Illuminations

Life in the Neutral Zone - An Opportunity to Create

Haneberg_StiffLizard_Ebook smallI've not blogged much the last two weeks because I'm channeling my writing energy into FINALLY finishing my 4th mystery, STIFF LIZARD. It was supposed to come out earlier this year. Here's the cover.

 - I delayed the book because I was going to have to have surgery.

 - Then my surgery was delayed by the covid pandemic.

 - And then I fell into a covid-fear-haze and didn't feel like writing.

 - And then I had surgery.

 - And now I'm back to finishing the book (while straddling the continued covid-fear-haze).

It's a quirky mystery set on Galveston Island, TX. The pub date 2021 Stiff Lizard will be a different book than the pub date 2020 one would've been. I've added a few things, subtracted a few things, and amped up the plot and quirk. I'm a different person, and my story will reflect this.

The 2021 version will have the benefit of my neutral zone creativity. The neutral zone (from Bridge's Transition Model) is that fuzzy in-between time when the new reality is emerging but not yet understood. Ambiguity shows up in many ways. Along with being draining and frustrating, the neutral zone is a great place from which to create.

Why? Think about what KEEPS us from creating. Our automatic and rutted routines act like a magnetic tractor pull that can prevent us from coloring outside the lines or conceiving of something new. But when we're living in the neutral zone, we're delightfully lacking in routine and comfortableness. 

So while I am fatigued and frustrated and afraid of every living person I encounter (Are you going to kill me with your breath?), I'm also feeling a bit more adventurous and open.

Being in transition is enabling me to write a better story because I'm less sure and secure. Funny how that works. I've promised my editor the book by Dec. 14th, so I'll not be blogging as much until I've turned in the manuscript.

And then, LOOK OUT. Hehehe.


Biker's Bell - Further on the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Lisa and hazel

Yesterday I wrote about the self-fulfilling prophecy and how it can enhance our lives or increase our struggles. 

Here's a humorous (I hope) essay about a biker's bell that demonstrates what can happen when one's self-fulfilling prophecy swirls out of control. This draft is based on a blog post I wrote years ago and have expanded.

Biker's Bell

I find myself in an awkward situation. I need a bell, but if I buy my own, it will not work. And if I ask for the bell, the one I receive will possess fewer protective properties. If I neither buy nor ask for the bell, it is unlikely that I will get one and I’ll have no protection at all. Let me explain.

Perhaps you’ve noticed motorcyclists who have a small bell hanging near their front fenders. Or maybe you’ve heard the little ding of such a bell and wondered why it was there? Legend…superstition…or a clever bell manufacturer tells us the bell protects bikers from road gremlins. Monsters that loathe bikers and show their animosity by tossing debris at us, placing nails in the road, or convincing deer to cross the road at the worst time.

The bell works because as the gremlins rise up from the road to attack, they get stuck in the bell of the bell, bounce around, and then vibrate to death. The little bell is powerful in a chaos-theory-packed-into-an-ounce-of-cheap-molded-metal kind of way. Butterfly effect except the bell and its tiny clapper are what reverberate. Kaboom go the road gremlins when confronted by a jangling bell.

And the gremlins are real. Most many some believe I heard a guy say the gremlins are half jackalope, half iguana; a mess of DNA that enables them to eat everything, outrun anything, and concoct creative ways to bring down motorcyclists. That last trait comes from the jackalope side, I’m sure. The cunning beasts. I once got hit by a warm burrito when there were no cars in front of me. Now where do you think that burrito came from? Who warmed it?

Gremlins are relentless but little bells appear to be the best way to combat them. And it’s not just getting a bell that matters, how we acquire it is important, too. Here’s the hierarchy of effectiveness:

Maximum: Someone gives you a bell without you asking for it—often from one biker to another because bikers understand the importance of having a bell attached to your motorcycle. Like mothers know you need underwear. This rider-to-rider tradition seems more prevalent among cruiser owners, by the way. I see and hear fewer bells on crotch rockets (speed bikes).

Good: Asking someone to buy a bell for you. This is not optimal, however, because you create some bad juju if you request the gift of a bell. Akin to begging for love, which is just sad.

Minimal: Buying your own bell. This approach offers some protection, but it’s better if someone else gives you a bell. They cost just a few bucks and come with a printed explanation of the legend. Most motorcycle stores sell biker’s bells.

Back to my problem. I have a new motorcycle - a lovely purple Honda Sabre 1100. Her name is Hazel (short for Purple Haze). When I sold my BMW R1200C a few years ago, I gave up my biker’s bell, passing it along to a fellow rider because it had served me well.

My challenge, now, is that I live in a new state and spend most of my time with non-riding writers. No one knows, or is likely thinking, they ought to get a bell for Hazel and me. My literary pals are lovely people, but clueless about gremlins and beneficial bell reverberations. What should I do?

This all sounds ridiculous, I know. I get it! I’m assigning meaning, weight, and importance to the bell I don’t have, and by doing so, I’m increasing its power over me. Is the fact that I am thinking and writing about this bell going to affect the quality and effectiveness of my two-wheeled adventures?

What about the fact that I just wrote that sentence? Have I now surrendered to the gremlins by broadcasting that I have no shield? It's a conundrum. I could buy a bell and get minimal protection. But what if I need the extra bit that comes from an unsolicited gift?

Have I now doomed myself by writing that sentence?

The psychologist in me—well, junior psychologist, what do you call someone who got a B.S. degree in psychology and an M.F.A. other than someone full of BS and able to write about it—knows that self-fulfilling prophecies are real. That our predictions, in and of themselves, make outcomes more likely. If we think it’s going to be a terrible hot mess of a day, it likely will be! And if I predict road gremlins will attack and make me crash, then…

I’m wondering if I ought not ride until I get a bell. Wiping out around a gravel covered corner or being t-boned by an SUV driver talking on his cellphone would be unappealing. Yes, gremlins cause those catastrophes, too. I wince thinking about me and Hazel skidding down the road. An eyes scrunching, stomach clinching wince, like how men react when someone mentions being kicked in the balls.

Have I doomed myself by writing that paragraph?

This situation feels like Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. I can hear the ringing of the bell I don't have. At first it sounded like a soft little ding but is now bellowing strong like a migraine. As I pull on my full-face helmet, the ringing bounces around my head, crushing all non-bell-related thoughts. It’s unsettling, and the last thing you want to be on a motorcycle is off balance in any way.

“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.” Edgar Allan Poe

Have I become my own gremlin?

The quasi-junior-amateur-psychologist in me knows what projection looks like and how it manifests. Am I transmitting my fears and self-timidity about sitting on top of 600 pounds of steel, hot rubber, and gasoline onto miscreant mythical beings made of source creatures who couldn’t possibly have sex? Perhaps motorcyclists everywhere are using the legend of the biker’s bell to displace their guilt for living dangerously when their spouses are begging them to switch to mid-sized sedans.

Maybe the road gremlins exist as a stand in for the devil, or whatever evil supreme being we believe in and dread. That buying a bell is like going to church/synagogue/mosque or praying Hail Marys with rosary beads.

Although that would be transference, not projection. Who’s the amateur now?

Chaos theory, projection, transference, or who knows what’s behind this I’m guessing multi-billion-dollar market for little bells in fake velvet pouches. I’m petrified that I could research every aspect of this racket and be left with one unanswered question. What if the legend of the biker’s bell is true?

Have I doomed myself by writing this essay?

I need a damn bell, and I’m NOT asking for one.


Swirly Thinking - The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

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I believe in the self-fulling prophecy. The sociological idea that predictions make things more likely to come true. 

Example: The young man worries that his girlfriend is going to dump him. This prediction affects his actions. He seems more leery, acts more needy, and expresses more doubts when with her. This makes him a less attractive boyfriend and she breaks up with him. 

The self-fulfilling prophecy is often discussed in the negative, but positive outcomes are possible, too. Human systems are chaotic (as in chaos theory) and our thoughts can be swirly in nature. Future results are sensitive to initial conditions - and every thought and action is like a butterfly flapping (as in the butterfly effect). Everything we do reverberates.

The self-fulfilling prophecy is fueled by swirly reverberations. This is not a linear equation; it's the opposite. And as chaotic beings, we likely have dozens of self-fulfilling prophecies at play at the same time. Some will be in conflict with one another. 

Example:

Swirly thoughts reinforcing GET IN SHAPE: I going to hire a personal trainer and commit to an accountability system for exercise. I can do this and it will work.

Swirly thought reinforcing GAINING WEIGHT: I'm doomed when it comes to health, so I should just enjoy myself and eat whatever I want.

Swirly thoughts reinforcing VEGGIES WILL HEAL ME: If I eat lots of vegetables, I will slow disease progression and feel better.

Swirly thoughts reinforcing DISEASE PROGRESSION: My weight is my greatest risk factor, and if I can't solve that problem, the rest is wasted effort.

Do you see how these conflicting beliefs could co-exist? What might be possible if I could let go of the least helpful beliefs and adopt better ones?

Bottom line: We have the opportunity to be more cognizant of the self-fulfilling prophecies we're reinforcing and deliberate about putting more helpful ones in play. 

BTW, this idea is why something like a Decision Filter can be useful.


Follow Up - Experiment: The Decision Filter

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I began using this decision filter one week ago. So how did it go?

Interesting. Well. Disappointing. Enlightening.

Mixed results, in other words, but my experiment was beneficial, and I'll give it another week. I want to see what's possible and if I can learn from my observations which included:

  • Having the words from the Decision Filter graphic as my phone wallpaper was awesome. I looked at those words hundreds of times and reflected on them often. 
  • It's too easy to rationalize suboptimal actions because they kind of meet the filter criteria. It gives me a wee bit of joy. I'm using my strengths (but to what end?). And so on. I need to be much pickier about my choices.
  • The best choices reverberated to affect multiple goals and interests. We recently upgraded our internet service and downgraded our cable TV to basic channels. We have just local channels and PBS now (plus shopping and music). Moving to a speedier wifi helped us make our work-from-home situation more efficient. But the reverberation is that I'm no longer spending hours each evening watching cable news. I'm interested in politics and watched the same news repeated again and again. It was a bit of an obsession. But no longer. Now I check a few websites a couple of times per day and I have 2-3 hours back per day to use however I want. I've also noticed that my stress level is a bit lower because I'm not watching and listening to media as much. I miss watching my favorite news anchors, but binging cable news doesn't pass the Decision Filter. 

Onward!

I'll work harder to make better choices about how I use my time. I like this filter and look forward to experimenting with it further. Perhaps I'll put the graphic on my iMac wallpaper and as a daily task on my Todoist list. Check out the original post if you want to more details about the Decision Filter. 

Progress


Compartmentalization

Found in an old notebook. Thought it apropos to this week's Decision Filter exercise.

I compartmentalize so each precious moment is designed and deliberate. Moves things forward. 

Pardon if I pass on sharing feelings, worries, or concerns. I have them, but can set emotional distractions aside and be here, now, ready to roll. And can tap into and share honest emotion that serves the situation.

I'm not cold but do calculate how to be in each moment. Sometimes that's warm and gushy, others clear and decisive.

There is a fine line between switch tasking and manipulation that I try to never cross. Achieving this is productive self-management.

Note: I'm an INTP, so there's that (analytical, abstract, things-oriented). I like the notion of being more deliberate about how I spend time. Compartmentalizing is a useful skill and practice for doing this.


Intracranial Misadventure

I watched a book launch video discussion from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore featuring Carl Hiassen as interviewed by author John Sanford. The topic was Hiassen's latest book, Squeeze Me. The two men go way back, and it was a very interesting discussion. You can find that FB video here.

One of the more entertaining parts of this interview focused on how authors select names and when getting the name right is critical. Hiassen said that for important characters, he wants the name to be striking so the reader remembers it the first time they read it. The name John marveled about was Fay Alex Riptoad, one of Hiassen's important side characters.

It is with this inspiration that I decided to brainstorm awesome names for characters. And that doing so would be a terrific use of my time and tick off the "Joy," "Strengths," and "Progress" aspects of my new Decision Filter. Heck, this might even make a "contribution" to society. 

Here we go.

Great Names for Characters (that I might use one day - no stealing, OK?)

In no particular order

Jeptha Rule                    Wady Wayne Wright

Baby-face Kreed            Convira

Asa Butterfield               Rasmus Monk

Spag Bolle                       Drucilla

The Tooth                       Consequence (Conee for short)

Snipe                               Lobster Butterworth

Two-time                        Cross-eyed Tommy

Talulla Moola                 Lilith Rothworm III

Fern Green                     Griselda Feldman

Zaynab Ditt                    Euphrasia Rothschild

Lennox Turtleman        Fizzy Joe

Rip Torn - oh wait, that one was already used by a real person (RIP Rip)

Pretty cool list, if I do say so myself. Can you imagine the weird and wonderful back stories for these characters? I wonder what it would be like to write a book STARTING with a set of character names? Could be fun! 

What's your favorite?


Mini-Misadventures: Running Amok

I used the phrase running amok this morning to describe sprouting sweet potatoes that are vining all over my dining table. If I don't do something with them - kill or plant - the vines might just take over the kitchen. Then I wondered...where does running amok come from? Who was the first person to run amok?

Here's the fascinating story of the phrase quoted from the Mental Floss website

"The English word most directly comes from the Malay amuck more or less meaning “attacking furiously” or “attacking with uncontrollable rage” or, more aptly, “homicidal mania.” Some theorize this Malay word may have Indian origins or be from the name of a group of professional assassins in Malabar, called the Amuco. Others theorize that it came from the Malay word amar, meaning “fight,” specifically via Amar-khan, which was a certain type of warrior. Yet another theory is that the Malay amuck ultimately comes from the Sanskrit amokshya, meaning "that cannot be loosed."

I've been to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, or KL, several times and enjoyed it. This capital city is both modern and traditional. I didn't witness anyone running amok there. The book, Common Phrases: And Where They Came From, suggested that the phrase was first used to describe opium addicts in Malaysia who, apparently, sometimes did extreme and violent things. I didn't hang with any opium addicts while in KL. That I know of. 

I think it's doubly interesting that so many words - amuck, Amuco, amar, and amolshya - describe something ominous or dangerous. Makes me wonder about a guy I dated decades ago named Amar who seemed a bit off. Hmm.

Back to my current problem. Are the sweet potato plants furiously attacking my table or should I have used a tamer phrase to describe their advancements?

I think they are.

Let's hope we don't transition into the homicidal mania stage...

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Four Degrees of Separation

Have you watched the 1993 movie Six Degrees of Separation? It's a brilliant film that explores the notion that we are all connected by six or fewer human links. It features wonderful performances by Will Smith, Stockard Channing, and Donald Sutherland and is set in New York City. 

It's funny, dramatic, and surprising. If you've not seen the movie, please watch it soon.

A few years after Six Degrees of Separation came out, I found myself in a book store in Taos, New Mexico. I'm not usually a chatty person, but I enjoyed a long discussion with the shop's owner, Lucile.  She connected me to an artist I admire, Georgia O'Keefe

Here's a short piece I wrote after meeting Lucile.

Four Degrees of Separation

Artist Georgia O’Keefe first visited New Mexico in 1917. She returned in 1929 for four months during the summer. She stayed in the Taos area at the home of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Pink House, a small adobe guesthouse across a field from Luhan’s main residence. O’Keeffe also rented a tiny studio next to a stream to interpret and paint the wild and wonderful landscape. It was during this trip she visited Ghost Ranch in Abiqui for the first time.  Eleven years later she bought her now famous property with its breathtaking view of the Cerro Pedernal (Spanish for flint hill).

Taos resident Mabel Dodge Luhan was a former easterner, wealthy socialite, and arts patron. She was celebrated for the avant-garde and intellectual mix of people she hosted at her sprawling hacienda she called Los Gallos (the roosters). Aside from O’Keeffe, a few of her famous house guests included writer D. H. Lawrence, photographer Ansel Adams, Psychologist Carl Jung, and actress Greta Garbo. After moving to Taos, Mabel divorced Maurice, her third husband, and married Tony Luhan, a tall, handsome, and influential member of the Taos Pueblo.

Robert, a native-born Taos resident, was a driver for both Mabel Dodge Luhan and Tony Luhan in the late 1940s. Robert began driving for them when he was only fourteen years old, as licenses were not required. One day, while Robert was driving Mabel, she pointed to a piece of property adjacent and across the street from her main house and asked Robert what she should do with the property. Robert said it that there was an excellent spot for a house toward the back of the property. Mabel later gave the property to Robert, or rather to Robert’s father with the stipulation it be given to Robert when he came of legal age. Robert built his dream house on the property many years later for he and his wife Lucile. They sold their previous home to the famous Taos artist R. C. Gorman.

Lucile was the owner of a used bookstore one block off the plaza in downtown Taos. She had operated this small and overstuffed book gallery, as she called it, for over 25 years. Lucile had lived in Taos since her family moved there when she was four years old. She knew all the local writers and credited her loyal customers for enabling her to stay open through many building owners who imposed daunting rent hikes.

I met Lucile on a hot summer day in July 2005 while attending the Taos Writer’s Workshop. I was looking for a book about Roswell, New Mexico, and left with two books and an interesting story.

Four degrees of separation between Georgia O’Keeffe and me.


Mini-Misadventure - Fun with Words

Here's the opening to a story I'm working on. What do you think? Hint: It's related to yesterday's post...

Spaz Romano’s Sugar Shack

I was loading my identical-twin Pomeranians BeeBop (Bee and Bop) into my car when my neighbor, Jimena, a police captain, flagged me down and rushed to my car.

She touched my wrist with her lime-green painted fingernails and gazed up at me. Her cheeks were flushed and pink. “Thank you.”

I’d seen this expression before on others. “They must’ve worked.”

“Don’t understand how or why, but yes. I’ve not felt this good in years.”

I tapped the window to quiet BeeBop, who were jumping up and down in my driver’s seat. “They love the Arboretum.”

Jimena flipped her long, tussled hair.  “I won’t keep you. Just wanted to tell you how grateful we are, especially after I ransacked your office, put a gun to your head, and hauled you down to the station.” She giggled. “I owe you one, Spaz.”

“No problem," I said. "It ended up being a fun afternoon. Never been suspected of manslaughter before.” I waived to Jimena’s husband, who was watching us from the window.

I leaned into her and winked. “Let me know when you need a refill.”


Help: Stuck in Head

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This blog is new and few people are reading it, so I feel a certain freedom to LET IT RIP and write whatever I want. I feel no pressure to do market research on the reading preferences of my ten blog subscribers.

Hey, you're talking about us!

True. I'm taking a risk with this line of thinking, but I believe that all ten of you are here because you're curious, extraordinary people. You're adventurers who embrace original ideas. You're special, in other words.

That's more like it. You were saying?

Right. I was just saying that because my readers are amazing, I'm free to offer up whatever pops into my mind.

Mind. MIND. MIND.

I was looking for a book that I bought many years ago. Didn't find it, but I was amused by a few other titles on my bookshelf:

On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers

The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann

How to Be an Existentialist by Gary Cox

Notice a theme? Stuck-inside-my-head type philosophy. Is there another kind? Maybe not.

Why do I own these books and WHY have they remained in my collection through at least a dozen pre-move book reduction exercises? Some extreme reduction attempts that slashed my collection by half or more? And why did the book I was hoping to find, The Intrinsic Exerciser by Jay Kimiecik, not make the cut? 

I'm quite bothered by this because I cannot remember when I discarded this book or my state of mind, but worry that this could be an ominous sign for future attempts at increasing exercise. This book, which is about revving up your inner drive to exercise, is what I need right now. 

Instead...

Reality is socially constructed. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. Exercise is fun, I can't wait to exercise. 

Get real, Lisa. Be authentic or go home. You're a slob

You must be open to learning to become and athletic person. 

Hehehe...just having a little fun with philosophy.

Ironically, the fun I wanted to have involved exploring my deeply hidden intrinsic motivation for exercise such that I give it new life and priority. Not in an extrinsically designed carrot-and-stick way, of course, that would create bad motivational juju.

Well, that's it. Here I am, totally inside my head instead of outside doing burpees, whatever those are. It sounds dreadful and I suppose that's why my books are what they are.