Friday, November 29, 2013

Celebrations Barriers

What do you know about the psychology of barriers?

The summary goes like this: We all know what we *should* do - let me illustrate using one of my barrier issues - vacuuming (keeping the living quarters clean and tidy). The mental script goes like this: I should vacuum. What happens: Nothing. Why? There's a barrier. Possibly several. The psychology comes in when you look at the gap between what you say you want and what you actually do. The goal is to identify the obstacles keeping you from acting and remove them so that you take action.

It's actually applicable to this week's topic of celebrations.

Something odd happened when I hit some major milestones. For years, people who weren't writers had told me 'the process should be it's own reward, not getting published'. When I got the call and my first contract, those people were some of the first to congratulate me. My sister and her daughter decorated my birthday cake that year as a book with my name on the cover. My husband took me to dinner at a restaurant we love but choose to afford only once ever few years. The first book came out. It won an award. It finaled in the RITAs. I was invincible. And unhappy. I mean, how the hell do you follow THAT? Especially when you aren't entirely certain how you did it the first time? Still, it took awhile for the unhappy to sink through the buzz. After all, I was riding high on people who weren't related to me saying nice things about my work.

But just like a steady diet of chocolate cake loses it's appeal after awhile, the buzz started to wear off. I needed more and more celebrate-y stuff to feed the 'I'm a princess' delusion. I don't know when I figured out that celebrating major milestones was dangerous. For me, it had become a barrier. I chased after the ego-boosting, distracting high and then wondered why I wasn't writing much anymore.

I did the barrier psychology analysis. I embraced being mortified by my behavior. And I went cold turkey on the celebrating. Briefly. Because in the analysis I found out a few things. 
  1. There are good 'drugs' and bad 'drugs'. Writing, for me, is good. Celebrating, for me, has a few issues.
  2. Each day has a gift to offer if you're awake enough and willing to look for it.
  3. Major milestones *can* be celebrated - but on a small scale.
  4. Big celebrations belong to the family, not the individual.
That first one, for me was a game changer. There comes a point of immersion for me - in every story I tell. The sooner that happens, the easier the words come and the less work the job of writing the book becomes. It was the best thing on earth to figure that out and swap that 'seeking immersion' drug for the celebration, ego-stroking one. The second? Notice those things that give you energy - for me, it may be a crow with a single, snow-white feather in her black wing. Or the tiny Chihuahua who comes out of her apartment building every morning with THE biggest 'It's ALL MINE' chip on her shoulder. A perfect cup of tea. Or a great evening spent with friends yelling advice at the Walking Dead characters. Those daily celebrations feed the writing. Especially if I can engage in them with a clear conscience because I made my word count goal for the day. Number three is about removing expectation from my poor, innocent family members. They want to be excited for me when things go well, but this whole 'writing a book' thing is an alien planet. Just like being a quantum mechanics physicist is another whole dimension for me. I want to understand. Chances are really high I won't. Not in this lifetime. Not with the brain I was allotted this go around. So major milestones - like a second contract - get WAY scaled back celebrations, if they get celebrated at all. A movie. Or a trip to the bookstore for a new read. Getting a contract may feel to me like I landed on the moon, but it's really 'hey, you're gainfully employed, congrats!' No more. No less. And the last? The best way for me to stay grounded is to make big celebrations not about me (you know, unless it's my birthday - but I'm going to share that birthday cake with everyone). The ego is insidious and likes the taste of that 'all about me' candy. Our culture supplies plenty of opportunity for major celebratory episodes if we want them - holidays, weddings, births, birthdays. It helps me to keep those parties about hanging out and enjoying everyone's company. Before I go back to burying myself in making stuff up and putting it on paper. . .

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