Hungry

A few months ago, the area between my belly button and belt buckle began to make its presence known to me. For most of my 47 years, this small region lived an undistinguished existence, which, as far as I was concerned, was its job. Now, however, whenever I sat down – like, say, to write or (of course) to eat – my middle felt like I had swallowed a sausage-shaped water balloon.

I did not like this experience. I felt thick and slow. When I finally resolved to do something about it, I thought immediately of Geneen Roth, whom I had interviewed when she was touring to promote the paperback edition of Women, Food, and God. In her book Roth described her decision many years ago to forgo dieting and replace it with awareness.

And so I decided to stop eating once I was full. It sounds simple, I know, but as with all simple solutions it is not something you can choose to do only once. I had to decide to stop eating every time I was full. Or not. The beauty of this particular discipline – like all spiritual disciplines, which is really what it is – is that I was not seeking perfection but balance, the balance my body naturally desired and would guide me to if I would only listen to it.

Once I began eating with this awareness, I observed that the fullness I sought from the extra slice of pizza or the third bagel was already within me. If this sounds Pollyanna, remember that the fullness is only there if you pay attention to it. Move the light beam of your attention to all those desirable, delicious things that other people have, and you are hungry again.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Lost

I can’t count the number of times I have read in newspapers and in novels that we—the modern We—have lost our way. That we are spiritually bankrupt. Emails and the internet have replaced face-to-face conversation. We are too consumerist. Politicians lie. Everyone is too busy. Trees are disappearing. There are no more heroes.

On and on. If we are lost, then there must be someplace we were supposed to be. The hero’s journey, upon which so many stories are based, always involves a protagonist becoming lost. Dante’s Inferno begins with that very event. This being lost is never much fun for the protagonist. It often precedes his death moment, when he must decide if he is willing to abandon the life he believed he must lead to be happy. If he does not, he dies and we have a tragedy; if he does, he lives and we have a comedy.

I have never met or known anyone who has not at some point become lost. Everyone at some point believes they are lesser than, that to succeed, to get married, to get published they must somehow be someone other than themselves. Follow this idea and you quickly become lost. The internet can’t do this to you; politicians can’t do this too you—only a choice made in the quiet of your own mind can do this to you.

So we will probably be writing and talking about lost societies as long as societies are made up of people who become lost, which means forever. I don’t see anything wrong with this. As Geneen Roth points out, there may be no way to know the value of your authentic life until you have tried an inauthentic one. Yet as Geneen and many others like her know, you can become lost, but that which you wish find cannot be lost to you, which may actually be the point of becoming lost. In returning to that which waits for all of us, we understand more fully the patience and endurance of love, and our separation becomes the gift that teaches us the value of ourselves.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Free To Stay

When Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God came across my desk, I thought, “Interesting, but probably not a real candidate for an Author interview.” I put it aside without opening it. Then I saw Geneen on Oprah and realized what a mistake I had made. And no, not because Oprah was now championing her book as the only way to understand one’s struggle with weight, nor because the book went on to become a huge bestseller, but because Geneen talked about eating the way I thought about writing. As she put it, everything we do is a portal to how we live our lives. When I saw she was coming back through Seattle, I jumped at the chance for an interview, and the result leads this month’s issue.

What surprised me was how beautifully written the book was, and how Geneen had as much to say about the writer’s life as she did about bulimia and dieting. For instance, Women, Food, and God is Roth’s eighth book. At one point in her career, however, she looked up and realized it had been six years since she had written a book. This puzzled her, but she understood that she had to make peace with the fact that maybe she wasn’t a writer anymore.

I know it is said that you’re a writer if you have to write, and as a rule I would say that this is true. But I think it is equally true that we must be willing to consider the possibility that we don’t want to write. At my lowest point, when my work was bringing no money and very little happiness, I asked myself, “Do you actually want to do this?” It was the first time since I’d begun that I’d dared to allow “no” to be an answer to what was really an un-askable question.

I think some of my trouble to that point was never permitting myself to say no.  As if that is all I’d ever been looking for – a way out.  As if I had not chosen to write because I loved to but because it was the best I could come up with and having already invested so much time and energy there was no longer an option of turning back.  In this way, I had allowed myself to become a slave to something I loved.  So I opened the door, and asked, “Do you want to leave this place called writing?” And so, finally free to leave, I was finally free to stay.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Familiar Stories

I seem to be coming across this same story over and over recently. First, I watched Oprah’s interview with J. K. Rowling. In it, Rowling reminded Oprah that twelve publishers passed on Harry Potter; what’s more, her agent warned her she would “never make any money in children’s books.” Then, Thursday night I interviewed Geneen Roth. So many houses passed on Roth’s latest, Women Food and God, that it nearly didn’t get published. Oprah, one editor insisted, would never take a book with “God” in the title. Oprah made it a bestseller.

Add to these two Garth Stein, whose The Art of Racing in the Rain (no one wants to read a book told by a dog) is at 68 weeks and counting on the NYT bestseller list, and Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull rejected by 20 publishers before selling 44 million copies), and we see a pattern. Yes, novels like Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology sell quickly at auction and go on to be bestsellers, but swarming attention from publishing houses is not the only indicator of a novel’s commercial or literary value.

Conversely, do not take rejection as a sign of a work’s inherent genius. There is no formula for how many rejections you are allowed to receive before moving on to the next project. Just as you must know where a story begins and where it ends, so too must you know that it is your job to gauge – without the benefit of evidence – what the next best step for your project is once it has been written. In the business of sustaining a writing career, this can sometimes be as important as your craft.

Garth Stein fired his first agent when she told him she couldn’t sell Racing in the Rain. He did not know at that time that the book would spend over a year on the bestseller list. All he knew was what his heart told him, that he loved the story and he believed it was worth sharing with other people. This very same knowledge is available to anyone willing to listen to the voice that needs no evidence. Be as serious in your attunement to it as you would to the voice that guides you through the stories you write. This alone will allow you to tell that other story, the story of your life, with the same surprising satisfaction as the best story you’ve ever read.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Journey’s End

I am reading Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God in anticipation of our upcoming interview. In it she quotes a Buddhist teaching that says, “Find what you love and follow it all the way to the end.”

This seems like sound advice for anyone, particularly a writer. For what are we doing when telling a story but finding what we love (the beginning) and following it all the way to—well, the end? And the operative words in this teaching, as in all writing, are the verbs: find and follow.

You might see what you love as a path, or might see it as a kind of animal. Let’s say it’s a small dog. If it were a dog you loved, you would surely be tempted to hold it. Pleasant as this would be, you cannot follow a dog you are holding – you would merely stand together and eventually the feel of the dog’s heartbeat and friendly eyes wouldn’t calm you anymore because you would still be just where you were when you found him.

So you set him down and follow. Seems like such a passive way to live, and yet there are many other dogs roaming about, and the way gets tangled with deadwood and crossroads, and it takes your full attention to keep the dog in your view. It is a great discipline, the discipline of steady trust, and requires as much practice as a trapeze artist.

Perhaps more. If we love a story we often don’t want it to end, and yet the very best stories always have the very best endings. You must trust what you love to follow it all the way to its ending. That is where the true gift lies, because at the end of everything you love is the beginning of all life.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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