Creativity unleashed by Sandra Yuen MacKay

Life and art from a unique perspective

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Visit Letters from Sandra

Posted by symackay on October 28, 2010 at 7:05 PM

Hello,

My recent blogs can be found at Letters from Sandra. Also you can find reviews on my book there as well as information on radio broadcasts about me and my book.



Four Seasons released!

Posted by symackay on August 2, 2010 at 7:23 PM

So Four Seasons, the literary magazine of Lit.org is available once again. The first attempt didn't pan out in February but it's been reissued. I am the new layout designer of the quarterly magazine. If you'd like to submit something, submission guidelines can be found on Majestic which is Lit.org's online newsletter for writers and readers.


In the premiere issue of Four Seasons, I have a novella published titled, "They Found Atlantis."


Juggling both commitments plus preparing for the release of my book and participating in some art sales takes a lot of effort. I take one day at a time.

 

Toward the finish line

Posted by symackay on May 10, 2010 at 1:17 PM

On Mother's Day, I participated in the Vancouver Sun Run with my sisters and mother. My one year old nephew did it in a stroller. It took over 2 hours to walk 10 kilometres. We took our time and a break during the walk.

Also this month, I plan to visit Toronto. Hurray! I hope to see some people and some great art.

My memoir on recovery is four months from publication. We have reached the end of the editing stage. I designed a cover. The title is "My Schizophrenic Life: The Road To Recovery From Mental Illness." I'm quite excited about it. The next move is to get some people to review it and writes blurbs for the book.

As I move toward the finish line of publishing my book, I realize I'm okay with having a so-called brain disease. For the large part, I still feel socially accepted and compassionate to myself.

The Artist's Way Part 4

Posted by symackay on April 10, 2010 at 4:47 PM

Week 9: Recovering a Sense of Compassion explains when a blocked artist can't create, it isn't because of laziness but fear of failure or other reasons. Discipline doesn't make you a great writer or artist, but enthusiasm does. If you love what you do, you're committed to your work and it becomes play. If you find unexplored territory is threatening you may make a creative U-turn and pull back from success. A solution is to ask for help and support if you feel on shaky ground. 

Week 10: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection discusses naming our roadblocks. When we remain static and blocked, we are comfortable and safe in familiar feelings of unhappiness. When we become unblocked, we're happy which can be unfamiliar - even scary. Work, an emotional drought, alcohol, food, desire for fame, and competition are some things that can block creativity. One must concentrate on the process, not the end result. I have been known to judge myself against others and downplay my work. I need to work at being positive about my work and compassionate toward myself. If one thinks the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, one will never reach contentment.

Art needs time to evolve. Artists need time to evolve. Instant gratification is rare. It takes hard work and effort. 

Week 11: Recovering a Sense of Autonomy emphasizes self-acceptance. Don't depend on the opinions of others for reinforcement. Be real with who you are and optimistic and open to possibilities. Creativity in itself isn't a business. It can result in financial rewards, but once you enter that arena, you may not be able to duplicate previous success be it a movie, art exhibit or hit song. You may feel pressure or anxiety to achieve constantly. The stakes rise each time one completes a step. Cameron writes that exercise, meditation, morning pages and artist dates are key to a healthy creative life.

Week 12: Recovering a Sense of Faith examines resistance against faith and trust. Having faith in an inner god or an external one implies surrendering control or self-will. By turning over our fears and desires to something or another being, we must develop trust. If we fear or worry things won't work out, we become stuck.

Give yourself permission to play, to explore the mysteries in life and your imagination. Stoke your own fire, or in other words, maintain your intentions and goals; otherwise your desires may unravel. Listen to your heart and mind, ignore those who hold you back, and form the right alliances.

After reading this book, I reflected on the lessons. It's fine to be able to summarize the guidelines in this book, but applying it may take the rest of my life! God remains a buzz word for me, but I can apply some of what I shared here. I confess I went through it quickly and skipped many of the exercises but hey, that's me!

The Artist's Way Part 3

Posted by symackay on April 10, 2010 at 11:16 AM

Week 6: Recovering a Sense of Abundance asks to write morning pages about the god one believes in vs. the god one would like to believe in. This exercise was fruitless for me because I waver in my spiritual beliefs. Often I deny God in my life but respect others' beliefs that He exists. Maybe by the end of reading this book, I can reflect again on what role the creator plays or doesn't play in my life. 

In regards to a sense of abundance, luxury doesn't mean needing a lot of money, but having simple pleasures in life and pampering ourselves through self-care. If we create or work at all costs, where's the reward? Isn't creativity about living an abundant life? 

The question that comes up is if I choose to be an artist, how will I support myself financially? Cameron suggests when we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open, we have purpose, and work is play. The joy of living is within our grasp if we allow ourselves to be happy and content. Self-doubt and worry affect my ability to have faith that things will turn out well. Someone challenged me to stop being fixed and closed. "Instead embrace life despite things that bother you or cause you grief, " he said. "Nothing is perfect. Take the good with the bad."

Week 7: Recovering a Sense of Connection suggests to take the onus off of us, but welcome the creator's creativity to flow through us. It's not that we have to dream stuff up, we just get down on canvas or paper what is being revealed to us. In Sandra talk, surrender to one's Muse, let the walls down, and accept this gift freely.

Perfectionism stops free flow because one is so fixed on details and examining the work over and over again. If we continue to correct and overthink our creative work, we replace passion and spontaneity with uniformity, The answer to perfectionism is to let go. Don't fear mistakes. Let them happen. Virgos have a vain nature. Not everything I do is going to turn out as a masterpiece. When we take risks, we must understand it could turn out badly.

It's not about getting from A to B in a direct manner. It's about being in touch with our emotional and psychological state, dipping into the well of our life experiences and putting that experience into our creative work without time constraints. Don't think about trivial concerns but focus on the act of art.

Setting unrealistic expectations, demanding immediate success, and expecting recognition from others based on that success is futile. Don't put the cart before the horse. I confess I've been there!

Jealousy toward other people, we see as more successful, is a barrier. We fear we will never reach the level others have achieved. It's poison to our flow of abundance and harmony in our environment. If one is jealous, write down who the person is, why one is jealous and an action antidote. For example:

1) Fellow artist 2) Sells more work than me 3) Recognize I have also sold some work and that artists have different timelines of development. Market my art more.

1) An acquaintance 2) Has a doctorate and make a lot of money 3) Recognize my path is different, I have enough money to live, and you can't take it with you. 

Week 8: Recovering a Sense of Strength recognizes artists have losses. When we feel rejection, we lose hope, face, money and belief in our abilities. We need to acknowledge, voice and mourn our losses so we can move forward. Criticism hurts the artist child within emotionally. It can cripple us from believing we can create or do something.

When I first wrote my memoir, I submitted it to two publishers, but it wasn't ready and it was rejected. As a result, I edited my writing a great deal based on those criticisms. When I did get a book contract, it was synchronicity. I found a suitable publisher; the timing was right. Patience, persistence and continual improvement helped me succeed.

The intellectualism of academia is good at scrutinizing or deconstructing a creative work, but may not be so good at offering support, understanding or approval. Students may give up their dreams for less risky occupations: editor vs. writer, commercial artist vs fine artist. Cameron says artists go through a rite of passage in which we recognize and mourn the scars that block us. Artists must gain autonomy from artistic mentors who cause them grief. I can think of times when I sabotaged opportunities to develop and promote myself as an artist because of closed-mindedness. Next time hopefully, I won't shut the door.

Losses can be transformed into gains. If one door closes, others will open. Is this a master design, I don't know. But I believe things happen for a reason, good or bad. 

Have you heard excuses like "I'm too old to try"? It takes humility to be a beginner later in life. But if you take the plunge, your exploration may lead to self-satisfaction and accomplishment. At first, there may be small, scary steps as anyones knows who is starting out, but it's worth it to try. Be curious. Take a class. Buy a sketchpad.

I am guilty of grandiose dreams of success and jumping the gun. But you must learn to crawl before you walk. If I have a goal of writing a screenplay or novel, I have to break it down into manageable steps - not expect mountains to move for me.

The Artist's Way Part 2

Posted by symackay on April 9, 2010 at 12:57 PM

Week 3: Recovering a Sense of Power talks about anger being a good force because it warns us if something is wrong. Channeled correctly it motivates one to take action. Cameron discusses the concept of synchronicity. Are our lives influenced by God's hand, his interventions, or are good things the result of coincidence or luck? It's common for people to not recognize a higher power may be working for them even if their prayers are answered. Some dismiss ideas of an external God. Some believe and rely on an inner god force. Carl G. Jung suggests the possibility of an intelligent and responsive universe that acts and reacts to our interests. Is the universe an active force addressing individual needs? I can't answer that.

Part of recovery philosophy is self-empowerment, meaning being in control of one's own decisions and life plan vs. the concept of synchronicity which is external. If one desires something and asks for it, one will get an answer. It may be 'no,' or 'not yet' but it will come.

The shame of criticism can block an artist. Cameron has some suggestions on how to deal with criticism.

1. Listen to the criticism in its entirety first.

2. Separate the useful comments from the bothersome ones.

3. Use it as a learning device even if it is negative.

4. Check to see if it triggers a memory or unresolved grief.

5. Recall a positive response to offset the negative ones.

6. Don't give up. Try again.

Growth comes in spurts. We grow, move back a step then forward again. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Times of solitude can be helpful. "Easy accomplishes it" meaning let it come.

Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity asks the reader to check-in on how the morning pages are doing. Does one find that the fuzziness is fading away, emotional barriers are recognized, and one is getting closer to one's own truth? Are we acknowledging the pent-up emotions from past experiences?  When anger or pain resurfaces, that is the first step to healing. Seeing ourselves honestly results in gains and losses. We discover our boundaries and uniqueness. Hopefully, we clarify how we feel, gain objectivity, and lose misconceptions. 

The morning pages allow us to reveal, express and discard old attitudes and behaviour, and get closer to our real selves. Think about yourself as a person, your likes and dislikes, talents and potential, dreams and pain endured. For years, I was stuck. overcome with jealousy and self-deprecation, I couldn't move forward. I complained, repeating the same problems over and over again. I healed by understanding and accepting my value as a person and not comparing myself to others.

This chapter also talks about reading deprivation. If one doesn't read for a week, that time can be filled with activities, socializing and excitement. Not reading clears one's mind of clutter and allows one to flow out and express oneself - the beginning of clarity which can channel recovered creativity.

Week 5: Recovering a Sense of Possibility reminds me of my own dilemmas. In the past, I was self-destructive in my attitudes because I set myself up for disappointment by having insurmountable expectations based on perfectionism. I was my own worse enemy. When I didn't achieve what I wanted, I became closed to the notion that anything is possible. I was rigid and idolized others instead of building up myself. Today, I'm more flexible but I still have things to work through. As outlined in the book, I completed the Virtue-Trap Quiz.

1. The biggest lack in my life is recognizing and being satisfied with my successes.

2. The greatest joy in my life is my husband.

3. My largest time commitment is being on the computer.

4. As I play more, I work better.

5. I feel guilty that I am unwilling to take on more responsibility at home.

6. I worry that the people close to me will die.

7. If my dreams come true, my family will be happy for me.

8. I sabotage myself so people will pay attention to me.

9. If I let myself feel it, I'm angry that I can't change the past.

10. One reason I get sad sometimes is when I remember how I felt when I was severely ill.

My wish list:

1. I wish I was famous as an artist and writer.

2. I wish I was rich. =)

3. I wish I could not take criticism so badly.

4. I wish to see the silver lining of bad experiences.

The Artist's Way Part 1

Posted by symackay on April 8, 2010 at 10:45 PM

I'm working through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. When I opened this book, I quickly realized it would be a 12-week commitment to do it right. Someone suggested to me to get together with some creative-minded people to go through the exercises. In my usual efficient manner, I thought maybe I could just take out the gems that apply to me specifically and scan the rest. So here's the first bits I got out of the first chapters:

The author first discusses the concept of The Great Creator or God or whatever label one wants to use. In my mind, God comes with so much excess baggage and connotations. For me, the term makes me angry, disappointed and shameful all at once. So I will choose a different term like Muse or spiritual, creative energy instead. A common problem is having blocks that not only prevent us from creating, but from pursuing a particular job, or taking a risk to try something new. Often we choose comfortable routines over exploration or don't live out the dreams we talk or think about.

Spiritual Electricity: The Basic Principles state that creativity is God's gift to us. A creative force infuses all things including ourselves. When we open the channel of creativity, we open ourselves to a higher power and may expect gentle but powerful changes. Creative dreams and desires come from a divine source. As we move closer to our creative dreams, we move closer to our divinity.

Sorry, to me this isn't how I view my creativity. For me, the creative process is heightened awareness that motivates me to act, to build, to form something tangible. If an observer sees joy or spiritual energy in me or work that I do, I don't feel it has anything to do with God (there's that word again) but rather harmony and being in sync, in the moment I laid down my brush.

This chapter goes on to discuss negative self-talk that prevents one from creative flow. How many excuses does one make that block the flow? One needs to recognize the artist child within, nurture, and protect that inner being by providing a safe environment for him to explore and grow.

The Basic Tools consists of 1) the morning pages consisting of writing three pages of automatic writing every morning to get the juices flowing, 2) the artist date meaning planning activities that will fuel your well of creativity; and 3) writing a contract of creativity commitment. 

My version of morning pages may be to do mind maps, or jot down ideas or blog. In terms of painting, preparation may mean loose brushstrokes and colour mixing on scraps of paper. If I want to draw, contours or scribbling are good warm-up exercises. I personally do not presently make time to make formal artist dates to fuel my creativity. Instead, I draw from memory, emotion, obsessions, dreams, fantasy, and physical or psychological energy that build inside of me. When I'm blocked, unable to write or paint, I take time away, watch movies, have stimulating conversations, and reflect on where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going. Travel and photography also fuel my well.

Creativity can't be forced. If I'm working in a non-creative job, I'm less likely to be thinking about the next painting. The important thing is to keep the channels open, keep fluent in one's creative style of living, keep growing, keep learning, and lower anxiety. Take feng shui for example. The position of objects in spaces where we live can have an effect on harmony in our environment. If I don't have harmony, how can I free myself and create something aesthetic?

Week 1: Recovering a Sense of Safety gives examples of people who shadow artists. They live their own creative goals through others without opening themselves up to doing it themselves. Fear, jealousy, discontentment, perfectionism, financial concerns, and blindness to one's own potential can impede the artist. As a solution, Cameron offers twenty creative affirmations again around the words God and divinity. This time I'm listening. I feel other artists that experience a heightened spiritual level via mediation, worship, prayer or other means are capable of creating something sublime and powerful. Here are my affirmations:

1. I am a writer and an artist.

2. I create because I have to.

3. If I make mistakes, that's okay. Experimentation and risk-taking are part of the artistic journey.

4. I am willing to create despite rejections or lack of sales.

5. I am a human being. I embrace my strengths and my flaws equally.

6.  I love who I am.

7. My creativity is healing.

Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity describes how self-doubt can lead to self-sabotage based on an underlying self-hatred in some. Poisonous playmates or peers who are blocked may hold you back. Choose your friends wisely. Our own skepticism or fear of appearing arrogant may lead us to downplay our successes or thwart our attempts to grow creatively. Pain becomes experience. Pain makes one pay attention. How we deal with what life has given us is more important than our genes. At the end of this chapter, Cameron writes 10 Rules of the Road to be an artist. Here's mine:

1. I believe I a talented artist and my work has value.

2. I need to be consistent in the quality of my work through practice.

3. I need to value my work and not sell out.

Sandra's proverb

Posted by symackay on April 5, 2010 at 8:52 PM

"In the cycle of life, it isn't what property you own, or what you've accumulated, it's about what you've done with what life has given you. Heaven is the reward."

My mother asked me, "Where did I get that quote?" I said, "It's mine!"

Sometimes I come up with truisms, other times something more insightful. It's true that you can't take it with you! Do I believe in heaven? If there wasn't a heaven, why strive? What is the point of doing good deeds or helping my fellow man?

If there is a God, and one day I am going to find out, I believe he is greater than all things.

I can see those atheists out there shaking their heads. "When you die, that's it. Dust to dust."  One of my friends believes in reincarnation and that every time you live a life you move forward and improve.

Am I a Christian? That seems to be out of vogue. My answer is I don't really know.

A Christian friend prayed with me and put me through the steps of confession and accepting Christ. By the next day, I didn't feel any different. My thoughts and emotions were the same. I didn't feel holy, I didn't feel anything.

Even if I was the most obedient Christian, I would still have a mental illness. I am selfish to some degree in the fact I go my own way and make my own decisions. Or is that called being an adult? I don't want to put my faith into something I can't see or understand.

The question of why does God let people suffer comes up. I read a book which said that there is evil in the world. God gives man free choice to follow him or not. He doesn't prevent all bad things from happening. He wants humankind to have freedom. God isn't passive but gives us the free will to choose to obey him or not. The alternative is, If he made life perfect and gave us all the belief of his undeniable greatness, we would be robots bending to his will.

I don't know if I buy that argument completely.

I'm still searching.


My First Book Contract!

Posted by symackay on April 5, 2010 at 11:59 AM

Excerpt from my column on the Lit.org Majestic newsletter:


I want to share one of my successes. In March, I signed my first book contract! Here's my tale.

Over a year ago, I wrote a memoir on recovery from mental illness. I became ill at fourteen and struggled for years with schizoaffective disorder, but managed to complete a university degree, have a stable marriage, and pursue writing and art.

The topic of my book was specialized and I needed a publisher who identified with my story. I was new to marketing and sent a query to two publishers. One requested the whole manuscript. Unfortunately, I didn't submit elsewhere while waiting for her responses and it didn't work out. However, I continued to edit and improve my manuscript. In January of 2010, an acquaintance announced the sale of her book. Her topic was similar to mine.

"Would your publisher be interested in reading my manuscript?" I asked her.

"Why don't you contact him directly and I'll mention your name to him," she replied.

So I approached the publisher with a query, synopsis, bibliography and few sample chapters. The query was crucial because I cited similar books to mine that had done well in sales and I was able to include my publishing history. A week later, the publisher requested the whole manuscript. By March, he wanted to talk about publication. He called me long distance at a pre-determined time, and he spoke about his distribution and the opportunity for e-books, audio, and possible translation into other languages.

We had a good rapport and our goals were the same. We were both mental health advocates and writers. The contract he emailed me was succinct. I requested as little legalese as possible. So we signed. If everything goes to plan, my memoir will be released in the fall of 2010. I'll let you know when it becomes available!

I wanted to thank Stuart and Lit.org members for their constructive criticism and encouragement to write. My experience as a columnist and editor for Majestic improved my writing and confidence immensely. It's a little scary to put my story out there because of stigma, but I think to hear about mental illness from a person with lived experience can be educational and inspirational as a journey of hope.

They Found Atlantis

Posted by symackay on March 19, 2010 at 1:31 AM

My novella "They Found Atlantis" was published in the premiere issue of "Four Seasons," Lit.org's literary magazine. Click here to preview and/or purchase. Atlantis rises out of the sea and is discovered by American submarines.

There are some good writers in this issue. It's worth checking out.



Intuition

Posted by symackay on March 16, 2010 at 9:27 PM

Someone told me that as one ages, especially women, one depends more on one's intuition. When I am worried or concerned about an event, past, present or future, I often run a scenario through my head of a possible alternate reality or outcome. For example, if I had insulted a person, I imagine him speaking to a co-worker about my 'hurtful' behaviour and the co-worker's response. The anxiety lessens, because my fantasy replaces not knowing. My dreamed possibilities can be positive or negative, often depending on my mood.

At work, we are holding annual evaluations, meaning a one-on-one with my boss. I will be asked to assess my own performance, then get feedback. My intuition tells me not to worry. I remember in guidance class in grade 8, we were asked to project our grades for the semester. My school counsellor remarked that I underestimated my grades by a significant margin and to work on improving my view of myself. Perfectionism can make me self-critical or worry about job performance, but it also drives me to do the best I can in a given situation. Maturity breeds confidence.

I've been doing a lot of projecting about the fall and next year and even ten years in the future. Projecting doesn't mean I can predict the future, but I dream about possible changes in my life. Most of my projections are positive, some are sad, but all give me satisfaction that I'll be okay whatever happens.

Someone told me it's important to stay in the moment - to be present in the current situation, be it a conversation, a meeting or dinner out. If I disappear into my own headspace, I lose touch. Intuition and dreaming are fine as long as the experience doesn't take you away from the here and now.

Susan's book

Posted by symackay on March 8, 2010 at 1:08 PM

I have an acquaintance, Susan Inman, who wrote "After Her Brain Broke: Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity." This book is not long but it offers inspiration and insights into mental illness and how families cope. Her experiences shed light on the difficulties, but also the heroic efforts and hope she and her family displayed. Susan has made a large impact on other families who have suffered a similar fate.

I went to her book launch on Saturday and was amazed at the turnout. The vendor sold out of copies quite early. People were excited about this book like myself. There were speeches and accolades from prominent figures and then Susan gave a reading of a passage of her book.

I was impressed by the international recommendations on the cover and inside of her book, including a quote from E. Fuller Torrey and an introduction by Sen. Michael Kirby, the Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

There is a growing awareness of mental illness around the world - not as something to be feared but as a recognition of people among us like Susan and her daughter who have experienced trials and tribulations but walked back out of the ring of fire.

Switcheroo

Posted by symackay on February 7, 2010 at 12:41 PM

There's a lot going on behind the scenes. I feel earth and time are shifting as I evolve and take on new challenges. What facilitated this change? Did I just wake up and decide, I'm going to do something different today? I'm trying to make decisions that align with my values and goals instead of getting stuck in day to day problems, I want to rise above the trivial and aim for something higher.

Public relations is something that demands confidence, assertiveness and social skills. So at the opening of the "Reflections" and "CONNECT" shows, I hobnobbed with other artists and discussed their work. Some wanted my autograph for the catalogue. Some were interested in my work as well. 

To be honest, I would have liked to have sold a painting opening night as some other lucky souls, but c'est la vie. People's tastes are unpredictable. It was a step forward for me to be in these two shows. The CONNECT show will run until March 20th.

So I plan to take some paintings out of the Art Studios Traveling Art Show and approach other places. When you are submitting writing or art, there may be costs involved. But I believe it's worth it.

I was told that I am moving in many directions at once. Is it healthy to be involved in many different things simultaneously? It's a juggling act. 

If I reflect on the past year, I see growth in leaps in bounds. I'm on the crest. It's important to maintain perspective and objectivity and not expect too much. 

Art exhibits

Posted by symackay on January 13, 2010 at 1:26 PM

This first painting is "Dogs in a Green Field." The second is "Twisted." These are both featured in the CONNECT Art Show. 



    


I also have some paintings in "Reflections on Dreams and Shadows," another exhibit coming up soon. If you would like to attend either show the details are listed on my homepage.

Hit and Run

Posted by symackay on December 28, 2009 at 9:48 PM

So I was merrily doing my Christmas shopping before Christmas. On Friday the 18th, I noticed the right rear of my car had been damaged including a dent and a broken taillight. Because I park on the street, I deduced my car had been hit in the mall parking lot. I took the car to ICBC and got an estimate for damages, which was over $1400.00. Shame on the driver of the car that hit me. I remember a very long blue van parked across from me in the parking lot. It had a high bumper which could very well have hit my car, if the driver had put the van in reverse. No note, no witnesses, but a deductible for me.

So instead of festering and complaining about the injury to my vehicle, I took it to a repair shop and put it out of my mind.

At work in a meeting, we were reflecting on the past year and I said, "Working here has helped me because my car got a hit and run and it didn't bother me."

"This sounds interesting. Can you explain what you mean?" asked my boss. I laughed at how absurd the connection seemed to be.

"In this job, I've learned to deal with stresses, resolve conflicts and troubleshoot problems," I explained. "Three years ago, if my car had been hit, I'd probably not handle it as well as I did." The conversation shifted to other topics.

I remember when I worked in an office, I took home work-related problems and worried constantly about work. I'd stay late then arrive late the next morning. My absences were common. I determined that full-time work was not for me. I didn't have the stamina or the ability to pace myself.

In my present job, I try to separate work from my leisure time. I do what is required but try not to obsess, worry or get overly involved. I'm not paid to take total responsibility or run the show. 

So when Christmas arrived, I ate, laughed, opened presents, and slept after all the excitement. I think it's a sign of maturity that I'm mellowing - or I'm just getting older.

In the new year, I will be the editor of Majestic, Litdotorg's newsletter. Also, my novella "They Found Atlantis" is to be published in the Winter issue of Four Seasons, a new print magazine. I also have a couple of group art shows coming up which I am happy about.

I'd like to send out warm wishes to all parts of the globe. Blessings to all!

Public speaking

Posted by symackay on December 11, 2009 at 12:44 PM

I don't consider myself a natural public speaker because I don't memorize what I say. In the past, when I gave talks I needed things written out verbatim. However, if I used PowerPoint I think I could use the slides as a starting point and speak without using a word for word reference.

As a public speaker, it's important to engage your audience. Humour, asking questions, audience participation and interactive activities are useful tools.

I practice my speeches by speaking aloud slowly and clearly and timing myself. Taking pauses allows the listeners to digest the information. Making eye contact is good.

A question period after a talk allows for clarification and expansion. Listeners can zero in on things they wanted to understand better. I've been to talks where there were one or two up to fifteen or more questions. It depends a lot on the audience and the controversial aspects of the talk.

As a creative writing instructor in the past, I learned to listen and give feedback. Also I prepared an outline and kept the class moving so people would remain interested. I tried to keep the focus on writing and not get into personal discussions.

Teaching and public speaking both involve leading and holding the interest of the students or listeners. If you lose them halfway, you are less effective. Make sure you have something new to say. Be creative in how you express yourself. 

Some of us get nervous if we have to speak in public. My answer is to be well-prepared and focused. Make sure the content suits the audience. I speak to high school, college and post-graduate students so I alter the talk depending on the type of group that I'm addressing. What specific issues are pertinent to this group? What do they need to know that I can include in fifteen minutes? When speaking to families of mentally ill persons, I recognize the difficulties of being caregivers but also encourage them to raise awareness and fight for the rights of their loved one. Families can be good advocates for changes in the mental health system and funding for research.

Public speaking can be rewarding if you like applause. I've heard some people speak and they get a standing ovation. These speakers have overcome obstacles and moved forward to accomplish amazing things. They are eloquent and dynamic in content and delivery.

Some people shy away from being the center of attention. It can be scary for some, but if you focus on what you are communicating, and why it's important, that may alleviate some of the tension.

I always conclude by thanking my audience. So thank you for reading my blog!

Moving up in the world

Posted by symackay on December 5, 2009 at 12:14 PM

So I was promoted to being the editor for Majestic, an online newsletter for http://www.lit.org. The link is: http://majestic.lit.org/wordpress. After participating as a columnist for a year, I was told by several people that I had really grown this past year as a writer and a person. So I'm so happy to take on this role. My first appearance as editor will be in January 2010.

Also my writing may be published in the first edition of Four Seasons, the Lit.Org's new print publication, Ochani Lele's new project. He is the owner of Lit.Org and also did a lot of work on the site and newsletter. So I'm looking forward to that.

Regarding my talks, all went well. I spoke to more than a few people at the Into the Light mental health conference about The Art Studios.  Plus I heard some information about issues around mental health, like housing, policing, homelessness, and corrections. I managed to make all my meetings this past while, plus participate in The Art Studios Winter Sale and Silent Auction. We raised a chunk of money with the silent auction to go towards the members' fund for supplies and things not covered by the Vancouver Coastal Health budget.

My art and bio was also included in Toward Recovery & Well-Being, a book about the new framework for a national mental health strategy, that was launched at the conference.

So where am I now? In relaxation mode!


Stigma

Posted by symackay on November 25, 2009 at 10:05 PM

Yesterday I presented at a cafe discussion about stigma. The other speaker presented information on research on stigma and also the difficulties of disclosure in a work situation. One talk or discussion won't change stigma in the minds of the general public but the more information people have, the more of an informed opinion they will make.

If someone hears a positive story of recovery that may counterbalance some of the sensationalized information supplied by the media. By putting a face to mental illness and recovery, I hope to appeal to people's compassion and empathy for those like me.

In my city, the government are streamlining services by combining mental illness and addiction services. This will help those with concurrent illnesses that need help in both areas whereas before they may have had difficulty getting treatment. Roughly, 50 percent of people with mental illness have a substance abuse problem.

However, I would feel double stigmatized if I am seen walking into a mental health and addictions facility. I fear that the general public will assume that all mentally ill persons have a substance abuse problem as well. To many, people with schizophrenia are already perceived as dangerous and violent, which makes it hard for them to attain housing and job opportunities. To disclose to an employer that one has a mental illness can have negative effects. There are professionals in the community who choose not to disclose because it could affect their reputations and credibility.

In an American journal, it was documented that mentally ill persons have a significantly shorter life expectancy, not because of suicide rates, but because of health complications. Some of these complications are due to side effects of medications (like obesity), but also substance abuse, and lack of access to good health care.

Into the Light and other stories

Posted by symackay on November 16, 2009 at 10:49 PM

Life is made of stories. I'd like to share some stories I've been experiencing.

I've been working hard at my writing, but publication of my novel and memoir seem in the distance right now. I'm at a point where I think my edits are paying off and I'm closer to approaching some editors and expanding my horizons. I had some urging from others to get busy and start submitting a.s.a.p., but three months ago, I don't think these two manuscripts would have been accepted by any editor, because they weren't ready yet. For me, writing is like aging fine wine. I start off with the best ingredients, take care and let it ferment. This waiting period gives me time to be objective and improve the writing.

So I'm reading "You can be happy no matter what: five principles for keeping life in perspective" by Richard Carlson, PhD. It's an awesome book, but someone commented why is it called a "self-help" book if the writer of the book and the text is helping you? Are you really helping yourself or looking for someone else to give you the answers? Food for thought.

Anyway, part of this book discusses ways to avoid the impact of negative thoughts. Thoughts are influenced by mood which make them subjective at times. People who are happy don't actually have a lot of peripheral thoughts in their heads, or so the author supposes.

People with mental illness believe their passing thoughts to be real. They can't separate their thoughts from their perception of reality. They may have low moods which feed into negative or paranoid thinking.

The writer suggests not to discuss or mull over negative thoughts or memories because that gives them power over you. Instead, let them go.

I lie in bed thinking about stuff that happened years ago or conversations that may have never happened. How do I let go? Exercise or watching tv is helpful in clearing my mind of disturbing thoughts. Art and writing are helpful, but there's always downtime, when things pop into my head.

My story, in reference to this book, is that I read a chapter about being content in the present. I, like many others, try to achieve in life to reach successes. However, if one always raises the bar or seeks more and more achievements, one may not find satisfaction. So upon reflection of my life this far, and seeing where I am in the present, I think I recognize the value of my work and my person. I don't need to compete in life but rather savour the warm, fuzzy moments and dismiss the worry that I'll never reach X,Y,Z right away.

I'm not saying, I shouldn't try to publish my books, or that I shouldn't try to publicize my art, but instead I should remove the urgency and take the time so that the work will be of higher quality.

So I'm supposed to be presenting at "Into the Light," a conference on mental health. The story there is that it fell into my lap. I have a general idea of what I need to say, but I won't know the specifics of the presentation until I get there. In other words, I may be winging it. This is new for me, because I used to write my speeches verbatim. Hopefully, through this experience, I will gain confidence in speaking on the spot. I'll let you know how it goes.

Chocolate Days

Posted by symackay on October 29, 2009 at 10:34 PM

So this year, I wrote a novel in three months titled, "Chocolate Days." I needed to get some perspective so I consulted a relative who is an avid reader to comment on it. She not only gave me feedback on the story but also looked for grammar and punctuation errors. 

To hire a freelance editor can be very expensive depending on what type of editing you want. If you want the editor to check for accuracy in content, it could be especially costly. Some freelance editors charge per page or by the hour. Instead I opted for someone I trust to read over my manuscript for the first time.

I hoped to get some constructive criticism. This relative took over a month to review my story but it was worth the wait. She brought some things into light that I hadn't developed. She emphasized the important of descriptive writing. For example, not writing "he looked angry," but instead, "he glared, not speaking but with daggers in his eyes."

I asked her to see if my characters acted with consistency. When do consistent characters become cardboard cutouts? When are inconsistent characters regarded as complex or multi-dimensional personalities? I think characters are born with certain tendencies, but if over time they face dilemmas with varying outcomes, they can change for the better or worse.

One of the weaknesses in my story was I didn't always explain or show why characters changed their behaviour or altered their responses resulting in decisions that affected their lives permanently. Their behaviour made sense to me, but not to the reader. My relative said that when reading my story, the reader had to piece together why the characters make various choices, rather than the author showing motivations and reasons behind their decision-making and behaviour changes.

I decided to make my main character's emotions and thoughts emerge more to make her more interesting and dynamic so the reader would want to know about her. Also, I need to make sure each passage only has one point of view. Also I need to reexamine how I stereotype one of the characters and explore his thinking too.

So I quickly realized, reworking the story wouldn't be a quick fix, but I received a lot of good pointers of ways to improve "Chocolate Days."

So a big thank you to that person who assessed my story!


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