Wherever You Go, Go With All Your Heart

I’ve been following Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog Catherine, Caffeinated for a few years now, and I love her insights into indie publishing, her sarcastic sense of humor, and I freely admit that I share her love for all things caffeine. Recently, Catherine posted an article about how the hardest thing about a decision is making it. In her post, Catherine talks about her long-time desire to attend Trinity College in Dublin, and how, finally, at the last minute she applied, and how, finally, she’s attending the university she dreamed about. I nodded as I read Catherine’s post because I had the same realization—that the hardest part about a decision is making it.

_Oh_the_places_you_ll_go_There_is_fun_to_be_done_There_are_points_to_be_scored._There_are_games_to_be_won._And_the_magical_things_you_can_do_with_that_ball_will_make_you_the_winning_est_winner_of_all._Like Catherine, I had university dreams for years. I knew from the time I was working on my BA in English that I wanted to pursue my PhD so I could teach at the university level, but you know that great saying about how life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. As soon as I finished my BA, I dutifully went into an MA program, also in English, with the intention of following up with a doctoral program. I finished my Master’s degree, but I was sidetracked when I worked in “The Industry” (television and film) in Hollywood for a couple of years as a script analyst. The Hollywood work was exciting at first, though it lost its luster soon enough for me. On a whim I took a job teaching kindergarten at a small private school in Southern California, and I felt like I had come home. I loved teaching. I loved the children. I loved that the world is new for five year-olds and everything is fascinating to them. I decided to go back to school to get my teaching license, and since then I’ve spent 20 years teaching everything from Pre-K to elementary school to middle school to high school to writing workshops for adults. At the same time I was running The Copperfield Review and writing short stories, articles, and novels, and in 2011 I began Copperfield Press and joined the indie author revolution.

About two years ago I started getting antsy. I had been in education 18 years by then, I had Copperfield Press up and running, and I had found a flow for indie publishing that works for me. I realized I needed something new, some new challenge. I think that’s what happens to some people when they’ve been doing the same thing for a while. It could just be me since I know teachers who have taught at the same school for years and love it. At my first job in Las Vegas, as a learning strategist at a middle school, I met a teacher who taught the same subject in the same school in the same classroom for over 30 years. She taught there so long that she was teaching the children of her original students. She would have stayed even longer than she did but her mother’s health began to fail so she retired to stay home to take care of her mother. I’ve always envied people like that, people who know where they belong, but I have too much of a restless spirit to keep still in that way. The way I kept teaching interesting for me was to keep moving—from grade level to grade level, from school to school, sometimes even from state to state, moving first from California to Idaho and then from Idaho to Nevada. Once I started teaching high school, I realized there was nowhere else to teach except university, which is where I wanted to go in the first place.

The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your callingExcuses are funny things, aren’t they? They love to multiply and make you question yourself, leaving you nervous about decisions that should be easy peasy. Over the years my desire to get my PhD would rise to the surface, but the excuses would come, like ants marching one by one: What if I don’t get accepted anywhere? What if I do get accepted somewhere? I can’t decide what to study—English or Education? What if I choose the wrong one? And whatever I choose I’ll have to go back to school for four years. I’ve been out of school too long to be able to go back for four years. I’ll have to leave my job but my job is comfortable and safe. What will I do without my salary? And what about my writing? I’m a writer. I need to write. When will I find time to write my fiction if I’m back in school? I’m too old. I’m too set in my ways. And so on. You know the drill. We all have a list of excuses that scream into our brains whenever we want to do something different.

For me, I make changes when the pain from not making them is stronger than my fear of the change. I had been feeling like I needed a career change for a while, but at first it was just a mild hum in the background that I could ignore or explain away.Then the mild hum became a pointed stick that wouldn’t stop poking me. I understood on a visceral level that I needed to move on since being comfortable wasn’t enough anymore. I finally made the decision to apply to PhD programs. I took the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) because that’s a requirement for graduate school here in the U.S. and I hadn’t taken it since I applied for my Master’s program 24 years ago. I researched different programs at universities in Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington State. After some soul searching and several discussions with a friend and co-worker who has been my cheerleader (thanks Judy!) I realized that I had something to offer when it comes to the teaching of writing so I decided to pursue a PhD in Education. It was a happy accident when I discovered that one of the best programs in the U.S. for teacher education is right in my own backyard at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I applied to one school—UNLV—and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s funny how things happen sometimes. I remember when I had taken a class at UNLV when I first moved to Vegas 10 or 11 years ago, and I remember standing on the grassy lawn near the Carlson Education Building, and I remember feeling like I belonged on that campus. Well, it only took me a decade, but now I do belong there. The funny thing is that now, taking my classes and planning out my program for the long haul, I don’t know what took me so long. Yes, the classes are challenging, but it’s a PhD and you have to work for it. The truth is, I love it. Even when it’s hard and I’m exhausted and I’m ready to pull my hair out I love it. That’s what happens when you end up where you’re supposed to be—something clicks and it just feels right. In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, there’s this great saying about how when you follow your dreams the universe conspires to help you. That’s how I feel now. Once I made the decision that this is what I wanted to do, everything else was easy. And you know what? The other stuff gets done. My own writing, as in for my new novel, is getting done, maybe not as quickly as before, but I can see I’m making progress and that’s enough right now.

_Wherever_you_go_go_with_all_your_heart._Once, when Oprah Winfrey still had her talk show, she had a guest who talked about how it’s not the things people do that cause them pain but the things they don’t do. I’ve always held that idea close. Whenever I have a decision to make—yes or no?—I always ask myself if I would regret it if I didn’t try. I hope that whatever decisions you have to make—yes or no?—you’re able to follow your dreams, and, as Confucius said, wherever you go, go with all your heart.

Advice On How To Be Happy

I was standing in Starbucks yesterday morning when I saw this list from author Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) hanging from the community board.  I think his advice is as appropriate today as it was over a hundred years ago. I’ve been pretty busy lately and I haven’t had time to slow down, so reading this was a good reminder of what’s really important. Enjoy.

1. Make up your mind to be happy. Learn to find pleasure in simple things.

 2. Make the best of your circumstances. No one has everything, and everyone has something of sorrow intermingled with gladness of life. The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears.

3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t think that somehow you should be protected from misfortune that befalls other people.

4. You can’t please everybody. Don’t let criticism worry you.

5. Don’t let your neighbor set your standards. Be yourself.

6. Do the things you enjoy doing but stay out of debt.

7. Never borrow trouble. Imaginary things are harder to bear than real ones.

8. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish jealousy, enmity, grudges. Avoid people who make you unhappy.

9. Have many interests. If you can’t travel, read about new places.

10. Don’t hold post-mortems. Don’t spend your time brooding over sorrows or mistakes. Don’t be one who never gets over things.

11. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.

12. Keep busy at something. A busy person never has time to be unhappy.

Read more: http://www.life-with-confidence.com/how-to-be-happy-stevenson.html#EwMyglEm8LQz5wTs#ixzz0rijIWRP5

Thank you, Robin Williams: A Lesson in Gratitude

dead-poets-society-quotes-1I’m writing and posting this quickly before I change my mind, so, as Anne Lamott said in her own post on the same subject, this isn’t going to be proofread to perfection. I don’t usually comment on the passing of famous people since I’m not sure what I can add that someone more articulate than I am hasn’t already said, yet I find I can’t let the passing of Robin Williams go without saying at least a few words.

I’m going to date myself here—in fact, I’ll give you a precise date: I’ll be 45 in 17 days on August 30. I was a kid in the 1970s when Robin Williams first appeared on TV screens as Mork, first on Happy Days and then on Mork and Mindy. I was infatuated with Robin from the very beginning. I had my Mork and Mindy lunchbox, and I even had my own Mork from Ork rainbow colored suspenders. (Yes, I still have a photo where I’m wearing them. No, I won’t show it to you.) I listened to his comedy album Reality, What a Concept too many times to count. I could probably still do some of his skits from that show if I set my mind to it. As I grew, Robin Williams did too.

I was two years into my university studies in 1989 when Dead Poet’s Society was released. Two years into college I still didn’t have a major. I was one of those people who wanted to study everything, and in that time I had been a psychology major, a liberal studies major, and a history major. I’ve always loved books, and by college I knew I had some skill as a writer, but Dead Poet’s Society gave me a direction. A matter of days after I saw the movie I changed my major to English and never looked back. I became an English teacher, and though the John Keating moments become fewer as the years pass and society changes, I never stop trying to achieve them. I have my “Seize the Day” rock and a picture of “Uncle” Walt on my classroom wall. The title for my latest novel, That You Are Here, comes from a segment of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that Williams quotes in Dead Poet’s Society: “That you are here, that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” Over the years, I loved watching Williams continue to grow as an actor and a comedian.

As a writer with dreams for my career, I find I keep learning the same lesson over again—to be grateful for what I have right now, in this moment. We always think that when we get to some certain place or when we have some particular success we’ll be happy. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When I sell x many books, or when I make y amount of money, or when I have this amount of recognition, or when I win that award, or when my books become films then I’ll be happy. But how many examples have we seen over the years of those who had all the success in the world and still struggled? Because you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you’re not content within yourself no amount of success matters. Success in itself can’t make you happy.

Normally, when I’m writing I have some point I’m trying to make, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying here except that I know I should be thankful for what I have. I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Waiting for a certain event to be happy, thinking that everything will fall into place when I have this one thing—whatever that thing is—isn’t good enough because nothing in itself can bring happiness. In an odd way, I think that’s what I’ve been trying to say in my posts all summer about being an indie author on my own terms. Success isn’t about numbers or rankings or awards. It’s about being true to yourself and doing your thing and living your life in a way so you feel good about yourself along the journey.  

So, yes, I have a lot to be thankful for. Mainly, right now I’m thankful because I was around at the same time as Robin Williams and I had so many belly laughs because of him.

Thank you for everything, Robin Williams. I know you’re making God laugh right now.