What the Death Valley “Super Bloom” Taught Me About Success

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I’m a sucker for flowers.

Honestly, if I have any kind of spare time these days, I’m typically spending it in my garden, looking at other people’s gardens or simply browsing through pictures of gardens on Pinterest for inspiration.

So when hubs forwarded me an article about Death Valley’s recent “super bloom” and suggested a day trip to witness the event ourselves, I was totally on board.

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Colorful flowers blooming in Death Valley

For those that haven’t heard, Death Valley is experiencing a rare mass-blooming event. Because of the recent El Nino rains and warmer-than-average temperatures for February, the valley floor has erupted in great masses of wildflowers.

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Walking out into the wash.

Death Valley is an apt moniker for this alien landscape, part of the Mojave Desert. The lowest point in the park is 282 feet below sea level and sets records with temperatures as high as 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Most years it gets an average rainfall of just over two inches. It’s a desolate place of rocks, long expanses of salt flats and scrubby little plants and bushes that have somehow adapted to these extreme conditions.

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People in the distance walking onto the salt flats.

But this winter something special is happening. Millions of wildflower seeds that have lain dormant on the valley floor for years have suddenly burst into bloom, virtually overnight. The last time something similar happened in the park was in 2005, so some of those seeds have been patiently waiting there for over ten years.

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The landscape was dotted all over with tiny figures enjoying the rare flower show.

It struck me how much this super bloom event has in common with so-called overnight success stories.

Whenever someone new has broken through and caught the media’s attention, they’re often labeled as an “overnight success.”

What the media often fails to mention is that in most cases that person has been toiling away for years, planting seeds and hoping that one day a “perfect storm” of events will blow through, providing just the right environment for those seeds to bloom and thrive.

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Up close and personal with the “Desert Gold” flower, the most ubiquitous one in the super bloom.

If we keep striving, keep planting our own seeds by working on our own projects, and have the patience to wait for the right opportunity to present itself, we will have the chance to shine and thrive. The trick is to hang in there, even when the wait seems interminable.

While we passed by these expanses of wildflowers, creating lakes of yellow, one thing surprised us – the flowers weren’t densely packed, as they appeared in the photos. There was probably about one flower per square foot, but when viewed together at just the right angle, it appeared seamless and creates a pretty spectacular show.

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Sunset at Death Valley

Isn’t that a lot like life? We drop these seeds in our wake whenever we can. Each individual seed doesn’t feel like much. But when they all bloom at the same time, when our collective experience is viewed in one fell swoop, it’s pretty impressive. Each tiny piece of history is connected, creating the rich tapestry that is our lives.

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One tiny piece of the tapestry
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One tiny piece of the tapestry
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One tiny piece of the tapestry

And then of course, there’s the knowledge that this super bloom event is temporary. In a few weeks, after the weather starts to heat up and the ground dries up, these flowers will be gone.

In life, if you don’t create the right environment for your dreams to thrive, they, too, can die. It’s not a one-shot deal – you may be in the right place at the right time to have your dreams sprout, but it takes a lifetime of nurturing and diligence to sustain those dreams and to build on those accomplishments to have continued success.

Go out there and plant your seeds! And if you want to witness the superbloom yourself, you best get out to Death Valley stat.

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True Desert Gold

 

 

Why Rupi Kaur Gives Me Hope For the Future

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Have you heard of Rupi Kaur?

I hadn’t, until my 15-year-old stepdaughter asked if I was interested in reading her favorite book – a book of poetry, no less.

I am not normally a poetry person. I continually try to open myself to poetry, and there are some poets I do love (Walt Whitman and e.e. cummings and Mary Oliver come to mind), but I often struggle to make a connection to poetry. To hook into what the poem is conveying. I have problems finding my way in.

But when a 15-year-old girl gives you an opportunity – an invitation – to peek into her world, to have a glimpse of what grabs her attention, what penetrates her heart, what expresses even a sliver of her own inner life – you don’t say no. It’s an honor to be let in.

So, she deposited “Milk and Honey,” Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, on my nightstand. I’ll admit — it sat there for two weeks before I finally picked it up. But the universe has a way of tapping you on the shoulder by way of synchronicity, so when a close friend shared a Rupi Kaur poem on Facebook, I took the hint and immediately picked up the book.

 photo by rupee rags
photo by rupee rags

You guys – wow.

First of all, the language is simple and bold. There’s no fluff, no fancy constructs, no unnecessary elaboration. It gets straight to the point and immediately taps into some decidedly raw feelings.

Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Secondly, the subject matter speaks to what is arguably the every day experiences of many women around the world. It’s about hurting and loving and losing and healing. It’s about vulnerability and strength. It’s about learning to be female in the modern world. It’s about self-knowing and growth.

Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The poet is in her early 20s. She was born in Punjab and moved to Canada when she was 3. In addition to writing poetry, she performs spoken word and writes fiction and plays.

But to get to the point – Rupi Kaur gives me hope for the future.

Why? Well, millennials are often maligned in our culture, characterized as being lazy and self-absorbed and stupid. And, OK, when I see interviews where young people can’t correctly tell you who the Vice President of the United States is or who won the Civil War, I worry. I do. This characterization isn’t totally unfounded.

But when I read Kaur’s poetry, and when I know that it resonates in the soul of a 15-year-old girl on the precipice of adulthood, I’m fucking grateful. I’m grateful that our culture has birthed young women who are unafraid to speak about their experience, their emotions and their bodies.

For the past five years I’ve been involved with charity productions of The Vagina Monologues, V-Day and One Billion Rising. I know that odds are 1 in 3 that a woman will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. I know that we have thousands of years of patriarchal culture to unwind before women can feel safe and heard and equal.

But I think we’re making headway. The teenage girls I know are smarter about their bodies than I was at their age. They have less shame. Many have cultivated an emotional intelligence that probably outstrips men twice their age. They are empowered in many ways. There is still work to do, of course, but I can see how positive change has affected this next generation.

And it gives me hope.

Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Rupi Kaur (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

If you haven’t, check out “Milk and Honey.” And if you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

We Are One Billion Rising

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Did you know 1 in 3 women worldwide will be beaten or raped during her lifetime?

Did you know that with 7 billion people in the world right now, that amounts to ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS?

That’s one billion too many.

That’s why every year I add my voice to the One Billion Rising rally that happens on Valentine’s Day all over the world. The campaign started in 2013 and was launched by Eve Ensler, the same woman who brought us The Vagina Monologues.

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Every year, people gather together all over the world to express their outrage, dance and rise to demand an end to the violence and  justice for those who have experienced gender violence.

This year, I joined the West Hollywood rally and, as usual, it was an inspiring day of speeches, music and – most of all – dancing.

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The dance company Levitere performing in front of the iconic Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, CA.

Yes, a big component of the revolution is dancing, and in particular a flashmob dance – an opportunity for everyone to join together, to take up space and to experience the joy of their bodies in motion. Debbie Allen choreographed a dance set to the song “Break the Chain” by Tena Clark and Tim Heintz, and it is amazing to see dozens or hundreds or even thousands dancing together in the streets.

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Look around you. Chances are someone near you is one of the 1 in 3. Maybe you are one of the 1 in 3. Maybe it’s time for us all to break the silence and break the chains that hold us back and keep us quiet.

If you’d like more information about One Billion Rising or would like to get involved, click here.

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How to Use Character Boards When Writing Your Novel

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I love a good collage. There is something about taking found objects and arranging them in new ways to give them new meaning that has always sparked my creativity. I’ve been making collages for as long as I can remember, and in the last few years I’ve gotten on the vision board bandwagon, which REALLY taps into my desire to rip pictures out of magazines and tape or glue them to poster board.

I’ve also used collage to some success in television development. I’ve worked on projects where I was tasked with creating boards to either evoke the mood of a show in development or to help visualize and capture the essence of the main characters in a new show. In a collaborative effort such as working on a TV show, these boards are then used by the artists who are taking these ideas and turning them into something concrete.

When I was working on the second draft of my novel, INSIDE CHANCE, I knew I wanted to go deeper with the characters. I wanted to flesh them out more, understand their back story and motivation more, I wanted to get inside their heads and inside their worlds more. So I figured, if I’ve used collage to create visions for my life, and I’ve used collage to help develop characters for TV shows, why couldn’t I do the same for my novel?

I spent a couple of pleasant hours diving through stacks of magazines at local thrift stores, and scored some truly unique titles and even found some from the 80s, which is when my novel is set. Then I set aside an afternoon and looked through them all, pulling whatever sparked my interest or spoke to me in some way about the character, even if it didn’t make logical sense. Here are three of boards I made:

Joni Chance

Character boards for Joni Chance
Character board for Joni Chance

Cash

Character board for Cash
Character board for Cash

The Bearded Man

Character board for the bearded man
Character board for the bearded man

I hung them over my desk in my workspace, and whenever I was writing, I took some time to look them over. I can tell you that there are things on these boards that made it into the novel – details I would have never included that I took directly from these images, which I think give each character more dimension, more color and more humanity.

If you’re feeling stuck or simply want another way of developing your characters, your setting or your story, why not give collage boards a try? Anyone out there ever done this before when working on a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Music That Inspired “Inside Chance”

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The Cure, Disintegration - if Joni Chance has a favorite album, this is certainly it.
The Cure, Disintegration – if Joni Chance has a favorite album, this is certainly it.

Though I’m the type of writer who needs silence in order to hear my own thoughts, music did color the edges of my writing sessions and help me bring the characters of Inside Chance to life through their musical tastes. I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the songs that inspired me to help create and define them.

My young adult novel is a story about a 14-year-old girl, Joni Chance, who is struggling to come to terms with the strange sounds she keeps hearing in her head. She worries she is going to turn out like her mother, rumored to have been schizophrenic, who disappeared from Joni’s life when she was just four years old.

Joni lives in a small town in Indiana, and is just about to start high school. The year is 1989. I don’t know about you, but I know that when I was 14, music played a big part in my life. It helped me to experience new thoughts and feelings, expanded my universe and helped me understand more fundamentally who I was. Joni experiences that same soul expansion as music helps shape who she is and who she wants to become.

Plainsong, The Cure

Prayers for Rain, The Cure

Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine), R.E.M.

Add It Up, The Violent Femmes

Space Oddity, David Bowie

Where Is My Mind?, The Pixies

How Soon Is Now?, The Smiths (as covered by Yes The Raven)

Big Mouth Strikes Again, The Smiths

Here Comes the Rain Again, The Eurythmics

Mother, Danzig

Hey Joni, Sonic Youth

Mad World, Tears for Fears

Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash

Witchy Woman, The Eagles