Why aren’t you listening to this?

earSometimes we need to hear something at the right time for it to click. Here are two things I listened to recently that I had to share with you and I hope it falls on your ears at the right time as well.

In this brief, one-minute illustration, Ira Glass speaks of the difficult growth processes of creativity. What he says is so obvious and true but I never thought of it that way.

Are you done watching it? Great! What did you think about it?

Next up, is a podcast my friend, Tricia recommended. A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment is by Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter, two accomplished and incredible authors. I loved hearing their candid view of the creative struggle and their vulnerability in sharing works in progress. The episodes are about an hour long, but well worth it.

I’ve been slow to jump on the podcast bandwagon but I’m starting to appreciate them. (In case you’re not familiar with the term, a podcast is simply a recording online. They’re usually free to listen to or you can pay to download them).

Do you have any podcasts you’d recommend? What do you like about them?

Did you miss me?

What’s the best way to frustrate a blogger? Give her a bunch of exciting opportunities she’s not allowed to write about!

If you’re wondering why this is my first post of the year, it’s because I’ve been busy with said opportunities, but also it’s hard not to write about top-secret opportunities when you’re fully immersed in them.

So here’s what I can talk about:

  1. I just got back from a great trip to New Orleans where I celebrated the birthday of one of my favorite people. This was my first trip to NOLA, and I’m already jonesing for some Cafe Du Monde beignets, Central Grocery muffeletta, ubiquitous jazz, and the stunning houses of the Garden District. The one thing I won’t be missing? Hurricanes, a fiery red cocktail that tastes like Kool-Aid and Draino but is surprisingly hard to turn down.
  2. The writing retreat I organized is just over a week away! I’m so excited to spend a few days in upstate New York, working on my writing and sharing ideas with other writers. Enrollment is over, but if you’d like to apply for future retreats, make sure to join the Writers Work email list.
  3. My favorite program in the world, The Living Course, is only two weeks away and I’ll be assisting there! That too is all booked up, but if you’re interested in finding out more info, or signing up for the next course, head over to their site.

Alright, back to work on top-secret stuff. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you about some of these ventures as they materialize.

Top 8 of 2014

I'm exhausted after this wonderful year :)

I’m exhausted after this wonderful year :)

I’ve never been able to keep a diary for more than a week, so I’m amazed that I’ve been able to keep up this blog for over three years. It’s easy to forget how much happens in the year, so I love reading old posts to remember all the great times and lessons. This was originally a top 10 list but I parred it down because I know you’re busy :) Here are some of my favorite posts from the last year:

  • During the busy holiday season, this advice is a must read.

Here’s what to expect from the next year of the HeSo Project. I’m planning to change the look of the site, so don’t get scared if it looks different in January. I can’t wait to write about the retreat I’m organizing this February in the Catskills (there are only 3 spots left if you want to join), the reading series, and the upcoming conference! I hope to have exciting news about my novel in the new year.

I hope the next two weeks are joyous and peaceful for you. See you in 2015!

http://thehesoproject.com/2014/04/01/2-responses-that-will-save-you-time-and-energy/http://thehesoproject.com/2014/04/01/2-responses-that-will-save-you-time-and-energy/

I wish I took my advice more often

What if I told you I know a trick that can help you sleep better, gain clarity, release stress, lose weight and feel happier. Would you do it? What if this trick took at least 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week?

Even though I know this trick (and you do too), I rarely do it. It’s EXERCISE!

Riding my Flying Pigeon in Astoria Park

There’s nothing like a bike ride on a sunny say.

As a writer I focus so much on my brain that it’s easy to forget that brain is housed in a body that needs care too. Our bodies are meant to move. We come from hunters and gatherers. Our ancestors were running, squatting, swimming and climbing. If you forced our ancestors to sit in front of a computer for 8-10 hours a day they’d probably go insane. Exercise is in our DNA, and when we embrace it everything seems to get better.

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Look at how happy Mike looks running around the sand dunes.

The crazy thing is that the very same excuses I use to not exercise are the things that exercise alleviates. I’ll say that I’m too tired, but when I force myself to workout, I feel more energized and I sleep better. I’ll say that my muscles are sore, but when I exercise, I feel them loosening up and the pain goes away. I’ll say that I don’t have enough time, but while I’m running I have wonderful insights and I’m able to get more done when I get home. Again and again, my writing practice is improved by my exercise practice because exercise teaches me the value of discipline, and the joy of finishing something I didn’t think I could start.

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The joy of spending a week walking in nature!

About a thousand times now I’ve come to the realization that exercise is the greatest thing I can do for myself. I’ve wanted to write this post so many times but whenever I’m about to I slip into lazy mode and I feel like a hypocrite for touting the benefits of exercise. But the great thing about exercise is that you ease back into it whenever you want to. There is always some form of motion that you can start doing to get back on track.

So on that note, I’m off to the gym!

Growing some Wings

wings

This is one of my favorite quotes, and it’s a belief that motivates me whenever thinking of what to do next. It’s a quote I had to repeat as I wrote the check to reserve the venue for my first-ever writers’ retreat. (Actually I’ve set up two impromptu retreats with my writers’ groups and I know that the concentrated time and companionship can make the difference between thinking about a novel and finishing a novel. However, these retreats were at my parents house so there was no financial risk for me. This retreat is on a larger scale, with more money and time at stake.)

It would have been easy to say no to the idea of this retreat. Financially speaking, I should say no to this retreat. But at the end of the day I know I can do an amazing job organizing it, and I know that it will be worth it. There are only seven openings and I need at least five people to sign up in order to break even. I jumped off a cliff and now I’m waiting for those wings to pop out! If you know someone who would benefit from this retreat, please share the info! Here are some of the details, but visit the website for the daily schedule and more details.

  • 3pm Friday, Feb. 20 through 3pm Monday, Feb. 24
  • We will all be staying in a quiet house in the Catskills and our meals will be brought to us. All you need are your usual writing implements, clothing, and a toothbrush.
  • All activities are optional. They are designed to inspire creativity and enhance the craft, but your time and schedule is priority.
  • Mornings start with yoga or mediation and the evenings end with a group critique of the day’s writing.
  • On the last day, Chloe Caldwell, author of Woman, Legs Get Led Astray and The New Age Camp, will be joining us to talk about her experience as a writer, and offer feedback on our writing.
  • Prices range from $540-$800 depending on the room situation you pick, and if you send a deposit by 12/15 for the early bird special. Price includes housing, meals (except for one meal at a restaurant), activities and supplies.

I hope you will join me for this retreat and I hope there will be many more in the future.

Island Medicine

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I just got back from an amazing week in the Virgin Islands! Here’s a bizarre, short story based on the last half hour we were there:

It had just started raining as we drove around St. Thomas, looking for a vacuum service to avoid the rental car’s $50 sand-damage fee. The car bounced over the pot holes of the sketchier side of the island, a far cry from the touristy, pristine beaches of St. John, where we had just spent a week drinking Pina Coladas and burning our noses. After trying several gas stations with attendants who looked at me like I was speaking gibberish when asking for a vacuum, a man behind me in line pointed toward a car wash down the street. The rain was starting to pour down at this point and we could hardly see through the blurry droplets on the windshield. My flip flop-clad feet rubbed against the gritty floor mat as I looked at the clock on the dashboard. Not much time left before we’d have to return the car and catch our flight.

We drove past the car wash, thinking it was an abandoned dump. After turning around we parked the jeep by the vacuum stand and saw that it only accepted tokens. I opened the door and braced myself for the cold rain. The handmade signs for tokens led me around the car wash stalls, up the squeaky, metal stairs and around the covered porch that was housing several years’ worth of decaying car parts and rotting plant matter.

The vacuum needed one token. I had a bag of quarters and a twenty dollar bill. The machine wouldn’t take coins and it wouldn’t exchange tokens for money, so if I used the last of my cash I’d end up with nineteen useless tokens.

While I contemplated wasting nineteen dollars in order to make our flight on time, an old man sauntered up the stairs. The top of his blue coveralls was left open, revealing a buff chest covered with white curls. Although he was much shorter than me his thick dreadlocks piled high on his head made him appear much taller.

“You need da tokens?” he asked. His white mustache was yellow above the unlit cigarette that dangled from his lip.

“Yeah, but I don’t have any singles,” I told him. I was aware that he was eyeing my white t-shirt made transparent by the rain. The outline around his brown irises had blurred into the yellowing whites of his eyes.

“You have to ring da bell,” he repeated four times before I could process his low voice and his thick, island accent.

The ticket counter had a tinted window and looked closed. The old man leaned against the banister as I rang the doorbell.

“You vacuuming dat car?” he asked me.

“Yeah.”

“You vacuuming it?” he repeated.

“Yeah.”

You vacuuming dat car over dere?”

“Yes!” I said, unable to hide my annoyance that time. I rang the bell again, thinking that if I had to wait one more minute, I’d accept the fifty dollar charge from the car rental office.

“I can vacuum it for you,” he said, chuckling and tucking his hands into his elastic belt that was meant to avoid back injury.

The window of the counter slid open to my relief. “Can I have one token, please?” I asked.

“Four quarters,” the cashier said, looking like I woke him from a nap.

I handed him the quarters and instead of a token he slipped me a dollar bill.

“Don’t you have any tokens?”

“Use da machine,” he told me, then closed the window.

Once I got my token and moved toward the stairs. The old man shook his arthritic finger at me. “You’ll get sick if you go back out in dat rain. It’ll stop soon ‘nough.” In that moment he looked like the old, black sage in so many movies I grew up watching. I leaned against the corrugated steel side of the building, expecting to hear some wisdom.

“My sister got sick when she was walking in da rain. She couldn’t get out of bed,” the man started.

“Oh?” I said.

“She went to dat medicine shop right over dere.” He pointed to a blue, stucco building across the street. “They told her to take 500 milligrams of da Centrum Silver. “

My husband was walking up the stairs now. “What’s the hold up?” he asked.

As if he didn’t notice the interruption, the man continued. “She couldn’t get out of de bed. Her eyes they swell up and when de doctor listens to her chest it sounds like crying. We stayed at her bed and made her da soup.”

“Well, I hope she’s all better.”

“No, no, no she’s dead.” He looked at me like I hadn’t heard a word he said. “It was da cancer.”

“Oh my god, I’m sorry,” I said, touching my chest.

He looked down at the ground. “You need to take da stinging nettle for da cancer not da Centrum. Da stinging nettle has the good dings for the mens and de womens. It shrinks da postrate,” he said winking at my husband then taking his hand. “You come wid me. Dis is for men’s ears only.”

“We really have a flight to catch,” I called after them, but the man waved me away. I walked through the last heavy drops of rain to get to the car and began vacuuming.

Mike came down the stairs with a huge grin on his face.

“What did he say?” I asked, getting into the car.

“He said if I took stinging nettle my penis would look like his forearm. He said it would give me hydraulic power down there.” Mike laughed.

I rolled my eyes, wondering how the man could make the leap between his dead sister and natural Viagra.

The man leaned against the banister and called out “I only tell you ‘cause I’m never gonna see you again.”

Mike saluted the man and then backed out onto the road, still laughing about the medical advice.

“Maybe we can get some stinging nettle at the duty free shop,” I said with a wink.

Serious Entertainment

secret theatreOne of the things that I love about New York City is that it attracts some of the funniest, most talented people in the world. It seems like on every corner, you can stumble into a bar and watch a performance that is funnier than anything you’d see on SNL. The Magic Jukebox, presented by The Serious Theatre Collective, is no exception. This is the third Serious Theatre production I’ve seen and I’m a big fan of their low-brow meets high-brow humor, and their efforts to make high-quality, original theater affordable.

The Magic Jukebox is a zany combination of sketch comedy and musical theater. Make sure you go to the bathroom before the show starts because you’ll be peeing in your pants. The collaborative writing style has led to some hilarious sketch ideas: a gospel choir that offers support during a first date, singing tele-spam, and homicidal dolphins just to name a few.

Some of the performance highlights include Ricardo Delgado’s R. Kelly inspired cameo, any time Sam Durant Hunter’s on stage, and Abby Goldfarb’s comedic timing. It was especially fun to come early and sing along with the impromptu karaoke that sparked up from the house band’s catchy set. At $18 a ticket, you can’t afford to miss this show! Make sure to follow the collective on facebook to hear about future shows.

Playing at Cannon’s Walk at The South Street Seaport (206 Front Street, NY, NY)

All Shows: 7:30pm door, 8pm curtain
Thursday 11/6
Friday 11/7
Saturday 11/8
Thursday 11/13
Friday 11/14
Saturday 11/15
Thursday: 11/20
Friday 11/21
Saturday 11/22

Google’s not just for stalkers

When I got my first email address back in the early 90s it was considered dangerous to reference any part of your real name in the address. We all ended up with email address like rainbowheart82@aol.com or loveshorses@yahoo.com. When gmail started taking over, suddenly it was considered abnormal to not include your name in the address. The days of anonymity are not only over but completely replaced with full disclosure. Everyone is expected to have a professional website along with a social media account to share every meal they’ve ever had.

Now that there’s a digital record of you out there, it’s important to monitor it. I never thought I’d say this, but you should be googling yourself. In this day in age, the first thing people do is google your name when they meet you (or even before they meet you), and it’s your job to make sure you’re presenting your best self in the search results. To do this, you must make sure that the results are accurate, and, as it was in my case, they’re actually you and not some girl in West Virginia with the same name. Here’s how:

  1. Update your google+ account. google+While I loath the idea of adding another time-sucking social media site into my repertoire, especially one as seemingly useless as google+, the fact is google has the market on search engines, therefore they are going to give priority to their social media outlet over all others. Take a little time to post a good picture of yourself, and make sure there’s no embarrassing info on your board.
  2. Figure out what your public image is.
    I am a writer, and I host conferences. That means that my profile on my blog, on twitter, on LinkedIn and whatnot, needs to say those things. Be consistent. Even though I’m a goofball in person, I want people’s first online impression of me to be professional, so in all those platforms I use images of me during the conference. Make sure that your social media is presenting the person who you are and want to be. Don’t forget that if you don’t update your facebook privacy settings, anyone can see those embarrassing spring break photos.
  3. Keep everything up to date.
    After getting married, I changed my last name on my passport, social security card, drivers license, bank accounts, and library cards and just when I thought I was done I realized that I hadn’t changed my name on most of my online platforms. My YouTube page, blog and google+ pages were still under Tracy Young. Make sure you update name changes, job status, and interests. Also, if you’re using a picture of yourself that doesn’t still look like you, get rid of it. I remember meeting someone in person, looking them up online a few days later, and then thinking that I got their name wrong because the picture on their profile was about twenty years younger than the person I met.
  4. Make sure you include your name.
    If you want your website or blog, or twitter account to show up when people search your name, you need to include your entire name in the profile. It will also help to list your name in the tags for the post.  Nowadays when you type someone’s name into google, an image search appears as well. Make sure you include your full name in the image description.

If you have any other good ideas for amping up your online presence, please share them in a comment!

How bullying made me a better writer

Most kids joke that their favorite subject in school is recess or lunch. Those were the times I dreaded the most. Classmates spitting gum in my hair; getting called ugly/ fatty/ freakazoid; kids running from me, afraid they would catch ‘Tracy germs.’ I ate lunch in the bathroom whenever I could sneak by the lunch attendants who seemed more preoccupied with keeping us all in one raucous room rather than ensuring that no one was getting hurt or bullied.

While I would never wish that treatment on any young child, as an adult it’s easy to notice the bright side of the past. The truth is something positive did come from that time. I truly believe that my skills as a writer were formed during the isolation and depression of bullying.

  1. It made me more observant.
    If I wasn’t bullied, I was ignored. At these times I could watch my peers; studying their gestures, their words, and their behaviors . I thought if I studied them hard enough, I would learn how to become popular. Of course that didn’t work, but I did learn how to be quiet and absorb the information around me, and put that into my writing.
  2. It taught me the art of revision.
    As a kid, I was terrible with come backs. As soon as someone dissed me, I froze up and English became like a second language to me. This made the kids laugh even more. While trying to fall asleep I would go over the insults kids hurled at me that day and come up with all the clever responses I should have said. Writing gives you the ability to sit with a cluster of words and sculpt them as much as you want until they finally resemble your elusive thoughts.  Writing gave me the ability to use my words, an ability I didn’t have on the playground.
  3. It turned me into a reader.

    In order to become a good writer, you must read. This is the best way to absorb effective structure, beautiful prose, potent vocabulary, and great ideas. I was slow to reading, in fact I didn’t start reading until 3rd grade, but once I was able to decipher those inky pages I couldn’t get enough. I escaped into the world of books. If my reality was full of play dates and giggles, I probably wouldn’t have read so much.

  4. It taught me the complexity of humanity.
    The best authors make you sympathize with people who do bad things. In order to achieve this, the author needs to have incredible understanding as to why a person would behave that way, and, most of all, she must be able to forgive that character. It took me a long time to forgive my classmates for their treatment, but eventually I was able to understand why they did it. They were scared little kids afraid that if they didn’t pick on the scapegoat they would become the scapegoat. They had siblings or parents who bullied them and they took that out on me. They thought it was a harmless joke. When my best friend arrived at our school in fifth grade, I asked her if she knew how to talk because she was so quiet. Years later she told me how much that comment hurt her, but at the time I didn’t know any better. Whatever the reason for bullying, I don’t believe that kids are evil, they were complex.
  5. It helped me handle rejection.
    Getting a letter saying “unfortunately we cannot represent you at this time,” doesn’t feel like rejection compared to what the boys used to say on my school bus. I remember one time the kids teased a boy, saying that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, at which point he pretended to throw up. His retching was so convincing that the bus driver pulled over to see if he was okay. Kids would kick the empty seat over if they saw me coming to sit next to them, or they would beg my teacher to be partnered with someone else. That was a kind of rejection that puts all future rejection in perspective.

I spent years pitying myself as the victim, not understanding what I did to warrant that kind of treatment. The truth is it doesn’t matter. Bad things happen. If we choose to let those times teach us rather than beat us, we are stronger and better for it.