Posted tagged ‘writing’

Bedside Blogging and Beyond

September 25, 2009

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By Cathleen Hulbert

When I started blogging a few months ago it was because I had something to say about healthcare reform. I needed to blow off steam and I needed to tell it like it is from the front lines in the world of American healthcare.

I found that I loved the way it felt to blog, like I was stretching after a long nap. Newspaper reporting had been my first career. When I wrote for the Atlanta Journal Constitution years and years ago, I mostly reported what other people had to say. Opinion pieces were for grown-ups. I didn’t yet feel like one. 

Back in 1989, when I was wrapping up my newspaper career, I left my home in Roswell, GA and moved to New York City. I felt a strange calling to change vocations. I needed something that would pay even less than newspaper reporting and offer me more stress. I say this tongue-in-cheek. It was a true calling to realize that I wanted to become a social worker and that somehow I wanted to do boot camp in the poorest neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I enrolled at Columbia University’s top rated social work graduate program. I stopped all writing for a time, with the exception of that academic style of writing required to get a degree.

While working in healthcare as a clinical social worker, I started to see and feel things that I thought had to be stuffed, but which really needed to be written about. Working in an AIDS unit at the height of the crisis in the United States, when the diagnosis was an automatic death sentence, was shocking, numbing and yet somehow illuminating. I started to see the demise of human bodies from a front-row-seat perspective, and yet I also saw the power of the human spirit. The latter seemed to grow in strength as the body grew weaker. That was big-time, front-page news for my fellow seekers. But still, I  wasn’t writing.

Then I moved home to Georgia and started working with kids at a pediatric hospital: kids in car accidents, kids who nearly drowned in the backyard pool, kids with cancer and sickle cell disease, kids with brain and spinal cord injuries. Again I saw the magnificence of the soul and how it seemed to expand in a room as the little bodies sat dying, sick or broken in hospital beds.

But still, I wasn’t writing about it.

Then came the book — the book, the novel, the time-travel tale that would somehow come knocking on my head and say, “It’s time to put it all together. It’s time to talk about what you have seen and what you have learned. And guess what, girlfriend? You are going to put it all down in the form of a novel!” I didn’t even know that I had one in me, but apparently I did. It’s a good thing I opened that door when the knocking started.

The novel is called “The First Lamp — A Story of Cosmic Illumination.” I published independently earlier this year, a labor of love which I discussed in one of my first blogs. It’s been an amazing journey. The sequel is in progress.

Still, there are days when I have an opinion and I want to write about it right here, right now. That’s why I love blogging. And I love reading what fellow writers have to say. I can safely say that it has changed my life in ways I could not anticipate.

Today is an excellent day for this writer. 

I have my first article, a reprint of my blog, in an award-winning, online newspaper called Like the Dew. It’s a collection of news articles, reviews, commentary and more by free-lance journalists and fellow bloggers. And hot dog: My blog about publishing independently is situated just underneath a beautifully illustrated piece about sex and nudity. You can’t beat that kind of exposure!

Below is a link to this next wonderful chapter in my life as a born-again (in the literary sense) writer. Did I mention that it’s an excellent day?

http://likethedew.com/2009/09/25/the-courage-to-publish-independently/

cover photo

This is the photo that I fell in love with while looking fo a front cover design for my novel. It was graciously donated by photographer William Tan. Below is the finished product.

book cover

Cathleen Hulbert, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in the healthcare field and a free-lance journalist with a background in newspaper reporting. She also is the author of “The First Lamp — A Story of Cosmic Illumination,” a time-travel tale about love, forgiveness and redemption. She lives in Roswell, GA. For more information about the author and the book, go to www.cathleenhulbert.com.

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The Shark and the Ring

September 16, 2009
shark self
During a recent opportunity created by a gifted shaman, I found myself in a safe place to do some profound healing and dreamtime journeying. By dreamtime, I mean the state of mind between waking and sleeping that is so productive in the Aboriginal culture. In this state, I saw that I was in the water watching different boats go by. Each symbolized a different period in the development of humanity. There was a mariner’s boat, a Spanish ship and a motorboat. Suddenly, a huge shark approached me at close range and opened its mouth. Instead of being afraid, I reached in and pulled out a ring. I did this with the peace and joy of a child pulling a ladybug from a flower.
Shark swam by again at close range, this time radiating feelings of peace and friendship. Never in my life would I expect this to happen. I have had a fear of sharks since seeing the movie “Jaws” as a youth, and any scenario that placed me bobbing in the sea would have brought forth deep fears of being eaten. That is the beauty of this experience. Shark is around now, somehow coming up from the depths of my mind, and he is not destroying me! Instread, he is bringing balance to my world of turtles, whales and dolphins. And as the days pass, shark remains very “warm” for a potentially fierce fish. It really tickles me that this is so.
Shark says that he is my power animal now and he will help keep me fearless in journeying. Shark told me that when he opened his mouth and I reached in without fear to pull out the “engagement” ring, I completed an initiation, a right of passage. The ring is simply a symbol that I am fully engaged, fully present in my commitment to this sacred journey. Shark is a surprise on a conscious level, but apparently I created that test for myself as of way of knowing that I am ready to take the next big step into the world of healing. He is my symbol of embracing non-duality. By embracing him, I am less likely to project and create scary things onto my world that I could take seriously enough to do damage. I believe this dreamtime shark because my world has become more peaceful since I met him. This shark has told me something else: all the world is a cartoon, that’s right, a cartoon, and we create the characters as we go along, making them fun or fierce, depending on what serves our growth. A shark can become a friend. A ladybug can become fierce.
It’s all up to us.

Cathleen Hulbert, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in the healthcare field and a free-lance journalist with a background in newspaper reporting. She also is the author of “The First Lamp — A Story of Cosmic Illumination,” a time-travel tale about love, forgiveness and redemption. She lives in Roswell, GA. For more information about the author and the book, go to www.cathleenhulbert.com.

 

I Had the Courage to Publish Independently. Now Was That So Hard?

September 15, 2009

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Here’s my story.

I started my journey as a first-time novelist full of hope and expectation that exactly the right agent, followed by exactly the right publisher would materialize at the proper time and represent me. After all, writing my time-travel tale was a joyful experience. No suffering writer here — just one woman happy to be the conduit for characters that were so human they were fun to be with. Their conversations seemed to happen in the next room with my eavesdropping ear pressed against the door. The ancient poetry that my beloved “fictional” kahuna shared glided effortlessly from her lips to my soul and my computer. Even Gabe, the heroine’s boyfriend, steadfastly linear and reluctant to embrace the mysticism in this story, decided to bare his soul to me. He made his fears so completely understood that I was ready to give him free passage to the story’s leap-of-faith ending. And he willingly obliged, boldly going where no psychologist had gone before. As it would turn out, even the dolphins and sea turtles that materialized in my story — heck even the wind — were more verbal and responsive than the many publishers and agents to whom I wrote.

Now, I know this is to be expected. After all, who am I? Just one woman with a pen, computer, a passion for story. Sending out my query letters was at first an exciting experience, until the rejection form-letters came back in SASE (self-addressed stamped envelopes) wearing my own best penmanship to deliver news of temporary defeat. It hurt. I’ll admit it. It hurt badly. How was I ever going to break through this barrier and get noticed? Why was I even given this hope-filled story if I didn’t have what it takes to get it published? Fortunatly, there is another side to me to balance out the sensitive writer. I have a tough skin and I love a challenge. I’m always cheering for — and assisting in any way possible — the deserving “under dog.” This time it was ME. And even when disappointment temporarily got the best of me and I thought once again about giving up, one of the characters started giving me a “Oh no you don’t!” lecture and I was back to hope. I knew that the people rejecting me had not read my story, except for one. And she turned out to be an angel. A highly regarded agent, she asked to read the full manuscript of “The First Lamp” twice, heightening my sense of anticipation and bringing me crashing back to feelings of defeat when she was not ready to take me on as a client. But she gave me some surprisingly good advice about my not-exactly-mainstream (and therefore harder to sell to a publisher) book-to-be. “I recommend that you self-publish right away,” she said, contradicting the old-school notion that this would be the kiss of death.

“Get it out there and show the publishers that you can build a following. Then come back to me and we’ll talk.” Now I’m not sure about building a “following,” but I am loving this chapter in the journey of “The First Lamp.” After comparison shopping for a way to go “independent” with my novel, I chose BookSurge, a subsidiary of Amazon.com. The staff could not have been more professional, and the cost of publishing my book was amazingly affordable. I remember the first time I went to Amazon.com and saw the cover smiling back at me triumphantly: “There. We did it. Now was that so hard?”

Six months later, I’m happy to report that the book breathes and lives. It has been to more countries than I have and so many more states. It speaks to people in its own way and then sometimes they speak to me and share insights that I might have missed. After all, half the time I was just taking dictation. I’m not the only person who is going to understand the layers of meaning in this book. And this circle of hope and anticipation keeps me going: to a sequel and short-stories and blogs like this one, where I have a chance to do what the characters in my book implore the heroine, Sarah, to do. USE YOU VOICE! Speak up with your powerful voice! So here’s my humble advice: Got Story? Go ahead and follow your dreams and try that traditional route. But don’t keep it in the computer too long. There is simply no need to do that anymore. And who knows where you and your book will travel — and what kinds of people you will meet?

My current project is to ask some of my favorite authors to read the book for an endoresment. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Some already have said “yes.” We’re just getting started.

Cathleen Hulbert, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in the healthcare field and a free-lance journalist with a background in newspaper reporting. She also is the author of “The First Lamp — A Story of Cosmic Illumination,” a time-travel tale about love, forgiveness and redemption. She lives in Roswell, GA. For more information about the author and the book, go to www.cathleenhulbert.com.

 

Richard Bach’s Curious Lives

September 15, 2009

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How would it feel to live in a world where we choose our highest right and not our darkest wrong, where we lift each other instead of always and ever putting each other down? How could such a civilization begin, and where would it go? So were born The Ferret Chronicles, the story of a doomed civilization that returned to life upon the single act of one individual.”

               Richard Bach, “Curious Lives: Adventures from the Ferret Chronicles.” 

 

    Richard Bach’s books call from across the bookstore. I respond without hesitation, learning to trust that part of me that knows where the treasure is buried.  “Curious Lives,” Bach’s collection of short stories, rests against one of his first books, that old friend and phenomenal bestseller, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” I reach for the new book and study its cover, an endearing ferret constellation set against a purple background. “Curious Lives. Adventures from the Ferret Chronicles.” Yes, I sense treasure.

             “It’s in this book, what you are looking for today,” an inner voice says. It’s the kid. My inner kid, and she’s usually right. Another part of me tries to argue. “Ferret stories? Shouldn’t you be reading something a little loftier, something a little more spiritual?” I look around at other choices lining the shelves of Atlanta’s Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore.   

            “No! I’m not leaving without the ferret,” the kid insists, looking back at the drawing on the cover. She digs in her heels — and wins. Actually, many engaging ferrets leave the bookstore that day, a cast of adventurous, brave and insightful beings who come straight from the heart and soul of a warm and brilliant man. Brimming with true spiritual treasure, “Curious Lives” is perhaps Bach’s finest achievement. He adores the characters, he says, and has ideas for another 40 ferret tales.  Already a bestseller in Italy and Korea, his newest book has been slower to catch on in the United States. But he remains hopeful, seeing these stories of profound decency, mixed with great fun and discovery, as the perfect material for a family film. 

             These bright beings, with their mannerisms and journeys so cleverly depicted, do exactly what ferrets are good at. They get into places that are supposedly impassible and off-limits. In other words they get past our defense mechanisms, right into our hungry hearts and battered psyches. They are a highly evolved race, these ferrets. Theirs is a civilization without malice, greed or violence. With so much energy and imagination freed up for other things, they live in a world with few permanent limitations. Opportunities for adventure are everywhere: under the sea, in a museum, on planes and boats caught in stormy weather – even on a ranch where young ferrets, called kits, learn the ropes and study the stars. A former Air Force pilot and barnstormer who flies his own planes as often as possible, Bach continues to draw much from his own life in these tales. As a boy, he spent two years living on a ranch in Arizona and maintains enormous respect for the animal kingdom.  

               Bach keeps writing books that show us how beautiful life could be if we only remembered the truth about ourselves. Somehow, he makes it easier to remember and to laugh at our own digressions. 

             “Ah mortals. They love to forget,” says an inner critic, portrayed as a dragon, in the story of two writer ferrets. The dragon has much more to say, of course, being a harsh critic and all. But what one ferret learns about the true nature of this entity will be deeply moving to anyone who creates with words. The dragon is given a name: Cinnamon. The writer, Budgeron Ferret, does get scorched, but he’s never complete toast.

             As a writer who could relate to Budgeron, I got up the nerve to contact one of Bach’s publishing representatives. I asked for a telephone interview and it was granted. Bach seemed happy to explain why ferrets, and not human beings, were suited for these stories, and what he thinks about the future of our own human race. When I asked him if has ever personally known a an inner dragon such as Cinnamon, this very private writer answered honestly. He spoke of this “dragon” with a smile in his voice.

             Bach: I know Cinnamon very intimately. For the longest time I would say that I had never experienced writer’s block. But when I was working on the story of the writer ferrets, it happened. And I thought, my God. I had forgotten how to write. The dragon says, ‘Just be quiet and don’t eat much and we’ll let you stay on the planet.’ It wants us to believe, ‘Who cares? So what? Nobody will care.’ But the truth is, millions of people will care. When one individual writer sings her song of beauty, she changes the lives of a million others. So there, dragon! There’s your ‘So what!’ I put everything I know about writing in that story. It’s all there.

         Hulbert: Why did you use ferrets, and not people, in these stories?

        Bach: That’s a very good question. If you’re writing about human beings, a little wall goes up. In stories about people you are going to be on the lookout for deception. Often, what they seem to be is not actually what they are. But whenever you look into the eyes of an animal, whether it is a dog or a cat or a tiger, they communicate to you, “Here’s who I am. They are very straight about. They might be communicating, “I will bite you if you come closer and I’m not in the right mood, but that’s real and you have to respect that. There are very few animals that try to deceive us. That allows me as a writer, as well as the reader, to get closer quicker

        Hulbert: What do you think about the generation that first embraced Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Did we get sidetracked since the days that book first came out?

       Bach: We have the power to destroy ourselves as well as the environment. As a species we love what I’d call brinks-person-ship, going right to the edge of disaster and somehow managing to pull back and recover. But my bet is still on the creative and playful and positive in the species. I think we will manage to survive and gradually turn things around. We’re like a giant tanker at sea that takes forever to turn. We’re a young species. We’re evolving. In the last half-century we’ve made enormous strides toward understanding. Until recently, it would be a ticket to the lockup and padded room if you had dreams of a world in which we don’t enjoy killing each other. I’ve decided in my own personal life that I withdraw my consent form the idea of evil, that vicious, mad current. Overall, I have an extremely positive sense that a consciousness has been born in these last decades in which it is all right to say that I want to have an individual connection with that “Is” that is out there, that source of light and love, a personal direct touch with that wonder. For someone to say this in 1930 would have been unthinkable. Now we have whole sections of bookstores devoted to this family learning. I am delighted to be a part of that. I have a very warm sense about those who found Jonathan and believed in him when the story came out, who believed in that strange book.

            Hulbert: It was viewed as strange?

           Bach: It was rejected 18 times by publishing houses. I began writing in 1959 and it wasn’t published until 1970. It came in this strange psychic way: Wham. I was sitting there and here was suddenly this amazing projection on the wall of my office. It was like a Technicolor movie. I wrote it down with green ballpoint pen on the back of some old stationary. And then it stopped before there was an ending. Somebody just pulled the plug, and I thought, “Now that really is weird, but thank you very, very much because I love this little seagull.” I thought I could come up with an ending, but I couldn’t. I had no idea what I was going to do. So I put the unfinished manuscript away. Eight years later, in Iowa now — no longer California – it came back like it was an hour ago that I got the first part. I typed as fast as I could. I don’t know why there had to be that wait. But I knew that any story that began like that and finished that way had to be guided and directed. It was celestial timing. At first, the publishing houses rejected it – unanimously. They believed in me and they believed in my future as a promising writer. They didn’t believe in a talking seagull. Not a talking seagull!

Hulbert: And then it took off.

Bach: Yes. It has sold about 30 million copies in 47 languages. Jonathan’s middle name is actually Cinderella.

Hulbert: Are you hoping that “Curious Lives” will have the same Cinderella story as Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

            Bach: I would love to see that happen. I don’t understand why it hasn’t happened. But I am a servant. My job is to write the stories and love these characters. Beyond that, I’m going to be led. But my hope is that someone will pick up this book and say, “This could be a wildly successful film. We’re seeing family films become major box office hits. That’s very encouraging.   The whole idea for these stories came to me like a great burst of light. These are creatures who won’t hesitate to risk their lives for an ideal. But it is not cloaked in “us vs. them.”  They love challenges. They’re interested in celebrities and the choices that other people make. It hit me. What if there was a culture so much like us: curious, intelligent, graceful, courageous, thoughtful, funny. But they didn’t live with the concept of evil? I’m just so enchanted with the little guys and their great adventures. When Shamrock realizes, for instance, that her ancestors came from the stars, I still can’t read that part out loud without being moved to tears. .

            Hulbert: That scene affected me exactly the same why. It was incredibly moving. Is it because that’s our story, too?    

            Bach: Yes. I believe it’s our story, too. We have deep, intimate connections with our origins and our true family. Those who have shared our values and ideas since way back in time. 

            Interviewer:  So we can learn, as the characters did, where to put our focus and how to choose our destiny? 

            Bach: Definitely. And we don’t have to wait for everyone to change. We can make that choice as individuals. September 11 was the turning point for me. I saw the images of that first building being hit and I said to myself, “I know we will be shown that picture 30,000 more times. It was shown again and again. I decided not to allow my own personal consciousness to experience that. I shut down the television and stopped reading the paper, and I noticed that the birds are still singing and the little squirrels and animals were still moving around. It was a huge epiphany for me that there is an enormous industry that feeds on our capacity for instant global communication. If there is any disharmony in some other part of the world, we know about it instantly. We are free to take it in to our consciousness. We can carry its weight and feel useless and hopeless. But it’s important to recognize that we are the sentinels of our own consciousness. I have other things to do with my consciousness. I have light to find and stories to tell.

Cathleen Hulbert, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in the healthcare field and a free-lance journalist with a background in newspaper reporting. She also is the author of “The First Lamp — A Story of Cosmic Illumination,” a time-travel tale about love, forgiveness and redemption. She lives in Roswell, GA. For more information about the author and the book, go to www.cathleenhulbert.com.

 

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