Tag Archives: books

Trauma, vulnerability and moving into truth

A few weeks ago, I decided that when people ask me how I’m doing, rather than issuing my standard response of, “I’m fine,” I’ll tell them, “I’m having a full human experience.”

I thought I was being clever, but it turns out that may not have been the best idea. It’s been a bit of an overwhelming experience this past week or so. Perhaps more full than I bargained for.

I’m pretty open about having experienced abuse and trauma in my life. I don’t go on about it, but I don’t hide it. When sexual abuse and assault, emotional abuse, child neglect, PTSD and similarly light-hearted topics come up in conversation IRL or online, I’m open about what I’ve experienced if it seems hearing from a survivor might be helpful. Because it can be helpful to see someone who’s gone through hard stuff and now looks like they’ve pretty much got their shit together. Mostly.

When I talk with my students about meditation or opening up to your intuition and my own failures in those things at times, they tell me it’s reassuring to know that the person they look up to, the person teaching them, isn’t perfect. That the teacher is still learning. It makes progress seem more attainable.

So maybe I should talk more about this journey of healing that I’m on. Maybe I should go on about it, just a little bit more than I do. Maybe even sharing my feelings of frustration and seeming failure would be helpful. I’ve got a great life — loving family, great husband, smart kids, spacious house, growing career finally doing what I want to be doing. So you can have all that and still feel stuck and mixed up and unrecovered from everything that happened along the way here.

I went to the Terroir Writing Festival this weekend (which really should be held at a winery, rather than a community college, so we could appreciate terroir fully) and ended up doing sessions on memoir writing and writing after trauma. Both applicable to the feeling of stuckness that I have in a few areas of my life right now. It turns out they’re related.

I started writing about the years I spent in Barbados (age 10-14) because I got stuck in processing the trauma of my life. I’m a big supporter of mental health treatment and counseling and had been seeing a therapist for a while at that point, just to deal with the stresses of life, divorce and remarriage, and, somehow, attempt to face all the baggage I kept bringing with me. Talking about it only got me so far. And then I didn’t know how to move forward.

I believe that, when you take steps on the path of your highest good, the universe rises up to meet you, putting people, ideas and opportunities in your path and lighting them up so you see them, even if it feels like you’re stumbling around in the gloom.

It occurred to me to start writing. I was working through a book of writing exercises, taking one slow step after another on my treadmill desk in the basement, when a new story started flooding out. I realized it was a book being birthed and I kept at it. It was, overall, a healing experience. It brought up a lot of old stuff — much of which I knew about, some of which I didn’t. It allowed it to all rise up to the surface and say, “Hey, look at me. I’m still here. This still needs to come up and out and be dealt with.”

That’s a good thing. It’s healthy.

It’s also messy. And then it’s there, waiting to be dealt with, unwilling to get packed down beneath the surface again.

So I’ve been unpacking it, looking at it, deciding what I still want to keep and where it lives now, and what doesn’t work for me anymore. Beliefs about myself. Beliefs about life and other people. Beliefs about how and why things happened. It turns out that I learned a whole lot of lessons growing up, but I didn’t necessarily take away the right meaning.

Writing and revising an entire book’s worth of beliefs and ideas was worthwhile work. And then I got stuck.

But I have stamina, mostly fueled by determination (aka stubbornness). I used to think I didn’t have the stamina to finish writing a book. I’ve now written three and published two, so there goes another belief about myself that doesn’t work for me anymore.

My determination led me to keep looking for ways around my stuckness. Ways to process the trauma differently. Talking got me part of the way. Writing got me further. But if I want to take that writing and shape it into a story that resonates, then I need to take it further. I need to take myself further.

So I tried EMDR. Basically, it’s a type of “psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.” My mental health counselor specializes in it and is one of the reasons I went to see her in the first place. And yet, I’ve avoided it for several years. Processing trauma is hard. EMDR gets it over with quicker than talk therapy, but it felt brutal. There were times during writing when it was hard to do that and maintain competence in anything else (like earning a living and getting dinner on the table). EMDR felt similar. I made it through two sessions, with a break in between, the first taking me through an ex-husband’s suicide attempt, the second through my first sexual assault. I’m made of some strong stuff, but even thinking about that second session makes me tear up.

Deep breath.

In the meantime, I’ve been meandering around on my professional path. What is it that i do exactly? I’m an…author…content marketer…medium…editor…freelance writer…teacher…musician? All of the above? Being all of those things means I have to keep refocusing again and again and again. (Basically, it’s like meditation, where your mind wanders down one track and then another and you keep bringing it back to your breath. But, in my working life, what is my breath?)

Once again, the universe rose up to meet me.

I took a business course with Heart of Business and it brought, not just clarity and support on what I was doing in my professional life, but a whole lot of unexpected healing as well. I also saw a local medium (an unlikely thing for me to do, but this felt right) who told me I had stored trauma in my body that wanted (and needed) to be released.

During that time, my counselor suggested I try TRE (Tension, Stress and Trauma Release Exercises) and taught me how to go through the exercises and how to allow my body to tremor. Once I did, my body started producing tremors and contractions so strong they irritated my lower back. I made my sessions shorter. And I went to see my chiropractor.

Something in the combination of stuck energy and an adjustment made my back muscles go haywire. Maybe they didn’t want to be told to release before they were good and ready. Maybe it was asking just a little too much. Instead of graciously accepting the adjustment, they went into protective mode and tightened up, fortifying the defenses to not release what wasn’t quite ready to go.

My back locked up. I was in so much pain muscle relaxers + narcotic pain meds felt like they barely made a dent.

It’s funny how life stops when our body insists on being paid attention to. I couldn’t drive (pain + pain meds). I couldn’t cook. I could barely get my pants on.

My goals got much smaller. Teach class on Friday. Go to the writing festival on Saturday. I rescheduled appointments, asked lots of favors (cook dinner, take kids to school, drop them home, fill in for me and sing on Sunday). That part was hard. I don’t like to ask for help. I realized that it’s because of all those times when I was younger and felt vulnerable and reached out for help, only to find none, so I had to suck it up and figure it out by myself anyway. I try and protect myself now by just doing it myself in the first place. But I didn’t this time. Not all of it, anyway.

I also realized that the pain — which was truly terrible labor-like pain — and my unprocessed trauma was, and always had been, connected. The back pain I endured for two decades before having spinal fusion surgery may have been technically caused by a car accident when I was a teenager, but was really the trauma trying to get my attention and get out. It wanted to be birthed and allow something new to live and grow and thrive.

I’m a lot better this week. I made it to my conference on Saturday, almost 2 hours away. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. But those sessions gave me some more tools to use as/when I revisit my first book. I learned a new word: autofiction to describe what I want to create from my memoir.

The sessions also gave me permission to approach the work in whatever way I need to, to be able to get close enough to get to the heart of it, without getting overwhelmed. That’s partly what stops me. I want to dig in, but I don’t want to be consumed by it. I want the rest of this life to keep working, for the kids to be fed, taken to where they need to go, to be scrubbed before bedtime and read books to, and for me to keep going with the rest of my writing and teaching life. I’m afraid of falling apart. And yet…it’s not going away, the need to tell this story.
So I’m going to follow my body’s lead. I’m trusting it to let me know how fast or slow to go. I want to do some more trauma release work this spring and into the early summer and then make space for myself to delve deeper into what’s going on in my memoir and craft it into the powerful I know it can be. The story of a girl, willing to travel across the ocean to find home and family on a tropical island, but who instead finds something very different from the promises of paradise in the shiny tourist brochures.

Local Eugene author interview with James Aaron

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I learned to read when I was 4 or 5 years old, in my first year of school. I remember sitting on the floor of my English classroom, deep into a book about a magician and a dragon, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.

I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, or even specifically what the story was about. But I remember the feeling of being transported into another world. No matter what was going on in my young life (and there was a lot that was hard), I could pick up a book and be somewhere else. That may sound like escapism, but books, along with music, kept me alive and kicking through some difficult and trying years.

I still go to books when life feels overwhelming (and even when it doesn’t). Nothing helps me cope like a good story.

And in an effort to support other writers (and justify my love of reading), here’s the first in hopefully many blog posts about fellow Eugene authors.

James Aaron

Eugene author James AaronLast March, I was in what seemed like a minor car accident — just a rear-end collision at fairly low speed. But it gave me a concussion and a whole lot of nerve pain in my left shoulder and arm (which is still healing). The concussion bowled me over, as far as its impact on my life. For more than a week, I sat on my couch in a daze, unable to drive or work or do much of anything.

I wrote about the experience a few days later in this blog post. That short post took me a couple of days to write and edit and post, because I could stand to look at a screen only for a few minutes before my brain was exhausted and I needed to rest.

Fortunately, I discovered that I was able to still read. So I sat on my red couch and read a whole lot of books, took some naps and let my brain rest enough to get better.

Emerald EmergentOne of the books I read during that time was Emerald Emergent by local Eugene author James Aaron, whose book I had recently stumbled upon in a lovely series of small events.

I met James at last Spring’s Wordcrafters writing conference the weekend before the accident. He sat next to me, tapping away on a clackity smart typewriter thing with a tiny screen. He introduced me to the tall guy (Justin Tindel) in the EWA (Eugene Writers Anonymous) shirt and got me hooked up to their Facebook group.

Which is where James posted a link to Emerald Emergent, on sale that week on Amazon.com. I bought it, downloaded it, and got on with life, until I got whacked over the head by the universe.

So, there I was, sitting on the couch, wondering how to occupy myself, and opened my Kindle and found James’ book. Away I went, on an adventure outside of the confines of my healing body and brain.

I loved the book. I won’t attempt to summarize the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s a fast-paced young adult sci-fi adventure with characters I connected to and a world that I totally got into. My only complaint was that it wasn’t longer. And that there are terrifying dog-sized spiders (not really a complaint, but they were terrifying).

The Voices in the WoodsHere’s the thing that I also loved. I found a couple of typos in the book and contacted James about them through Facebook. (“Hi, I just read your book and it was great, but here are some typos I found…hope you don’t mind.”) He was gracious and grateful to know about them, and sent me an advance copy of the next book in the Emerald of Elegaia series, The Voices in the Woods, which I happily proofread for him.

Sadly for me, James has been taking a break from the Emerald of Elegaia series to work on some other books — he published two more novels last year (making a total of four in 2016): Ground Private Parvel and The Dead Miner’s Mother. And I’m sure he has more in the works.

An interview with James Aaron

Fortunately for all of us, James was happy for me to pepper him with questions about his books and how he goes about writing and publishing them. As an independent author, he gets to do the whole thing himself, figuring it all out along the way.

How long have you been writing books?

I tried to write my first novel in high school and got my first taste of professional rejection when Del Rey sent me a very nice form letter. I wrote another novel in my twenties.

It’s only in the last two years that I’ve been focused on writing in a dedicated way: writing every day, taking part in writing groups, and submitting to magazines. I guess I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, but the conditions to actually be able to write have only presented themselves recently. There were other times when I thought I wanted to take a class or join a group, went once, and just never went back. I don’t know why the thought of it made me so anxious back then, but something clicked two years ago and it’s been a lot of fun since then.

Why did you start writing?

I started reading seriously when I was thirteen or fourteen, and something about the experience of reading made me want to try it myself. I wrote mostly imitation back then. I guess if fanfiction had existed, that’s what I was writing. But it was fun and it gave me something to do after school. I had a computer and I wasn’t allowed to play games on it, so the only thing I could really do with it was write.

Where did the idea for Emerald Emergent come from?

I’m fascinated by the idea of the eternal return, that civilizations have risen and fallen across the millennia and their bones are always waiting to be discovered. I wanted to create a world where people live with the effects of those previous worlds, where your backyard might turn out be filled with ancient tech that might hurt or help you. . . so that was the seed of what became Emerald’s story. Now I’m on the process of building out some of the events that come long before her time.

What was the reception to it?

Readers have really enjoyed it, but there haven’t been as many readers as I would have liked. In publishing Emerald and Voices, I learned a lot about how Amazon works, what the readers there are looking for, and it lead me to change directions with the latest novels. I’ll still go back to the other stories to finish them. I wrote more to reader expectations with Ground Private Parvel, and it’s already beat the sales of the other two books in just two weeks.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I wanted to learn about publishing as it currently stands. I was part of a small press from 2000 – 2009, and spent a lot of time editing books, designing them, getting them printed and then selling through bookstores and online. We quit just before the ebook revolution really took off, so we missed that boat. I went to a few talks with authors whose books were so professionally produced that I didn’t realize they were self-published. That was a huge wake-up call for me that the market had changed, and it was possible to produce a book yourself that could compete and succeed in the market.

I also like the level of control self-publishing allows, and that I can quickly experiment and then shift to something new if what I tried doesn’t work, without spending a huge amount of money. I like that I can see nearly instantaneous sales data. I’ve also found a really supportive community of authors who share information from an abundance mentality, making it possible to be more successful with what I try.

What have you learned from the process so far?

Community is one of the most important parts of writing these days. Find yourself a writing group. Whether you’re focused on the traditional publishing route, self-publishing or something in-between, there are other people in your area or online doing the same thing. It’s so much more fun when you can share your wins and commiserate over your losses, and hopefully help someone else avoid the same mistakes. Writing is work, but it’s so much more fun when you like your co-workers. The idea of the author struggling alone is a myth that no longer holds true.

I never got to meet Jay Lake, but I remind myself of his advice almost every day as I think about my writing journey:

  • Write a story every week (for me this is write every day)
  • Finish everything you start
  • Don’t self-critique while writing
  • Work on one thing at a time (I am mostly good at doing this)

I remind myself that writing is a journey, and I won’t get anywhere if I don’t get the words out, share them, and keep moving forward. We live in a time where feedback is everywhere, in reviews and writing groups and places you least expect. . . don’t let negative feedback stop you from telling your story. Think about the feedback from all directions but don’t let it stop you from creating. The worst thing you could do in response to negative feedback is to stop creating.

I still work full-time and don’t plan on leaving my day job anytime soon, so my writing process is based on getting up everyday at 5am and doing the work. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I’m doing my best. I finish everything I start, and I write at least a thousand words a day. They might not always be the best words, but I feel better once I’m done.

Anything else you want to share?

I love to hear from readers. You can email me at james@jamesaaron.net or join my newsletter list at jamesaaron.net/list.

Being part of a community of writers and readers is the best part of all of this for me. I love to read/hear a great story, and if I’m able to share my own and have it connect with someone, that’s the best feeling.

Doing kindness in my own way

Growing up, I was one of those kids who did things her own way. My mum called it either creativeness or stubbornness, depending on her mood and how far I’d pushed my boundaries that day. (I come by it naturally, she’s the woman who taught me that there’s an exception to every rule, and that she was usually the exception.)

And so I continue to be exceptional, in my own way.

This time it’s going into relative publicity seclusion after publishing three books this summer. That’s generally not the accepted plan. You’re supposed to publish your books, then show them off–and sell them–to everyone.

We did have a launch party for The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry in October (somehow timed to coincide with a wind storm). And I’ve had a few events where I’ve sold books. But no major splash. No huge push. Just write the books and get them out and hunker back down in the relative sanity of daily life. Which is why there’s been no update here.

Another new book

Communicate with SpiritOnce school started, I got swept up in the routine of my life. Fortunately, kids in school = writing time for me. Which produced another book, Led by Light: how to develop your intuitive mediumship abilities, that published at the end of October.

I’ve also been continuing to build my intuitive mediumship practice: seeing clients, mentoring students and teaching classes. In early November, we had our first public intuitive mediumship event, in which I and some of my students gave short readings to everyone in attendance. It went really well and we plan to do them regularly, every two or three months. I also taught a class on developing your intuition (and am working on a book on that subject) and am currently teaching a mediumship development introductory class. It turns out that I love teaching people things I know that can help them live better lives.

Making a living

Eugene Spirit Medium (the business’ current name, although I think I’ll change it at some point to be less location-specific) is becoming my “day job” for my writing career. In addition to that, I’m still doing freelance writing for the Register-Guard as well as commercial/business writing and editing for clients. Plus I’m the music coordinator for the Center for Spiritual Living Eugene. And the parental unit who does the grocery shopping, cooking, and operates the kid taxi service.

At some point, I’d like to consolidate my assorted businesses/ways of earning money to one or two things so I can focus more energy on them. That’s never been my strong point, though, even when I’ve had full-time jobs. Even if my primary role has been a writer of some kind (journalism, public relations, fundraising, web content), I’ve always incorporated various other skills to keep things interesting–like photography, videography, graphic design and web development. I can’t seem to help it. Fortunately, writing and marketing my books means I get to keep on doing a bunch of different things, not just writing.

On the writing side of things, my calculations show that I’ve earned just over $1,000 in book sales so far this year. Not a fortune by any means, but the four figures are strangely satisfying. As a new author, most of my income (which honestly isn’t that large at the moment due to my part-time paid work hours) comes from other forms of writing as well as my intuitive mediumship practice.

Practicing kindness

The other thing that’s been occupying a large amount of space in my brain and emotions is the U.S. elections. Without getting too far into politics and opinions (I’m probably about as socialist as you can get, which is unlikely to be a surprise to anyone who knows me), the results and the reactions to the results among the people I usually talk to has been emotionally overwhelming.

It’s taken me awhile to regroup.

To do that, I’ve heavily filtered political posts from my Facebook feed, removed my Facebook icon from my phone’s home screen (I have to go digging through my apps to find it now), turned off my Facebook notifications and largely stopped scrolling through Twitter. After taking a breather, I think I’m ready to stick my head back up and figure out what I can do while maintaining my sanity (and not triggering severe anxiety).

I realize I can’t fix the world (should the world want me to even try). But I can teach my children to be kind, open and unprejudiced. I can recognize my own privilege and understand that where I come from isn’t necessarily where other people come from. I can speak up when I see something happening that’s not right. And I can donate to organizations who can do the work that I, in my safe little world, can’t do directly.

I will also be kind and practice deliberate acts of kindness as often as possible. Give socks to people who are homeless. Help my friends learn how to independently publish or get their blogs set up. Buy coffee for the person behind me in line. Give up my parking space with a smile. Tell people I love them.

When I think about the root causes of our issues, the conclusion I come to is that we’re afraid. And that fear is rooted in lack: that we won’t have enough, that we have to take from others in order for us to have enough. I don’t believe that’s the real truth of the world. I believe there is enough. There’s enough money, enough parking spaces, enough jobs, enough time, enough people to buy all our books.

Since I’m a woo-woo woman who does things her own way, I can say that, ultimately, it comes down to love. It comes down to whether we’re able and willing to access the infinite love that is available to each one of us.

Being kind to each other brings out that love. Kindness is a concrete way of showing we believe in abundance.

I’m going to continue to believe that there’s enough love and abundance in this world and that we can experience it. I invite you to do the same.

My first novel, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies, is here

I’m not one for making yearly resolutions. Not the formal sort, anyway. And not at New Year’s.

I made a great list when I was 12 and realized those pretty much set me up for life. I review them every so often. Basically they are: Don’t be a jerk, to yourself or others, reiterated in a variety of ways (believe in yourself, be kind, be true to yourself, follow the Golden Rule, love yourself, etc.).

But this past January (when I also celebrate my birthday), I realized that, while I wasn’t likely to be nominated for one of those Under 40 awards in the next year, I could make another long-time dream reality. I could be a published author by 40.

And now I am.

children's book on grief divorce and stepfamiliesThe Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is my first published novel.

I started writing it in March 2015, during Camp NaNoWriMo (same as regular NaNoWriMo in November, essentially). I’d had the idea of writing a children’s book based around my family life, told from the point-of-view of my youngest daughter. She can illustrate the book, I thought. I can tell a heartwarming story about an nine-year-old girl dealing with the challenges of friendship, divorce, remarriage and step-siblings and the loss of loved ones.

And so I did, blatantly using my family as inspiration for and the form upon which the story hangs.

I quickly ran into troubles.

While we have the usual sibling squabbles, all my kids are far too nice, caring and kind to each other to create the tension and conflict a story needs. So my apologies to “Lynn,” who’s truly a great sister in real life, as you’ll see in an accompanying series, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Elliot, told from the perspective of Cherry’s brother.

The illustrator at work.

Berry, fortunately as she’s the main character, loved the idea. She read my first drafts and nodded her head in approval. When she claimed stomach aches prevented her from going to school, I handed her sheets of paper and said, “OK, you have to stay in bed and illustrate the book, then.” She did.She also let me tell the harder parts of her story – how she feels about losing my mum and our cat, Hobbes, as well as the changes that have happened to her family due to my divorce and remarriage. I’m grateful for her bravery and honesty.

The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.
The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.

There’s a lot in the story that’s drawn from our lives. And a lot that’s fiction. The splendid part of writing fiction is that you can change reality to make it work better for your story. That’s much harder in real life (though perhaps not impossible).

I won’t give the story away to tell you what’s true and what’s invented. Some of it you can figure out for yourself. Some you may never know.

But I do want to make sure you know about one thing. When you get to the part about the pancakes, mystery pancakes were really my idea. 🙂

The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is an early middle grade novel for readers age 6-9 (grades 1-3).

Birthing book triplets this summer

As I was loading the dishwasher yesterday (it’s a form of active meditation, by the way), I realized I’m basically having triplets this summer.

I’m not sure why I decided to independently publish three books in a matter of months. Perhaps it just worked out this way. I kept shuffling forward on each book and they’re all coming to fruition around the same time. Perhaps I’m impetuous and impatient. You decide.

First, there’s the Intuitive Symbols Coloring Book: Unlock your intuition through meditative coloring. That was a somewhat unexpected baby with a fairly easy gestation (if a bumpy delivery as I realized I had no idea what I was doing and there several million more details that I expected).

Next is The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies, which is in its final throes of production (I got the proof copy in the mail today). I plan to have it published in July.

Then there’s the tentatively titled, The Symbol Dictionary Workbook: Understanding the meaning of your intuitive, psychic and dream symbols. That one is still in the works, currently in the end of the design stage, to be birthed into the world later this summer, hopefully in August.

No wonder I feel overwhelmed.

I’ve taken a lot on, especially during a time full of changing schedules, trips and limited work time. Because, on top of these awesome personal writing projects, I still have work to do (paying work, I remind myself). And I need my billable client work to fund the production of my own writing projects.

My hope is that, long term, my books earn money. The coloring book has already sold enough to pay for the expenses of creating it. But not the hours that went into making it. Or that I need to put into promoting it.

Sadly, there’s no magic that happens once you get a book out into the world which causes millions of sales of that book. I knew this going into it. That, once birthed, a book still has to be tended to and cared for. And sold. Over and over again. That takes effort and time.

Plus, book marketing puts me in new and uncomfortable waters. I understand marketing principles, how to create a marketing plan, how to write press releases and promote events. How to create and implement a social media strategy. How to track sales, keep books, file taxes. How to promote myself. But I haven’t done it before in this context. And I haven’t done it for my own work. So it’s scary, uncertain, new.

As an independent author, I’m also doing this largely on my own. I don’t have an agent to advise me or an editor at my publishing house. Or a marketing department to either tell me what to do or confer with and support my plans and efforts. (Not that a traditional publishing deal would necessarily give me so much support I could do little to nothing. I know I’d still have to work on it then, too. But it’d hopefully be work in collaboration with others.)

These things have been stressing me out lately. There’s been a lot less basking in the glow of my accomplishments (I published a book!) than I expected and a lot more freaking out about how I’m going to actually sell it now.

As I walked home this morning after dropping my car off for an oil change (more active meditation), it occurred to me that it’s OK to back off a little and that I may want to approach this adventure with more playfulness and wonder. I’m on this journey to satisfy my long-time longing to be an author. To give myself the things I want in this life and to stop standing in my own way.

In that sense, this doesn’t need to be hard or feel difficult. I may not be completely sure what I’m doing, but I know I’ll find my way. I don’t need to know exactly where I’m going to approach the journey with curiosity and willingness to take the very next steps in front of me.