Khaos Kass

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Toward the end of film school, I worked on a few projects for a local church. One of the projects was a take off on the new tv reality show Survivor. Since I’d never seen the show I made certain I watched the next episode. It was my first foray into reality television. Five minutes into the show I was hooked. The project never came together, but I became a huge Survivor fan. Over seventeen years I’ve seen most of Survivor’s thirty-three seasons.

Last year I was setting up my video equipment when an attorney walked into the room and handed me her card. She looked so familiar I smiled and said, “I know you. We’ve worked together before.”

She returned the smile with a wry look and sat down. As we proceeded through the deposition, I kept trying to place where and when we’d worked together. I felt like I really knew her, but couldn’t remember. It was very disconcerting. I usually recognize names of attorneys I’ve worked with before but the name on her card wasn’t familiar.

A couple hours later we broke for lunch. The court reporter looked at the attorney and said, “I feel like I should know you, but can’t place where we met before.”

“I was on Survivor,” she replied with a grin. “Happens all the time.”

Khaos Kass! Of course I knew her.

Kassandra McQuillen, an attorney from Tehachapi, had been on two seasons of Survivor. She’d thrived on creating chaos during both seasons and was quite contentious on screen. Surprisingly, the woman deliberating in front of me all morning had been anything but controversial. She was personable, calm, and articulate.

All during lunch Kass regaled us with stories of her Survivor adventures, and shared how common it was for people recognize her. She remarked on the wild and often inappropriate things people say.

There’s a weird phenomena that happens to reality stars. Viewers vicariously participate in the intimate actions and thoughts of the stars to the point they think they know them. So when a viewer meets the reality star in person there’s a sense of false intimacy that transcends normal interpersonal boundaries.

I hadn’t cared for Khaos Kass on the show, but I really enjoyed working with Kassandra the attorney. The person I saw on the show and formed opinions about was a product of creative filming and editing. The attorney in front of me was a delightful, adventurous woman I’d enjoy getting to know.

This is a cautionary tale considering our current political milieu.

We should be careful of the opinions we foster based only on what’s seen on TV. Reality might actually be surprisingly different.

Please tread lightly with each other.

(I’m speaking to both sides here.)

Consequences

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My heart pounded at the sight of swirling lights in my rear view mirror. I had pushed a yellow light then realized there was a policeman directly behind me. Terrified he was going to pull me over, I quickly turned into a parking lot—right in front of a pedestrian. That’s when the lights came on.

I knew better than to turn in front of the pedestrian but thought there was enough room, so I swung wide to avoid him. Apprehension at the thought of being pulled over blinded my judgment. Had I not turned to avoid the policeman in the first place, he never would have stopped me. My foolish action created that which I’d feared.

What a wake up call. The yellow light, the policeman, and the pedestrian spoke volumes to my heart. I needed to slow down and stop pushing so hard. With so many irons in the fire I was starting to burn myself, and could potentially hurt others in the process.

When I’m pushing myself beyond what I can physically or emotionally handle, I lose sight of what’s right in front of me. I get so caught up with details and deadlines that I fail to notice how haphazardly I’m operating—like pushing the yellow light instead of stopping; cutting myself while frantically chopping vegetables; tripping over the dog who wants a little attention; or choosing a glass of wine instead of doing yoga to relax at night (the wine keeps me up, but the yoga makes for peaceful slumber). When I’m emotionally shut down, I tend to direct others as if they are pawns on a chessboard, not my friends and family.

I’m happy to report the policeman left me with a stern warning and not a ticket. The trauma of being pulled over made me aware of how fragile my emotional state was, and how I needed to stop everything and reprioritize. If I continued in the same mode of being there were going to be consequences.

I changed my attitude and approach to life. I started accepting help when others volunteered, and stopped volunteering for everything that needed to be done. I’m less self sufficient and capable than I thought. Now I turn down work when I need rest, and I rest when I feel overworked instead of trying to push through. My new mantra is: “There is always enough time”.

God speaks to us in mysterious ways—sometimes through circumstances. I heard His voice loud and clear that day. Heeding the warning has made my life more livable, and me more easy to live with (just ask my husband).

Superwoman I am not—nor do I desire to be. I’m just glad I finally took the suit off.

Writing Dandelions

img_0744The process of writing reminds me of dandelions. Creative ideas often sprout up out of nowhere. If we turn our attention to them, give them a little energy, they bloom into beautiful little yellow flowers of possibilities.

It takes time for them to mature. We write, and rewrite, edit, then edit more until our blooms ripen into full blown masterpieces.

Then we pluck and blow them into the literary stratosphere hoping that some will find fertile places to land. Most of our efforts will fall on unyielding pavement, but the one piece that takes root and gets watered will bloom into a thousand new possibilities for the future.

Dandelions are prolific, tenacious, and indefatigable. So must writers be if they want to find success for their efforts. We are motived from an insatiable desire to creatively corral thoughts into meaningful prose that will entertain, inform, educate, influence, and inspire the world.

Rejections are simply literary seeds that fall onto rigid soil. Eventually one of our progeny will germinate in a fertile place. When it does, all the time and toil it took for us to grow, create, release and wait as wordsmiths will have been worth it.

Happy Chair

img_0741My co-worker laughed when I asked how her little one was, then proceeded to regale me with the antics of her three year old. It had been a while since Naomi and I last worked together and time had flown by.

“I’m turning into my mother!” She stated with a grin. “I never thought I’d ever say that, but it’s happening.” In an effort to get her little girl to pick up toys in the afternoon, Naomi had started using an activity chart and stickers. I told her I’d employed similar methods when my daughter was young.

“Now I’m even contemplating using the Happy Chair,” Naomi admitted.

“Happy Chair?” I replied. “I’ve heard of time-outs and chairs in corners…what’s a Happy Chair?”

“It was my Mom’s favorite punishment, and I hated it. She would set us on a large stool and tell us we couldn’t get down until we were happy,” Naomi explained. “It was so aggravating, but it worked.”

“That’s brilliant!”

“Yeah, and she could tell if we really meant it or not. It’s hard to fake a smile.”

I pondered the Happy Chair idea as we turned back to our work. I think that’s what God’s done to me in the past. Put me in a difficult situation that I couldn’t get out of until I’d either accepted it, or learned to be happy in spite of it.

I read a book years ago entitled “Happiness is a Choice”. I wasn’t in a very good emotional place at that time, and didn’t get much out of the book because of my sarcastic attitude when reading it. Over time, though, something must have sunk in, or else I’ve become wise in my old age. I’ve learned not to let circumstances prevent me from enjoying life. There’s always something to be thankful about. And thankful people are usually happy people.

I think Naomi’s Mom had the right idea. We could all benefit from a little time in the Happy Chair!

Alternate Universe

alternate-universeWhen things of the Spirit becomes more important to us than that of the flesh, a transformation begins. Awareness becomes more attuned to the unseen than the seen. Hearts become aligned to the will of God instead of bound by the will of man. True transformation happens when the reality of the Spirit supersedes the reality of the flesh and our eyes are opened to the life of the unseen realm around us.

We do not war against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities in the spirit realm that seek to break into and influence our world. To resist the enemy you must first be aware that he exists. There is a tug of war on our souls, and what we give place to influences the outcomes in our lives and the future of this planet.

 I have chosen to believe God the Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth; to follow Jesus Christ, my redeemer; and to receive the Holy Spirit, without whom I would falter in this uncertain world. There is no greater choice each person makes than who they align their souls with. In the world there is corruption and hopelessness, with the flesh there is dissatisfaction and want. It is the life of the Spirit that breaks through and brings light into the world to lift man above his baser instincts into righteous living and the transformational power of love. This is where righteousness, peace and joy are found regardless of the circumstances that surround us.

Doubt Not!

There’s an interesting dynamic in the writing process that nobody talks about. It’s something that happens to all who engage in creative endeavors. Doubt and insecurity raise their ugly heads and attack at the most inopportune times.

“What the heck am I doing?”

“Who am I to think I can write effectively?”

“I’m just making a fool of myself.”

Inner demons raise their ugly heads and fill our thoughts with doubt and fear which threaten to paralyze the creative process and reinforce childhood inadequacy. These nasty thoughts seize control of our brains and cry mutiny.

For me, this has become a regular pattern in my creative process. There have been times, perhaps in the past, when those thoughts won and prevented me from pursuing projects and testing dreams. But no more. I’m on to them.

PerseveranceWhen I push forward through doubt and insecurity and complete what I’m working on anyway—good things happen.

I find joy in exploring new genres.

I grow as a writer.

I get published.

 

I’ve learned that when these doubts and fears surface, they are often precursors to a breakthrough. Instead of giving into their taunts or letting them tie my gut into knots of anxiety, I simply notice that they are there and move on. These ghosts from the past have no weight unless I give it to them.

A similar dynamic happens when I’m find myself stuck in the middle of writing something new. When my brain can’t seem to vocalize what my gut is feeling it seems like nothing is happening. But if I sit with the nothing, instead of being afraid of it or making judgments about it, there can be sudden breakthroughs of brilliance.

All of us wrestle with doubt and insecurity, it’s part of life. Freedom comes when we stop giving those thoughts the power to control us or affect our behavior. We do that not through resistance, but acceptance. We acknowledge the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, maybe even get curious about them, but then move forward in spite of them. When they have nothing to stick to because we don’t engage (don’t take what they are suggesting as truth), they eventually fall silently away.

Don’t let negative thoughts bind up your creative process. Work in spite of them. Then, new horizons of creativity and expression will open up before you with surprising and positive results.

 

 

Silent Rejuvenation

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We were enjoying the cheese and wine reception after checking into our rooms when I glanced at the schedule: “Silence beings after the first session tonight.” I quickly scanned through the week and found that it wouldn’t end until after Eucharist six days later. My friends and I looked at each other in horror. Completely silent? When we signed up for this six day silent retreat, we assured ourselves that certainly they didn’t mean absolute silence, who could do that?

We looked at each other and laughed at our folly. Three little Anglicans at a Catholic retreat. We hadn’t known what to expect. We were in for it now. Other participants assured us that the silence would be the easiest part of the week, but we were skeptical.

What attracted us to this retreat was not just the silent part (none of us had ever been to a silent retreat), but that each participant was assigned to a spiritual director we’d meet with for an hour each day. At least we were going to be able to talk to someone during the week.

The first twenty four hours were the hardest. With no distractions I became rudely aware of the million thoughts circling my brain. Fortunately, as I shifted focus onto scripture, the beauty of creation, and the simple pleasure of a good meal, my thoughts quieted and I became aware of God’s presence all around me. My body relaxed and my mind let go. I reveled in the short teaching sessions, communed with God through journaling, excitedly shared insights with my wonderful spiritual director, and thoroughly enjoyed each evening mass.

My friend Leslie summed up the week when she said, “We are always inviting God into our world, but being away on this retreat was God inviting us into His world.” There was such peace, a sense of timelessness, no pressures or duties to fulfill. The silence was freeing in so many ways, and each of us came away with a deeper understanding of God’s love and presence with us. This week was a time of true rejuvenation. I came home refreshed, restored, and ready to engage with life.

Whenever I share about the retreat, the first reaction is always “I could never do that”. But I want to assure everyone that the silence is the easiest part. Entering God’s world is a spiritual spa for your soul and everyone who comes away to rest in His presence will be refreshed. My friends and I plan to make this spiritual trek a yearly pilgrimage.

So the next time you have an opportunity to participate in a silent retreat—go for it!

What I Learned From Blogging

Ok folks, this is it—the last of the Writer’s of Kern 2016 Blog Challenge A to Z posts. Twenty-six posts over thirteen weeks. Whew! Definitely not for the faint of heart. When I joined this blog challenge I had no idea what I was getting into, or the time commitment it would take. That said, I’m happy to report it’s been a great writing experience and I learned a lot from stepping out of my comfort zone.

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Here’s what I discovered:

1) I wrote even when I didn’t feel like it. Having a goal to meet forced me to write regardless of what else was happening in my life.

2) I found what kind of posts people respond to most. Those with animals in the title. My top hit was for “Copywriting, Cows and Country Music”.

3) It provided an opportunity to experiment with different types of posts. Memoir, flash fiction, inspirational, thought provoking, informational, religious, anecdotal.

4) Involvement in a writing community is fun. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the other bloggers and their wide variety of posts for the challenge.

5) I got instant feedback on my writing. Sometimes within 5 minutes of posting. Knowing people liked what I wrote inspired confidence and encouraged me to write more.

6) Don’t post fiction you want to publish later. Blog posts count as being published.

7) Two posts a week is too much. Yes, I did it, but it was really difficult some weeks to get that second post done. There was little time left for other writing projects.

8) It helped me find my voice. Or at least experiment with different types of voices to find a style I was comfortable with.

9) I wrote about things I would never think of otherwise. “Ungulates”? Really? That and the “Offal, not Awful” posts were a couple of my favorites and they were pure spontaneous “come up with something” moments.

10) I had to let go of perfection. There’s no time for perfect in this blog challenge. It gave me a different perspective on what’s good enough to share, and I had to let go of the internal slave driver—which is awesome!

So there you have it. Ten positive outcomes from slaving over this seemingly impossible task. Kudos to the other brave souls that have completed the run. I hope you all got as much out of it as I did.

Zoe Life

Everyone faces challenges and difficulties as we navigate life on this planet. That’s a given. How we choose to respond in the midst of these circumstances can impact our ability to move forward, and determine if we face the future with hope or despair.

Jesus said he came so we might have abundant “life”. The Greek word he used for life was “zoe“, which means: life which is full and complete, the uncreated eternal life of the spirit. He did not use “bios” life which refers to physical bone and flesh. Therefore, Jesus came so we might experience the eternal, divine life of God while we are here—not so we could have a better physical life.

Christianity is often misunderstood because its zoe (spiritual) life is judged from the viewpoint of bios (human) perspective. Christians live with a worldview that makes little sense to non-believers. They view life through a spiritual lens that enables them to partake in the comfort, wisdom, guidance and help from God that comes from being immersed in his spirit. When zoe life is infused on bios it becomes a new creation in Christ with access to tangible spiritual resources.

C.S. Lewis put it this way:

“Bios (biological) life is that life that comes to us from nature, the life that is always tending to run down and decay and needs to be nourished constantly with air, water and food. Spiritual life (Zoe), on the other hand, is the life which is in God from all eternity, which has always existed and will always exist… The difference between having bios and zoe is like the difference between a statue and a man.”

Statues are subject to all the elements of the world around them. Man has resources to protect himself and is able to move beyond unpleasant circumstances. Statues exist. Man lives.

Bios life:

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Zoe life:

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Which would you choose?

Video Queen

FullSizeRenderWe moved to Ambridge, Pennsylvania in 1997 for Jack to go to seminary. As we settled into the blue collar neighborhood I picked up several newspapers to get to know the area. Nearby Pittsburgh was a quick 45 minute drive and had a lot to offer.

“Listen to this!” I squealed to Jack. “There’s a film school that’s offering a beginning Super 8 class in the evenings.”

Before Jack and I met I’d looked into the Film program at the University of Oregon, but ended up moving to Santa Barbara instead. So I was thrilled to discover Pittsburgh Filmmakers offered classes to the general public. They were the technical school for film majors from University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon.

What started out as something fun to do, quickly became a passionate desire to pursue certification as a Videographer. Over the next four years while Jack earned his Masters Degree, I learned all about film, video, editing, lighting and sound. I had classes in directing, screenwriting and acting. I loved every minute, and enjoyed the young film majors even though I was old enough to be their mother. The few older students in the Certification program like me were kindred spirits. Working on projects together was exciting.

I graduated with honors, but had no plans to pursue a career as a professional. I’d achieved my dream and accomplished the goal of being certified, but knew enough about the industry to question the time, energy, and finances it would take to go into business on my own.

We moved to Bakersfield when Jack secured a position with St. Luke’s. Shortly after arriving I ended up working at the Bakersfield City Attorney’s office, first as a temp, then as a Clerk Typist. It was an easy job that paid the bills, and although I enjoyed working with all the attorneys, I was bored with office work. After two years I knew something had to change.

One day setting up the conference room for a deposition I was surprised to find a videographer with equipment. I excitedly asked him what he was doing. He said he was there to film the proceedings.

Eureka!

I had discovered the wonderful world of legal video. After researching the profession I flew to Florida for initial training offered by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). It was the perfect combination of videography in the legal environment. I’d finally found my niche.

Over the next year I acquired the necessary equipment, finished the training, was licensed as a Notary Public, and passed both the written and production exams. Though it took a hefty financial investment, by the fall of 2004 I was up and running as an NCRA Certified Legal Video Specialist (CLVS) with my own business.

For the last twelve years I’ve filmed all types of legal depositions, expert witnesses, site inspections, medical evaluations, and day-in-the-life videos that help insurance companies determine financial rewards. I’ve worked for famous people and worldwide corporations, as well as filmed inmate depositions in seven prisons throughout California. The flexible hours and days fit well into my busy life, and being able to schedule vacations according to Jack’s schedule has been an added bonus.

However, all good things must end one day. I’ll be 59 in six weeks, and hefting 100 lbs. of equipment around for every job is getting challenging. With retirement looming sometime in the next four years, I’ve cast my sights on another latent dream: to become a writer.

Finding Writer’s of Kern last year was just as exciting as going to film school. My critique group ladies are kindred spirits and working together on the craft of writing is both challenging and rewarding. I feel like I’m with “my kind of people” around other writers. Attending writing conferences is fun, and I thoroughly enjoy the variety of online classes I’m able to participate in from respected universities.

As my jaunt as Video Queen comes to the end of its reign, I intend to enter a much deserved retirement as a published author. I’ll trade my camera for a pen, and instead of filming others, will find satisfaction in expressing my own thoughts and imagination on the written page.