiscally, writers who publish are writers who submit. A lot!

Talk to other writers. Their personal stories of rejection will make you laugh cry, and feel like you are part of a tribe. No one is alone on the planet of “Rejected”.   I know that my fellow bloggers have all experienced REJECTION and used it to become better, stronger and more committed.  That is, once they had picked themselves up from the fetal position they were lying in.

The Nightmare that Saved My Story

By Cynthia Ray

For months, I’d been experimenting with different endings for a horror story called ‘Bite’, involving genetically modified, invisible spiders. The first ending culminated in utter annihilation of the protagonist and the world.  I hated it…uber depressing.  The second attempt to find a satisfactory finish hung itself in an unbelievable twist of fate.  The third was bizarre, believable perhaps, but flabby.   It didn’t have that satisfying snap that I craved.

Now some of you are going to stop me right here and tell me that one should always know the ending of their story before they begin writing.  I don’t disagree–I did know the ending, but it changed.  Everything changed, and not just once.  But I had to keep going because I knew there was a good story in there.  I could see it, taste it and feel it.  The process reminded me more of sculpting than writing.  Michealangelo said, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me…I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to other eyes as mine see it.”  That’s what I felt compelled to do; to  reveal the story; causing it to arise alive and warm from the blank pages to caress the world.  Sadly, its feet were stuck in stone.

So I’d been writing all day, working on the fourth conclusion to my tale.   My character needed to find a way out of the insurmountable problems I had thrown in her path, but she just couldn’t get there.  She struggled on her own, so I gave her a boyfriend to help, but he ended up being a miserable failure and I had to write him out the story again.   She told me she needed to rescue herself, not be rescued.  She needed to change-not just endure events.  But by the end of the day, although she had struggled valiantly, and heroically attacked her assailants, thereby saving the world, she herself died in a lake of steaming blood.  I slammed my laptop shut with a bang and shook my clenched fists at my silent muse.  Enough!

That night, I was visited by a familiar nightmare.  I’ve had the same vivid and terrifying nightmare since I was a child-the one where I’m endlessly trying to escape from a horrible evil, something monstrous.  One night, a pack of slavering hounds with yellow eyes, another time, a fire-breathing devil or a company of cruel Nazis. Or perhaps the sound of a crashing door and someone breaking into my house to kill me.  But this night it began in the dark hall of an abandoned hospital, with a huge ball of dead flesh rolling toward me, covered with bloody bites.  A foul malevolence emanated from it, and an overwhelming sense of dread and horror enveloped me.   In a panic to escape, I fled from floor to floor, hyperventilating, sweating & stifling my sobs.  On the OB floor, a desperate woman begged me to save her baby.  I pulled them along with me to the elevators.

Down, down, down until the doors opened into the kitchen galley.  We hid there, clutching the baby, holding our breath and drawing into ourselves in fear, but the entity came after us, relentless.  We tumbled down the stairs, jumping over steps, floor after floor.  At the very bottom of the staircase,  an immense pile of trash and refuse blocked our way.  A dead end.  In despair I turned, and there it sat, perched precariously on the ledge of a window looking down over the city, hundreds of flights up, cocky and smug, knowing it had us trapped.  (Yes I know it was a basement, but it’s a dream for heavens sake, it doesn’t have to make sense).

The creature stared out over the mountains and clouds, seemingly unaware of our presence.  I determined to destroy the thing.  Bravely, I snuck up behind it and kicked it so hard my food ached.  Nothing happened.  I pushed and kicked with all of my might.  Then pushed again.    It SHOULD have fallen from the ledge, but it turned towards me with sneering black eyes.  Instead of fear, a rush of anger boiled up from my gut.  For once, I didnt run.  I stood and faced the thing,

I shot up out of bed, adrenalin pumping, angry and tired; tired of nightmares with no way out; tired of invincible antagonists; tired of dystopian visions of dark worlds of destruction and most of all, tired of steaming piles of shit endings.  It HAD to change.   And then, like a nuclear explosion, a light burst into my consciousness and blew everything else away.  I knew how my story would end.  I knew how  to put power into my heroine’s hands.  She wouldnt run and she wouldn’t die.  I laughed out loud.  All of that before coffee made me giddy.

When I sat down to finish the story at last, my hands tingled with excitement as courage flowed into the veins of my protagonist.  Of course, there were still rivers of blood, murder and mayhem, but she resolved the situation brilliantly, banished the evil antagonist and made it out alive, altered forever by her experience.   The fact is, we both changed.  I walked away from the story empowered as a writer .  I  am left with a visceral knowing that it is always better to turn and face your fears than to run and hide from them.Image

For some reason, I couldnt find a picture of a genetically modified invisible spider….