Guest Post Series

(Guest Post) Remembering Who You Are

 

Everyone in our lives has their own agenda for how they think we should be living, and they push their agendas on us whether we realize it or not. The agendas stem from their own prejudicial upbringings ingrained in them by their parents and their parents before them. To walk away from someone else’s ideas for your life is a very brave thing to do, so it’s no wonder that most people I know haven’t done it yet. We live our lives in fear, crippling fear, that we will not have the money to take care of ourselves and all of the things we want to do in our lives.

We are afraid to fail.

We’re so afraid, in fact, that we take that fear and let it control us to the point of paralyzing terror.

Don’t question your parents; they might not pay for college.

Don’t question your boss; she might fire you.

Don’t question religion; you might go to hell.

Don’t question the majority; they might ostracize you.

Are you tired of “might” yet? Do you realize how many brilliant minds and free thinkers were those that were cast out by the same majority that ridiculed their brilliance?

What are you really so afraid of?

It’s easy to place blame on others when we live by their rules. It’s easy to say something didn’t work out because of someone else or circumstances that were outside of our control. The thing is, though, if we really want something we make it happen. Sometimes the journey to figuring out what we want traps us into the same old over-analytical spiral that closes our minds and hearts because we are so damned afraid to be who we are.

The common threads in your life are easy to spot when you open your eyes to them. When you look back at the things that lit you up inside, the things that took your breath away and made you feel like you could fly, those are your common threads. Those threads hold your heart together when outside influences and false internal influences threaten to pull it right through your chest.

Do you even remember what made you laugh and smile and calm and excited all at the same time? If you can’t remember then you are stuck in the spiderweb, and you have to slowly remove each sticky silk thread until you are left standing on your own. It can be scary to be left standing on your own, but in this life we are all we have.

It’s too hard to be all things to all people when you can’t even be yourself in your own heart.

It’s so easy to see the faults or fears in others. We revel in pointing them out because it makes us feel as if our own lives aren’t dripping through our hands, completely incapable of catching it and making any sense of it all. It’s harder, though, to be solid in our own skin, not squirming our lives away.

That judgment of others we don’t truly know, that nervous laughter when someone questions something you know in your heart to be true, those are all excuses we throw up to deflect our own insecurities about who we want to be and who we don’t think we have the strength to be.

When you have taken the time to remember who you really are and you embrace that path, life becomes so much easier to bear. It becomes pleasant and it becomes beautiful because you aren’t in a war with your own soul. At the end of the day, that’s the only one that matters. “Be true to yourself” isn’t just a glib saying; it’s the most real advice I could ever give anyone. You owe it to yourself and these measly years we get to explore this beautiful world.

Once you accept yourself it becomes so much easier to accept others because your heart is calm and patient. You see in others what it took you years to see in yourself: that spark of knowing who they are and the fear they feel in exploring it.

To hell with money and recognition and the Kardashians. What are the core values of your life and your heart? And why aren’t you living by them? Please stand up for yourself because, often times, no one else will. Remember that your agenda for your life is the most important. I’m not talking a 5-year plan. I’m talking about your common threads. Weave your life together and make it beautiful. Weave a grand tapestry that is completely unique and completely yours. Live it and own it and shine brighter than you ever have before.

You have an utterly brilliant life. Start appreciating the fact that you get to choose what to make of it.

About the Author: Brianne likes to think she’s a responsible big kid with none of the whining but all of the childlike wonder. She’ll make you snort a drink out of your nose, and dogs love her more than they love you. Those two things are common threads in her life of which she’s very proud.

If you want to keep tabs on her, the best way to do so is at @BrianneVillano. She usually talks about helping authors use social media, atheism, and why Brithey Spears’ recent songs scare the bejeezus out of her on www.MyHatHasEars.com, and she also discuss dogs and pet-sitting on @PetSittingTwit.

 

Brianne is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while I take a brief hiatus. Want to participate?
Email me at twentyorsomething[at]gmail.com or say hi on Twitter!

Guest Post Series, Writerly

(Guest Post) 4 Ways To Beat Writer’s Block

A couple years ago, I attended the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference. I was an undergraduate at the time. As with most conferences, I took away plenty of ideas and tips for improving my writing.  I also met people with similar interests from all over the country. What struck me, though, was the way the conversation went with every person I met. They ask me where I’m from. I tell them I’m from Atlanta, the host city. They ask me which MFA program I’m in.

Pause.

I had never considered going on to an MFA program before. I thought that graduate programs were for MBAs, or future doctors, or future lawyers, or maybe even for teachers.

But not for writers.

Well, I’ve been out of college for four years now. And in those four years, I basically stopped writing. Because, for sixteen years, I wrote when I was prompted to write, when I had an audience. I wrote for assignments, for literary magazines, for scholarships. I wrote for creative writing classes and workshops. In fact, in my four years in college, most of my writing came in those semesters when I took a creative writing class.

It’s dawned on me now why people go into MFA programs. They keep you writing. Then again, not all of us have the luxury to drop our nine-to-fives and re-enter the world of student loans and unemployment. So, in the meantime, here are 4 ideas to renew your creative energy:

1. Look online for writing prompts

The reason creative writing classes were so great for my creative juices in college was because of the prompts. Write a story about a dream. Take a great first line out of an existing story and turn it into something else. Without these prompts, I didn’t have a jumping off point to get me going. I had a blinking cursor on a blank canvas. I had that feeling of irritation that comes with not knowing where to start. But you don’t have to take a class to get an assignment. PW.org is a great resource for writing prompts. If you’re so inclined, you can even post what you come up with online for some feedback. Which brings me to…

2. Find a local workshop group

And if there aren’t any, start one of your own. You can find like-minded writers in your area through Twitter. Befriend them, and suggest a weekly workshop at your local Barnes & Noble. Meeting with a group on a regular basis will encourage you to write on a regular basis. You’ll get the critical feedback you need to make your writing even better. And you can learn from reading and critiquing your fellow writers’ work.

3. Get a mentor

A mentor relationship will mean you have to be creative on a regular basis. Find a writer or writing teacher you admire in your area. Ask them to mentor you. Get together once a week. Treat your mentor to coffee for their time, and ask them to help you improve. Take your mentorship seriously, and they’ll likely be happy to take you on. And taking your mentorship seriously means writing regularly and writing well. And this will be good for both of you.

4. Start a blog

It’s the most immediate way to publish what you’re writing. Blogging by nature imposes a strict schedule; the best bloggers update several times a week, if not daily. Writing frequently, regardless of your topic, will get your writing muscles going and stimulate you creatively in other areas as well. And in case you haven’t noticed, all of these points result in writing on a schedule. Which is part of the reason why creative writing classes and MFA programs are great. Keep a schedule, and your creativity will keep up.

About the Author: Anna has a BA in English, a husband, and two cats. She’s spent her entire life loving language and literature. In the past three years, she’s developed an especial love for connecting with other writers, like Susan. She’s just started her new blog, Literanerd, in hopes of following her own advice and getting back to writing. You can follow her on Twitter, and check out her other hobby, photography, on Flickr.

Anna is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while I take a brief hiatus to focus on upcoming projects. Want to participate? Email me at twentyorsomething[at]gmail.com or say hi on Twitter!

 

 Note: Keep an eye out for other writing-related posts as I phase out my former creative writing site, Typescript. Repostings and more can be found under the category “Writerly” beginning in mid-April.

Guest Post Series

(Guest Post) Change Your Sheets, Love Yourself

Loving and accepting yourself for who you truly are can be an arduous task that many attempt at conquering, and few have enough patience to fully master. When I decided to make my first attempt, I became frustrated. “But, where do I start?” I pleaded with myself. “How do I start?” I rephrased the question, hoping it would yield a quicker response. With no luck, I wished at that very moment for a time machine to take me ten years down the road, so I could meet 29-year-old me—a happy and wise brunette who would easily come up with an original and life-altering answer to my question.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

I read articles, books, and watched videos on how to acquire complete self-satisfaction. As informed as I was, I felt a little skeptical. Writers on the topic of self-acceptance would happily chime in with their own tips, but my cynical side was quick to question. “Could someone genuinely be that happy?” It seemed impossible to me until I realized an important element that I was subconsciously blocking out and forgetting to prioritize.

I should clean my room, I immediately thought.  And with that spontaneously resurrected idea, I spent over an hour organizing my possessions and dusting unvisited corners of my room. I changed my bed sheets, I did my laundry, and I transformed my messy room into a safe and welcoming haven. Not too long after that, I changed my life for the better. I realized that completing a task as simple as washing my bed sheets would lead to genuine feelings of happiness. Is it really that easy?

Yes, it really is.

Now, I want all of you to do the same. Think of something you’ve always wanted to accomplish or complete that you’ve been putting off. It doesn’t have to be anything major; something as simple as reading the front page of The New York Times everyday will lead to self-appreciation and happiness.

I’ve come to realize that we’re holding ourselves back from self-adoration. We’re keeping ourselves from truly enjoying life. We all have to-do lists, may they be mental or tangible, and it’s up to us to follow through and cross-off each and every one of those goals, following successful completion. After conquering one task, you’ll feel amazed as to how effortlessly you’ve accepted to take on a task you wouldn’t have imagined successfully crossing-off your list weeks ago.

Now, imagine yourself after completing a particular task. Try to experience how you would feel at that exact moment.  I guarantee that after completing what you’ve wanted to complete, you’ll feel happy with your decision and with yourself. You’ll discover your true capabilities and surprise yourself. Seriously, who ever feels regretful after a good work out or after finishing up a six page paper days before it’s due? It’s a domino effect; accomplishing several tasks will lead to sincerely happy feelings, which will then lead to self-discovery. Let feelings of gratification and invincibility flood your insides!

I always keep a to-do list near to remind me of what I have to do for the day. You’ll feel better about yourself after working on your to-do list. Take it from me—a reformed pessimist—and create your own list filled with all of your desired short-term and long-term goals. Go ahead, read The New York Times, change your bed sheets, cook an exotic dish, go jogging—allow yourself to live a happier life and finally experience living in the moment.  Take a step closer to total self-appreciation.

 

About the Author: Grace Gavilanes is an aspiring magazine editor, teacher, mentor, and bakery owner. She has many outlandish dreams and goals on her to-do list, and has every intention in making each of them come true! She loves to help and inspire others through her blog posts and spontaneous verbal ramblings at Paranoid Android. This college sophomore also enjoys cooking fun dishes, dancing in her room to relieve unnecessary stress, and lives by the saying: “Be the best you, you can be!” Welcome Grace to Twitter @gracegavilanes or find her on Facebook!

Grace is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while I take a brief hiatus to focus on upcoming projects. Want to participate? Email me at twentyorsomething[at]gmail.com or say hi on Twitter!

Guest Post Series

(Guest Post) Beautiful Afternoons & Overcast Mornings: A Lesson on Acceptance

Last Friday, the day I woke to was a cloudy one. It was that hazy in-between sort of cloudy — not dark enough for rain and craving a day of reading and snuggling, yet not light enough to have hope that the sun would come out by the afternoon. It was dismal. Bland. Unexciting and, from the looks of it, unrelenting. While I didn’t want to hop directly back into my bed as I do on rainy days, I did have the desire to avoid looking at the sky and its infinite promise of gray. Driving to work, I felt glum. I couldn’t shake the feeling with the sky surrounding me, the colors of everything dulled by the overcast sky.

I thought back to the day before — in fact, less than twelve hours before — when I had been driving home from work. The sky had been filled with those amazing can-you-believe-they’re-real fluffy white clouds. The kind you’d swear you could bounce on if you could only get close enough to them. They were exploding and billowing across a vibrant blue sky and at every traffic light I would whip out my phone and try to take a picture, knowing full well I’d never be able to capture their beauty accurately with my Blackberry’s camera. Still, I couldn’t help but want to store those fluffs of white in my phone, to carry them with me everywhere.

That afternoon I had already heard the forecast and I knew the next day would be gloomy, filled with frown-inducing phrases like “overcast” and “thunderstorm” and “take an umbrella.” I knew I would wake and be disappointed with the sky, which I believed should be reflecting the sunshine and carefree attitude of a day privileged to be leading a three-day weekend. It has always irked me when the weather doesn’t reflect my current life circumstances (which, yes, is a nod to anyone out there who has ever used the term “self-centered” to describe me…), but over the years I’ve come to accept the fact that the weather won’t always suit my mood. Knowing that the next day I would be thrilled for the weekend and knowing the Friday weather would be a letdown, I felt even more compelled to capture the Thursday evening clouds with my camera.

As I was driving along, phone in hand, ready for the next red light and chance to snap an image, I realized the clouds I was so overjoyed to see — those blindingly white puffs of smoke-like wonder — were the very same things I would be dreading the next day. Clouds, it seems, have a power effect on me, both negative and positive. You see, I love nothing more than the sight of white against blue, a cloud coasting across the sky on a sunny day, but I have no patience for the clutter of clouds that crowd the sky on an overcast day. They are of the same make (whatever it is that makes clouds…) and yet they could not be more different in my mind.

How many things can be like that? So positive and amazing if looked at in one circumstance and so negative and depressing if looked at in a different light? Could it be that, given enough thought and time, everything is like that? Everything we experience has the potential to be like the clouds I saw last Thursday and Friday? If pasted sporadically on a bright blue sky, clouds can seem like miracles, inspiring awe and wonder in a girl like me. However, if grouped together so closely that all of their shoulders are touching, leaving no room for even a glimpse of blue, clouds can be ominous and smothering, causing me to feel as if they might someday float so low that they will cover us all with their gloominess. There can be both good and bad when it comes to clouds, and I believe that’s the case with most things. So many things can be negative or positive if looked at in a certain light — and it can be hard to remember the flip side when caught in a particular moment — especially a moment of the extremely good or extremely bad variety.

For example, it was difficult for me to really comprehend, on Thursday evening, how I would feel when those fluffy white clouds I was so fond of would turn grey and menacing on Friday. I knew, deep down, I would view them differently, but I couldn’t really recall exactly how it would feel (though I’d experienced the doom of a gray day many, many times before). Likewise, when I drove into work Friday morning beneath a cloud-cluttered sky, it was hard to recall the sky from the previous evening and how much I had revered the clouds that hung there so perfectly, suspended above me in a way that seemed nothing short of magical. Often, when we are at one end of the spectrum, it’s hard to remember the other end. Positive and negative seem so far from one another yet, in so many ways, they can be derived from the very same things.

Think, for a moment, about your bed. How many wonderful times have you had there? How many nights have you laughed and kissed and loved? And then think of those less-than-stellar moments spent in your bed. How many times have you wished you were anywhere but there? How many nights have you cried or felt lonely or tossed and turned with worry? Your bed — the place you spend hours and hours in every day — can be both a haven and a hell. It can be the place you long for and the place you long to get away from. Many places, experiences, and, perhaps, even people, can be that way. They can be the most amazing and the most heart-breaking. Though I don’t have any of my own, I would imagine children are that way. People claim they are the best thing to happen to them, yet they can hurt their parents so deeply at times. They are the best and the worst, I would imagine.

At this point (if you’re still reading!), you’re probably wondering, “Where is she going with all of this talk of clouds and beds and children?” Well, in essence, what I’m discovering for myself (and sharing the play-by-play here with you) is that the negative and the positive aspects of life are not as disconnected as one might think. In fact, most things that are immensely positive can also be incredibly negative. (As you read about in the example with the clouds). We often tend to believe that negative and positive are opposites, separate from another and, in an abstract way, enemies of one another. But, in reality, negative and positive elements are woven into almost everything. People, places, things, ideas — they all have good and bad, layers of positive and negative. Some may have more of one than the other, but, when it comes to the terms “good” and “bad,” those words are objective and what one might see as the worst thing another might see as the best.

Therefore, we cannot be certain that what we are seeing as positive or negative is necessarily so — or, maybe more importantly, that it will always be that way. When I drove home last Thursday and saw those brilliantly displayed clouds arranged so perfectly on the sky, it was hard for me to imagine me having anything but complete and utter love for clouds. However, I knew deep down that it was much more complex than that. Clouds can be beautiful, yes, but they can also be devastating. (Dramatic? Yes. True? I really think so.) The more I think about it, the more I realize that so much of life can be that way. All of its elements have the ability to be both amazing and awful. So what’s a girl like me, who is striving so hard to focus on the positive in life, to do? Do I focus only on the things that are positive (when they are positive) or do I recognize the complexities of positive and negative in everything and accept things for what they are, when they are that way?

Personally, I don’t see living a positive life as only focusing on the things that are positive. You’ve heard it all before, but it’s really true that there can be no light without dark. If I was unaware of the potential for dark, gray skies, I would never have taken so much delight in seeing those beautiful clouds littering the sky last Thursday night. Without knowing about the negative, I could never fully enjoy the positive. To know what it is like to live a negative-focused life, I now feel like I have the perspective to really appreciate those things that are positive. I’ve learned that living a positive life doesn’t mean ignoring the negative (though, admittedly, I won’t always be happy when I have to deal with negative aspects). Instead, it means recognizing both the good and the bad in everything and understanding that most elements of life are not one dimensional — and that’s what makes them so awesome.

Know this: we are destined to see both the negative and the positive and, while it is certainly nice to focus on the positive, it does no good to ignore the negative. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this: In everything, there is both light and dark and, to live a truly positive life, you must recognize and accept both the beautiful afternoons in which white clouds float lazily against a blue sky and the overcast mornings in which gray clouds hunch low from the heavy weight of the sky.

About the Author: Dani is the creator of Positively Present, a blog focused on living positively in the present moment. After twenty-five years of living with a negative attitude, Dani decided to turn her life around and start focusing on the positive. Since launching her blog in 2009, her personal development site has grown and continues to touch people around the world. Find Dani on Twitter @PositivePresent!

Dani is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while I take a brief hiatus to focus on upcoming projects. Want to participate? Email me at twentyorsomething[at]gmail.com or catch me on Twitter!

Guest Post Series, Writerly

(Guest Post) Shard By Shard: The Process of Beginning A Book

I’ve read that Michelangelo could look at a piece of stone and see the sculpture inside it.

But when I think about how he created the David, I suspect he chipped away at that block of marble a shard at a time. Eventually, a hand or the curve of the boy’s calf probably appeared, hints at the large image, stepping forth from the stone.

When I look at my book, I don’t see much of anything but haze. No great figures or amazing storylines, just an intriguing fog further up the path.

You see, I’m just at the beginning of this process. I know what the subject is. I know my reasons for writing this particular book. I know some of the characters, and I know some of what happens to them.

I do not know the structure of the book. I do not know where it will end up or what the “narrative arc” is. I don’t know that much at all, really.

Except this – the writing will show me where I need to go.

As Laraine Herring says in The Writing Warrior, “We live in a results-oriented culture. It is natural to impose this way of thinking on our writing. It may feel absolutely ridiculous to try to write without knowing where you’re going to end up. That feeling is OK. . . . There’s nowhere to go. That’s the most confounding, frustrating, counterintuitive concept in this whole writing life. There’s nowhere to go. Just show up and let everything go. . .  Don’t write with an agenda. Don’t write with a need to accomplish something. Just show up and write. Don’t try to make meaning of your writing afterward, but likewise, don’t try not to make meaning of it. Be in the experience and let everything wrapped up around that experience fall away.”

And that’s what I try to do everyday. I sit down and write. I have no idea where the words will take me that day (and some days I have no idea what words to even start with). I have no clue where this book will end up or what it will look like. I have no agenda.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to find one. Some nights, I lay in bed thinking – I could alternate this story with this one, chapter by chapter. Or I could tell this story from his perspective or in second person or from Mars or as a child or . . . or . . . or. . . But that process only frustrates me and makes me feel like not writing.

So I am trying to cultivate a “let it happen” attitude in my writing (and in my life, too.) I sit down each day and write.

The shape will emerge from the fog when it’s ready.

I just have to wait for it as I chip away at each day, shard by shard.

About the Author: Andi Cumbo is a writer and writing teacher who is currently working on a book about her family history and the slaves on the former plantation where she was raised. She currently lives with her Dad (her patron of words), four cats, and a needy Pooch named Caruso. You can read her daily blog posts at http://www.andilit.com or visit her on Twitter @andilit!

Andi is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while I take a brief hiatus to focus on upcoming projects. Want to participate? Email me at twentyorsomething[at]gmail.com or find me on Twitter!