Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Writer's Block

For the first time in a long while, blankness grabbed hold of me today as I stared at my computer screen.

I had a grant to write. It was already half-way done when I opened my document in my favorite cafĂ© this morning. I read the directions for application. I reviewed the points I wanted to hit. I reread what I’d written to get a running start.

Then I sat there.

I looked around. I stared blankly out the window at the blue sky and watched cars drive by.

I realized I wasn’t writing. So I brought my focus back to typing a few words.

Next thing I knew I was watching a fly buzz against the chipped windowsill. The coffee-drinking lady reading a novel became fascinating.

I forced myself back to the page. Then I thought, maybe I should order a sandwich. I studied the overhead menu, craning my neck. Hmm, maybe I should start eating beef again. Am I getting enough iron?

One more time, I shook it off and took myself in hand.

“Look, You,” I said sternly, “just write. Let it be bad. But for God’s sake, fill this page with words and do it now. You are not allowed to eat any lunch unless you write for at least 15 minutes.”

That did it. The flow opened up and an hour later, the grant was finished. And I was hungry!


Monday, September 29, 2008

An Anecdote about Ego

My Yoga Teacher Trainer S. spent a bit of time this weekend trying to convince our group of aspiring yoga teachers that ego is not a bad thing. It simply is a part of who we are and something to be aware of.

At one point, he told this story.

S. was in India training in a crowded shala with a well-known teacher. Because he had done so well in his Ashtanga series to that point, the teacher wrongly assessed that S would have no trouble dropping back into Urdhva-Dhanurasana (backbend). S worried that he couldn't do it, but the teacher was insistent.

So S thought, What the heck? What's the worst that can happen?

He folded his arms across his chest and dropped back. The slight 78 year old teacher quickly realized his mistake and also that he could not catch S. So he stepped back and let S crash to the concrete floor.

S lay there wincing. The teacher bent over to make sure he was still conscious. Then he used one of his few English phrases.

"Bad man!" the teacher declared, pointing his finger in S's face. "Bad man!"

S could only laugh. Ego doesn't always have to be offended by life.

Where Does Time Go?

I had so much I wanted to do today, and I'm only barely into my list. Sigh.

I have at least four grants that must be written and soon. But I've spent today cruising the web and finding new blogs to follow. Sometimes that's important too. I console myself with the idea that it is all writing-related and therefore useful.

One thing I've learned in life is that sometimes we think we'll walk down one path but suddenly find ourselves on another - often exactly where we need to be.

So perhaps I've just found the blog of my next wonderful new friend or perhaps an idea that will finally become that book. Who knows?

No matter what, life is good.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Get Your Copy Signed!!

Sunday night, and my family will be attending Michelle's book launch in beautiful Pasadena. If my earlier post intrigued you, come on out to Vroman's and meet Michelle in person. She does fabulous author talks, and gives away loot as well!!

The following, which appeared in Michelle Moran's Autumn Newsletter, gives you a feel for her fascinating range of interests:

"If you'd like to learn more about ancient Egypt and have your copy of THE HERETIC QUEEN signed, why not visit me at the launch?

Sunday, September 28
at Vroman's Bookstore
from 7:00pm-8:00pm
695 E. Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tel: 626-449-5320

There will be HERETIC QUEEN gift-bags, Egyptian-themed chocolate, plus some great conversation about ancient Egypt and the publishing industry. If any of this interests you (and I hope it does!), try to get there early, because seats will fill up quickly!
For those who can't make it, pick up a copy wherever books are sold, or on Amazon.

Behind The Story

In many ways, The Heretic Queen is a natural progression from my debut novel Nefertiti. The sequel picks up the plot after the brief interceding reign of Tutankhamun. The narrator is orphaned Nefertari, who suffers terribly because of her relationship to the reviled “Heretic Queen”. Despite the Heretic Queen’s death a generation prior, Nefertari is still tainted by her relationship to her aunt, Queen Nefertiti, and when young Ramesses falls in love and wishes to marry her, it is a struggle not just against an angry court, but against the wishes of a rebellious people.
But perhaps I would never have chosen to write on Nefertari at all if I hadn’t taken a trip to Egypt and seen her magnificent tomb. At one time, visiting her tomb was practically free, but today, a trip underground to see one of the most magnificent places on earth can cost upwards of five thousand dollars (yes, you read that right!). If you want to go with a group, the cost lowers to the bargain-basement price of about three thousand. As a guide told us of the phenomenal price, I looked at my husband, and he looked at me. We had flown more than seven thousand miles, suffered the indignities of having to wear the same clothes for three days because of lost luggage… and really, what were the possibilities of our ever returning to Egypt again? There was only one choice. We paid the outrageous price, and I have never forgotten the experience.
While breathing in some of the most expensive air in the world (I figured it was about $20 a gulp), I saw a tomb that wasn’t just fit for a queen, but a goddess. In fact, Nefertari was only one of two (possibly three) queens ever deified in her lifetime, and as I gazed at the vibrant images on her tomb – jackals and bulls, cobras and gods - I knew that this wasn’t just any woman, but a woman who had been loved fiercely when she was alive. Becausecos I am a sucker for romances, particularly if those romances actually happened, I immediately wanted to know more about Nefertari and Ramesses the Great. So my next stop was the Hall of Mummies at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. There, resting beneath a heavy arc of glass, was the great Pharaoh himself. For a ninety-something year old man, he didn’t look too bad. His short red hair was combed back neatly and his face seemed strangely peaceful in its three thousand year repose. I tried to imagine him as he’d been when he was young – strong, athletic, frighteningly rash and incredibly romantic. Buildings and poetry remain today as testaments to Ramesses’s softer side, and in one of the Pharaoh's more famous poems he calls Nefertari “the one for whom the sun shines.” His poetry to her can be found from Luxor to Abu Simbel, and it was my visit to Abu Simbel (where Ramesses built a temple for Nefertari) where I finally decided that I had to tell their story. "

Sing a Song of Ujjayi

That's what our teacher trainer S. said during practice yesterday. He said, "Let the breath become a lullaby that sings to everybody in the room." Isn't that a lovely image?

I completed my first full day of yoga teacher training yesterday, and it was awesome!

I'll write more when I have time, as right now I'm on my way to the second session. I'll just say that the energy and dedication in the studio was amazing. I am filled with joy at the opportunity to learn and experience yoga at a different level.

Thankfully, we did much more instruction and listening than poses. I was worried that we would be doing non-stop asanas. The focus was more on developing a philosophy and understanding of yoga and of partner work.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I LOVE this book!

(Also posted on Amazon. com)

Autumn is here and so is The Heretic Queen – two blessings at once!

What I love about Michelle Moran’s books – besides her lush, descriptive prose – is how very much I learn while reading them. When I picked up Nefertiti, I knew next to nothing about Egyptian history. Now, through Moran’s skillful descriptions, engaging characters, and well-researched story, I feel as if I were able to travel back in time and experience first-hand Nefertiti’s court and the events of her life.

The Heretic Queen, Moran’s second novel, is similarly marvelous. The moment I started reading this account of the lives of Nefertari and Ramesses the Great I was swept back into that ancient world. Moran pulls off with ease that most difficult feat for a historical fiction writer – balancing historical accuracy with an interesting story. Whether you are a serious scholar or just looking for a fun read, The Heretic Queen will delight you.

You might also want to check out Michelle's blog: History Buff.


When I was younger, I had no patience for revision. In my college years, I wanted to write a paper one time and be done with it. I didn’t understand the craftsmanship implicit in the process of going over and over my work, slowly improving it.

But there are times in life when a fresh approach is just what is called for, a change, a new way of seeing. Take this blog, for example. Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to re-begin. I was just settling in with my first attempt. But this is a better URL and, in the long run, I think I’ll be happier here at Begin.

In customizing this blog, I surprised myself by creating a look, a color scheme, and a focus that I actually like better than my first. Improvement through revision.

As an increasingly devoted writer, revision is my salvation. When faced with that daunting blank paper, I don’t have to produce perfection. I just have to produce something. Then the revision process will let me slowly sculpt it into a finished piece that works.

The more I work through something, the more practice and experience I get with it. The more experienced I am, the better products I ultimately produce. That applies to writing, blogs, baking… and, of course, yoga.

Take standing poses. I approach them with the prejudice of not liking them. Particularly Triangle. Because they tend to be difficult for me to do as well as I’d like, I have pre-decided that I don’t enjoy them. I’m all set to falter before I even begin.

But the truth is, if I push my preconceptions aside, sometimes I really like Triangle. I’ve had practices lately where the standing felt effortless and fun. I enjoy the focused attention required to rotate my femurs, while also opening and twisting in my pelvis, aligning my hips and revolving my spine. An incredible amount of motion dances through this pose that appears so still. I love that paradox.

By approaching the pose again and again, I grant my body the chance to do it differently, to learn. I practice; I play. I revise.

Robert Cormier says, “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.”

In writing and in yoga, I start from where I am. I am inspired and reassured by the knowledge that I can always do it just a bit better – through revision.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Poetry, Then

Poetry, then, is not an answer
But only a process
A drawing down into the self

During hypnosis I drift my
Conscious mind down, down
To the silt-silked bottom
Of a tranquil lake

Having myself lie, still and serene
With the great calm weight of the
Water pressing full around me

Like poetry

I wear glasses now
With an intellectual look
That others admire

And every day I ask myself

Who am I?


(After reading an interview with
new Poet Laureate Charles Simic.)

Nibbling Olives with God

So another day, another yoga class. My goal this week is daily attendance. After a wonderful class with many twists, downward facing dog, upward facing dog, frog pose, crow pose (darn it!), and my improved kick-ass tree pose as practiced on the sunny shore, we stretch out for relaxing Savasana.

As always, I’m eager to find out what my experience of this relaxation will be. You’ll remember that yesterday my body faded away. No such luck today. Body’s still there, whispering little reminders. Mind’s still there too, ticking along like a happy little wristwatch. Here, there, everywhere go my thoughts. Tick, tick, tick.

Oh, well. I breathe and accept it. The instant I do it all deepens for me. Suddenly, I am plunged through my inner self into the vast limitless expanse that lingers there. God is waiting for me.

“Oh, so delightful to see You!” I think.

God gives his usual wry and loving wordless reply.

“Yeah, yeah, You are always here. I’m the one who forgets to visit. Okay, I get it.” God doesn’t mind if I roll my eyes, or get a little attitude sometimes. He’s pretty forgiving.

Today, God is like… God. Traditional. Male, benevolent, paternal, wise and kind. Often my conception of God is of a willowy red-haired woman who wears flowing, green gauzy dresses that set off her creamy skin. She is ageless, beautiful and lives in an indescribably charming cottage in the midst of a lush, flower-filled garden. We like to chat and eat homemade cinnamon rolls in her welcoming parlor.

Today, God wants to go somewhere. He takes me out to a nearby bar and orders martinis. I love this bar; it’s classy, well appointed, and vaguely European in a cosmopolitan way. God has (of course) good taste.

It’s just what I need too. Just a chance to hang out in the comfortingly dim light, watching the glowing end of cigarettes, and grooving to the music that wraps around us like a warm haze. God likes His music with some bass. It’s a little loud for me, but I’m not about to complain.

I sit there and sip, and groove, and relax. When our drinks are gone, we nibble our olives and smile at each other. “Delicious,” I say, “Thanks so much.”

Across the studio, the music fades and the teacher chimes the copper bell three times. I come back into my body on the mat, chuckling as I roll up to easy pose. Namaste.

Yoga at the Edge of the World

For like the fourth Sunday in a row, my family goes to the beach for the late afternoon and dusk. I cannot help myself. I have become the kind of person who sits on the shore, right at the water’s edge, and does yoga.

I worry somewhat about this. I don’t want to look pretentious, laughable, or more likely, crazy. I even ask my husband, Do I look okay? I reassure myself that I must look passably socially acceptable because I have the perceptible normalcy of spouse and lovely children going for me.

In any case, my ego worries are not as strong as my irrepressible urge to celebrate the glory of the beach. What better than with my favorite and most heartfelt kind of prayer?

There is no yoga surface as intriguing as sand. You haven’t done standing poses until you’ve done them on shifting sand in the moving sea. (Yeah, technically, I haven’t done them either because I always fall. But that’s so not the point.)

Also irresistible to me is doing poses atop the rough rocks that dot the shoreline. I did some kick-ass tree poses, made all the more awesome by the rugged uneven rock below my feet, the constant churning of the water, and the danger that if I lose my balance and fall, I am not only going to be completely embarrassed as onlookers rush to my aid, but I am also going to seriously injure myself on a lower rock. Nothing makes you focus on balance in the present moment like the awareness that both your body and your pride are in peril.

Sitting in lotus on the unforgiving yet so comforting surface of a broad sun-warmed rock, my breath and the rhythm of the ocean are one. The horizon …and me… and you… are everything.

Away From Body

Maybe because I am so tired, during final relaxation I achieve a state of body-lessness. I feel myself floating around and that just-before-sleep feeling washes gently over me as my body’s heaviness relaxes down into my mat.

I don’t fall asleep. I remain aware and conscious, but with almost zero sensation from my body. Just pure energy of me.

It reminds me of the deep relaxation and detachment from physical senses that I’ve experienced through hypnosis. It’s very relaxing to feel myself as a disembodied consciousness.

Also very paradoxical, because usually in yoga I work to be less in my mind and more in my body. I love yoga. I never know ahead of time what I will experience.

Man, I can’t wait to start my teacher training and go even deeper.

Broken Beer Bottles

(Note- I actually wrote this on January 23, 2008. It's been hanging around waiting for me to get this blog up and running.)

I treated myself to a trip to the park today. I love the park. I go there for a double reason – to be immersed in nature and to be immersed in my Self. Walking the trails through this particular park soothes me and helps me think. My exploration becomes a walking meditation, a large-scale labyrinth that I am unfurling with my motions as my heart unfurls its emotions.

Trees grow, wind blows. Birds chirp, call, and circle in the sky. Squirrels hop from tree to tree. Various nooks hold benches that invite me to sit and reflect.

One spot I adore is a concrete hexagon terrace overlooking an orange grove. This morning, I notice that someone has been partying here again. That tends to happen. Apparently, I am not the only one who finds this spot the perfect place to hang out.

I can tell partiers visited because they have shattered their discarded beer bottles. The broken shards of glass trouble me. They contrast with the atmosphere of peace and growth. One time I threw away two dozen bottles that thoughtless rowdies had hurled down among the orange trees. The soft earth kept them from breaking.

These couple of bottles had no such luck. They have fragmented into hundreds of pieces against the hard stone. I am about to walk on when I realize that there is something I can do. I can pick the fragments up.

I have a little internal debate, listing all the reasons that I don’t have to take on this chore. Yes, it will be hard, Yes, it will take a while. Yes, I should be careful. No, I don’t HAVE to take the responsibility.

But I choose to.

I kneel and begin to tidy up. Slowly I bring my attention to the task. I begin to practice being mindful. The first challenge I notice is that I am impatient. I try to get away with only picking up the biggest pieces. I am skipping on to the next one before I have even finished with the one in my hand.

I access gentle compassion and tell myself to slow down. Take your time. You have nowhere else to be, I say. I pick up each piece slowly. I notice their shapes, their textures. Some are brown squares; others splintered into knife-like shards, miniature amber icicles. Truly, they are beautiful. I consider that people from the long-ago past would have viewed these crumbles with awe. What I conceive of as annoying trash would have been a miraculous substance.

I watch my hands. They are amazing. I feel my cupped left hand, patiently receiving each new chunk. I watch my fingers move on my right hand. I am so grateful to have full use of both of them. If I move slowly and with attention, there is very little danger of cutting myself.

I shift my awareness to my posture. I am in a crouch, knees bent. Because I am right-handed, I have a good placement with my right leg. My foot is directly under my knee and I can lean, reach, or swivel. But when I notice my left leg, it is not so happy. My knee is well ahead of my foot and it feels cramped and overworked. I would never adopt this pose in Yoga. Why should I do it here as I work?

I plant my feet firmly and straighten my legs into a hanging forward bend. This is much better. Now my body is symmetrical and I have good range of motion for my hands to work.

It takes some time, but I gather three handfuls of broken glass. When I am done, the damaged bottles are gone.

Later, someone will come back here and drink again. And they will smash their bottles. I know this.

That’s not the point. The point is that for this little while, I paid attention. The point is that I made a positive difference in the external world and myself.

The point is that I said Thank You to the park that I love, and I got gifts in return.

Prayer of Light

I’m currently enjoying Brick Lane, Monica Ali’s excellent book about Bangladeshi immigrants to London. My Bengali cultural link T. informs me that there’s a great movie version as well.

On p. 116, I find this Prayer of Light:

O God, place light in my heart,

light in my tongue, light in my hearing,

light on my right hand and on my left,

light before me, light behind me,

light above me and light below me.

O God, who knows the secrets of our hearts,

lead me out of the darkness and give me light.

Is There an X in Here?

The steamy swirl of my morning shower bathes me in self-reflection. As I luxuriate in the soft, fragrant lather of botanical soap and shampoo, I check in with myself. It’s a wonderful rejuvenating time when I process through emotions or set intentions for the day.

This morning, I reflected on ways my life has changed and ways it’s stayed the same. So what? I thought. It is what it is. Before it was something else. And before that it was some other thing else. And before that… And so forth.

But now it is here. I am here, in these roles and daily routines. I loved those other times and roles in my life. Now I can love these. I can simply let now be where my attention is. And thus my happiness.

In class yesterday, P. wanted us stretch our arms and legs off the corners of our mats while lying on our stomachs. She had a bit of difficulty describing that. Oh, I thought, she means make yourself into an X.

X marks the spot. X shows the spot where I am. Here.

Then I was there. Now I am here.

The Truth Is...

When I first realized that I wanted to be a writer, completely lacking any self-confidence, I learned quite a bit about how to approach writing from Natalie Goldberg’s excellent books – three about writing – Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, and Thunder and Lightning- and one book – Long, Quiet Highway – about her spiritual work in the Zen Buddhist Tradition.

I learned a lot about writing. What I didn’t realize is that I also learned a lot about Zen Buddhism. Later, when suffering poured upon me, it was this foundation that helped me to accept it without submerging. I had gleaned a sense of how to sit in the emptiness, and how to hold the silence. I still fight, of course, but I continue learning.

Anyway, from time to time, I’ll post an excerpt from Goldberg’s books. I think you’ll like them:


My great teacher, Katagiri Roshi, is sick now and I am very sad. I think about the six years I was with him in Minnesota. I want him to be well again for himself. I realize he has already given me everything. I do not need to be greedy and think I can get more from him. My job is to penetrate what I already know so that I live it day by day. So I am not separate from it.
When I finished writing Writing Down the Bones in Santa Fe in 1984, I went to visit Roshi in Minneapolis. I showed him the book. I said, ‘Roshi, I need a teacher again. The people in Santa Fe are crazy. They drift from one thing to another.’
He shook his head. ‘Don’t be so greedy. Writing is taking you very deep. Continue to write.’
‘But, Roshi,’ I said to him, ‘it is so lonely.’
He lifted his eyebrows. ‘Is there anything wrong with loneliness?’ he asked.
‘No, I guess not,’ I said.
Then we talked of other things. Suddenly, I interrupted him. ‘But, Roshi, you have sentenced me to such loneliness. Writing is very lonely,’ I stressed again.
‘Anything you do deeply is very lonely. There are many Zen students here, but the ones that are going deep are very lonely.’
‘Are you lonely?’ I asked him.
‘Of course,’ he answered. ‘But I do not let it toss me away. It is just loneliness.’
So there you have it. There are days I think, how did I get into this writing? But here I am. And the truth is I wanted it.”

Finding My Voice Too

I have been writing and wanting to write for years. I’ve progressed through journals, stories, writing classes, and now, paid work. To accompany this growth, I have longed for a blog of my own.

A place just for me, where I can sharpen my skills and express myself as I choose. A place where I can embrace my growing courtship of the written word.

Like Woolf’s room, but in the intangible ether of electricity and cyberspace.

Now, I am here. I am taking it slowly. I consider what I want to say and to whom I wish to speak. I am letting my voice grow from within, like the gentle bubbling of clear spring water.

And, I wish to thank you, dear reader, for your participation. Without your reception, my voice floats alone and lost, unfinished in its task.

Local Shopping

Every Friday, I feel so lucky that I can go to the local Farmer’s Market. The array of fruits and vegetables piled on tables below blue canopies is astonishing. I love to browse around, smelling and looking and selecting my family’s food for the week by the heft of it in my hand. Over the years I’ve been going, I’ve built bonds with many of the farmers; I know which foods are in season and how to select the freshest, ripest peaches or cucumbers or artichokes.

To me, it is an amazing, sensual experience that helps the farmers, helps the environment, and provides the healthiest, most delicious food to my family.

So, today, I have to mention the soap vendors. This wonderful couple is at the market every week with these wooden trays of homemade soaps in every color and scent. As the sun warms the trays, the fragrances of mint, olive oil, lavender and tea tree hang over the entire market, perfuming everyone’s shopping.

I wish I could use their soap so quickly that I could try a new one every week! Right now, we have the Licorice in our shower. My entire bathroom smells like an Easter Basket (which some people, including my mother, would hate, but I love!).

I’ll give you their link:

If you even go to this site and see the photos, I guarantee that you’ll want to order some soap online. And you won’t be disappointed!!

Lost in Thought

Thinking mind can be quite obtrusive during yoga. Today while I was lying on my back finishing up bridge pose, my mind wandered away into its own thoughts, and I missed the next instruction. I heard people moving so I glanced around. The other five students were stretching out their arms and placing the soles of their feet together. So I did too, hoping the teacher didn’t notice that I lagged. After several breaths, P. told us to switch our legs so that the other leg was crossed on top. The only problem was that none of us had our legs crossed!

So I guess nobody heard the first instruction correctly.

Maybe we were all off somewhere else in our thoughts…

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Locked Out

(Written in January 2008)

This weekend I was planning to attend a workshop taught by my yoga teacher. The topic: Finding Out What You Really, Really Want for the New Year. It promised to be a soul-searching session of self-discovery and deep reflection where we would set intentions to achieve desired goals.

Yep, I was planning to attend. I was planning it all the way through reserving a spot, paying in advance, and waking up early on Saturday morning. Even though I had developed one of those heavy, congestion-rich colds the day before, I dragged my tired, sluggish body out of bed, dressed, and drove to the yoga studio.

To find the door – gasp – locked!

I was six minutes late. I peered inside at the empty front room; I tried the knob again. I was locked out.

Locked out of finding out what it is that I really want to do. This year. And in my life.

I tried knocking – no response. I tried calling the studio phone as I peeked through the plate glass window. The ringer must have been silenced.

I had to face the fact that I just wasn’t getting in. I stood there next to the jaunty red door, lost and forlorn on the cold, grey sidewalk and almost cried. I had been so excited. I had so eagerly hoped for my true self to be revealed under the clever guidance of my teacher. Now I was just on my own.

The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I was supposed to figure out by myself what it is that I want.

Or perhaps I am simply not yet ready to know.

I took a deep cleansing breath and weighed my options. The increasing morning sunlight warmed and comforted me. Returning to my car, I decided to use my unexpected free time to explore a meditation labyrinth at a nearby church. A big fan of a different labyrinth, I’d recently heard of this one and wanted to compare them. I found it smaller but charming. The rough stone circle nestled peacefully into a well tended garden.

I entered with quiet breath, my hands placed reverently in Namaste. Picking my way carefully along the uneven slate path, I enjoyed the brilliant green of the moss borders, the fresh kiss of the breeze. Tiny birds like clockwork toys flitted about in the low-hanging trees.

On reaching the center, I raised my face to the golden light and did round after round of Sun Salutation. Peace and calm settled over me as I moved with breath. No rushing, nowhere else I had to be. Flush with calm gratitude, I uncurled my way out of the maze.

I still don’t know what I want out of my life. But at least I wrote this.

Monday, September 22, 2008


And here I am. Slightly different look, slightly different name.

More writing and yoga fun!