The Importance of Play

the happy writer:

Mari writes a thoughtful post on the nature of writing, play, and the fast-publishing milieu. If you are an indie writer, this is a post you should read. Mari exposes a creativity-killer, one that walks in our midst but is almost never discussed. She is honest and brave, and this is evident not just in this post, but also in her published fiction. Please take a moment to read, respond, and share your experience with losing the muse – and getting her back!

As ever,

-aniko

Originally posted on Mari Biella:

© Pnovess /  Dreamstime Stock Photos The way forward is not always a straight line… © Pnovess / Dreamstime Stock Photos

Recently, while tapping away at a work-in-progress, I hit the buffers. The ideas that once seemed fresh and exciting began to look dull, and the words that once seemed so alive suddenly became leaden, lifeless artefacts. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that I was beginning to sense a looming deadline – not, I should stress, a deadline that had been imposed on me, but one that I had imposed on myself. Feeling that time was running out, I forced myself to sit down and write for a certain number of hours every day; yet during those hours, I often found, I actually managed to achieve very little. I was putting in the hours, all right, but I wasn’t seeing the results.

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Why I’m Thinking of Leaving Amazon

 

Each of us are given a constellation of gifts. We do not get to choose what these gifts are. We do not have to like them – and maybe you will spend years being petty and angry about not getting the gifts you wanted. For example: I wanted to be a scientist, but I was not given the gift of mathematical intuition. I spent years training to be a physicist, and you know, I can force it, but it’s exhausting because there’s no true inspiration behind what I do. It is entirely manmade. Artificial. Artifice. Only after deciding to cultivate a gift I was given – that of being able to write with honesty and intensity – only then did I begin to see my purpose. I also got another gift that I initially spurned, but it is the perfect match for my writing: I am good at testing software. Testing provides for my financial and creature needs, and in a physical, material way supports the transcendent gift of my writing – transcendent because it is the thing I am meant to give back to the world. Trying to force the mundane and the spiritual into the same pen was a lot like my years playing at physicist. It was a pointless fight. I’m finished.

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been trying to live by some monastic principles. I’m paring back the noise and replacing the question of “What do I want?” with “What is right for me to do?” I see now that there are very few things I must do:

  • Love my fellow man and practice compassion.
  • Be a faithful wife.
  • Write.

Part of my spiritual quest has been to be deliberate about where I spend my attention. I can choose to spend my attention on gaming the publication system, or I can spend it quietly growing into who I am meant to be. I can choose to focus on the superficial, or I can choose to dwell in the numinous. I can keep trying to figure out how to monetize my literary gifts, or I can be grateful I don’t need to figure that out because I have another gift which intersects the realm of commerce. For all of these reasons, I am considering pulling my books from Amazon, and making them free on Wattpad, Smashwords, and my own site, oddskybooks.com, where three free stories are available now. I just need to find the time to make the transition, probably after my ten-week craft class is over, because there is a lot of behind the scenes effort that goes into such a shift.

I keep thinking of the monk who is purported to have written the Codex Gigas. The Codex is three feet tall, weighs one hundred and sixty pounds, and was written longhand prior to 1295. We know almost nothing of the author other than the remarkable fact that he spent somewhere around twenty-five years working in probable isolation to produce this book. This was an act of faith. I have a feeling he understood the production of the book was never about him, and that his glory was in the act of responding to the call he was made to answer. I want to write with that purity. I want to be absent from the intention. That is humility. And again, it is faith. Someone will point out that the colloquial name for this book is the Devil’s Bible, because of the legend that the monk supposedly made a deal with the devil to write the entire 160-pounds of it in one night so as to save his own life, and also because there is a rather cartoonish illustration of a devil included amongst the pages. Maybe that happened. The picture of the devil-thing is real. However, literary forensics indicates the quieter story, the one of plodding decades of anonymous writing. I think also of Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood (someone help me here! I think that’s the book I mean, but Mudoch wrote so much!). After a character’s death, someone goes through the deceased’s desk and finds thousands of pages of gorgeous poetry, the sort of work that could have brought fame. Murdoch’s point is that there are pure ways of creation that are abstracted from the communal shouting match. Can I be humble enough to stop even secretly hoping my writing will make me visible to the world?

Leaving Amazon is in alignment with my beliefs, although it is in stark contradiction to the clamoring voices who are telling me that’s not how the game is played. I’m choosing to focus on quiet and contemplation. I have faith that the people who are meant to find my stories, will. If no one is meant to find them, not even one person? That’s not up to me, either. My calling is to write and to share; my calling is to practice compassion; my calling is to be steadfast in my relationships. I’ll be a good wife, a kind stranger and, maybe someday, truly become the person I’m meant to be.

As ever,

-aniko

In a room with one soul.

There is a hollowness in my metaphysical gut. It’s not depression. Depression feels like being a small, guttering flame trapped between a thickening wall of glass and an abyss. It’s not fear. Fear feels like little rat-teeth tearing at your sanity when the clock on the nightstand is stuck at three, always three.  It’s not anticipation. Anticipation feels like seeing the man you love strolling down a long, brick walkway and you are too far off for even your loudest shout to get his attention. This hollowness is none of the things I recognize. It might have something in common with sadness. When I try to put it in words, to explain to those who know me why I’m not smiling as often, I simply say I feel sad all of the time – but that’s not accurate. Words are never accurate.

I have been obsessed with the lives of the monastic religious. There was a rather silly week where I was upset that I can’t be a Jesuit. I don’t meet the four basic requirements: I’m not Catholic, I’m not male, I’m not debt-free (the mortgage counts) and, even if I were to suddenly fit the first three requirements, I’m almost too old to be admitted. Oh, and I’m married. Marriage is kind of a deal-breaker for monastic life. I’m smiling as I write this – hollowness be damned. I love my husband. He’s been a constant friend and ally for nigh near half of my time on this (sad, sad) Earth. He is my magnetic North.

Okay.

So I can’t be a Jesuit and I can’t be a Trappist Monk and I can’t be a Nun. It seems I’m stuck out here in the secular world. Maybe I can apply some of the rules for monastic living to my life as it is, and find something to replace this hollowness? It was Thomas Merton who got me into this whole examination of contemplative Christianity, so I turned to YouTube and Google (where else?) to help me learn more about the life of a Trappist monk. There are three basic sections of Benedictine Rule, or the principles that shape monastic life. The first is Stability, which is a life-long dedication to a community and to relationships. The second is Obedience, which is to follow the instructions of the Abbot and God’s word. The third is Conversion, which is the willingness to be open to God as he works through you and the people around you. There is much more to the monastic Rule, but these three principles give me a place to start to make my life more meaningful.  Maybe if I can imbue meaning and spirituality into the structure of my secular life, I will find that I am not so far from who I am meant to be. I really don’t know, but that’s my hope.

As is often the case with spiritual seeking, there has been a confluence of input lighting my path. I am reading Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco and amongst the humor and the intuitive leaps of the narrator & company, there is a strong thread of the idea of an all-connecting spirituality. Oh, and Jesuits just entered the plot, stage right (they’re EVERYWHERE, once you notice them!). One Friday evening, mind all mush from a week of intense concentration at the day job, I decided to let Netflix entertain me. I picked an indie film named Something, Anything. As is the case for most Netflix descriptions, it was scant and only faintly evocative of the actual story: A woman suffers a loss, and re-evaluates her life. That could be … anything. Or something? I decided to give it a chance, and the huge, intense (and intensely sad) eyes of the lead actress convinced me to finish the film. There is an awful, heart-wrenching scene near the beginning of the movie (the loss) and many quiet, almost shy scenes of contemplation. And, wouldn’t you know it, she ends up visiting Gethsemani Abbey, Merton’s Trappist monastery. Something, Anything isn’t a movie for the general public; there’s no action, there’s no sex; there’s very little dialog. It turns out to have been the perfect movie for me, at the perfect time. Even the exercises in my craft class have these gorgeous lines that speak to me on a spiritual level. In Ode to the Lost Luggage Warehouse at the Rome Airport, Barbara Hamby writes, “…you take a careful waltz through the months, and find nothing in the midst of so much.” In Driving the Heart, Jason Brown writes, “Hearts travel at night.” And those lines connect like the information narrator & company of Foucault’s Pendulum feed into Abulafia (their “super” computer), and I start to sense a vast network of meaning and hope thrumming around me, but nearly hidden by the rush and furious sound of our modern, status-and-thing-focused culture. It’s enough to make me think that maybe, in my own quiet way, I can find what I need.

 

As ever,

-aniko

Secret Hunger Cover Reveal and Contest!

the happy writer:

This reblog is to showcase Satin Russell’s latest post, in which she reveals the cover of her debut novel. Satin is a thoughtful commentor, friendly on Twitter, and brave enough to take the plunge and make writing the focus of her life. I am pleased to introduce her to you as my friend.

And now, Satin’s post:

Originally posted on Satin Russell:

Secret Hunger Cover - OFFICIALI’m excited to unveil the cover for my debut novel, Secret Hunger! What do you think? Followers of my newsletter had a chance to weigh in a couple of weeks ago, and I’m happy to say that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

As most of you know, the release date for Secret Hunger is drawing nearer. Part of the process has been converting my files into something that can be read on a kindle. (Which I’ve been learning how to do today.)

I’ve put together my very first digital ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) and thought it would be neat to give it away to somebody who can’t wait to read it.

So, this is how it’s going to work.If you’d like to have a chance to read my book before it’s available anywhere else, be sure you’re signed up to my newsletter. If you share this post, your name…

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An Evening with Amanda Palmer

Paramount Theater, Austin – April 14. Doors 7p, Show 8p.

“If you’re not allowed to love people alive, then you learn how to love people dead.” – The Thing about Things, AFP

I left work and walked north on Congress.  I wore a blue dress with pink polka dots. A woman at the burger bar called to me, “I love the dots!” “Thank you,” I called back, utterly surprised at this new burger bar, and at not being invisible. I am still getting used to the fact that people can see me. I don’t think I understood that until much later than most – maybe when I was twenty-eight? I knew the optics and the physics and the biology of them seeing me, but that’s not the same as SEEING. It’s SEEING Amanda Palmer means when she says, in her TED Talk, “I see you.” That’s more than just light waves, perhaps it’s a side effect of the enigma that is wave-particle duality.  As I walked down the street on the night of the concert,  evening sunlight brightened my path in an exact replica of my anticipation. I was going to meet a writing friend, T., who I hadn’t seen in almost two years, and we were going to see a woman with a controversial approach to making art. We were going to spend an evening with perhaps one of the most influential musician-philosophers of our generation: Amanda Palmer. At one of the smaller cross streets, I saw a woman wearing a great pair of boots. She had a confidence to her stance and there was something about her that seemed familiar. Her large sunglasses obscured her face, and as she passed me, I heard a rich, contralto voice say, “And the venue was…” I didn’t hear the end of the sentence. I don’t know what the venue was, or where it was, or if the venue has been devoured by Cthulhu. What I do know is that the woman with the great boots was Amanda Palmer. I saw the artistic arabesque of her eyebrows behind the rim of her sunglasses. I had a moment where my step faltered, and I considered calling her name. Then I remembered that she has no idea who I am. And I remembered that T. was waiting for me and I kept going. I had a small moment of horror when it occurred to me that one of us, either Amanda or me,  was headed the wrong way, and maybe it wasn’t her…

T and I stood in line for tickets, catching up on the last couple of years of life. A woman sat at a small table, typing poems for cash donations. We discussed rotary phones with our line-neighbors, and then we were inside the sumptuous and aged elegance of The Paramount. T treated us to plastic cups of wine (sauvignon blanc for her, chardonnay for me). We went to the second floor and stood at a balcony overlooking the lobby. We discussed the particular, agonizing decisions we face as women. We moved into the theater, talking there of times when the bruises from writing transmogrified into in to an inability to read. It is the worst kind of paralysis, to be a non-practicing writer who is unable to read. The Smiths played in the background, reminding me of college and the overweening rush of being young and not yet realizing I could be SEEN, or even that there were people who wanted to SEE me. I got us a second drink (more chardonnay for me, water for T), saying, “This will guarantee the show will start because I won’t be in my seat.” I was right, and entered  the theater just as Amanda Palmer took the stage; I was her shadow, cast in a dark room.

Amanda didn’t say a word. She wore a gold dress that flowed like water over the curves of her pregnant body. Her feet were bare.  She touched her keyboard lightly, and innocent notes floated out like heaven-bound souls. Then she raised raised up, Kundalini energy personified, before slamming her hands on the keys. A harsh, angry sound swept through the hall. The show went on like that, rolling waves of contrast flowing through the high-ceilinged, classically painted theater. Abortion, pubic hair, statutory rape, fear of how her art will change with motherhood, more abortion, several songs about the nature of love – all of these topics were channeled through Amanda, into songs, and received by open, hungry souls. There was transcendence. There is always transcendence when we are emotionally vulnerable and humble enough accept and follow our calling. Amanda Palmer incarnates her calling with a purity that is untouched the number of f-bombs she drops (a lot!). She is the archetype of the artist. She’s completely human, and completely supernatural – all at the same time. I can’t help but wonder what the world would look like if we were all brave enough to stop playing as if being our own shadow was enough.

Amanda is funny. The show was in Austin (still weird), so of course there was a lounge upstairs for cuddling – by professional, “non-rapey” cuddlers. At one point Amanda discussed that after the show there would be cupcakes, and the cuddlers would be back in their lounge. She said, “This is a nice night. Cupcakes and cuddling. The days of blow and hookers are in the past!”

My favorite part of the show was when Amanda answered questions from the audience. Someone asked if Amanda knew how she could stop being afraid to make eye contact with strangers. Amanda had the house lights brought up, and had us each pick someone sitting near us who we didn’t know. I smiled awkwardly at the slender girl sitting to my left. Amanda told us that now, we’d spend thirty seconds just looking at one another. Not laughing. Not making a joke of it, just really SEEING. My partner said, “I can do this all day. I’m in customer service.” I said, “I’m in software, Engineers don’t look at people!” Then, for half a minute, we looked each other in the eyes. Blinking. Smiling, but not laughing. Two strangers, who, for thirty seconds took the time to really SEE one another. She cried. It was incredibly overwhelming. There is something that resonates when you strip bare the act of looking, and it’s beyond words. In the silence, we saw it together. And, yes, at first it felt really, really strange. Overly intimate. But it was worth it. If more people took the time to SEE “strangers,” I think the world would be more loving, less cruel, and the horns of impatience would stop blaring at every crossroads. If one person following her dream can inspire one moment of transcendence and truth, maybe if all the millions and billions of us followed our dream, the world would become the welcoming, compassionate paradise it yearns to be.

May you find your inner Amanda Palmer.

-aniko

The Fear of Asking

So. I entered a raffle to win tickets to see Amanda Palmer at the Paramount Theater in Austin. I’m not sure why I did it, except that I know that when someone or something disturbs me, that means I have something to learn. When I first heard Amanda “Fucking” Palmer’s TED talk, The Art of Asking, my initial reaction was one of … disquiet. I thought I didn’t like her. I thought, “She’s too brash, too – herself?”  That startled me. Can a person be too much of who they are? It’s taken some introspection to realize what makes me uncomfortable about Amanda Palmer is that her way of being challenges my way of being. I feel like there are certain immutable requirements governing how I need to be; for instance, and very trivially, I feel like it’s a requirement to shave my arm pits. It is a requirement to feel like my body is something that must be hidden because it’s not “perfect.” It’s a requirement to feel like I should bottle up my emotions or repackage them so as not to seem like a “bitch.” It’s a requirement to have a traditional job. It’s a requirement to keep my yard looking at least as nice as the neighbors. And on and on and on. Amanda Palmer throws away every single one of those “requirements,” except maybe the one about the yard. I don’t know if she has a yard. The point is that Amanda Palmer decides for herself how she’s going to live life, rather than letting society tell her how to be.

I didn’t dislike Amanda, but myself. Of course, it’s easier to blame her. It’s really scary to think that maybe all these requirements that guide and order my life are only optional. This doesn’t mean I want an open marriage (I don’t), or that I want to be naked on stage (I don’t), or that I want hairy armpits (I don’t). The point is that I can CHOOSE what I want, and how I want to live. How has it taken me thirty-seven years to finally realize that!?

A lot of my fear, and my knee-jerk loathing of Amanda came from my own sense that I’m not being enough of an artist. I know that to write is my calling. It is not a requirement, but a personal, deeply embedded categorical imperative. Amanda’s way of living makes me realize I’m a coward. I’m too scared to take a chance and put writing first. I’m too afraid to trust. I’m afraid of having to ask for help.

My mother in law passed away a little over two months ago. Her death was sudden, and entirely unexpected. It shocked me to realize that her years ticked past, my years are ticking past… it was upsetting to realize I’d never taken the time to ask her the real questions about who she was. It was upsetting to realize I’d never asked myself those same questions.

I’m asking now. I’m still afraid. But, I’m asking.

And I won those tickets.

 

My Honest Author Bio

As I was traipsing through the wilds of the internet, I came across a post about the idea that most author bios are polished to a reflective, not necessarily realistic sheen. It seemed like a fun exercise to write my own “honest author bio.” Yes, I am five years late to this party, but this was a lot of fun to write!

And Now, the Bio

Aniko Carmean is a writer masquerading as a software tester. She is convincing in this role, having achieved sixteen years tenure and the level of “Senior Engineer.” There are days when she suspects someone might be onto her, and she distracts her interlocutor by cracking puns like the one she told on the eve of a co-worker’s visit to not one, but two bank clients, when she said, “We’ll get more bank for our buck!” Aniko is a water sign, and has the tenacity to prove it. She is married to an air sign, and between the two of them, neither has their feet firmly on the ground. This keeps things interesting. When Aniko is not acting in her capacity as diplomat in the Software Development Life Cycle, she can be found navigating Austin’s public transportation system, trekking through suburbia with three dogs, or being friendly on Twitter. Aniko writes surreal stories. They are strange and lovely chimeras who wish you would take them home with you. Care and feeding of the stories is easy, and after several professional edits, they are guaranteed housebroken. No messes! You’ll have less trouble reading them than Aniko had writing them, and after some of the dreck you’ve read recently, won’t that be a nice break? The next fact is not related, but is simply jammed here because this is an honest bio, and the wildflower garden of Aniko’s thoughts is disorderly. She once spent several days confused by the apparent apocalyptic disappearance of all the other thirty-seven year old women, only to discover all the women her age were trying (and succeeding) at looking nineteen. A stubborn proponent of caring more about the quality of her soul than her appearance, Aniko decided to stop dying her hair. You can spot her by what her hairdresser politely calls “sparklies,” but which are really the silver hairs Aniko has earned through the pain, grief, and disillusionment that come in any well-rounded life. In spite of this, Aniko smiles all the time. She is quick to laugh, often at her own jokes. If you buy her books, she will laugh at your jokes too!

As ever,
-aniko

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