Promoting One’s Writing without Losing One’s Head, Completing a Book and More

If—

BY RUDYARD KIPLING

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

 

I was introduced to this poem in high school English, and I never forgot it.  While I am not a poetry lover per se (sorry, sorry, I know that’s going to offend some of you!) there are some poems I love, and Kipling’s “If” has some amazing language in it.  The first two lines have always stayed with me, and I thought of them while writing this post today.

Lately when I’ve queried editors regarding submitting my articles for their consideration, it has been difficult for me to fully promote my work and “keep my head” as Kipling so eloquently states.  Of course good writing speaks for itself, but the writer behind the writing has to present well too!  I’ve been caring for two sick little ones over the past couple weeks, and that situation has not only distracted me; it has gotten me out of my writing groove and my writing confidence has been zapped as well.

Now my girls are well, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to return to my regular writing schedule.  But I’ve been procrastinating on certain projects and I’ve grown lackluster in promoting my writing to various outlets. I haven’t lost all hope about returning to “zestful writing” as the awesome author Elizabeth Sims calls it  – I’ve been through this dilemma before, and I know I’ll get back to where I want to be.  It’s just going to take more time than I’d like – time I hate to lose, because I’ve lost enough time since my 2007 bipolar diagnosis when my writing career stalled for oh, eight years.

Ironically, it’s much easier for me to promote others’ work.  Promotion was a skill I learned in my first “grown-up” job working at a special event production company.  We produced on average ten large-scale annual events in Silicon Valley.  I started out as the office manager and then was put in charge of more challenging projects, such as working with the media, talent agents, and vendors.  Our publicity consultant taught me how to write press releases, and I was interviewed about our events by prestigious newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News.  My boss had very high standards, and he had established a great reputation.  Before creating his company, he had founded the highly acclaimed Paul Masson Mountain Winery Concert Series and he worked with the greatest names in music.  Fortunately I was able to represent his company in a professional manner over the phone, in person and in writing, and while it was a stressful job, it taught me a great deal.

So yes, to reiterate, the bottom line is that when it comes to promoting my writing these days, I’m not as gung-ho as I’d like to be.   One thing I know for sure is that enthusiasm about one’s work (in moderate doses) is a wonderful quality, and I want to cultivate it to the best of my ability.

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As most of you reading this piece are also bloggers, I’m sure some of you know a thing or two when it comes to promoting your blog or anything else that you believe in, for that matter!  Recently I pushed past my comfort zone and asked an authority figure to publish my essay.  While I didn’t expect a resounding “no”, I didn’t exactly expect a “yes” either, as worthy as my article seemed in my eyes.  Well, that question, which literally took me less than ninety seconds to formulate, type out and email, paid off.  My essay was published and I got a strong response from readers that felt very validating.  As far as I was concerned, that incident was a sign that I must keep plugging away with my writing and don’t let the turkeys get me down.  (What a great phrase, eh?)

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I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket with any one contact, project or dream.  Believe me, at age forty-four, apart from my first job, I’ve dealt with promotion-related issues throughout my work history.  After I left the special event production company, I became a certified personal trainer.  I built up my own business at a popular gym whose members included the founder of Netflix and the editor of our biggest local newspaper – these people could afford personal trainers!  I advertised myself and my training services to prospective clients, and I was able to achieve a modest success.  After working in fitness for a couple years, I worked at three different non-profits:  Friends of the Santa Cruz Libraries, COBHA/The College of Botanical Healing Arts, and Friends of the Santa Cruz State Parks.

My jobs focused on administration and development, and I was required to help promote their numerous special events.   I was expected to be knowledgable and enthusiastic about each non-profit’s mission.  While I loved the public library system, botanical healing products, and our gorgeous local state parks, none of these worthy organizations captured my heart.  At these three workplaces I suffered from chronic depression and I wouldn’t be diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder until years later.

Even if I hadn’t been depressed when I worked with these groups of dedicated, talented people, I still would have been less than fired-up working with them because I wasn’t truly passionate about the causes – yes, even the libraries!

During my pre-bipolar diagnosis years, I always thought that if I could find the right job that inspired me, I’d give it my all and I would be successful.  Well, ever since I left the University of California at Santa Cruz when I was twenty-one, I’ve been writing, mostly without pay, because I love to do it.  (I know I’m preaching to the choir here.)  When I reached my late twenties and I achieved my dream to have my articles published in national magazines and I actually got paid for them, I realized that I could be a writer, but I still didn’t go for it and make writing my “real” job.

Now I finally do have the opportunity to “go for it” and complete my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.   I’ve written eighty pages so far, and I’m at an impasse of sorts.  I’m scared that I won’t achieve my dream to finish writing this book and I’m worried I’ll fall short of my two goals: for it to be interesting and #2) It will help people.  But, the old cliche rings true here – if I don’t give it a shot, I’ll never know.

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What matters is keeping up my habit of typing regularly (or putting pen to paper for some of you) and not giving up.  When it comes to writing, I’ve proved to myself that I am a slow-but-steady writer.  Slow is not always a negative trait – I witnessed my husband Craig Harwood complete his award-winning book Quest for Flight – John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West and have it published by University of Oklahoma.  It took him seven years to write his book, but who cares – he did it.  I’ve also been inspired by my friend the author Rebecca Moore, who wrote Moorestorms: A Guide for the Bipolar Parent and four other books.  She has the gift, along with my favorite authors Madeleine L’Engle and L.M. Montgomery, of being a prolific writer.

Moore, L’Engle and Montgomery were able to keep their noses to the grindstone and complete numerous books in a timely fashion.  I wish they could bottle their talent and fortitude up because I’d be the first to buy it!

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When I do complete my book, I’ll promote the heck out of it.  I consider completing a book similar to having a child, and it’s an enormous accomplishment.  I have respect for anyone who finishes writing a book, whether or not it wins the National Book Award.  Just call me Dyane “Turtle” Harwood, because I will be crossing the finish line of completing Birth of a New Brain someday , and when I do, I’ll become a P.R. whiz.  Just wait and see! 😉

I’d love to read about how you promote yourself , your blog and your books – feel free to comment below…

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Economy and Restraint

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When I first started blogging, I was concerned I would have nothing much to write about, and that my posts would be too short.  Ha ha!  Little did I know that I’d have the opposite problem.  It turns out with every post I want to go on and on.

I usually write over 1000 words a post, which seems more like writing an essay rather than a blog post.  A quick Internet search of “ideal blog post length” yields a website suggesting 500 words.  Another website claims that it doesn’t matter how long your blog post is as long as it’s well written.  Go figure!

I’ve been having a field day following blogs on WordPress.  There’s a multitude of talented writers out there, and I keep following more blogs.  According to About.com “Most people who read blogs don’t have a lot of time or patience to read thousands of words of content.  They’re looking for quick access to information or entertainment.”  I must confess that lately I’ve found it easier to concentrate on shorter blog post lengths rather than longer ones, and that makes me feel like a hypocrite.  So I’m going to try to shoot for writing more concise pieces, although it will be a challenge…

We are all writers in this blogosphere, and we can certainly learn from bestselling authors – especially those whose works have been bestsellers spanning across many decades.  The writer I have in mind is one of my favorites: L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books as well.  Montgomery created an internationally known protagonist in Anne Shirley.  However, I find Montgomery’s lesser known character Emily Byrd Starr more intriguing to me than the lovable Anne because I share more in common with her.

Emily is depicted as a passionate writer from a very early age in Emily of New Moon.   Emily’s writing mentor is her school teacher Mr. Carpenter.  Mr. Carpenter is a gruff, charismatic man who “could have been a contender” in any profession he chose, yet his alcoholism played a key part in his being an unfulfilled, frustrated country schoolteacher.  Mr. Carpenter bonds with the sensitive Emily and is ruthless in his criticism of her writing assignments.  Emily has nothing but respect for Mr. Carpenter’s opinions of her work, and she aims to earn his praise because she knows, in her rather otherworldly way, that he will tell her the truth.

I’ve read Emily of New Moon and the other two Emily books: Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest numerous times. Emily of New Moon is one of my most beloved books and it’s particularly meaningful to me since, like Emily, I see myself as a writer to the core.  I never had my own “Mr. Carpenter” to motivate and challenge me to write better, and I wish I did.  Carpenter’s colorful turns of phrase regarding Emily’s writing never fail to entertain me, and I’ve recognized a profound truth to all of his remarks.

Mr. Carpenter nicknames Emily “Jade” and he tells her,

“You waste words, Jade–you spill them about too lavishly.  Economy and restraint–that’s what you need.”  

I need economy and restraint in my writing as well.  Many bloggers do.  When I write a post and wait a day to proofread and edit it, I find so many things that I need to correct or delete.  I can’t believe I didn’t figure out my mistakes after immediately re-reading my first draft, but that’s the nature of writing for many authors.

We learn of Emily’s authentic devotion to writing when Mr. Carpenter asks her,

“Tell me this–if you knew you would be poor as a church mouse all your life–if you knew you’d never have a line published–would you still go on writing–would you?’

‘Of course I would,’ said Emily disdainfully. ‘Why, I have to write–I can’t help it at times–I’ve just got to.” 

(I love that exchange.)

The piece de resistance of Mr. Carpenter’s advice that takes place when Emily is only thirteen years old.  She has given him some of her writing to see if he thinks she has a future as a writer.  Emily awaits his decision with bated breath.  He tells her,

“Ten good lines out of four hundred, Emily—comparatively good, that is—and all the rest balderdash—balderdash, Emily.”
“I—suppose so,” said Emily faintly.
Her eyes brimmed with tears—her lips quivered. She could not help it. Pride was hopelessly submerged in the bitterness of her disappointment. She felt exactly like a candle that somebody had blown out.
“What are you crying for? demanded Mr. Carpenter.
Emily blinked away tears and tried to laugh.
“I—I’m sorry—you think it’s no good—” she said.
Mr. Carpenter gave the desk a mighty thump.
“No good!  Didn’t I tell you there were ten good lines? Jade, for ten righteous men Sodom had been spared.”
“Do you mean—that—after all—”  The candle was being relighted again.
“Of course, I mean.  If at thirteen you can write ten good lines, at twenty you’ll write ten times ten—if the gods are kind…and don’t imagine you’re a genius, either, if you have written ten decent lines.  I think there’s something trying to speak through you—but you’ll have to make yourself a fit instrument for it.  You’ve got to work hard and sacrifice—by gad, girl, you’ve chosen a jealous goddess.  And she never lets her votaries go—not even when she shuts her ears forever to their plea.”

After experiencing tragedy and heartbreak, Emily stops writing after falling into a deep depression.  (Boy, I can relate to that!)  However, Emily ultimately accomplishes her dream of writing her book.  It is published and achieves a modest success.  She also marries Teddy Kent, the love of her life.  While I’ve found my partner, and I’ve endured deep depression, the book I wish to have published is not yet complete.  I won’t give up, though.  Even if I knew my book would never be published, I would still keep writing it for my own sake.  Like Emily, I have to write.  I know that all of you bloggers feel the same way as Emily and I do.  I think that writing affects a certain part of our brains in a unique way, and it’s healthy for us to keep at it.

I wish you many productive and fulfilling hours of writing and I look forward to reading your blogs – as long as your posts aren’t as long as The Illiad!

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Writerly Ramblings and Hypergraphia Part 1


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L.M. Montgomery and Madeleine L’Engle, my two favorite writers.  (Love those glasses!)

Lately my writing output has skyrocketed.  After being creatively blocked for most of the past eight years,  I’m grateful to have the opportunity and the luxury to write.  I’ve been typing for at least an hour every day for several months now.  I even managed to write on days when I felt under the weather.  I wasn’t being a complete fool – I merely wished to write because I felt better after doing it.

For all I know perhaps my writing compulsively has boosted the serotonin level in my brain. While daily writing sounds rather obsessive, it has felt so good and write; I mean right. 😉

Writing definitely exercises my brain cells.  I can feel it.  After I’ve completed an article I get a buzz that’s similar to one achieved from a sweaty workout on my elliptical.  As an A.C.E.-certified personal trainer, I’ve been a fervent believer in cardiovascular exercise for a long time.  I never considered writing to be a “workout” until this year, so now maybe I’ll buy a groovy belt, leg warmers and leotard a la Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect to wear at my desk.

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On a more serious note, typing away for hours on a daily basis may sound alarm bells to those close to me.  When I’ve been manic and hypomanic, I’ve had the rare condition of acute hypergraphia.

Hypergraphia is defined in Wikipedia as:

“A behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content.  Some write in a coherent, logical manner, others write in a more jumbled style.  Studies have suggested that hypergraphia is related to bipolar disorder, hypomania, and schizophrenia.” 

I plan on writing more about hypergraphia in tomorrow’s blog post.  It’s a fascinating topic, and to this day I’ll never forget how it felt to actually experience it.  Luckily, electroconvulsive therapy has not wiped out my recollection of what it felt like to write in that otherworldly, amazing, exhausting, and, at times, terrifying way.  

I shouldn’t make light about hypergraphia, because it’s a serious condition.  I became annoyed yesterday when I found a snarky article online. (Dare I write this?  Why not: a “snarkticle”) It was written by a woman who clearly had no idea what she was discussing when it came to hypergraphia.  While she made some valid points, I disagreed with the majority of them and I want to have some fun and address them on Thursday.  To get a head start you can read the piece here:

http://open.salon.com/blog/valerie_lopes/2009/02/16/do_i_have_hypergraphia_or_am_i_just_prolific

If one hasn’t really, truly lived with this state, I feel 90% of writers should stick to the classic adage that I believe in with all my heart: “write what you know”.

What’s really behind this ramble?  Fear.  Fear of my creative drive leaving as quickly and mysteriously as it arrived.  I am especially scared about next week when I begin the heavy-duty work on my draft of Birth of a New Brain.  I am afraid of not being able to write a damn word – I’m scared of writer’s block making its gruesome return.  This fear has been the primary force in driving me to write every day, even when I knew I wasn’t creating memorable turns of phrase.  I felt that if I just wrote something, the act of writing could, at the very least, keep the flow of words coming day after day.  There are entire books written about this subject, of course, not to mention writing seminars and conferences.

I’ll carry on.  Today I am going to take a break from writing during most of my free time to read instead.  I actually have bona fide homework: to read a review copy of Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White.  I’d rather write, but I promised my counselor I’d read the book.  I’m also planning to write a review about the book for my International Bipolar Foundation blog.  I read and write in front of my Sunbox DL.   I’ve had this therapeutic light for the past decade, and it’s designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder among other conditions.  My light energizes me and literally brightens my day.  I’ll return tomorrow with yet another discourse; until then, I wish you a wonderful day!  Thanks for reading!

Bibliotherapy, Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery, Depression and Suicide

search    Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables
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Kate Macdonald Buter, L.M. Montgomery’s granddaughter

Yesterday I read a Kindle sample of Anne’s World: A New Century of Anne of Green Gables edited by L.M. Montgomery experts Irene Gammel and Benjamin Lefebvre.  I am a tremendous fan of Anne of Green Gables, which was written by L.M. Montgomery and published in 1908.  I was intrigued by the Anne’s World book description because it contains an essay written by Irene Gammel titled “Reading to Heal: Anne of Green Gables as Bibliotherapy”.

Gammel’s chapter introduces how Anne of Green Gables can be used as a tool to counteract depression.  I am very curious to read her theories, and I’m even skeptical.  Despite the fact that I’m a massive Montgomery aficionado, if I’m given a choice between Anne of Green Gables or anti-depressants, I’m going to go for the pill!  (Sorry L.M. Montgomery…)  Gammel probably recommends Anne of Green Gables in addition to medication and therapy.  I’ll find out soon, as I splurged on Anne’s World even though it costs a whopping $16.17 on Kindle.

When it comes to purchasing anything Montgomery-related, I can usually rationalize its cost. I’m such a Montgomery uber-fan that I convinced my husband to name our two daughters after names found in Montgomery’s book.  My eldest daughter is Avonlea, the fictitious town on Prince Edward Island, Canada where the story takes place.  My younger girl is Marilla.  Marilla is named for the spinster in Anne of Green Gables who, along with her elderly brother Matthew, adopts Anne Shirley and comes to love her like her own daughter.

I first read this book as a pre-teen over three decades ago.  Since then, when I was sick with a cold or depressed (or both!) I’d turn to Montgomery’s classic book for comfort.  But Anne could only do so much to alleviate my down moods.  I like the general concept of bibliotherapy that defines certain kinds of reading as a healing experience.

The ancient Greeks believed that literature was psychologically and spiritually important and I wholeheartedly agree with them.  They would post signs above their libraries’ doors describing the literary sanctums as “healing places for the soul”.  I formerly believed that bibliotherapy meant that one could read any uplifting book to benefit.  Today I discovered that the definition of bibliotherapy is more clinical.  Within a therapeutic setting, a counselor selects reading material that is relevant to her client’s life situation.  Bibliotherapy also includes the use of self-help manuals and/or a book that encourages a psychological catharsis.

Thanks to Wikipedia I learned that the bibliotherapy concept includes:

“the human inclination to identify with others through their expressions in literature and art. For instance, a grieving child who reads about another child who has lost a parent may feel less alone in the world.”

I will cover the nuances of bibliotherapy found in Anne of Green Gables tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to read Gammel’s chapter in Anne’s World.

After experiencing so much enjoyment from Montgomery’s numerous books, it hit me particularly hard when I learned tragic facts about her life from two analytical works and her own granddaughter.

A few years ago I purchased The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery – Volume III: 1921-1929 edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, which was highly acclaimed. In it, Montgomery’s numerous journal entries revealed that her husband, the Reverend Ewen Macdonald, suffered with what was called religious melancholia and bipolar disorder. Macdonald felt he was “damned to hell” no matter what good deeds he performed through the church.  He would spend days with an odd handkerchief wrapped around his head moaning, and he completely shut down.  Montgomery came across to me as a single parent.

Based on Montgomery’s entries in this book, Reverend Macdonald sounded like sheer hell to live with.  The psychiatric treatments available during his lifetime in the 20th century were abysmal.  Medications used were often dangerous (laudanum, anyone?) and treated symptoms rather than problems with brain chemistry.  Frankly, it was depressing to read most of that journal for Montgomery often expressed her own depression and wrote about an awful-sounding, unfulfilling marriage.

Another book that revealed even greater depths to Montgomery’s depression was Mary Rubio’s excellent book Lucy Maud Montgomery – The Gift of Wings.  I couldn’t believe how dark my favorite author’s life was.  I know I was naive (and I still am naive at age 43!) but I expected a better world for this famous writer whose books brought joy to millions of her readers.

Kate Macdonald Butler, Montgomery’s granddaughter, revealed the third, most terrible fact about L. M. Montgomery to the world in September, 2008.  I was depressed at the time, but not so down that I couldn’t get out of bed.  I was surfing the internet and I found that Butler (pictured above holding a photo of her grandmother) decided to make it public that her grandmother committed suicide at age 67, and that Montgomery had suffered with depression.

Montgomery died of a drug overdose; originally a cover-up was done to hide that disturbing truth from the world.  Her doctor wrote that she died of a coronary thrombosis. Montgomery, through her final piece of writing, left a suicide note that said in part,

“I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells.  May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand.  My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it.  What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.”

Butler’s poignant letter printed in The Globe and Mail (link below) explains why she chose to share what happened to her grandmother.  I commend Butler so much for wanting to break apart the stigma associated with mental illness. even at her own expense.  There was a media storm following Butler’s revelation, and while there was massive public support, there was also a backlash as well….mainly by people who feared the mentally ill.

One of my favorite Butler quotes in the article is:

“I have come to feel very strongly that the stigma surrounding mental illness will be forever upon us as a society until we sweep away the misconception that depression happens to other people, not us – and most certainly not to our heroes and icons.”

http://v1.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080919.wmhmontgomery0920/BNStory/mentalhealth/

The moment I realized that L. M. Montgomery took her own life, my eyes flooded with tears.  I was truly shocked and deeply saddened that she felt driven to suicide.  Of course I completely understood where she was coming from, as I’ve been suicidal numerous times. How I wish she had the options of good shrinks, modern-day medications, ECT, or TMS to help her through those “depths as despair”, a phrase she often used in her Anne books.  No one deserves to feel that way, dammit, but especially not her.  It pisses me off right now to think of her death.  Life isn’t fair, I know that.

After an antidepressant medication (amitryptyline/Elavil) and a life event (the death of my Dad) made me suicidal so that I asked to be hospitalized both times, I would never regard anyone who took her own life the same way again.  I could never judge a suicide, unless that person hurt someone else in the doing.

Suicide just sucks beyond the beyond.  No one should ever feel that way.  Ever.

I’ll return tomorrow with a more hopeful-themed post about how reading Anne of Green Gables can lift mood – it will be fun to learn how an expert explains how a book can do that. In the meantime, I’m going to take a deep breath and say a little prayer for L. M. Montgomery.  I hope she is in the place depicted in one of my other favorite books of hers, Emily of New Moon, in which she describes “the flash” or veil leading to a heavenly place.  If anyone deserves to be there, it’s her.  I wrote about the flash here:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/the-afterlife-and-the-flash/

Thanks for reading!

Meeting a Fave Author: SARK, The Inspiration Line & “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper”

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Throughout this blog I have written about two authors who have influenced me the most during my life.  The writers are Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic “A Wrinkle In Time”, and L.M. Montgomery, best known for “Anne of Green Gables”.  There is a third author whose numerous works have also brightened up my life immeasurably, and she is the artist known as SARK.  (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy)

While my mother bought my first copies of L’Engle and Montgomery books, I discovered and bought SARK’s book all on my own, which is symbolic unto itself.  I had come up to Santa Cruz to attend college and I majored in English and American literature.  One day in 2004 I was shopping in one of the artsy stores on Pacific Garden Mall.  I spotted the colorful, hand-drawn cover of “A Creative Companion – How to Free Your Creative Spirit” with the author’s intriguing name of SARK on front.  I recognized SARK’s unique art style from a poster she had created called “How To Be An Artist”, pictured above.  This poster was SARK’s first bestselling item and she handmade a whopping 11,000 of them in her “Magic Cottage” in San Francisco.  There are now over one million of them in print.  Since that time, SARK has become famous for her fifteen other books, posters and various products.

I was lucky to meet SARK before she hit the big-time and I knew she’d become famous in her own right, or write. (hee hee!) I think I’d be a great talent scout, come to think of it, because I have a sixth sense when it comes to recognizing star power.  Case in point: long ago I saw a little movie called “Mystic Pizza”.  I told my movie buddy at the time, “Someday that girl with the big teeth will be famous.”  You could say I was right about spotting Julia Roberts’ potential.  I spotted major talent in other actors and writers I encountered in their early careers as well.

SARK and I first “met” through the air.  I read in one of her books that she offered The Inspiration Line.  The Inspiration Line was a voicemail system she used to record a different message every few months, whenever she felt like doing so.  You could leave your own message for her to listen to (she claimed she listened to every message) or just hang up.  SARK has loved this 24-hour line so much that she still maintains it: 415-546-3742 (EPIC).   She used it to discuss her general observations about life and sometimes narrated sections of poems that moved her by poets such  as Rumi and Susan Posin.  I have never been a huge poetry lover, but SARK picked poems that were truly incredible and they never ceased to inspire me.

One day I listened to The Inspiration Line and left SARK a message telling her how much her work meant to me.  On a last-minute impulse I gave her my work number, never imagining that she would actually call me back.  I thought nothing of it after I hung up until one day at work the phone rang.  I picked it up and I heard someone giggling.  “Good afternoon, Santa Cruz Productions,” I said in my most professional, twenty-four-year-old office manager voice. “Hello, is Dyane Leshin there?”  inquired the giggler.  “Yes…” I said, wondering who this jolly-sounding person was.  “This is SARK!”  she exclaimed with glee.  I was totally in shock to have one of my favorite authors call me!  I wish I hadn’t been at work because I shared that one room with three other employees and we could all hear one another’s conversations.  I felt pretty inhibited, but SARK and I both spoke enthusiastically about our mutual love for Madeleine L’Engle’s writing.  Our talk was brief, but it’s a very happy memory for me.  I still call The Inspiration Line and I leave a message for SARK every few years.  I always leave my phone number just in case, but SARK hasn’t called me back except for work-related purposes.

I met SARK in person for the first time back in the mid-90’s before she became so well known.  Her longtime love for Big Sur and admiration for one of her favorite authors/Big Sur residents Henry Miller sparked her to host an art workshop at the Henry Miller Library.  Only twenty people attended the event.  We spent the sunny afternoon painting giant pieces of paper with bright colors and sitting in a circle discussing our creativity and dreams.  SARK was down-to-earth and very approachable.  It’s always such a disappointment when those we look up to are prima donnas or derriere-holes, and thank God SARK didn’t fit into either of those categories.  I had a blast!

A few years later I encountered SARK again in her adopted hometown of San Francisco at her special event.  It was an extraordinary weekend for me as I had literally just fallen in love with my husband-to-be.  It was so difficult to tear myself away from him, but I had a very good reason.  SARK was throwing a Pajama Party at a downtown hotel, and I had registered to attend it with my Mom.  In a gratifying role reversal, I had introduced SARK’s books to my mother and she became a fan, so she flew up from Los Angeles to accompany me. We chatted with SARK briefly, as she had many more fans by this time.  We were treated to a concert by an Aussie duo called “The Velvet Janes” and we all wore soft SARK commemorative pajamas. I forget which hotel it was, but the concierge service loaned us a bubble fish to keep us company in our room during our stay!

Years after that memorable weekend, I wrote articles for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines.   I was a loyal reader of our local weekly “Good Times”.  I never missed an issue as it had the best astrological column I had ever read by Risa D’Angeles.  I queried the editor about interviewing SARK about her latest book, and I was thrilled to be told to go for it.  I reached SARK’s business staff and they set up a telephone interview time for us.  Although I had previous interactions with SARK, I was nervous as hell this time around; my hands were icy cold.  I was grateful that I was not face-to-face with her – I’d probably faint or drool or do both.   I had prepared my list of questions and I made sure my little tape recorder worked and had fresh batteries.  I had my speaker phone at the ready.  Our talk went well and there was lots of laughter, to my relief.  I wrote a decent piece, which enabled me to do it all over again when SARK’s following book was released.

I am re-visting my SARK memories because I began re-reading her motivating book “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper” last night, which focuses on…wait for it…writing!  SARK’s books are easy-to-read and they possess an almost-childlike format.  For me reading this book is like reading it for the very first time.  I don’t remember its content at all – whether that’s due to my poor memory I’ve had all my life, or because of the ECT I do not know ; it’s definitely not because her advice is poor!  I actually like the fact that the material is all fresh to me.  Between SARK’s book and my other unique, fun writing book by Elizabeth Sims (“You’ve Got A Book In You!”) I need to read them and “move the tool!” as SARK asserts.  I also need to stop browsing for other writing books and move that damn  tool…well, maybe I could buy just one more!

I encourage you to watch SARK’s awesome Ted Talk:

Her website (or websight as she likes to call it!) is:

http://www.planetsark.com