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The Tremors: On Trying too Hard
by Jennifer Paros
Just as a bicycle chain may be too tight, so may one’s carefulness and conscientiousness be so tense as to hinder the running of one’s mind.
~ William James
Years ago, while working on the final pen and ink drawings for my children’s book, I leaned in to draw a face and my hand began to shake. The more I strove to hold myself steady, the more impossible it seemed. Maxwell Maltz, doctor and self-help writer, once described this dynamic as “purpose tremors.” When someone has a specific purpose, goes towards it with great intensity, and tries very hard not to make an error, he shakes. In Maltz’s explanation – what takes a stable body into a sudden expression of instability, ironically, is “excessive carefulness.” Maltz used the example of striving to thread a needle. The person’s hand is steady a moment before, but the exertion of mental effort to get it right inadvertently thwarts his ability.
Mentally striving to control what we’re doing leads to this sort of backfiring. The nature of trying hard is that the focus isn’t actually on success; it’s on effort and striving for control of an outcome. This focus then yields greater awareness of more to control, therefore more that feels out of control.
It’s easy to understand why trying harder seems like a logical approach. A good work ethic usually implies the concept of effort and great achievement is commonly seen as a byproduct of hard work. It’s a natural conclusion that punching up the application of working hard and exerting effort would increase our chances of success. But in my case, the harder I tried, the worse the situation became. Soon, I couldn’t approach drawing without feeling nervous; I was unable to recall what it was like (before my deadline) to draw without this unwanted mental vigilance. My thought process was in overdrive regarding something I had once done virtually without thinking. I had accidentally thrown off my own autonomic creative system by no longer trusting it. more...
The Writing Life: Jilted – and Still Jazzed
by Tina Lincer
Newly single, I was raising two little ones, working a day job, freelancing and turning every spare moment into a writing opportunity.
I wrote at red lights and in carpool lines. I wrote with one eye on Scooby-Doo cartoons and one on my notebook. I wrote while shivering on bleachers in unheated ice rinks during my 6-year-old’s hockey practices, and most of all, when my children were with their dad, Wednesday nights and alternate weekends.
While I hated being a single mom, a divorcée and a minus-one, I vowed not to be cowed by my new status. I’d never been a quitter, in love or the literary life.
I remember being in seventh grade, aching to go out with Richard Garfinkel and James Allen, and also longing for editors from Highlights and Hallmark to say yes to my short stories and greeting card verses.
Time after time, rejection letters sailed through the mail slot in our apartment door and dropped onto the shag carpet. But with pre-adolescent hubris, I threw them away – and shrugged off those uninterested boys – and went back to making my prose.
In my twenties, I bombarded women’s magazines with story ideas and got a string of no’s. Turned down, too, was a manuscript for a rhyming children’s book. The editor’s comment? “Dr. Seuss did it better.”
But I refused to let those snubs define me or my future. I vowed to reject the rejections. more...
To Be or Not Too Much
by Cherie Tucker
There’s an epidemic of misspelling afoot. It is showing up mostly on Facebook. People from all over the country have shown symptoms of not being able to handle to vs. two vs. too. Let us examine them one at a time.
1. To has two functions: It goes with the infinitive form of all verbs:
-- to do,
-- to spell,
-- to write
It also is a preposition, those words that show the relationship between a noun or pronoun and some other word in a sentence:
-- Give this to Bob.
-- You talkin’ to me?
-- Toss it to third!
2. The next one is the number 2 spelled out: 1, 2, 3 = one, two, three. It contains the letter w. more...
The Action Figures Collection
by Joan Frank
In an essay for American Theater magazine, playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss) described finding himself, some years ago, in the middle of a kind of personal renaissance, having just received a wonderful award.
Lucas had been given the Greenfield Prize. That meant a $30,000 stipend and a writing residence at a place called the Hermitage, in Englewood, Florida. His life, he cheerfully admitted, was a mess at the time: his marriage done, his work dead-ended. Though he'd overcome alcoholism and addiction, he wasn't sure, at 60, "what kind of character I wanted to play in my third act."
The retreat and cash prize gave him what every writer craves: time, space, financial stability. He could sort himself out and make new work. In what feels like a report or evaluation of this windfall experience, his essay tries to convey "the one big surprising thing I learned in my year of reading, contemplation and conversations with the Hermitage staff and fellow artists."
I re-read his essay several times, struggling to summarize for myself that "one big surprising thing." I sensed that Lucas had written the piece in a heightened state. That is to say, he was quite high—a recognizable art colony high, that supremely fertile, alert, all-pores-open period when the very air seems to vibrate and the imagination with it. During that time, delicious possibilities rise to the surface like glistening golden carp, promising to coalesce into something brilliant—if we can just string together the words to finesse the job. more...