In this week’s installment of ‘Shiny Sparks,’ I spoke with Meredith Myers (The Majestik Lioness). Meredith is a heart-based healer and teacher of metaphysical wisdom, meditation, and self-worth. I asked her how she maintains her connection to spirituality.
“I’ll trade you my Barbie for 2 of your My Little Ponies.”
“Ok, but you can’t have Twilight Pegasus.”
“Well you can’t have Barbie and The Rockers, just one of the regular ones.”
My sister and I championed this phrase. It was our secret handshake.
Then, when we were older:
“I won’t tell Mom you set the trash can on fire if you let me borrow your car. And no takebacks.”
My sister is 19 months younger than me, so if I accepted this offer I’d be breaking the law. And really, she was playing dirty with this negotiation.
I hadn’t set the trash can ablaze on purpose. After school one afternoon I was in my parent’s office, talking on the phone, probably to a boy. I was probably chattering, excitedly. He was probably pretending to listen. I’m not a person who just sits and talks on the phone. I fill the space with a mindless action: doodling, shuffling a deck of cards, typing random sequences on a word document, and then when I got older, smoking cigarettes. This time, I was lighting matches. I’d strike the match, watch it burn down until the flame almost met with my fingers, and then I’d shake it out until the ember became a black trail of sulfur smoke. I guess I didn’t let one of the matches burn out long enough because my one-sided chatter halted when I smelled the rancid odor of burning paper. I hastily mumbled “I’ve gotta go!” to my boyfriend, and barely got the phone back on the hook when the smoke detector started screaming.
My sister came running. “Chris! What happened?!”
“I accidentally set the trash can on fire!”
We were latchkey kids. A common part of being a kid in the 1980’s. Our bus stopped in front of our house at around 4 p.m. and my mom didn’t get home until almost 6 pm, so our late afternoons were filled with freeform adventure, mostly in the form of television, unsupervised snacking, and long phone calls with boys, which our mother hated.
Instinctively, I ran to my parent’s room and grabbed the jug of distilled water that was always on the iron board. I doused the flames.
The fire alarm screamed, and my sister was panicking. It was a brutal and invasive irritation, and I think we both feared that somehow there would be some sort of record that it had been set off. That our dad would come home early from one of his week-long business trips and know it had happened. We had no idea how to stop a smoke alarm from alarming, so we did what I must’ve seen on television: we hit it with the end of a broom handle. The scenario is always the same in these fictions: the broom handle hits the alarm case, the alarm case breaks, the batteries fall out, and the noise stops.
I frantically jabbed at the white plastic disc, which was attached to the ceiling. It was harder than the movies made it look. I could hardly reach it even with an extension. I failed to stop the screeching and instead punched broom-handle sized holes in the ceiling all around the smoke detector. I can’t remember how we got the damn thing to stop wailing, but it eventually quieted. We waited for the phone to ring, for the fire department to show up, for Dad to pull into the driveway, but instead it was just silence, my sister and I, the smell of burnt paper, and pure adrenaline.
I told her, “I need to clean up the trash can.”
I returned to the scene only to see that all the water I’d used to extinguish the flames had leaked out the bottom of the rickety, old school metal bin. Dark, sooty stains puddled out onto my mom’s newly installed, light gray carpet. And the clock was ticking. She was due home in less than an hour.
We devised a plan in which I held the trash can over a bucket while we carefully lifted our contraption and moved it down the hall, down the stairs, wincing at every slosh, until we got it out the back door and dumped the soot in the mulched garden bed. I used the water hose to rinse out the remaining evidence from the bin, and my sister dried it. Then it was back upstairs to the office, where we used old cleaning towels and Formula 409 to frantically scrub the soot out of the carpet. Next, I furiously vacuumed the spots to dry the carpet, begging it would be sufficient to go unnoticed.
“What about the holes in the ceiling?!” my sister cried. Her anxiety in the moment only proves our eternal bond, despite our ongoing sibling rivalry. She had not caused any of this carnage. If our efforts to cover up my dumbass actions were unsuccessful, she wouldn’t have been the one in trouble.
“Well, Daddy always uses spackle for holes,” I said.
So, it was back down the stairs, out into the garage, where we madly searched for the miracle paste. Back upstairs, my sister held the small step ladder while I clumsily globbed into and over the holes, praying no one would notice. My broom handle attack had also cracked the face of the smoke detector, so I spackled that too. When I noticed the shade of white in the spackle was different than the detector’s hue, I used my craft paints to try and blend the color.
Finished, sweaty, and out of breath, we stood in a weird, silent expectation just long enough to realize it still smelled like smoke and burnt paper, so we turned the ceiling fan on and opened all the office windows.
We put away our crude instruments. We waited.
My mom got home at her normal time. She was happy to see us. We talked about school, and ate dinner, and watched our evening programs, and told our dad goodnight from whatever city he had traveled to that week and got ready for bed. Throughout the evening, my sister and I shared furtive looks, expecting that any second Mom would ask us why the carpet was wet, or why the windows were open upstairs, or why all the distilled water was gone, or why we were being so nice to each other…but she didn’t. It was a wildly uneventful, normal suburban evening in middle America.
So, years later when my sister brought up the small fire as a bargaining chip to take my new car, and my brand spanking new driver’s license, I agreed. Not because I was thought I’d be punished or because I believed she’d actually tell on me. I agreed because despite our complicated sisterhood, and our startling differences, she’s always been my partner in crime. This pattern of negotiation created a stable bridge for us to be united. She’s the only person in the world who really gets my wacko genius, and she’s the first to step up and protect it. Every time. Unconditionally. When we’re united, we’re unstoppable. My trouble is her trouble. Her pain is my pain. Forever and ever. No takebacks.
I launched the Shiny Sparks article series on January 29th, but I haven’t been as consistent as I expected. I’ve had a few life delays, extra meetings, lots of book events (hooray!) and I lost my momentum a bit. Instead of making myself wrong for it, I’m examining the creative process as I experience it. I’ve noticed that when I’m launching something bigger, when I’m creating new things that have the potential to bring more light into the world, obstacles arise.
Has this happened to you?
I remember back before my mommy days I would take the occasional weekend trip with one of my friends. We’d carefully plan our departure times: who’s driving, where are we meeting to pack the car, what time, how long, which snacks. Excitement would be high, and then we’d hit a snag. Traffic would be crazy on the way out of town, or we’d miss an exit and have to loop around the highway. One of us forgot something crucial and we’d have to run back or stop somewhere to replace it.
This became such a predictable pattern that one friend and I (we traveled together a lot) would joke that because we had some obstacles and had to work harder to get on our way, it was a sign we were going to have a fabulous trip. And it was always that way – despite those challenges in the beginning, we’d spend days in joy, laughter, and bonding. Memories were implanted. Love grew. And because we had those experiences, we brought that energy into the world in a way only we could have channeled.
Given that our results were so often positive and joyous, I started to question this pattern. Is it a necessary part of the creative process? Is it a lie we’ve bought into? I’m still experiencing it in my life, and sometimes it seems that the more I’m stepping up and out with my honest expressions, the bigger the obstacles that show up.
What has changed is my perspective about it. These days I know that if I keep at it despite setbacks, I’m destined to succeed. And I’m aware that what I perceive as a setback is often the creative idea giving itself time to grow and flourish.
In the space between my last weekly post and today, I’ve received an idea I’m excited to explore. For a while going forward I want to use this weekly series to examine the creative process from different perspectives, backgrounds, and approaches. How do we as creative people really stay connected to our own inspiration and motivation? What keeps us from operating on auto pilot and really living our creative lives consciously?
I’ve curated some artists and writers in my life, and together with their contributions to the series, we can watch snapshots of the collective creative process. Actively engaging in the creative process and sharing that with others, learning from how we all keep at it, and celebrating collective success brings me tremendous generative energy.
What about you?
What keep you inspired?
What keeps you from operating on auto pilot in your creativity?
I look forward to the conversation…
I had just finished setting up my table for a book event yesterday, when a women walked up and asked me what my book is about. She looked really tired and I could see she had been crying. I answered her question and we got to talking, and she’s going through some serious life challenges. She ended up purchasing a few things from me, and as she started to walk away, she shared with me that she hadn’t intended to come to the market and didn’t really know why she was there or what she was looking for – but after our talk, she felt like maybe she had come just to meet me and talk with me.
This was a high compliment, and the primary reason I embarked on the crazy task of being a self-published author as full-time as I possibly can: I want to share through my writing.
The experience stuck with me. I thought about her on and off all day.
This week I want to talk about being inspired by our own progress and journey. Basically, to be inspired by YOU or ME or US.
As I write this, I find I’m uncomfortable…what if I lose the small number of followers I have?
What if someone takes what I say the wrong way?
What if people think I’m just tooting my own horn and I’m not really talented enough to do that?
You know what? If I want to be a successful author, I can’t listen to that kind of talk.
And I want to share a secret I’ve learned: it’s hard to be a writer.
It’s hard to be a self-published author trying to make a living with your books – for different reasons than I thought in the beginning. The writing itself isn’t actually hard. It takes effort and some days I’ll fight for every word, but I still usually produce something.
The absolute hardest part for me has been quieting the voice that tells me I can’t do it.
The voice that feeds my questions and doubts.
The voice that feeds the fear that invades when I think about whether anyone wants to read what I have to say.
The voice that creates Imposter Syndrome.
The voice that causes me to compare myself to others.
But you know what?
I’m doing it anyway.
I’m selling books at art markets and book events.
I’m sending emails to my followers.
I’m writing every day even if I think it’s garbage.
I’ve got two new children’s book in the works and I just released an educational resource for my first book.
I’m not an award-winning bestselling author, but I’m still shining my own light and sharing what I can through writing.
It isn’t ego to tell people about your work because you think it can be a contribution to them.
The ego is the voice that says we can’t do that.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of trying to use the negative thoughts as motivation. It doesn’t really work. It certainly doesn’t create unlimited possibility.
I want to be inspired by my own journey. To be self-motivated not out of greed or a need to have the spotlight, but a true desire to share what I can with those who are looking for what I have to say.
Maybe there will be people who don’t like it.
But that’s not who I’m writing for…
This week, let’s focus on following through no matter what.
Don’t worry about the size of the progress or positive feedback from others.
Do it because you have the idea and a desire to do it.
There’s no one in the world exactly like you, and if you have the idea it means it’s yours to create. And no one will do it or say it exactly like you…so, go shine your own special light.
Be inspired by YOU.
I want to talk about community.
The dictionary defines community as:
- a unified body of individuals
- a social state or condition
There is an implied consciousness behind it.
And the word togetherness:
- warm fellowship, as among members of a family
- the quality, state, or condition of being together
They are ideas that sound easy enough on paper, but I’ve found that actually creating community and togetherness takes tremendous inner transformation.
Sometimes in my enthusiasm, I come on strong in relationships. I go full force, straight forward with no pause to think if the other party needs or wants that amount of energy. Sometimes I make a mistake in thinking that because we have common interests or are members of the same community there is an automatic bond. I forget that things take time to build. The same applies to personal interests and challenges: it can be all-or-nothing.
People that I admire or look to as examples tell me to “let go.” Let things flow. Don’t try to always have the answers. (Insert a sigh, eye roll, or scream.) This is a challenge for me. The cycle of negative tape plays in my head, where I imagine the worst case scenarios of what will happen “if”…
My chest tightens, my energy gets small and trapped and I feel like I can’t breathe. My brain plays the common trick of convincing me that if I can control everything, I won’t have anything to worry about.
This approach doesn’t yield good results, so my focus in the past few months has been to take the hard advice: let go, let things flow, and don’t try to always have the answers. It requires constant vigilance. It’s baffling how quickly I slip back into trying to do everything myself and the chaos that often follows the decisions made in this state of mind. I have some challenges in my life that are so familiar: old patterns, old thinking, all of it the same old garbage that I can’t seem to break free of. I feel broken, helpless to change myself.
This is where I think community and togetherness come in. This is the energy behind the contemporary trend of crowd-sourcing: we can do it alone, but we’re so much stronger when we do it together. When we invest in something as part of a group of like-minded people, we want to contribute instead of expecting a return.
My life is crowd-sourced. People who love me more than I deserve at times contribute to my potential. They look past my flaws and over-sharing and child-like enthusiasm and see my light. My parents accept my out-of-the-box lifestyle and support me in more ways than I can write in an essay. Sometimes I’m so committed to my own point of view that I can’t even receive this love. People in my life show me their heart and I reject it. Or I twist it to fit into my own understanding of what it means to share and miss an opportunity to experience the growth that can only come from admitting that I don’t know.
As I write this I’m in the middle of a situation that has an open ending. I don’t know how some of the challenges will resolve. But in the past few weeks, I’ve had people step forward to offer a hand up in ways that I would have never imagined. And it seems to happen in the blink of an eye. Somehow, I’m in the right place at the right time and an opportunity is presented through people and places that surprise me. So far, the results have been far better than my original plans. I’m humbled by my small perspective. I limit my reality if left to my own devices.
My crowd-sourced life is a wonder. I am in awe of what we can accomplish when we set our egos aside and commit to a common goal. My relationships are stronger when I step back a bit and let things build organically. My fears of not being loved are replaced with the knowing that sometimes love shows up in minutia, but is no less grand. If I get out of the way, I don’t miss it.
My father came to visit one afternoon
he triumphantly presented
a small blue box with an appraisal
my grandmothers wedding ring
he said this is yours now
I don’t have a lot of experience with diamonds
I don’t wear bling
my wedding ring is a modest silver band
with a little message on the inside only I can see
I don’t have a lot of experience with diamonds
I don’t have a lot of experience with my grandmother
The diamonds on her ring
are not the pristine princess cuts of my prime
no, they’re an organized little cluster
that looks quickly encased
in a time more ragged and primitive
I think I’m a rough diamond
I imagine what my grandmothers ring
would feel like in my mouth
crystalline points cold against my tongue
little rocks scratching the thin layer of my inside cheeks
I hear the stones click against my teeth
Maybe if I swallow the gems
feel them travel down my trachea to land
cushioned in my gut
I will understand the allure
the diamonds could shine from my insides
and then I could shine
we could shine, she and I
I think my grandmother was a rough diamond too
undeveloped and battered
sometimes a diamond looks more like coal
I want to turn back our time
I want us to be diamonds
our ruffled tangled outside transformed
transparent and free from flaws
now precious stones, she and I
I’m working on the second book in my children’s book series. It’s about our mouth: our sense of taste and our teeth – the material world aspect of our mouths. It’s also about the power of words – the spiritual world aspect of our mouths. I write about how to use our 5 senses in a deeper way in daily life. So, it’s no coincidence that I’m writing about words. I started my books in early 2017, and because I illustrate them myself, and I’m a SAH mom, the process can take longer than I would prefer. I started working on the second book late in the summer, and soon after, I began to see the deeper lessons in our speech reflected back to me, practically at every turn.
We’re in a moment with words. Our collective experience of #metoo and #timesup have offered a safe harbor for people to share their stories of abuse and harassment. Personally, I am glad it’s happening. Whether it is Hollywood, sports, religion, or business organizations, it’s time to let it all out. It isn’t easy. I see myself as a compassionate and supportive purpose, yet I see my prejudices and judgements pop up. I must examine where they originated. I read testimonials that trigger my own victimization and must ask myself why I haven’t spoken up. We’re all being forced to look at the ugly side of some intense issues, and my hope is that by doing so, we can truly begin to heal.
But speaking up and speaking out is a lingering challenge. I don’t think we’ve been trained to use our words. Our society doesn’t accept a survivor’s tale at face value. We’re not surrounded by encouragement.
I have an entire folder on Pinterest that’s nothing but pretty words against pretty backgrounds. Sometimes when I need a pep talk, I’ll go there and read and read until the heavy feelings lift. I have images that remind me not to compare myself to others, quotes about honoring your truth, poem excerpts I find lovely, and many other examples. I consume a substantial volume of positive words because I want the words I say and write to be beautiful. I keep thinking that if I hear and read elegant artistry as much as I can, I’ll quiet the societal brand. It takes a tremendous effort to undo the negative things we see and hear. Think about it in your own life for a moment: how many years has it taken you to let go of the negative things you heard as a child?
I was never trained how to use my words. I became a people pleaser. It’s easier to tell myself that I’ll just let it go instead of speaking up because I don’t want to rock the boat. But if it’s a big enough issue, it will turn into resentment. Then, there are the times I’ll muster up the courage to say difficult things out loud, but my delivery is harsh because I feel insecure. Or I spend so much time apologizing for what I’m about to say that all the energy behind what I had hoped to express gets deflated. Sometimes I feel nervous, and that insecurity turns into lack, so I’ll try to fill the space with chatter. My messages get lost in my tone or delivery. I can see a lot of personal growth in this area, but it takes work on my part and there are times I still fall back to the old pattern of thinking I, and therefore my experiences, don’t matter.
Honoring my own truth as a writer has primarily been about changing negative thought patterns. It’s an ongoing process of letting go. I’ve let go of the fear of feeling exposed, or the need for every person who reads my work to fall in love with it. All I can do is write in my truest voice about things that are valuable to me and hope that it helps those who read it. Sometimes I think it’s all been said before. Why bother? Get a real job. Then, I’ll remember that I haven’t said it yet, and therefore it’s inherintely valuable. Speaking as honestly as I can becomes paramount.
A line from my little book keeps running in my head as I write this: When you use your words, think of all the love you feel…
This is my dream for the future of words. That whether we have to say something painful, or we’re offering a sincere compliment, our words will remain heart-opening. That our words will continue to be a catalyst for positive transformation. And I know it begins with me.
In March of 2016, I sat in my kitchen with a dear friend. We were looking at a pile of illustrations I had just completed for my first children’s book, Your Hands Can Change The World! I had decided to publish my book, and was telling her that I had no idea where to begin, or what to expect. Through the process of writing and illustrating my book, I had come to terms with the fact that while I have always dreamed of obtaining a lucrative publishing contract, what was most important to me was being a published author, even if I did it myself.
My friend encouraged me to follow my dream of being published, and helped me let go of my own judgements about not having a traditional contract. At the end of the day, I’m a published author. My book is selling, and children and families are enjoying the book.
I decided to go with a publishing company. I did a lot of research to reach that decision. The reason I chose to invest in a self-publishing company instead of doing it all myself through Create Space or a similar platform is because I wanted to learn as much as I could about the publishing process. I wanted a professional designer to help with the layout of my book, and I wanted a recognizable publishing company on my book jacket. I chose Balboa Press, a division of Hay House Publishing. My book has a spiritual bent, so I felt it was a good match. Balboa treated me well, went the extra mile for me and my book, and did a wonderful job on my layout design. I highly recommend them.
I’ve created this blog post to go through some of the major lessons I learned during the process. If you’re considering going with a professional company to publish your book, here are some things you should know:
- Know how much money it will really cost you as early in the process as you can.
I really underestimated the total cost. Initially I chose a simple package for color books that I thought would basically cover everything I needed. But when I really got into the process of production, I ended up adding some services at the last-minute. The sales department tried to tell me up front, and I thought they were just being “sales-y,” but they were right. I ended up investing $2,700 in the production of my book. I invested $1,000 in marketing services, which was a combination of services from Balboa and things I did myself locally.
I don’t have $4,000 lying around, so I decided to crowdfund my publishing costs through a Go Fund Me campaign. I was able to cover my marketing costs that way. The $2700 for the publishing package was provided by an investor. To be clear, had I not been able to obtain this financing, I would not have been able to go with Balboa Press. Make sure you know how much money you’ll really need to complete the process and plan accordingly so you’re not trying to create the money at the last-minute.
- Plan the size of your illustrations.
This was a shocker during my process. It never occurred to me that I needed to plan the size of my illustrations. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I would be able to scan the images and therefore they could be any size they needed to be. The designers at Balboa were able to make the pictures smaller, but making them larger made them look fuzzy and disproportionate.
The “trim size” of your book is basically the final size your book will be once it’s bound into a book with the spine and cover. My book is an industry standard size of 8.5” x 8.5.” Since the book is square and my illustrations were created on a 9” by 11” paper, there ended up being a small gap between the end of my illustrations and the end of the page. The designers at Balboa did an amazing job, and my book looks lovely regardless, but it was a concern for me. I really didn’t relax until I saw the final printed copy in my hands. Make sure you have at least a basic idea of what shape and size you’d like your book to be before you embark, just for your own peace of mind.
- Choose wisely on your publishing package.
As I stated, I started the process with a simple package that was basically “no frills.” It provided me with the design of my layout and a few free copies of my printed book once it was completed. I ended up paying for the fancier package that included the Library of Congress number for your book, the ISBN numbers, copyright numbers, and the seller’s buyback program. These are necessities for selling your book and when you add them ala-carte, the costs really add up. The people at Balboa Press let me upgrade my package instead of adding on the individual items, and I ended up getting much more than just the items listed above for the same price as if I’d added them one by one.
I also added marketing services late in the process because I wanted to give my book a good start. I paid for a social media ad through Balboa, and I do feel it was worth the investment. I also used the money I raised through my crowdfunding campaign for custom bookmarks, business cards, a banner, and fees associated with attending book fairs and art fairs where I could sell my book in person.
Overall, I feel that my process with Balboa Press has been positive. They are attentive to their authors, and they work hard to make sure I’m happy with my book and their services. When it comes time to purchase additional book copies, they always give me the best price possible, and they never bat and eye when I ask for rush shipping or quick turnarounds on printing times. Additionally, they did a great job designing my book. Despite my little hiccup with my image sizes, my book looks professional, and exactly how I pictured it while I was creating it. I’m currently working on my second book in the series, and I plan to stay with Balboa Press for my self-publishing needs.
The anticipation of your arrival has given me pause. Here we begin another chapter in which we all make grandiose promises, hoping and wishing that this year we’ll really stick with to our goals. This seasonal paradigm is an invitation to disappointment and failure, and I just don’t think I can do it anymore. I don’t like making promises to a year. So, I want to let you know that I’m resigning from resolutions. Effective immediately.
I’ve decided instead that I want to continue.
I want to continue my personal trajectory of growth and expansion. To continue to choose to bravely face and do hard things: to create new art and have new experiences, even though I don’t know where all the resources will come from, or how it will all work out. To use my words with all the love I feel, especially if I have to say something hard. To push myself beyond my own limitations and try anyway. As Samuell Beckett said, “Ever tried. Ever fail. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
I want to continue to say goodbye to believing in failure. And judgement. We’re all just doing our best. I hope we all make it.
Enough with dangling the promises of major life changes just because the calendar changed. Enough with the idea that growth and change can’t be a daily endeavor. I, we, can all do this life thing with grace and love if we choose that.
What would it take? What would that be like? And how does it get better than this?
The darkness takes over
Some mornings I wake up in the black
fetal under 3 layers
I feel safe and swaddled until I uncover an arm or a leg
I’m hit with a stinging chill and remember that it is Winter
My dreams are different during shorter days
In them, my teeth fall out
or the house burns down
my plane leaves the airport because I went to the wrong gate
my party invitations get lost in the mail
My uncertainty is highlighted
the stories, little dramas magnified so that I will see them
They ask me to remember what I know: I can turn on the light!
And then, I shine
Dream dramas are revealed as impostors
Warmth is my own creation, eternal
Love is a choice
Surrender is freedom
In Winter, the darkness illuminates
And I am closer to Whole.