Mindfulness and Alice in Wonderland

Children’s books are often rightly attacked for perpetuating dominant cultural modes: the white families of “Dick, Jane, and Sally,” the world of happy housewives, and countless other stereotypes.

For the many books that attempt to subdue rebellious impulses, there are at least a few that broadcast, whether consciously or unconsciously, subversive messages.

Recently I reread Alice in Wonderland, a favorite of mine in my childhood (mainly because of the cat). In this rereading, I found the book to be highly subversive in a way that I like.

For those who are unfamiliar with or who have forgotten the story, Alice falls asleep one summer afternoon and dreams that she’s in a very strange place with unusual beings of both the human and animal variety. She ultimately becomes involved in a croquet match involving flamingos as mallets, hedgehogs as balls, and playing cards as hoops.

The Queen of Hearts, who changes her mind about what she wants every few minutes, takes a strong dislike for Alice and decides that she must die, shouting, “Off with her head!” In the middle of this dream, Alice comes to awareness and realizes that the Queen’s army is nothing but a pack of playing cards. She knocks them all down and wakes up.

As a kid, I didn’t get the deeper meaning of this. I knew that dreams and waking reality were different. Only with age and some small degree of wisdom have I come to realize that waking reality isn’t all that real.

In our conceptions of our lives, we may have created details as bizarre as Cheshire Cats and Mad Hatters and feel that life is shouting, “Off with her head!”

Imagine a world in which you can be tall and proud when you think about your children and small and weak when you contemplate changing your career. No drugs are required in either situation.

Imagine believing you’re not as good as someone else—or better than someone.

Imagine thinking that you exist for any other reason than to realize your full potential and making a difference in the world.

Imagine waking up to the reality that such beliefs are nothing more than a pack of playing cards.

Another subversive children’s writer, Dr. Seuss, has this to say: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Can you think of one good reason?

Interview with R. J. Palmer: How to Saddle Your Imagination and Ride It

Since my blog is about creativity, I’m especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

Most people might call it a little airheaded when I say that it didn’t hit me until I was in my early twenties that I even had talent and potential as a writer. Really when I finally understood that I wanted to be a writer it was one of those “facepalm” moments and I wanted to berate myself by saying, “Why didn’t you think of that before, you twit? DUH!” I really wasn’t that hard on myself or anything but I wanted to be primarily because, well, I was so OLD when I started writing. Ah well, better late than never I suppose.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

Looking back on it, yes I can say that I was a very creative child. I could rock a brainstorming session and my parents tried to push me toward drawing but I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, so that was out. My best drawings were the happy face doodles on my folders when I was bored in school. Other than that, I read a lot and had an insatiable appetite for the written word. Honestly, if someone couldn’t find me, I was curled up somewhere with a book I didn’t want to put down. When I wasn’t reading or drawing horridly lopsided and disfigured cartoons on my school folders, I couldn’t shut up. That probably should’ve been a clue to parents and teachers alike.

Your autobiographical notes are quite intriguing. You describe yourself as having an over-active imagination that finally got channeled into writing. Do you find other useful outlets for your imagination when you’re not writing?

Does cooking count? I have several taste testers around the house, just ask the kids and every once in awhile, I’ll experiment with something new. Sometimes it turns out and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s never fun or interesting if you don’t try. If I don’t write or have some kind of creative outlet, I’ve figured out that I can’t sleep so well because I can’t get the rampaging thoughts that are swirling chaotically around in my head to settle down for long enough to fall asleep. It’s horrifying when I’m getting to a really good part in a book I’m writing because I’ll toss and turn until the wee hours of the morning if I don’t either get up and write or concentrate on clearing my mind.

What inspired you to write Birthright?

Sheer unadulterated penniless boredom. I had had the idea for Birthright revolving around in my head for years and just hadn’t acted on it so when I was out of money and totally at loose ends one winter I just sat down and started to write. Birthright came out and I discovered a passion for writing. Writing is now something of an addiction for me. I gotta get my fix!

What methods do you use to enhance your creativity (i.e., certain music, total solitude, etc.)

When I was writing Birthright, it was nothing less than Mozart all the way and it did the trick. Now that I’m writing Sins of the Father, I like total quiet because it helps me focus and center myself. Sometimes I wish someone would tell that to the kids and the dog. I can’t complain too much though because the dog hangs adoringly on my every word and it strokes my inner ego-centric.

How do you get yourself back in motion when you get stuck?

Sometimes when I’m writing something that’s just everyday stuff I have to slog through it and get on with it. I was plagued up until a few months ago with the most horrible case of writer’s block ever though and it took me months to get past it. I tried everything from the advice of others to reading back over my own work to see if there was something there that might spark my creativity and nothing until I sat back and almost gave up to start writing another project. At that point it was like BLAM! Something went off in my head and I’ve been writing every spare moment since pretty much. I guess I just needed to quit beating my head against the figurative brick wall and relax.

How does a mother of six find time to write?

All kids go to school and sleep sometime. I love early in the morning when the kids first go off to school because the house is quiet and I can write. I hate getting up at six a.m. to get them off to school but I guess that little sacrifice is worth it in the end. I do so love school!

Do your children inspire your creativity?

All the time, my dear. I look at the little things the kids do and the funny little ways they act and whether anyone knows it or not, which is something I’m sure no one ever really will know, I incorporate small aspects of my children’s personalities into my writing. It helps to make the characters come alive for me and maybe someday the children will notice this and realize how much I cherish them. Then again, maybe not.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination?

I’ve never regretted the decision to go Indie because I have free license to make professional and creative decisions that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I have creative control over my own work and when my work comes out in publication, it looks a lot more like me and my work. It echoes my thoughts and personality more than it would if I had to deal with a publishing house and though I’m not contemptuous of the work and sacrifice that traditionally published authors have had to go through, I can smile and say, “Glad it’s them and not me.” That rocks!

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?

Disregard everyone else because I’m guessing someone somewhere down the line was very jealous and made a tart or rude comment that turned you off to the idea of being creative. They need to shut up and get real because they’re always going to be the voice inside your head that says you can’t do it when you know you can. It’s far better to be yourself, be creative and fall flat on your face than never to bust out with what could be the next great work whether written or drawn or sung. I can respect having tried and failed because at least you tried and you learned from your failure. Build on that. If you don’t ever try, you can’t fail and that will never garner anyone’s respect, including my own. Wouldn’t you be kicking yourself in the posterior for years if you didn’t and someone else did?

Description of Sins of the Father:

A minister losing touch with his faith…

A severely autistic child with no past, no present and no real future…

An evil older than time itself…

When the boy Lucian is thrown into Aaron’s life with nowhere else to go all hell breaks loose and Aaron confronts things he never actually imagined could really exist in an effort to save one small, tortured child.


Aaron’s dreams, if they could be called such with their nightmarish quality, were dark and angry and brutal. Blood and fire; there was blood and fire everywhere and no matter where he ran, he could not get away. The blood and the fire chased him and no matter where and how fast he ran, he was endlessly pursued. Disembodied laughter and a voice echoed in his consciousness as well and they were filled with undiluted malice. He didn’t know what the voice was saying; the language was not familiar to him. The wealth of loathing and bitter rage that were infused into both the voice and the laughter were though and he shied away from them both even if he could not escape them.

There was also a great infinite black that was his constant albeit unwanted companion. It shadowed and followed him with lethal intent and an unquenchable thirst and that thirst was for blood. He didn’t know how he knew that but he did for there was a constant feeling or portent running through his dreams apace with the blood and the fire. It was as if whatever chased him doggedly in those dreams was whispering something to him that he could not hear with his ears, only with his deepest secret heart.

He tried desperately to ignore it but it would not be ignored. He tried with everything he was to run away and could not escape it. He tried to confront it but there was nothing there to confront. There was an invisible nemesis driving him to the trembling edge of madness from the confines of his dreams that would not be silenced or stilled and he couldn’t get that one idea out of his head.

Vengeance thirsts for blood…

Birthright is available at:



Visit R. J. Palmer’s blog.

The Sins of the Fathers will be available in April, 2011.

You Don’t Have to Know What’s Wrong to Make it Right

You Don’t Have to Know What’s Wrong To Make It Right

The other day I was trying to fix a page on one of my web sites. (I do my own html coding.) No matter what I did, the correct version of the web page wouldn’t upload. It was getting towards the end of the day, so, despite my temptation to beat this problem to the ground, I left it for later.

The following morning I fixed the problem with no difficulty. I never figured out out what technical problem had caused it to not work the day before, but I decided it didn’t matter, as long as the issue was resolved.

Now I have to learn how to apply the same casual attitude to life’s problems.

Maybe because so many of us are indirectly influenced by Freudian thought, we believe that in order to solve a problem, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, we have to burrow down to the deepest roots and discover the what, when, and why of the original problem.

Sometimes that’s a good idea. A person who becomes traumatized every time she has to drive on a bridge will most effectively overcome this issue if she can discover and dissolve the original trauma. (This is a foundational practice of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which I employ every day.)

Sometimes, though, rooting around in the past and reliving just how awful it was can have a negative effect on our ability to create in the present and the future. I’ve known too many people who decided they were so irreparably damaged that no amount of self-help, rehabilitation, or positive thinking could pull them from the quicksand of personal history.

To get stuck in such beliefs robs us of our creative abilities. It says that forces outside ourselves have greater power than we do. It stains the bright colors of possibility with the dark hues of what was.

I don’t recomment pretending the past never happened, but letting it pull us back prevents the future from pulling it forward. Don’t let the past overshadow the promise of what is to be. Yeats said it far better than I could in the poem, The Two Trees:

Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while.

(The complete text of this poem is at http://www.poetry-archive.com/y/the_two_trees.html

Gaze instead into that which inspires and encourages you. Again quoting Yeats:

Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

At any time, we always have two choices: fear or love. Fear shreds our ability to joyously create. Love is the great enhancer of all creativity.

What are you choosing today?

The Creative Path Has Potholes

The creative process, no matter what you’re creating, encounters moments of discouragement. It is at such moments that we often feel most alone. We know that, while others can sometimes shine a light to help us through the darkness, ultimately this process, in both its high and low moments, comes from within us.

I post this quote as a reminder that even in the moments of feeling alone, we tread a path where others have passed.

“And you know of course that many times before I finish this book I shall hate it with a deadly hatred. I shall detest the day when I started it. It will seem the poorest piece of crap that was ever set down. This feeling will reach a fine peak on about the 500th page. Once I pass that I will continue to work in a state of shock. And when it is done I will be lost for a long time.” John Steinbeck, from Journal of a Novel, his detailed account about writing East of Eden

If you’re interested in reading this book, it’s available at http://www.amazon.com/Journal-Novel-East-Eden-Letters/dp/0140144188

The Bear Walked By

Yesterday evening, as I sat at the computer, I noticed a dark, shaggy form in the yard. I was sure I knew what it was.

In early June, yearling male bears are evicted from the family home and sent off to start new lives elsewhere. For reasons unknown to me, my back yard is on their route.

Upon confirming that it was indeed a bear, I went upstairs to make sure it didn’t topple the big garbage can that sits at the beginning of the driveway. It gave the can a sniff and proceeded on its way.

What does this have to do with creativity? When I first moved to the Catskills in 1993, I was, due to a traumatic encounter with a bear in Yellowstone National Park, terrified of bears. The idea that one could lounge in my own yard literally immobilized me. Now I’m pretty casual about a siting–not that I plan to turn one into a pet.

Imagination makes the difference. In the past, I imagined the worst, envisioning many creative forms of death. Last night I used my creativity to wonder what it might be like to be a young bear, still small in bearish terms, alone for perhaps the first time in its life, unsure of its future.

We can create anything with our imagination. What did you create today?

What the Owl Taught Me

Last night before I went to bed I heard an owl hooting. Since my house is surrounded by forest, this is a normal occurrence. The difference was that I listened.

This owl reminded me of an improvising musician. Its basic theme went like this:

Hoot hoot
hoot hoot

It experimented with several variations, and with each it seemed more and more pleased with itself. The hooting got increasingly enthusiastic. I was reminded of Walt Whitman’s, “Song of Myself”:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.


That’s the beauty of creativity. When we connect to the pure knowing of our inner beings, what we express has the potential to transform the world.