I had fibromyalgia for many years, and came to agree with the doctors who told me it was a sleep disorder. Now that I am free of its constant pain, I cherish a good night’s sleep. The only other person I’ve known who was so enamored of sleep was a Greek man who remembered having to get up pre-dawn in the Army. Ruined him. A lot of my writing is done in my sleep – I wake up in the morning with the resolution of a challenge, a few choice words, a title to something, an idea for a new project, whatever. I also used sleep when I was studying foreign languages – I read over the vocabulary lists before I went to sleep and remembered them better in the morning. When your mind is asleep, it is still prioritizing, analyzing, and digesting ideas and intentions. Insomnia doesn’t happen often, and one reasons that is so is because I have become familiar with a practice called YOGA NIDRA. There are places online where you can be guided through various Yoga Nidra sessions. I use yogaglo.com. The number one pick on Google is https://www.doyogawithme.com/content/yoga-nidra-sleep and I nearly conked out while evaluating it for you. Here are two yoga practices which put me to sleep without fail.
- While lying on your back, breathe in on a count of three, hold for three, breathe out for three. Breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four. Continue until you reach fifteen. You’ll feel a touch of oxygen deprivation when you get into the higher numbers (which might be the secret of this exercise). If you aren’t asleep by then, count backwards to three.
- Begin by tracing, in your mind, the outline of your pinky toe, then your fourth toe, until you have finished the toes. Trace the tendons running from the toes to the heels (try to identify them in your mind), go around your ankle and up the shin, then down the back of the shin, circle your knee (I am sure to make an “x” I front of the knee where the ACLs are), up the front and back of your thigh, around your hip, into your hip joint, out around the back of your sacrum. Then do the same with your other leg. From your hip, move upward to outline your liver, gall bladder, spleen, large intestine, small intestine (I’m getting sleepy just writing all of this), the full length and width of your lungs, your pancreas, you heart and all its chambers, your thyroid gland, thymus, down your throat, around the back of your neck, your shoulder joints, then outline your fingers, wrist, forearm, upper arm on both sides. If you’re not asleep yet, trace the line of the jaw right into the joint, then trace your teeth, outline your tongue, relax your lips, outline your sinuses, honor the pituitary gland, which sits right behind your nose, your eyes, being sure to relax all the little muscles surrounding the eyes, make your eyes into two lakes, the eyebrows, outline the ears, making sure to hit every little nook and cranny. Let your remaining thoughts ascend through the top of your head into the air.
So happy that my website is back and I can post again. I have a few ideas backed up after being away from my own little publishing machine for a few weeks. Several years ago I submitted a long article to a top-flight magazine –start at the top and work your way downward. A publicist friend warned me, “Don’t send it to them. They’ll take the information and assign the article to someone better known than you are. I’ve seen it happen a dozen times.” Hubris overtook me, though. I was sure that the information uncovered in a year of research would be unfamiliar and useful. The subject was the history of abortion, and I wrote the article after a student in one of my classes wrote, “I wish we could go back to the days before Roe v. Wade when there were no abortions.” Being of an age to remember the days before Roe, I knew her assumption was wrong, but it was surprising how small a part of the general conversation dealt with the millennia, or even the decades, preceding Roe. I got a note acknowledging the submission and then heard nothing. Two months later a long article about abortion appeared in that magazine (the first such article I can remember) using swaths of my research and some of my analysis. It was written by a Harvard professor who had an agenda which differed from mine, but my research served her well. Railing against this practice would have been a futile waste of energy. A professional author has to know how to protect herself against this kind of plagiarism, which cannot be proven. There’s a minuscule chance that the Harvard professor never saw my submission, but the pattern of presentation, the nature of the analysis, and the sources perfectly matched it, and it had been sent only two months earlier, about the right amount of time for a busy professor to pull together an article, especially since she just had to rejigger it and add her own ideas. The principle motivation for writing it was to inform others on a subject which affects everyone, not only the one-third of American women who have had an abortion. Ignorance on this subject is skewing the debate. I was glad the information got out there, and I gained confidence. If I could write one article of interest to a major outlet, I could write another, and I learned a business lesson that I won’t soon forget. This is an unethical practice, but the business world is full of unethical practices. It is up to me to figure out a way to circumvent them. I am so grateful to have income from Social Security so I can fail without fear of poverty. Finances aside, it’s hard to swallow a lesson like this one, especially since I had been warned. But it’s never too late to learn a little humility. What should I do with my next good article?
In Daring to Date Again, I write about my own life and other peoples’ lives, thus running into legal or moral issues about what to include in the story. The book is about what happened when I started to date at sixty, and I met most of the men involved through dating sites, so there were hundreds of emails. After exchanging emails, I met some of the men, but most of them I never met in person. I am forever entitled to write about my own experiences, but those men wrote about the regrets and problems of present or past relationships, details about their lives that they would not like others to know about, and in some cases, the very fact that we were in touch would have been compromising. I had to proceed on the premise that a lot of people might read the book; writing with the idea that "nobody will ever read it" would have been crippling. After publication, after a lawsuit has been filed, it’s too late to retract. One of the men I wrote about is a lawyer who treasures his privacy so much that he avoided even writing emails. I took particular care to change all the details about him – what he looked like, where he worked and came from, and so on. On the other hand, some recent memoirs have been discredited because they were partly fiction, so for protection I have an overflowing carton containing printouts of hundreds of emails supporting the authenticity of the facts and people discussed in the book. Since this is the twenty-first century, there was not a single physical letter in an envelope. I couldn't use long excerpts from emails without the writer’s permission, even if I didn’t use the sender’s real name, or if he had died. It was so tempting – the emails gave a whiff of the personality of the sender that was better shown than told about. Emails can be anonymous for as long as the sender wishes. There is no postmark. I didn’t know where my correspondents lived or even if I had their real names. Many used only their first name. Sometimes we only shared a single email. I sent a waiver to the policeman who was my first relationship in twelve years. We had kept in touch by phone even after we both married other people. He said sure he would sign it, but he never did, then apologized for not doing it. I used short quotes from the emails I needed for the story, which is acceptable. In order to use one of my favorite poems, The World Seen By Moonlight, by Jane Hirshfield. I wrote the publisher asking for a waiver. Hirshfield herself responded, saying how delighted she was that I wanted to use more than just a snippet. The publisher sent me a waiver form and wrote that I would have to wait a month or so for a response. They would let me know the cost involved. I used a snippet. With regret. I received a waiver from the daughter of the author of the poem used as an introduction. Some men had lied or behaved badly, and I would have relished using their real names, though the guy from Texas was such an asshole that I doubt his neighbors and family need my book to realize that. The man who said he and his wife had decided to have an open marriage when she had said no such thing will have to find his own hell (which, according to him, was his marriage). People ask me how I found the courage to sally out into the world as I did. They wouldn’t suspect how cowed I was by my own mother. I might not have written it if she had been alive, though I accepted that my children would read it at some point, and the happy ending to the story, my husband Terry, has read it. The book is not as salacious as lots of other books, and those authors have children. They also have mothers, but oh well. In the end, a writer’s obstacles are more within her than in the law or even the rules of civilized behavior. Here’s Annie Dillard’s advice: One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Don’t hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The very impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
For a bookstore, location is important, as I discovered in Point Reyes, California yesterday. I love to visit because they have wonderful oysters and the Cowgirl Creamery. I was shopping in the market there when I saw a bookstore across the street and stopped in. If it had been squirreled away in a side street, I would never have known it was there. Point Reyes Books has been there for fourteen years, and has fulfilled its original intention to enrich the local community. One of the owners if Kate Dawson, Ph.D., herself the author of a book, Emotional Currency, is proud of the literary journal that they publish, the West Marin Review, which accepts fiction, non-fiction, art, and music submissions. The store also sponsors a conference every March, the last one themed Women and the Land. The 200+ attendees go on field trips, have dinners, and hear writers and poets speak. The most recent one featured environmental activists. The main speaker was Diana Beresford-Kroeger, who inspired an environmental movement called Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. Her book, The Global Forest, aims to educate the world about the importance of trees. See how a bookstore can bring together local communities with some of the most influential voices in the world!!!! Kate says that over the years, they have raised $550,000 for local non-profits. I was interested to find that the number of readings and other events is going down. It takes energy and time to organize these events and the payoff is not significant enough to warrant their continuation at the same rate. From my own experience, and that of my author friends, I have found that bookstore readings often don’t pay off. They must be well advertised and supported, and it is rare that this happens. There is a tug-of-war between author and bookstore owner in this regard. The author is looking to increase sales of her book by reading to the bookstore’s clientele, and the bookstore is looking to increase its clientele by bringing in fans of the author. A well advertised and well attended bookstore reading benefits both author and bookstore, but they usually turn out to be poorly attended because the author is not familiar enough with the local territory to bring out a large number of attendees, and the bookstore is too busy with its everyday activities to publicize the event widely enough. The store doesn't want to expend precious funds on paid advertising which is not likely to pay off in sales. The good news from Point Reyes Books is that their business is stable and growing, reflecting a national trend. It seems that those data crunchers who warned that reading would soon be virtual or electronic were wrong – people like to read books, to hold them in their hands, and to talk about them with knowledgeable, bookstore staff. There’s plenty of knowledge and enthusiasm at Point Reyes Books. They are assisted in their success by the 2.3 million people who visit nearby parks throughout the year, but I also noticed a couple of shelves of books labeled for local customers who had ordered them through the bookstore. When these customers come to pick up their books they’re likely to have a conversation about other books they might be interested in reading in the future. Reading is not a solitary experience; sharing our preferences with others is part of its joy and stimulates further interest in books. If you’re ever among those 2.3 million tourists, you might like to include Point Reyes Books in your itinerary. You could eat at one of the oyster restaurants along Tomales Bay, or at the Osteria Stellina right down the street from the bookstore. What better combination -- a delicious meal and some great conversation about books.