Thursday, July 20, 2017

Gaining perspective and getting offline

By the time you read this, my butt will be on a beach "sipping on gin and juice" (just kidding). [Seriously, I'll be alternating between water and more water cause I'm dehydrated like that.] Anyway, we're taking a big family vacation. The in-laws, the kids, the whole kit and caboodle. And I will be fully disconnected. I won't check email on vacay. I won't cruise social media on vacay. I'll pretend the outside world doesn't exist when I'm on vacay. Now, why can't I do that during the rest of the year?

I believe I've mentioned this before: I have an internet problem. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my email (because my agent will be emailing me with terrific news at 5am - yeah, right) and then I jump online to scroll through Twitter. I'll comment on Facebook, see what's happening on Reddit. Lament my book ranking on Amazon. There is no end to the wormholes the web provides.

I'm on my laptop constantly. My children will always remember me as standing at the kitchen counter, clacking away on my computer.

In addition to writing, I am a stay-at-home mom with three kids. Some days, my only adult interaction is through Facebook Messenger or Twitter convos. Writing is a very lonely and isolating gig. And I love to chat up my author friends about their manuscripts, their submission process, their writing life. It makes me feel like I am part of a virtual office. It makes me feel connected. Also, as many of you know, writers are online a lot: to market, to promote friends, to advertise book sales or blog posts. But, you can't push a product you don't have and online time swamps my ability to draft.

And like gorging on a fatty meal when you're trying to lose weight, my insistence on surfing the web makes me feel horrendous. In an effort to connect to people online, I'm disconnected from my life around me: my kids, my dog, my writing which gets neglected by the pull of an interesting thread on Twitter. It's not freaking healthy. And I know it.

It's impossible to completely disengage from the online world. For one thing, I need to be reachable via email and Messenger for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to make sure my neighbor (who I often team up with for carpooling and childcare), and my husband can reach me if need be. But honestly, that's it.

So, I've drafted a Disengage Manifesto:

1. You do not need to share every Washington Post/Buzzfeed/NYT/Politico article. It's not your job to teach Facebook friends about politics. They can look stuff up themselves. Let them. Post some photos of your kids once in a while. Check your parents' feed for their vacation photos. That's enough. You're good.
2. Twitter is a time suck, not to mention a hatchet to your morale. Limit that indefinitely.
3. Email really only needs to be looked at once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. No one is trying to contact you that badly.
4. Reddit is fun, but it won't write your book.
5. Close your freaking laptop and hide it from yourself. Run a lap around the block. Get off your butt. Put in a load of laundry. Listen to a podcast.

I don't know why I continue behaviors I know are bad for me. Why does anyone really? I'm hoping some time off from the real world will give me new perspective. To quote Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast...."

What are your tips and tricks to getting offline and boosting productivity?


Monday, July 17, 2017

My Creative Battery



I hadn’t figured out until recently that I function on several different batteries. Maybe all of you already knew this and I’m just slow, but I thought I’d share anyway in case there is someone else out there who hasn’t yet figured out all their batteries. Here’s how I finally grouped mine:
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Adulting
  • Creativity


My Physical Battery gives me the ability to stay awake during the day and move my body through all its physical needs. My Emotional Battery controls how well I tolerate frustrations throughout the day. My Adulting Battery keeps me charged for all the responsibilities I have to accomplish in any given day: get the kid to school/activities, walk the dog, make dinner, do the laundry, etc. My Creative Battery is what I use for writing and all other activities that require creativity.

Of course, this would be the optimal state:



The thing I’ve discovered recently is that these batteries drain and recharge at different rates. In addition, if I need more in one of the ‘key’ areas—such as my Physical Battery—I have to drain some of the others. Lately, my battery capacity has looked a lot like this:



Certainly, there is fluctuation in this model from day to day, but I’d say this has been a good average for me over the last year. I knew my creativity was suffering—not that I wasn’t feeling creative anymore, just that it took an extreme amount of effort to pull it out of my head. Writing was slow and forced. I’d sit for hours trying to figure out what to do for my scheduled blog post. All the things I need to do to run my author business—marketing, social media, events, newsletter, etc.—also come from this tank.  A few months ago I ran a fitness challenge for my gym and it tapped out all of my remaining creative juice. All of my writing related responsibilities took a huge hit because I had nothing else left in the tank.

So what to do? How could I recharge it?

I tried to pull from some of my other batteries, but that didn’t work. All it did was add ‘lazy and cranky’ to my ‘uncreative’ characterization.

I tried to be creative in other areas, hoping that once I started it would generate new creative juice. I’d spend time with my daughter in the craft room. I’d read a lot, as that often inspires my creativity. The result—just more drainage of what little creative juice I did have left in the tank.

It took my daughter’s summer break to make me realize what I needed—SLEEP! Over the past year, I averaged between 5 and 5.5 hours of sleep 6 out of 7 nights. It was apparently enough to keep my Physical Battery at a functional level, but that was it. But even that battery was in danger. There were a few nights where I was so tired it felt like my bones hurt. Days when I’d be falling asleep in a doctor’s waiting room. Mornings when I felt I needed to pull over to the side of the road because I wasn’t sure I could keep my eyes open for the 15-minute drive to the gym. I was pulling so much from my other batteries just to keep moving. I didn’t want my family to give me the boot, so I had to watch the levels in my Emotional and Adulting Batteries. That meant the Creative Battery got the biggest ax.

Now that my daughter is on summer break, I can sleep in a bit and go to a later workout time. That one hour a day has helped me so much! I can feel my creative juice coming back up. The downside is I only have 2 weeks left to figure out what to do once school starts again. My goal is to find a way to get to this model:



Basically, I need to find a way to be plugged in all the time. I have to keep going to my workouts in support of my health goals, and early morning is my best option so sleeping in will be out once school starts back up. I might be able to mix in some later workouts, but that causes a different kind of drain on my writing so it wouldnt be a permanent solution. I can’t drink caffeine for medical reasons, so that’s not an option. I’d been resorting to food as my energy source, but that wasn’t working well and it detracted from my health goals. I already take Vitamin D, but I may have to look into additional vitamins. I’ve tried diffusing oils at times, and occasionally that helps. I figure I’m going to have to get to bed earlier, but I’m not optimistic it will be sustainable long term. I’m not one to take naps, but I might have to try to figure out how to do that if I can’t get to bed. The struggle is real, and I suppose I ought to figure it out now while my Creative Battery is still sufficiently charged! Jonathan’s recent post about meditation gave me some ideas that I might try. 

What about you? Do you find your batteries are grouped in similar ways? What do you do to keep them charged?


~ Carrie

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Is writing the ultimate form of meditation?

Photo Credit

A Post By Jonathan

Hey ya'll (did I mention I moved to Virginia recently?)! It took me about an hour to find a good picture to put at the top of my post (I ended up with the symbol for mindfulness, being in the here and now), so this won't be the longest blog entry I've ever produced. But does it need to be? I mean, who has time to read super long blog posts these days?

Actually that's kind of what my topic is about today. Finding time (or at least creating capacity within yourself) to do more of what you enjoy on a daily basis. I doubt that's reading my blog posts, but you are here so there is that.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been looking into the topic of Mindfulness quite a bit lately and I wanted to take a moment to expand on that. I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the Mindfulness movement, as it seems to be everywhere these days, but if not I think it's a concept that just can't be overlooked for writers. In my opinion, mindfulness and those really awesome writing sessions are very closely related. And I believe mindfulness concepts can help us identify why writing feels so great sometimes and even label the sometimes hard to pin down reasons why we love writing so much.

According to Wikepedia, Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal experiences occurring in the present moment. Basically if you are able to do this you block out painful past experiences as well as future anxieties and are just focusing on the present moment.

Some people achieve this by sitting cross-legged on a beach while others (us) achieve it sitting at a keyboard, living moment by moment with our characters. And that's when the best writing sessions occur, isn't it? When we are lost in the present moment, with no thought towards the past or the future. We are just advancing from word to word, scene to scene, blocking everything out but what is occurring at that exact second in our stories. And it feels great-- so different than the craziness of our "other" lives.

A lot of times I don't write because I bring the past (preconceptions, questions about my ability, the business of my day) into my writing as well as the future (will I ever finish? will this be any good? am I just wasting my time?). But what I often miss --and what I'm working on-- is that the act of writing itself is, what I consider, the ultimate form of meditation and can just make me a happier and healthier person in general.

So keep that in mind the next time you sit down at your computer. Writing for the sake of writing To your health and wellbeing...

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Creating From a Place of Honesty and Integrity (Interview with Cantwell, Singer/Songwriter Behind "Hearing Things")

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
amazon.com/author/kozeniewski
Hey all!  Authors can tend to run over the same ground again and again so I thought for this month's interview I'd introduce you to a different creative type: a singer/songwriter.  Today's guest has an impressive body of work and is making a name for herself in the Philadelphia music scene.  Let's learn a bit about her and then jump into the interview.

ABOUT CANTWELL:


Writing poetry since the age of 9, Cantwell is a creative mind first and foremost. Back then, emulating her idols Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, she started writing, singing, and performing in talent shows at the age of ten.

While in a band in middle school, she continued to discover her own power in a lyrical way. Then, she wrote of heartbreak, teenage angst, and unrequited love. At the age of fourteen she was recording and being approached to write for other artists. Happy to oblige, Cantwell began learning the art of songwriting and building up her now extensive catalog. And, with the help of a home recording studio, she has more demos recorded than she can count.

Cantwell has performed in bars, concert halls, coffee shops, weddings, in clubs, and on radio shows. She has an ability to entertain a range of audiences. Her voice appeals to not only the young pop audience, but to older rock and even jazz fans. She is known for being energetic and vocally strong on stage.

While her songs range from rock, to pop, to R&B she simply defines her style as “mature pop”. The new album, “Hearing Things” will be released in September of 2017 and it promises to be personal and fun. Songs like “Killer, Killer” & “Wanted” show her edgier, darker rock side and tracks like “Stale” and “All to Myself” bring out her inner pop star. Then, ballads like “Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word” show her softer, more vulnerable side. ”I’m so excited about every song on this album because I wrote them all for me but in doing that, I also wrote them for YOU!” She is motivated not only by your head nodding, but by your smiles as you listen. “If you get even one minute of joy from this project, my work is done.”

You can follow her on her website, SoundCloud, Twitter, or Instagram.

Interview:

SK:  Hi, Cantwell, and welcome to Across the Board! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. First, can you walk us through your process of writing an individual song?

C:  Hi Stephen! Thanks so much for having me! I really appreciate it.

I would love to tell you there’s one way to write a song and that it’s Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 and BAM!...you have a song! But, it’s never that way. The most common way I begin is with a concept or title. Once I have a concept I start writing the idea immediately so I don’t lose the initial inspiration. I start jotting down ideas that surround or are related to the title or concept. That or I start with an entire line and go from there. Sometimes a melody comes to me immediately, in which case I sing that into my iPhone’s “Voice Memos” until later when I can really flesh out the idea. Since I don’t actually play an instrument (not well anyway) I usually start with a drum sample or loop from one of my audio programs on my home computer (ProTools, Garage Band, or Logic Pro to name a few). I set the tempo, add a bassline or keyboards or guitar loop and demo the track at home until I can bring the idea to the producer I work with in a real studio.

SK:  That said, how do you go about putting together a full album? How do you determine the flow and order of songs?

C:  Luckily (or unluckily) for me, my catalog is quite extensive. I literally have hundreds of songs/concepts to choose from. It’s about the song’s home-demo “feel” or vibe. If it excites me immediately and then again after a few weeks on my rotation, it goes on the album. I don’t believe in “filler” tracks so you’ll never find a song on one of my projects that is just “thrown in there”. I’m glad you mention song order too. There is certainly an energy when you listen to any album. For me, the first song is always my most “mass appeal” record. That way, I can hook most listener into at least listening to track 2. Then, track 2 is always a personal favorite that I feel is fun and yet doesn’t stray too far from the vibe of the first record to the point where the listener feels betrayed by the difference in sounds. Then, as the album develops I paint more of the intended “picture”. I usually wait to slow it down until the end of the album. With my last album, I ended with a vulnerable ballad called “Anonymous” that I wrote at 19 years old. This record ends with an upbeat rocker “in-your-face” type record called “Wanted” that I wrote very recently. The reason for this ending is I want the last feeling the listener gets from me to be strength.

SK:  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a singer, do you ever write music and realize you're not the right person to perform it? Do you/would you ever write for somebody else?

C:  While my songs are often quite personal, I do write with others in mind often. I think, “How would Rihanna say this?” or “Would Gwen Stefani sing it like that?”. I would very much love to have others sing my songs as I simply don’t have the resources to record all of mine. Like I said, I literally have hundreds of songs. I am getting to a point where I am going to start giving songs away, just so they can be recorded and heard!

SK:  As a performer, how do you find and book gigs?

C;  A great way to book a gig is by doing Open Mic nights. I have been on the local Philadelphia/Delco ("Delco" is Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia - SK) scene for years now and met many great musicians and performers that way. A lot of them are willing to invite you to be on the same bill with them in the future or even create a new show with you. As long as you’re willing to work, promote, and be “grass roots” about it, people will be nice and offer to work with you. You just have to get yourself out there.

SK:  How do you market your performances and your albums?

C:  I do my due diligence on the Internet with social media apps, my website, and iTunes, and Amazon. I plan to film a few music videos with this project and release those. I also will do radio podcasts, interviews like these, and hopefully good ol’ word of mouth!

SK:  You have quite an impressive body of work already. What are your aspirations for your career, either creatively or in terms of popular appeal?

C:  I would love to be a touring singer/songwriter full time. I’ve been steadily writing songs and poetry since I was 9 and the well has not run dry yet! I know I have plenty to offer and look forward to meeting other creative minds in my journey.



SK:  Tell us about your latest album "Hearing Things." When and where will we be able to get it?

C:  Yes, “Hearing Things” is the title of the album and it’s a three-tiered message about music, mental illness, and rumors. Songs and music are “things we hear”, if mentally ill enough, people “hear things” and when someone is spreading rumors you hear people say, “Oh, I’ve been hearing things”. I’ve dealt with aspects of all three and felt it was important to put a voice to all three in one project. My songs range from rocker chick vibes (“Killer, Killer” & “Wanted”) to softer ballads (“Misfortune Teller” and “Love Is A Dirty Word”) and fun upbeat pop records (“All To Myself” and “Stale”). While my style is all over the place, I like to define it as “mature pop”.

With “Hearing Things” I decided to record songs that I love, not just ones I thought would do well commercially. Obviously, my ultimate goal is to have everyone know me and my songs but as a creative person that is never the driving force behind the music. If I can’t create from a place of honesty and integrity, I don’t create at all.

“Hearing Things” will be released in September on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and most other major audio outlets. You can hear two of the songs now, “Stale” & “Killer Killer” on SoundCloud.com/Cantwell-Music. Or, you can visit my website at iLoveCantwell.com. All updates on performances, videos, and releases will be there!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

It All Started with a Google Search

By Cheryl Oreglia


That's right, it's Google search time my friends, my first at bat so to speak, and I'll admit to wanting to knock it out of the park.  It's a bit of a hack job but at least I tried. Apparently there are rules for these quick writes and I'm a avid rule follower. 
  • Start a random search string in Google (or could be from one of your previous searches) 
  • Choose one of Google’s suggestions
  • Write up a post (or some flash fiction if you’re feeling really creative)
My google search began with a search on the meaning of the word google. I assumed it would give me something of interest. I found out, "Googol is a mathematical term for a specific number that is written out as the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. According to Brin and Page, the theory behind selecting a name based on this extremely large number is to reflect the mission of Google to organize a potentially infinite amount of information on the Internet." So naturally I googled stories that involved math and infinity. 
There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Of course the whole "Fault in Our Stars" thing got me thinking about the Fourth of July. Right? New search: 4th of July - A celebration that dates back to the American Revolution. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, two day later delegates from 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted by our very own Thomas Jefferson. And the rest is history. 

A little known fact is that John Adams believed that July 2nd was the correct date on which to celebrate the birth of American independence, and would reportedly turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest. Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Makes you wonder about the synchronicity of things. 

Which brings to the brink of some marginal flash fiction. This is not my forte, but I made an attempt, because I'm a rule follower like our founding fathers. Keep in mind I'm at the lake, packed house, and sleep deprived. Okay, that's my apologia, read on.

A Fourth of July story of death, betrayal, and mistaken identity

She pulled the cold trinket from her coat pocket, a small replica of the liberty bell, it felt heavy in her sweaty palm. It's the third of July, the bells have been on sale all week, along with an assortment of fireworks, and brightly colored banners. She has never stolen anything in her life. What made her take this from Mel's Hardware Store today? On the eve of a horrendous personal tragedy? It's late, she wasn't thinking straight, maybe she'll return it tomorrow. 

As she slips the key in the front door, it opens unexpectedly, her identical twin emerges in the doorway, "You look like you just committed a crime Helen," Tori giggles. The trinket slips to the ground where the sound of the clanking bell seems to collaborate her sister's statement. Helen snatches up the contraband before it rolls off the porch, jams it back in her pocket, and steps quickly into the house. You can hear the sound of the wheels skidding on the loose gravel as the car speeds away with Tori and her gaggle of friends.

On the verge of sleep, the sound of an incoming text makes Helen sit up in bed, and reach for the phone on the nightstand. She knocks over the stolen bell in the process, but she lets it go so she can read the text, "I saw what you did today Helen, hope it was worth it?" The text is from a blocked number. She froze. 

As the night turns into day Helen continues to pace in the small room. She is painfully aware of the consequences for stealing. She lives in the small town of Hackalim, tucked away in a remote part of the Appalachian Mountains, almost forgotten by mainstream society. The crime rate is negligible, especially when justice is swift, and irreversible. What possessed her to take something that didn't belong to her? She knew the answer long before the question formed in her mind. It is her private rebellion and the liberty bell is the perfect symbol. It's cracked and imperfect but the inscription at the top reads, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." 

A second text came in mid morning, Helen fearfully glances at her phone, "Amputations at noon, are you ready?" She fainted, holding onto the phone with her left hand, unable to shield herself from the fall. Gashing her head on the metal coffee table as she went down, Helen lands with a thug on the hardwood floor, the blood slowly pools around her limp body. 

She watches her motionless body, wrapped in a crisp white sheet, from a distance. She seems to be hovering near the back of a sterile hospital room, detached, but fully alert. The only thing keeping her body alive is a machine, that forces air in, and out of her lungs. She is on the fourth floor of the St. Stephen's General, but she is not in her body, how could this be? 

Five years earlier Helen was accused of steeling a rare book from the library downtown, but the accusations were false, she was no where near the library on that faithful day in July. Her right hand was amputated before her innocence could be established. It wasn't fair. She never found out who accused her of this crime. 

It was past midnight when the door slowly opens and she watches her sister Tori slip quietly into the hospital room. Her sister approaches her unconscious body, she bends to whisper in her ear, "I'm sorry, it was meant to be a joke, sending those text messages on the anniversary of your amputation, such a stupid idea. We only meant to scare you." Her sister reaches out and brushes a stray hair from her face. "You know it was me who stole the book, the librarian could never tell us apart, I needed the money, and I was too afraid to tell the truth." As soon as the confession cleared Tori's lips, Helen's heart stopped beating, it was the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and finally the truth had set her free.





Where have your google searches taken you? 


I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Back Jacket Hack Job #20 - "Alive"


   

     From molecular gastronomy to humanely killed and raised small batch game restaurants, we have entered a golden age of curated authentic dining experiences.  People these days are eating out and expecting a meal that is not just delicious and unique, simultaneously healthful and indulgent, but also want an experience.  One of the hottest trends in haute cuisine is actually cold - the raw food movement.

     In "Alive," celebrated restaurant critic Piers Paul Reed explores the history of one of the pioneering restaurants of organic free-range raw food, Glaciar de Lagrimas.  Open for a mere seventy-two days in 1972 on a remote mountain top in the Argentinian Andes accessible only by helicopters guided by Chilean mule drivers, Glaciar de Lagrimas started out as a wine bar serving chocolate and tapas locally sourced and flown across the continent.  An unexpected surplus of ice-cured Uruguayan specialty meats led the restaurateurs to hand craft the most unique raw food menu to rock the world of alfresco mountain bistros since The Donner served its last party in northern California. Serving some of South America's most famous athletes and luminaries, Glaciar de Lagrimas was eventually abruptly shut down when the thing lovers of hidden fine dining gems dread the most happened - it was written up on the front page of newspapers around the world.

     "Not only did Glaciar de Lagrimas inspire me to open Spago in the 1980s, it is the main reason I branched out into airport dining establishments." - Wolfgang Puck

     "A better street-meat pop-up than the world thought was humanly possible." - Anthony Bourdain

     "Ride a doomed airplane to Flavortown - I'd donkey sauce the shit out of that." - Guy Fieri


 

   


 
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