WHAT DOES IT MEAN . . . BEING IN A SACK?

I was born and raised in what is known as the piney woods of East Texas, a place that deeply influenced my novel, The Sack. I discovered my desire to be a storyteller as a child, hearing the imaginative stories of a half-Cherokee grandfather who lived by his wits as an itinerant horse-trader.

In my late twenties, life in a new location influenced me to write two novels set in West Texas and published by Doubleday: Buffalo Gold, a story about buffalo hunters at old Fort Griffin, and Phantom Hill, which concerned conflicts between Indians and white settlers at Fort Phantom, near Abilene.

When reversals propelled me from free-lance writing to day jobs, I rebounded from public school teaching and advertising agencies to publishing companies and finally became a magazine editor. During this period, I sold two young adult romance novels and a few articles, but nothing to restore my lost sense of self-identity as the storyteller I was born to be. From this, I began to experience an intellectual and spiritual search which continues today.

I have always been fascinated by people and how they cope with what life hands them. I find myself looking at strangers and wondering what their days may be like. Does the working wife and mother long to be an artist? Or the wage-earning husband to sing his heart out for an appreciative audience? I create scenarios in my head and explore what it means to those who are tied to roles that family, friends, and our culture may impose on us.

It is from this that The Sack was born.

I spent almost four years writing this novel, evaluating compliant duty versus human desire and the restrictive “sacks” that frustrate and embitter us. And in the process, I have gained helpful perspective. For me, The Sack has become not so much a stewpot of rebellion as a compassionate look at our common struggles in life and how we can meet them without the attendant damage of anger.

It’s my hands-up for others like me . . . and I know there are many.

Good news about THE SACK . . . 64% off

Check it out today and get The Sack for $3.99.

The sack is analogous to any social situation which unjustly holds us back from reaching our goals and dreams, so join me in this: “Whatever the obstacles, we can hear the music and dance.” Today is the day!

Creating a Silk Purse out of a Sow’s Ear

Please . . . please . . . please do this one little thing for me.”

The friend asking for your help looks desperate, but the fact that she’s asking you to do something dishonest—perhaps even unfair to someone else—pulls you two ways.

“It isn’t a biggie. And she does do a lot for me,” one part of you argues as you recall how she shares her generous allowance with you for fun things. Movies. A new video game. Pizza. She’s popular and includes you in high-end stuff you could never afford.

But she can be tough about wanting support when she asks for it.

She can zap you back into a pathetic blob if she gets mad.

So let’s say your inner voice does some sneaky reasoning like, maybe you can ‘sort of” do what she asks, but lighten it so the fallout isn’t so bad. Do just enough to placate her but not so much your conscience will bother you about what it does to other people.

But what about what it does to you?

True, there are times when finding the middle ground is good and benefits everyone. But not if we let the fear of consequences cut away a chunk of our self-esteem and toss it to the wolves.

There are all kinds of sacks in life. Althea’s was the social narrow-mindedness that forced females to wear restrictive garments. Many of us are sacked by poverty, physical handicaps, racial prejudice, or whatever. We have to gear up to get past these things, and amazing people do that all the time.

But if we try to buy our way out by caving to something that makes us think less of ourself, that’s too expensive. And it can build up into another sack, one even harder to shed.

My grandmother called that trying to create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Sometimes the best answer is the shortest one. “No.”

A Little Like When You Hit “Send”

Some things you can’t take back. Maybe you’re irked by someone’s e-mail and want to complain to the other recipients of the message. You type your zinger and hit send. In a nanosecond you realize you forgot to delete the zingee’s name and neither heaven nor earth can undo that.

There are a lot of times when someone does something you disapprove of. But generally it’s like you have a built-in safeguard.  You don’t openly belittle the person. You find a way to ignore it.

Unless that person is yourself.

Most of us are in some kind of sack. We’re trapped in being “us.” In our opinion, we’re too fat, too thin, too dumb, too ugly. Whatever.

You’d think we would be kindest of all to ourselves when we make a mistake. But not so. Often criticism spews from us like a politician churning out a campaign speech. We tighten up our sack and mend the holes in it. Or, from constant practice, we create it from more durable material so it’s even harder to get rid of.

Pick a problem. Mine is awkwardness. I trip over things, bump into objects, step off a drop-off in a multi-level floor. Once, when applying for a job I really wanted, I knocked over a cup of coffee and spilled the hot liquid over papers my prospective employer had spread on his desk.

Try and live with that one. He was decent about it once he’d mopped coffee splash off his shirt, but I didn’t get the job—and worse, I told myself I didn’t deserve it and heaped scorn on myself every time I thought about it. “That was dumb! Why weren’t you more careful? You can’t do anything right!”

A sack. One I created for myself.

And lest you think I’m the only one, check it out when you make an embarrassing mistake. Are you going nuclear? Stop it. Show yourself the same empathy you offer to others. Fix it if you can and move on to address the problems (sacks) all of us have to deal with.

Then click Send.

Bash the Winter Blahs!

Do you feel dull and drowsy during the dark winter days?

Like there’s too much to do and too little time? Do the demands of other people sidetrack you from your own creative needs? On a scale of one to ten, do you feel like a pathetic three?

 In other words, do you sometimes long to become a cave bear and hibernate till things get better?

 

Me, too!

But let’s not go grim. We’re not the only ones who suffer from the winter blues. And research has uncovered some remedies that may not keep us going at full speed, but they can help us shake off attacks of “Stop! I can’t do this.”

 Here’s the drill:

First we have to treat our body right. During these low spells, we crave carbohydrates, hate to exercise, and long to stay indoors. Reverse that with fewer carbs, brisk exercise, and as much time in the bright outdoors as the weather permits.

  • Avoid major pressures. Do the easier things now and shift the big jobs to “up” times of the year if possible.
  • Monitor our sleep. It may sound odd, but I’ve learned that we cave bears should sleep less. Too much time in bed actually cuts down on our creative energy.
  • And most important: Accept that there are going to be times when we bog down. When this happens, the temptation to keep slogging along is tough to resist. But if we push head-on without stopping to retool and refresh, we run out of steam. So take action now!

And in some ways, cave bear season may even be a hidden blessing. It slows us down, and for a time our caged creativity sleeps. Then, with the coming of lighter, brighter days, we break free to fresh inspiration.

 Mark your calendar. We cave bears are killer achievers once we see the sun.

Get Out of Your Sack and Expand Your Horizons

Let’s say you have a goal. Something you’d really like to accomplish. But a nagging voice inside you says, “Forget it. That’s for the really smart guys.  Or those with money. Or big talent.”

That’s your sack, immobilizing you – holding you back.

Recently I saw a segment on TV about the release of a new version of Dale Carnegie’s How to win Friend and Influence People in the Digital Age. It set off an explosive memory in my mind.

The fact that I have just sold my fifth novel is probably due to a fortunate encounter with Carnegie when I was in my early teens, unmotivated and insecure.

By chance, my history teacher was a Carnegie fan and offered me a ticket and a ride to the nearest town where the author was doing a lecture on his book, then titled How to Win Friends and Influence People.

It would have been enough just to hear the great man speak. He opened our eyes to our own potential. Made us see that we aren’t just victims of circumstance. But when my teacher learned Carnegie needed transportation to an area airport later, he offered to drive him there.

This means that after the lecture when a group of local people gathered for coffee at a downtown restaurant, Carnegie appeared with my teacher and me in tow.

Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie

Imagine this: Here comes the famous author along with a teacher nobody knows and a gauche little girl whose teeth are chattering. I dived into a seat at the end of the table, hoping nobody would notice me and that my mouth wouldn’t gape too much. Someone had saved a place for Carnegie at the head of the table, but he moved tactfully past it and smiled toward the empty seat next to me. Would I mind if he sat there?

Would I have minded if angels descended and fanned me with their wings? I welcomed him and gradually warmed to the talk rising and falling about me. From time to time, my seatmate drew me into the conversation, saying things like, “We’re all old folks here. Let’s see what the younger generation has to say,” Then when I replied, he gave me his full attention, just as he did to others who spoke.

Shortly before the evening was over, he asked me privately what I wanted to be when I was out of school, and I confessed something I’d never dared put into words before. “I want to be a writer.”

There, I’d said it. Maybe he’d laugh, he being so famous. Or maybe he’d look down his nose at me. But I should have known better. Instead, he asked, “Is your heart in it?”

“Yes sir, it is,” I said.

“Then you’ll be a writer.”

Later, when they dropped me off at home before proceeding to the airport, Carnegie shook my hand and said firmly, “Young lady, I want you to remember something. Whatever you want to achieve in life, if you believe in yourself, you’ll succeed. Will you do that?”

I told him I would.

It hasn’t always been easy, being a writer. I’ve had my share of disappointments, but I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my novels, articles, and short stories published nationally. And when I hit a rough patch in my work, the memory of Dale Carnegie can still buck up my courage.

While he’s no longer with us in person, I’m glad his words are now available digitally. Take his advice. Put the power of self-confidence behind your goals and expand your horizons.

You are more than you know. Put your dreams out there and believe!

Bag Your Goals!

Don’t just dream about what you want to get done.  Bag those goals into plans you can carry out.

Let’s be clear. Bagging your goals isn’t like gathering up trash to take out. It’s listing what you want to accomplish on index cards and storing them in small plastic bags labeled Major Goals, Secondary Goals, and Congratulations!

Why do it that way? If you’re into journaling or meditation, you’re probably already aware of the special things you want to see happen. But you do that in quick splashes of thought. Bagging your goals is a follow-up. A way to concentrate on what you want till your creative inner self gets the message and begins to act on it.

Get started

Label three bags. Hole punch and snap them into a three-ring notebook, labels facing up. Don’t use a journaling notebook for this. We’re talking about two different things here.

Finish your quiet time or journaling. Then, in a relaxed mood, list an important goal from what you’ve just been thinking on a card. Separating it from everything else will help you isolate and achieve that goal.

 Your Major Goals bag:

Do several of these goal cards and seal them in the Major Goals bag. Choose as many as feels right to you.

I have an overachiever friend who keeps up to a dozen cards in her bag. Others do better with two or three at a time. It’s your call. If you’re willing to devote a good-sized chunk of time and energy to a goal, then for you, it’s major.

Once you decide on a major goal you really want to achieve, apply two commonsense rules for putting it into action:

  • Concentrate on one goal at a time. When you were a little kid and gave your wish list to Santa Claus, it was OK to generalize and ask for a lot of things you thought you might not get. But when you’re talking to your inner self, the one who’s at the controls, be specific. 
  • Illustrate your goals. A picture can be worth a thousand words, and a firmly assessed image of your goal is worth a thousand drops of sweat. Find pictures that describe what you want. Keep them in the notebook along with your goals and look at them daily.

Ready, Set, Grow!

 Don’t be timid. If you long to achieve something really great, put it on the card and get it interwoven in your thoughts. We’ve all heard of people who dreamed big and made it. One caution: If your goal feels overwhelming, break it into increments. I know the author of a number of short novels who is using this method to write a long novel she has in progress.

“It’s hard for me to visualize the successful completion of such a big project,” she says, “so I’m doing my work in twenty-page goals. It’s much less intimidating.”

Your Secondary Goals bag:

We’ve all heard you shouldn’t sweat the trivia, but most of us do and it interferes with the important stuff we’re after. Need to lose five pounds? You hate math? Whatever. Put a solution goal in your secondary bag. Good results usually crop up more quickly in the case of secondary goals and keep you energized until you accomplish the biggies.

Your Congratulations! bag:

This is the fun part. Reward yourself! You’ve set a goal and achieved it. Savor your success by keeping this card in the Congratulations! bag several days before you toss it. Then move with fresh momentum to other goals.

RAM!!!

Remember that whatever your goal, you can walk yourself through it if you do it with RAM—Regular Attitude Maintenance. This means reminding yourself that you are talented and capable of doing the job. By being specific about your goal and getting it in the bag, so to speak, you’re much more apt to target your energies and RAM it through. Start now! Make 2012 your best year yet!