Category Archives: Writing

In the Eyes of the Beholder

Hummingbird © Olechka

When we ask for help, the challenge is in recognizing the answer when it shows up and then knowing what to do with it.

I recently had a visual field test to explore the cause of a bizarre optical episode. Stationed in front of a humming machine in a darkened room, chin in cup, I’m instructed to focus on a bright pinpoint of light in the center of a black screen and to click a mouse-like apparatus every time I see a flash of light. The flashes appear to be random in size, placement and frequency. One has to concentate. A lot. At first it seems easy. A flash here, a flash there. Click, click, click. Then I begin to wonder if I’m really seeing the flashes of light, or if I’m just imagining them. I don’t want to miss any, but I don’t want to compromise the test with random clicks either. As I try to focus, my mind starts to wander: What am I making for dinner? What if there’s nothing wrong with my eyesight? Could I have a brain tumor? I hear the test administrator say, “You’re doing great. You’re halfway through–only 3 more minutes.” Three more minutes?! It feels like I’ve been sitting hunched over with my head in a vice for an hour. And there will be another six minutes to test my other eye. Believe me when I say that it was the longest 12 minutes of my life.

When the test was over at last, I started thinking about perception. And attention. Our experience of reality is determined by our beliefs. We see what we believe is real, what we believe is possible. And we need to pay attention to everything around us because the answer to our query may not show up in a way that we expect it.

Last month I was awarded 2nd place in the Hay House Vision Fiction Writing Contest and received  a self-publishing package from Balboa Press. But after thoroughly researching Author Solutions, Inc., the parent company of Balboa Press, I decided that I wanted to go the traditional route after all. So now I’m driving myself crazy researching the ups, downs, ins and outs of legacy publishing wondering if it’s possible to keep pace with all the mind-boggling changes in what was once considered a ‘gentleman’s industry’ and actually get my book published.

Yesterday I was standing at the bird bath having just flushed it out and filled it with fresh water pondering my future as an author. When I started my novel, a friend who teaches writing at Stanford told me that she would never have the stamina to write a novel. Stamina. That’s what I needed.

Lost in my reverie, I felt a rush of air against my face and heard a whir that sounded like the idling engine of a city bus. And there right in front of me, staring intently into my eyes was a hummingbird. I stood frozen, not wanting to frighten him, but then I remembered that nothing frightens these fierce little creatures. I told him to go ahead and take a bath, but he ignored my suggestion and continued hovering. After another moment or two, he zipped straight up into the sky and was gone.

I knew that Hummingbird is a harbinger of joy, but I wanted to consult Steven Farmer’s book, Power Animals, to see what the appearance of this guide meant for me at this moment.

“Know that the only true prison you have is your belief in your limitations. Let them go, and experience the abundance of love and opportunity that’s all around. It only takes a willingness to see it, taste it, and feel it.”

Thank you, Hummingbird! Now, it’s back to those queries.


Baby Steps

Onward and Upwards - © Angi Sullins & Silas Toball

Onward and Upwards – © Angi Sullins & Silas Toball

All the lost souls tell themselves to do the logical, practical thing and then they’ll get to do the thing they love later. It almost never happens. You have to tell the universe that you’re here to do it NOW, that you’re committed and that you’re going to make it happen and make it successful. And then every step you take has to be in that direction.”– Sue Frederick

After nearly two years of writing and researching and rewriting and editing, my novel is finished. This, I am told, is the easy part. Now the real fun begins: building a platform and getting it published. Then there’s the marketing, something that was traditionally done by the publisher but now falls heavily on the shoulders of the author unless you’re a big name like Danielle Steele or James Patterson.

But help may be on the way. Just before I finished my final edit, an email from Balboa Press popped into my inbox announcing a fiction writing competition. The grand-prize winner will be awarded a publishing contract with Hay House for the launch of their new fiction imprint, and the second- and third-place winners will receive self-publishing packages from Balboa Press. I scrambled to meet the deadline, sent in my manuscript, and last week I was informed that my book was selected as one of the 30 finalists. As you can imagine, I am very much hoping (and visualizing and praying and asking all my friends, relatives and even the most casual acquaintances to do the same) that my book will be selected for the Hay House contract.

This doesn’t mean I can sit back and wait until July 16th when the winners will be announced. I need to press forward, develop content and begin building my brand which involves creating a stunning website, producing a trailer for my book, and engaging in social media in a more productive way just for starters. And while I’m doing all of that, I need to begin the process of acquiring a literary agent in case my wish for a contract is not granted. Oh, and I need to begin writing my next book because this one is the first in a trilogy. I am overwhelmed to say the very least.

While my giant to-do list seems daunting, I know it’s doable. Before I began writing my book, I consulted Sue Frederick, an intuitive career coach. I was ready to close my photography repping business of 15 years and move on to the next thing, but I couldn’t quite bring it into focus. Sue saw me writing books, producing CDs, and conducting workshops that would inspire people to connect with their personal power, in short, building an empire like that of spiritual activist, author, and lecturer, Marianne Williamson.

WHAT? ME? I had yet to connect with my own personal power, so how could I possibly do this? Just the thought of putting myself forward as a paragon of spiritual wisdom, not to mention standing on a stage and speaking in front of a group–any group at all–nearly sent me into a panic.

When I recovered sufficiently to express my concerns, Sue assured me that there was nothing to fear. All I had to do was set my goal and begin to make my way toward it by taking baby steps. She even set out an ambitious plan which included submitting articles to holistic periodicals, getting certified as a life coach, and setting up a coaching business, all before beginning work on what she saw as a memoir/self-help book.

Shortly after my consultation with Sue, I took an online coaching course, but as much as I loved the idea of helping people, I couldn’t get myself to hang out my shingle. So instead, I turned my focus to the memoir and began organizing all the material I’d gathered since I started this blog. But I didn’t feel ready to take this on.

As I thrashed about trying to get myself to take the next baby step, an extraordinary thing happened: Another book began coming through–a mystical coming-of-age story about a girl named Selene and her reunion with her seven missing soul parts. Actually, the characters had been trying to get my attention for months–they had been appearing in my dreams and following me around during the day-but while I acknowledged them, I made every effort to get them to step back while I continued on with the program Sue had laid out for me. But the scenes playing out in my mind were so provocative and the characters were so insistent, that I finally gave in. I’d fallen in love with them and felt compelled to give them life.

And now here I am exactly two years after my consult with Sue, standing on a different springboard, ready to take the plunge and embrace my destiny. Arriving at this point seems something like a miracle, and while I have no idea how everything will come together, I really do believe that Sue’s baby steps are key.

Love Forever True

Gustav Klimt

Mother and Child, Gustav Klimt, 1905

For those of you who may be wondering why this blog has come to a standstill, I want you to know that I am alive and well and actively engaged in birthing my first work of fiction. When I started writing my book, I told myself that it would require all of my attention. But I also promised myself (and one or two of my faithful readers) that every once in awhile, I would take a break and generate another post. Obviously, that hasn’t happened––until now. With Valentine’s Day approaching, I’ve decided to share an unconventional love story that’s been nagging at me for a long time.

When my mother died I had no reason to believe that I would ever hear from her again. We’d never been especially close, but after my father died, our relationship deepened. As an only child, I knew that someday I would be solely responsible for her care. And when that day came, it brought many challenges, not the least of which was logistics because my mother was living in Phoenix and I was in San Francisco.

After the onset of her dementia, my mother wisely encouraged me to help her set up everything from Power of Attorney to a Living Will so that everything would be in place when the end came. I was supposed to be taking care of her, but she was still taking care of me. Over the next ten years, her dementia gradually shifted into full-blown Alzheimer’s, and the day came when it was clear that she could no longer live alone. She, however, had other ideas. Despite nightly hallucinations (every night a band of delinquent boys raided her refrigerator leaving her nothing to eat) she insisted that she wanted to stay in her mobile home. There were daily phone calls during which she would rant and rave about those #*! boys and tell me about her children. Toward the end, she was convinced there were three of us. And then there were the trips to the bank. When she was still driving, she’d take herself to the nearest branch and withdraw a goodly sum that ranged from $200.00 – $600.00 depending on her mood, bring it home and hide it.

Eventually, I was successful in moving her into an Alzheimer’s facility. This was not a happy day for her, but she came to appreciate her new surroundings. I was relieved that she was well cared for, and she seemed to thrive in the company of others who were suffering from various degrees of the same illness. We still talked nearly every day and she often thanked me for all I’d done for her. Her expression of gratitude meant a lot to me because this was one of, if not the most difficult and stressful periods of my life. As much as I loved my mother and appreciated all she’d done for me, I often felt that she was sucking my life away.

Toward the end, she began pleading with me to come see her. A dear friend told me I should go–I would regret it if I didn’t–but I put it off. I told myself that I couldn’t get away because I was running a business, but the truth was I simply didn’t want to make another trip. When I finally made arrangements to go, it was all but too late. My mother had a stroke the day before I was to leave.

She was in hospice when I arrived. Up until the stroke, as confused as she was about most things, she always knew me. Now, she appeared not to recognize me. The stroke had made her ability to communicate nearly impossible. But reading her body language as she sat in her wheel chair refusing to look at me and leaning as far away from me as possible, I sensed that she knew who I was and she was angry. I could feel her thinking: Now you’ve come. After all the times I asked you to come, you come when it’s too late. And it did seem that way. No matter what I did or said, I couldn’t reach her. When I tried to hold her hands, she pulled them away. My mother was gone and in her place was a vengeful stranger.

I stayed with her for two days, but she never looked at me. As far as she was concerned, I wasn’t there at all. Before I left, the doctors told me that she was doing well and that she would be moving back to her cottage in a day or two. But that didn’t happen. The day after I returned home, she had another stroke and she was gone.

And then before I had a chance to absorb the news, the most extraordinary thing happened. Shortly after that call came, I began hearing a song in my head – a song I hadn’t heard nor thought about for decades. And the melody and lyrics ran through my mind over and over for three days:

*. . . I give to you and you give to me

True love, true love

So on and on it will always be

True love, true love.

I didn’t get all of the lyrics at first, but when the last stanza came through, I knew my mother had sent me the song:

For you and I have a guardian angel

On high with nothing to do

But to give to you and to give to me

Love forever, true.

And I knew that she had forgiven me for not being with her in her final moments, and that nothing else mattered now but our enduring love for each other.

*True Love, written by Cole Porter and performed by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in the movie High Society.

** For a touching journey that explores the challenges of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, I highly recommend Nancy Gerber’s book, My Mother’s Keeper. Her previous book, Losing a Life, A Daughter’s Memoir of Caregiving, is equally moving and an excellent resource for caregivers and families of stroke survivors.

Source Lends A Hand

Figment © Angi Sullins & Silas Toball

Last night in the middle of my usual sleep-challenged state, I saw SMITHSONIAN in big black letters, all caps, on a white background. I had no idea what this meant, but I knew it wasn’t a fragment of a dream because this wasn’t the first time I’d received a nocturnal message consisting of nothing but a few numbers or letters. But it was the first time information came through directly in response to a request.

Inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the breakaway international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, I’d asked Source for help sorting out my ideas for various creative projects. In her TEDTalk last year on nurturing creativity, Gilbert tells us how she challenged God when she “fell into a pit of despair” in the middle of writing her book.

“Listen you,” she said (and I’m paraphrasing here). “I don’t have any more than this. If you want this book to be better, you’re going to have to show up and do your part of the deal.” Well, I guess he did!

So the first chance I got the next morning, I Googled Smithsonian. Skipping past links to the museums (I just wasn’t ‘feeling’ it), I hit the link to the online magazine and within two minutes I found something I didn’t even know I was looking for: an interview with author Mary Collins about her new book on Amercia’s sedentary culture. This helped me in two ways: #1) it provided me with additional material for a post about the joy of movement that’s been marinating in my head for weeks; and #2) it helped me focus my attention on this particular subject and move it to the top of my list.

I’m not sure what’s at work here. But I don’t think we’re meant to tromp through life alone banging our heads repeatedly against the wall until we ‘get it’. As Gilbert and so many writers, artists, and musicians before her have discovered, help is available from the Divine if we just ask for it. The trick is recognizing the answer when it shows up and then knowing what to do with it.


Extraordinary Occurrences in Ordinary Reality

©2010 Charlene Nevill

©2010 Charlene Nevill

A few weeks after I returned from Greece, I found a box of books in front of my house. Now this in itself isn’t unusual; people dump clothes, food (remember the artichokes?), computers, furniture and all manner of unmentionables on the sidewalks in my neighborhood on a daily basis. But this box was directly in front of my house. And inside I found the following: seven of Carlos Castaneda’s twelve books; the Individual Reference File of Extracts From the Edgar Cayce Readings; The Art & Practice of Caballa Magic; The Magic of Incense, Oils & Brews: A Guide to their Preparation and Use; Beyond Hypnosis: A Program for Developing Your Psychic & Healing Powers; and Communion: A True Story (in which award-winning author Whitley Strieber describes his abduction by aliens).

What are the chances? Shaminism . . . Psychic readings . . . Magic . . . Aliens . . . It was as if the Universe had gathered up all the knowledge I was meant to absorb at this moment in time and placed it in my hands. At least that was my first thought. But after reading up on Castaneda and looking over each of the other books, I’m not so sure.

Years ago, I read two or three of Castaneda’s books about his training in traditional shamanism with don Juan Matus, an old Yaqui Indian. At the time, I was vaguely aware that there were questions about the authenticity of his experiences, but I had no idea the extent of the controversy nor that don Juan probably didn’t exist.

In 1973 after the publication of his first three books, Time published an article, Don Juan and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which called attention to inconsistencies in Castaneda’s background. And in an exhaustive article that appeared on in 2007, The dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda, Robert Marshall calls Castaneda ” . . . the 20th century’s most successful literary trickster . . . ” and exposes a lifestyle that can only be described as a cult.

Shortly after the Time article appeared, Castanda disappeared from public view. Inspired by L. Rob Hubbard’s Scientology, he developed a movement he called Tensegrity, a kind of “Kung Fu Sorcery” supposedly based on a group of movements passed down by Toltec shamans. Three main female devotees known as ‘the Witches’ who were required to break off all ties with family and friends, were used to recruit new members – specifically “women with a combination of brains, beauty and vulnerability” –  into the ‘family’. After Castaneda passed into the great unknown ten years later, the remains of one of the Witches was found in the desert and the other two disappeared but were presumed to have committed suicide.

Despite criticism of Castaneda’s writings, he’s been acknowledged by such luminaries as George Lucas and Deepak Chopra for inviting readers to examine the nature of reality and for opening the doors to perception. And even after academia discredited Castaneda, his editor, Michael Korda, insisted on the authenticity of his experiences, and Simon & Schuster still classify his books as nonfiction.

In his article Shamanic Personal Transformation, shamanistic practitioner Hank Wesselman talks about the trap of equating ‘ideas’ about the nature of reality with true, face-to-face encounters with transpersonal forces in the deep psychic and subtle realms. He also points out the importance of intention. ” . . . as you do journey work and start to enter into relationship with transpersonal forces . . . are you seeking connection to ‘get something’ material? Or are you doing work from a place of service for the highest good for yourself, those around you and those you are connecting with?”

I can’t help but question Castaneda’s actual experiences in the realms of nonordinary reality. Were they nothing more than imaginings fueled by psychotropic drugs? According to author Amy Wallace, one of Castaneda’s numerous lovers, “He became more and more hypnotized by his own reveries. I firmly believe Carlos brainwashed himself.”

And what of his intentions? It seems clear that his editor and publisher were intent on one thing only, and that was to keep the money machine going. And if, as Wallace contends, Castaneda had lost touch with reality we can assume he also lost his ability to control it.

So I’m left wondering about the reappearance of Castaneda in my life. As one who has always been a tad too trusting, for the first time in my life I’m looking at things with a more critical eye. You might even say I’m becoming a bit of a skeptic. And it’s with this new perspective that I intend to revisit Edgar Cayce and to examine the other offerings from my mysterious benefactor.