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Unchartered Territory

Uncharted Territory 2

You may be wondering why this picture. I snapped this shot one morning as I was travelling a road that I rarely travel. It’s not the clearest photo (the camera on my cell phone is not the best) so let me explain what you’re seeing. It’s a stop sign, obviously, with a vine growing up the pole. Vines are not supposed to grow up a stop sign pole. The vine is not supposed to be there. The vine is in unchartered territory.

Which is where I am. Which is why this sight caused me to stop my car in the middle of a residential street and capture the sight permanently. I need a permanent, visual reminder that if a vine can flourish in unchartered territory, I can too.

See, I knew way back in 1990 when I joined my first writer’s group and decided I wanted to be a published author that I did not EVER want to self-publish. I wanted the traditional route of finding an agent and landing a publishing deal with one of the major publishers in New York City. And guess what? I achieved all that (minus the agent; turns out I didn’t need one for romance). However, when phase two of my writing career kicked off in 2000 (I switched genres; hence, phase two), the industry was in such a state of change that I wondered if I could hang on to that want. But, I plowed ahead, and set my efforts on finding an agent and signing a contract with one of the big boys.

But ten years and hundreds of rejections later, I revised my wish and said, “Okay, I still want to be traditionally published but I’ll be happy with a small, independent press.” Lo, and behold, in 2012, I got my wish. I signed a contract with a small publisher to be traditionally published.

But, two months before the release of my book, Fuller’s Curse, I found myself having to do the very thing I said I never wanted to do—self publish. The small publisher I’d signed with closed shop and I found myself in unchartered territory. Like the vine.

And like the vine, since I had already started up the pole by publicizing my release date and scheduling signings and appearances, I dug in and kept creeping ever upward, picking up and completing tasks I said I’d never do—coming up with a name for my publishing company, filing all the right DBA (doing business as) papers, revising the cover art, finding vendors for formatting and printing, securing ISBNs, and establishing accounts. The work of self publishing my ebook and print book continues and there are many days when I am overwhelmed (read: stressed) by all the production tasks that have to be accomplished as well as the tasks involved in marketing and selling.

But it’s all good because had I not followed this unchartered path, I would have missed interacting with the supportive online writer/author/publisher forums that have provided me with resources. I would have skipped over friendly, talented writers who publish amazing and encouraging blog posts. I would have snubbed the whole world of social media (who would have ever thought me…a non-techie…would grow to love Twitter?). I would have forfeited everyday miracles and a feeling of accomplishment with each completed task. I would have stunted my growth in faith and truncated my skills. So many good, no, great things I would have missed had I not mimicked the vine and crept into unchartered territory.

I haven’t been back down that residential street in a while but I like to think that if/when I do that the vine will have covered the word STOP. That makes me smile because what’s the opposite of STOP?

>Uncharted Territory

The Worst Boss Ever!

I had planned to save this post for October when National Boss’ Day is recognized but recently I’ve encountered a number of people complaining about their bosses so I decided to share this now. I hope it will offer another way to look at having the worst boss ever.

In February 2009, I took a new job as a technical writer. I was so excited because it was with a major employer, the commute was easy, the pay was good, and the company had dress down Fridays (a BIG bonus for me, a girl who loves her sweats).

My new boss, who I’ll refer to as WBE (worst boss ever) hired me after a grueling panel interview. I did not learn until after I started that few internal employees had applied for the position because most of the employees at company X reviled WBE. For good reason. WBE’s bullying and verbal abuse was known company-wide and for me it started my first month of employment. Here’s one example of the dysfunction I encountered:

One day as I walked down the hall wearing my new company windbreaker, WBE stopped me and asked why my first initial and last name had been monogrammed on my jacket. I stood there looking like she’d spoken a foreign language. Moments later, I managed to ask, “Excuse me?” WBE repeated herself and again it struck me as ludicrous so I started smiling, looking around for a camera and Ashton Kutcher with his “Punk’d” crew. But no. She was serious! Her rigid stance and angry face told me so. I stumbled through, “This is how I received it.” Spitting words, she asked who ordered the windbreaker. I gave her the name and off she stomped to report the incident to the vice president and off I ran to report the same to the person who had ordered and delivered the windbreaker to me. Thankfully, he was not concerned. He was well aware of WBE’s antics and had a great rapport with the vice president. He informed me WBE’s windbreaker had been monogrammed with her last name only, which was the former practice. I left his office, shaking my head, thinking one extra character—my first initial—had set her off.

Needless to say, reporting to WBE was a daily exercise of trying to dodge land mines and every day I failed, managing to step on one and blow myself up! No, I didn’t lose an arm or a leg or my life, but I lost confidence in my skills and abilities. I lost my enthusiasm for the job, for the company, and lost respect for upper management, who seemed to support her in her madness.

As the days and months stretched on, fear, animosity and stress piled on. I felt myself changing into a person I didn’t know, and I hated that person. That person was fearful, incompetent, insecure, angry, and she felt cornered. That was the worst! Feeling like I had no way out and no support. Not even when I filed a labor complaint.

Then it happened. I went on vacation.

During my days of rest and relaxation, I poured into my journal, complaining about my life, my job, my future. I also took time to revisit my life goals, and I recited affirmations as if my life depended on it. Now that I think about it, it did!

One morning as I journaled, I dared ask the hard question, “What should I do about my job?”

“Quit,” is the answer that came from that quiet voice within, the voice that leads and directs if one is willing to follow and obey.

“But, I have a mortgage, a car payment, and only a small amount in savings.”

“You have faith. That’s all you need.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely!”

I asked the same question repeatedly over that lengthy vacation and received the same answer every time. I knew what I had to do. When I returned to work, I gave two week’s notice and promptly took off a week to spend time with family and luxuriate in the feeling of power and freedom.

So what did I learn from my experience with WBE? I learned that I was stuck on the wrong life path. But thanks to WBE’s poor management and people skills, it forced me onto the right life path. I am here on Earth to be a self-employed writer and publisher. I was not living that truth until WBE entered my life. I also learned from that experience the real definition of “security.” Security no longer represented a steady paycheck or benefits with a major employer. Security was faith and knowing with surety that God’s word will not fail. Lastly, I learned my encounter with WBE was a karmic setup. After my emotions had returned to normal and I had settled into my new life, I thought about the days when I supervised people. And I had to admit I was not always fair in dealing with those who reported to me. Karma, payback, ‘reaping what you sow’ is real and it can hurt.

So you see there was tremendous good from that God-awful experience so I ask you…what is your encounter with your WBE trying to teach or show you about yourself? Take time now to chew on that because the revelation(s) just may save your life. It did mine.

Ann vs. Fear: The Fight for Authentic Living

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron discusses Shadow Artists. These are people who have a deep-seated desire to be an artist—a painter, poet, actress, singer, etc.—but who are so blocked by fear or firmly planted negative messages that they never bring that desire up and out. They prefer instead to bask in the company of Authentic Artists—people who are fully engaged in making art.

For a long time I was a shadow artist living a shadow life. Afraid to fully engage in my art even though God had sent me a strong message to step out on faith and do so. Oh, I talked myself into thinking that I could do both—work full-time jobs that I hated and write in the evenings/weekends. But that’s all it was
—foolish talk and foolish thinking.

Then one day I had no choice. Well, let me restate that. We always have a choice. My choices were to continue living as a shadow artist with a shadow life or live authentically as an authentic artist. For me, I had reached such an unhealthy level of unhappiness and dissatisfaction that there really was no choice. I resigned from shadow living and swore I would never go back to the shadows.

So far that has been the case but I tell you…it hasn’t been easy because of fear. Fear is a powerful emotion, as powerful as love. Fear is what kept me operating as a shadow artist for so long. I was afraid of having no money. I was afraid my quality of life would degrade. I was afraid my talents weren’t good enough to sustain me. But to live an authentic life, I knew I was going to have to step into the ring and fight fear. So I did. It was September 2010. Here’s the blow-by-blow…

I had finished a freelance assignment in August (2010) but the jerk client refused to pay me (that’s another story). I had maybe $10 in my checking account and another $25 in my savings. My mortgage and car payments were several months behind, all of the utilities were due, and I had received more rejections for my novel. Thus burdened, what did I do? I went to bed. I just couldn’t face fear or the future so I went to sleep, hoping to never wake up. Just before drifting off, I had enough sense to ask God for help.

Before I woke fully the next morning, a thought pounded in my head: Go to your safe. Dig out your savings bonds and cash them in. I had forgotten all about the savings bonds I had purchased over the years! Needless to say, I broke all speed limits driving to the bank, and after cashing in the bonds I had enough to keep the utilities going, purchase gas and groceries, and have cash on hand until my unemployment checks kicked in.

When I returned home, I received a prompting from Spirit to call the finance company that held the note on my car. With butterflies in my stomach, I dialed them up and they were so nice, granting me a two-month deferment. A month later when I should have been evicted from my home, I received a letter from my mortgage company and HUD (Housing and Urban Development) stating the Obama administration had called a halt to all foreclosures, and oh by the way, there’s a program you qualify for where HUD will pay the bulk of your mortgage for two years.

But that’s not all…sixteen months later, I sold the novel I had been trying to sell since 2000.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! The winner is: Ann.

I won that particular fight against fear, but the battle is never over. Every day I face fear and every day I rely on prayer, journaling and the prompting of Spirit to stare it down and come out swinging. This I do so that I may continue to live an authentic life as an authentic artist.

I ask you … Are you bound in shadow living? If so, what deep-seated fear(s) has beaten you? Are you ready to face that fear and live authentically?

Three Wise Men – Three Wise Books

As I packed my Christmas decorations to store for another year, I unintentionally spent a few extra minutes staring at the three wise men in my nativity set. For some reason looking at those characters brought to mind the titles of three books: the Holy Bible, the Weight Down Workshop, and the Artist’s Way. Knowing this was not a coincidence, I sat down and waited for the connection between these two seemingly unrelated things. Here’s what came to mind:

The three wise men presented valuable gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to baby Jesus.—
I consider the three mentioned books valuable gifts to me (and others of course).

The three wise men spent time with the holy family.
I can’t begin to tally the number of hours I spend reading these books.

The wise men’s lives were no doubt transformed by the holy experience.
My life was transformed by these books.

And that is the crux of the matter. Just like the three wise men were transformed by their experience with Jesus, so too was I transformed by Jesus through these books. Let me explain more fully, starting with my first gift—the Holy Bible.

I was introduced to the Bible at a young age. Through my attendance at Sunday school, worship service, and special programs, I learned scriptures and the teachings of Jesus Christ. This gave me a clear understanding of how I was supposed to act (even though I didn’t/don’t always act right), a strong moral foundation (even though my foundation cracked/cracks from time to time), and a sense of belonging (as a member of the family of believers). I also think the Bible was one of the original books that stirred my creative nature. Have you noticed how many great stories are in the Bible? …the wise, colorful parables? …the beautiful language, poems, and words? It truly is an amazing book and I am forever grateful to my elders for introducing me to it.

As I matured, I continued my Christian walk, engaging in ministry work, tithing, and attending Bible study. In one particular Bible study group, I was introduced to the Weight Down Workshop (WD). WD is a weight loss program that marries faith with dieting. I joined the program expecting to shrink in dress size and grow in faith, which I did. But the most amazing outcome was I met God face-to-face. What do I mean? I learned that after all those years of going to church, studying the Bible and more, I only had head knowledge of God. I didn’t view God as “real,” as someone with whom I could develop a deep, intimate relationship. To me, God was a symbol, a concept, an unattainable entity. WD revised my view of God. One of the exercises in the workbook challenged me to select a task for God to perform and to make that task so specific that I would know without a doubt it was Him. So for my task I said, “Okay God, if you’re real, you’re going to make my Bible fall open to a specific passage that will not only prove you’re real but also prove you love me.” I picked up my Bible and let it fall open. My eyes went straight to a passage that met my criteria. I was blown away! I remember crying and praising God. It felt like my heart grew four times larger…and warmth; I felt such warmth. And here it is years later and I’m still so very grateful to WD for my second, life-changing gift–making God real to me so that I could begin a heart relationship with Him.

As my heart relationship with God grew so too did my faith, and the biggest boost to my faith came through the Artist’s Way. This workbook/journal liberated me to pursue a life of purpose. But how did that increase her faith? you may be thinking. Can I tell you the fear I felt at giving up a steady paycheck and benefits? Can I tell you the monumental faith that is required to live day-by-day? It’s been almost two years since I left the path of the “tried-and-true-and-dissatisfied” to follow the path of purpose. And even though there have been many rough patches, I can honestly admit I would make the same decision if I had a do-over. Want to increase your faith? Step off the path of the tried-and-true and live day-by-day, following God’s commands. Talk about a faith walk but oh what a transformative gift!

So there you have it. The connective link that ties the three wise men to three wise books–being transformed into a better Ann. What about you? What three books, songs, poems, people, lessons, etc. have been especially transformative in your life?

The End of the World

December 21, 2012…the world ends!

On that Friday, eleven days from today, the world will self destruct and humanity will exist no more. Except…

I suppose a remnant will remain (God always keeps a remnant, right?). If I’m blessed to be included in the remnant, then when I wake up on December 22, here’s my hope:
I hope that donuts, cake, pie, and egg nog ice cream no longer have calories;
I hope there is no more waiting in line especially at Wal-Mart or the bank;
I hope my hair is automatically self-cleaning;
I hope my acne clears up permanently;
I hope there are no more red light cameras;
In fact, I hope there’s no more traffic, period!

I’m being silly, of course. I don’t believe the world will end on December 21. I do, however, believe there will be a great spiritual shift as humanity leapfrogs to a higher level relationship with God.

Can you imagine a world where:
People are incapable of hurting (intentionally or not) one another;
Crime and injustice are no more;
All people are treated as equals regardless of… (skin color, background, national origin, etc.–you fill in the blank);
Tranquility and harmony reside at all times;
There is no lack and all people are free.

Oh, wait! Did I just paraphrase the Constitution of the United States? Oops! So maybe we do need the world to end for another chance at getting it right. What do you think?

All I Want for Christmas…

The day after Thanksgiving, I watched my young cousins grab the sales circulars out of the newspaper and begin circling–with a Sharpie no less–the toys and games they wanted for Christmas. I couldn’t help but smile as they “shopped” and wished. Oh, but their joy and excitement was infectious.

Later, I happened to watch one of my favorite movies, Mr. Holland’s Opus. Some of you may recall the story of the music teacher who while teaching, tutoring, and helping to raise a deaf son, steals a minute here, a minute there to write his own American symphony, his opus, his gift to the world. As the years roll by, he becomes more and more frustrated that he is unable to devote unfettered time and effort to his dream. Finally, his last day of teaching arrives. On this day, we learn that it took his entire teaching career to finish his opus but more than that we learn that his true opus, his true gift to the world is the students he nurtured unselfishly during his 30-something years of teaching. Many of whom went on to become accomplished adults. As their gift to him for his love and sacrifice, his former students play the symphony he composed.

When the movie ended, I thought about these two seemingly unrelated events—the kids’ Christmas shopping and the movie—and discovered they are not unrelated.

For Christmas, I want a pair of new boots, and there’s a pair I’ve been price-watching for a few weeks now. But when I put my material wants aside and really think about what I want for Christmas it is to leave a positive legacy, to leave humanity better than when I was birthed into it.

I know this seems like such a lofty goal. At least it did to me when I first thought it, but then I rewound the movie in my head and realized it doesn’t take much to leave a positive gift to the world. Mr. Holland didn’t have millions of dollars. He wasn’t a genius nor did he have influence or access to the media. Mr. Holland simply extended himself. He did simple, ordinary things such as listen, share, give, advise, and follow his heart.

These are things I can do. I can judge writing contests and encourage young writers. I can challenge the kids’ thinking in my creative writing classes. I can donate a blanket or socks to a homeless mission. I can read to senior citizens at a nursing home. I can smile at a stranger or review a resume’ for a friend.

All of these SMALL, common things don’t require anything but my time and focus (and a little bit of money). But they are BIG at helping me get what I really want for Christmas–a positive legacy.

Yes, I am still going to get those boots but while I’m out shopping, I’ll give, share, listen, laugh, but most of all…I’ll follow my heart.

What about you? What do you want for Christmas? No, what do you really want?

In Gratitude

During this Thanksgiving season and every day, I am grateful for…

…the time a church member talked to me like I was lower than a snake because that taught me to think about the words I use and how I talk to others.

…the time a co-worker called me stupid because that forced me to look beyond the surface of her anger to see her hurt and pain.

…the times I did wrong (whether intentional or not) because that taught me consequences and payback is real.

…the time a client refused to pay my invoice because that taught me why some people stay at the same financial level year after year after year.

…the time a relative called me crazy because that let me know I was on the right life path.

…the time Christians treated me unfairly because that showed me Christians are greatly flawed too.

…the time my boss called me an idiot because that showed me how deep my courage flows.

…the time my sexual harassment claim was laughed at because that taught me God can exact justice far better than I.

…the time a tornado funneled my way because that taught me to pray for peace in all circumstances.

…the time I lost my house and car because that taught me there’s no failure in starting over.

…the time a stranger changed my flat tire because that taught me the law of reciprocity.

…the times I have been late for appointments because that taught me God’s timing is perfect.

…the times my plans did not work because that taught me I wasn’t dreaming big enough.

…the times I had zero money in my purse and bank accounts because that showed me God’s creativity in meeting my needs.

…the times I gave financially even when I didn’t want to because that reminded me “it is better to give than to receive.”

…the times I’ve been cursed, threatened, talked about, ignored and abused because that forced me to mature emotionally.

…the time I gave up a steady paycheck and benefits because that taught me the price of freedom.

…the times a person exited my life because that forced me to seek out the lesson they left for me.

…the time I had a major health scare because that made me more conscious about what I put in my body and how I treat my body.

From pain and hurt grow beautiful life lessons. What are yours?

You Can Dude It!

One night at dinner, I sat beside my nephew, who was two-years old at the time, and thought I’d help him eat his spaghetti. I picked up his fork but when I began twirling it in the mound of pasta, he very aggressively took the fork from me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I can dude it.” Even with his two-year-old speech in development, I and the rest of the family clearly understood that he aimed to feed himself, which he did.

Okay, now hold that story in your head… I promise it has a place here.

Recently, I launched this site and heard from many family members, friends and associates who shared so many kind words with me. And while I appreciate all the beautiful remarks and sentiments, one comment in particular made me pause.

In short, the comment credited me with “being courageous, using my talents and never giving up on my dream,” and ended with the notion that not everyone can achieve. After considering the comment I was surprised to feel a burning in my chest which signaled anger. But, why was I mad? I thought about that all day and discovered my anger boiled down to us, humans. Why do we sometimes feel that accomplishments are bestowed only on the “talented tenth?”

Because that is so not true.

I am not one of the talented tenth. I am not above any other. I do not have extra brain cells. Nor do I have a stronger link to God than anyone else. The only reason I’ve been able to “use my talents” and showcase my stories to the world is because I am operating in my life purpose.

When I started this life-purpose journey, the first thing I did was fast and pray with the intent of hearing from God the designs He had for my life. After a week of seeking God, He answered very clearly, “Your ministry is writing.” To this day, I have not forgotten that writing is my life’s purpose. Writing is what I am here to do. To do anything else would be equivalent to slapping God and me in the face, and yet that is what I did for many years before I finally convinced myself, “I can dude it!” Soon after embracing that belief, I grabbed my fork (the equivalent of belief in my life purpose) and jabbed it in the plate of spaghetti (the equivalent of giving up the security of a bi-weekly paycheck) with the intent of feeding my purpose (writing and all that goes with it, including launching this site).

And guess what? If “I can dude it,” you can too! You can do that thing that God designed you to do. Don’t know what that thing is? Ask Him; He knows. He is after all the One who created you, and He is so eager to share His plans for your life.

Don’t forfeit another day of your life’s purpose. Seek God. Learn your life purpose, and firmly plant it in your heart and soul. Then, dude it.

It is not my intent with this post to put anyone on blast, but I truly feel these words need to be shared. If you’re offended, my apologies. Charge it to my desire for everyone to live a purposeful life.