Write with Momentum, featuring an assist from Dr. John E. Crean, Jr.

 

(Above image: Late 12-century illustration from the “Lives of St. Cuthbert.”)

Watching a momentum swing is one of the most exciting things we witness in sports. Here’s the classic scenario: Team B is losing, struggling to close a widening scoring gap, until its star sinks an impossible half-court basket; or a utility player off the bench hits a home run; or the aging fútbol player stabs the back of the net with a showy bicycle kick. The fans go crazy; the rush of adrenaline on the court, the field, or the pitch is palpable. Inevitably, the commentator notes that momentum has swung from Team A to Team B, which is now racking up points. As Team B’s play synchronizes, serendipity follows. Shots that were bouncing off the rim earlier are now falling in, or the bottom of the lineup is hitting like Babe Ruth.

It’s like magic! Except that it’s not magic.

How, you may ask, how does team momentum relate to the decidedly solo craft of writing?

First, let’s deconstruct and expand the concept of momentum.

Consider Isaac Newton’s Law of Inertia: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Let’s rephrase that. “A writer who’s not writing tends to avoid writing and a writer who is writing tends to keep writing unless they get distracted by Facebook.” Am I wrong?

Inertia, or the lack of motion, and expanded in this case to include the craft of writing, arises when foibles like fear, (sometimes called writer’s block), discouragement, sloth (not to disparage an adorable animal), distractibility, an unclear vision, or a lack of passion about a subject numbs the writer.

The joy of writing resides inside momentum. Moment-um, the state of writing wholly in the moment, eliminates most distractions. I’m living proof that multi-tasking kills creativity and brings momentum to a screeching halt.

Discover that fear runs away from unblinking focus.

Discover your authentic self, trusting that who you are today is enough. Write what will replenish your soul. That’s your “zone.” Live there. Then, no “unbalanced force” can change your direction or push you into a coffin of discouragement.

Whenever you’re going about your day and not physically writing, allow your mind to mull over your project’s vision. Day dream about it. You may be surprised as the clarifications rise like cream. Once your purpose is clear and you love your subject, can passion be far behind? And passion fuels momentum’s train. Experience the joy of writing from deep inside your soul.

Last, but not least, if you’re sloth-ful, you may be as adorable as the animal, but you’re not a writer. Go directly to Facebook. Now. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $100.

In truth, we are not alone as writers. We do have a team around us, intangible though much of it may be. If the tangible is what you need, fine. Join a writer’s group, write in the park while children play, or toss ideas around with a literary buddy. Whatever works for you.

But consider this: everything you’ve ever thought about, dreamed of, or experienced is infused in your heart. Your teammates are everyone you’ve ever met.

If you practice your craft consistently, with discipline, you too, will possess the ability to “play” above your everyday level. You will break out of a slump and create that spark, a great writing rebound, and create your own momentum. You can write, flying aloft on the wings of passion. Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity.


As I wrote the above, I became curious about how long time writers sustain their momentum, so I asked scholar and prolific academic author, Ph.D. and The Very Reverend John Crean, Jr., to share his process. He’s a man as kind-hearted as he is learned. I’m deeply grateful that research at the Huntington Library brought us together. His response follows:

My first book was my undergraduate thesis, a compilation of several hundred German proverbs often accompanied by their equivalents in other languages. Lisa’s line, “Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity” was absolutely true for me then as I began my career as a German professor. That passion continued to fuel my work throughout many more years of research, teaching and publication. I was absolutely “crazy” about anything to do with language or culture. In terms of what Lisa was saying, I feel that momentum fuels passion. I remember during one sabbatical leave finishing one manuscript and going right on to the next.

Momentum and passion are key elements for any successful writer. My Ph.D. dissertation director told me to be sure to pick a topic I was absolutely in love with. He told me that by the time I was finished, my love for it would have cooled considerably. He said if I picked something I was lukewarm about, at the end of the project I would hate it—that is if I ever finished it before just giving up.

Now having returned to writing after a hiatus of continual service in the Church, I am again passionate about my writing projects and feel the momentum and the passion in my bones. 

— John E. Crean, Ph.D. — frcrean@saintthomashollywood.org

 

 

Time to de-stress. Down with distress!

I’m formulating a blog on “momentum.” Maybe it’ll get written tomorrow.  But for today, enjoy this wonderful little video. I could feel myself relax as I watched it.

But the toilet is clean!

Let’s see … before settling in to write this blog about distraction, I brushed the dog, checked Facebook, folded some clothes, got a bottle of tea from the fridge, watched the LAPD/CHP performing a low-speed chase of a motor home, (yes, a large, white motor home). Oh, and I cleaned the upstairs toilet.

Unfortunately, my goal today was to write this blog. So why did I complete numerous unrelated, and non-urgent tasks first? Were they really more important than expressing my thoughts – WRITING – which was my original intent, and which best describes my purpose in life?

Worst of all, I’ve known since this morning that resistance was today’s blog topic, and I still fell prey to it.

Resistance is a term used by author Steven Pressfield in his meaningful book, “The War of Art.” Every creative soul should read it. Resistance is deeper than what we normally call procrastination, although they are related. But resistance stems from our inner doubts, our “demons,” our fears and our lack of belief in our talent. It’s easier to avoid writing than to find out that what we’ve written is sub par, so we get distracted. It’s simpler to clean a toilet than to stare at a blank page. It’s simpler to do almost anything than write something that no one finds interesting enough to read and doesn’t hesitate to tell us so.

But what happens when we succumb to resistance? We feel frustrated. Our soul feels constipated. Our heart hurts. We are unfulfilled, because we’ve shut down the very act that gladdens our day, be it writing, painting, building, singing, or whatever kind of creativity has been given to us. To be who we truly are, and to impart what we can best contribute to the world, we must allow our artful expression sufficient priority. The toilet can wait.

 

Why do people write? Why don’t they?

“Impress your personality on him: wear the same perfume every day.” That’s what a teen magazine recommended. I was in junior high school and totally obsessing about a boy. I’d try anything. So I wore the same perfume every day for a month. It didn’t work. Apparently, the boy had to know you existed before the allure of a repetitive fragrance could kick in, and I couldn’t get physically close enough for him to smell it. White Shoulders was heavy on the gardenia anyway. He probably saved himself from choking on a cloying perfume.
Things worsened in high school. When it came time for the Junior Prom, I asked a gay Jehovah’s Witness friend from ballet class to take me. We had fun, actually. He was a good dancer and I certainly didn’t worry about an assault on my virginity.
I wonder what other adolescent agonies I might recall if I’d kept a diary. I tried it for a few months, but I got bored recording things such as who I saw and what I ate for dinner. Hmmm. Perhaps I was just ahead of my time … I should have taken Polaroid photos and shared the banal events with people I didn’t know.
So, although I’ve written most of life, it’s been more along the lines of interviews, speeches, newspaper articles and radio editorials. I don’t journal, although I hear it provides fabulous insight into your life. It just doesn’t call to me. But then, I don’t like yoga, and 95% of the population believes it cures everything. Ha. Nothing cures being a chocoholic, but I might tuck a yoga mat under my arm if I could nibble on a box of See’s candy during the Downward-Facing Dog pose.
Now, after many years of “youth-ening” like Merlin, all I want to do is write. I’m ready. I’ve lived enough life to have something to say and not enough life left to say it all.
What drives people to write? I mean regularly write, and even more so, write something they’re willing to “put out there” for others to read? And why won’t people who have important thoughts to share dare to commit them to paper? Aye, matey, there’s the rub: “putting it out there” is like walking the plank naked. The writer who jumps is prone to drowning in a sea o’ criticism, and the ones who try to hang on without jumping get splinters in their butt. I don’t think I can expound any further than on that metaphor, but it’s a major reason why people don’t write.
And that’s a shame, because writing forces us to open up windows in our minds that have been sealed shut for years. When that happens, we let out the stale thoughts, use the ones that, like honey, don’t spoil, and allow fresh ones to enter. Let’s stop here. Take a moment and think about writing something, anything, today. Think of something that been gnawing at you or inspiring you and write a few lines about it, for the sheer enjoyment of seeing it in print.
We’ll come back to this subject … in the meantime, enjoy looking at a chair in our hotel room on a trip to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I wrote in that chair. Heck, you could make up a whole story about a hotel room chair, if you wanted to.
“Rosebud” was just a sled, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing time and space with authors

I figured that meeting the other authors today on the panel at our city’s library would be interesting. It was that and much more. It was a joy. Each author was uniquely intense in his/her reasons for writing. Each encouraged not only the audience, but each other, to write! I am renewed and more excited than ever to dive into writing my next story, which is set in the 11th century.
Of course, today I was speaking about “Shattered Peacock.” It made me sad to realize how very relevant the Shah’s ousting from Iran remains, especially in light of last night’s bombings in Syria. Sadly, one of the reasons Shah Pahlavi assumed continuing support from the U.S. and Great Britain was because his rule made Iran the only Western-friendly country in the region and provided a safe buffer between us and Russia/USSR. We could use it now.
That reality acknowledged, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about children’s books, mysteries, books about grammar, losing weight, and even a book written for those in hospice care. We have so much to share with each other via the written word. Let’s keep writing in complete sentences. Let’s go light on those emojis! Let’s consider what we write about and how it can uplift rather than hurt. Let’s educate each other and make each other laugh … or cry. What’s important is that as we touch each other’s hearts.

 

 

Author’s Panel at Sierra Madre Library

Why do people choose to write? More importantly, why do people choose NOT to write? It’s something I’ve been pondering and is one aspect I’ll present when I speak this Saturday, April 14, 2018, at the Sierra Madre Library in California’s beautiful San Gabriel Valley. The library is holding an Open House that day with various events. We authors will speak at 11:00 a.m. I’m very curious to hear everyone’s thoughts about writing.

Here are just two of the other authors who will be speaking. Click on their links to see their photos and literary works.

Linda La Roche

Linda has been a grant recipient of the California Commission of the Arts, Multicultural Grant and created, hosted and produced Latino Filmmakers for Charter Cable.

She produced the film, The Trouble with Tonia, starring the late Lupe Ontiveros. The film received recognition from the Whitney Museum in New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It garnered “best film” award in the San Sebastian Film Festival in San Sebastian, Spain. And, she was awarded the Silver Star award as Producer from the Houston International Film Festival. It is also listed in, “Aztlán Film Institute’s Top 100 List,” by Chon A. Noriega.

Marcielle Brandler

Marcielle is a multi-facted writer, as you’ll see on her blog. I’ve chosen to share with you one of Marcielle’s award-winning poems.


Eden
I startled my mother in the blazing
hallway, her breasts an exotic gift
my lips had never suckled. It was
an accident we met. Never before
had I beheld anyone naked. My sisters
told me of the times they had watched
her. I imagine my mother lifting
herself from the forgiving floral suds
of her bath. This secret time I had
never visualized until now. She glides
on her hose, attaching them with
little posy snaps, and perfumes
herself in her personal
scent. Slithering into her
strapless cocktail dress, her
shoulders glowing, she fluffs up
her hair like a delicate fern,
then entwines the glittering
necklace and presses on the blossom
lipstick which my father will kiss
from her mouth before they
lie down in the room where only they
may sleep. What are these angry wings
barring me from her garden? I remember
the last time she bathed me. I was
five and embarrassed. I turned away,
and she left me in my
unscented water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hung Up – Women Who Will Live Forever

As I’ve gone through my art books in preparation to move, hoping to lighten the load, I’ve found my art books impossible to give away. The movers will simply have to load a few extra heavy boxes filled with hard bound art books onto the moving van.

Please don’t tell me that these paintings are available online. I know they are. The colors and the replication of the brush strokes are better online. I know they are. One can make the paintings larger to better see details online. Yes, I know! Yes, I know and I do go online. But I grew up looking at art books, with pages to dog ear and paper to trace my finger across. The very holding of the heavy book gives the artwork gravitas, approximating a framed painting: flip the page, smooth the bulge rising near the binding, run your finger down and around the shapes on the page. It’s wonderfully tactile, especially since the museums frown on visitors tracing shapes on paintings hung up on their walls.

Which brings me to the women who will live forever because they’re “hung up” somewhere in a museum. There’s every kind of woman on those walls: saintly women, the holiest of all women (that would be Mary – there are a whole lot of her), other biblical characters, socialites, accomplished women, prostitutes, can can dancers, ballet soloists, hat makers, laborers, drunks, sisters, wives and mothers. They’re all a part of every woman and we are a part of them because witnessing their visages hanging in a gallery binds us and allows them to seep into our self-image. As women, we really can’t “unsee” their influence on us.

IMG_7187

And men? Surely they experience something similar. Perhaps that’s where they learn to crave that Madonna/prostitute trait in their women. Certainly film and television and social media mold our perceptions of sexuality as well, but not in same part of the brain, I think. Paintings force us to embrace the painter as well as the painting and the women painted. Seeing them in person is unique and will always have the strongest impact, but I can vouch for absorbing good printed reproductions in childhood as coming in second!

The Van Gogh painting above is incorporated into the many years I studied the piano. I ceased taking lessons in high school to sing and dance, but in my dotage, I have gone back to practicing my scales, which feels meditative now. I wonder if this woman did the same thing? Her fingers are not showing proper position, like she hasn’t played for a while. Or maybe she has arthritis now. She definitely is playing for herself, and not performing. Like me.

Painting Degas dancer

How many times did Edgar Degas paint ballet dancers? He often painted them at class in the Paris Opera studio, but this dancer (detail shown) is onstage, with the footlights bouncing across the bone structure of her face, her brown bangs so very French, and wearing a costume cut low enough to show cleavage, a slightly lascivious touch, but one that Degas barely suggests. This may be a dress rehearsal, because, really, what are those dancers in the back doing? I love the way Degas’ yellow pastel streaks on her tutu suggest movement, as she reaches out to the audience, dancing precariously at the stage’s edge.

Growing up, I always had small Degas prints in my bedroom. I danced in two small, regional ballet companies throughout high school. I think if I’d tried harder, I’d have been a better ballet dancer, but it served me well in musical theater. I can still feel which muscles ballerinas are utilizing when I watch them dance. Sometimes I twitch involuntarily, which makes me laugh and feel a touch sad at the same time.

 

… to be continued, in direct relationship to inspiration …

 

 

The Art of the Book

We are moving. Not by choice, but because of the needs of our landlady. Her chagrin was obvious, removing anger as a rational reaction to the news. We are simply moving. We don’t know where, yet – not the city and not even the state. I would even include country, if I could throw Italy into the hat as an option. Alas, I’m in a minority of one.

Moving presents the valuable but painful opportunity to sweep away the mounds of clutter that accumulate in our closets, garages and on bookcases. I began going through my books first without even thinking, probably because subconsciously I knew that they would be the second most difficult possessions to purge, the first being piles of memorabilia from school and career, items that make my life appear like an unbroken chain of successes, because why would I save reminders of the many failures? Those are seared into my brain’s hard drive – with charbroiled lines underscoring my mistakes. But the successes, which shouldn’t, but do have meaning for me, will carry less meaning for our son, even less for our grandson and little for the generations that follow. Still …

But books can be timeless, like the 1881 Little Flock Hymnal, the old Winnie the Pooh edition, the dictionary my father gave me when I left for college, and the art books – internet images be damned – those should hold their valuable for future generations possessing a modicum of sensitivity.

When I was young, I poured over my paternal grandmother’s slim art volume with the fleur-di-lis cardboard cover. I’m not sure if the “fleur” were French or Italian, because in those days I was unaware of the difference. But I was entranced by the European art inside and very curious about what held up those fig leaves. Fifteen years ago I asked my mother if I could please have the book. “Oh, we got rid of that a long time ago,” she said. How cavalier she was about it! Some people lack sentiment.

As an art museum rat, my whiskers twitch to visit the originals of paintings I’ve admired only in books and to marvel at the way the brush strokes and hues leap from the canvas in a manner impossible in print. The books refresh my memory of the paintings I’ve experienced in person. I’ve swooned in museums from the Louvre and the Uffizi to the Norton Simon and the Nelson Atkins.

As I lined some of them up for the photo above, I was struck by the varying manner in which women were portrayed. More about them soon.

Next – Hung Up: The Women Who Will Live Forever

 

Review of “A Dying King”

The untimely death of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1980 at the age of 60 caused a political tsunami: thirty-eight years later, the world still flounders, trying to control its political ramifications. Where Western countries once enjoyed a friendly ruler, today’s Iran has a nuclear program and is a known state sponsor of terrorism. The chain of events leading to the Iranian shah’s political fall and his death is examined in a moving documentary by first time filmmaker, Bobak Kalhor.

 

“A Dying King: How One Man’s Death Changed the Course of History,” directed, written and narrated in a straightforward and unadorned style by Kalhor, asks the viewer to pay attention while he considers his subject from political, social, economic, medical viewpoints. Meticulously researched, the documentary recently had truncated November runs in New York and Los Angeles and now heads to Europe. DVD’s are not far behind. The film is worth waiting for: spending seven years on the project, Kalhor has collated a wealth of archival footage as well as shooting fresh interviews in assembling never-before-told details of a medical travesty while documenting an important slice of history.

 

One can’t help but notice the absence of input from still-living Pahlavi family members, and while it’s a gaping hole, Kalhor notes that he approached the family three times, trying to earn their participation. In the end, their reticence to contribute likely results from decades of carrying the weight of  unnecessary pain.

 

The documentary opens with a slightly dry recapping of the Peacock Throne’s origin in 1925, when Mohammed Reza’s father, Reza Shah, is placed on the throne with assists from the United States and Great Britain, whose support is influenced by their thirst for the country’s oil.

 

Kalhor then unspools Mohammed Reza Shah’s rise to the throne at the age of 21 – and his evolving relations to the West, his efforts to reposition Iran on the world stage, his successful bid to improve Iran’s literacy, his imperial-sized ego and his stubborn naiveté, which exposes him to manipulation by the very world leaders he’s certain are friends.

 

The film’s pacing surges after the shah falls ill and the fog of intrigue envelops his world. He struggles to hold onto the Peacock Throne amidst a blur of indecision, lies, false shows of support from the United States and Great Britain and the malpractice of his own doctors.

 

Concluding that the shah now has become a liability, President Jimmy Carter pulls the Persian rug out from under him, indirectly advising the king to take “a long vacation.” On January 16, 1979, Shah Pahlavi pilots his own plane out of Iran, to Egypt, where President Anwar Sadat welcomes him; however, not wanting to impose on the Egyptian leader, the shah and the queen stay but six days before departing for Morocco. President Carter privately considers a U.S. supported military coup to fill the vacuum that will be created by the shah’s departure. But Carter erroneously decides that the Ayatollah Khomeini will continue to protect American assets if he is returned from exile in Paris.

 

Even as the shah begins his 19-month-long circuitous journey toward death, U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan secretly engages in negotiations with Khomeini’s representatives for the Ayatollah’s return. Thus the once powerful Mohammed Reza not only is a man without a country, he is the globe’s hot potato, politically toxic and with barely a friend, except for Sadat.

 

As the noose tightens around the shah’s life, “A Dying King” becomes as horrifying as it is lean-forward in-your-seat-fascinating. The shah and family members bounce from Morocco to the Bahamas; then to Mexico; finally to the United States, then to Panama and finally back to Egypt, where Shah Pahlavi dies.

 

This final section of the film is a well-woven tapestry of medical experts connecting the dots to draw a disturbing, ludicrous picture of the shah’s medical treatment. Pahlavi has endured disjointed treatment in several countries and is misdiagnosed more than once. Besides his cancer, he has gallstones and his spleen urgently needs to be removed.

 

“… Because there were too many doctors, too many interpretations, (the shah) endured much too much for too long,” states Leon Morgenstern, MD, Professor Emeritus and Chief of Surgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles; Splenic Surgeon Specialist and author of “The Shah’s Spleen.”

 

While in Panama and again in Egypt, and despite highly qualified local splenic specialists, American Michael DeBakey, a renowned cardiovascular surgeon and physician to celebrities, is flown in to do the surgery.

 

Iraj Shaham, DeBakey’s assistant and anesthesiologist in Houston, Texas, shares his reaction to DeBakey’s selection: “The first thing I say, (sic) is ‘Why God they chose (sic) him? He’s not the man for this procedure.” Shaham is correct: DeBakey badly botches the surgery and the shah becomes desperately ill. As his health deteriorates, so too, do relations between Revolutionary Iran and the U.S., with the hostage taking of the American embassy’s staff.

 

Jorge Cervantes, MD, a General Surgeon at American-British Cowdray Hospital in Mexico and a U.S. State Department Medical Advisor, who treated the shah in Mexico, sums it up: “The whole thing is a book of malpractice, from the point of view of Hemotology, Oncology, surgery, handling the complications …”

 

Politically, the world is still very much “handling the complications …”

Artwork and poster – RealEye Design Studio

 

Your personal story – the book signing

November 12, 2017: the book signing for “Shattered Peacock,” about life during the fall of the Shah of Iran, and there I am, standing between two lovely friends, Kathy Ganino and Bob Singleton. I’m struck by how many stories are evident in this one photograph.

Look at the striking floral arrangement in the foreground, created by Amy of Le Jardin Prive. She gets up at the crack of dawn to select the perfect flowers for her creations. She uses no “fillers,” no baby’s breath, no carnations or what have you – only the flowers that clearly state her intention. I think that’s a pretty good life lesson: I’m going to avoid adding fillers to the bouquets of my life. Instead, I’ll strive to impart my intentions clearly, with color and beauty.

Behind the flowers are a few of my books. What drove me to write “Shattered Peacock?” Why write about 1979 Iran? Well, I felt compelled to write it on some level. The subject is ultimately universal and examining what happens to people under extraordinary situations is a way to observe history and human behavior using a fresh perspective. Interestingly, much of the book was written while I was undergoing chemotherapy, a time during which I allowed myself to stop and write. Perhaps we need to give ourselves permission to use our talents without needing illness as an excuse?

Now to Kathy and Bob. We attend the same church. Kathy is deeply, deeply involved in various ministries of our parish. She spreads love around like butter on toast. You can’t help but smile when you see her, even though she’s faced her challenges in life. Same thing with Bob. Every one of us gets wet in the rain, but Bob just keeps playing his music all over town. Now he’s fundraising to bring music to schools that have had their music programs cut. Just because he cares.

 

On the wall behind Bob is one of Nan Rae’s spectacular Chinese brush paintings, because we’re in her art studio. Nan is exhibited internationally. She’s been consulted by Disney animators. Her art has been in major magazines and in many books. And what does she love doing the most? Teaching. She’s at the Huntington Library every Wednesday, giving her students the license to enjoy the process, and to love their artwork. And I can’t enumerate the litany of things she freely does for people. In this one photo, five lives are revealed – in goodness, kindness, strength and beauty. Take a moment and look at one of your photographs. How many lives are revealed there and what lessons can be learned from them? Find beauty.


			
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