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Enticing the Muses or: how we work with the unseen

 

Dean Inge (professor of divinity at Cambridge) once said: "What is originality? Undetected Plagiarism." Forgive me, professor, but I beg to differ. Nothing brings on originality like writing a book from scratch. Take it from one who knows. I’ve been bowled over by original thoughts more than once and I can tell you—it’s not only a mind-blowing experience, it is head-to-the-floor humbling.

Let me paint you a picture: You start out with a thesis… a question really… or maybe, if you’re lucky, a burning passion to KNOW. And then you get busy reading what’s already been written on your topic. This is sometimes misnamed research; it’s more accurate to call it what it is—a review of the literature. (Although even my blue-collar boyfriend… black rubber boyfriend? he’s a scuba diver… will tell you that much of what’s written these days is hardly literature. More like drivel but then, that’s another blog.)

If you're lucky, somewhere in space and time whilst you’re reading and googling away, the muses will drop in to assist. You’ll know they’ve arrived when coincidences start coming fast and furious. A piece of paper slips out of an old book, for example. That’s what happened when I was writing Svelte & Sexy: The Naughty Girl’s Guide to Lifelong Weight Mastery. And it wasn’t even a book off my shelf; it was a book Barbara Marx Hubbard had lent me that I’d pulled out to pack up and take back to her. The piece of paper that fell out was a flyer about another book titled Three Faces of Mind, which I just so happened to have on my shelf. That book contained information about brain stem parameters that addressed the BIG QUESTION I had been asking for several years: why did my food addiction expire if addictions are supposedly incurable? The other big coincidence that shaped my thesis on that project occurred when my online publisher (Tim Bratton of Personal Life Media) sat down with me to do a search engine optimization session. He did his best geek-imitation (he's quite the master in disguise) looking up all the key words and SEO tags I’d listed for my information product launch. We looked up weight loss, fat reduction, lose fat not muscle, slim down, get thin—you get the picture. Every search we tested showed pretty much the same result: the search engines were saturated. No way would we get a high Google rating if we named the project “Get A Cute Ass in 3 weeks!” for example. Cute ass was a lock-down on Google. But when Tim typed in the word overeating, his eyes lit up. “Put that word in your title and your golden,” he said. "I can get you ranked at #3 or 4 on google in six months. You'll be right up there with Overeaters Anonymous." Ka-ching, ka-ching. I heard my shopping cart cash drawer ring.

It was a blessing in disguise—my favorite kind.

Next thing I know, an e-book I wrote back in 2004—right around the time Oprah did two shows on The Secret in a row—had been resurrected. Simple Food, A Rich Life: The Seven Spiritual Keys to a Svelte Lifestyle, which I wrote in a literal fuge state in direct response to Lisa Nichols' comments about applying The Secret to weight loss, was raised from the dead zone of my documents file as The Overeating Cure. And because Tim’s wife, Susan Pizzazz Bratton, is equally savvy at harvesting ideas from Amazon, the next thing I knew after that, I was enchanted by Dr. Kessler’s seminal summary of the entire food addiction problem: The End of Overeating. Ah-ha moment after ah-ha moment occurred. One insight after another like a long winding string of dominos. By the time I finished the first draft I knew I was onto something BIG. Something unprecedented. Something delivered direct and undeniably from the unseen. I had actually articulated what I didn’t even know I was looking for: A Cure for Overeating. And while I don’t think we sold more than two copies of that information product, the website still exists. Check it out: www.theovereatingcure.com

I have a funny feeling that a similar domino-cascade began two weeks ago. I was doing my thing out at Joy Compound, Stuart Zimmerman’s beautiful spread out in Fairfield. I’m bopping along and minding my own business before a launch pad (that’s what we call the small groups that come to receive initiation as a Universal Being) when a friend I haven’t seen in 25+ years walks through the door. Of course, I don’t recognize her at first. After all, 25 years changes people. But a vague recognition hits me the moment our eyes meet. It’s three hours before the puzzle pieces of my memory rearrange themselves and I say: “I remember where I know you from! Did you work on Union Street in 1984?” Sure enough—it was she. And with that recognition, my memory bank opened an entire vault of associations. Juliette and I had both worked at Hermenet, a spin-off of the EST training. During Werner Erhard’s pre-disappearance heyday, he founded a company along with Fernando Flores, a linguist, philosopher, and dignitary from Chile. The company's primary product was a seminar called Entreprenuerial Tools. Flores’ influence on Werner was considerable. So profound was his recognition of the ontological dimension of being and the importance of declarations of being, that he decided to retire the training. I had attended the last EST Training and went on staff just about the time the first-ever Forum was delivered for the staff and, let me tell you, the man was on fire. I sat in the front row. When I look back on that long endurance-run of a weekend, I can still feel his body heat and the occasional spray of his saliva as he paced back and forth across the stage.

Back to Juliette and our experience in days gone by. It was to be my last 9-5 job, and while WE & A (Werner Erhard and Associates) isn’t exactly the corporate world, my job did require professional duds. That was a real problem for me back in the early 80s. See, at that point in my life, my father was on the slow declining slope of gastro-intestinal cancer and I was addicted to Mrs. Fields. Cookie Lust had my animus by the balls. I weighed 190 pounds. No shit. I have pictures. And I wasn’t pregnant. I don't know what Mrs. Fields put in her mixing bowl, but that stuff was lethal. Actually, that isn't true… thank you, Dr. Kessler… I do know what she put in that bowl. The perfect balance of salt, sugar and fat can turn any unsuspecting 20-something into a cookie monster. Enough for now… it's now 5a and I've reached my daily goal of 1k words. Time to head back to bed for some shut eye.

 

 

Pro-Bonobo Esprit de corps (or: Pass Me the Paddle)

I have a bone to pick with short-sighted feminist viewpoints that express the flip-side of misogyny and in so doing clip us all at the knees. A friend gave her thumbs up on a Facebook status update that linked to a "make love not war" Internet mouthpiece late last night. In response, I wrote the following rant:

"I am aligned with the overarching pro-Bonobo-espirit of this missive AND I feel compelled to highlight a hole in the author's logic. Feminist rhetoric falls short to the degree it does not examine presuppositions such as are expressed in this statement: "behavioral restrictions and control imposed by institutions designed by men." Christ. Do you really think a group of our ancestral forbears—our forefathers in the absence of our foremothers—sat down and DESIGNED institutions that would oppress one half of the species? And just where would such a vacuum in which women had no influence whatsoever be found? In prehistoric conference rooms? This is not to say that such hubs of hubris don't exist or didn't subsequently exist in Rome, Wall Street, the Bohemian Grove or where-have-you; it IS to say that we do well to examine our friggin' premises before we mouth off. After all, there is a world of difference between a valid argument and a sound argument. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soundness)

Male and female members of our species moved from foraging to agrarian to agricultural lifestyles over time and in response to survival needs. Likewise from agricultural to industrial to technological. The process is slow and steady—albeit somewhat clunky and, at times, downright chaotic. We manage one threat to our survival (lack of food) with a solution (cultivating it ourselves) and in the process give up benefits of the earlier stage (egalitarian ways of being) in order to have the benefits the new stage can provide (protection afforded by a strong male). Same, same all the way up the spiral of development; each new stage resolves a problem of the former stage while creating a "rub" that furthers evolution. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis… thesis, antithesis, synthesis… and so it goes.


Blaming the menfolk gets us absolutely nowhere; in fact, from my POV it's a back-pedaling move we women would do well to unlearn. Again, this is not to say that individual men who are culpable shouldn't be called onto the proverbial carpet. They should. And they should be well-flogged (speaking metaphorically) for their transgressions—as should transgressing womenfolk."

Pass me a paddle. This feminist writer has earned five swift whacks.

"Over my knee, wench."


 

From Writer to Author: Step One

Lots of people have their eye on the prize of becoming an author. People ask me all the time: "How the heck do you do it? I have a brainstorm for a book that's been brewing in my head for years… how do I get it out of my head and onto the page in a coherent fashion?"

At the risk of sounding like a nutcase who has spent way too much time in 12-step meetings, I say: "One day at a time… whoops, what I really mean is: one task at a time."

Last week I had the extreme pleasure of sitting down with one soon-to-be author for an afternoon intensive to tackle what I consider the most important first step or MIT (Most Important Task) for any wanna-be author when standing at the base of the daunting mountain s/he is about to climb: Generate an Outline. To illustrate the power of putting this task first, I would like to share the stories of Greg and Adele.

Greg is a guy with a great deal of ambition. He's smart, articulate, successful, brimming with keen insights, handsome as all get out, and hell-bent on making a big contribution to the world. (And yes, ladies, he is currently single… get in line!) Greg has spent much of his life examining human behavior and has a very good grasp on one of the primary mistakes we humans make: Getting Married to Our Story. The playful, provisional title I have assigned his book is "Shot in the Foot." You'll have to keep your finger on this author's pulse to understand the paradox inherent in those four little words, but here's a clue: he has almost made it to the altar no less than FOUR TIMES and yet has never actually tied the knot. Greg has spent more money on diamonds than most multi-millionaires I know.

One of the central themes in Greg's book is this: when we realize that our way of doing x-y-z (insert your favorite defunct communication strategy or behavior) no longer serves us, it becomes eminently possible to change. When I asked him to say more about that and give me an example, he talked about intercepting and interrupting patterns of response, and employing a new physiology, yada, yada… And then he filled me in on his own story-rewrite with regards to an extreme aversion to fish.

Scene Change. Enter Adele. Setting: The Jenner Inn. My friend, the inn's proprietor is throwing his annual Christmas party for the west Sonoma County community. I'm talking with a circle of women friends. Adele is quite animated as she explains the big breakthrough she just experienced in Belize. She finally overcame a lifelong terror of water by learning to scuba dive.

What Adele discovered is precisely what Greg pointed out: recognition is key when it comes to defunct patterns, whether they simply don't work or—as in Adele's case—are downright WRONG.

Here's how she explains it: "Every time I went under water I would close my eyes, open my mouth and scream. Now I know better… I go under water, open my eyes and keep my damn mouth shut. What a difference!"

This is an extreme example, of course, and yet that is exactly what we authors want: graphic examples that illustrate a point with such a resounding clunk that it can't help but stick.

All of this is just to say: herein lies the beauty of a book outline. Had I not just outlined Greg's book, Adele's perfect example of his point would not have shown up in my mind as print-worthy. But since I had the outline of his book floating around in the back of my mind, her scuba-diving breakthrough showed up as raw material.

Once you have a skeleton for your project, life will throw all sorts of meat your way. Bit by bit, one day, one story, one observation or detail at a time, your outline will get filled in until… viola! In no time at all (relatively speaking) you'll have that the book in the flesh and feel the matchless pleasure of holding it in your hands.

 

 
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