Introduction to Perfect Freedom

Who do you think is your worst enemy? Is it someone who you didn’t vote for? Is it someone who makes fun of what you hold so dear? Or, is it someone who insults your race, gender or sexuality?

Nobody wants to fail. Going through life, however, each of us discover that no one is exempt from failure. I’ve succeeded, I’ve failed. I’ve reached my biggest dreams, only to have everything taken away from me. I’ve made this video as a gift to the world, hoping that there will be people out there who will find it relevant to them, to help them understand that success, failure — none of it matters, everything is impermanent, and meditation helps you to understand this. A friend once said that the suffering I’ve been through was enough to keep most people in depression or drive them to much worse. Funny how sometimes it takes someone else to point out what should be very obvious to you — that you’ve been doing something right for yourself. And for me, this has been meditation. And right now, I’m just happy and free, so take a look at how it’s done.

A stutterer finding a voice

Mind you, writing has its challenges. They’re just refreshingly different.

I’m a writer, but not a notepad writer. It probably seems like a strange quirk, but I took most comfortably to the keyboard. What helped me take strongly to an artificial communication method? Since about age four, or farther back than I can remember, I haven’t been able to talk without a stutter, so that’s how deep it goes. I have a better time sharing my feelings using an electronic product than using my voice, unless you can get me to be really calm in quiet company. Also, my handwriting never got that smooth.

I came into writing for the uninterrupted expression of what’s going on in my oft-dissociating mind. If I try to speak it to you, it’s rarely a matter of not knowing what I want to say, and almost always a matter of being physically blocked from saying it. There’s a certain sanctuary here, a relief. That relief is found in the process of writing, but not often the written product.

Mind you, writing has its challenges. They’re just refreshingly different. I can honestly feel like with self-awareness, reflection, and effort, those challenges might be mitigated or overcome. When you know what it’s like to have a disruption in your life that’s always there, and might be made worse by self-awareness, reflection, and misdirected effort, you might learn to better appreciate those pursuits where effort pays off.

The story of the half lame refugee who became an author.

This is the rather brief life story of a guy who was born in the tiny, oil-rich country of Kuwait, more than 3 decades ago.

This is the rather brief life story of a guy who was born in the tiny, oil-rich country of Kuwait, second child to working-class immigrant parents — a machine operator at a steel plant, and a nurse, more than 3 decades ago.

At the age of 9, he took flight along with his parents, two siblings and a few bags of old clothes and trinkets, when a certain infamous Iraqi dictator-president, who was later hanged for his war crimes (during the time of America’s most intellectually challenged president ever), bombed and invaded the teeny-weeny country he lived in. After that rather adventurous trip in which he recounts living in a refugee camp for three weeks in the middle of a scorching desert called no-man’s-land located somewhere between Jordan and Iraq, sleeping inside canvas tents into which a desert scorpion or two made a periodic visit, and standing in long queues outside the Red Cross trucks that came everyday to distribute rations, he returned to native village in India — his real homeland.

Amid all the changes that followed, a year and half later he encountered a pathological fracture and underwent a major orthopedic surgery during which a graft was done on his left thigh bone. He spent the next two and half months lying on bed, counting the lizards on the ceiling (when not watching the idiot box’s only channel then available in his country) or reading a book, while immobilised in a body cast that extended all the way from his chest to his feet with only essential gaps for satisfying his biological needs. When he was back on his feet again, his doctors shocked him by saying he’d never be able to walk like normal kids again — he did hobble around for a few years with one short leg, wearing specially modified shoes. He eventually turned out rather fine almost 2 decades later, by when he became a regular long distance recreational runner — “don’t you bloody dare tell me I can’t run”, he told all those naysayers then.

In the years in between, he had a few forgettable years at school but spent a very ‘memorable’ four years studying in a college, a significant distance from home, that was better known for the enviable street fighting skills of its students rather than its academic prowess. He graduated with an Engineering degree, a lot more wisdom and a bit more common sense (that wasn’t that common previously) and a right shoulder that occasionally dislocated itself, much to the shock of unsuspecting bystanders.

At the age of 23, he found a very agreeable software company that put him in a travelling engineer’s role and while it gave him a chance to get into verbal contests with foreign clients who spoke English with rather unique accents; that job also gave him a chance to spend a few months wandering around in such rather interesting cities such as Dhaka, Bangkok and Lagos, try some exotic food (fried grasshoppers anybody?) and engage in banter with some of the friendly locals. Finally, when he decided that he wanted to feel the taste of a fancy world-class university (where street-fighting skills were not a hidden pre-requisite for entry), he quit his job, broke that piggy-bank of life savings, borrowed from a bank, packed his bags and went to that country of people famous for their stiff upper lips and spent a year pursuing an MBA degree. And while he was there, he spent some time singing songs and strumming a guitar on the campus lakeside and entertained some very enthusiastic, musically-inclined mallards and geese, and occasionally, a few drunken human beings too.

A year and half later, when the xenophobic British government stopped issuing work permits (to stop immigrant students from staying back with the evil intention of working in Subway and McDonalds outlets and snatching local jobs), he once again packed his bags and returned to India.

Not wanting to give the impression of being a penniless, jobless 30-something MBA graduate sunk in loans, he spent a few months as a part time academic writer who earned his daily bread by writing assignments for select Persian, post graduate students in the UK, who in turn, paid him generously for the ’B’ grades he got them for their academic assignments, with less than a week’s preparation — a feat they couldn’t manage to achieve over an entire term.

Eventually, realising that the deposits from the Persians were not sufficient to pay his debts and that he was in danger of seeing his bank sending a few six feet tall, unshaven, overweight recovery-agents to recover the money he had borrowed, he hopped on board a big IT company that promised him some ‘challenging work’ .

Before he knew it, he landed in the South Eastern African country of Uganda for doing that ‘challenging work’ and stayed there for 9 months before packing his bags again (he uses a sturdy ‘Samsonite’, in case you are wondering — lasts really long)

Finally in 2014 July, when he was back to a routine 9–6 job in that lovely city he calls home a.k.a India’s IT capital, he thought, “why not write a book taking inspiration from all my experiences over the years?”

And he wrote it.

He named the book, ‘Kaleidoscopic Lives — Ensemble Narratives of the Common Man’

The Musicality of Writing Fiction

If you were one of those people who were born with an ear for language and telling a story, I greatly envy you.

Songs are typically written in a specific key. For example, Pachelbel Canon, familiar to many as the Christmas Canon, is written in the key of D. That means there are notes that are correct and work for that song, and notes that would be discordant and “out of tune” or wrong.

(A quick side note, I’m aware that some music, singing or collections of sounds are meant to be discordant.)

On a much simpler level, the song Louie Louie, as recorded by The Kingsmen, is in the key of A Major.

Someone could change the key Louie Louie is played in, but that means it is played with different notes to a different effect and sound.

Modern jazz tunes can be played in a particular key and also improvised in many different ways. A jazz musician could play Louie Louie or Pachelbel Canon in D to an entirely different purpose and sound than what people usually associate with these pieces.

The point is, the key a musical piece is originally written in doesn’t limit the choices of the way in which it can be played, but there’s a difference between someone new to music hitting wrong notes and an accomplished musician improvising with the intent of creating a variation.

I’m not a classically trained musician, but I can tell the difference between a wrong note being played and a thoughtful, musical variation or interpretation.

Now lets bring that back to writing. Harry Potter is a novel about fitting in. All the choices in this novel revolve around, let’s say, playing a simple rock and roll song in the key of A Major.

Because author J. K. Rowling understands the song/story she is playing, she hits the right notes. Harry Potter wants to fit in. The Dursleys want to fit in. The conflict in the world of magic is over pure blood (pure notes) and mixed blood (improvised notes, so to speak). Rowling sticks to her themes, weaving her story and characters seamlessly into her central idea. She knows the world in which her story takes place, much like a composer knows the key of his or her composition, and everything falls within those boundaries. If anything lands outside of it, it doesn’t ring true, just as a musical piece that hits a wrong note will not work in a musical composition.

Now, a new, struggling writer could set out to write a Harry Potter-type fantasy. But this writer starts out with an idea for a character or a plot event, or some other starting point. To someone reading this manuscript, because the writer hasn’t settled on a key to set the story, notes are discordant. Maybe the writer doesn’t know the world in which the story has taken place. Maybe the writer hasn’t settled on a central theme or conflict. Perhaps the characters are not well developed. These are all critical elements to creating a story that harmonizes, that brings a sense of accord and beauty to the reader.

The writer makes choices about how to describe characters, but someone the description is flat or fails to advance the story.

The words/notes aren’t set/being played in the correct key of the story.

Reading manuscripts by new or struggling authors, I’ve found I have to get to the end of the novel to find out what the story is about, or, in this context, in what key it should be played.

That requires the author to go back to the beginning of the story and find a way to convey, what Harry Potter-like fantasy the “key” the book belongs in.

The writer chooses what type of story/song they are playing.

The foundation for my a story is a promise concept is to understand a story and to make choices based on that understanding.

Looking at stories from this frame of reference, The Dead by James Joyce, and The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy, are the Pachelbel Canon and the Louie Louie of stories, but each hits note correct for each song.

Criticism of a story ‘not working’ are an observation that the story notes don’t create the effect of a pleasing song for a particular audience, with the understanding that different music appeals to different audiences.

In the movie Francis Florence Jenkins, the main character sang opera horribly off key, but an album she recorded was so odd, people bought it to hear badly sung opera as a comic gesture or to discover what the fuss was about. This is not the audience most writers want for their novels, so it is imperative to know what “key” you are creating in, and then to use notes that are in harmony with that key.

I’ve come across people who had a good ear for music/language and were willing to learn how to compose a story/song that played in particular key and pleased an audience. They had an ear for the tones created by words and they could create an enjoyable story melody. Such a composition may not have obeyed all the rules of grammar, but the story and its notes worked. An example is The Davinci Code. Not great writing, but mostly in tune in a way that allowed its audience to enjoy the story, in spite of the people who pointed out its faults.

And, just like in popular music, there are those one-hit wonders who write a song/novel that sells millions of copies but mystifies people who enjoy well-played music.

If you were one of those people who were born with an ear for language and telling a story, I greatly envy you. Much of my success as a writer has been as a playwright because of my imagination and an ear for dialogue. How to create a plot, that I had to learn.

Guest post by Author Bill Johnson (@bjscript on Twitter) 

About the Author

Bill Johnson is web master of Essays on the Craft of Dramatic Writing, a site that explores principles of storytelling through reviews of popular movies, books and plays (www.storyispromise.com), and author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon. His plays have been produced around the United States.

Staying Inspired: How to find words again

I have short listed the four top reasons why I sometimes struggle to write and share with you various ways I have been able to overcome them. If you know why you can’t write, you can take steps to rectify the problem.

I know that many writers sometimes struggle for words. The “flow” just isn’t there. There are plenty of tips given daily to get the “flow” going again, but in this article I want to look at what can cause the “flow” to cease.

I have short listed the four top reasons why I sometimes struggle to write and share with you various ways I have been able to overcome them. If you know why you can’t write, you can take steps to rectify the problem.

Too Much Work

I know that everyone works long hours and then tries to squeeze in a few hours writing after work. But if your brain and/or body are too tired, the writing just won’t happen. What I used to find most frustrating was that the ideas were pounding around in my head but I had no way of getting them out, because I was either stuck in an office or driving to or from work.

My solution – scribble down all your ideas in your lunch break. Make it stream of conciousness if necessary. It doesn’t have to be perfect – just get the bare bones down. Once a week, sit down and type up your ideas and, if you have time, work on the most promising one. Even if you don’t have time to work out an idea immediately, at least once you’ve typed the ideas up, you have it in print so you don’t have a blank sheet of paper to start with.

Are you getting enough sleep?

If you’re not sleeping properly, you won’t function 100% in any area of your life.

I’ve found the best thing to do is to have a nightly routine. Go to bed at the same time, particularly during the week if you have a day job. Have a massage or an aromatherapy session, listen to some music or read before you go to sleep. Do the same thing to unwind every night, so that your body and brain know it’s time for rest. If you can, open your bedroom window to let the fresh air in. Make sure you’re not too hot or too cold. Pray or meditate before you sleep. Practise slow breathing and allow your mind to let go of the day – encourage yourself to sleep.

Remember – no caffine or heavy meals. You need to have finished eating at least 2 hours before you lie down. If you don’t like herbal or fruit teas but need something warm to drink, try just plain boiled water or warm milk.

Aim for 7-8 hours sleep a night. If you wake up and find it hard to get back to sleep, practice slow breathing again and let go of whatever you’re thinking.

Are you getting enough exercise?

If you’re not getting enough regular exercise, your body and brain won’t function to their fullest extent. Getting out in to the fresh air, even it if it is raining, is essential for your entire being.

The simplest way of exercising is a brisk 30 minute walk every day. (This does not include shopping!) Ideally in the fresh air (countryside or a park) and if you can include hills in your walk, even better! That way you’ll get some cardio vascular exercise too. Can’t get out every day? Try and do some dancing or yoga or even resistance training on the days you can’t go out for a walk. Don’t over do things – listen to your body.

I find exercise essential for my creativity. I leave my dance workouts until the end of my working day. That way I can let go of all the things that keep buzzing round in my head and I just focus on my body and how to relieve any tense joints etc. Before I do the workout, I write down everything I need to achieve the next day, and add to it whenever I think of anything else during the evening.

Switching off from writing is very important. Constantly thinking of writing and marketing actually damages creativity. You need to take time out as a writer. Which leads me on to my final point.

Try Something Else

Whenever I have been completely stuck for words, I stop writing and do something else for a bit. It has to be creative. Sitting on the sofa and watching the box set of Twilight is not going to resolve your creativity issues!

Here are some creative things I’ve done in the past that have allowed my brain to relax and for the creativity to start working again: –

Without Words – take a month off writing and reading. Give your brain a rest from words. I found it REALLY hard, but it worked! I really appreciated being able to read a book and write in my journal after 5 weeks of nothing…

Take Photographs – find a theme or just take random pictures. Don’t write about them. Just enjoy taking the picture. Find an object and take ten different views of it. You’ll end up deleting most of the pictures, but you’ll keep a handful that “say” something to you. It’s fun!

Draw – Elisa Choi’s Skillshare online courses are VERY good! I used to sketch a bit in my teens but the talent has waned during my adult years as writing has taken over. However, I found Elisa’s workshops inspiring and I am now a convert to splashing paint onto wet paper! It’s great fun and I’ve created some amazing images.

Travel – Get in the car, on the bus/train or cycle and go somewhere beautiful. Here in England we have The National Trust and English Heritage – plenty of old houses and castles with stunning gardens. Treat yourself to a day out. Take your journal and wander round these places and write if you feel inspired.

Music – listen to music. Different kinds of music. Try out different styles. Discover new albums! Just sit and listen (or get up and dance if you want to!) Don’t try and write to the music, just absorb the sounds.

Read – Reading something you enjoy will allow your brain to relax and trigger off creativity. Don’t use reading as an excuse for not writing. But do read to feed your imagination. Too tired to read text? Find an art or picture book and mooch through that with a glass of red wine or a beer.

Helpful Links

http://spillwords.com

https://claudiamcgillart.wordpress.com

This post is contributed as Guest post by Freya Pickard.

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