New Year: Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

New Year: Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

rocksSo 2013 is nearly over. Thank goodness. It’s been a truly horrible year, the worst year of my life. It started out bad, with major flooding on our property, and as the months wore on, difficulty followed difficulty without respite and culminated in the deaths, just over a month ago, of two of the dearest people in my life, three days apart. In many ways, I’m still reeling.

Of course one has to keep plodding on, so in that spirit, I offer the goals I’d set for myself this time last year (in bold type), followed by my thoughts on how I did in actually achieving them. Then I’ll set my goals for the new year. Goals, not resolutions. Who the hell keeps resolutions, anyway?

Old Goals:

1. Release my second music album, Reflected Moon. It’ll be comprised of both songs and piano-based instrumentals. Yes, I’ll be singing on the next album!

I did manage to record three tracks for this album, with a fourth partially recorded.

2. Finish drafting The Renunciate, my current novel-in-progress which is likely to be the first in a series.

I’ve put The Renunciate aside. Will I go back to it? I just don’t know at this point.

3. Get The Renunciate ready for publication and available for purchase via Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

See #2.

4. Blog on a regular basis, whether here, Green Mountains Walking, and/or Grace Notes.

Nada. My blogs have all languished.

5. Write more songs and instrumentals and become ever more confident and adept at digital recording, mixing, and mastering piano with vocals and other goodies.

I wrote two new instrumentals and one new song, so that’s something. And I did manage to get more confident and adept at  recording, mixing, mastering and the like. Progress, drip by drip.

And now, here are my goals for 2014.

1. Take better care of myself so that I can regain my resiliency and my positive outlook. I miss both. That means going back to daily meditative practice, re-establishing an exercise routine, prioritizing good sleep, resisting my tendencies to spread myself way too thin, and kicking to the curb my tendencies to want to turn to fatty food for comfort.

2. Cultivate more gratitude for the good things in my life so I don’t suffer in the grip of a myopic obsession with the bad and the difficult. Yes, life has delivered mucho wallops this year, all in one short space, but there are still plenty of things to be grateful for.

3. Do a great job for Blue Volcano Media, where I work as Content Specialist. Talk about things to be grateful for — it’s a wonderful gig with a delightful group of people.

4. Renew my commitment to my artistic endeavors. Music: I want to finish recording Reflected Moon in 2014 and hopefully release it. I also want to write new music. Fiction: I need to make friends with my fiction muse again. I’ve become more estranged from her than from my music muse. Yeah, they’re two different muses. In 2014, my goal is simply to find my way into at least one story I love and truly want to finish and share with the world. Maybe add some blogging to the mix, too, as I feel moved to do so.

What will 2014 bring? There’s no way to know, but my only “resolution” is this. I resolve not to lose sight of what is truly important in our ephemeral human lives: love, kindness, and compassion. No matter what.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt on Flickr.

New Novel (and New Covers for Older Novels)

New Novel (and New Covers for Older Novels)

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted here on the blog, and if I only post when I have a new novel, posting will be infrequent indeed. Or maybe it would actually be a bit more frequent than I have been posting, who knows!

2013 has been a challenging, difficult year. One thing after another, as the common saying goes. It has been less a year than a gauntlet through time. But sometimes life gets that way. It’s made up of ebbs and flows, and as pleasant and easy as 2012 was, I guess I’d gotten soft and spoiled and needed a tough year to remind me what I’m made of.

The new novel, Maestro, is about Annasophia Flynn, a young, classically-trained pianist and singer-songwriter who enjoys a special bond with Wilhelm Dahl, her older mentor and teacher whom she affectionately calls Maestro. When the novel starts out, Maestro is terminally ill, and Annasophia must come to grips with the fact that she’ll have to say goodbye to him soon.

But not so fast. Annasophia receives a mysterious email to which is attached a photo of her standing by the side of a virile and much-younger Maestro, years before she was born and during the height of his fame and power as a concert pianist. Either somebody’s doing some serious Photoshopping, or Annasophia traveled — or will travel — back in time, meaning that there’s more to her relationship with Maestro than meets the eye.

She visits Maestro in the hospital and shows him the photo. When he talks about a mysterious door and hums a few bars of a romantic Rachmaninoff concerto much beloved by them both, she is compelled to go home and play the piece on her piano. The concerto indeed turns out to be a door back through time, where she meets the younger Maestro, and they fall in love.

But staying in younger Maestro’s time proves tricky. For one thing, he has a son, who will never be conceived or born if Annasophia stays and changes things. She starts to second guess herself and tries to go back to her own time, only to find, each time, that the timeline as she has known it has been altered. For another thing, Maestro’s very elegant and cunning ex-wife, Elena, is determined to get him back and makes up her mind to do everything she can to send Annasophia back to her own timeline for good, where she will have to say goodbye to Maestro forever.

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Maestro is available as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

And my older work? Well, two novels, a novella, and a collection of short stories have all gotten facelifts. Since I decided to put my work out as a self-published author, I have worked hard to get better at designing covers. It has been quite a learning curve these last couple of years, but I’m happy to have built up some skills with GIMP, and the more confident I have become with my tool, the more fun the process has become. These books are all available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords, or you can follow the links in the right sidebar.

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I also have a couple of short stories (“The Saddle of Private Lucius Gray,” a literary short story, and “Deadfalls,” a little horror story) available on all three outlets. And Mirror Blue is my novel that’s published with Black Lyon Publishing, and it needs some love, too. :)

If you read my work, whether the novels, the novella, or the stories, I would be ever-so-grateful if you’d leave a review, whether on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and/or Smashwords, or on Goodreads. I hope you enjoy my fiction.

And I’m not just writing fiction. I’m still working on my next music album. If you haven’t checked out my piano music, you can do so by following the links in the sidebar to the right, or just by paying a visit to Bandcamp, where you can stream all the pieces off my first album, Womanspirit Rising, which I released last year. My next album will include vocals, and I’m calling it Reflected Moon.

No lack of artistic projects around here, that’s for sure. Last but not least, I hope to get back to blogging more regularly again! I’ve missed it.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2013

New Year’s Resolutions for 2013

Here we go again, my annual Blogular tradition of revisiting New Year’s Resolutions for the year which is now passing, gauging how I did with each, and making new resolutions for the year to come. How long have I been doing this here (on this blog and its predecessor)? Hmmm….. *thinking.* Since 2006. My goodness (feel free to insert cliche of choice about time’s fleet feet).

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Here are my old resolutions for 2012, in bold type, followed by my commentary as to how I actually did.

1. Currently, I’m planning a novel-to-be, working title of Maestro. The brainstorming is going fabulously, and my muse is kicking up her heels. Maestro is already hitting my sweet spot, and I haven’t even started writing it yet. In 2012, I want to get Maestro finished, edited, and available for purchase on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

I managed to complete a draft of Maestro, but it’s very rough — I haven’t even begun revisions or rewrites. Call this resolution a THUNK.

2. Get my original music (songs and instrumental pieces, composed on the piano and played and sung by yours truly) out there.

And here is where I can utter a resounding YAWP! In retrospect, I would call 2012 Thomma’s Year of Music. I finally got myself in a position where I could procure a digital piano and pursue my lifelong dream of getting my original music out there. I released my first album, Womanspirit Rising, in July 2012. So far, no songs, just instrumental, piano-based versions of my pieces, with touches of other instrumentation. I am proud of the album, though, and I will hopefully keep playing, recording, and releasing albums until I’m 120 years old. I’ve never had so much fun in my life! Bet many of you, my readers, didn’t know this about me, but music was actually my first love, before fiction.

3. In addition to Maestro, I’d like to write and make available for purchase other pieces of fiction, including short stories and possibly a novella or two. When you’re an indie author, it’s an excellent thing to have numerous fictional pieces available for readers who discover you and love your work.

THUNK. See comment above about 2012 being Thomma’s Year of Music.

4. BLOG MORE. And yes, I mean that. Both here and on Grace Notes, my creative writing blog, where I’d like to post flash fiction related to my works-in-progress.

YAWP! I did indeed blog more here, but not on Grace Notes. I started a series of what I call Dharma Posts on this blog, then I created a dedicated Dharma Blog called Green Mountains Walking.

5. This one isn’t a goal. It’s a “maybe.” But possibly — just possibly — I’ll release one or more of my titles in print.

A sort of YAWP! I’m in the process of readying my novel Heart’s Chalice for print, but it won’t go live ’til 2013. Watch this space for updates!

And here are my New Year’s Resolutions for 2013. Short but sweet.

1. Release my second music album, Reflected Moon. It’ll be comprised of both songs and piano-based instrumentals. Yes, I’ll be singing on the next album!

2. Finish drafting The Renunciate, my current novel-in-progress which is likely to be the first in a series.

3. Get The Renunciate ready for publication and available for purchase via Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

4. Blog on a regular basis, whether here, Green Mountains Walking, and/or Grace Notes.

5. Write more songs and instrumentals and become ever more confident and adept at digital recording, mixing, and mastering piano with vocals and other goodies.

And th-th-th-that’s it, folks! Happy New Year! :)

Random Bits in the Life of TL

Random Bits in the Life of TL

Good grief, nearly two months have passed since my last post here. *headdesk* Guess I’ll brush off the tumbleweeds yet again and put up a post, this one comprised of random bits. Pun on “bytes” most certainly intended.

1. I decided to create a dedicated Dharma blog especially for my Zen-related posts. If you’d like to check it out, I’d be most pleased. The name of the blog is Green Mountains Walking, a phrase from Zen Master Dogen’s Mountains and Rivers Sutra. I copied the older Dharma posts from here, re-homed them on Green Mountains Walking, then put up a brand new post on the brand new blog about — guess what — Dogen’s Mountains and Rivers Sutra.

2. My muse has been in high gear with music and writing. While music has been getting the lion’s share of the creative energy, I have a novel in progress and recently cracked 56,000 words. But the novel will be plenty longer than that. I’m taking my sweet time with the novel, allowing the story to unfold. I also have another novel in mind. Not sure whether to attempt NaNoWriMo this year. I’m really not ready to start the next novel, as it involves quite a bit of research. We’ll see. I probably won’t know whether I’ll undertake NaNoWriMo until October 31 at 11:59:59 p.m.

3. I’ll still compose and share piano sketches, though intermittently for now and probably on the Dharma blog. I’m spending plenty of time with my piano, but my current focus is on working up vocals for Reflected Moon, my second music album which is in progress. I’ve already recorded the piano tracks for the album, and my current task is to record the vocal tracks and grow more and more conversant with my audio software. It’s a learning curve, a delightful one. It’s a bit bizarre, too. Usually, I play and sing my songs at the same time. Who doesn’t? Recording, on the other hand, is rather like karaoke! :)

4. I’m still getting up on the Magic Mountain for hikes from time to time. The fall foliage is nearing its peak in East Tennessee. Fall is a marvelous time of year — my very favorite season, though followed closely by Spring.

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Dharma Post #12: Uncertainty

Dharma Post #12: Uncertainty

♫ ♫ ♫ “To the Unknown” — a piano sketch composed by me, Thomma Lyn ♫ ♫ ♫

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“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.” ~Pema Chödrön

It’s been a while since I posted here (brushing the tumbleweeds off the blog). Sorry it’s been so long! This summer has been wild and woolly, with a lot to juggle. I’ve been keeping multiple balls in the air and experiencing uncertainty with many of those balls. As a result, I’ve had difficulty making plans and attaching to outcomes or expectations. And you know what? It’s been good for my practice. Sure, I’ve experienced uncertainty before. A whole lot of it. Haven’t we all? This summer has, however, reminded me yet again that change is integral to life, that life, as I’ve said here before, is a dynamic process and not a static edifice.

We like to have our feet on terra firma, in other words, to know where we stand. Uncertainty throws terra firma to the four winds. As a result of experiencing uncertainty, we often try to find something to cling to, whether from the past or in our notions of the future, which means that either way, we aren’t fully present for now. Making peace with uncertainty – harmonizing ourselves with the nature of life being change – helps us cultivate our capacity to be fully present and aware of what’s going on in our lives moment by moment, instead of clinging to the past or dreading the future.

Perhaps our most common reaction to uncertainty is fear of the future – fear of what might happen, fear of what might not happen, fear of our own fear. Sometimes we experience apprehension to which we can give no name, a feeling through which we convince ourselves that because we’re experiencing uncertainty, we are bound for some terrible fate. Other times, dread is locked up in storylines we create about ourselves or about other people. Either way, our mental constructs cause suffering.

Why? Well, through mental constructs, we seek anchors. We seek security, something to latch onto, something we hope will make us feel safe. But those anchors – security blankets – can’t last, since everything changes. Our first reaction to change – the gateway to the unknown – is fear or dread, and we scramble to get our feet on what we earnestly hope is solid ground, impermanent mental constructs that we either think up for ourselves or borrow from somebody else’s ideas.

When we’re faced with the prospect of change, especially when we don’t know what the change will entail – and let’s admit it, when and how can we possibly know the full ramifications of change? – we fall into habits of reaction, some of which have their origins in early childhood as coping mechanisms by which we tried to make sense of the world, and then we’re off, reacting and reacting and reacting, not seeing clearly, and becoming frustrated and angry when our anchors crumble and the ground under our feet turns out to be air.

The world changes along with us, and us along with the world. Everything together – us, the traffic on our street, the wars being fought across the globe, our next-door neighbors’ marital struggles, the abandoned kitten foraging for food two streets over, the tadpoles in the pond on the mountain, the joys and agonies and triumphs and disappointments and comings and goings and busy times and quiet moments of beings all over the world – are all part of the same thing, and it changes all the time, with nothing anywhere ever remaining the same.

This moment, whatever it is you’re doing, thinking, or feeling, is unique. It’ll never come again. At the same time, it’s part of the continually unfolding process which we term our lives, the world, the cosmos, the universe, and our experiences of these things as we perceive them. When our perceptions — ego-clinging, bending and skewing what comes in to fit our views — obstruct clear seeing, then we fall into confusion. Delusion. Our need for anchors, for certainty and for absolutes, is part of this dynamic.

Many people think they need anchors in order to find peace, but they search all their lives without finding anything. Anchors slip. Certainty is illusion when change is the only constant. Finding peace in uncertainty – notice I didn’t say “despite” uncertainty – is part of the path of practice. I have a phrase for this: “keeping my seat.” When things go crazy around me, I strive to keep my seat. By seat, I don’t mean an anchor. Rather, I mean expansiveness, or letting go, to the extent I’m able, of the need for anchors, for certainty.

“Seat” refers to sitting meditation, but it also refers to coming back to the breath which rises and falls, coming back to the moment I’m currently experiencing – in other words, now, the only time I really have. Keeping my seat also means staying aware – paying attention to what is happening now, since life is a flow of nows. In making peace with our nows, we build lives of peace, a calm inner abiding that doesn’t depend on mental fabrications of “certainty” existing out in the world to serve as anchors. Things arise, then they pass. With awareness, with clarity, we can see this process, and we can accept it.

When we’re less attached to anchors, we can open ourselves more – our minds and our hearts. We don’t resent the traffic on our street. How does our annoyance at traffic change it? It doesn’t. Our annoyance only annoys ourselves and perhaps those around us as well. We are able to be better friends to those around us, to engage in deep listening, deep caring, and give of ourselves more freely. “What’s in it for me?” is one of the most pernicious anchors of all, wherein we feel that whatever good we do, there ought to be some promise or expectation of reward. But life isn’t a carrot and stick proposition. Rather, as Pema Chödrön says, life is a good friend and teacher. That applies especially when its lessons are particularly challenging.

So why feel fear, why feel dread at the prospect of uncertainty, of the unknown? No matter what happens, we can learn from it and cultivate not just knowledge but wisdom and compassion, which are far more important than knowledge in how we live our lives. When we deeply look, listen, and investigate, we come to know our true nature through the experience of realization.

Whatever is before us, whatever might be happening, can be a means of awakening. And uncertainty – the unknown – is made up of boundless possibilities for liberation.

Dharma Post #11: Attachment

Dharma Post #11: Attachment

♫ ♫ ♫ “Attachment” — a little piano sketch composed by me, Thomma Lyn ♫ ♫ ♫

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One man can conquer a thousand times thousand men in battle,
but one who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors.”
~The Dhammapada

There’s a lot of talk in Zen teachings – well, Buddhist teachings in general – about attachment and how it’s the cause of suffering. Sometimes people fixate – um, attach – to this concept without investigation and claim it means Buddhism is a path that encourages people to become automatons who don’t care a fig about anything or anyone except for the dust in their navels.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. My understanding of attachment is that it springs from deluded, dualistic views of “self” and “other.” The path of Zen practice encourages freedom from dualistic views, and as a result, we actually learn to care more freely and expansively for ourselves, others, and our world than while living under the yoke of attachment.

Photo by Hartwig HKD on Flickr.com.

One form of attachment that creates tremendous suffering is found in conditional love. When we place conditions on our love for others, we are, in essence, attaching ourselves to an idea of those people that we’ve created in our minds. We layer on storyline after storyline about who a person is and who we want him or her to be. If the person dares to step outside the parameters we’ve placed around him or her, we withhold our love as punishment or as motivation to try to get the person back in line with our comfort level. As I have discussed in earlier posts, this isn’t love. It’s control. Conditional love is attachment to delusion – to limited concepts about another person’s selfhood that exist only in our minds and cannot possibly encompass the shifting, changing being and his or her infinite range of possibilities.

I’ve always liked this quote by George Bernard Shaw: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Something in the gist of this quote rings back, for me, to the words of the Buddha in the Dhammapada: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” Some people who misunderstand Buddhism take “With our thoughts we make the world” literally and label it ridiculous. What it means, though, is that we truly make the world in which we live by how we choose to see it, live in it, act in it, and react to it.

If we perceive the world as evil and ourselves as victims, then those thoughts, in every present moment, will reinforce the cycle of misery, since it’s in the present moment that we create not only our lives (worlds) but our future. If we become “feverish selfish little clods of ailments and grievances,” then we have nobody to blame but ourselves, since we’ve attached ourselves to the fever, to the selfishness, to those grievances, to those ailments, and have defined these things as ourselves. The good news is that we can stop the cycle at any time by letting go of what is hurting us, thus refusing to stay in prisons of our own making. When difficult things happen and challenges arise in our lives, we can use these things to help us grow in wisdom and compassion by choosing whether we’ll react with the same-old, same-old hurtful patterns, or with greater mindfulness, awareness, and big-picture perspective. And with every occasion we make the latter choice, we grow.

With unconditional love, we love without limits. That doesn’t mean we love everything a person does, any more than it means we love everything we do. But when humility and honesty – compassion and wisdom – enter the picture, we more readily acknowledge that everybody makes mistakes, including ourselves. We learn to forgive and let go of grudges. We release attachments to concepts of who we want other people or ourselves to be, and we open our hearts and minds to others and ourselves as ever-changing phenomena that manifest moment by moment. Love without control. Love without strings. Love without fear. We find that our ability to love not only grows but exponentiates.

One of the most pernicious prisons we build for ourselves is comprised of bricks that are made up of attachments to the past, which can take the form of all kinds of things, among them anger, addiction, guilt, annoyance, irritation, and holding grudges. All these emotions and reactions keep our mind tethered to the past so that we are unable to experience, with any clarity, the present moment: where our life is actually happening, where it’s actually unfolding. When we attach ourselves so fiercely to the past, we also limit our capacity for unconditional love, since we’re defining ourselves and other people in terms of what we or what he or she did in the past, so that we aren’t allowing ourselves to be open to the possibilities in ourselves and others as we and they exist now.

Another kind of attachment that impedes present moment awareness is looking toward the future, whether desiring and craving or worrying and fearing. When we load ourselves down with expectations and storylines about the future — what’s going to happen, what won’t happen, what might happen — we can’t experience the present moment as it is. Present moments rush by while our minds are anchored to the future, a construct that doesn’t even exist. And the future will never exist, since by the time it manifests itself, it becomes the present moment.

People can make themselves miserable pining for a future that will never exist: “My life must be this way, that way, and this other way, or else I can never be happy, content, or peaceful.” That’s not a good way to achieve goals. It is, however, a great way to drive yourself nuts. Believe me, I know. I’ve done this kind of thing, and I bet everyone reading this post has, too. But it’s delusion. Think about it. How many things in your life have turned out exactly as you planned? How many things in your life are exactly as you thought they’d be? Very few, I bet. When we set expectations in stone, we’re bound to be disappointed. Sure, hope is great, but I recommend an open-ended hope, where we keep ourselves open to surprises and to those myriad things that happen throughout our lives which we could never have predicted but which continue to open up more and more possibilities to explore.

Trying to attach to a concrete future is rather like trying to attach to to a concrete self. The moment we attach to a conception of what we are, that we will have changed in the interim. We desperately try in so many ways to grab onto something solid: me, you, this situation, that circumstance, or this scenario. And while all these things feel real, there’s actually nothing to grab, and when we truly start to learn that there’s nothing to grab, we can increasingly allow things to be and to make peace with ourselves and with our lives. I’m not saying we shouldn’t consider the future. But increasingly, I believe that the very best way to create happy futures for ourselves is to focus clearly on the present moment and treat it with as much care, gentleness, and attention as it deserves. When our minds are constantly on the run, whether to the past or to the future, we can’t bring awareness to life as it is happening. With such muddy minds, is it any wonder we get sucked into negative patterns of reactivity?

Without attachments, we’re free. The Buddha knew this because he discovered it for himself. One of the many things I love about Buddhism — and Zen, in particular — is that it’s grounded, practical, and applicable to our day-to-day lives. You don’t have to believe in the supernatural, nor do you have to accept unverified — and unverifiable — claims. Instead, you experience — investigate — for yourself.

To my mind, Zen is scientific, in the sense that you can try it and see if it works. Practice, however, needs to be a commitment. Patterns built up over a lifetime can’t be dismantled in, say, a day. In the context of practice, too, a person needs to be careful about attaching to expectations. Rather, we think of practice as we think of life: one present moment at a time. Growing in wisdom and compassion is about the way we relate to each of the present moments that make up our lives: being there for those moments and being mindful, kind, aware, and gentle to each of them. In this way, we let go of constructs like the past, the future, and conditional love, all of which blinker deep awareness of this phenomenon we call our lives.

Letting go of attachments doesn’t mean we become automatons. Rather, it means we take responsibility for ourselves and our minds, hearts, and lives. And letting go of attachments doesn’t mean we renounce our capacity to love. Instead, when we renounce those attachments that cause us to suffer, we free ourselves to live in a wiser and more honest and compassionate way in which we increasingly recognize, in clarity and luminous awareness, how incredibly precious is every present moment, every beating heart, and every living being.