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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

I came into work one morning the week before Christmas to this on my desk:

It’s been since debated on Facebook, but hey! It makes a pretty good blog post, too, for those who are not my Facebook friends.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I am not Christian. I am not really anything one could put a name to, really. I’m just … me. Atheist and agnostic aren’t proper terms. I think pagan would probably cover it, but the general sense, not anything specific like Wiccan. I believe in some sort of great spirit or energy. I believe the universe has a sort of harmony and everything is connected. I believe humans, animals, even plants to a degree, have souls and live on after death — whether that’s in some kind of afterlife heaven or hell or if we’re reborn on earth or some other planet or both or something entirely different, I don’t know. But I don’t think a soul dies with a body.

What someone else believes, so long as it doesn’t involve harming others in some way, I just couldn’t care less. If you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or worship garbanzo beans, it’s just plain none of my business.

I’ll even discuss it with you. I’m fascinated by the history or religions, how they evolved, the similarities — many might be surprised at how closely the lives of Jesus and Hercules resemble each other — why you believe what you do and I believe what I do, you name it. I respect your beliefs. I want you to respect mine.

What I won’t tolerate is someone pushing his or her beliefs. It’s not OK if you knock on my door to try to convince me to join your religion and it’s not OK for a coworker (especially anonymously!) to leave literature on my desk. And it certainly is not going to turn me in the direction that person wants me to turn. In fact, my general inclination is to turn in the opposite direction. The more you want me to be Christian, the more I’m going to dig in my heals and insist on being anything but.

Some people on Facebook mentioned going to human resources (I do have an idea who may have left it). I wouldn’t do that. I don’t think anyone deserves to get in trouble over such an incident. I’m not unreasonable.

I did, however, visit one of the local New Age stores and bought this to hang in my cubicle in a rather conspicuous spot:

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In December 2008, I was at a very low point in my life. I went for a walk at a local park and pinned on the bulletin board was a flyer for a one-day New Year’s Day retreat for women. Included were a guided meditation and “vision-boarding.” I’d never heard of it, but decided it sounded like something that would do me some good.

That board still hangs above my desk at work, though I think it’s time to take it down. I attended the same retreat the next year, though a different person led and it wasn’t the same. I never hung that board. The following year, my friend Leslee hosted one of her own since the price had gone up and the quality of that original retreat (where I met Leslee) had gone down. I was out of town and didn’t attend either event.

This year, Leslee hosted again — as I wrote about on Wednesday. It was a renewal. I felt as energized as I did the first time, four years ago. I actually cut out so many images that I ended up with two boards and I’ve spent the last several days analyzing them.

I’ve already discussed the Ernest Hemingway phenomenon, so I won’t get into that again. But there were other interesting things about this year’s board.

The very first board I did contains, in the lower left not quite corner the question, “Where do YOU want to be?” If I remember correctly, it came from an article about travel. This year, I found exactly that question in an advertisement. I didn’t remember right away that I’d included it on my first board, but this time it went in the upper left corner, kind of a title and lead-in to everything else.

I found a lot of references to England, which is, really, exactly where I want to be. I’m very strongly drawn to that country, though I’ve never set foot in it. British accents to me just sound like the way people are supposed to talk. I adore British television shows, British books, every photograph I’ve ever seen of the British Isles causes my stomach to do flip-flops. I can’t explain it. I don’t feel that way about any other part of the world, whether I’ve been there or not. And it found its way to my board this year.

My first board has Tuscany and a lot of outer space imagery. Tuscany is beautiful (from what I can tell), but there are no stomach flip-flops.

I’ve been thinking a lot of New York City, as well. My second novel (assuming I ever write the first) is set there and I would like to live there while writing it. I found the name of that city in a magazine. It’s interesting because I like New York City, but have always said I could never live there.

I tried very hard this year to let my spirit lead me rather than just choosing images and words I liked or felt should be there. That’s difficult to do while conscious. I tried my best, though. And it seems like it worked well. I found a lot of images and words about really living life. I feel like both my boards are talking to me in a way the previous two didn’t. Still, some of the repeating themes are difficult to ignore.

Nature is a trend I see from year to year and of course books and writing and even dance appears on more than one of my vision boards. Those things are pretty obvious. Then there are the waterfalls, which are on all three of my boards and a major theme on my Pinterest page.

I find it funny, though, that I wrote a blog post last week about saying no more often in order to concentrate on achieving goals that have eluded me for too long and in one of the magazines, I found the admonishment to “just say no.”

“Whirling through the centuries” popped out at me, as the plot of my first novel (if it ever gets finished) ties strongly to that idea.

But of all the empowering and inspiring words and images I found, the most profound thing that jumped off the page and onto my board was something else, something that expressed perfectly my biggest fear, the thing that holds me back, the thought that’s always mulling around the back of my mind:

Somewhere deep inside, you think it’s a matter of time before you stumble and ‘they’ discover the truth: ‘You’re not supposed to be here.’

I write. I’m pretty good at it, I think. Sometimes I stumble across something I wrote years or months or weeks ago and it takes my breath away that it’s so good, because I know that at the time I wrote it, I didn’t think so. But deep down, I think that my first impulse was correct.

I write. But I am not a writer.

I have to fight against that.

This second collage is a little more vague and I’m not sure what I think of it, except I like how it looks. I cut out that blue couch in the lower right because the color blue seemed to be hovering around me for a few days. It wasn’t a sad blue. It was just blue.

The rest mostly symbolizes my wanderlust and love of books and cooking and general creativity. The photo in the upper left is the now famous “Hemingway Collection.”

I suppose only time will reveal if this collage is more than just a pretty picture.

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Ernest Hemingway 1957 by Yousuf Karsh

He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!

I never got much into Ernest Hemingway’s writing. He was never one to interest me. I’ve been to his house. Well, outside of his house. The line was long and I had limited time, so the tour did not happen. I was not disappointed.

Now I think  I should have gone in. Mr. Hemingway is stalking me this week. I’m sure it must mean something. It started on Sunday, New Year’s Day. My friend Leslee, to raise money for her church youth group and to share in a yearly ritual, hosted a vision-boarding and meditation retreat. I’d done this twice before, though not with Leslee leading. I’ll write more about that later this week, but this part could not wait.

A vision board, in short, is a collage. The one done on New Years Day is supposed to intuitively inform the year to come. One begins by flipping through magazines and finding photos and words that jump out and ask to be included on the board. I went through probably twenty magazines. Out of one, I pulled a furniture advertisement in which the featured room looked like a place I would be very happy. From another, I pulled a photograph of a grey tabby cat. As most of my readers know, I do love cats. There’s something spiritual about them.

I set these images aside as I continued searching magazines and finally, when I was ready to start putting my collage together, I went back to my images to trim them up pretty and arrange them on the board.

Hemingway with one of his famous six-toed cats.

That’s when I noticed.

At first, it was just that in the upper right corner of the furniture ad, it said, “The Earnest Hemingway Collection.” I thought nothing of it as I snipped that off. It wasn’t the part of the photo that I wanted for my board. I didn’t throw it away right away because I wasn’t near a trash can. Good thing.

I came to the photo of the cat, which was attached to a photo of a butterfly that I’d also liked. The caption for both photos was in the corner of the butterfly photo. I was about to snip that off, but then I read it. The cat was one of the famous six-toed cats that live on the Hemingway Estate in Key West.

I decided to cut his name out of both photos and glue them onto my vision board. Then I decided to just wait and see what the following year holds and what the significance is of coming across his name twice like that without even realizing in the moment that I had.

And then yesterday he struck again. I went to Pinterest and began looking through the varied and really cool things the people I follow posted since I’d last looked. About halfway down the main page, I found that someone had pinned a 1957 photographic portrait of … Ernest Hemingway.

I repinned it to my own board. I didn’t even have a category under which it fit properly, but I knew I had to have it. I pinned it under “Book Ideas.” I couldn’t think of anywhere else even remotely close.

It was sign number three. And I still don’t know what it means.

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December

Photo courtesy Stephen G. Berry

Last week, a friend suggested going out for New Year’s Eve. I will probably stay in, but it started me thinking about if I did go, what I would wear. I decided I would want to wear the little black dress I wore for my best friend’s wedding reception a couple summers ago. Problem is, I’m a good ten pounds heavier and I don’t know if it would even fit right.

I’ve been really struggling with the weight thing and getting myself to exercise as much as I should.

And then there’s the writing. Thirty-two thousand words and I stopped. I got stuck. I decided to go back and edit and rewrite and meet my goal of finishing the novel by the end of the month. But I ended up just getting stuck and it’s going nowhere and there’s no way that’s going to happen.

I haven’t been writing anything. Not my novel. Not short stories. Not blog posts. Not even journal entries.

What I do is lay on my couch and watch television, even if there’s nothing on I actually care about.

This has to stop.

I decided a couple days ago to try to actually get through the Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred DVD (it’s a circuit training workout that has three levels — the idea being to do each level for ten days in a row and complete the DVD in thirty days). I’ve done this DVD before, but I usually get bored and quit long before I reach day thirty.

So far, I did day one and was so sore on day two that I couldn’t continue, so I’m going to have to start over. But that’s OK. At least I started. And while I didn’t Shred on day two, I did go for a run. I’m on a bit of a roll with that now and I will hopefully keep it going.

Yesterday, I decided enough is enough in general and it’s time to really think about starting a new year with a new perspective and new habits. I decided to severely limit TV time. My first thought was no TV at all, but there are a couple shows and some movies that actually inspire me to creativity and I really enjoy them, so I will allow that. It’s only a couple hours a week. And I can watch if I use my elliptical. But no more mindless staring at the television not really watching anything at all. I’m not even going to turn it on in the morning while I get ready for work.

Instead, I’m going to use this month to work on my mind and body. I’m going to work hard at getting into better physical shape. I’m going to read (books, magazines, newspapers, whatever), I’m going to work out and I’m going to write — even if that means staring at a blank page for hours on end until something comes to me, instead of distracting myself with message boards and Facebook. And I might even finally start trying out new recipes and making my own bread.

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Is this the face of a novelist?

Many of you may know that Snooki of Jersey Shore fame published a book. A novel.

Snooki wrote and published a novel.

OK. Have you all wrapped your minds around that little tidbit?

My theory is she probably didn’t actually write it. There are people — real writers — who make a good living with this little business called ghost writing where they write a book for someone famous who then puts his or her name on said book and then it sells a lot of copies and makes money for everyone involved and said famous person gets all the credit.

I don’t know Snooki, and maybe her public persona hides an educated, creative, intelligent person who really can write and get published on merit alone.

Maybe.

At any rate, it has been chapping my hide since I found out that someone like Snooki (public Snooki, anyway) got published and here I sit struggling just to write something, even though it’s been my life, oh, since I learned to read way back in the preschool days.

And then I read this post from A Peek at Karen’s World. She asked a blogging friend of hers who recently had a book published by the same Simon and Schuster imprint that published Snooki to “interview” herself. Any aspiring writers here I’m sure will be interested in the entire “interview,” but what caught my attention as I read was the following statement:

I love that someone like Snooki can put her name on a book and make money for herself and her publisher. Because when that happens, that means small-fries like me can get bankrolled. You don’t have to like Snooki, or buy her books, and I’m not telling you to. But the Snookis of the world open the door for new, unknown authors like me to break in. And that’s never a bad thing. I will always be grateful for that.

So there it is. Snooki makes money for publishers who can then use that money to take a chance on someone like me who’s a complete nobody and may or may not make money for them. But at least they can afford to let me try.

Apparently it is ...

On that note, an update. I’ve been writing my little fingers off. Since October 4, I’ve written around 28,500 words (give or take). I took about four days off last week. I needed a break. But I got right back on the horse yesterday and things are progressing well. It’s very rough right now and will definitely need some serious editing before I query agents, but editing has always been the easy part for me so I’m not worried about that.

I’m excited.

I’m excited because I’m finally writing this book I’ve had in my head for a decade. And I’m excited because of some things I’m not going to go into right now, but I’ll just say that things are happening to and for people around me that could have a large impact on me once I finally have a product to sell. Things are lining up in the Universe in a way that tells me that it’s going to happen. My time is coming. I just need to be ready for it.

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The Urge to Create

A field and beautiful sky over New York state, somewhere near Ithaca. (© 2009 Renée M. Liss)

Several months ago, my 95-year-old grandmother’s older sister passed away. She was 97. My great-grandmother was also 97 when she passed.

I told an acquaintance about these remarkable women and their advanced ages and he said he would be very sorry to live that long. The man, in his 60s, said he’s lived long enough as it is, the he doesn’t enjoy life and will be happy to be finished with it.

It’s been about six months since that conversation and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I don’t understand it. Not from someone still young and strong and still able to really live life, anyway.

I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of the pain that often accompanies dying, but I don’t fear whatever comes next, even if I’m one of those people who isn’t quite certain what that is. I believe the soul continues on, either in some kind of paradise or reborn into another body — or something entirely different. But the soul, I think, endures beyond the physical body it inhabits.

But I don’t want to die. Not any time soon. Maybe not ever. I like it here. It’s pretty and smells nice. But there’s something more. Something else.

Yesterday morning, in the shower, the answer hit me upside the head and I finally understand the difference between those of us who love life and those of us who simply endure. That difference is creativity. It means different things to different people, but those of us who fight to survive as long as possible in this world all have it.

For me, the creative outlets are myriad. Writing, of course is number one. Then there’s cooking, decorating, dance and I’d even go so far as to say reading a good book is a form of creating because the world the author imagined is reworked in the reader’s mind and comes alive again, shiny and new.

Ithaca, New York, waterfall. (© 2009 Renée M. Liss)

If I won the lottery or inherited a fortune tomorrow, and never had to work another day in my life ever again, I would continue all of those activities. I would still want to write and publish novels. I would still cook for myself and probably use some of my newfound free time to learn how to decorate my house in antiques so it eventually looks like the homes you see in magazines. Just because I enjoy the process, but also because I enjoy the atmosphere, which in turn feeds my creative side and increases my will to live.

And I hope to live — healthy in body and mind — for a very long time.

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Anyone who’s driven through the Southeastern states on I-95, I-75 or I-10 has seen them.

They nestle between the billboards inviting truckers to see women “bare all” and others that attempt to convince pregnant women not to abort their babies.

They’re the God Signs. Well, billboards. Is that the same thing? A few examples:

Every time I take a road trip, I think I should stop along the interstate and take photos of these billboards for a blog post, but I never do. Luckily, others did my work for me (thanks!). I suppose the purpose of the billboards is to convert hedonistic travelers to Christianity. But I always wonder: Does it work? On anyone? Ever?

Is there ever a family driving down I-75 on the way to Disneyworld — maybe they’re fallen Christians, maybe straight-up atheists — who sees one of (or several of) the billboards and suddenly has an epiphany and turns off the interstate, heading toward the nearest church? I mean, really? Somehow, I doubt it. Somehow, I think most people who aren’t already of that mindset are like me and just laugh at the silliness of it all.

Or maybe the billboards are meant to keep the truckers out of the strip clubs that dot the interstates. A little guilt goes a long way, right?

But I can’t help thinking if a group of Christians wants to convert a bunch of people to their religion, a billboard or eighty along the interstate isn’t the way to do it. When I worked as an assistant editor in St. Marys, Georgia, the city’s tourism department bought billboard space along I-95 to draw people to town. The city was my “beat,” so I covered the story (remember, this was a community newspaper in a county of fifty thousand, so a billboard was a big story). That lone billboard, which was partially hidden behind tree branches, cost the city $20,000 per year that it stood.

You read that right. Twenty … thousand … dollars.

Now, for a city that thrived on bringing people into to town to spend money, that’s a bargain. But for a church that should be concentrating on charity and good works, there’s no excuse to spend that kind of money on a single billboard, much less the countless number of them scattered around the region.

Imagine the converts they could win to their cause were they to take that money and clothe and feed and educate the poor and underprivileged who are truly in desperate need. Not just in the United States, but around the world.

The fact that the groups who pay for the billboards choose to spend their money that way makes me seriously question their motivation. And it makes me think that if I want to do good in the world, becoming a Christian is the last thing I want to do.

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