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Filtering by Tag: writer life

When Your Writing Coach is a Ghost

Amber Adrian

Six weeks ago, I was elbowed by the ghost of Mary Oliver in a bookstore.

She offered to help me with my writing, which was very kind, because she has the whole of the cosmos to play in, as well as any number of superior writers.

But she offered, I accepted, and here we are.

Her first assignment was to write a page a day.

So I dutifully made a folder on my desktop, which I labeled Mary Oliver and used to stash each day’s page.

Whenever this assignment drifts across my mind - like a tumbleweed attempting to cross a twelve lane highway during rush hour - I assume I’m doing pretty well. Sure, I’ve missed a few days here and there, but surely I’m a good student, one a ghost wouldn’t regret taking on.

Turns out, I haven’t been doing well at all.

I looked at the folder today. Between February 19 and today, March 25, I’ve written precisely eight pages. And that’s only if you include this blog post, which I most certainly am.

Why I need a writing coach is becoming wildly and brutally apparent.

One of the aforementioned pages was a conversation I had with her, which I will share with you now, even though it doesn’t portray me in the best light:

Me: I need to feel some more things first.

Mary Oliver: No, you don’t. It’s self-indulgent. The writing comes first.

[Me: Wanting to argue, but deciding against it.]

Me: This is showing me my inconsistency. You said a page a day and I’ve done maybe five pages, partial pages, in a month.

Mary Oliver: Are you going to let that stop you or are you going to do better?

Me: I don’t like the word better.

Mary Oliver: Don’t trigger, just commit to your writing, the way you know you’re meant to and you know you want to.

Me: I’m tired.

Mary Oliver: You’re being whiny.

Me: Yes.

Mary Oliver: Sigh.

Me: So what do I do? How do I move forward?

Mary Oliver: How do you want to move forward? I can’t tell you what to do and you shouldn’t listen to me if I try.

Me: I want to write fiction. I want to write that story that keeps playing like a movie in my head when I take my walks.

Mary Oliver: Then do that. Write those stories as best you can. Trust the one that is meant to come through will. Just keep going.

Me: I’m so tired.

Mary Oliver: I know. I used to get tired too. Just keep going. Nap if you need to, walk to the trees if you need to, but keep going. Just don’t give up. It’s not time to give up.

Me: Is this resistance?

Mary Oliver: Does it matter? Just keep going. Take care of yourself, because that’s good for the writing, but keep going.

Stop overanalyzing everything.

Do your utmost to show up consistently and trust the unfolding.

There are seasons in writing just as there are seasons in nature. There are seasons in your life just there are seasons in the life of an oak tree.

Allow the seasons. Allow yourself to rest when you feel fallow and bloom when it’s time.

You’ll bloom when it’s time.

----

Mary Oliver doesn’t seem to put up with whining, nor should she.

Whining is definitely not my most attractive trait.

It’s a tricky balance between being really gentle and kind with yourself and … not whining.

(Maybe that balance is only tricky for me.)

I want to be consistent. That’s why I started my Moose in the Kitchen blog oh-so-many-years ago. (Thirteen years ago? Fourteen?) That’s why I started writing this blog again even though I’m not sure anyone actually reads it.

I want to be in the steady flow of words, the one I was able to access so easily for so many years.

I want to finish things, things I’m proud of.

I want to stop beating myself up for being where I am, rather than where my brain says I should be.

I want the ghost of Mary Oliver to be proud of me, or at least feel fairly confident that she’s not wasting her time with me.

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The Ghost of Mary Oliver

Amber Adrian

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Driving up the California coast to Point Reyes Station is one of my favorite things to do. I wander around, eat pizza, and occasionally buy expensive local tea or candles. I always stop in the little bookstore and poke around, because poking around tiny book shops in tiny towns is one of the great joys in life.

A few weeks ago, I was in the bookstore, post pizza and post glass of cabernet, and one of Mary Oliver’s books caught my eye.

She had passed away a short time before and I honestly didn’t realize how much of an impact her words and life had on people until everyone on my social media feed started posthumously quoting her.

I went to Barnard in the late ‘90s, conveniently coinciding with Mary Oliver’s tenure there. When President Obama spoke at Barnard’s graduation in 2012, I suspect my mom deeply regretted having me twelve years too early, but such things are generally beyond our control.

My own regrets surrounding my college years are fairly sparse. I only have two real disappointments and, weirdly, neither of them have anything to do with not going on a single date. I was a late bloomer in every respect and was too busy trying to navigate Manhattan as an empath who was still thirteen years away from learning what an empath was. Dating was simply beyond me and that was fine.

Instead, my two keen regrets were, and remain to this day:

Not accepting that Rolling Stone internship because I was too worried about money.

and

Being too chicken to apply for Mary Oliver’s small fiction-writing seminar.

I did take one of her big lecture classes, one you just had to sign up for before it filled. I don’t remember what the class was on - of the Virginia Woolf oeuvre probably - but I do remember writing a paper that had something to do with cherries. I was wildly proud of it until the mark I got didn’t reflect my excitement surrounding my cherry-driven conclusions.

To be fair, writing fiction scares me to this day. I don’t want anything bad to ever happen to anyone, much less people I’ve invented and so I control their fate and why would you do that to someone? But fiction where nothing bad happens tends to be deeply dull and no one wants to read deeply dull fiction.

Also, maybe I’m bad at it. I don’t like being bad at things.

But, god, what a waste. Can you imagine being one of seven or so students who got to work on their writing with Mary Oliver? Neither can I, because I was too paralyzed to grab the opportunity when it was offered to me.

All this flickered through my slightly cabernet-hazed brain as I stared at her book propped up on a table twenty years later.  

Gazing at her book, brain softened from the wine, Mary Oliver popped in and said, “I can work with you now.”

Startled, I looked around as if someone was standing next to me, but of course no one was. Thanks to my years of flirting with the unverifiable or maybe the wine, I didn’t immediately dismiss it.

One of my talents is jumping through dimensions, peering through veils, being a cosmic conduit, generally engaging with things that aren’t part of most people’s everyday reality.

But I rarely talk to dead people.

My father pops in every so often. My ex’s mother poked me pretty insistently a few months ago when she wanted to talk to him. (Luckily, this was less uncomfortable than it sounds, but there’s no way to text “Your dead mom wants to talk to you” to a former love without a little awkwardness creeping in.)

So when I heard the ghost of Mary Oliver offer to work with me on my writing, I did some checking - is this really her, are you sure this is a thing we can do - but I was basically on board.

When I did the double check on her identity, she just waited calmly for me to catch up.

When I asked “can we really work together” - tinged with the unworthiness that has colored most of the interactions in my life (sigh) - she replied:

“You have the potential. The potential.”

It was that slight emphasis on the second potential that sold me.

My own guidance knows how easily convinced I am that my work isn’t worth anything and I shouldn’t bother, so it rarely allows in any doubt, because it doesn’t want me to lose another year, five years, another decade. (Whoops.)

But this calm yet firm “You have the potential, but will you truly meet it?” just felt like her, even though how would I know? But it certainly wasn’t me or the energies I’m used to communicating with.

Maybe it was the glass of wine. That’s still an argument that can be made. But I prefer not to make it. I prefer to deepen into the trust I’ve spent years building around what I receive from the untouchable ether. Because all arguments of real or not-real aside, that’s simply more fun.

If the ghost of Mary Oliver is ready to help me with my writing, I’m ready to take it. Show me how, Mary Oliver. Show me what we can do together.  

“You’ll listen better now than you would have before,” she says. Which is also true.

Strangely, I’m far less intimidated by the ghost of Mary Oliver than I would have been by Mary Oliver in the flesh. It feels easier to connect, like she understands my own specific human frailty and will be kind about it, without putting up with it for long.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve always been better with the ethereal beings than with the real humans.

But maybe it’s also because this is what’s happening now, and we can only ever dance with what’s in front of us. Maybe this is also reminding me that it’s never too late. That maybe if we miss an opportunity at one point in our lives, that opportunity will circle back around twenty years later, when we’re finally ready for it.

There’s a lot of hope in that, and I feel like Mary Oliver wants to help us all lean into the hope and the possibilities that are here for us in this great, wide world.

Season of Surrender

Amber Adrian

Surrender one big thing and life gets all greedy and wants you to surrender more.

Fine. (Goddamn it.)

I was all proud of myself for releasing the life-will-align-with-my-husband-and-babies-plan again, when life went, “Great! Good job! We’re just getting started!” as it rubbed its hands together like a miser in a Dickens novel faced with a large stack of gold coins.

Really? We’re just getting started, life? I thought we were DONE.

“Nope! Not even a little!”

Life, the universe, and everything can be a brutal task mistress, I tell you what.

Because suddenly I went into expansion panic, into an emotional free-for-all around my intuitive work and money.

Sometimes I just want the earth to stop shifting below my feet. Sometimes I want to stop having to yank all my stability from somewhere deep inside, because my insides are tired.

But the universe thinks my insides are doing just fine, and tells me to keep going.

So much of our ego and safety and self-worth is tangled up with our work and creativity and bank accounts. Unspooling those threads feels destabilizing, even as it allows for stronger foundations to form.

Here’s what I’ve learned as I feel into what’s next for me on this ride of fulfilling my earthly purpose:

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You’re fine.

Lift your hands off the steering wheel. You’re trying to steer a matchbook car and we’re trying to chauffeur you around in a Bentley.

Stop trying to stuff yourself into a box. There is no box and never was.

Surrender. Everything is so much easier and so much more fun this way, please do it already.

Note to self: Surrender isn’t giving up.

Surrender is trusting that there are other forces at work.

Surrender is sinking into the idea that you don’t need to have all the answers. Or any of them.

If things don’t look the way you want or expect, it’s because room is being made for something better.

Since I don’t know what this moment requires, in terms of my work or my money or my writing or any of the life purpose things up for review right now, I have to soften in and trust myself, trust what I’m shown, trust my guides, and know that there is no such thing as failure.

Know that I am protected and loved and supported, just as we all are.

Whenever I check in lately, I get “write more.” Because my plan was always to spend half my time on my writing and the other half on my intuitive work (energy healings, readings, channeling the guides, etc). Maybe that’s the emotional rumbling I’m feeling. My higher self is shaking me down to remind me of what I was always here to do, and what I’ve forgotten or resisted or found hard lately.

So here’s to room for something better, for all of us. Here’s to surrendering into the arms of peace and joy and love and whatever the fuck is in it for us when we finally let the universe wrest control from our hot little hands.

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And to writing more, in whatever form that takes.

"Fuck It, It's Showtime."

Amber Adrian

"Fuck it, it's showtime." 

... is my new life motto. Thanks, Deadpool. 

(P.S. Peter "I just saw the ad" is my new hero.) 

My usual brand of cinematic escapism tends toward cartoon animals, love stories, or inspirational odds-beating, but every so often I like a good (anti) superhero. I just cover my eyes whenever there's blood. 

It may be because a friend once called me a warrior. He was referring to me and dating, because I am all too willing to stride out into the arena to get the shit kicked out of me, but sometimes I think that the creator of Wonder Woman was really tapped into something. A lasso of light? Deflector arm bands? Pretty sure there are dimensions where such things are 100% real life and I'm pretty sure I've spent time there. 

Or I just have an extra good imagination. Does it even matter which? 

I feel like there are a lot of things I'm here to do, and I think I've been holding back more than I thought I was. So much is welling up in me daily and I don't write it down or put it on video or otherwise unleash it. 

 

Malaise, depression, insecurity, and anxiety ensues. I'm pretty goddamn sure most of my downward spirals into such gloom can be traced back to the moment something wanted to bubble out and I stuffed it back down. Because I didn't have time. (Or it was scary.) Or I've already posted today. (Or what will people think?) Or I should put the effort into things that will pay the bills. (Homelessness is clearly the result of doing things you love.)

In other words, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. And not just because - let's face it - I always have time. Because nobody cares how often I post or don't post. And I always have so much more energy for paid work when I've put out what wants to come through me on any particular day. 

I HAVE SO MANY WORDS IN ME AND MOST OF THEM HAVE BEEN STIFLED NO WONDER MY BRAIN IS BASICALLY MADE OF STATIC ELECTRICITY AND PASTA. Also otters. 

A lot of my attention has gone to where my feelings have been stifled - and I think that was time well-spent - but it's really time to start paying attention to the words too. So many thoughts, so many stories, so many projects. And I have all the time in the world. 

So.

Fuck it. It's showtime. 

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Another tick in the "all my excuses are bullshit" column? I CAN DO BASICALLY EVERYTHING ON MY PHONE. Whether I have good hair that day or not. 

Blogging Like it's 2005 and I Haven't Aged Twelve Years

Amber Adrian

Shasta is one bossy mountain. My boyfriend and I went up last weekend and we caught the first snow fall, which was pure frozen joy - even before the golden retriever in a bright orange jacket started bounding ecstatically through legit winter wonderland.

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Legit winter wonderland. Well-suited to ecstatic bounding.

In addition to the snow and donuts - not to mention the snow donuts that my race car driving companion took it upon himself to pull at the top of the deserted mountain, scaring the absolute shit out of me, because he didn't share his plan before starting to spin out - the mountain also gave me an assignment. (See: bossy mountain top.) 

Stop everything and write for 21 days straight. 

Also some stuff about silencing my brain and drinking green juice and exercising and, let me just say, I have not been as diligent as the bossy mountain probably intended. 

Mostly because all of this is terrifying. Doing nothing but writing when you're self-employed and "doing things" is where your money comes from is terrifying. Moving after months of sloth is terrifying. Writing after being in a creative funk for years is terrifying. Silencing my brain is terrifying. (My brain does not enjoy being silenced and becomes exponentially more obnoxious whenever I try.) 

Drinking green juice is actually pretty easy so that's fine. 

At this juncture, I should probably note that I am a super sensitive human and as diligently as I try to unhook myself from the collective emotional energy, sometimes I still end up in fear and, ya know, faintly hysterical terror. 

That said, getting back into this writing game is not going smoothly. 

Pushing myself doesn't seem to be working. Starting yet another novel and getting four pages in before abandoning it doesn't seem to be working. Journaling mostly just turns into all-caps yelling as I let my brain throw a tantrum to unleash all the feeling I've carefully hoarded thanks to that aforementioned sensitivity - so that doesn't seem to be working either.

Maybe the solution of my bright-eyed twenty-something self will work for me now. Back in 2005, at the virtual dawn of personal internet musings, I started a blog as a way to write daily. It worked and I loved it. But that was when we were just talking about our lives without much expectation and our friends were doing it too. It was a big ol internet party in those sweetly naive pre-social media years. 

I mean, the technology still exists. Where did we all go? What happened? It feels like it wants to come back. Some of the bloggers of yore are at it again - and some never stopped. (Who's still doing this? If you are or know of people who are, please share.) So here I am too, doing my utmost to silence the plague o' self-doubt and use my voice. 

Going back to conversational writing and less curation sounds like a goddamn breath of peppermint-flavored arctic air. Overthinking is choking the life out of me and my poor beleaguered words. 

Who would want to read this? - my brain 

You've lost your special spark and I refuse to subscribe to this claptrap. - person who unsubscribed to my newsletter and felt it necessary to tell me why

Should I be talking about this? Am I complaining too much? How is this adding to the world? - my brain

HEREBY BANISHING THE BRAIN HAMSTERS. AND NEVER READING PEOPLE'S REASONS FOR UNSUBSCRIBING EVER AGAIN. There. Problem solved. 

We'll see what happens. Whatever it is, I will do my utmost to squash the brain hamsters, unhook sticky emotion, and speak what is true and loving. And possibly annoyed and cynical. But that's the beauty of not over-thinking. You get to just be. 

So here's to just being. Like it's 2005 and we're in the first flush of internet sharing and I don't yet have that alarming trench between my brows. 

New Journey Requires Old Pen (Or: Blogging Like It's 2006)

Amber Adrian

Writing about myself was how I learned myself. Before I understood my extreme sensitivity, before I knew that I was sucking up everybody else's emotion and making it my own, before I had any notion of my own operating system. In those darker years, I would take the mess of my life and feelings and start writing a blog post. By the time I was done, I had cracked open the cement box of whatever was weighing me down and let in some light. 

I adored blogging. Back in 2006, I started a blog called Moose in the Kitchen to help me write everyday. It was my thing for years. Talking about squirrels and feelings helped me sort through the tangles of my life. It helped me feel less isolated in whatever prison I had built in my head. Words were the only real power I wielded at that time. Some of my first channeling came through in that space, though I didn't know to call it that. 

In the years before all this intuitive work, my writing was funny and self-deprecating and, more often than was probably healthy, self-flagellating. But it was a sacred space. My sanctuary. Writing myself to answers felt like magic. It was magic. 

Social media came along and blogging was no longer the only way we could interface via screen. Blogging started becoming used in business and boundaries got confused. Self-sabotage kicked in, as self-sabotage does. I stepped away from writing to focus on my intuitive work and amusing self-deprecation cannon-balled into rampant earnestness. 

But life just doesn't work as well when I'm not playing with words. When you're a writer who doesn't write, the wheels start coming off the bus. It's not noticeable immediately, but after awhile you're hopping down the road in circles, like a dizzy three-legged dog. 

Blogging like it's 2006 means not taking myself so seriously, not taking the words so seriously. I wrote thousands of words every month and none of them had an agenda. Words are here to be played with. Because play is where the magic lives. Magic tends to run screaming when I decide I need my writing to be a certain way or do a certain thing for my life. 

Enough with that, self. 

I want to find the sweet spot between the wild polarities of the blogging 20-something who hated herself because she was locked in a brain that tried to put her in the context of the normal world and the intuitive 30-something who sees so much bright light that she gets a bit overbearing at times. I've been trying to think my way there, but thinking rarely works. Because our brains, wondrous machines though they are, are only capable of spitting back canned recordings of where we've been. They aren't capable of navigating unknown terrain.

Only in the space of imagination and play can that new terrain begin to unfold. So it's time to write myself into a new space instead of trying to think my way there.  

So I'm going to blog like it's 2006. For me. For whoever might want to read it. Not to establish myself as an authority in anything (I am quite literally an authority in nothing except my own journey, and I often need other people to tell me things about that journey). Not to further any quest or agenda I might have. Because agendas are exhaustingly unproductive and quests never lead where you were expecting anyway.  

Since trying to guide my life and my story toward where I think it should go has left me dazed and wondering where seven years went, I'm just going to tell my story. I'm just going to show up to the words the way I used to, the way I love to do, and let them tell me what I need to know. 

The Relentless Roar of the Ego

Amber Adrian

There is a fierce and relentless section of my ego that roars in fury whenever I see someone else doing what I want to do. Shame is triggered when my heart sinks because an essay I wish I had written, or did write to a far quieter reception, is splashed all over the internet. The piece of me that feels that this reaction is bad or immature or not spiritually enlightened (whatever that means) is reflected in the reactions of others when I share that I feel jealous over the words of others or the number of people who see what they do.

But maybe in some twisted way, this ego serves me. Because it only quiets down when I’m doing my work - writing or sending out that writing or even resting when I know that it isn’t the time to write because I need to rejuvenate before I can create. When I am consistently in the space of creating and sharing what I create (or consciously resting in preparation to create), my ego is quieter, calmer, more centered in a space that can appreciate what others do without feeling a deep and shameful lack in myself.

Writing this made me feel better, and isn't that what writing is supposed to do? Purge us, calm us, and help us realize that the monsters we feel lurking deep in our stomach aren't the terrors we imagine them to be. 

Resistance Fighters

Amber Adrian

Building a business will yank up everyone of your demons and wave them, skeletons rattling, in front of your nose.

I’ve spent the last five plus years looking inward. Clearing out the gunk, connecting with my soul, going into the shadows so that I can trust the light.  

But in order to build my work - both my writing and my work with writers - in the way I want and need to, I don't have the luxury of dancing with my demons any more. 

Oh, they’ll show up, and stronger than ever. But I can’t give them as much of my time. In order to help people transform in the way I know is possible, in order to write the words I know will help, I have to ground myself in simple forward steps. I have to take care of myself. I have to pay rigorous attention to my thoughts and where my focus lands.

Last week was intense. I got sucked into all the swirling negativity of my head. You aren’t making enough money, you’ll never make enough money, too many things have to happen before you can make the money you need, you have to increase your audience by a zillion before you can do the work you want to do. Et cetera to infinity.

It happens. Especially when you’re pushing so far out of your comfort zone that you can't even remember the zip code where your comfort once resided. But I just don’t have time to let the brain gremlins brought forth by the demons get the better of me.

So they won’t. Resistance will be weeded out and the demon skeletons will be sent to rattle elsewhere. Because I have work to do. 

For Writers

Amber Adrian

IF YOU'RE READING THIS, YOU ARE A GENIUS.

Deeply gifted and full of bright potential. If you aren't feeling your genius at this particular moment, let me give you a spark:

Your writing is needed  -  now more than ever. Your words matter. It may feel like you’re just sitting in a chair, clacking away at a laptop, but you’re changing lives. You’re offering hope where there was none. Your stories offer relief and your ideas offer wisdom and your willingness to shine a flashlight on the murkiest edges of your own humanity help us see that we are all murky  - and we all have light.

We all have the key that unlocks our genius. Maybe it was buried years ago and now you need to dig for it. Maybe you tossed it into a hydrangea bush and walked away. Maybe you just need to try your key in a new door.

Spoiler alert: the key to our art is the key to ourselves, and the key to ourselves is the key to our art. 

If you’re willing to pull out the demons hiding behind your rib cage and the gremlins creeping about your skull, you will find your key. It’s not always easy, it’s certainly not always fun, but I promise you  -  if you keep moving, keep taking care of yourself, keep creating, and keep digging into the messy bits of your life and soul  -  it will get fun.

 

Rooting in Words

Amber Adrian

One of my favorite ways of grounding myself when I’m flailing or disconnected from my body is to look at what’s in front of me.

Pumpkin, left over from the season of squash. Paper crane, folded out of a brightly colored napkin by my aunt and placed on my plate at Thanksgiving. Wooden box filled with essential oils. Crystals in a blue bowl. Candles in seasonally-appropriate scents. Tiny pinecones, given to me by a six-year-old who assured me they were magic. Giraffe in full lotus hanging from a silver tree. Framed print of the last Calvin & Hobbes cartoon ever drawn, the one I read to my Dad when he was dying, given to me by my boyfriend last Christmas.

Deep breath in, oxygen out. My face, pale in the light of the glowing screen, reflected in the window before me. Flame flickering, warm and golden, in a room at dusk.

Today has been rough. A lot of emotion - sadness, grief - has been appearing out of seemingly nowhere. That happens sometimes. Stuff collects without release, or something old decides to have one last hurrah before exploding in a shower of sparks. I don’t know and I don’t need to know.

But I do need to write, because I haven’t written regularly in a long time and it’s time to jump back in. It’s been a year of transition and transformation, one of grief and of joy. I don’t have many of my stories written, because I was busy with other things. But, as a writer, I can’t let myself be busy with other things for too long or the overflow begins to rise to dangerously tsunami-like levels.

Writers need to write.

We write to clear, connect, create, share. We write to put words to what’s swirling around inside us, even when the words don’t come or sound disconnected and discombobulated, as I suspect these do.

What is in me that still needs to come out? I don’t know. But I’m hoping that if I sit down to the writing every day in December, I’ll find out. 

Welcome to the Yule (B)log! I’ll be posting every (week) day in December because daily blogging is one of my favorite ways to jump back into writing after a hiatus - it slices through perfectionism and allows me to capture moments I wouldn’t otherwise. 

A Love Letter To Writers

Amber Adrian

Dear Writers, 

The world needs you desperately.

Your words matter. It may feel like you’re just sitting in a chair, clacking away at your laptop, but you are doing more than you will ever know. You are changing lives. You are shifting energy — yours and that of your readers. You are offering hope where there was none. You are a spark where darkness once reigned. Your stories offer relief and your ideas offer wisdom and your willingness to shine a flashlight on the murkiest edges of your humanity shows us that we are all murky — and we all have light.

Your life and your work and your art are required — now more than ever. Your writing matters deeply to the quiet souls who will never reach out to you, because they’re clinging to your sentences like life rafts. Your writing matters to those who do reach out but are less kind than your tender artistic soul might hope, because they’re so lost in their own misery they don’t see the beacon you’re shining for what it is — until many years later when something you once penned comes to them in a broken moment and offers a crack of illumination to their midnight. Your words matter to the friends and family and readers who adore you, both for yourself and for the words you give them for experiences they can’t explain. You bring hope, connection, healing, and light to those who can’t always find it for themselves.

Your words matter. If something is hiding in you that you’ve been longing to type out for others, then you are a writer — whether you have five readers or five million. And you have genius.

Don’t be alarmed by the word “genius.” Throwing that word around can be a trigger. Utter the g-word and every brain gremlin that ever assembled around your frontal lobe to cackle over your perceived failures and missed targets shows up with pitchforks to spear you. Roasting you over the flame, they howl so loudly that the voice of your wiser self — the one who knows you cannot fail, that you are whole, that you have worlds to offer — is drowned out.

But genius you are. Because you are here, because you have lived and you have stories and heartbreak and a command of words to illuminate what others can only feel. But if you’re not feeling your own genius right at this very moment, let me give you a spark.

{Strikes match.}

See that small light, right here in front of you?

It’s faith.

Faith that I will hold for you until you can hold it for yourself.

Follow this small light.

As you do, trust that other sparks will appear — sometimes off in the distance but often right in front of you.

Follow those small lights, those small sparks, and you will get where you need and want to go.

You will find your path.

And realize you’ve been on it all along.

I truly — madly, deeply, right-down-to-my-very-soul — believe you are here right now, reading these words, because you are a genius. Deeply gifted and full of potential and bright love tempered by messy humanity. You love what you do, you feel compelled and pulled and drawn by something you rarely understand — and you are so deeply needed in this world.

I’ve become obsessed with helping other writers (and artists and creators and makers and dreamer-doers) because I believe that together we can help each other learn our secrets — the secrets of our stories, our souls, our own innate wisdom. I’ve logged many years and many miles down this path but, as we all know, that path never ends. It’s always stretching out before us, ready to show us something new, something surprising. In one twist the path can shatter our world. But as we move down the next curve, our world is set to rights and our faith restored.

Sometimes with just one small match.

We all have the key that unlocks our genius. Maybe it was buried years ago and now we need to dig for it. Maybe we tossed into a hydrangea bush and walked away for awhile. Maybe you just need to try your key in a new door.

The key to our art is the key to ourselves. The key to ourselves is the key to our art.

In my experience, the key to life is simply feeling better. However we can from where ever we are. Learning how to feel better peels away the layers and shows us new doors and reminds us where that damn hydrangea bush is.

Art is meant to help people sob to their favorite country song or watch a movie and hope or read a story that gives them courage to confront what feels insurmountable. Artists make that stuff to help the world feel better. But artists need help feeling better too.

I want to help you to feel better — about yourself, your art, your path through the world, and the progress you’re making.

As we begin recognizing ourselves as the whole, loved, and profoundly human beings we are, we watch our writing soar. We write the pieces of our lives and souls that we long to write — and we help shift the world. Because that’s what writing can do if you’re willing to know yourself, dig deep into your soul, pull out the demons hiding in your rib cage and the gremlins creeping about your skull. It’s not always easy, it’s certainly not always fun, but I promise you — if you keep moving, keep taking care of yourself, keep creating, and keep digging into the messy bits of your life and soul — it will get fun.

Instead of constantly pushing, you’ll feel pulled. Instead of wondering what’s next or what do I do now or how do I do it — you’ll allow your intuition and a deep sense of quiet knowing to guide you. And it will feel right and propel you farther and faster than you would’ve dreamed possible.

This is my vision for us and I would love to hold it for you. Until you’re ready to hold it for yourself — and for others. Or, if you’ve been doing the holding — for so many people, for so long — let me pick it up and carry it for awhile. You’ve been pushing that boulder up the hill for long enough. It’s time to let it crest the hill and be swept up in the joy that comes from chasing that boulder, laughing as it picks up speed, careening through grassy knolls and ancient redwoods and past startled elephants. As we’re pulled by the work we’re here to do, we find the peace that comes from claiming the path we know is ours.

Love and all the matches I have,

Amber

Where Money and Emotion Tango

Amber

So many of our human issues are tied up in money. Both on a global scale and on a deeply personal one. Money in and of itself is a neutral force. But money easily absorbs whatever emotions we want to plaster on top of it. Money represents so much to us - love, power, success, freedom. Any one of us can have any one of these things without money, but we throw money up as a barrier to what we want. I know I sure do.

My tendency to under earn throughout my adult life has affected my self-esteem and my belief in my talent and my success. At times, to an unreasonable degree. Lots of people slam face first into this particular brick wall - especially artists.

When tying my self-worth up in my belief that lack of money equals lack of talent, I also had to admit that I never really invested in myself or in the kind of writing I truly want to do. Sure, you don't necessarily need money to do this, but you do need energy. To be fair, much of my work over the past five years was to get me to the point where I felt like I could invest in myself this way. I've been blogging for almost ten years. I wrote stories I cared about. I used words to preserve pieces of myself and my history. I did my best to adjust my lifestyle so that my energy was solid and my sensitivities managed. When I hit rock bottom, I did what I could to lurch upward. When I hit rock bottom again, I flailed and then I found help in the upward lurch. Some writers need writing to find themselves, some writers need to find themselves before they can truly write. I needed both. Not that we are ever found, of course, that's kind of a dumb phrase. We're always here, but maybe we're buried. Or we've slipped away from ourselves, our intuition, our deep knowing of who we are and what we're here to do.

I spent a lot of my thirties hunting for myself, digging through the layers until I found my center. Then I lost my center, found it,  lost it, then I found it again. So it goes with center-finding. Balance is never rock solid, it's always at the mercy of the wind. Until you realize that the wind can't blow you any farther than you choose to go.

But one of the things I still struggle with is money. Lucky for me, now I can struggle with money while actually having some. When my dad died, he left $40,000 buried in the woods (true story) and a piece of property that we decided to sell. Buried treasure doesn't last long when you have hospital bills and mortuaries to pay, but the property sale helped me get to the place where I always believed I should be at this age. Namely, solvent.

Some of me felt guilty that it took a parent dying to get me there. Sometimes it felt like blood money, but most of me didn't feel that bad about that. I was perfectly willing to look at it as a paycheck for dealing with the pain, anguish, stress, grief, and crazy details of death more or less gracefully. (Mostly less.) What I felt guilty about was that the money made so much of a difference to me. Shouldn't I have gotten there on my own? Shouldn't I have figured out money by my mid-30s? Shouldn't I have been more frugal? A parent's death shouldn't be a get-out-of-debt-free card. Maybe yes, maybe no. But spiritual counter-arguments of the "we all have our own paths and timelines" persuasion fall on deaf ears when you're eager to feel terrible about yourself.

Money guilt, even though I'm not in the same dire $257-away-from-being-flat-broke straits as I once was, still rears its goblin head to stick out its tongue at me. Especially when I choose not to earn it.

A few months ago, I did a scary thing. When my last two big freelance contracts ended at almost precisely the same time, rather than engage in my usual six stages of coping - panic, worry, panic again, get over it, write things that excite me for awhile, hunt for a new client, find a new client - I opted to skip the panic part.

Instead, I decided to buy myself two months to write what I wanted to write, to work on projects that fed me rather than drained me, to both invest deeply in work I want to do and take the adult's version of summer vacation. Three days after I made the decision, I finished my book of animal stories. Vindication! My choice was the right one! Tainted by only the smallest amount of guilt. Yes, part of the deal of buying myself two months of writing was that I wasn't allowed to feel bad about it, but the gremlins devour good intentions like candy corn. Then a few weeks later, my channeled blog was born. Now I'm creating some stuff for writers who want to learn how to use their intuition to make the whole process of writing easier and more fun and hopefully more likely to wow the world with their mad genius. (Do you know any writers who'd be into this? Send 'em my way! Are you a writer who'd be into this?) It's fun and I love it and now I get to love rather than dread sitting down to work.

But now I'm at the end of my two months. I deeply want to keep investing in my own work and I do have the means to do it, but the Real Adults Make Money (Preferably Lots of Money) belief is tough to elude. So are the gremlins of "this is self-indulgent" and "who are you to think you can make money doing what you actually want to do?" and the "lucky you, you certainly couldn't do this if you had a family to take care of!" All I can do is confront them head on and decide what's truly important to me. While doing my best to untangle my own issues around money and trust in myself and my abilities.

My issues with money are mostly just my issues with myself - where I don't trust myself, where I don't trust my work, where I don't trust the world. But trust is a muscle. All you can do is lean on it and hope it grows stronger.

Ask For a Sign and You'll Get One

Amber

Turns out, I'm not going to live forever. It also happens that if I want children, my childless days will be coming to a rapid halt in the very near future. I'll be 37 in July, guys. Which gives me a rather short span of time to do everything I want to do ever before kids muck it all up. So in the next year or two, I need to have many amazing adventures, spend a month in Bali and France, learn how to earn a lot of money while also having plenty of time to hang out with babies, and, I dunno, buy a house or something. It's a hefty to-do list. What does a person do when they suddenly realize they don't have forever to do all the things they want in life? If you're me, you decide to devote yourself wholeheartedly to writing animal stories, and pretending you have answers on youtube. Because animal stories are obviously the way to get to Bali and also have plenty of money to pay for babies. Cough.

I'm forging a path that doesn't necessarily make good, common sense. Do I believe it's possible to have what I truly want in life? Absolutely. Do I have any idea how to do it? Nope. But to build the life you want, one that doesn't necessarily look like everyone else's, you have to listen to yourself. You have to get really clear on what you truly want to do, what you truly have to offer, and offer it up in the best way you can in that moment. 

I have anywhere from one to three years to make a lot of things happen for myself before it's baby go-time. It feels more possible than ever, but only if I follow my intuition. Because that's the only thing that can tell me how to get where I really want to go. 

I literally wrote the book on freelance writing (fine, one of the many books on freelance writing), but I've started to realize that freelance writing isn't actually what I want to do. I don't want to write for other publications, I don't want to hustle, I don't want to pitch. It exhausts and drains me and it's taken me fifteen years to admit that. In Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield talks about shadow careers, about career paths that resemble what you want to do but are really just a form of resistance. I've been resisting what I actually want to do for a decade and a half now. In many ways, I do love freelance writing. I love talking to people about their jobs and their passions and their businesses and I love writing about burlesque dancers and chefs and mountain climbers and canny CEOS. And I will happily continue to do it until what I actually want to do begins to make sense in the real world.

Here's the paradox: In order for writing animal stories to make sense as a career choice in the real world, I have to abandon the real world. I have to allow myself to dream in a way that felt foreign even just a few months ago. Because I want to be an artist - yes, a writer, but not a writer in any of its more professional, practical forms. I want to write ridiculous stories about talking raccoons who wear cravats and go on adventures. I want to channel for people, something that I still have trouble saying out loud because what?

Owning what you really want isn't always easy, especially when what you really want wouldn't make sense to most people you pass on the street. But that just makes it even more essential that you do it. We need the strange and unconventional and creative in this world now more than ever. Because if we keep doing it the way we've always done, we'll keep getting what we've always gotten.

Last week, we drove along the coast of California until we hit Esalen in Big Sur. When we pulled up to the gate, they handed us a key that sent us here:

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photo-6

Sometimes the universe sends you a literal and unmissable sign, and that sign says, "Go right ahead and be an artist, you irrepressible hippie, you." And so I shall.

Because When You Stop Being Utterly Fascinated By Your Own Life You Have To Find Some Other Way To Occupy Your Time

Amber

The more interesting my life gets, the less compelled I feel to write about it. This is new for me, because writing about my life used to be my favorite thing. Mostly because it was how I figured out myself and my world. Either I've gotten speedier at diagnosing the misalignment of my internal cogs or I've stopped caring. But since I love writing, when I stopped being super intrigued by myself, I had to write about something else. So my inner world spit forth a tiny British town full of nattily-dressed raccoons, scone-baking dormice, world-weary lemurs, and not-so-clever foxes. Since I also love this blog and wanted to share, I posted my first raccoon story with zero explanation or introduction, which led one person to wonder if it was some extended animal metaphor for my life. (It was not, though I dearly wish it was.) I presume it lead everyone else who read more than a paragraph to scratch their heads and wonder what sort of illegal substances I've gotten into this time. (None, surprisingly.)

I've written about nine of these animal stories and don't seem to be stopping, so I may keep sharing them here. Or I may not. For everything is subject to my whim and that's the way I like it. It seems to be shaping into a series of stories for kids in the six to ten range, so if you have one of those and think they might like reading/hearing about raccoons and displaced giraffes, let me know and I will send you chapters as I finish them.

My other project has been creating a youtube series with my friend Ben. He's an official licensed-in-the-state-of-California therapist. I'm not licensed to do anything in the state of California except drive and even that seems a bit questionable at times. But if you spend a great deal of your life trying to figure yourself and the world out, you end up with a lot of opinions. So we turned on the camera and started talking about things like making friends and rejection and finding your life purpose.

Someone called it Car Talk for Therapists, which tickled the hell out of me because I always loved Car Talk. I couldn't care less about cars, but they always sounded like they were having so much fun. That's sort of what we're hoping will happen with this - we find ourselves very entertaining, thank you - but we're still experimenting. The videos are here, if you're interested. Now that we've made a bunch of them, we're looking for ways to make them as fun and useful as possible. Suggestions and heckling welcome. 

Dreams Deferred

Amber

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When someone dies, they leave behind a lot of stuff. Emotional stuff, yes, but also a shed full of thirty-year-old gardening magazines. To the best of my knowledge, the only time my father ever tried to grow anything was when he bought and planted a rosebush. His definition of gardening was building an electric fence around his flowers to keep the deer from chewing on them. An electric fence seems like overkill, but given that he peered out his front window one night and found a mountain lion on his porch gnawing on a deer haunch, maybe it was warranted.

At least the lion avoided the roses.

Dad lived up in the Santa Cruz mountains, miles down a dirt road, on ten acres of land that includes redwoods and a stream. Not bad, if you like that kind of thing. I remember lying in a hammock strung between two redwoods and reading Calvin & Hobbes in the sun. I would go stone hopping along the creek, followed by one of Dad's more adventurous cats.

Going through his stuff after he died, I began to fully understand some of our shared character traits. Dad had tons of educational materials he bought and never opened. So do I. He thought about writing a novel for years - we talked about it and he had copious and carefully organized plot notes. As far as I can tell, he died before he wrote the first chapter.

It's a form of resistance. You take the first step and then you drag your feet on taking the second step - sometimes for years. But what I've learned since is that you can always make a new choice. Just because Dad didn't ever start his novel doesn't mean I won't ever finish mine. Just because he never cracked open his audio courses on world religions doesn't mean I have to go to my grave having never finished reading my copy of Die Empty. It's easy to get lost in the comforting warmth of familial bonds, but his choices do not have to be mine. His struggles don't have to dictate my eagerness to build and create and learn.

Dad loved fantasy and science fiction. Sick to death of endless recitations of Goodnight Moon, he read me The Hobbit when I was three years old. I'd sit on the couch next to him with my sippy cup and security blanket and absorb tales of trolls and wizards and rings of power. He had vast bookshelves of the stuff and spent years upon years developing ideas for his own series without ever putting a word to paper.

He left behind a lot of stuff. My question is, what did he take with him?

Stephenie Meyer says her Twilight series came to her in a dream, and she transcribed her world of glittering vampires and adolescent fantasy onto paper and sold millions upon millions of copies. I like to think that will happen to Dad in his next life. That he'll wake up one morning and the plot line he spent years upon years developing in this life will burst into his brain fully formed, and all he'll have to do is copy it down. So maybe the work of this life won't be lost.

If you want to extrapolate wild theories based on a belief in reincarnation and soul memory, this could explain people like Mozart. You spend years, decades, lifetimes learning the rules, practicing the notes, playing the scales. Maybe you spend three deeply aggravating lifetimes being on of those people who tries and tries and never quite make it - and then you get born Adele and win Grammies and Oscars in your early 20s, after making the whole world shake with your music. I don't know. But I like to think that's possible and that my dad will get to see his work in print, even if the author plate holds a different name and picture.

Isn't that a nice thought? That even if you die without fulfilling a dream, all your work of this life could pay off in the next. Maybe nothing is wasted. So if you love something, do it. If you're bad at it, who cares? Even if you haven't the slightest hint of talent, practice as hard as you can. Maybe it will pay off two hundred years from now when you look completely different and have a license for a flying car. Maybe I should keep singing in the shower. Just because I sound like a choking alley cat doesn't mean that a few rounds from now I won't be Taylor Swift.

I like to think that maybe my dad will be born into another body in ten, twenty, fifty years and he'll want to be a writer, and that plot and world that he spent decades of this life developing and dreaming and researching will come to him, fully formed, like it was coming from another time or place. Maybe he won't understand it but he'll trust it and run with it. And the book he wanted to write in this life will be written in his next.

Dream + Real World = Trust

Amber

In my perfect world, the world I'd like to create for myself because I am an almighty god person who can mold her environment to her every whim, I get to spend all my work hours writing about things that mean something to me. And "all my work hours" cap out at about three or four hours a day.  All the hours that come after that get to be spent picking cherries in a sunlit orchard or something. My time is mostly spent having adventures with my favorite people and taking care of my family, including one or two moderately well-behaved children. Living life, then turning around and writing about it.

What trips me up is what I think I need to get this life. As I dive into the How To Make Amber's Dream a Real World Thing, I enter an uncomfortable space. To get a book published you need x, where x = brilliant idea or ready-made audience of a hundred thousand or some unspecified brand of magic. To get an essay published somewhere people have heard of, you need to have a book published. To make money at any of this you have to be a wizard of many disciplines, and my brain has mastered only whimsy and baby animals. I build up insurmountable roadblocks in my head until I wind up going in aimless circles.

I don't have a clear roadmap and that makes me uncomfortable. Even with roadmaps, I tend to get lost. Even the omniscient voice of the GPS deity can't account for every variable and all it takes is one off-kilter message to send me twenty minutes out of my way on a ten minute trip.

What I want to do comes from a good place - writing brings me joy and helps me learn more about myself in the world. I want my writing to help me feel more love - for myself, my people, and the world; and I hope it does so for others as well.  I want to transcribe my soul so that maybe people can learn to see theirs in a new way. It's a little grandiose, but hey, if you don't hand yourself a purpose, who will?

I don't like posting this. I don't feel comfortable saying, "I want to be published. I want to write books that sell to a lot of people. No, more people than that. Just go ahead and double the most outrageous number you can think of. That's what I want. So I can write a few hours a day and spend the rest of my time with my family." Because to this day - despite my belief that if you really want something, you have the capacity to get it, despite what I would say to anyone else who approached me with this problem - I still think, "Who am I to want that? Who am I to think about getting that, when so many other people want that too?"

When I think about Publishing and Audience Building and All The Things You Need To Make That Life Happen, I just want to open my closet door, arrange my shoes and sweaters into a nest, and curl up in the dark for a week or two. I stop writing and start focusing on what I think I need to do in order to write. Which doesn't make any sense.

So I have to trust. Trust that my work will find its people and its place. Trust that I can live the way I want to live and spend my time doing what I want to do. When I twist it up in my head because I don't know how to make it happen and spend my time worrying and not doing, I learn what trust is. Trusting that the path leads where I want it to go even though I don't know what that path looks like.

What I want is actually contained in a very simple process - create and share. Create and share. Write, finish, ship, repeat. No matter what the fear in my head sounds like, the answer remains the same. Meaning, the more I write and the less I tangle myself up in what it feels like I have to do, the happier I am. Because writing is all I ever wanted to do in the first place.

Freelance Writing: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It

Amber

One of the things I've been lucky enough to do in my life is flit around the globe like a wandering gnat, parking myself in Costa Rica or Amsterdam for long enough to learn that I probably shouldn't drive anywhere south of San Diego. When people ask how I do that, I reply, "Because my laptop is my office." Living in the digital age is sweet - and if you like to write and don't mind hustling, you can make a pretty good living from anywhere with internet access. (I love writing, I love traveling, I hate hustling. Two out of three isn't bad.)

But when Chris Guillebeau asked if I'd be interested in creating something on freelance writing for his series of unconventional guides, I said, "YES, PLEASE, ABSOLUTELY" - while feeling like a complete and utter fraud. Every single reason why I shouldn't be the one to write this guide filtered through my brain. Do I know every step of the process for living this life? Yes. Do I know how to talk to other people who have deeper insight into each piece of that process? Yes. Do I still have a brain that is ready and willing to give me a complete and seemingly accurate list of why I shouldn't be the one to do this? Yup.

Any time you push your boundaries, there will be growing pains. The key is to dig deep, understand what you bring to the table - and effing bring it. If you have the desire to be a freelance writer, you can do it. You aren't given the desire without also being given the aptitude. So if this is something you've ever wanted to try, I encourage you to start. Start today. Whether you use this guide we just spent six months creating or by pulling up the google search bar and getting lucky - just begin. Anywhere. Because if you want to do it, you can do it. Sure, you may feel like a bit of a fraud, especially at the beginning. We all feel like frauds sometimes. Even those of us who've been doing it for years. You just have to keep pushing.

If you ever have questions, feel free to email me. I may have an answer for you, I may not. But if writing is something you want to do with your life, I will share anything I've got with you. Writing can be a lonely road sometimes - and we should stick together. Because it's when you find your people that the road starts to get fun.