Monthly Archives: August 2015

Prepared for the Storm

“We must begin our search for meaning when things are going well. A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon.”

Dr Howard Cutler: “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” (which was co-written by the Dalai Lama.)

By the way, I really struggled to find an image to accompany this quote. While this Australian Gum Tree, depicted by Sir Hans Heysen appears very stable with exceptionally strong roots, being honest, gum trees are renowned for falling over in storms and causing quite a lot of damage. So while there’s some incongruity here, I hope you’ll just appreciate the image until I can find something more appropriate.

xx Rowena

The Dalai Lama and the Psychiatrist Converse.

In my last post, I mentioned that I’m reading “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler.

Although I don’t usually write book reviews, I’ve made an exception in this case and I’ve been so inspired by this book that I couldn’t wait to finish the book to share my glee. I’m only halfway through and I definitely can’t put it down (except to update the blog and touch base with the family).

I strongly recommend you do whatever it takes to read this book and to read it slowly and carefully. I read such books with my pen and write notes to myself and underline text and use the book as a notebook. For me, I guage how good a book is by how much ink I’ve scribbled all over the pages. So, on this basis, this book is doing brilliantly.

Before I read the book, I must admit that I was a little uneasy getting too engrossed in a different religion. Although I’m a Christian, I do read very broadly but at the same time I wondered whether reading this book and absorbing the thoughts of the Dalai Lama was going too far. That I was crossing over into foreign soil and that when it came understanding happiness, I should turn to my Bible first.

However, while they certainly address Buddist beliefs, the book has been written as a series of life-lessons for a Western, largely American, audience and it doesn’t delve into the spiritual in an overbearing way at all.

Indeed, in many ways it reminded me of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and “Tuesdays With Morrie”.

“The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

As the Dalai Lama explains, “We attempted to present to the reader a systematic approach to achieving greater happiness and overcoming life’s inevitable adversities and suffering. Our approach combines and integrates, hopefully, the best of East and West—that is Western science and psychology on the one hand and Buddhist principles and practices on the other.1.”

“In The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, the Dalai Lama offers a good first step when pursuing any positive goal: Learning. If our objective is happiness, we need to begin by learning about the benefits of happiness. The recent scientific evidence has identified a wide array of practical benefits of happiness extending far beyond merely feeling good–including better physical and mental health, longer life, stronger relationships, greater career success, higher income, and many other personal rewards.

One of the fundamental principles of The Art of Happiness is that cultivating greater happiness not only benefits oneself but also one’s family, community, and society. There is new scientific evidence supporting this principle as well. Such evidence helps dispel our common cultural biases and myths, such as perceiving happiness as a somewhat “soft” or frivolous subject, or considering the pursuit of happiness to be self-centered or self-indulgent”2.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

This book is also about so much more than happiness. It also looks at sorrow and has a whole chapter about compassion, including a meditation exercise. Being part of 1000 Voices for Compassion (http://1000voicesspeak.org/), I really appreciated that chapter. It added quite a lot to my understanding.

The book is also very helpful for writers interested in personality, what makes people tick and how to create really complex, more diverse characters. There’s quite a lot of discussion about what makes people tick…or indeed, not tick. After all, this is more of a book about people than just happiness itself.

I’d also like to add that the Dalai Lama doesn’t pretend to be able to solve everybody’s problems and acknowledges there are people facing very complex problems. He doesn’t pretend to be able to fix these any better than anybody else. However, he does offer a few tools, which might help.

When you consider that one of these tools might say alter your path by 10 degrees and perhaps another by a further 10, you are now 20 degrees away from where you were originally heading. Perhaps, this place is no different to where you were but it could be. There’s that hope. I often think that making these seemingly small changes can make quite significant difference over time.

I must admit that while this book is a new to me, it did spend 97 weeks on The New York Times bestsellers list so obviously thousands, maybe even millions have beaten me to it and that could well include you.

Have you read it? In which case, I would love to hear your thoughts and how it might have impacted on you.

xx Rowena

Sources

1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/howard-c-cutler-md

2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-c-cutler-md/learning-the-art-of-happi_b_374134.html?ir=Australia

3. His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler: “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living”, Hachette Australia, 2003.

What Is Your Idea of Perfect Happiness?… The Proust Questionnaire.

Working on character for the “Book Project”, a few weeks ago I decided to run through the Proust Questionnaire: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/in-pursuit-of-character-the-proust-questionnaire/

However, progress has obviously stalled at Question 1: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Needless to say, pursuing this question has evolved into quite a challenging and thrilling journey, resulting in multiple stepping-stone posts and even devouring precious wisdom from:The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.

You could well say I covered my idea of perfect happiness in my last post: By the way, you can read that post here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/the-dna-of-happiness/

However, I really wanted to nail it down.

Be specific.

Write something succinct.

Yet, of course, I’ve failed. After all, how could I ever encapsulate happiness in just a few words?

Thread and Thrift: Crazy Patchwork Appliqued Birds by Mandy Pattullo http://threadandthrift

Thread and Thrift: Crazy Patchwork Appliqued Birds by Mandy Pattullo http://threadandthrift

Finally, getting straight to the point, my idea of perfect happiness is something like a crazy patchwork quilt. Fabrics with a diversity of colour, pattern,texture, age and origin are all sewn together with a multiplicity of threads to make a truly eclectic life. It would also have to include something of a rainbow because even in my state of supposed “perfect” happiness, there would still have to be sun and rain. Otherwise, I’d stagnate. After all, flowers need sun and water to grow.

I love this sense of diversity, leading a varied and eclectic life because I thrive on that tension of yin and yang.

For example, consider intimacy and solitude.

Footprints in the sand.

Footprints in the sand.

There are times where I thrive on and really need my own space to write, think, eat my chocolate and simply breathe in peace. In other words, I can find true happiness basking in solitude and being completely alone and I can ever feel annoyed when someone enters that sacred place.

Cartwheels in the sand.

Cartwheels in the sand.

However, as a people person, I prefer to be with my kids, my husband, family, friends and being an active part not only in our local and now global community.

Yet. I love, appreciate and find happiness in both states.

Mister painintg himself.

Mister painintg himself.

Another way I’d describe my idea of perfect happiness would be to embrace life the way my children used to paint. Carpe Diem seize the day is definitely my mantra. While my kids still enjoy painting, they were really in their element painting as toddlers. I’d turn my back for just an instant and those thieving little hands would be squirting and smearing “Mummy’s paint” all over the page, their bodies and the house with exuberant delight. Even their cheeky little grins and their precious toothypegs were covered in paint. No holding back. No fear of making mistakes or not being good enough, there was only joy!

Love that paint job!

Love that paint job!

So often, we as adults have lost that joy, becoming too inhibited to spread our wings to fly or perhaps to open our lungs and truly allow ourselves to breathe and not hold back.

As I mentioned in my last post, for many poets and philosophers, happiness and sorrow are inexorably linked. You can’t have one without the other. That as opposites, that “yin and yang”, they help define each other. This would suggest that happiness is also identified and appreciated only by experiencing its opposite. This means no tears, suffering or frustrations, you also miss out on happiness…even if that doesn’t make sense.

A few years ago, if you’d asked me about happiness, I know I would’ve said: “getting my books published”. Indeed, even getting one book published would be a thrill. However, I’m not so sure that fulfilling that goal would bring enduring happiness. Sure, there would be such a sense of achievement, accomplishment and that “FINALLY”!! But I’m not sure that this would guarantee happiness. It is very tempting to think so but I’m not that sure. Of course, one suspects if it’s a best-seller, you’d never turn back but….?

I also don’t want to put too much weight on something that will happen in the future because I also need to be happy, content and excited about getting out of bed right now. That means right here, right now…NOT tomorrow!

That means that my idea of happiness currently has to involve NOT having the book(s) published.

In addition to all these more creative representations of my perfect state of happiness, I have also taken a more systematic approach.

A few years ago, when I first started working on writing my motivational memoir about living beyond a chronic, life-threatening illness, I came up with a list of things, seemingly out of nowhere and I wrote it down and have pondered that list for years now. A few items come and go but the list is essentially:

Mind
Body
Spirit
Community
Environment
Work

They stayed in this linear list format for a few years until I discovered Mind Mapping and then I put them into this format. I really didn’t know what happened when you put all this things together at once and just left it as a question mark…an enigma. It might be happiness. It could be self-actualization or resilience but I do believe it is a very powerful, life changing force…a bit like shaking up that bottle of Coke and taking off the lid.

The Keys To Happiness or Contentment?

The Keys To Happiness or Contentment?

However, these musings didn’t stop there.

When I started to work out the next level of the mind map i.e the things that I could do to develop these areas, a surprising thing occurred.

Or, at least it surprised me.

There was considerable overlap between categories.

For example, playing my violin managed to tick off mind,body,spirit and community because I not only play by myself but in an ensemble. It might even get a half tick in the environment category because at least I don’t think playing the violin is doing any harm.

Walking my dogs at the beach ticks off everything except work. Well, actually as my writing is my work and I write about dogs, I guess that’s also ticked off.

So, you see, if you are clever, you can activate many of these areas through a single activity, although you’d probably want and need more diversity than that.

I have been living quite consciously to this road map of sorts for a few years now and I am pretty sure it’s helped. For example, when my violin teacher and I discussed my future goals, I said that violin was a form of therapy to me. I know that it’s actually rewired my neuropathways quite significantly taking me from being unable to listen to music and finding it annoying due to a noisy brain, to someone who now attends concerts regularly, listens to CDs and plays an instrument. Indeed, I’m becoming a musician of sorts.

Unfortunately, all of this hasn’t resulted in perfect happiness. My health continues to be a serious concern and as I’ve mentioned before, while I’ve been exploring happiness, I’ve simultaneously been battling a nasty bout of bronchitis and am only just avoiding a hospital admission.

Our family also lives under a lot of stress and more often than not, this all boils over and it’s not all happy families, despite the photographs. However, what does perhaps give us a boost is our tenacious perseverance. We don’t give up easily. My husband is up at 6.00 AM every morning to go to work in Sydney no matter what. He did work from home on Friday because I was that crook but that doesn’t happen often. Geoff arrives home around 7.00PM and that’s the beginning of another day. Our kids are also fairly intensive and have some time-consuming medical issues.

So with all this going on, how could we possibly be happy? How could I be happy?

Well, despite how I come across, I’m not happy all the time but I am optimistic. Moreover, after all I’ve been through, I feel like I’ve been living on borrowed time for quite awhile and I am incredibly thankful. I consider myself very lucky. I carpe diem seize the day, which doesn’t just mean living for myself and our family but also being active in our community. I do the publicity for the kids school and can be seen running around at events taking photos, even when I’m not particularly well. I do the same for there Scout troop.

So, once again, I haven’t manged to answer this question in a nutshell but I think I’m getting close.

I hope some of these thought might also help you further along your journey towards happiness, contentment and along with it that sense of peace. It’s not about having all your ducks lined up and having the perfect life, but somehow seeing beyond all that to something for less tangible. Something you might not be able to see and touch but you know it when you feel it in your heart.

Love & Blessings,
Rowena

The DNA of Happiness

As I explained before, I am slowly making my way through the Proust Questionnaire, a tool commonly used by writers for character development. It’s become my goal to work my way through this list a question at a time, preparing for a motivational memoir that I’m working on.

While some of the questions don’t require a huge amount of thought, the first question is a really, thought-provoking challenge:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Now, perhaps, I could’ve simply taken this question at face value and just jotted a few things down.

However, why get straight to the point when you can procrastinate and turn a simple question into a journey?

So, I’ve taken this opportunity to explore the DNA of Happiness.

What actually makes us happy and when you think about being happy, what sort of images come to mind?

Not the “I’ll be happy when…” but the real stuff. What has brought you the greatest, personal happiness?

Or, to put it another way, “What have been the happiest days of your life?”

I wonder if they look anything like mine?

Our Wedding Day....The Happiest Day of My Life. I smiled so much, my face hurt!

Our Wedding Day….The Happiest Day of My Life. I smiled so much, my face hurt!

“Happiness is a vine that takes root and grows within the heart, never outside it.”

― Kahlil Gibran

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
Martha Washington

The Arrival of Our Little Man...I couldn't take my eyes off him!

The Arrival of Our Little Man…I couldn’t take my eyes off him!

What does it mean to be happy?”
One kid declared:”If I have a million dollars in the bank, I’ll be happy.” Another announced:”If I’m number one in my chosen profession, I’ll be happy. But I won’t settle for number two.”
The discussion continued with comments in a similar vein. All agreed that money, success, and achievement would make them happy. Not one of these seventeen and eighteen year old kids talked about love, children, relationships, marriage, community or friends. Which made me wonder: When your resume is perfect, how does your soul feel? …If we can buy big houses and powerful cars, we may be able to achieve the illusion of security, but it is still just an illusion. If we do well at school or work, we may get a sense of accomplishment but there will always be a something more to accomplish- happiness will always be around the corner.
Real security only comes when we are comfortable with who we are (and the feeling is enhanced when we are in a relationship where there is mutual love and understanding. Real happiness is a by-product of a life well lived.

Letters to Sam– Daniel Gottlieb

Bringing Miss home from hospital.

Bringing Miss home from hospital.

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.
Thomas Jefferson

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Celebrating my Second Birthday with Teddy (my parents don't like to appear on my blog).

Celebrating my Second Birthday with Teddy (my parents don’t like to appear on my blog).

Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel.”

Morrie…Tuesday’s With Morrie, Mitch Albom.

Graduation from the University of Sydney in 1992.

Graduation from the University of Sydney in 1992.

Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it- then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult, no longer matters.”
M.Scott Peck: The Road Less Travelled.

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

-Aeschylus (Quoted by Robert F. Kennedy in his Eulogy to Martin Lurther King.4th April, 1968.)

Overseas Travel. Pictured here in Florence, Italy.

Overseas Travel. Pictured here in Florence, Italy.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.”
“On Joy and Sorrow” Kahlil Gibran

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
John Keats: “Ode to Melancholy”.

What with all this pondering about happiness and also its inter-relationship with sorrow, I thought I’d better start reading what seemed a pretty good authority on the nature of happiness…”The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler. Although I am only up to page 75, this book really is well worth reading.

The Dalai Lama basically states that: “The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness.” This happiness can be achieved through training the mind. Underlying all the Dalai Lama’s methods, there is a set of basic beliefs that act as a substrate for all his actions: a belief in the fundamental gentleness and goodness of all human beings, a belief in the value of compassion, a belief in the policy of kindness, and a sense of commonality among all living creatures.”

In terms of how to train the mind, the Dalai Lama says:
“When we speak of this inner discipline, it can of course involve many things, many methods. But generally speaking, one begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this,one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness.”

Christmas brings a lot of happiness....and also heartache.

Christmas brings a lot of happiness….and also heartache.

Yet, despite getting all philosophical, perhaps happiness really is as simple as this:

“Happiness is a warm puppy”- Charles Schultz.

Bilbo as a pup.

Bilbo as a pup.

I’m sure Bilbo would agree!

xx Rowena

PS I should mention that while I’ve been researching happiness, I’ve come down with serious bronchitis. Today, I was back to the doctor and given a powerful combination of two antibiotics and am on the nebuliser every 2 days during the day. If this doesn’t work, I’m off to hospital tomorrow afternoon. Although my health isn’t great, I am happy and content.

Why is this so?

Perhaps, because my ongoing health battles have made me quite conscious of seizing the day and what matters. For me, that’s my family, my writing, being part of community, my faith, getting out with the dogs and walking along the beach in the sun, photography, playing my violin. I am living my life to the very fullest. Things could be better. Could be worse but I’ve worked through all that and really do have a strong sense of hope that I am going to keep winning this ongoing battle.

-+

Happiness: The Proust Questionnaire.

The Proust Questionnaire, starts off with a serious bang: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It was quite ironic that I was thinking about happiness when things on the home front were anything but.

As I sat down at my computer tackling the question, there was an incredible thunder storm outside and the rain was bucketing down in huge cascading dumps with something of the force of an AK-47. Our roof had been damaged in the big storm back in April and it sprang another leak right above the printer while Geoff was out for dinner. This forced yours truly of “Break-it” not “fix-it” fame, to come to the rescue setting up buckets and towels… all while researching happiness!

Photo: Geoff Newton.

Photo: Geoff Newton.

By the way, did I mention the thunder strikes?!! It was wild out there.

It wasn’t much better inside either.

I’m not one to whinge or complain and I usually tolerate a fair amount of medical crap before I happen to mention: “I am not feeling well” or “the kids are sick”. This is usually code for: “we’re on standby for an ambulance”.

So, storm outside, we’ve been battling nasty coughs and colds inside and the kids have been home from school. These things happen in Winter but my son has asthma and I have Institial Lung Disease, so for us anything more than a common cold starts to press alarm bells. We have coughs that would clear train carriages and Mister’s nickname is now “foghorn”. He gets this cough most Winters and I remember standing over his cot as a tot and freaking out, not knowing when to intervene and take him to hospital. Our local hospital is in Gosford. Going to hospital is therefore known locally as “going to Gosford”, a phrase which chills most parents as they remember long sleepless nights in casualty and usually nothing much to report. That said, Miss was admitted with a UTI when she was 8 months old and we both spent a week in Gosford. Definitely NOT my idea of a holiday.

Meanwhile, I somehow managed to get the dog off to the vet for his shots. Bilbo is almost 9 years old and as the vet kept unkindly reminding him, he’s “an old man”. He might be old but he certainly hadn’t forgotten the vet’s. I don’t know whether it was the smell or what but he knew. After all, he’s not an idiot and definitely knew he wasn’t going for his morning run at the beach!!

Bilbo with his ball. Actually, that's another dog's ball. Humph! Just call him obsessed!

Bilbo with his ball. Actually, that’s another dog’s ball. Humph! Just call him obsessed!

When you see Bilbo running along the beach chasing the ball, he looks perfectly fit and I hang onto that. Once a large dog starts hitting 9 years of age, however, you can’t help asking: “How long is that ball of string? How long does he have left?” Not being millionaires and having the kids, we have to be pretty pragmatic about vet bills. Our bank account can’t cope with unknown lengths of string. It’s finite.

So, Bilbo has lost a fair amount of weight since Lady arrived, which we hope is just the added exercise and possibly even the desire to impress his new friend. But, at the same time, when your dog has always been portly, you do wonder whether such weight loss is indeed healthy. He’s also had trouble with fleas since Lady arrived and has terrible dermatitis. It’s been Winter so I haven’t been keen to wash him a lot so it’s persisted. I have applied a bit of cortisone cream but it hasn’t really helped. There is also a lump on his head which could be nothing but might be something and needs checking out.

The skin problems are quickly attributed to fleas and a secondary infection. While fleas might sound like an easy fix, we’ve been working on them ever since Lady arrived almost a year ago and I don’t know what strain these blighters are but they’d definitely survive a nuclear blast!

Fleas definitely don’t spell happiness!

The vet tells me that Bilbo needs to be washed in Malaseb a couple of times a week. I hope Bilbo heard that because he hates baths and despite being a “good dog”, when he was last bathed, he chewed right through the lead and was pretty aggro jumping and clawing at me, which is very out of character.

Somehow he needs to understand that these baths are “for his own good”.

Perhaps, this is his way of asking to go to the dog salon. However, being a true-blue Australia sheepdog, the garden hose will do. After all, if the crazy mutt can stand outside in the rain, surely he can put up with the hose?!! Besides, while he might not like the hose, the hair dryer is right up there on his list of hates next to the vacuum cleaner and the postman.

There I was at the vet’s processing all these dog issues with a very heavy cold, two sick kids and a dog who wanted to go home. Oh yes, I wanted to be in bed too!

After half an hour’s torture, Bilbo was finally allowed out after two jabs and two needle biopsies into his lump. The vet was encouraging but after a look under the microscope, thought she needed to check for mast cells. These mean TROUBLE!

So, by the time we left the vet’s and I’d paid the bill, I was feeling worse than the dog!

Naturally, this is hardly a picture of happiness.

So, after dealing with all of this, I am looking at the Proust questionnaire, considering: “What is your idea of perfect happiness?”

Right now, I’m very tempted to say no leaks in the roof, no coughs and colds in the house and a ray of sunshine.

Perhaps, even a chocolate Tim Tam could enter the equation. Or, even something stronger…like the entire packet!

This is an exceptionally rare packet of Tim Tams. The tray isn't empty!!

This is an exceptionally rare packet of Tim Tams. The tray isn’t empty!!

However, I know this question is seeking a much deeper, philosophical response. Something clawed out from the very depths of my soul and that isn’t an easy question to answer. As much as Charles Schulz wrote: “Happiness is a warm puppy”, happiness is much more complex.

A simplistic interpretation...or is it?

A simplistic interpretation…or is it?

Or is it?

It was time to turn to the great poets and philosophers lining my shelves and do a Google search.

Before I could possibly identify what perfect happiness was for me, I needed to do some research.

The DNA of happiness is up next.

So much for a quick romp through the Proust Questionnaire. It looks like we’re in for quite a journey.
xx Rowena

In Pursuit of Character: The Proust Questionnaire

Although I’ve spent many years trying to refine and improve my own character, attempting of course, to become more virtuous, this journey is more about the pursuit of character development. How to develop complex and meaningful characters in our writing.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
Helen Keller

Or, in the case of the Book Project, creating myself as a character which is authentic and yet will inevitably end up being some kind of fiction.

I'm a veteran journal writer.

I’m a veteran journal writer.

I dipped my toe into these incredibly deep waters as I wrote about myself on my train trip to Sydney, trying to view myself through the eyes of the other passengers, who are of course, complete strangers:

Me, Myself & I: Writing A Complex Character Profile https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/me-myself-i-writing-a-complex-character-profile/

This proved quite useful but was obviously very superficial and based on how I looked, my actions.

I mean, perhaps this said a lot more about me than I’d like to believe. After all, as we’re observing others, we feel quite invisible and yet we could equally be the subjects of their study. They could indeed be writing about us. Did you ever think of that?

Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.
Henry Ford

The train trip home proved more insightful, confirming indeed that I was protagonist and antagonist rolled into one, as my creative diversions made me late for my medical appointment: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/surry-hills-to-gore-hill-sydney-a-hill-climbing-odyssey/

To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.
P. G. Wodehouse

Anyway, some time ago, I heard about the Proust Questionnaire and decided to work my way through this in the same way I worked the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge…one set topic per day and by the end of the month, I had knocked over quite a lot of writing. I was rather surprised…and impressed. If you had asked me to write that many words in a month, I would’ve balked. Of course, all those words came at a price and I was viewed as something of a ghost on the home front that month but I was thrilled to pull it off. After all, it showed me that I was truly capable of writing longer works (and indeed completing the book project if only I could get started!).

Writing to a set topic everyday was quite a change for me. After all, I have unwittingly always been a “panster”, not a planner when I write. I’d never heard much about terms like “protagonist”, “antagonist”. I just had my thesaurus. Besides, if you are a good story teller, these things are what makes a good story, whether you give them formal titles or not.

BUT…

While all this creative spontaneity might work for a shorter work, I am thinking that more planning and structure is required to pull of the Book Project. Much of the book concerns what happened but I am wanting to fully develop the text by having fully developed characters and a strong sense of place as well. These have turned out to be much more complex than I thought because how I see myself is no doubt quite different to how others see me. Moreover, each different observer, has their own viewpoint and perspective. While it is very tempting at this point to say it’s all just too hard and to just create a fiction, I am going to persevere.

writer at work...Perisher 2012.

writer at work…Perisher 2012.

Indeed, it has become something of a challenge.

After all, anybody can make up a character. It’s quite another thing to capture what is in a way that strangers can fully understand. Strangers who, by the way, live all around the world and might not quite appreciate some Australianisms.

“Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.”
― Henry David Thoreau

In order to pursue character development further, I have decided to turn to the Proust Questionnaire like so many other writers have done before me. Author Marcel Proust didn’t actually invent this questionnaire. Rather, such questionnaires were popular in the day and his friend Antoinette asked him this list of questions. It was a way of getting to know your friends and your self better, which translates well into developing the back story for your characters across a range of creative pursuits such as writing, painting acting.

Here’s the list as it appeared at The Writing Practice: http://thewritepractice.com/proust-questionnaire/:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Which living person do you most despise?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?
What are your favorite names?
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?

There are 35 questions, which makes it roughly one question every day for just over a month. It might take me a few days to tackle the more challenging questions, while on other days, I might make it through a few. While I do want to get through this in a disciplined and focused manner, I don’t want to rush it and gloss over the weightier issues just to adhere to a schedule. I am doing this to learn, create, extend and understand myself better, which could well benefit from a better focus on the clock but won’t be governed by it…if that makes sense.

My shadow in Surry Hills

My shadow in Surry Hills

I now invite you to join me on this journey either writing about yourself as a character or to answer the questions through the eyes of a character you are working on. Feel free to respond in the comments section or to write your own posts, which can be linked through in the comments as well.

So, Who are you? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WseRJMQf1U

This is going to be a very intriguing and challenging journey.

xx Rowena

PS I recommend you read this post by Ula at Broccoli Addict: 5 Questions Before You Write Your First Draft https://broccoliaddict.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/5-questions-before-you-write-the-first-draft/

Your Story Is Your Story- What will you write next? 

As you might know, I am working on the Book Project where I’m playing dual roles as the protagonist and antagonist. Anyway, I stumbled across this incredible post today and will use it for motivational. Perhaps, it will also help you! xx Rowena

wehaveapples

I used to feel ashamed of my story. I felt like other people’s past chapters were titled things like, “Skipping Through Fields with a Happy Golden Retriever” and my chapters were like, “Crawling Through Darkness with a Bunch of Scary Monsters..” I also kept trying to find someone ELSE to write my story for me. I let other people write weird things that made me sad. I let people write things that didn’t resonate with me… Then one day- I took my pen back. (Also, I made friends with those monsters and now we are skipping through fields together and we are fabulous!)

I wrote the words below to myself to feel better about my story and what I will write next. What do you want to write next in the story of your life?

Your life is a book

and it’s time for you

to take your pen…

View original post 384 more words