5 Helpful Hints to Finding a Writing Coach Who Gets You

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Do what you love may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world.  A blogpost on the complexity of this directive went viral on Jacobin a year or so back, it was shared 57 thousand times on Facebook and riffed about in the New York Times Opinionator by Gordon Marino.

I know all this first hand. Once upon a time I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job with its maddening pace and rigid hierarchy. The fact that my boss gave my job to her newly unemployed husband didn’t help. I escaped to do what I loved. In my case the passion was writing.

The act of quitting made me subversive. And that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, the content. Figured I’d have the manuscript written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a best seller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.

Four years later, I found myself gazing into my monitor not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I’d lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written 300,000 words, revised the body of work four times. And while I was slurping away at my second or maybe 87th Cosmo, I understood what I was really missing, a mentor. A guide. A coach. Someone who’d gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come along with a tribe of like-minded people with whom I could collaborate. I didn’t want to go back to school. What I was looking for was beyond the confines of academia. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the “wild silky” part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.

Mentors are necessary. Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. The true challenge once you know the secret lies in finding a mentor is how to find that coach who can make your passion work in the world. This is like how to find a raindrop in a rainstorm. There are thousands of coaches out there. They’re like doctors and lawyers. But here’s what I learned (the hard way): some coaches are competent, some are lousy, even soul crushers. I dropped coins in wishing well after wishing well. One wore a floral patterned dress that matched her bonnet and tried to make me into a mystery writer; another one was always throwing theories at me I couldn’t apply; one promised me the stars, took my money and then never contacted me again.

Suzanne, my mentor and writing coach.

How do you find your coach?

Here are five helpful hints for the girl or gal who wants to (or maybe has) dropped everything to do what she loves:

  1. Go with the gut. Have a bad feeling even though her website’s copy seems like a projection of everything lying dormant in your heart? That’s your intuit talking. Run. There are too many fantastic coaches out there who have integrity and know how to move you forward.
  2. She’s part of your tribe: if you see her write a post in a publication you love or show up in a group on social media with whom you share a vibe, chances are you have similar taste, so you might want to take a shot at it. I found my coach through my Reiki teacher. My coach had helped a fellow Reiki student get an agent and a book deal. She’s now distributed with Random House, has been on NPR, has speaking engagements, the whole nine yards.
  3. She has street cred and success: When I went on my coach’s website, she had testimonial after testimonial from people who had published books, made a career out of writing, had gotten bylines with top media outlets and had life changing experiences after being with her. She was also successful in her own right. An internationally-acclaimed author with lots of kudos to her name, she’s made her living writing, which is what I wanted to do and so I knew she could trail blaze a path.
  4. She gets you, every single part of you. The secret to my coach’s success is that she works in the Gateless method, a very specific method based on brain science, craft tools and community that moves creatives to places they’d only imagined. Through this method, she helps all of you rather than just the part of you working on your craft. That divorce you haven’t quite gotten over? Could be a barrier to next step on your career path. The trauma you suffered as a child might be the thing that needs to be coddled before you begin to really allow yourself to go big. Make sure your coach isn’t just about deliverables, numbers, list building, ideal clients and great gallery gigs.
  5. It doesn’t happen overnight: I know, this one sort of sucks. But anyone who promises you the world in thirty days or even six weeks isn’t really helping you make lasting change. It took most of us years to get here and the true unraveling and resetting can take a while to grab hold. Something magical did happen with my coach, everything my shaman has been teaching me about the process absolutely broke through, and while it felt like it happened overnight, it’s too deep and long lasting for that. Now I feel seasoned at this writing thing. But first I had to undo a lot of the conditioning I’d learned in my corporate gig.

Since working with my coach I’ve been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media outlets and have been picked up by prestigious lit journals, but more than that? I understand that often those who fail at doing what they loved just didn’t have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.

What will you do today to obtain the guidance you need to succeed?

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This essay was picked up by Fiction Southeast and titled “This Writer’s Secret to Doing What She Loves,” August 10, 2017.

Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

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7 Reasons You’ll Love this Cat Like I Did

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It’s Friday night and I am sitting down to dinner. I want to relax, delve into an episode of Breaking Bad and savor my meal in peace. My beloved cat Jontue is gone. The salmon on my plate is safe. The soft tissue interior of my nose is not in danger of being ripped by her ferocious forepaw. My cheek won’t be swatted at either. And no one is staring at me with the intensity that could move a mountain.

I miss that someone.

That “fur person” as May Sarton said.

I first spotted Jontue in a pet store, a small kitty in a huge enclosure all by her lonesome, crying out for my attention as I shopped for cat food. I already had four at home. But this one’s eyes were pleading take me; I need love. Those eyes also said, I can love you too.

Of course you can, little cat.

A strange looking thing, Jontue was six months old and resembled a prehistoric creature with her brindled coat, fangs, and wiry tail. Exotic or not, no one wanted her. I understood this all too well. So I paid an extraordinary amount of money for the pure breed Cornish Rex because she needed a home, someone to take care of her.

She entered my life when I was particularly vulnerable and lonely; she captured my heart and I like to think I captured hers. Over the years, I’d come to know Jontue so well. She was a cat driven by instinct and visibly affected by subtle shifts of energy. She was small and silky-haired and stuck close to me at all times. She was also needy and affable. She liked to hold my head in a firm grip with her paws and lick the tip of my nose.

Jontue was my last live connection to the desert, another planet called Tucson, the barren landscape where I lived a few difficult years in my early thirties in personal chaos. She was the fifth cat I adopted during those years when I was living by my lonesome and she was like all others in this one way: they were all abandoned and unwanted.

That is, until I came along and laid claim. I adored all five of my cats. Jontue held an especially beloved place in my heart.

She was my protector, my nurse and deeply in tune with how I was feeling. When I’d cry myself silly or stare off into space feeling blue, she’d whack my cheek as if I was in a diabetic stupor. Mama, snap out of it. Caring for her and the other cats gave me the reason to drag myself out of bed at times when I was overcome with illness and depression, those heavy burdens of being human. When these feelings took over Jontue knew and she came and offered all she could: her soft coat to pet, her warm body and a purr, her kind eyes holding mine for a moment before looking away.

I’ve met many irresponsible people in my life but never an irresponsible cat.
—Rita Mae Brown, author of Pawing Through the Past: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

Jontue even made living in Tucson at times fun. She got frisky when she had a productive #2 and frolicked out of the litter box and across the kitchen tile floor like a filly with a belly full of bedsprings. A supreme hunter, she dismantled geckos in the apartment, danced about with flesh-colored scorpions, and swatted down flying insects with incredible precision (inside the apartment). Outside, she could leap six-foot fences in a single bound. Nimble, she was!

The Rex Cat Association of the UK says this about Jontue’s breed (my comments are in parentheses):

Cornish Rex cats make excellent pets (if you don’t mind being treated like prey). Aristocratic in appearance (hmmm, not this one), they are charming (huh?), acutely intelligent (vibrational), very affectionate (suck you dry of the sentiment) and gentle (uh-uh) whilst full of mischief (yes), never seeming to grow old (she was the last of the fivesome). Their long toes are a distinctive feature which enables them to use their paws like little hands (“I slap my mama in the face”). The breed is adaptable to new environments (she yowled the entire 2.300-mile drive from Tucson to Boston), elegant (?), agile (incredibly so) and active, demanding constant companionship and closeness (as in Velcro). In some cases, they crave closeness so much that when their owner is out at work all day their Cornish Rex will go visit with a neighbor! (Segue: The Doberman story.)

Jontue once scaled the six-foot stockade fence and landed on all fours in my neighbor’s Doberman pen. In the early evenings when the desert cooled off, I had a habit of letting my cats out into my “yard,” an eighteen-foot square dirt floor absent of vegetation and enclosed by a fence. The cats would roam about, sniffing, digging, grooming and sprawling themselves on the warm earth without any concern for what lay beyond the fence. Watching them relaxed me; I wanted to learn their carefree nature.

Why that night?

Why jump?

I’ll never know. In the blink of an eye, Jontue was over the fence. The first otherworldly wail shot the remaining four cats through the screen and into the house. My adrenaline soared and I froze. Fence. Dobermans. Cat. Screeching.

What could I do?

I cupped my hands over my ears and darted into the house. Leaning up against the closed door, my heart pounded. My flesh churned out perspiration. I was in a sort of paralyzed shock.

Then the mama bear stepped in and I moved!

Back into the yard. I was a grizzly and began tearing down the fence one picket at a time. Crashing through it with the fiercest mothering instincts I would save my young or be shredded by the hounds of hell while trying.

That’s my cat, Dobes!

The crazed attack dogs were in full view. I was in their territory now and I didn’t see Jontue. There was no flesh dangling from their teeth—I took note of this—but their focus had turned to me, canines barred, hackles raised. I was about to be torn to pieces.

But where’s the cat?

The enclosure was barren with the exception of a cinder block here and there, and a sizable pile of 2x4s, sticks and brush off to my right.

How could that flimsy form of refuge protect her?

I didn’t spend too much time on the question. I fell to my knees before the brush pile. The dogs were going to eat me rear-end first!

Out of my periphery, I saw a woman approaching, running, arms flailing. Her mouth moved, I heard nothing; it had no effect on my mission. I was feeling recklessly enthusiastic and plunged my hands into a desert den that would make even Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin hesitate (and we all know what happened to him). Colors and textures panned before my eyes; I was chucking sticks and 2x4s over my shoulder. The woman was dodging the debris, unsteadily pulling back the frothing beasts while fragments of my terrycloth dress caught in their teeth.

Jontue was there, I had unearthed her. She was balled up, disoriented and trembling; her coat slick with dog saliva. She did not look, as the Rex Cat Association would describe, “charming” or “elegant.”

I grabbed the cat, secured her to my chest and turned my back on the beasts and my neighbor, and swiftly attempted to retreat through the makeshift opening in the fence. I couldn’t make traction. I’d take a giant step forward then snap back to the fence like an elastic band.

“Wait, wait, I’ll help you!” my neighbor said, but now just as crazed as the dogs, I bulldozed forward and my dress ripped even more. A long and twisting fragment of white terrycloth remained caught up on the nail, an ironic white flag signaling—a little late—for peace. Jontue’s claws dug deeper into my chest, I was bloodied yet free.

Dumping Jontue inside, I collapsed flat on the kitchen floor and gazed at the geckos scurrying across the ceiling; waiting for my respiration and heart rate to fall back into normal range. The other spooked cats tiptoed around and came in close; Jontue eventually perched on my thigh. She had fared much better than me—she didn’t have a scratch on her. She was safe. I would do it all again; I would have done just about anything for this cat.

Many years have passed since then. I left the desert and eventually lost Jontue’s sisters to renal failure, ketosis, and lymphoma. Not one of them lived past thirteen years. But Jontue did, she moved residences a total of ten times with me in a span of eighteen years.

Her life, dictated by mine, changed dramatically and often—fluctuations in places, people, animals and my emotions. Four months into last move, Jontue’s health deteriorated in a matter of days. She wasn’t well; at times she suffered from blindness and would curl up in her heated bed and stare into the space in front of her. I could read her eyes, her body; I could hear her thoughts—I feel terrible, I don’t understand what’s wrong, the pain won’t go away.

The day after Thanksgiving, I made her pain go away.

Jontue. She was my last live connection to the desert, to that painful time of soul searching. But the pain made me a writer and I soothed this sorrow by bringing home cats. One after another and particularly the ones nobody wanted. And those felines repaid me—by making me laugh, making me play, giving me the strength to tear down a stockade fence when I thought I was broken and weak.

These unwanted animals are the best ones to love, they become the dearest companions because animals know when you have saved them. Our pets remember. In return they nurture us, protect us, see our truths, and they love us.

What more is there possibly to ask?

Albert Schweizer said, There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.”

I agree with him.

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Dear Jontue: It took me so long to write this little memorial for you, weeks and weeks, and I needed to distance myself from home, miles and miles. I couldn’t bring myself to write it where we shared an abode, where your bed has been taken over by the bunnies, knew it would force me to mourn your passing. I pretend that a big piece of my life as I know it, isn’t gone, that the vibe of the house is still in check. That you’ll still be there when I return home, come squawking on your tippy toes to greet me, wrap around my leg and rub your butt on my shin. The last few moments of your life haunt me—you did not struggle, lay right down quietly and slipped away. In the end, it turns out, you were oh so “elegant.” Thank you for coming into my life when I needed you most, trying the various people and places on for size right alongside of me, and being my true companion for all these years.

This article was published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal under the title What More Is There Possibly to Ask? 9/16

Why My Mother’s Dreams for Me Are Not My Own

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The room began to close in. The air got thick… dense. Tension seeped into my pores. I grew smaller in stature—shrunk right there in my chair before her, as if I was Alice and had just choked down a little red pill.

The topic is forthcoming, typical of family gatherings, a line of discussion of an inquisitive nature. It is terribly humiliating this line, disintegrating the little validation I feel about myself, and certainly paving the way to pulverizing any validation I someday hope to feel.

She is triumphantly sitting across from me in my brother’s parlor, her hands folded over her swollen belly on this Christmas Day.

My hands are not folded over my own swollen belly, but my ever-shrinking Alice fingers are fumbling about, trying to maintain a grip on my ever-growing glass of sherry. I wallow in thought.

It’s a terrible thing to be shrinking, I muse.

I try to convey to her, with an expression of pity, that I’d like her to cut this sort of thing out: Hand me the blue pill! Return my body back to its normal inadequacy!

She picks up on my expression, but it doesn’t stop her. Her eyes, piercingly blue, bore into my forehead, mining my mind for the reasoning that prolongs the ongoing predicament. It is the matter that seemingly sears her brain daily, upon waking.

Words penetrate the thickness.

They loom before me, big and fat and dripping with turkey gravy. She says, “Are you ready to get back into the circle of life yet?”

Here we go.

I resist rolling my eyes, suck in my breath, and feel the pressure against my insides. Time slows to a crawl.

My lungs deflate, a slow leak like a bum tire. I maintain my front, an uneasy smile, thinking I have never departed from the circle of life!

Alice and I sometimes share shrunken commonalityI am here, albeit dwindling to mere molecules in my chair—she, mother; me, daughter—amid a festive family holiday. In my book, that constitutes part of the arc in said circle.

A voice in my mind, sounding as if it’s just taken a hit from a helium-filled balloon, squeals at me: That’s not what she means.

I laugh to myself, entertained: “Girl interrupted.” Say something else…

She’s not referring to procreating or dying or even “eat or be eaten.” She means circulation as in, “Are you ready to get back into circulation yet?”

Oh yeah. “Girl reactivated.”

The topic is the one that translates to me getting a paying job, rather than continuing to “run away from reality,” with my so-called “writing interests.”

I suppose, from her perspective, four years is a long time for her daughter “to run away from reality.” It is a novel pursuit, which thus far has yielded fruit the size of a water meal. However, in these four years she has failed to realize that I’ve poured my heart, soul and angst into this self-proposed commitment. Accordingly, I’ve also sought out Reiki to induce some self-love, since I am—especially when engaged in writing—constantly and colorfully harassed and torn to shreds by my inner critic.

Needless to say, my mother is my outer critic.

In the peace of the lovely colonial room, Dennis sits in a chair to my left, and my father sits beside my mother. My brother is off in the kitchen, cutting cheese.

The question, relating to the humiliating, fruitless topic that my mother could not resist in asking one moment longer, (particularly in light of the New Year—making resolutions, picking up the pieces and starting anew, and so forth) remains there, unaddressed. It lingers, splattering the coffee table with fowl juice, tainting the sherry and the nibbles, while extinguishing the flickering light of the assorted votive candles. This “circle of life” subject deflates the holiday mood; all falls flat.

I gaze back at her, with a hint of incredulousness in my expression saying: Why can’t you support my endeavor? Why can’t you just be a nice mother?

She, of course, does not pick up on this. She has never picked up on it, despite the countless amounts of times I’ve attempted to impress my feelings upon her.

Why should I expect anything different this Christmas Day?

Although he’s sitting beside me, I don’t defer to Dennis for his unwavering sympathy, support or opinion. I keep this subject between my mother and I, leaving open the possibility and space for us to “hash it out,” so-to-speak.

The “hashing it out” (a confrontation of sorts) does not happen. As usual, any real invitation to speak candidly, openly… ends up shunned upon.

There’s no avoiding her intention. She moves the subject right along and puts the question in a more specific form, saying: “What kind of job will you look for?”

My expression sours.

The refrain in which Elton John sings “in the cir-cle, the cir-cle of life” begins to repeat in my head.

The core of me within begs to rise up and show itself—my insides, out. The scorched and glistening spongy tissue springs from my throat and slops to the floor next to the coffee table. I stare at the battered evidence, my guts, and choose to defend myself (something I haven’t dared to do since I was a teenager).

My face is deadpan, void of the four-year compounded emotion relating to my writing efforts (best described as trying to squeeze blood from a stone intermittently). I assert into the space, some distance over my scorched and glistening core—my guts—and say, “I’d like to become a successful writer.”

My mother’s expression remains unmoved, quite serious and probing.

I refrain from glancing at Dennis and keep the perimeter open and clear for fire. I hope for confrontation—for a once-in-a-lifetime candid discussion.

Dad shakes himself out of dozing at the subject matter and pushes his glasses further up on his nose. He interjects, “There are lots of teaching jobs out there. You could be a teacher. All my retired engineer friends teach—you could teach middle school or high school.”

But Dad, I don’t want to be a teacher.

Not quite to my advantage, my mother’s ears fall deaf on the suggestion, and the conversation flatlines.

I focus on the flame of a burning candle, situated in the middle of a marble-topped mahogany end table, between my father and mother. I cross my eyes silly—my forehead cramps. The funky play of light brings me into a world of my own, prompting ironic clarity.

The helium inner voice comes on the wind again—she is from a different time and a different playing field. She knows not what it means, what drives and feeds one’s magnetism for risk, leaving the known for the unknown…

The voice becomes stronger, and sloughs off the high pitch. She is the catalyst to our creative expression, you see, the thing that sates us—our subversive writing.

Anew: I am rebel with a cause, confident, triumphant even, in my own right.

My scorched and glistening guts slither up the couch and climb back down my throat to their rightful place. In a trance-like state I say, “Wait till my manuscript hits the big screen.”

My parents are stunned and wide-eyed. I can just make out their expressions in my periphery.

Nothing more is said on the matter.

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This essay was published in Elephant Journal with the title She, Mother. Me, Daughter, January 17, 2015.

Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

Even Rabbits Have a Christmas Wish List

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Even Rabbits Have a Christmas Wish List

A great holiday story! Rudy here, posing with Santa, is a former foster bun of mine that was rescued from a horrible situation by Sue W., a great lover of all animals. Sue surrendered him to House Rabbit Network thinking she could live without him. End of the story? She couldn’t live without him and adopted him today!