Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Whether you like it or not, you're a time traveller

I'm sure you've experieneced this - you learn a new word one day and suddenly you hear that word everywhere. It's suddenly in every book you read, uttered in every conversation you overhear, on all the tv shows you watch. It's everywhere. Maybe you simply didn't pay attention to the word in the past. Maybe you glossed over it because you didn't recognize it. Maybe it's a new popular word. Or maybe the universe is just messing with you. Who knows.

It happened to me this week. But not with a word; with a phrase. Suddenly every voice, every show, every article, every workshop - they were all telling me to be "in the now". To be "in the present". To be honest, when I first heard it, it irritated me. I don't have time to look at the trees right now and ponder my existence, I have about a zillion things that need to get done today, let alone this week, this month, this year! And, really, if all I did was focus on the right here, right now, wouldn't it lead to chaos? Everything would be so...disorganized. Wouldn't it?

In a novel, the past, present and future play a critical role. You need to provide perspective about your character's past, and give some sense of intrigue about where they're headed in the future. I mean, really, that's what plot is all about. It feeds the climax - it's what keeps us readers reading.

But what about all of us, in real life? How does our perspective on our own past, present, and future play into our daily lives? How much time do we spend "in the now" versus re-living our past and stressing about our future?

It was then someone I really respect said something - something that made me stop and think: "we're all time traveling," he said, "either living (read: dwelling, re-living) the past, or thinking (read: panicking, rushing, stressing, planning) about the future. Occassionally we can be found here - now - in real time"

When you think about it, he's right. We're very rarely right here, right now. Taking in the moment that is here in front of us. We're all time traveling, most of the time.

And while, yes, it can be very helpful to reflect and learn from our past experiences...if we're really being honest with ourselves,  how much reflecting and learning are we really doing when we re-visit the past? Versus complaining about it, or wishing we could change it somehow?

And, yes, making plans for our future retirement income, or career paths is a very worthwhile use of time travel. It helps us properly prepare. But, again, if we're really being honest with ourselves, how much valuable prep work are we really doing when we travel to the future? Versus worrying about things that may happen, that are completely out of our control?

So, I've decided to really pay attention to my time travel. To catch myself in the act and make sure that I am using the travel for good. For me, the future is where I spend most of my time - which means I'm often missing, overlooking, or not enjoying what is happening right now in front of me. After all, right now is the future I was planning for last week, last month, last year. In fact, I think I'm going to take a two week vacation in the present. Save the time travel for my novel.

So...where have you been time travelling most lately?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I'm scared or sad, just ask my 4-year old psychologist

So, I've been committed to my writing routine for what, now, 3 months? I'm making  headway; I’ve developed a writing habit. Instead of being excited about this, though, it seems I've taken to worrying.

I worry that I should be spending my time elsewhere. I worry that my writing isn't smart enough, interesting enough. I worry it’s just plain, boring crap. I worry about whether my back up system is actually working. I worry I'm wasting my time. I worry about what happens when I actually finish the first draft.

But what is worrying, really? It's such an odd state. And, I must say, a very annoying and uncomfortable one. The fact is, it wears us out emotionally and physically, and accomplishes nothing. It can also paralyze us from moving forward with decisive, deliberate action. That's a fact. Yet, it’s really tough to kick ourselves out of worry mode once we’re in it.

I first remember experiencing worry at age 6. I vividly recall waiting for my mom to pick me up from school. And before she even had the chance to show up late, I was worrying that  she may be late and what may happen to her on her way to pick me up.

Compare this to my earliest memories, which I can trace back to 2-3 years old. I don't remember feeling worried. Yet I can remember feeling happy, sad, mad. My own special brand of logic concludes, then, that between about 2-6 years old, "worrying" doesn't really exist. At least, it didn't for me.

So I decided to check in with my 2 to 6-year-old contacts. When asked, "what does worry mean?", here is what they had to say:

"It means you're scared"
"You feel sad"
"It means you're scared"
"It means you're in trouble"
"upset or sad"

So, listening to these wise 2 to 6-year-olds, the penny dropped. Of course. The root of all my worrying can be categorized into one of two buckets: “scared” or “sad”. And, when put in those simple terms, it is much simpler to pinpoint the issue. Sure, I’m feeling a bit scared/fearful about this new thing I’m working on. I’m scared of failing.  The 2 to 6-year-olds nailed it. I am scared.

And, scared is somehow much more easy to work with. It puts me in a much better frame of mind to problem solve. I can address fears, alleviate fears, overcome fears. Worry? Not me. Not anymore. I’m going back to my 2 to 6-year old roots.

So, have you received any great advice from 2 to 6-year-olds lately?