Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Yoga for Stymied Writer #2: Stretching Your Computer-Weary Muscles

In this installation of the Yoga for the Stymied Writer Series, I want to focus on stretching. (Note: these are just as applicable for non-writing computer users.)

Now, in the yoga world, yogis would probably say something super-yogic like, "We're going to access the inner knowing of the muscles to release hidden sources tension which correlate to the blockages of your eternal essence," but over here in normal land, we'll just say "stretching your weary writerly muscles."

If you spend any time hunching over a computer, you'll notice that a certain tightness, discomfort, brutal pain may develop in the upper back/shoulder/neck area. Here are few stretches to relieve said discomfort and get you to pounding out your next best-seller.

From Child's Pose, described here, transition into Revolved Child's--Parivritta Balasana. To start, lift the right arm just a fraction above the floor, then "thread the needle," extending the right arm under the left armpit, palm facing up. Breathe for eight and release. Repeat on the other side. If you aren't getting enough stretch in the shoulders/upper back, then first lift the hips for Funky Child's Pose and come in from there. It will deepen your stretch.
Next up, Garudasana--Eagle Pose--is just the thing to higgity help you out. This can be done sitting or standing.

Bring your palms and elbows together at a 90-degree angle in front of you. If this is enough of a stretch, stay here. Otherwise, drop your right elbow below your left, and twine the backs of your forearms and palms together. Stay for eight breaths and release. Reverse the arms (left below right) and repeat.

Most desk jockeys feel their tension in their backs. And, indeed, these muscles do get tense from constantly hunching forward to type. However, let's not neglect the muscles in the front--the chest muscles. They shorten and compress from constant computering even if you don't feel it. It's just as important to release them. To begin, grab a yoga strap or tea towel (you may need something longer depending on your wingspan and flexibility). Grab an end with each hand in front of you as wide apart as possible. Keeping the grip where you are lift the arms up and over your head and then behind you as far up and back as feels good. Hold for eight breaths and release.

Voila! Ready to return to writing. Questions? Comments? Requests for other stretches? Lemme know. I'm your yoga DJ, yo.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Worst Smell in the World

Here is my latest entry for Courtney Miller-Callihan's super fun, summer-long writing prompt contest.

You may remember that she challenged folks to share their craziest re-imagining of their summer vacations a few weeks back (and this inadvertent yogini composed a modest Haiku an an entry). Earlier this week, I attempted to double the fun with a dual writing prompt contest entry. It seemed to be the perfect end to the writing fun.

But who can resist the challenge to write about the worst smell in the world?

Not this girl. That's for sure. :)


The worst smell in the world wasn’t the acrid aroma of alcohol and vomit as my boss lay on the floor of the public restroom purging after her latest bender. Nor was it the industrial cleaners that seem to be an innate fixture of any public restroom. 

No, the worst smell in the world was, in fact, the stench of failure that clung to every fiber of my Ann Taylor aspirational suit and soaked slowly into every cell of my being. Of knowing that working my way through college and killing myself over the past ten years in a series of entry level positions had led only and entirely to this undeniable fact: I worked for an alcoholic, pill-popping lunatic who actively loathed me. There was no silver cloud in sight.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Dual Entry for Agent Courtney's Writing Prompt Contest

Here is my latest entry for Courtney Miller-Callihan's super fun, summer-long writing prompt contest.

You may remember that she challenged folks to share their craziest re-imagining of their summer vacations a few weeks back (and this inadvertent yogini composed a modest Haiku an an entry). 

This is my second try and I thought I'd step it up a notch by going for a dual entry for her #6 and #8 writing prompts: "Three things you'd bring with you to a deserted island. Assume food and water are not an issue, and that you will be stuck on the island, Gilligan-style, for an unknown period of time. Defend your choices." AND "This was the first thing Anna had ever won." (Listed respectively.) 


This was the first thing Anna had ever won and she could not believe that this was where it had led: Stuck, Gilligan-style, on a deserted island

“Thank you! THANK YOU, oh benevolent reality TV gods!” She yelled toward the heavens, throwing her arms outward in the universal gesture of all-encompassing joy.

Finally, after nine weeks without a shower, no bathroom, no phone, no family, no friends, and the joys of social media a very distant memory, Anna’s dream of winning “Last One Standing”—CNC’s hit “Survivor” series spin off—was within reach. Only one other competitor stood between her and one million dollars. It was so close she could taste it.

Unfortunately, the other remaining competitor—who insisted on being called Axl even though Anna was 99% sure that could not possibly be his given name—was a bearded barbarian who made the off-screen life choice to live as veritable ruffian in rural Appalachia. No bathroom? No phone? No family or friends? These were non-issues for Appalachian Axl. Thus, he was a formidable opponent. And formidable opponents were a concerning hurdle for Anna on her path to victory.

But surely, the tangled path of near-misses, physical injury, and the last-minute salvation that had brought Anna to being one of the last two standing, would now carry her over the finish line and into that glorious seven-figure bounty that tantalized her with its nearness.

Anna had come so far since the day she’d won a spot on the show in the wildcard round after entering a contest online. Since she’d never won anything before and this boon had come in the wake of a very bad breakup, she had told everyone that it was meant to be. The chance to escape to an exotic, unspoiled location had seemed to be exactly what she needed to jolt her out of her post-break-up depression. The chance to win her favorite reality series—bragging rights for the rest of her life, not to mention who knew what kind of attendant opportunities—and an inordinate amount of money were mere bonuses.

Anna crouched low and slowly coaxed the small fire she’d started into a more-respectable blaze. Wisely, she had chosen matches as one of the three things she could bring with her. It was a choice that had served her well as two of her competitors bit the dust within the first week. Her other choices of sunscreen and a sleeping bag had also been well-researched lifesavers. While former contestants had suffered severe, health-impairing sunburns that prevented them from performing crucial daytime survival activities and insomnia-induced limited mental functioning that had led to poor choices and missed opportunities, Anna had steadily plodded onward, the end each day heralding another small step toward winning.

Anna watched the yellow flames lick the driftwood and dried seaweed that she carefully fed the fire. She focused carefully on taking slow deep breaths, on grounding herself mentally. The key to getting this far was staying intensely present on every task, allowing their natural progression to lead her toward her goal.

“Never look ahead and never look back.” She repeated her mantra, aware that it would make a perfect last shot before cutting to commercial.

The fire glowed calmly in front of her, warding off the evening’s chill and providing a comforting light that cut a swatch into the too-near forest and its lively population of wildlife. For the first time since she’d been dumped, she felt strong and capable. That alone was worth a million dollars.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Writing Humor: Not as Easy as it Looks!

Think of the funniest movie you've ever seen (me: Forgetting Sarah Marshall is definitely in the top five). Now think of the funniest book you've ever read (me: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is one I read awhile back, and I just ordered Jenna McCarthy's "If It Was Easy, They'd Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon: Living with and Loving the TV-Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-So-Handy Man You Married" after watching the hilarious book trailer. I anticipate this will rank up there in the hilarity category). 

Now take a moment and admire the genius of the authors and screenwriters who crack you up because let me tell you, humor ain't easy. 

And never has that been more clear to me than this week when I entered Nathan Bransford's Funny Writing Contest.

Here's what I learned from reflecting on how to write humor and reading other writer's entries:
  1. Humor is highly (HIGHLY!) individual
  2. Humor is highly contextual. And it take times to build context. Being funny in 350 words or less? Yeah...brutal.
  3. Humor is harder when confined to the written word, robbed of intonation, hand gestures, and face-making
Now that you're really depressed and stressed out, I'll share my entry, which is pulled from my narrative non-fiction work-in-progress. Which will now seem dazzlingly clever and infinitely hilarious. Let me remind you it's NON-fiction. That means it really, really happened. So not only will I seem like a super genius for writing humor, you'll also feel really bad for me for living through this. (SCORE!)


So far, my business trip is off to a less-than-stellar start. Despite the fact that my hotel is upwards of $600 a night, I’m starting to think it’s an establishment of questionable repute. Upon returning to my room after a day of being hard at it corporate style—over whiteboards, spreadsheets, and catered mini-muffins—I’d found housekeeping had indeed visited my room, and in addition to new generic mini soaps, they’d also left a fecal log in the toilet that had to have been at least ten inches long.

Duly impressed, I briefly considered immortalizing my discovery with a quick camera phone shot. I could even use my distinctly unfeminine ten-inch hand span for scale. But realizing this ploy would require closer physical proximity to a stranger’s excrement, I’d quickly discarded this initial impulse.

Getting down to business, I’d tried to flush with the pointed toe of one shoe. But instead of flushing, the toilet had flooded—spouting from the bowl like a veritable fountain. Perched as I was, precariously on one foot with the other midair on the flush handle, I’d been unable to retract my leg and run as swiftly I would’ve liked to safety.

So yes, I got poo-water on me. And that’s never good. But that was only the beginning.

Because the water had gushed forth like a geyser, by the time I was able to scramble in an ungainly fashion out of there, the contaminated water was already half an inch deep in the bathroom and rushing into the bedroom, where I was frantically running around, packing. I’d never seen a toilet belch forth so much water at such a velocity. It was this germ-phobe’s worst nightmare, live and actually happening.

Perched for safety’s sake on the bed, I’d called the front desk. By the time a bellhop—accompanied by a plumber—arrived, water was pouring out into the hall. I just hoped they didn’t think I flooded my own room. But from the looks they lobbed at me—“You, a 29-year old, slender slip of a girl, produced THAT?—they must have.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Writing Prompt Contest Entry

Got inspired by Courtney Miller-Callihan's writing prompt and was surprised where the story took me. Love when that happens!!

I opened the last box, and inside found a slim stack of photos. Tired and sweaty, I blew the bangs off my forehead and slowly straightened in the hot attic. The over-bright Technicolor shades of the photos told me they were from the early ‘70s even before the bell bottoms and embroidered peasant tops did. My mother—young, beautiful, and sporting the era’s trademark shag cut—stood smiling in a backyard. She held a toddler on her cocked hip. Blond and chubby-cheeked, the baby bore a striking resemblance to my young mother…and to me.

The fine hair on my forearms rose. The certain chill of dread that precedes any cataclysmic finding that you later wished you didn’t know, ran through my belly.

I flipped it over and read my mother’s handwriting: “Serena. First visitation. 1972.”

I slowly replaced it at the back of the stack and flipped through the rest which ran sequentially, annually, through the next three years. At the bottom, there was a well-aged envelope whose seal no longer held. Centered above the flap was the name, “Greater New York City Adoption Agency” in a cobalt blue print that had faded over the decades.

Hands shaking slightly, I removed the folded stack of papers and numbly read the words that confirmed that my mother had given a baby up for adoption when she was 18. This baby—Serena?—now an adult, was my sister. My sister that I’d never met, and until moments ago, hadn’t even known existed.

Confusion and chaos washed over me. A flood of questions cascaded into my brain, faster than I could catalogue them. Foremost I wondered why my mother had never told me. Realization crystallized: My mother had intentionally never told me—yet she had left this information for me to discover, certainly knowing that the task of cleaning out her house after her death would fall to me. With her gone, I could never ask her why…how…what the circumstances were…who the father was…how she knew him…why…why…why…

It was then that another emotion rose—rough and raw and unexpected, it crowded the others out: anger.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Yoga for Stymied Writer #1: Boosting Creativity

We haven't talked yoga since the holidaze, when I suggested a few poses for such travel-related challenges as the common cold, anxiety, back pain, insomnia, and being overly full. The holidays--and talk of yoga--are now a distant memory, so let's dive right back in, shall we?

Today commences a series of yoga assists for all your writerly woes. If you have any requests, let me know!

Scenario #1: Creative gas tank is running dangerously low--you're basically putt-putting out on creative fumes. You're Muse hasn't made an appearance for days--it's practically time to put out a Missing Persons (Muses?) Report. Your work in progress sits stagnating, yet torturing you. Anyway you cut it, you could use a little creative boost.

Yoga Assist: My number one recommendation is an inversion. This is the first thing I try when I'm feeling stuck/stymied/blocked/whatever. There are several options--the most important thing is to get your head down below your heart level so as to irrigate your brain with blood and literally turn your perspective upside down. (*Those with certain medical conditions should avoid inversions altogether--see below.)

Option A: (easier) Downward Facing Dog. Kneel on the floor, knees under hips, wrists under shoulders. Deepen your breath. Lift your navel up to your spine to engage your core. Lift your hips up so you're in an inverted "V" formation. Stay for 10 breaths (or until you're ready to come down). Draw your knees to the mat, wider than your hips. Draw your forehead toward the mat, floor, or yoga block. Sit back on your heals and rest for 10 breaths.

Option B: (more advanced) Supported Handstand. Begin as above--kneeling on the floor with your feet against a wall. Lift up to Downward Facing Dog (as described above). Then slowly walk your feet up the wall until you are in an inverted "pike" or handstand. Stay for 5 breaths to start. Then slowly work your way up to staying longer. When you're ready, slowly walk down the wall and take Child's Pose (as described above), resting back on your heels, forehead grounded on the mat or block. Rest for at least the same length of time.

Allow yourself to absorb the effects of turning your world upside down. Feel the burst of fresh energy permeating your body and brain.

*Those with certain medical conditions should avoid inversions altogether. This includes, but is not limited to: headaches, heart conditions, high blood pressure, certain eye conditions. Inversions should not be practiced during menstruation. Talk to your doctor before practicing any yoga.