Ranée

Favorite(s)

I’m a lifelong lover of books and music, having been massively influenced by both since I was a child, so this post contains a list of my seven favorite books and—as an homage to one of them—my top five all-time favorite recording artists.

Favorite Books

Listed in chronological order according to when I read them.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (whom my father claims is some distant family relative of ours) is one of the first authors with whom I became enamored; he is also responsible for getting me hooked on supernatural literature. As a teenager, I devoured his stories of horror: “Ligeia,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and others. I also repeatedly read a number of Poe’s grimmer poems. What I admired most about his work was the artful way he generated suspense, the shocking turns he incorporated, and his lyrical style. Poe, to me, wasn’t just a master of the horrific but also rhythm, rhyme, and repetition of sounds (both assonance and alliteration). He will forever occupy a significant portion of my rather morbid heart.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

This book about a pathetic record store owner and self-described arsehole obsessed with making top-five lists, penned by a music-loving writer and critic has been among my all-time faves since I first read it back in college. Hornby’s debut novel reads like an Elvis Costello song (note: the title is an Elvis Costello song and Mr. Declan McManus also happens to be one of my favorite recording artists). I’ve never been able to find out whether or not Hornby purposely chose the title because of the song or whether, just being the music writer and lover that he is, he decided (like Costello) that the double meaning of the term high fidelity was incredibly appropriate (and clever) for his debut novel. Maybe it was a little of both. If I ever get the chance to interview or chat with Hornby, I’ll be sure to ask him. What makes this book one of my favorites, however, isn’t just its references to music or the fact that it was obviously written by a music lover who’d seen more than his share of know-it-all music snobs, but because Hornby is so frank about the awkwardness and absurdity so often inherent in relationships, his flawed and quirky characters are entirely believable, and his chronicle of Rob’s ridiculous romantic entanglements is really funny.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I treasure this tale of magic and the sacred feminine based on the Arthurian legends. Morgaine is without a doubt one of my favorite literary heroines, right alongside Lisbeth Salander (two very different but equally strong women, in my view). When I read this book, Avalon also represented something that I’d sorely lacked for most of my youth—a community of genuinely supportive women. This beautifully woven tale gave me hope that I’d eventually find my own place within one.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

I know I probably shouldn’t list this book among my favorites without also including Bram Stoker’s Dracula on that list, but, well, King’s updated version of the Dracula story is frankly scarier than the original. In fact, it’s the scariest book I’ve ever read. I like my vampires creepy and terrifying and, like his predecessor and obvious influence, Count Orlok, the original film version of Kurt Barlow certainly fits the criteria.

The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

When I was introduced to Duffy’s poems in an Irish lit class in graduate school, it was love at first read. By turns, bawdy, brash, and beautiful, Duffy’s style is one that I admire above many others. Her words, imagery, and subject matter felt so raw and real to me, and when I read The World’s Wife, a collection of poems about famous literary, mythical, and historical women (reimagined and written from their points of view), I identified with so many of them. Duffy herself is one of my favorite writers.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

Mama Day is another book I discovered in grad school, this one thanks to my advisor (and one of my real-life heroes) Teresa Washington. I suppose that aside from African American lit, this book also falls into the genre of “magical realism.” It’s also something of a love story. Those elements of the book along with its incorporation of the sacred feminine are certainly partly why I love it so. Another reason is Naylor’s brilliant storytelling and creative narrative choices. Parts of the story are told from the points of view of two of the main characters, Coco and George, and written in first person as they talk to/about one other and their relationship. Some elements are a beautiful lesson in history and culture. Other sections are a third-person narrative focusing on the title character of Miranda “Mama” Day and other residents of Willow Springs, which, like its most famous denizen, Sapphira Wade, belongs to no one but itself and its people. This is one book that I will never tire of re-reading because of its richness, and I laugh and cry every time I enter the world of Willow Springs.

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

This book is on my list because of how much it has meant in terms of my personal and spiritual growth. Reading this book awakened something that had been buried and brutalized within my soul, and it inspired me to reclaim and nurture that part of myself—to heal so that I might become whole.

Favorite Recording Artists

My favorite musicians

In true High Fidelity fashion, here are my desert-island, all-time, top favorite recording artists, in alphabetical order:

  • Tori Amos
  • David Bowie
  • Elvis Costello
  • Queen
  • Lou Reed (and The Velvet Underground sans Nico)

Satisfyingly soulful and strange, Tori Amos was a big part of my formative years and although Sarah McLachlan, U2, and Garbage were just as much so, it’s Tori’s music that’s stood the test of time for me. Most of the music that I loved by those other singers and bands were their earlier songs and records, whereas I’d rank albums like 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk and 2017’s Native Invader right up there alongside Tori’s first three. Quite a number of her songs have inspired post titles on this blog.

Elvis Costello, aka Declan McManus, aka Napoleon Dynamite, is the only one of my top five I’ve actually seen in concert (I didn’t really get out much when I was younger, OK?). He’s a masterful, witty lyricist and wordsmith, sharp with a turn of phrase, genius with his use of the double entendre, and fantastic on guitar. I’m a bigger fan of his earlier, grittier work on albums like My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, and Armed Forces, but I’m also impressed with his ability to effortlessly shift between music genres, particularly stuff that I wouldn’t have thought a fit for him (see albums like Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane and his work with Burt Bacharach). I appreciate genre-shattering musicians just as much as I do authors.

I suppose the other three on my list are sort of a testament to my love affair with glam rock, which began in earnest when I saw Todd Haynes’ film Velvet Goldmine, but I don’t just love those guys because of their glam records and personae. I love them because they’re weird and wonderful.

Lou Reed was the primary songwriter behind The Velvet Underground, one of the most influential bands in modern rock. To me, he was also its heart. I think one of the reasons I so love Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry is that it reminds me of Lou Reed’s songwriting. He was a poet too, a fellow freak and survivor, and a damn fine guitar player.

Speaking of freaks . . . yes, I loved the oft alien, always androgynous David Bowie for his weirdness too. But, like my other favorites, I also adored him for his musical talents, especially the risks that he took musically and his production work.

Bowie certainly had style and flair but so did Freddie Mercury, who is one of the main reasons that Queen makes my list. I called him “The Voice” because I was simply in awe of that man’s vocal range and talent. To me, he is far and away the most amazing vocalist in all of rock; no one else even comes close. I also couldn’t help but dig the fact that he was often so in-your-face and over-the-top when performing. Freddie isn’t the only reason I love Queen, though. I’m also a huge fan of Brian May’s guitar playing and the band was brilliant in the way that they melded genres and pulled off stuff that I’m sure the people working behind the scenes with them thought would never work.

Hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know a little more about me. I know you have your own favorite books, writers, and music-makers and I’d love for you to share them in the comments.

Ranée

Underneath It All

* Last updated April 28, 2022

I have sensitive skin. Always have. It’s been prone to redness, dryness, itching, rashes, eczema, even wrinkling. Products that were labeled “hypoallergenic” or marketed toward “sensitive skin” didn’t seem to help (newsflash: those are just labels that get slapped on products; they’re essentially meaningless as what is a sensitivity for one person may not be for another). I’ve done tons of research on skin care products and their ingredients—the benefits, cons, hype, and total b.s.—and tried tons of them too. I don’t even want to guess at the amount of money I’ve wasted in this quest to just stop the skin problems. It’s taken years to finally solve the mystery and most of the detective work was done by me. What I’ve learned from this journey is that, underneath it all, it really does matter what you put on your skin (not to mention into your body in general).

Several years ago, I had a very bad reaction after eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant where I’d consumed way more guacamole than usual. My entire body swelled up and broke out in hives. Still, because I’d had guacamole before, I didn’t realize right away that avocado might be the culprit. It wasn’t until I had a less severe reaction twice in a row after eating my own guacamole that I figured avocado could be the cause. After that, I omitted everything containing avocado and avocado oil, including some hair products that contained it. My scalp eczema cleared up some but my problems persisted.

As has seemed to be the theme with most of my health issues, I had to be my own advocate in order to break the endless cycle of useless “treatments” that weren’t actually addressing the real cause or solving my problems. I found that dermatologists and other doctors weren’t really interested in figuring out the underlying causes of my skin problems; they just gave me various creams or ointments to treat the symptoms (some of which only exacerbated the problem). Unfortunately, I’ve found this to be a common theme among medical professionals. If I wanted to know once and for all what I was allergic to so that I could finally, actually treat my allergies or, at the very least, avoid the things causing them, then I was going to have to take matters into my own hands. So, this past year, I asked my primary care doctor to recommend an allergist so that I could get tested.

I had a prick test for environmental allergens that was enlightening (I’m primarily allergic to indoor allergies like dust mites and molds but also have minor allergies to a host of other outdoor trees and plants). The patch test for contact allergies was what I was most interested in, though, given that contact allergies were the cause of all of my skin problems. The results were a surprise as they didn’t turn up anything that had been a suspected cause (no fragrances or oils). I was already aware of my nickel allergy since every time I wore jewelry that wasn’t sterling silver or pure gold, I ended up with a really bad rash (my ears used to get really itchy, red, and swollen from certain earrings).

It did, however, show a common cleansing agent as one of the things I was sensitive to. That ingredient was decyl glucoside, which just happened to be in all of our soaps, my body wash, and my facial cleanser. Incidentally, decyl glucoside is a known allergen (quite a common one), yet it’s used in a tremendous number of personal care products marketed toward “sensitive” skin as well as products that are supposedly “hypoallergenic” (again, those labels are basically meaningless and the use of those terms isn’t regulated). I eliminated products that contained this ingredient from my routine, but my skin problems still persisted, so I played detective again and researched the ingredients in that specific cleanser. What I discovered is that decyl glucoside and similar related ingredients are made from coconut, which led me to wonder if coconut might be the real underlying problem. I did a little experiment; I began to remove items from my personal care regimen that I knew contained coconut to see if my skin improved. Lo and behold, it did. I mentioned this to my allergist and asked if I could be tested for a coconut allergy. They had a prick test for coconut and when I took it, we saw an allergic reaction almost immediately. The doctor marveled at how I’d come to suspect that coconut was the culprit, but I didn’t see anything awe-inspiring about my sleuthing. There was a mystery to be solved and I was determined to solve it. Period.

Once we identified the coconut contact allergy, then I began the arduous task of removing everything I was putting on my body that contained coconut, coconut oil, or ingredients that were derived from coconut. Well, guess what—that’s almost everything that goes into personal care products. Practically all cleansing agents/surfactants in soaps, shampoos, body washes, and even toothpastes come from coconut. A large portion of ingredients in lotions, creams, and serums do as well. An ingredient doesn’t have to literally have “coconut” or “coconut oil,” or even “coco” in the name to originate with coconut; things like vegetable glycerin, glycerides, and stearic acid are made from coconuts.

I’ve been going through a process of trial and error to find coconut-free products that work for me. Switching to olive oil hand soap has made a huge difference for me (no more chapped hands or itchy, red, flaky skin under my rings!). So far, I have found only one toothpaste that doesn’t have a coconut-derived cleanser or coconut oil in it (Weleda ratahnia); unfortunately, it also doesn’t have fluoride, so I’ve been using ACT mouthwash as well. I’ve listed below the products that are now in my regimen in case others like me have this rare allergy and are also seeking relief.

Homemade body butter and sea salt spray

I’ve been making a couple of homemade products for myself as they’re pretty easy to create, help me to save a little money, and I haven’t been able to find anything that I like better. I used to make my own flax seed hair gel, but it required refrigeration, meaning it wasn’t portable, and a batch only lasted about a week, which seemed such a waste since I’d barely get halfway through a bottle/jar in that time. I recently switched over to making my own sea salt spray for my hair and have been making my own body butter ever since I suspected the coconut allergy. Recipes for both of those products are below.

Sea Salt Spray for Hair

Makes 8 oz.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp organic aloe vera gel
  • 1 tsp almond oil (you can use whatever oil you like or any combination you choose: sunflower, castor, marula, argan, etc. based on your own preferences, hair types, and allergies)
  • Optional: 20 drops of essential oil for fragrance

Directions:

  1. Boil the water in a pot on the stove
  2. Once boiling, remove from heat
  3. Add the salt, stirring until dissolved
  4. Allow to cool, then add the aloe and oil(s)
  5. Pour into a spray bottle

For best results, shake your bottle of sea salt spray well before applying, so as to mix up the ingredients and avoid getting oily patches in your hair.

Body Butter

Makes 16 oz.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup beeswax
  • 1/2 cup cocoa butter
  • 1/2 cup sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup almond oil
  • 2 tsp arrowroot powder
  • Optional: essential oil/fragrance oil

Directions:

  1. Combine the beeswax and cocoa butter in a large bowl
  2. Melt them on the stove using a double boiler or in the microwave
  3. Remove from heat and whisk in your other ingredients
  4. Allow mixture to cool and then refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours
  5. Remove from fridge and whip the mixture using a hand mixer until it becomes creamy (it will look similar to whipped cream)
  6. Spoon into an airtight container and avoid adding water

Note that coconut is not a tree nut, despite being grouped with tree nuts in terms of allergens, and I do not have any known allergies to tree nuts, hence the inclusion of them in my body butter. However, if you do have allergies to tree nuts, then please do not make this recipe. Instead, substitute other ingredients that will work for you and your specific skin needs. If you’re not a fan of cocoa butter, the smell does dissipate once applied, but you can easily disguise it by adding fragrance or substituting a different ingredient. The body butter should be stored in a cool, dry place away from heat or it will melt (this happened to me on a trip over the summer).

In addition to the two products that I make for myself, there are also several products that I buy because, frankly, I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to make them myself. That list follows and I will continue to update it as I find my “Holy Grail” products.

OOlivia has become one of my favorite indie shops because they have a convenient “coconut-free” option. Gabriel Cosmetics also offers an extensive ingredient list on their site including a catalog of all coconut-free products.

LIST OF PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS

  • HAIR. Aside from my sea salt spray, I’ve been using True Love Soap Company’s shampoo and conditioner bars which are made for people with coconut allergies. Jayne’s honey, calendula, & meadowfoam shampoo bar and honey & silk conditioner bar are a match made in heaven for my curly hair. Her products and my sea salt spray are the only three things I put in my hair.
  • FACE. I’m currently using Gabriel Cosmetics hydrating cleanser and Desert Essence moringa, jojoba, and rose hip oil (unfortunately, I still seem to have some texture issues and occasional dryness or breakouts but this is the best I can find for now). The best lip balm I could find is Badger cocoa butter lip balm. I also really like their sunscreen, which doesn’t leave a white cast on skin and moisturizes without feeling too sticky or mask-like. Once a week, I use Oolivia’s matcha facial polish.
  • BODY. I have been cleansing with Clean Kids Naturally watermelon bubble bath from Gabriel Cosmetics. It’s coconut-free and works fabulously as a body wash. For SPF/sun protection, I’ve tried a Kiss My Face coconut-free sunscreen, but I wish Badger made theirs in a larger size because it’s much more moisturizing and doesn’t have a weird smell. My absolute favorite body product apart from my homemade body butter is now OOliva’s coconut-oil-free deodorant. It is hands-down the best! It’s unscented but keeps BO at bay even through interval workouts and the lack of fragrance means it doesn’t interfere with the perfume that I wear.

You’ll note that all of the products listed here are organic and/or cruelty-free, and many are made by small business owners because, yes, that matters to me almost as much as what I put onto and into my body. I am SO glad that I did my research and advocated for myself and my health, but most importantly, I’m delighted to be getting closer to living in happy skin because of it!

Ranée

Here Comes the Sun

Here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
— George Harrison

Today is the first day of spring where I live. Phoenix that I am, I cannot help loving the symbolism of renewal and rebirth inherent in spring. This morning, however, I was feeling decidedly un-rejuvenated. I was thinking about the story I’m currently writing and how my guides have been signaling to me for months now that I should be writing about empathy and love, but I was saying, “That’s boring; I don’t want to write that shit and nobody wants to read that either.” Well clearly I’m full of shit because last week in a freewriting session, I ended up writing several pages all about one character’s love for another and it moved me to tears. I thought that this piece was backstory, but my guides told me outright in yesterday’s meditation to “write love” and I realized that what I’d come up with is actually the very heart of my story. Despite this, today when I was thinking again about this character, I was annoyed with myself for giving him a huge piece of myself, namely empathy and his capacity to feel things so intensely and to love so strongly.

When I sat down to meditate this afternoon, I felt Isis’s presence (a warmth that envelops me like being wrapped lovingly in an invisible blanket) and the message that I came away with in this session was essentially that what I have always deemed to be a curse—my intense empathy, the ability to feel others’ emotions—could actually be my greatest strength if I learn how to manage it and use it to help others instead of running from it or trying to shut it off. I will certainly need to develop a stronger “emotional armor,” so to speak, to protect myself from that onslaught of emotional energy and to be ever cognizant that others’ emotions are not mine even though I feel them as if they are.

How fitting that this realization comes today with the onset of spring. This is the next phase of my spiritual journey, I think—to embrace that empathy in myself and in my writing as well. No more hiding in the shadows; I have to let my true self shine. It’s a scary thought, I admit, but I have to trust that my guides will help me through it.

Ranée

The Rising

Yesterday, I spent some time revamping my yoga routines and associated playlists. In a previous post, I wrote about how I was inspired by Anodea Judith’s Chakra Yoga to create custom routines focused on each of the seven major chakras based on her suggested sequences. I expanded my routines by adding Judith’s kundalini chakra breathing exercises to the beginning of each one and increasing the times holding poses so that each one is now roughly 40 minutes. This morning was the first that I practiced one of the revised routines (anahata, heart chakra) and I was pleased with the result. It feels more wholistic to me—an exercise for mind, body, and spirit—which is exactly what I was going for. If you’re curious about the routines themselves, I highly recommend investing in Judith’s book as well as the precursor, Wheels of Life, a guide to the chakra system in general. My custom playlists for each chakra are listed below in case anyone is curious about those. The idea to create them came to me when I wrote that the yoga instructor character in my book played pop music during her classes instead of “traditional” yoga/meditation music. So, essentially, her classes are based off of Chakra Yoga and the music she plays during those are these playlists that I made.

Muladhara, Root Chakra: The Ground Beneath Her Feet

  1. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” by U2
  2. “Stand” by R.E.M.
  3. “Dig Down” (Acoustic Gospel Version) by Muse
  4. “And She Was” by Talking Heads
  5. “I’m a Mother” by the Pretenders
  6. “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones
  7. “Body Electric” by Lana Del Rey
  8. “Shelter From the Storm” by Bob Dylan
  9. “A Letter to Fear” by Fantastic Negrito
  10. “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King

Svadhistahana, Sacral Chakra: Hooked On a Feeling

  1. “Hooked On a Feeling” by Blue Swede
  2. “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
  3. “I’ve Got a Feeling” by the Beatles
  4. “Turn Me On” by Norah Jones
  5. “Undisclosed Desires” by Muse
  6. “Desire” by U2
  7. “Because the Night” by Patti Smith Group
  8. “Night in My Veins” by the Pretenders
  9. “Faith” by George Michael
  10. “Burning Desire” by Lana Del Rey
  11. “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith
  12. “Crimson and Clover” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Manipura, Solar Plexus Chakra: Light My Fire

  1. “Light My Fire” by the Doors
  2. “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake
  3. “Beast of Burden” by the Rolling Stones
  4. “Into the Fire” by Sarah McLachlan
  5. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen
  6. “Army of Me” by Björk
  7. “Mirror Master” by Young the Giant
  8. “(You Will) Set the World On Fire” by David Bowie
  9. “Uprising” by Muse

Anahata, Heart Chakra: Open Your Heart

  1. “Open Your Heart” by Madonna
  2. “What Is Life” by George Harrison
  3. “Between Two Lungs” by Florence + the Machine
  4. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” by Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  5. “Tenderness” by General Public
  6. “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher” by Jackie Wilson
  7. “Breathe (In the Air)” by Pink Floyd
  8. “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper
  9. “Somebody to Love” by Queen
  10. “Love Is What You Need” by the Clarks

Visuddha, Throat Chakra: Good Vibrations

  1. “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys
  2. “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” by Cat Stevens
  3. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M.
  4. “High Fidelity” by Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  5. “Silence Is Golden” by Garbage
  6. “Cosmic Dancer” by T. Rex
  7. “Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos
  8. “Stop Whispering” by Radiohead
  9. “Drawn to the Rhythm” by Sarah McLachlan
  10. “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode

Ajña, Third-Eye Chakra: Beginning to See the Light

  1. “Beginning to See the Light” by the Velvet Underground
  2. “Digital Witness” by St. Vincent
  3. “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
  4. “Cosmic Love” by Florence + the Machine
  5. “Disillusioned” by A Perfect Circle
  6. “Light My Way” by Audioslave
  7. “Let It Be” by the Beatles
  8. “So Tonight That I Might See” by Mazzy Star

Sahasrara, Crown Chakra: Higher Love

  1. “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood
  2. “Kyrie” by Mister Mister
  3. “Like a Prayer” by Madonna
  4. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” by Temple of the Dog
  5. “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison
  6. “One” by U2
  7. “Higher” by Creed
On Writing, Ranée

Here It Goes Again

In a previous post, I wrote about how I’d made a complete mess of the story that I was working on with my disorganized, haphazard approach to writing. Well, as it happens, I wasn’t just plagued by my chaotic storytelling; in RPG parlance, I not only got too caught up in creating my characters’ backstory but also got distracted by a silly side quest.

It’s taken me over a year and a half to realize what this story is actually about—not what it started out as or what I intended for it to be—but what it truly is. It didn’t really hit me until I wrote my book pitch for Paper Cuts a couple of weeks ago. When I did that, I realized that the book I was pitching wasn’t the book I was writing. So what do you do when you find yourself faced with such a realization? Well, after cursing yourself (a lot) and vacillating between pressing on and giving up, first you reevaluate and then you take action—reboot.

During meditation yesterday, I asked my guides if I should continue with this book and they said yes. I’m not gonna lie; I wasn’t fully on board with that right away. So, I spent much of yesterday evening reevaluating this project, including talking through my dilemma with my husband. He asked me what I liked about what I’d written so far and that helped me to get to the heart of the matter, to see where the real story lay. If you find yourself lost, then I highly recommend you take a moment to analyze what you’ve got and, if necessary, ask a trusted soul to help you with this process. Most likely, there’s something that’s worth salvaging, but, often, we are too close to our work to see it objectively. Once you determine what those salvageable pieces are, do some further examination to see how they do or could fit together. That, fellow ink-slingers, is your real story.

The story that you’re actually writing may not be the one that you set out to tell. If you find that’s the case, then the next step is to decide whether or not you’re OK with that. For me, realizing that the story I thought I was writing wasn’t the one that I wanted to write was like finally breaking the surface, lungs burning, and gulping in fresh air; I’d been under water for far too long. I feel a huge sense of relief just accepting that the story I told myself I wanted to write wasn’t what I was really interested in writing and I’ve decided to continue with it. If, however, you’re not OK with a realization like that, then it’s probably best that you put your project aside. DO NOT TRASH IT! While present you might be 100% positive that you never want look at it again let alone try to fix it, a future you may feel quite differently some day and could approach it with a fresh perspective, so, trust me, just put those pages somewhere out of sight for now and move on.

If you choose what I feel could be the harder path and decide to press on, well, then you’ve got some work to do in terms of regrouping. You can keep everything you’ve written so far together in the same place (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and just continue on with the new aim in mind or you can start fresh with the pieces you’ve decided are the keepers, tucking the others away to keep for future use. In the name of clearing the chaos, I’ve decided to do the latter. I’m also beginning some focused journaling to help me gain further clarity (huge thanks to one of my best girlfriends for this timely gift!). Some ways to get reorganized include creating a new outline and/or mind map with the true story in mind, engaging in some focused freewriting to flesh out plot points, and taking a little break before diving into your project again.

In addition to regrouping, I’m giving myself a deadline. My goal is to spend the remainder of winter working on this draft and, if come spring, I find that figuring out the real story hasn’t made any difference and I’m still struggling, I will move on. Deadlines are always a good idea.

In any case, if you find yourself in a similar position, I hope that you won’t despair (at least, not for too long), but that you’ll carry on and take another stab at it.

Ranée

Winter

I get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter
— Tori Amos

Winter has come and, with it, darkness—a time for rest, contemplation, soul-searching, and planning for the return of the sun and the light come spring. I am wishing for snow and the peace and quiet stillness that it brings. I love winter when there’s snow and a decided chill in the air (we have only one of those things at the moment and I had to be content with nothing more than a little frost today). Winter is second only to fall for me. I seem to come alive with the dying season. I guess maybe that’s because I’ve always been a lover of solitude and shadows, a strange soul who found solace in the things that made many others cringe with restlessness or fear. Something there is that doesn’t love the quiet, or slowing down.

Well, this winter, I will be slowing down, taking more time for me and my loved ones, and for completing a draft of the book I’ve been working on for way too long now (it’ll be two years come spring). I’ll also be catching up on reading, curling up with a cozy blanket and a mug of tea many a weekend; the only thing our home is missing is a fireplace, really. But I will not be shut up indoors for the duration of winter. Oh, no! I’ll be out experiencing the wondrous beauty of nature as I always do, especially when that first snowfall finally does blanket our world. There’s something so serene about snow and, yes, I confess that I do get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter . . . Besides, I’m interested to see how my archery progresses (or doesn’t) with the change in the weather.

Ranée

Solace

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a walk in the nature preserve near my neighborhood, so today, I did just that. There was no one along the length of the paved path when I arrived and the rays of sunlight shone through the trees like a beacon.

I decided to take the pond trail loop this time, wondering if there’d actually be a pond now. There was no one else on that path either, at least, no human, and as I strolled along, the only sound apart from my footfalls and the crunch of dead leaves beneath my shoes was the occasional gust of chill wind rustling through the trees. Less often, I heard the chirp or call of birds.

I’d been walking for maybe ten minutes when off to my right, a little ways off the trail, I noticed a sign that warned: Danger! You are no longer on the path. Turn back! Part of me was tempted to venture into that forbidden territory, but today didn’t seem like a good day to get lost, so I smiled to myself and kept to the path. Some water had collected in the depression among the leaf-covered ground, after all, I saw, when I neared the pond site, though not much; its depth was surely no more than a few feet at most.

I walked on, past fallen trunks, a tree whose twisted branches looked as though they were clawing at the earth, and a tangle of leaves and vines that had grown into a beautiful natural arch. The leaves of the arch had a bluish tinge to them in the light that I found quite lovely and I thought of Alice stumbling through that archway into her magical world.

A bit father along, some logs had formed what were almost small steps and as I neared them, I heard a rabbit whom I’d apparently frightened scurry away through the brush. When I left the trail, the sight of the leaves fluttering slowly down to the ground so captivated me that I stopped to film them.

As I emerged from the tree-lined path, I saw that the sky was a brilliant, clear blue with only a few wisps of cloud. A lone woolly worm crawled across the asphalt in front of me and a bronze-colored object caught my eye. I’m not sure what the sparkly copper-colored object was, but I decided to leave it where I’d found it; it wasn’t mine to keep.

On my way back to my car, I passed other nature-lovers now who smiled or nodded, some exchanging a greeting or wave with me. Kindred souls, I knew, who also took solace in the wild beauty of this magical place. I spied another, smaller arch, this one a single vine, before I heard the shouts of children come to ride their bikes teasing their mother who balanced on the curb. I could feel the spell breaking.

As I neared the parking lot, I glanced down to see that some leaves had left star-shaped imprints on the sidewalk—shooting stars, I thought, smiling. I walked to my car and noticed the crude words my son had written in the condensation on the dirty windows a day earlier showing clearly and sighed. I should probably wash my car.

On Writing, Ranée

Disorder

Creativity requires a certain amount of disorder—a good kind of chaos, if you will, and I fully admit to being a bit Scarlet-Witchy (OK, more than a bit). However, in this post, I’m talking about the bad kind of disorder, the sort that comes from a lack of clarity and has nothing to do with creative spirit.

I’ve spent some time this week migrating content that I’ve written for my current story from my notebooks into Scrivener and, in the process, I’ve come to an important realization—I should not be writing when I’m depressed or stressed out unless I’m just writing about how I’m feeling. I haven’t got much of substance to show for the months when I’ve been trying to write while feeling bad; the little that I do have is a jumbled mess. All of the more organized threads that flow into actual chapters were written prior to depression and anxiety setting in. It is exceptionally difficult for me to maintain a decent level of concentration and to organize myself when I am depressed or anxious; that’s always been true. The difference now is, I’m aware of it. I know now that this was the real reason I could never finish a book let alone really get one started—my emotional struggles caused me to lose focus to the point that I just couldn’t get it together.

The other lesson I’ve learned is that I need to follow my own advice and when nothing good is coming or I’m just not feeling like working on a particular project, then I need to write something else, whether that something is journaling, writing a blog post, or working on another creative project. With regard to the latter, I’ve been forcing myself to stick with one creative writing project at a time out of fear I’ll never finish anything if I don’t make myself plow through, but I’ve realized that, by doing this, I’ve been hampering my own creativity (and as I noted above, the real problem for all those years was depression, not my tendency toward chaos-witchiness). I hate doing the same thing all the time; I get extremely bored and end up feeling constrained. I certainly need some structure to keep me on track, but instead of forcing myself to push on when my heart’s not really in it, I should instead embrace my own dynamic nature, be flexible, and work on whatever project I feel like on a given day (employ an organized chaos, so to speak). My hope is that by changing things up, I’ll avoid stagnating and will instead keep the embers of my creative fire burning.

Along the same lines, while my story ideas tend to be nonlinear, with scenes/flashes coming at random, I need to write in chapters. If I have a scene in my head, then I will write it but I also need to write what goes around or with it, connecting the dots. This will save me having to go back and fill in loads of blanks later and will help to keep me organized. I mean, even when Wanda was completely disrupting people’s lives, she still provided a substantial amount of structure. The least I can do is turn random scenes into full-fledged chapters (the fact that I have already done it is proof I can do it again).

So this will be my new process once I’ve moved over the stuff I’ve got in my notebooks. Maybe I’ll even consider going back to writing on the computer. Ha! Sorry, but computer writing for creative projects is reserved for revising . . . unless I find a good electronic approximation for a pen and notebook that can be transferred straight into the computer and integrate with Scrivener, but that’s another topic for another day.

Ranée

The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Grounding is all about connecting with nature and the outdoors, which is root chakra, or muladhara, territory. Much of the work that I do involves using a computer and I tend to sit at my desk indoors while I work, so I try to spend at least some time every day outside. Sometimes, I’ll take my laptop with me and do some work outside or sit in the grass with my notebook and pen, writing, but generally, when I’m outside in nature, I want to enjoy it without distraction.

One of my favorite places to venture

One of my favorite ways to get in touch with nature or “get grounded” is to go for a walk. I live quite close to a nature preserve and park and that’s my absolute favorite place to go for walks. I also live in a relatively quiet neighborhood that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, so tend to go for daily walks by myself, with my dog, or with my family.

Most days when it’s warm weather and not raining, I’ll just step outside and stroll through the grass in my bare feet. I hate shoes and don’t even wear socks unless it’s super cold, but walking barefoot is more than that for me. I find the feel of the grass beneath my feet comforting; it’s a reminder that I’m always supported. You can’t accomplish much without first having a strong foundation. The ground beneath my feet is a tangible, literal reminder that I have one.

Apart from walking, I’ve also come to enjoy gardening, something I never really thought I’d be into. It was and still is one of my mom’s hobbies. And now I can sort of see what she loves about it—planting flowers, trees, vegetables, and herbs in the earth, cultivating life. I’ve come to love watching my plants grow and I hate seeing them dwindle. And, yes, I talk to them. I’ve even named some of them.

Whenever it’s raining or snowing or temperatures rise to sweltering (above 85 degrees tends to get intolerable for me) and I can’t go outside, I have to find alternatives. I’ve brought nature indoors by getting some indoor plants (a couple of succulents and Artemis, my aloe plant, who is thriving).

Root chakra isn’t just about getting in touch with nature, though, as I’m learning. It’s also about being at home in your body, nourishing it, caring for it, paying attention to its cues (eating when hungry, resting when tired, examining aches and pains). Now that I know this, it makes sense to feel invigorated after physical activity and to feel satisfied after eating a wholesome meal. The things that you put into (and, for that matter, onto) your body really do make a difference. I didn’t really start taking care of my body until a few years ago. I didn’t eat well, didn’t exercise, and ended up feeling really bad. I noticed such a difference when I began working out, eating healthier, and finally stopped hating my body. I felt like a new person! I have to say that I was only able to tap into higher spiritual levels and wake up the upper chakras after I got grounded. To me, that makes perfect sense. You can’t build on a shaky foundation.

A part of muladhara that I still wrestle with from time to time is fear and feelings of security. I experience some anxiety and worry at times over things like money and job security, though it’s nothing like what I previously went through. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that whenever I’m out among nature, with my feet on the ground, I don’t feel that stress. I guess in that way, grounding helps me to clear my mind, regain focus and clarity. And it brings me solace. As I reflect on that now, I realize that Mother Gaia has always brought me that sense of comfort. She was there when I was a little girl running around barefoot in the yard and she was there when as a teenager I’d lay out in the grass at night gazing up at the stars. I lost that sense of joy and peace for a while when school, work, and other obligations kept me more indoors than out, and I drifted for a long time. She was there all that time, though, waiting for me to finally get my feet on the ground once more, and she welcomed me back into her nurturing arms.

On Writing, Ranée

Atmosphere

I love to write when it’s dark out; the quiet, the solitude have always been inspiring. Some of my best writing has come in those moments very late at night or early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, the house is quiet, and it’s just me and my thoughts, some candlelight and music. I also find dreary, rainy or stormy days to be perfect for writing. Today happened to be one of those days. Just me and the dog, so the house is relatively quiet. I sat down at my desk with my notebook and a pen, lit some candles, put on my Stormbringer playlist, and began filling in some blanks in my work in progress. I tend not to write linearly, instead just scribbling down whatever scenes come into my head during any given session, but it gets me in trouble because I end up with lots of gaps. In the past, those gaps have felt more like chasms and kept me from finishing stories. Not this time.

I can’t tell you just how much I needed today. I haven’t had many days like this one since the pandemic began. By that, I mean days where the house is quiet and I’m the only one here aside from the dog—perfect writing days. And, honestly, I’m not likely to get many of them in the future either, so my goal is to make the most of those that I do get to have, but also, to create that atmosphere whenever I don’t have perfect writing days, my calm inside the storm so to speak.

How will I do that? Well, low light, candles, and music go a long way toward creating that environment of inspiration for me. And I always have music, even when I haven’t got the others. I’ve previously written about just how influential music has been in my life, how it never fails to inspire me (see Cosmic Dancer). It transports me to another world, the one of my imagination, where I see and hear only the movie reel of my characters’ story playing out in my head to an ever-present soundtrack. So I don’t need the dark or the silence or a rainy day as long as I’ve got music.


For those who are interested, my stormy/rainy-day playlist includes the following songs:

  • “Lightning Crashes” by Live
  • “Riders On the Storm” by The Doors
  • “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage
  • “Cloud Riders” by Tori Amos
  • “Stormy Blues” and “Gloomy Sunday” by Billie Holiday
  • “Mood Indigo” by Nina Simone
  • “Prayers for Rain” by The Cure
  • “Rain” by The Cult
  • “Wind of Change” by Scorpions
  • “Fool In the Rain” and “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Purple Rain” by Prince
  • “Stormy Weather” by Etta James
  • “Calm Inside the Storm” by Cyndi Lauper
  • “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
  • “Africa” by Toto
  • “Atmosphere” and “Disorder” by Joy Division
  • “Elegia” by New Order
  • “Building a Mystery” by Sarah McLachlan
  • “Five String Serenade” by Mazzy Star
  • “All Along the Watchtower” and “The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush
  • “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths
  • “Shelter From the Storm” by Bob Dylan
  • “Shadows and Tall Trees” by U2
  • “I of the Storm” by Of Monsters and Men