A Writing Paradise – My 1st Day at Catamaran

Unknown-2The Stevenson School, Pebble Beach – what a gorgeous setting for the 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference

 

I wasn’t planning on blogging at the Catamaran Writers Conference taking place at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.

But I can’t help it! I feel compelled to share with you today’s highlights as well as let you know that I didn’t melt into a puddle due to my extreme social anxiety.

Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, I’ve battled terrible social anxiety merely going to the coffee shop or market, so imagine what I felt when I showed up at a conference of 100 writers, all perfect strangers. Yikes!

After Craig, the girls & Miss Lucy dropped me off, I was scared. Ten minutes before our arrival, we drove past Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). I stayed at CHOMP five horrendous times, and today my PTSD from those experiences was triggered.  I drove on that road so many times to admit myself for suicide-related reasons and also for a ton of outpatient ECT.

At the Stevenson School entrance, I busied myself with the logistics of checking in and finding my room. The weather was my favorite kind: clear, warm and sunny. Thankfully my thoughts moved away from CHOMP as I got caught up with how incredibly beautiful this campus is. The school is sa-weet! It reminded me of my alma mater UC Santa Cruz, but it’s fancier.

Here’s a picture of my dorm:

Unknown-3Not bad!

At 4:00 p.m. the day’s events began with an orientation. That was fine because I didn’t have to schmooze and I only needed to pay attention to the speakers. But after that introduction, the schmoozing began in full force. I took a few drops of the homeopathic anxiety reducer Rescue Remedy; it does help (at the very least on a placebo level) but it’s subtle. 

The first reception began. (Yes, the first one.) It was fine and I had some good talks getting to know a few of my classmates. The next agenda item was meeting with our teacher Frances Lefkowitz, but unfortunately she was running late and couldn’t make it. Luckily for us, one of my classmates, Rayne Wolfe, was Lefkowitz’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan” but she wasn’t a mere groupie. She knows Lefkowitz and conference staff assigned her the task of filling in. She gave a fabulous testimonial about her teacher and was hilarious, so she won me over in about 10 seconds. I was already impressed with her submission and intimidating background. (Wolfe’s book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, has garnered the kinds of 5-star reviews writers yearn for and has sold like hotcakes around the world.) Oh, and she worked as a longtime journalist for the New York Times and more! Check out Rayne’s blog – she’s also giving her take on this conference and I love it.  Then our six-member class did a brief round of introductions. It was so cool to meet such passionate writers whose heartfelt submissions I’ve analyzed over the past month.  

Dinner followed and it was all good – portobello mushrooms, broccoli, rice, baked tomatoes – so healthy, yes?  (But thank God, they had chocolate cake, people!)  Then came another reception, also enjoyable, another shot of Rescue Remedy and finally a poetry reading by the two acclaimed instructors Ellen Bass and Jericho Brown.

Yesterday I wondered how the hell I’d get through Day One, let alone the rest of the conference. I was so freaked out knowing I’d have to make small talk with a variety of strangers – it had been a long time since I was in this kind of situation. To add to the fun, as a person who sweats like an Olympic Athlete when anxious, I oooozed wide circles on either side of my tank top and at the breastbone area. It was almost funny, except for that it wasn’t!

It’s difficult to make a seamless transition from sweating to poetry, but here goes: some of you know I’m not a poetry fan. Wow – after I typed that sentence, a bolt of lightning tried to strike me.

I’ve published a couple poems but I didn’t consider them to be Real Poems, if that makes any sense. I wrote them just to give it a try. I was going to pass on tonight’s poetry readings, but at the last minute I decided to give them a chance.

The building used for this reading was a stunning chapel. It had an enormous window overlooking the trees and sky, and unique architecture. It was an uber-cool chapel.

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Jericho Brown gave the first reading, and his delivery alone was absolutely incredible. His poems had palpable power, although it was hard for me to follow them because I was exhausted and I have a “poetry block”. I also had a full bladder and I was too lazy to leave the room, which I don’t suggest if you’re going to a poetry reading. He’s a brilliant scholar/teacher/author and has all kinds of impressive credentials you can read on his website

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Ellen Bass followed Jericho, and she remarked that he was a hard act to follow. Now, she lives in my town and she’s famous there. She has sold millions of books and co-wrote the international bestseller/classic The Courage to Heal. 

I had never seen her in person nor read any of her poems. To my surprise, I really enjoyed her poems as most of them (but definitely not all) were quite funny and easy for me to follow. She was charming and had a great rapport with Jericho, who told us that he considered her to be his “Aunt Ellen” and that one of her poems helped him “believe in God”. (He didn’t say which one – I need to find that out.)

After the intense reading, I walked back to my dorm wiped out but I was happy. Then I realized something icky. Ellen Bass was the contest judge who rejected my poem that I entered for the Felton Friends of the Library Contest!

I wrote this rather scathing blog post about Ellen Bass. While it was quite a let-down to have a muckety muck writer reject my writing, I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t pull her chair out from under her at dinner or anything mean and immature like that. She won me over tonight. 

So that was my day. I’ll be writing about the next huge challenge I face here: getting my writing critiqued by seven writers. I’ll probably sweat a small pool around my feet when that happens, but it’s for the greater good of my book. 

Thanks for reading this!

lots of love,

Dyane

p.s. I wouldn’t be here if not for the encouragement of bestselling author, friend, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Santa Cruz County’s Vice President, my fellow Board Member Wendy K. Williamson! 

 

 

 

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The Queen of Mediocrity

 

 

Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007 at age 37, for most of my life I thought of myself as the “Queen of Mediocrity”.  I felt this way early on as I never accomplished anything of merit compared to my parents, who were both prodigies in their chosen fields.  I considered them to be truly extraordinary and so did many other people!  

Dad was a world-class violinist who played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for thirty-nine years!  He was the youngest musician ever to be admitted into the super-competitive orchestra. Dad was a Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Scholar who lived an incredibly full life despite having bipolar one disorder.  My Mom was an award-winning actress-turned speech pathologist and a loving hands-on mother.  Mom taught speech therapy to special needs students in the public schools.  She developed a unique rapport with both her students and colleagues, and she did an outstanding job.

I considered my graduation from the University of California at Santa Cruz and my A.C.E. (American Council on Exercise) personal training certification as hard-won achievements. However, I didn’t attend an Ivy League university like many of my classmates did.  My job as a personal trainer didn’t command great respect either.  

Aside from personal training I worked at the gym’s front desk to make ends meet.  At the counter I handed towels to members who usually treated me as the lowly “towel girl”.  Most of these members had no idea that I had a college degree.  When I handed a towel to the high-powered local newspaper editor-in-chief, or the future billionaire/founder of Netflix, I’d inwardly sigh and feel a bit of humiliation! 

At long last, I’m happy to report that my mediocre self-image is starting to change, slowly-but-surely.  In the space of just a couple weeks I’ve had two wonderful, totally unexpected things happen.  These serendipitous events have boosted my confidence even more than a makeover on “What Not To Wear”!  

Ted

I miss that show, especially stylist Ted Gibson who charges only $1200 for a haircut! 😉 

Two weeks ago I received an email informing me that I was nominated by the bestselling author/mental health advocate Wendy K. Williamson (“Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival” and “I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar”) for the WEGO Health Activist “Best in Show Blog” award.

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I thought the email was a joke!  Then I read Wendy’s nomination blurb on WEGO’s website: 

Dyane’s site is the best out there.  I love that she tells it like it is and supports her fellow followers.  A gifted writer, she clearly conveys through humor and honesty what is happening in her world and the world around us. Dyane taps in to our feelings beautifully, saving us from emotional isolation. Activist, champion, Dyane is both and more.  — Wendy

As you can imagine, I was absolutely blown away by Wendy’s generous praise.  Out of curiosity I checked out the other nominees’ profiles in my category.  Every single one was impressive.  I automatically thought, 

There’s no way in hell I can compete with these people.  I’m not good enough.

I felt tempted to withdraw from the competition, but I didn’t want to let Wendy down.  It simply wouldn’t be cool to offend her, especially since she had become my incredible writing mentor.  I told myself I could be a “loser” and leave it at that.

I’m not sure what happened next, exactly, but I had a change of heart.  

I realized that seeing myself as a loser was not how I wanted to play this game!  I could at least stay in the running and promote myself, a necessary task in order to place as a WEGO finalist.

I’ve spent my life promoting other people’s causes and passions.  I’ve worked at four non-profits where at an average of $10/hour, I worked my ass off to publicize other people’s missions and events.  My first full-time job was at a Silicon Valley special event production company.  I promoted a myriad of events and I dealt with the media all the time.  I knew what I needed to do in terms of my own promotion.

My defeatist thinking changed to: 

I’m going to give this shot & try to win this WEGO, or at least place as a finalist!  

Then the second surprise happened.   But first, here’s the long-winded backstory…bear with me!

Long before I was diagnosed with bipolar after Rilla’s birth, I had a series of unfulfilling administrative  jobs.  I wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old, but I wasn’t writing anything except for work-related projects.  In 1997, in addition to my day job, I finally began writing freelance magazine and newspaper articles.  

My first magazine article was for “Fit” which unfortunately no longer exists.  I loved “Fit” because its content was deeper and more interesting than other fitness magazines.  Although “Fit” had a air-brushed celebrity on its cover every month, I let that slide because the celebrities they chose seemed more circumspect than the stars featured on other magazine covers.

I pursued the editor to give me a shot at writing an article.  At that point I was twenty-seven and I had already experienced clinical depression.  Using “write what you know” as my motto, I wanted to write an article about women, depression and exercise.  After an enthusiastic phone pitch to the editor, she gave me the assignment!  Landing my first national magazine article was a major thrill, and I knew I needed to do my best to get off to the write right start as a freelancer.

I compiled a list of people who I wanted to interview for my piece.  My first interviewee was Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison.  I was astounded that I was able to get ahold of the bestselling writer of “An Unquiet Mind”.  Ironically when I called Dr. Jamison I had no idea I’d be diagnosed with bipolar myself a few years later.  I interviewed another doctor I admired: psychologist/author Dr. Martha Manning, whose profound book Undercurrents detailed her experience with depression and ECT.  I hadn’t a clue that one day I’d have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) just like Dr. Manning did.

Next I questioned several young women who suffered with depression, and I spoke with assorted exercise experts.  After submitting my article, my jaw dropped when I got a paycheck for doing something I loved to do.  

I wrote several more articles for “Fit” and was told I’d become a regular contributor.  I was over-the-moon about having a regular writing gig!  Unfortunately the New York media group that owned the magazine called it quits and my job opportunity vanished.  

My “Fit” experience was a propitious start to my freelance writing career.  With my confidence level high,  I approached my favorite local weekly paper “Good Times” helmed by editor-in-chief Greg Archer.

I had been a faithful “Good Times” reader for years.  I admired Greg’s vibrant, top-notch, often-hilarious writing – I was jealous of his talent!  I contacted Greg’s managing editor about some of my story ideas.  I suggested that I interview a writer who wrote books I picked up and couldn’t put down – the one and only Anthony Bourdain.  Bourdain was slated for a book event in our town, and my timing was right.  I was given the job and I turned in a solid piece.  I wrote two more articles for “Good Times” about another favorite author of mine called SARK.  Once again it was awesome to have the chance to interact with one of my writing heroes and get paid for it.  

As you can imagine, my freelance writing career went down the drain after my bipolar diagnosis. I couldn’t do anything, let alone write.  But some of you know that I came back to life a little over a year ago thanks to my new medication combination of lithium and the MAOI drug Parnate, plus exercise, good quality sleep and finding a good psychiatrist.  

After I recovered from a bipolar depression relapse,  I invited Greg Archer to a delectable Italian lunch to learn more about his writing philosophy.  We became friends and I hid my jealousy of his talent well.  😉 I felt instantly comfortable with Greg as he reminded me of a close friend I grew up with in Los Angeles. It was a joy to be friends with another writer who I looked up to as a role model.

The longest backstory ever is now complete! 

Last week Greg emailed me to ask if I could send him a photo of myself for a future article that I assumed had something to do with bipolar.  I was out of it and didn’t ask him for details.  To my chagrin, I emailed him a blurry selfie but that’s all I had.  Then I got distracted by my girls and forgot all about it.  

An hour later I got a brief email from Greg simply saying to visit the link copied below.  

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-archer/agents-of-change-5-inspir_b_5992870.html

I thought it was his recent Huffington Post article that profiled 5 inspiring men.  

After opening the link I spotted my photo I just sent him and I almost fell off my chair.  The photo was accompanied by Greg’s beautiful description of my writing and how I’m “one to watch” in the mental health advocacy movement!  I was part of a group of 5 “inspiring agents of change” including Kathleen Turner, for God’s sake!! (I loved her with Michael Douglas in “Romancing the Stone”!)

I thanked Greg profusely and then I emailed or called everyone I knew to tell them my happy news.  The fact that my Mom shared the Huffington Post article link with her friends, relatives and her Facebook network was especially moving.   It was such a lovely moment for me to hear pride in my mother’s voice when called to congratulate me.

I’m no longer feeling all that mediocre.  Don’t get me wrong – insecurity still lurks within my psyche each and every day.  I’ll keep plugging away to repair my damaged self-image with therapy – that’s all I can do right now.  

In the meantime I want to thank you so much for reading this lengthy post.  I’d like to send a special shout out to my writing gurus Greg Archer and Wendy K. Williamson!  

I encourage you to read their books.  Soon I’ll be sharing some information about Greg’s second book “Grace Revealed”, a fascinating memoir to be published in January, 2015.

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http://www.gregarcher.com


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http://www.wendykwilliamson.com/

p.s. I’d be grateful if you could endorse me for the WEGO Health Activist Award – it’s easy & takes 20 seconds!  

Visit:

https://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/4811

A Shameless Plea for Your Support! (Not $!) & Much More…

 

Dy & Lucy  kiss

Throughout my life I’ve been great at promoting others who I believe in with all my heart, whether it be their books, their causes, their blogs, their music, their food…whatever! 😉

But when it comes to tooting my OWN horn, it’s another story.  However, today I’m in the mood to toot away because Wendy W. Williamson, author of the bestselling memoir I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar and co-author with Honora Rose of the acclaimed Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival: Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder, has nominated me for a WEGO Health Activist “Best in Show” Blog Award.  

I normally post on Friday, but I’m so excited about this news that I’m firing off this post right now!!!

A WHAT-GO?  you might ask?

A WEGO!

Here’s more to know about WEGO:  WEGO empowers health activists to help others.  WEGO Health is a different kind of social network, built from the ground up for the community leaders, bloggers and tweeters who are actively involved in health online. WEGO Health is a platform for committed health advocates to foster new relationships, gain access to helpful resources, and to grow their communities.

To endorse me takes under thirty seconds.  After you endorse me, you’re prompted to share the nice act you just did (and to ask for endorsements on my behalf) via your Facebook and Twitter accounts, etc.

To endorse me (and to nominate/check out other worthy candidates – check out the misc. categories on the Wego site!) please visit:

https://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/4811

Wendy wrote an incredible nomination blurb that I might wind up having tattooed on my face…although it’s long, so my derriere would be a more fitting location –  here it is in all its glory – my head swells up every time I read it:

Dyane’s site is the best out there. I love that she tells it like it is and supports her fellow followers. A gifted writer, she clearly conveys through humor and honesty what is happening in her world and the world around us. Dyane taps in to our feelings beautifully, saving us from emotional isolation. Activist, champion, Dyane is both and more.”

You may be wondering what does a WEGO winner actually get.  Well, they each get $50,000 and a lifetime supply of chocolate!  No, just kidding.  

Here’s what WEGO has to say on the matter:

“Winners will be publically announced during our ceremonies in March, 2015 and each winner will receive special Health Activist Awards business cards signifying them as the winner of this year’s program, a donation to their Health Activist, a feature on WEGO Health’s blog and social channels, special access to WEGO Health opportunities throughout the year – including chances to speak at or attend conferences.”

(This would be awesome because I haven’t had a business card in a decade! 😉 No, really, an association with WEGO would allow me to reach more women with postpartum bipolar disorder and beyond….it would be fantastic!)

So I’m a happy camper this morning.  Once again, I’m amazed by what happens when we connect with others through the internet who inspire us. When I first read Wendy’s engrossing memoir I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar, I found myself unable to put it down and I finished it the same day. I never imagined that I’d be in touch with this author, let alone be gifted with a wonderful friendship and writing mentorship with her.  

The same thing happened to me in terms of inspiration when I contacted Jennifer Marshall of the Bipolar Mom Life blog.  She’s also a 2013 WEGO Health Activist finalist and creator of the groundbreaking “This Is My Brave” Show.  There are so many positive things I could write about Jenn & her mental health advocacy that it would take a glowing blog post to begin doing her justice, and that’s just what I did – I wrote one.  See here for my post about Jenn:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/the-blog-that-ignited-my-writing-spark-bipolar-mom-life-and-the-this-is-my-brave-show/-

Jennifer and “This Is My Brave” co-executive producer Anne Marie Ames are bringing the show to other cities in 2015, & you might want to participate.  

The show’s concept can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=186WMMJI-xQ

The entire “This Is My Brave” premiere show is on YouTube and it features my friends Elaina J. Martin (“Being Beautifully Bipolar” blog on Psych Central & http://www.blog.elainaj.com/) and Meagan Barnes (http://www.anxietyangel.com/) :

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uag3WVfRMZE

So I’d like to dedicate this post to four extraordinary women who have made a huge, positive difference in my life over the past year:

MY FRIEND WENDY K. WILLIAMSON, WRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE

MY FRIEND DR. WALKER KARRAA, FOUNDER OF STIGMAMA.COM, AND AUTHOR OF TRANSFORMED BY POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION: WOMEN’S STORIES OF TRAUMA AND GROWTH TO BE PUBLISHED BY PRAECLARUS PRESS THIS FALL, 2014 

http://www.drwalkerkarraa.com/

MY FRIEND, THE BLOGGER KITT O’MALLEY  

http://kittomalley.com/

AND MY FRIEND JENNIFER MARSHALL, ANOTHER WRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE, FOR HELPING IGNITE MY WRITING SPARK THAT WAS LATENT FOR YEARS THANKS TO BIPOLAR DEPRESSION!  

http://bipolarmomlife.com/

and a special thanks goes to Cristi Comes, creator of the “Motherhood Unadorned” blog (http://www.motherhoodunadorned.com/)and founder of the Mental Health Blogging Network. Cristi’s encouragement, advocacy, and networking have been invaluable to me.

Last but not least, I must thank LUCY THE CANINE MUSE – I can’t leave my furry girl out because she sits on my foot while I write, and she makes me so happy!   Lucy does not have a blog or website at this time, but watch out – she never ceases to amaze me with her puppy brilliance.

LOVE TO YOU ALL,

Dyane

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