Tag Archives: stillness

Losing Drama, Finding Stillness

This morning, my older son slept through his alarm, well on his way to be late for his 9 am class. It would have been so easy to lay into him about responsibility and better planning, or use guilt as its usual weapon, or snarky humor in an attempt to mask annoyance for wit. Instead, I offered to drive him.

Last week, my younger son forget to check the family calendar before buying the entry ticket for the PSAT at the high school. When he did look at the test date, he realized he had a commitment that he couldn’t change and would not be able to take the PSAT. Nor could he get the ticket refunded. My initial internal response was to launch into a lecture designed simply to make me right and him wrong.

All of those choices might have felt good, in an emotionally cathartic sense, at least for the moment. They might even have felt like some kind of victory. As if every moment of every day is a battle in a larger war.

Am I annoyed that I had to shift my schedule to drive one son to school? Sure. Am I annoyed that the other son didn’t take 30 seconds to check the calendar before buying a ticket he cannot use? Sure. But here’s my life lesson: being annoyed is my emotion. Displacing it as anger on my children accomplishes nothing useful.

I assure you, I’m no zen master, able to serenely glide through a universe of strife with a beatific smile on my face. I’m your typical harried, middle-aged woman, coping with responsibilities and obligations. (Easier to juggle chainsaws, some days.) Yet, something held me back from lashing out. Because that’s what those responses are: lashing out from anger and fear in a fruitless attempt to control what cannot be controlled.

I’ve spent too much of this year wallowing in negative emotions. My writing career isn’t where I want it to be. In over 4 years, my agent hasn’t been able to sell any of my work. The title I self-published sells  a handful of copies in any given month. It’s all too easy to look at what does sell and drown in either despair or envy.

 There’s an old joke about a man who complains to God about all the misfortunes in his life. The details of the joke don’t matter, it’s the punch line that gets me. The man turns to God and shouts, “Why me?” God’s answer? “Why not?” The past two years have been enormously difficult ones in my life. It started with a house fire in December of 2010, continued with family crises and illnesses, and just one month ago, my mother passed away. I don’t think it matters how old you are when you lose a parent. Losing your first and most emotionally charged bond in life is an enormous blow. One that I’ve been moving through with the support of friends and family.

 I’d like to think that my newfound sense of stillness is a result of that process. I do know that ridding myself of the false drama of that adrenaline-laden nearly automatic response has been extremely freeing. Not just for me, but for my family as well. The son I drove to school? He apologized and thanked me. The son with the scheduling snafu? He will be taking some practice tests on his own and has offered to repay me the ticket fee from his own money. As far as my writing goes, one word, one sentence, one chapter at a time.

LJ Cohen




A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend and described my life as a game of Jenga. Between my hours on the WIP, my kids’ end-of-school activities, projects and exam preparations, jam-packed weekends and my husband’s work schedule, it felt like adding one more thing to the pile might just bring it all crashing down. 

Or bring me crashing down. 

I learned to exercise the power of no some years back, when life took a dark and twisty turn, and I’ve thankfully retained the skill. But there are some things you can’t say no to, like research papers on George Orwell and models of the solar system and family weddings and plumbing disasters and end-of-school parties and…well, you get the picture.

By the last day of school, I was worn down and wiped out. I was brain dead and soul tired, feeling completely depleted and struggling with my writing. Luckily, I’d planned ahead and within 48 hours, we were standing on the sand in Santa Cruz, with a lovely 8 night stay stretching before us.

Usually, we roll into town and I’m immediately there, instantly relaxed and rejuvenated. This time, it took a while longer because I was so tightly wound. In fact, I was writing in my journal early on the second morning when I realized I wasn’t there yet. So I made a concerted effort to let go, to turn off the shoulds, to stop the addiction to doing and surrender to being. Once that happened, once I relaxed and started to breathe again, once I stilled my mind and gave it time to wander, the ending of the WIP started unfurling itself in my head, one precious petal at a time. I suddenly felt that familiar, joyous leaping in my middle as my creative fire reignited and the voices of my characters rushed in to fill the void.

Creativity requires stillness. It requires being as much as doing, and the creative mind needs time to relax, unbend, and pull itself away from the ordinary daily life tasks. It’s in that wandering dream space that inspiration happens, that plot kinks unravel, characters speak and story begins to paint itself in bold, brilliant strokes.

When life feels like a big, bad wave tumbling your hapless butt to shore, sometimes the best thing to do is walk out of the surf for a while, sit on the sand and soak up some sun while you catch your breath and wait for the magic to return. 

My stint on the beach seems to have done the trick for me. But I’m curious. How do you refuel your soul and rekindle your creative spark?