Sunday, July 02, 2017

Why I Stopped Writing

I used to get writer's block all the time.  It's normal to go through periods where you can't write, right?

It's been three consistent years of chronic writer's block now and I'm getting antsy.  I can't even bring myself to write in my journals... even if I desperately WANT to... I can't do it for some bizarre reason.

This isn't like me.  I joined an online Creative Writing Course offered through the University of Ohio thinking that might help "force" the pen to paper.  Nope.  I failed.  I didn't submit a thing.

So what is going on?  It's not like I don't have things to write about.  I get inspired to write all the time.  There's just something blocking me from doing it.  I tell myself that I don't have the time.  The inspiration hits me in the most inconvenient moments when I won't be in front of my computer until many hours later and I'll be too tired to write.

Elizabeth Gilbert explained writing in a way that made so much sense to me.  I am pretty sure she heard it from someone else... so this will be extremely paraphrased... but it goes like this:

"Being inspired to write hits you often at the most unexpected moment.  It's like a train coming in the distance.  You hear it approaching but you might be standing in a field, miles from home without a pen and paper.  So you run as fast as you can before that train passes so you do not miss this moment of inspiration.  If you're lucky, you get there before it's gone because once it's gone, you miss it.  And in some cases, if you get there just in the nick of time, you might be able to catch the back of the train and pull the words onto paper backward."

Something like that.  You get the gist of it.

I've missed so many trains it's not even funny.  I've stopped bothering to run for them. 

So why am I not writing?  I have been reflecting on that question a lot.  It comes down to a lot of things.  Burnout.  Depression.  Anxiety.  Low self-worth.  Mid-life crisis.  Loneliness.  Fear (of failure, of success).  Laziness.  Overwhelm.

I asked another writer friend of mine if this happens to him.  His response was:

"Yes, absolutely, so often.  But I never fight those moments, I just ride them through and try to get myself excited again about whatever it is I need to be creative about... in as organic a way as possible.  Usually by relaxing, breathing, going back to the original source (music, places, thoughts) and letting whatever comes, come... and not fighting it.  Anxiety over those times doesn't work.  Breathing does, for me."

It happened when I returned from Africa in 2014.  I was supposed to finish my book.  I have an editor and everything. We'd have regular meetings to discuss the project and he advised me to stop blogging and just write for the book.  It made sense.  I write on here and it goes out to you instantly, there's no sales in that.  So I was supposed to stop blogging altogether and even DELETE MY BLOG!  Omg.

The purpose of writing the book was so that hopefully when it's a best seller and I'm on Oprah's book list, it will be made into a screenplay and then movie.  Yay!  Then I never have to worry about fundraising again and I can just go and live my purpose, helping my friends in Africa, rescuing children and animals and build my sustainable retreat so people can come and reconnect with themselves through nature.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?

The longer I waited to write the story, things began to unravel and the plot changed and twisted.  The story was becoming something very different from the one I was preparing to write.  Some of the information was too hard for me to comprehend.  Lies, scandal, exploitation.  This wasn't what I signed up for.  My own story had enough of that.  This book is too heavy, even for me... the strongest girl in the world.

It's fear that holds me back.  Am I REALLY strong enough to tell this story?  Is my writing good enough?  Can I handle the critics and the backlash when I tell the truth?  Do I really want to relive the pain and the hurt?  Do I write this story as an autobiography which seems so egotistical or do I make it into fiction so I can change the characters so no one is 100% sure who I'm talking about (apart from the person I'm referencing - IF they even read it which they probably won't)?

And voila.  Too many questions causes too much hesitation.  As time goes by, I watch that train disappear through the mountains.

There's no question that the moment I sit down as I am right now, to blog about something as random as writer's block, the words flow.  I don't have to overthink, the words come from somewhere outside of me.

At times I've considered just getting a ghost writer to help me.  I think my emotions are too involved in my story.  My feelings might be preventing me from writing objectively.  Then there's the self-doubt, "Who do you think you are?  Why on earth would anyone care about what you have to say?"  

Self-doubt is the biggest bitch I know.  This is how we communicate:

"I'm not disciplined enough."  Shut the fuck up.  I'm the most disciplined person I know.

"My family will disown me."  Who the fuck cares?  They never call you and they'll probably never even read it.

"The story is too hard to tell."  You lived through it so it can't be that bad.  And there will be people who will be comforted knowing that someone else went through the same shit they are currently dealing with.

"I never know where to start."  This one stumps me too.  You have been writing for over 30 years... there's a lot of material.  Where the fuck do you start?  STUMPED.  For once we agree on something.

And that's the answer.  I don't know where to start.  I've tried and tried.  The story is so big.  My editor said I have about 5 or 6 books that need to come out.  WHERE DO I START!

I seem to start in one story and then I move to another story.  I have all of these folders with stories but nothing flows and it's only half told.

Perfectionism is the killer of creativity and I am a FUCKING Virgo!

Sorry, I don't usually swear this much.

I love(d) blogging.   I love the instant thrill of publishing immediately.  I'm an "in the moment" kinda girl.  If I don't do something with my inspiration immediately, it goes in a folder on my computer and it sits there forever.

I can't seem to write when I feel lonely.  I feel most inspired when I am traveling, surrounded by people while I retreat into my own world as the buzz surrounds me.  Perhaps that is the answer.  My quiet house, which is perfect for writing, doesn't inspire me.  It simply makes me want to eat chocolate all day and take a nap.

On days when I have time to write, I organize my garage or I made videos like this one that I made of my dog Blue.  I'll blog about him one day soon... maybe.  ;)  Kidding.  Of course I will.  He's amazing.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ni Hao China

The China trip was pretty amazing. I want to share this video I made of the highlights. I hope it inspires you to get out there and travel. 

I'd love to hear your feedback.

China Trip May, 2017 from Tracy Pepper on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Connection is the Answer

So what is the question?  

Why is everyone on this planet so angry?
Why are so many people suffering from mental illness such as anxiety and depression?
Why are so many people turning to drugs to escape from "reality"?
Why are people so afraid to open their hearts to others?

The list goes on and on.

My answer to all of it is CONNECTION.

We are losing it.  In a world that appears to be more "connected" than ever, through social media and mobile phones... the reality is that TRUE CONNECTION is becoming harder and harder to find.

When is the last time someone wrote you a letter?  I'm talking about an actual hand written letter that was more than just one or two paragraphs.  A letter that asks how you are and shares stories of how the person writing it is feeling as they pen their thoughts in that moment.

Letter writing is an art.  It is a form of meditation.  It requires the person writing it to be completely present and mindful.  A good hand written letter is FELT by the person who receives it.

Written to a friend who is going through a hard time and won't respond to my messages.

There is something incredibly sacred about hand writing a letter to someone.  You are taking the time to CONNECT to the essence of the person you are communicating with.  In order to write a proper letter to a person, you need to feel their energy and imagine that you are actually having a conversation with them.  You are taking time to BE with them, even though they might be thousands of miles away.  It's a beautiful gesture and one that a lot of us took for granted when letter writing was the only way to communicate with loved ones far away.

I dictated this when I was about 4 years old.
These days, we flick off a casual message on their Facebook wall or if you're being really thoughtful, you might send a private message or email. It's rarely felt the same way.  It's in passing... and it's cold.  There's nothing tangible about it.  It doesn't pierce the heart the same way a hand written letter does.

I'm starting to write to people again for that reason.  And it FEELS good to do it.  Admittedly, it takes time to sit and write to someone but it's almost as good as having a conversation with them.  You find that you share more of your heart than you would staring at one another not knowing what to say or having small talk about nothing important via Skype.  Letter writing opens a part of your heart that longs to pour out.  That's how the literary greats expressed themselves.  It's called an "outpouring" for a reason.

Our world is a disconnected mess.  People seem so angry about everything, all the time.  That angry energy erodes us and it spills over into all of our relationships.  People have CNN running on the television 24/7... while the children play in the living room with their dolls (actually do kids even still play with dolls anymore?  I am so disconnected from that world now... I admit I live in a silent bubble that is free from television or radio for most of my day and I haven't been around young children for so long... I don't know what they play with).  People have these news programs running in the background invading their subconscious minds, regardless of whether they are "watching it" or not.  They are unconsciously filling their subconscious minds with fear and terror and what's even worse, they are exposing their children to it.  Is it any surprise that anxiety is on the rise in our young people today?  Youth suicide is at it's highest.  People can't cope and no one seems to realize that we are contributing to the problem by feeding the fear.

I'm not suggesting that we all stick our heads in the sand and pretend that Syria isn't being bombed and that innocent children aren't being attacked by chemical warfare.  We need to know what's going on and we need to talk about it so that we can do something - whether it's praying (if you're not religious then just sending out loving thoughts to the people who are suffering is all that you need to do), writing letters to your government expressing your concern, sending aid to the people in the region... anything is better than doing nothing and it's certainly better than doing nothing and unconsciously absorbing the senselessness of it all.

My motivation for writing this blog entry wasn't anything to do with letter writing or the state of Syria.  I have been thinking about my upcoming trip to China.  I'm traveling to Shanghai, Beijing and Xi'an next week for 12 days.  It was a spontaneous decision, booked with an old friend and her friend.  They are both in their early 20's.

It started when I reconnected with my friend "Emily" through Facebook messenger a few months ago.  I've known Emily for over 10 years, through my volunteer work with a local cancer charity which I won't name.  Emily has always been special and I have watched her grow up from being a silly kid to now being a competent and talented adult.  Our bond has strengthened as the years have passed.  How can you explain when you connect with someone?  It wasn't about choosing favourites, it was simply just a special connecting with someone who feels like family.  At the end of the day, that's what this life is about - finding our soul family.

As I don't have family here in New Zealand, I cherish the friendship that has developed between Em and myself.  Over the years, whenever she was in my neighbourhood, she'd get in touch and we'd catch up.  She would talk about her woes with her boyfriends and her fears about passing university... I was/am an Auntie to her.

It's been many years since Emily and I have been involved with the charity we first met through.  For separate reasons we both saw the changes occurring in the organization and decided it no longer fit with our values.

I had been a volunteer for 12 years.  I devoted all of my free time to this organization because I felt I had so much to offer.  I was an adult role model to the kids and they looked up to me.  In their eyes if I could do it, so could they.  I was an awesome volunteer.  I was just like them and I connected with them all in their own special way.

But then a few years ago, as with all big charities, changes started happening.  As the organization grew, more staff were hired and salaries were rising.  A new area manager was hired and there were cut backs to the programs on offer for the kids.  There was more pressure to "sell" the idea of charity for profit (even though this is a not for profit organization).  The pressure was on to pay the big salaries to keep the organization going.

On an outing that I was volunteering at, this new area manager spoke to the office manager who I worked (volunteered) for and told her that she noticed that I was overstepping my role as a volunteer.  She didn't think that I should be having so much fun with the members and she pointed out that the office manager and I were "too friendly" towards each other.  I needed to pare it down and basically change my personality.  I think she was threatened because I was so comfortable with the members and had a much better connection with them than she did.

I was furious and deeply offended when I heard what she'd said.  She'd been in her position for a few short months and her objective was clearly about working her way up the corporate ladder. This role was merely a stepping stone for her.  How dare she try to tell me that I was over-stepping my boundaries. She didn't know me.  A few weeks later, I received a follow up letter from her, outlining my "role as a volunteer" with their organization.   I was not to engage with members or have any outside friendships with staff.  As a volunteer I was expected to clean, keep areas tidy and assist with any jobs that the staff needed help with.

Where I come from, volunteers are cherished and revered.  Volunteers are vital for charities to exist. Before charities became these big businesses, they were run mostly by volunteers.  In most cases, they were founded by volunteers. This woman knew nothing about the value of volunteering, it was obvious.  I was there to help but I was also there to connect and to share my strengths, talents, gifts and love with the kids.  I was not giving up my free time to do all of the cleaning up.

I was so offended, I stopped volunteering for that organization for more than 2 years.  And then I heard she got fired.

Emily stepped away from her involvement years ago for her own personal reasons.  She was finishing her degree at university, so she was pretty busy.  She moved to another city. We haven't caught up for ages so when we were chatting on Facebook a couple of months ago, I suggested we get together to do a hike somewhere... I was thinking one of the Great Walks in New Zealand... but then Em suggested China to do the Great Wall!  I didn't even think twice.  I was totally in and we booked it a few days later.

A few weeks ago I caught up with my friend who is still the office manager for this charity.  She's recently returned to work after a year off on maternity.  There have been lots of changes in the organization, including a new CEO who has stripped a lot of the old ways of doing things... basically taken a lot of the soul out of the charity and made it into a more viable business model.  I get it, but I hate it.

So as we were catching up I was excited to tell her that I was going to China with our old friend Em who she also hadn't seen for years.

A few days later she rang me from the office.  She told me that she'd been thinking about our conversation and she was very uncomfortable with me going to China with Emily.  I was shocked.  I haven't been involved with the organization for years other than a Christmas wrapping fundraiser that she asked me to help at.  As far as I knew, Emily wasn't a member anymore as she is now an adult and hasn't been involved for years either.  Not to mention that Em lives about 3 hours away in a different region altogether.  But the office manager said she'd looked into it and Emily is still officially an "Inactive Member" and I am still on their books as a Volunteer.

So she put it to me like this:  "You either cancel your trip or you give up your volunteer status with this organization permanently."

Twelve years of volunteering comes down to this.

We discussed it.  It just doesn't "look good". I could see her position and she understands how this situation is unique.  She is simply doing her job.  It came as a shock because outside of work, she is as sensitive as I am to matters such as this.

I've known Emily longer than my friend has been in her role as office manager.  Emily came to my wedding.  Emily was around to cheer me up through my divorce.  That was a lifetime before the office manager came on the scene.  Now that Emily is an adult, she's become my friend as well as a member of my soul family.  But there are rules, and boundaries that need to be maintained.

After lengthy debate, I forfeited my role as Volunteer.  It was a sad day.  They just lost their best
volunteer and I was let go without even receiving a thank you letter for all the years I gave wholeheartedly. 

This is part of the reason why I'm so disillusioned with charities these days.

In my heart I knew it was the universe's way of telling me it was time to let go.  I've outgrown my role with that organization.  There is something better waiting for me.  My energy will be better used for something else.

So you see, the world is changing in so many ways.  Connection is viewed as a bad thing.  Don't get too close to people, they will hurt you.  Don't form bonds at work, it's unprofessional.  Don't tell someone you care about them, it might scare them.  Don't get to know your neighbour, they might not hold the same values as you and you might actually learn something new.  Don't say what you really think, you might offend someone.

The list goes on an on...

Anyway, I'm off to China in a few days with my friend.  We are going to walk part of the Great Wall of China, climb Mount Huashan, visit the Terracotta Warriors and explore Shanghai and Beijing before ending our trip at Disneyland Shanghai.  I expect we are going to have a wonderful, amazing time.

I refuse to harden and change to fit in.  I guess I'll always be rule breaker and a change maker.  I'll always choose to connect because that's how I'm wired.

There's a big difference between being connected and remaining detached.  Detachment is another important quality to have.

I'll save that subject for another blog post...