Writing with Distractions Without Screaming Like a Banshee


Name that banshee!

It’s pretty quiet in these parts, and I’m overjoyed to tell you there are no rodent adventures to report.  I haven’t spotted any errant hamsters in the middle of the night, nor have rats taken up residence in my new Schwinn elliptical…yet.  

The past week has been Spring Break for my daughters, which means I lost the luxury of quiet chunks of writing time. So I did my best to pretend that I was one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. (Ha!  I wish I had .01% of her talent, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Dy & Madeleine #1

Yep, here we are in 1997 – Madeleine L’Engle, me and my double chins!


No, what I mean by pretending to be Madeleine L’Engle is that during her many interviews she remarked that she could write almost anywhere, with any distractions.  As a child L’Engle was sent to boarding school in Switzerland where she barely had any privacy, even in the bathroom (!). She learned to ignore distractions while writing in her journals, and she further strengthened her concentration skills as a Broadway actress. L’Engle wrote prolifically backstage, on trains, in hotel lobbies…you name it!  

To write, I need quiet or mellow background music. I recently started listening to classical guitar and like it very much. I also tune into the Snatam Kaur channel on Pandora, but that’s risky as that style of music has the potential to put me to sleep. 

I’m also lucky that Lucy the Writing Muse often sits next to me and places her warm, furry flank on my right foot – it’s the sweetest thing. However, sometimes Lucy is viciously flatulent, but that’s the only downside to her company. 


We live in a very small house so when my girls are here, I can barely think straight.  They are lively.  Yes, I have some old, crappy headphones. I don’t like wearing them when the kids are around when an argument breaks out or God forbid someone gets hurt.

Right this moment I’m trying my best to drown out “The Littlest Pet Shop” television show that’s blaring ten feet away.  The uber-peppy, high-pitched theme song will surely haunt me the rest of the day.

imgres 11-43-11

I’ve managed to write more of my book “Birth of a Brain” each day despite the distractions.  It’s trippy and difficult work, as I’m chronicling a few of my hospitalizations and that includes some suicide-related material.  I’m not going into a ton of gory details – there are plenty of books that have done that already.  Those books definitely have their place, and I commend any author who re-visits her darkest experiences and writes about it.   I just am not drawn to writing that kind of book.

The advantage to sifting through my thick folders of hospital records, doctor reports, medication notes, etc. is that I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have “made it”.  I don’t mean to sound smug – I can’t say with absolute certainty that I won’t ever relapse again and darken a unit door. Despite my working my ass off at clean livin’, the fact remains there’s no cure yet. I can work as hard as I can, but fate and my brain might have other plans in store for me.

After hours of reflection during this Spring Break, I still can’t believe that I was never taken outdoors by hospital staff even for a few minutes – yes, that was my experience.  After my last hospitalization, a year or two later I called the unit to ask them why I was kept inside all the time. The woman answered, “You had to get a doctor’s note to go outside.” I was never informed of that policy as an inpatient. I don’t know – it was just fucked up.  Don’t get me started about what the coffee situation was like.

So yeah, I have anxieties, aches and pains, I have “bipolar wrinkles” and white hair. I have belly fat that bugs me despite my working out every day.  But in the writing of my book and in sharing this post with you, I feel a lot better.  Writing can serve as an attitude adjustment, because I’ve been reminded that holy shit, my situation could be a LOT worse!  

On a related note (bear with me – please) aside from Madeleine L’Engle, one of my other favorite bestselling authors is SARK.  The San Francisco-based author and artist has over 2 million books in print, and she has a free “Inspiration Line”.  


SARK has run this line for over 15 years and I’ve been calling it since it began.  (1-415-546-EPIC)  She changes the message every few months when she feels inspired.  SARK talks for a few minutes and then you can hang up or leave her a message.  Lately she has been VERY inspired as she’s getting married for the first time in her life and she turned 60 last year.  Never say never.

SARK has often closed her inspiration messages with the line “My gift to you is….” She’d come up with all kinds of creative, fanciful “gifts” of ways her callers could appreciate beautiful moments in life in a non-throw-uppy way.  (Yes, that’s a word.)

I explain all that because I want to give you a gift, too.  I can’t come up with anything truly SARK-like, as much as I wish I could. Moreover, I don’t have money I can throw your way, but I want to give you the gift of appreciating something today that you might be taking for granted.   

It doesn’t have to be deep – it can be the kind of soda you’re drinking.  It can be the warm socks you’re wearing.  The purring of your cat.  The CD you’re listening to, or the fact that your internet is working.  

It can be deep too. 

What am I appreciating today? The sunny weather. I love it.  When I suffered with bipolar depression for years at a time, I obsessed about the phrase “The tyranny of a beautiful day”.  I felt like such a failure for hating the gorgeous, sunny days because all I wanted to do was to hide in the darkness beneath my blankets – I wanted to fall asleep forever so I could escape the pain.

Now I want to get dressed and go out into that sunshine.  Today.

I don’t take today for granted, and I never will again.

Love to you all,








The Snatam Experience: A Tale of How Ice Cream and Kid’s Yoga Don’t Mix

Image   In early Spring, 2013, I was on my ill-fated quest of tapering off bipolar medication so I could live med-free.  I was on the verge of hypomania, but I wasn’t too frenetic yet, so no one was overly concerned. I was thrilled to finally have enough energy to do fun activities once again, and  I really wanted to involve my daughters whenever possible.  They had missed out on so much due to months of my depression in which I totally shut down, unable to interact with them in the way they deserved.

One day I spotted a “Kid’s Yoga” flyer on a coffee shop bulletin board.  I took a closer look at it, and to my surprise and delight I noticed that the class would be taught by the singer/songwriter Snatam Kaur.  I had become a major Snatam Kaur fan after listening to her CD “Grace”.  I loved her beautiful, soothing singing performed in the Indian devotional style called “kirtan”.

Snatam, although not exactly a household word, has a surprisingly large fan base, and her most famous fan is none other than Oprah Winfrey.  There is the now-legendary story of Oprah’s birthday gift, Snatam-style. Whatever you may think of Oprah, I think this is a really cool story, so I’d like to share it with you here in Oprah’s own words from her website:

I was hanging out with a group of girlfriends in Maui for my birthday (minus Gayle, who had a previous engagement with CBS This Morning).  I’d just come back from India and wanted to have a spa retreat at my house to celebrate turning 58.  
As girlfriends do even at this age, we sat around the table and talked till midnight.  On the night before my birthday, five of the eight of us were still at the table at 12:30 A.M., worn out from a five-hour conversation that had run the gamut from men to microdermabrasion.  Lots of laughing, some tears.  The kind of talking women do when we feel safe. In two days I would be interviewing the famed spiritual teacher Ram Dass, and by coincidence I started to hum a line from a song invoking his name. 
Suddenly my friend Maria said, “What’s that you’re humming?” 
“Oh, just a line from a song I like.” 
Maria said, “I know that song. I listen to it every night.” 
“No way,” I said. “It’s an obscure song on an album by a woman named Snatam Kaur.” 
“Yes!” Maria said. “Yes! Yes! Snatam Kaur! I listen to her every night before I go to bed. How do you know her music?” 
“Peggy”—another friend who was with us—”gave me a CD two years ago, and I’ve been listening ever since. I play her every day before meditating.” 
Now we were both screaming and laughing. “No way!”  “I actually thought of having her come to sing for my birthday,” I said when I caught my breath. “Then I went, Nah, too much trouble. Had I known you liked her, too, I would have made the effort.”  Later that night, lying in bed, I thought, Isn’t that something. I would have gone to the trouble for a friend but not for myself. For sure I need to practice what I preach and value myself more.  
I went to sleep wishing I’d invited Snatam Kaur to sing.  The next day, my birthday, we had a “land blessing” with a Hawaiian chieftain.  That evening we gathered on the porch for sunset cocktails.  My friend Elizabeth stood up—to read a poem, I thought, or make a speech.  Instead she said, “You wanted it, and now you have manifested it.” She rang a small chime, and suddenly music started to play.  The music was muffled, as if the speakers weren’t working.  I thought, What’s going on?  
And then there appeared, walking onto my front porch…Snatam Kaur, in her white turban.  And her musicians! “How did this happen?” I cried.  And cried, and cried. Maria, sitting next to me with tears in her eyes, held my hand and just nodded. “You wouldn’t do it for yourself, so we did it for you.”  After I’d gone to bed the night before, my friends had called to find out where Snatam Kaur was, to see if they could get her to Maui in the next 12 hours.  As life and God would have it, she and her musicians were in a town 30 minutes away, preparing for a concert.  And were “honored” to come and sing.  It was one of the most amazing surprises of my life. Layered with meanings I’m still deciphering.  What I know for sure: It’s a moment I’ll savor forever—the fact that it happened, the way it happened, that it happened on my birthday. All…so…delicious! “
How sweet!  I love happy endings!  If you want to read Snatam’s rendition of her experience with Oprah, check this link out: http://www.sikhnet.com/news/snatam-and-oprah
So, as I looked at Snatam’s yoga flyer I thought it would be exciting to bring my daughter Marilla to the class.   Marilla has always been an extraordinarily musical little girl, and she had listened to (and enjoyed) a lot of Snatam’s music in the car!  I felt nervous at the prospect of meeting Snatam, but I figured that we’d be in such a huge crowd that I wouldn’t get within speaking distance of her.
The big day arrived.
There was a new, amazing-sounding ice cream shop that had recently opened ten minutes away from the yoga center, and I decided that we absolutely needed to check it out first.  I thought we could savor a small scoop of ice cream and then we’d wait a while before arriving to the yoga class so Marilla didn’t get sick from her exertion.  Since I wasn’t going to do the children’s yoga, I let loose at the Penny Lane Creamery and I got two huge scoops plus a large dollop of ultra-rich chocolate sauce.
“It’s a good thing I’m not doing yoga!” I told Marilla as luscious ice cream dripped down both of our chins on the very warm day.
The time came for us to head over to DiviniTree Yoga Stuido.  I made sure we got there extra-early because I was concerned that the class would sell out.  When we arrived, the entrance was locked and not a yoga aficionado was in sight.
“Hmmmmm.” I said.  I thought that despite the fact we arrived early, there would still be a long line of yoga tots waiting outside.
A few minutes later a woman walked by us, said hello, and unlocked the door.  She went behind the front desk and I paid ten dollars for Marilla’s class.  No one else joined us, and it grew closer and closer to the class start time.
“Is the kid’s yoga class still happening?” I asked her.  She nodded yes.  Marilla and I went into the large, dim yoga room and we plopped down on the wooden floor.  The room’s coolness felt wonderful in contrast to the heat of the outdoors.  I felt my stomach ache from my gorgefest of the gourmet ice cream.  “Uggghhhh.” I mumbled.  Fortunately Marilla was feeling fine.
A mother close to my age wearing a large white turban walked into the room with her little girl not far behind.  I instantly recognized the mom as Snatam and the girl as her daughter Jap Preet, who appeared to be three or four-years-old.
“Hello!” Snatam softly greeted us.  Jap Preet stood behind her mom, a bit shy.
“Hi there.” I replied shyly myself.  Despite being borderline hypomanic, I felt completely and utterly tongue-tied in the presence of Snatam.  I just didn’t want to start gushing to her how big a fan I was of her music, or worse: “Wow…what was it like singing for Oprah?”  I was glad that Marilla didn’t “out” me in those respects.
I felt relieved that I could sit on the sidelines to watch the yoga goings-on, but I was still perplexed that we were the only ones there besides Snatam and Jap Preet,  I expected a herd of yoga devotees to rush in at any moment, but that simply didn’t happen.
Snatam waited a few minutes after our start time and then she decided to begin.  She looked at me leaning against the wall, and said, “Why don’t you join us?”
“Uh, okay…” I stuttered. I wish I had the courage to say no, but since the attendance was so low, I felt obligated to join in.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t feel like I was going to vomit ice cream all over the glossy wooden floor at any second.  I shared with Snatam of my ice cream indulgence and she laughed.  I felt like an idiot.
It was a yoga class unlike any other I ever took before.  I learned that Snatam was supposed to have a co-teacher whose forte was yoga, but she couldn’t make it at the last minute.  Snatam’s strength, obviously, was music, so she improvised.  She had us pretend we were different types of animals and we crawled all over the floor. She instructed us to run around the room in circles, and it was truly a miracle that I was able to follow along in light of my unnerving tummy rumblings.
I mentioned that I thought there would be a ton of people there and I was really surprised there wasn’t.   Snatam didn’t seem overly concerned with the dearth of attendees.  Maybe she was glad to have a mellow, small audience for a change.  Too bad she only made ten dollars – on second thought, she probably donated her fee to the space rental.
Finally, at the close of the class, Snatam brought out a beautiful acoustic guitar.  She sang a stunningly gorgeous song that I had never heard before, and she blew me away.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask her its title, and I’ll always regret that.
I believe it was truly the most surreal yoga experience I’ve ever had, or ever will have.  If you aren’t a big Snatam fan like me, imagine going to a beginning piano class taught by Lady Gaga and no one shows up, or a children’s dance class taught by Britney Spears and it’s just you, your kid and Britney, or a even a bass guitar class taught by Paul McCartney and it’s you, Paul and the bass.  You get the idea…
I live in Santa Cruz, which is chock full of yoga classes of every kind, and it’s populated by yoga fans of every persuasion. There are many young families living here as well who would love participating in a kid’s yoga class taught by Snatam Kaur.  Those are some of the reasons why I thought Snatam’s yoga would be standing room only.
I look back at that afternoon with a smile, although there was nothing funny about my overdoing it with the ice cream.  Marilla thought the class was a little “baby-ish” but she had a good time as well. To quote what Snatam Kaur’s most famous fan often says, “What I Know For Sure” is that sometimes when we try something new, we’re presented with very cool, unexpected surprises.
Despite my ice cream slip-up, I felt special and lucky to attend a private class with a singer whose music has inspired me so much.  I wish I brought a CD for her to autograph, but maybe I’ll get a second chance to do that someday.
* For more information about Snatam Kaur, visit her website:
* The following song “Ray Man” was the very first Snatam song I heard on her “Grace” album, and I thought it was awesome – her music is great for listening in the car; it even reduces my tendency for road rage:
* To listen to one of Snatam’s most beautiful songs “Azure Salver”, please visit this link: