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PART TWO. Click here to go to PART ONE, the 1st half of this article.


SANDY NATHAN
Winner of 17 National Awards
Author of The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy,
Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could,
Numenon & Stepping Off the Edge

Dear Readers,

This is the second half of the original Spurs Writers' Corner. The Article got so big that it was becoming hard to load. If you want to go to PART ONE, just click and you will. Or use browser's BACK button.

SANDY NATHAN SIGNATURE
sandynathan.com Sandy's Official Web Site

DIRECTORY:

 

syv oaks twi
Photo: Susan Macdonald

THE TRANSCENDENT THRUST

Oh boy! This is where I live. Schools of psychology exist to explain the transcendent part of the psyche. The force that picks you up and drives you forward, even if picking up means going into Hell to find you. You can get your Ph.D. in this area. It's called Transpersonal Psychology. Dealing with the psyche beyond the individual person. The psychology of religion. Mystical experience. Spirituality. Psychic phenomena. This branch of psychology fit my experience when I was in graduate school, and it fits now. I could easily write something just as long as everything I've written so far about transpersonal psychology. I won't. Instead, check out Roberto Assagioli, M.D., PSYCHOSYNTHESIS; A Collection of Basic Writings by Roberto Assagioli. (Try THE SYNTHESIS CENTER, AMHERST, MA if you can't get Psychosynthesis through Amazon.) This is theory of the human psyche that fits my experience best. Assagioli was an Italian psychiatrist, a contemporary of Freud, who broke with Freud over the higher levels of the mind and soul. His "egg diagram" is classic. I love this!!

The transcendent thrust is the key ingredient that can take trauma and mental illness and turn it into War and Peace or "A Starry Night." The indescribably powerful drive of the human soul to transcend its limitations. To heal. To overcome. To become whole, powerful and strong. To create a life based on health, not disease.

Just as trees clinging to solid granite cliffs eke out life where it seems impossible, so people survive deadly circumstances. When given a chance to sink roots and pull nourishment from the air around them, the earth beneath them, and the current that flows over them, when given that chance-- people can grow into giants like the redwoods. Into the ancient sequoias, sheltering the creatures around them. Creating homes and inspiration and sustenance for all who see them.

Rivers of gold, more powerful than the Ganges, live within each human heart. The gold needs tempering, purifying and release. And when it ready, the gold of the heart touches other hearts, moves souls, and uplifts minds. So we can all fly and fly and fly.

I will cite the work of two artists who illustrate this thrust. I have a page on one, Bill Miller, on this web site You can read about the second, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, in the entries by her books on our Bookstore.

Bill Miller and Chitra Divakaruni. Very different people. Both Indians, but different types of Indians. Very different backgrounds. You can read about Bill Miller on his page or on his own web site The relevant part here is that he fits the "Do You Have to Suffer?" part of our discussion perfectly. Bill is a Native American musician and singer of incredible talent and emotional power. I've seen him in person and found his work stunning and very uplifting, while he himself was humble. You need to hear Bill Miller to appreciate what I'm going to say. (You can buy his CD's on his page of this web site)

So what about Bill Miller? He was one of 12 children, raised in poverty on an Indian Reservation, with a brutal, alcoholic father. The perfect setup to be an artist or a maniac. He ended up a musician. Why? The transcendent thrust. It's so obvious in Miller's work that you have to be brain dead not to get it. His new CD, Ghostdance, has a freight train running through it. It will knock you flat. Bill has transcended his suffering and converted it into spiritual upliftment for everyone who hears his music. Neat trick. Healthy.

Chitra Divakaruni. Wow. Chitra was born in India, has a Ph.D. in Literature from UC Berkeley. She teaches Creative Writing at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. In the heart of Silicon Valley, about 20 minutes from where I used to live. She's also a great person to illustrate the "Gotta Suffer?" issue. Chitra wrote: Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Arranged Marriage, Leaving Yuba City and a few other books that I haven't read yet. I love her work. Wow! This is writing from the heart. Read all the books cited, starting with Sister of my Heart. My husband said, "That woman knows how to tell a story!!" Amen. In every way.

Leaving Yuba City is a collection of poems. Some poems in the book won the Ginsberg Prize for poetry; others, a Pushcart Prize. I liked all of them. I want to comment on the first two poems, where Chitra, or Dr. Divakaruni, I don't know which she prefers... Anyway, she explains how she became a writer. This is relevant to our discussion. Divakaruni's literary acuity is so great that in two poems, a scant four pages, she weaves a story as horrifying as anything Stephen King could in 400. Her story: how she became a writer. Chitra definitely qualifies on the "You Hafta Suffer" criteria. But what Chitra does with what happened to her! Oh! Breathtaking. Read her work. Feel the heart. Feel the transcendent thrust.

I have to mention Rick Bragg again. Read All Over But the Shoutin'. Just do it. If you've gotten this far in this essay, you're a serious writer. Be the compulsive reader you need to be to write better. Rick's a "Suffering" guy, too. Feel what he's done with his pain!

One last bit on suffering and the etiology (origin) of mass culture. People like to hear about bad shit. Suffering. They will pay a lot of money to hear about it, watch it on daytime TV, and express opinions about it. People relish suffering. Really rich, important guys from Hollywood will pay millions of dollars for well written descriptions of people's traumatic and horrifying happenings, accident or intentional. Criminal or innocent. Famous actors will act the events out so we can all participate in them.

This wallowing in suffering the exact opposite of what I've discussed above. The people mentioned above have transcended and transformed their suffering. They talk about what happened to them as a way for others to get free. They tell people what happened to them and how it felt so their readers don't whack on their kids whenever they feel like it. So people stop and think about the brutality we inflict on each other. Only a first hand account with the energy intact can do that. The authors I cite above tell their stories having gotten past the raw stages of recovery. They tell their stories to illuminate, not to win your pity or stay in a groveling state. "Oh, poor baby.... What happened to you..." "Yeah. Ain't it awful?"

The writers I mention aren't working for points in the most-abused-person-in-the-universe contest. That's a real contest, very popular in survivors' groups. It's based on ego identifying with abuse: "I am what happened to me. I am my pain and suffering. I survived where others didn't. My suffering was worse than yours..." There's a subtle and deadly superiority in that kind of survivor. Also, you need a dirty-so-and-so perpetrator to hate and blame. I know this game very well. Its not about healing.

The drive to transcend is what keeps us from making hell on earth. What creates genius can also create monsters-- unless you look up.

Back to Writing Index

 

INDIA SUNSET
SUNSET IN INDIA

WE'VE DIGRESSED. WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO YOU, SANDY, AT THIS TIME?

Oh, I was suffering like crazy. Also known as "getting motivated." On the outer planes, lots of movement. We moved to Santa Ynez and hustled about getting the place set up for our horses, the kids in school, etc. Inside, my personal angst reached all time highs as we set up residence in the bucolic country. We eventually set up a web page for our ranch and I attached a new form of our old Holiday Letter to it-- Spurs Magazine. What you're reading. Just in time. The Holiday Letter resembled a phone book.

SYV2
THE SANTA YNEZ VALLEY WRITERS' WORKSHOP
Top: Dorothy Jardin, Brenda French, Susan Mcdonald; Center: Betty Williams, Sandy Nathan; Front, Jeannette Scott

On a whim, I joined a writing group, The Santa Ynez Valley Writers' Workshop run by poet extraordinaire, Dorothy Jardin. This proved very, very important. One of those seemingly insignificant things that produce big results. I started writing for an audience. My ideas began to flow into the group. I started reading to people. Most of my previous writing had been polite. Nice. Suitable for mailing to all my friends. What I read to the group wasn't always so pretty. The group liked it more than the cute stuff. I wrote more. Opened up. The support of my smart, wise, fabulous writer friends was invaluable. Absolutely. We read our work at public readings at the Side Street Cafe. I started getting wider feedback on my work. Which contradicted my prevailing view that my writing was lousy. Being a member of the Writers' Workshop was probably as important to me as a writer as getting accepted into Harvard would have been. It's about heart, not external credentials.

SYV3
THE WRITERS HARD AT WORK REVIEWING EACH OTHER'S WORK
L to R: Betty Williams, Susan Mcdonald, Brenda French, Jeannette Scott & Dorothy Jardin

We're getting to the defining event in my life as a writer. What I want to say is: EVERYTHING MATTERS. Everything that's ever happened to you matters. All the dumb dumb silly little things. All of it. They all feed into a great siphon, and when conditions are right: BOOM! The lid blows off and something wonderful emerges-- if you've done all your homework. Not a single rotten moment can be omitted. Or foolish passage you just have to write.

In a display of ecstatic triviality, I wrote a series of country western songs. I hate country western music more than anything on the planet. The songs I wrote were something, let me tell you. Funny! I wouldn't dare repeat them here. A child might read them. One dealt with a crazy ranch run by broken down academics. Guys who ride through the night discussing existential anxiety and whether they should have given up their doctoral studies at Harvard to "pursue a simple, homely calling" like being a cowboy. The horses and the cattle were enlightened and kept them from killing themselves. A silly, funny story. Meaning nothing. That was the cork just waiting to blow. All I had to do was write the silly sucker, have an incredibly painful traumatic event, and right behind it was-----

STARS

The Miraculous Shower:

On a fateful January, '95 day, I stood in the shower and Shazam! The plot for a book was injected into my brain in less than a second. The whole thing, Whammo! Quite a jolt, let me tell you! It was based on that damned country western thing I wrote! I leapt from the shower and ran to my computer, typing out the idea. It came to about 2 1/2 tight pages. It had everything. Horses. Philosophy. Angst. Action. Economics. Business theory. Money. Romance. Sex. Violence. Intrigue. High style. Wow! I showed the draft to my husband, who said, "This is really good, but it seems like a comic book. Make it longer." 275 pages later, I realized I had a book. And that this book was the second in a series of about... Three books. Then, five. Now, maybe six.

I've been writing since, a family of books having to do with what happens when the richest man in the world (a Bill Gates, Clint Eastwood cross) meets a great Native American shaman. Outside of parenthood, writing this book has been the most exciting, terrifying, painful, wonderful, ecstatic thing I have ever done. I've been writing pretty much full time since January, 1995. I love it. Hopefully, you'll be able to enjoy my writing in an actual book or six. I have an editor who has publishers interested in my work. No sweat, see?

You can't try to write. If you're supposed to say something, the universe will grab you, twist you, turn you and have it flying out your eyeballs and nose, if necessary. You will be given material to write about, if you are supposed to write. Things will happen to keep you writing. You may not like what's necessary to motivate you to get through the thousand ploys your mind has to keep you unfulfilled. But if you're supposed to write, you'll do it. If you're not, thank your lucky stars that you don't have to go through what's necessary. No trying, in any case.

I hope you enjoy this little pep talk, friends and writers-in-process. Drop me an e-mail through this site if you like this page.

SANDY NATHAN
www.sandynathan.com Sandy Nathan's Official Web Site

Back to Writing Index


AUTHOR SANDY NATHAN IS THE WINNER OF 14 NATIONAL AWARDS!

SANDY NATHAN
Click to go to sandynathan.com


TAJ OVERARCH
ABOUT WRITING: AN EXCERPT FROM
OUR 1997 HOLIDAY LETTER--
WRITING YOUR SOUL'S TRUTH

The process of writing a book is intense. I'm almost two years into it, so I can talk about writing from experience. When I first started, a friend sent me a book entitled Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It's by Annie Lamott, a well known author and writing teacher. In Bird by Bird, Annie talks about the horrors of the writing profession: The anxiety . The writer's block. The fact that after working your brains to mush for years, you make peanuts, if that. She warns that you'll get none of the warm-fuzzy love and outright idolatry you crave if you're lucky enough to get your baby published.

Bird by Bird's author goes on and on about the strum und drang of wrenching meaning from you soul, after all the bother of finding your soul. Moving ahead briskly, she discusses the throes of rewriting again and again and again, until you're a raving maniac and your eyeballs explode. Then there's the hell of working with publishers, if you're lucky enough to ever see one. She suggests that your writing should have a message-- something important that you want to say. Kinda picky, if you ask me. And right away, Ms. Lamott comes up with the concept of the "shitty first draft." That's the drivel that comes out when you first start to write something.

This was a bracing read two years ago when I'd just started my book. It didn't fit my experience. I was having fun, grabbed by a message that was forcing itself out my eyes, ears, nose, and finger tips like blue gel toothpaste. What Bird by Bird's mother said didn't fit. I'd written about 300 pages at that time. All first draft. I didn't think it was shitty. It wasn't until I'd written about 600 pages that I realized what she meant. What I'd written wasn't shitty. It was shallow and mediocre. So I dumped the whole first part and started over. ("You tossed 300 pages!" one of my writing group friends said, choking. Yep.) The second beginning section was much better. Easier to dump, too. I just dumped it, after listening to my father-in-law's feedback. Rewrite number two is better, but my husband just gave me some feedback on it. Good feedback. Rewrite number three is in the cards. And that's just the first 50 pages.

I'm going, "Shit, will it ever end? Will I be alive when it does?" I guess so, on both counts. I'll keep going until the whole jumps and grabs and claws at the reader's heart. Parts already do, but I want the whole thing to soar-- and roar! Writing doesn't fall out as dramatically difficult for me as it does for Annie Lamott. But its hard and rough . This book has me by the throat. I haven't gotten writer's block. Writer's diarrhea, you may agree. No writer's block so far. Lots of writer's doubt. That means I'll write a thrilling, gripping scene that has the hair on my neck crawling. The minute I'm done with it, I think , "That's crap." From there it's short jump to, "It's all crap." Then I have to get my husband or a few friends to read it and say, "It's really good." Which I knew all along, but was denying.

Writing is a process of faith. It's a process of trusting that the message inside that's screaming to get out is important enough to be put out. It's a process of believing in your own vision and moving forward with it. It's a process of trusting that the book will be finished some day and that you will have the strength to do the rewrites until it sings. That a publisher will appear when he/she is supposed to. That the thing will be published and sell. And that if it does, you can adjust to the success. It's also a process of believing that you'll survive bad reviews and poor sales-- if those happen. It requires faith that at least a few people will pick up what they're supposed to from what you've written . They'll pick it up and be moved and treat themselves and others differently. Better. That the message you have to state will impact things, that it will change the world.

Writing is about faith. This writing is also the scariest thing I've ever done-- and the poorest paid. I spend my time ricocheting between terror and inspiration. Between firm resolve an doubt. Held up by nothing. I'm an unpublished author, after all. A housewife. A nobody. With no connections in publishing. Why do I expect to be published? Is my message worthy of publication? Yes. To I have the guts to put it out? Yes. All the time my mind is rattling on like this, an internal force way stronger than me writes the book. "Don't look down," it says. "And don't look back. None of this is your problem. Write. Finish it." So I walk out there, on the edge of the universe, on the edge of a knife. With nothing but faith to hold me up. And nothing is very powerful.

That's what it's like to write a book. A very intense, agony and ecstasy, fire and ice, kind of thing. Obviously, work for an Icelander. In truth, hard though it is, I've had more fun writing than anything I've ever done. The chief reason I'm not out riding my horse more is that writing is more fun! Some famous author once said, "Writing is either easy, or it's impossible." Which is to say, it has to stream from your soul, be something that you can't not do, or it's impossible. This is true. Writing a book is too much work, requires too much commitment, and just plain effort, unless it's something you must do. I must do write. Sometimes I'm up at the computer at 5:30 AM, sometimes earlier (4:30, today). I took my laptop to the National Championships with our horses this year and wrote eleven pages in our tack room stall, watching the mice run along the wall. It was wonderful. A great way to eliminate horse show nerves. Don't ride, write!

I hope that (1) my book gets published when it's done, (2) you buy it and read it and (3) you find it as challenging and rewarding to read as it was to write. I hope that it serves as a blessing and benediction to your life as it has mine.

SANDY NATHAN

C

 

STEPPING OFF THE EDGE: LEARNING & LIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

 

A MODERN SPIRITUAL COMPANION

 

B

NUMENON
A TALE OF MYSTICIAM & MONEY MENON

 

"BILL GATES MEETS DON JUAN."

D

TECOLOTE: THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULD

BORN PREMATURELY ON A FREEZING NIGHT, THE COLT HAD TO FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE.

A

THE ANGEL & THE BROWN-EYED BOY

 

A FUTURE WORLD ONLY HEARTBEATS FROM OUR OWN

Back to Writing Index

LILY: ANGST

WRITER'S TERROR--
AS OPPOSED TO WRITER'S BLOCK OR DOUBT

I belong to the Santa Ynez Valley Writer's Workshop. The group has given me steadfast support and encouragement, in addition to listening unflinchingly to my early drafts and holding my hand. I'm including this piece of spontaneous writing done at one of out meetings because (1) my friends thought it was a scream, (2) it illustrates precisely how the mind affects writing and gives a few tips that may be useful to you in managing your mind, and (3) it indicates that forces greater than us shape our lives. I conclude with a short discussion of the ultimate cure for writer's procrastination, doubt and block.

SYVWRITERS BFSYVWRITERS DJSYVWRITERS SMSYVWRITERS JSSYVWRITERS BW
SANTA YNEZ VALLEY WRITERS' WORKSHOP MEMBERS
L to R: Brenda French, Dorothy Jardin (our fearless leader), Susan Mcdonald, Jeannette Scott, Betty Williams
This is a partial roster: Different folks come from week to week.

After years of subjecting my writers' group to my fears that I would never finish my book(s), much less get them published, I was tickled to report at a recent meeting that an editor miraculously found me and loves my work. She found two publishers who said they were interested in my work. (I have to finish it first, however. They're being very picky.) I made this announcement, received heartfelt congratulations and sat back, listening to the next group member read her work. Shortly thereafter, I realized that my heart was pounding, my head spinning, and I felt like throwing up.

SYV4
SHARING OUR WORK
Betty Williams, Jeannette Scott, Susan Mcdonald, Dorothy Jardin, Brenda French

We had a writing exercise later, and this is what came out. What happened inside me as the result of telling some of my closest friends about my incipient success:

Back to Writing Index

 

A WRITING EXERCISE:
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU LET IT ALL HANG OUT?

SHARK

TERROR!!!!
Telling my friends that my book may be published produces terror!

TERROR! TERROR! TERROR! TERROR! TERROR! TERROR! TERROR! TERROR!

Am I up to it?
Will I finish it?
Can I finish it?

YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES NO

Is the book any good?
YES: 1,000 VOTES. NO: 1,789,356 VOTES

A FEW CRITICAL REVIEWS OF SANDY NATHAN'S FIRST NOVEL:

"THE WORST FIRST NOVEL OF THE CENTURY...."
All the Newspaper Critics in the Universe

"MAYBE THE WORST NOVEL IN HISTORY..." God.

MAJOR WRITERS DETEST SANDY NATHAN'S NOVEL:
"PUTRID...." Anne Smiley
"TOO WORDY...." Webster
"PRETENTIOUS" Tom Wolfe
"VAPID.." Jacqueline Susan
"WORKS LIKE AN ENEMA...." Leo Tolstoy
"THE PERSON WHO WROTE THIS SHOULD BE SHOT..." National Rifle Association

HUMOR IS A GREAT WAY TO ESCAPE TERROR!

 

THE VOICE IN MY HEAD SAYS: "Forget it. You'll never get it published. You'll never finish it. You don't have what it takes, chickadee...."

MORE HELPFUL INTERNAL DIALOGUE: "You're not good enough. No matter what you do... YOU ARE NOT! GOOD!! ENOUGH!!!"

 

NOW JUST A MINUTE! THIS IS STARTING TO MAKE ME MAD!

I WILL NOT ALLOW MY INTERNAL CRITIC TO POISON MY WORK! UNDERMINE MY CONFIDENCE! NO WAY!

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, CRITIC, I'M NOT GOOD ENOUGH!? I'M GOOD ENOUGH FOR SOME THINGS! FOR INSTANCE, I CAN:

 

SHOVEL MANURE!
DIG WORMS!
CLEAN TOILETS!

Am I so bad? Undeserving? Dumb? Without character? That I can't clean stalls? What do you mean, I'm not good enough?

THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY TO YOU, OH CRITIC IN MY BRAIN:

You are over blown! Pretentious! Too much.
Who says you're so important? All powerful?
Who says that you can stop me?

DEAR CRITIC: YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A SHIVERING, GUTLESS, HOLDOVER FROM MUCH EARLIER NEUROTIC STATES!!!

You think you can stop me from writing with the recent attacks on my family and friends? [We've hit a few rough spots lately. Friends and family getting major diseases.]

If you want to stop me, Critic, you'll have to work harder... Why stop at disease and mayhem? Why not throw in:

A car crash!
A plane crash!
A rocket landing on our house!
And don't just attack and dismember my family and friends,
lay one on me!

Big tough guy, how about me?
WHATCHA GONNA DO TO ME?

YOU NEED TO KNOW, BIG GUY, I'LL FINISH MY WORK IF I DO IT ON MY DEATH BED!!! I'LL SEE MY BOOKS PUBLISHED IF I DIE IN THE PROCESS. JUST TO SPITE YOU!!!!

Back to Writing Index

SYV5
WRITERS AT WORK
Brenda French, Sandy Nathan, Jeannette Scott

ANALYSIS OF THE EXERCISE:
IT AIN'T USEFUL UNLESS YOU UNDERSTAND IT

Okay. That was fun. Here's an analysis of what happened: I am close to succeeding with my writing. Not that I've never succeeded before. I have a house full of degrees and honors, trophies and other useless junk that say I've succeeded. (You folks who never went to college-- pay attention to this. You can feel just as inferior with a college degree or three as with none. Write anyway.) Plus I have all the other stuff that says "Success." I've succeeded like crazy-- which has absolutely nothing to do with feeling successful. What shows up here is A Real Biggie, triggered by telling my friends that I may succeed in doing what I really want.

What is a Real Biggie? It's when you do or say something and find yourself hyperventilating and feeling like an abandoned four year old 2 minutes later. We all have these. My inner world is organized so that I always feel like a failure. I can materialize a sense of failure from stunning success! It's a skill I have. Is this Big Heavy Shit? Yes. It's also stupid. And I know about it and where it came from and so on. This is useless information. Well, interesting to shrinks but of little practical value in everyday life.

That's because knowing where your limiting stuff came from doesn't help you get over it. This is warrior material. You gotta go through it, eyes wide open. Recording everything that happens when you break those chains, getting it, assimilating it, and if you're a writer, writing about it somewhere. You gotta do that until it's flat. I. e.., You no longer get diarrhea before reading in public. (Sorry. It's the only way. This is also known as "being on the Spiritual Path.") So, I tell my friends I may succeed, and 5 minutes later, I want to throw up, indicating something's up inside. But -- there's a difference. I'm conscious now, and tough. I've been doing this a long time. Watching the Saboteur close up. The Critic. The inner cast of thousands determined to keep me in my place by destroying my success while demanding it at the same time.

Why do these inner bad guys want to do this? Why do your equivalents want to do the same to you? This is the ultimate truth: The mind and all it's parts have their own version of reality, formed early on. These inner cuties would rather keep me/you miserable than give up their erroneous world view. That is the bottom line of psychology. The mind cares more about preserving its rotten, self serving image of reality than your/my happiness. The mind is about being right, not about being happy.

What the mind doesn't know is that it's not the whole apple. It's just a lousy seed. Or maybe the stem. We talked above about the Transcendent Thrust in "How to Start Writing". The force within and without us moves us to our highest development. Moves us to get off the stem/seed and see the whole fruit. Or maybe the Universe. Or maybe who we really are. Meanwhile, we gotta get past sitting on the sofa, surrounded by our best friends and wanting to puke. The inner enemies gotta be trimmed.

How? Beats me. I've got my ways. You'll have to figure out your own. You're welcome to try mine if you want. One of my techniques is the writing exercise above. When we started, I just wrote what was there. What the voice in my head was saying. My fears. Worries. They came out funny. That's how my mind works. If I'm scared, pained, grieving, mad, you name it, humor comes up first. I've learned after years of watching myself that: (1) The funny stuff is often really funny, so write it down and use it somewhere. (2) If I get funny, chances are I'll feel like shit in a few minutes, and that painful set of feelings/thoughts is where the truth lies. Where the value is. Humor is a defense against pain. (I'd love to talk to Robin Williams about this. What's under his manic humor?)

Doing the exercise, the funniness ran out and I found myself sitting with my Critic, full strength. Right there in Dorothy's living room. We all have a critic. What's yours like? What does it say to you, as it keeps you out of trouble? That's what they're for: "Don't go farther than your meant to. Be safe. Don't shine." The Critic may sound like Mom or Dad. Not really-- they heard it from somewhere. When people talk about others holding them back, I can say from my experience, nothing and no one has ever held me back like my inner enemies. No -ism has ever held me back like my own head.

At the end of the exercise, I sat there with my critic, feeling like someone poured Dorothy's living room full of concrete. Hard to breathe. Hard to move. The Critic was right there. That sucker intended to murder me. I could feel how strong it is. Powerful. "You will not finish that book, Sandy." Just like facing the Devil. Anything to scare me into stopping. Doesn't work with me any more. I've gone past that barrier too many times. Still, scary to feel full strength.

When do you quit? What happens? Something does. In the inner world, do you touch one of those tough guys and quit? Do you quit when you feel that resistance hard and raw? Does it get so uncomfortable that you stop? Do you quit when something happens in the outer world, like your whole life falling apart? Gotta stop if your whole life falls apart, don't ya? When people die and you lose your job? Yeah. The outer world's a bitch.

This year, I've had five people I love-- family members and very close friends-- diagnosed with very, very serious diseases. (That's what I reference in the exercise.) This has been one for the hardest years of my life. Just when I thought I had it all together personally, a five part whammy from the outer world. I have a sense of what Job felt like, "Okay, God. I've handled the pestilence. Could you go light on the boils?"

This is scary, this inner and outer stuff. How do you keep going when the outer world strikes you? Why does it strike, just when you're almost free? See, it wasn't my imagination or some psychological resistance inside me that brought those diseases to my friends. They sure didn't. These are good people. People who live clean, who shouldn't get sick. And they did.

The outer world sockin' it to you. That resistance is there. Tough. You gotta go through it to get what you want. What do you do? I challenged my resistance. That's what the last part of my writing exercise was about. Oh, its funny, "Drop a rocket on my house". When I was writing, I felt like Xena the Warrior Princess' tough ancestor challenging the Mighty Morg of the Volcano. I was absolutely furious. Dead serious. "You've brought down everyone around me and it hasn't stopped me. What about me? Take a swing at me. I INTEND TO FINISH MY BOOK IF ITS ON MY DEATH BED, JUST TO SPITE YOU."

Back to Writing Index

NATARAJ PETALS
THE NATARAJ
The dance of life and death, in which we all take place.

THE ULTIMATE CURE FOR WRITER'S BLOCK & PROCRASTINATION

When you write, when you engage your deepest soul, things get stirred up. The Universe gets stirred up. The Transcendent Thrust launches and the Prince of Resistance prances and your life may become very lively. Sufficient reasons will arise to stop you from achieving your goal a thousand times. Which is fine.

Ultimately, whether you achieve your goal or not is out of your hands. That's right. This isn't a New Age, You Control Your Life pep talk. What I've found is that at the beginning of the Spiritual Path, controlling your path is pretty easy. You clean up your addictions, learn some behavioral control, handle your major insanities. Go to school, maybe. You learn communication skills, time management skills, money management skills, lotsa skills. You can have the illusion of controlling your life. Until you use those skills to their limits. Communication skills do not work with truly crazy people. That's it. These skills are very useful, but eventually you hit their limits.

So they stop working and you suffer, buffeted by the deeper irrationality of your life. If you maintain a spiritual focus-- defined however you define it-- you will eventually find that what you really need comes to you on its own, based on your merit. What happened before when you were learning all those skills (really discipline, will and discrimination) was warm-up for the next stage. You'll find people come to you and connections are made that you couldn't possibly arrange out there "networking" and "taking charge." You realize that Something Else controls the universe. Something your mind, which thinks you have to be a failure to survive (like my mind) or something just as dumb, cannot fathom.

And then you realize you're a speck of protoplasm floating in a sea so vast and wondrous that the only response you can have is awe and dread. Glory and terror.

After that, something comes that tells you it will end. Your time on this earth is finite. You will die.

Two weeks after writing the exercise above, I was diagnosed as having "ductile carcinoma in situ." Cancer.

What did I do? Wrote about it. About the terror and the grief. About the realization that this life ends. We have a certain number of days or years and that's it. None of us knows when our life will end. If we're supposed to do something, the time is now. What did I do? I changed this set of articles entirely, saying what I really wanted to say about writing. I called up my editor and loaded her with stuff. We are workin' now. I've ridden my horse twice as much as I had before. And spent time with everyone. I'm living with as much attention, mindfulness as I can. Doing what matters most. I've slowed down, believe it or not.

For myself, I write. I love to write. I love to feel the energy flowing through me. Words forming from who knows where. I hope you get a chance to read my books, I hope they delight you as much as they have me. I hope you write the novel of your dreams, or your family history. I hope you know the joy of rooms opening inside you, rooms of light and air and brilliance. I hope you feel what I do when I write-- or more.

What's the Ultimate Cure for Procrastination and Block?

Death. Stop procrastinating. Do it. It's the only way you'll be really happy.

 

TEMPLE OUTLINE
INDIAN TEMPLE

A funny thing. I dared the Universe to take a swing at me. It did. The inner and outer worlds are like the front and back of a hand. The same hand. This year of illness in those I love has changed me. I've learned to value people as people, not achievement machines. I've learned to love my dear ones when their outer abilities are dimmed. When their appearances shock. I've learned to be emotionally supportive for the first time. I've found I was stronger than I thought, and more vulnerable. I've learned to be a team player. I've learned so much, this year of "tapasya"-- hard work. And now this illness.

I took a walk around our ranch right after my doctor told me I had cancer. I felt everything on that walk. Shock. Betrayal. Anger. Terror. At one point, something happened. I stood next to my horse's corral, weeping. Something came to me. A tangible thing: A golden mantle drifted down over me. A fall of swan's down. So soft. Comforting. A voice spoke to my heart, saying wordlessly, "Do what you can. Whatever you can get done. That's all. It's not a contest. Do what you can." The world was so beautiful. My horse stood there, darkly shining. Black eyes, holes in the earthly fabric that let the other side blast through. My husband and daughter rode up. Lily on her beautiful golden mare, Barry on the mare's dark son. Manes swinging, hooves flashing that Spanish gait. Four creatures I love. I thought my heart would explode with the love flooding it.

What I want to say from that place is: Do what you can. If you don't get your masterpiece finished, it doesn't matter. If you can't write as much as you want because you have to work for a living, that's okay. Do what you can. The dance matters. The creation matters. People matter. You leave everything behind but the love. That's what matters. Love, and if you manage to write, too, so much the better.

Thank you, my dear readers, for sticking with me. If you've got the fortitude to get this far, you've gotten my message. You already have what it takes to sing your song.

May we all be blessed,

SANDY NATHAN SIGNATURE
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STEPPING OFF THE EDGE: LEARNING & LIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

 

A MODERN SPIRITUAL COMPANION

 

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NUMENON
A TALE OF MYSTICIAM & MONEY MENON

 

"BILL GATES MEETS DON JUAN."

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TECOLOTE: THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULD

BORN PREMATURELY ON A FREEZING NIGHT, THE COLT HAD TO FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE.

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THE ANGEL & THE BROWN-EYED BOY

 

A FUTURE WORLD ONLY HEARTBEATS FROM OUR OWN

 

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