I used to fear going blind as much as I feared the act of drowning or burning alive.
Just the thought that I may never see again, that some horrible accident could happen and my world would go black could hold my attention for hours like a restless nightmare.  After all, anyone who is partially sighted holds on to their remaining sight.
For dear life.
But now, I do not fear the sight I have or the thought that it may diminish more, or completely, with time. Because I believe love is the source of my sight, not my eyes.
I have had 20% acuity since birth, or in other words, I live in a fuzzy world and I spend a lot of time figuring things out thanks to extra sensory cues. My memory, imagination and intuition play enormous roles. But the part of me that holds the most important role is my heart. I've come to understand that I really see more of the world when I have an open and willing heart.
True SEEING IS imagination, creativity, and memory all culminating together with love, and that provides a true image in the mind and the heart. It is an understanding! But without love -- whole hearted love -- we are just seeing thoughts.
What we really want is to understand, to SEE, to connect deeply.

Bringing Home the Elixir


 Today I was reflecting on a common "how to" question that students often asked in creative writing class:  how do you finish a story without killing off the hero or doctoring the drama so that everyone lives happily ever after?  For this question, I must lead writers back to the hero's journey, back to the moment where the hero brings home the elixir.

If you have studied Joseph Campbell's, The Hero's Journey, you know that all heroes (main characters) go flying back into a dramatic ordeal if they cannot embrace their learnings. It is as certain as the law of gravity.  The ordeal awaits to anyone who cannot move forward by the act of selfless sharing.  

Consider that in real life there are thieves who go to jail again and again, but at some point they learned their lesson, and they go on to live honest lives and share their wealth. Yet there is also the thief who can't break the nasty habit, and for a screenwriter, this may lead to an epic mini-series as each ordeal (or robbery) is drawn out.  Westerns are infamous for this pattern.  

We've seen so many movies go awry because the director simply cannot part with the knee-jerk impulse to offer a cliche and happy ending.  If you want your writing to be more subtle, it is essential that you find a way for the character to slowly embrace his new intelligence with just a few bumps, innocent scratches, and a lot of humor.

He can't be perfect. He can't be beautiful.  He can't be rich.  

He must be humble.  He must be accountable.  He must be universal.

In other words, the story ends with him being an ordinary man. Perhaps the middle and the climax demonstrated heroic acts but the ending shows his simple moral coding. I remember Christopher Vogler's example of King Aurthur where he spoke of the knights sharing the grail, "as otherwise there would be no healing."

Above all, he must be able to serve those who can benefit from his knowledge without making himself so unbelievably special.  

The heroes journey and how it applies to exceptional writing must stay away from the colossal expansion of the human ego.  In fact, it is the writer's job to show that the character has truly won the race by humbling himself, abandoning all notion of suicide or prestige, and becoming open to the greatest gift of all: selfless love.  He must demonstrate that he is grounded yet available to the human experience of every life he touches.

Do that, and you will sell millions.


A Pilot is a Pilot. A Writer is a Writer.

Photo by Nazarevich/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Nazarevich/iStock / Getty Images

But Am I REALLY a Writer?

Sometimes I have to tease the answer out of my clients. They think they are sort of writers, like kinda, like not the best-selling types, like the ones who just like it… like that kind, but not like a REAL writer, know what I mean?


But you are losing a self-made battle if you give in to that talk.

Are pilots who fly 737’s just “like sort of” pilots because they fly commercial? Do we reserve the profession for those bombing around with the Blue Angels?

A pilot is a pilot. A writer is a writer.

Here’s an important question: Do you write? If you know how to write, but you don’t write, I’d hold off from claiming the title.

Writers, as you may have guessed…WRITE! Even if they do not write for the New Yorker, they write! Even if they seldom partake in a publisher’s contest, writers are producing quality content for books and articles that will eventually appear in quality magazines, the better blogs, and at the top of “must read” lists.. Their words hit the page daily, weekly, with some regularity. They are driven to produce more and more and more content.

They Write. It is their raison d’etre. A writer feels strange if he hasn’t written, just like a runner needs to stretch and move – they can’t be idle.

I always know when something is really off. I’m not myself. I’m not happy. I’m out of balance. These are the times when I’m not writing.

I might be journaling. I might be obsessing. I’m likely bitching, comparing my best stuff to J.K. Rowling while face-stuffing bon bons and succumbing to a deadly intoxication of worry, but I’m definitely not writing.

I’m not producing, not creating, not grooving, not nothin’. I’m suffering, not writing.

And who knows how long this would have to go on to be cast out permanently from the ranks of other writers? I am not willing to push it too far, because, after all, it is clear to me that I am a writer.

Likely, you understand what I’m saying.

But what I really want you to understand is that it is GREAT to write whether you are a writer or not! It is great to do yoga even if you only spend two years out of your entire life doing it. It is great to visit a new city even if it only happens one day out of the year. It is great to write when you feel inspired to let your thoughts out! Do it! You don’t have to hold a title or a degree to enjoy the pleasure of seeing your very own, well-crafted or silly, sporadic memories on paper.

The title is for those who need it, like me, because we like to know our role and responsibility to the world.

Who cares WHO is really a writer? Only writers.

When Story Feels Unresolved

Photo by lekcej/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by lekcej/iStock / Getty Images

It’s terribly uncomfortable, in real life or in fiction, when the story just doesn’t feel finished. Something about it needs more attention, more stitches, more thought.

But no thoughts come. No action occurs. It’s like the actors are stuck frozen on the stage but the curtain won’t fall.

We crave a significant resolution, and without it, the second-guessing begins.

Why did I even write this dumb story?
I don’t even understand these characters anymore….
Nobody wants to read this….

I have been at that exact point again and again.

So I suggest a little reprieve from your story while you examine situations from real life. How did you handle that memorable interaction from summer, that good little story from your life right when everything seemed to be going so well…. And then all the players in the game just stopped! They vanished. All interaction ceased and you wondered if you dreamt the whole thing. What did you do?

I’ll use one of my youthful summers as an example, a time when I house-sat for Carrie – a friend of a friend of a friend – who had an immaculate home, two small cats, and renovations in the works while she checked into the hospital for life-saving treatments. The home and cats had a long list of needs, and it meshed perfectly with my summer plans, ad I had run out of rent money and I was lonely as hell.

Did I mention that this place was a mansion? I’m not kidding. Room after room of artifacts that showed off her success and wealth. I took a feather duster to every shelf while I sipped my morning coffee. I swept daily. The cats were young and always underfoot, but I had an instinctual desire to maintain the pristine posture of the home as a spiritual thank you for not ending up on the street.

Carrie would call from her hospital bed while I sat upright on her king-sized Fosters-Simmons and offered an empathetic ear. Our friendship was growing. I would send her pictures of the cats and I even collected cards from her friends.

She was gone half the summer, but our bond took shape and I felt like I had a big sister. I delighted in the idea of welcoming her home.

But it all changed the day she returned. I don’t think she even noticed how shiny the house was or the roses I had staged on the dining room table. Her words were harsh, almost militant, and she sent me on my way within 15 minutes of her return.

I felt sick. I remember crying as I walked to the bus. Where had I gotten the idea that a woman of such novelty would want to be dear friends with me? I was just hired to do a job. Just a poor student. That’s all. At what point had I changed the story?

I found my way to my new, shared apartment. Everything about my life felt uprooted, as though there were no finishing touches within my reach. I wanted to know her forever. I thought we had bonded on the phone. But I could only assume that she needed me then, needed me no longer, and that I had been foolish to have any emotional attachment.

I was still in my twenties, so I gave myself permission to call my mother and wail. My mother is the wordsmith of empathy. She knows coddling. She invented it.

“You have to do things that make you happy and let this friendship rest.” How dare she say this; she was supposed to save me! I could not see at the time that she was offering a grand tool of self-empowerment. She knew I could weather this damp season if I found warmth elsewhere. “You have other friends. They love you.”

So for months, it all felt unfinished. I did not hear from Carrie. I picked up my hurt self and focused on other things, like new employment, and I let it rest. Sometimes, my heart felt very unresolved, but as days passed, I realized this was a similar storm. I had been through such “fall outs” many times before and they always resolved themselves later on, usually while I was busy attending to the next chapter of my life.

Like fictional stories, sometimes the need to resolve all tension right now is just unbearable. Writers know that this is going to come up – a deep desire to just finish!

But it may be similar to the experience of the marathon runner who has paced himself for miles and can hardly endure the remaining mile. He can’t see the finish line – not yet – so he questions whether he can see at all.

Yet the hard-wiring must kick in. Our best training must take over. Runners, writers, EVERYONE alike wants to know how it will end BEFORE it ends. The desire is great, but if the words are not there, you must have the wherewithal to be strong, courageous, and at peace with your story. Acknowledge that struggle and let it rest.

Have the Courage to Communicate

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we are feeling tongue-tied, scared, or alone. We know it is important to speak up, but we forget how to do it. We forget that speaking clearly is linked to knowing what we want and sharing that message with another person.

Children are born with a natural ability to communicate. They lift their cup to show mom they want more juice and they snuggle their stuffed animal while smiling and showing pure glee. We know what children are saying, at least most of the time. Then we grow, experience challenges, and we become more complicated.

At some point, adults must be articulate enough to communicate their needs with the important people: their boss, their spouse, their aging parents.

But the reason we must articulate our needs and communicate openly isn’t linked with our success. Anyone can survive by going it alone, albeit, it is not the easier or most fun path, but it is a path. Most of us desire relationship. We want to be connected. We want to experience the joy of knowing someone else, working together very well, and making plans together.

So, regardless of our situation, we must have the courage to communicate.

I once worked for a woman who had a little start up company – I thought it would be fun to have a female boss – but I quickly learned that she was not much of a communicator. She would tell all the members on the team when we performed badly or how we must speed things up, but she was virtually incapable of sharing her vision for the company, her dreams, the goals she was setting for the team. She was not open with us. She was merely correcting us. Eventually, the company closed its doors.

Without the courage to communicate, our relationships become extinct. They have no life. They have no support. They die.

Someone has to take the first step. Someone must be on the high road and say, “I have a vision, here, and it goes like this….”, or “I am aware that we need to make some changes and I am here to share my ideas and hear yours,” or “It is clear to me that you have some unmet desires and I would love to learn about them. Will you share them with me?”

Remember, courage is not something to try out once everything is going well. We act with courage when we are in a state of fear, busyness, or transition. Taking action while we are scared is the essence of courage. We do one thing – one foot in front of the other. We share openly, thoughtfully, honestly.

No doubt, communicating is a courageous act. Yet communicating is our birthright. It links us to those we love, the jobs we love, the life we love. We cannot let the life we are creating be void of relationships and meaning simply because we failed to speak. Survival is a quiet, lonely journey. Add a little communication, take a little risk, and the path expands. The fog lifts. The heart opens. Two are joined. Life is possible.