Monday, April 29, 2019

Literary Travels, Part I

I recently chaperoned a school trip to Europe. The theme of the trip was WWI/WWII Battlefields, and I learned so much in the way I most enjoy learning: experientially.  It was, of course, a trip of stories, and I am grateful that this experience is part of mine.

Our first stop was London, England, a destination I'd traveled to once before and so was comfortable making time to see the literary sites I've longed to visit, even if it meant missing a few of the traditional highlights.

Before we left for the trip, the one place I was most excited to visit was Westminster Abbey.  On a past trip, I had stood outside the Abbey, and I so longed to go inside, in particular to see Poets' Corner.  If you've read enough of my blog, then you will know that Thomas Hardy is my literary husband.  From the moment I met Tess Durbeyfield, I was hooked.  I even completed an independent study in the works of Thomas Hardy whilst in graduate school, a course for which my only grade was an extensive research paper and oral defense on the relationship between women and the clergy in his novels.  Hardy's ashes (minus his heart, which is buried with his family) are interred at Poets' Corner, so it has been a dream of mine to stand in his presence.

You can imagine my absolute ecstasy as I walked through Westminster Abbey, standing in the presence of kings and queens, gazing upon the Coronation Chair, making my way to Poets' Corner.  I placed my hands on Chaucer's tomb, gazed at the memorial plaque to the Bronte sisters, and chuckled when I saw Oscar Wilde's name nearly out of sight (more on him later).

And yet, I could not find Thomas Hardy.  I walked in circles, scoffing at Ted Hughes (I have feelings on that one), pitying T.S. Eliot, admiring the acknowledgment of Jane Austen's genius.  No Thomas Hardy.  Finally I took a peek at my cell phone (no photos allowed--and I'm a bit of a rule follower, so I was keeping it tucked away) and Googled Thomas's location.  There it was in the photo--right next to Charles Dickens.

I spun around, found Dickens, and...ah, yes, of course.  Thomas Hardy's marble stone was covered with a piece of carpet and surrounded by orange caution cones connected by yellow tape.

His marble has recently been replaced.  The carpet, I learned from a docent who, before I could inquire, informed me that no, he could not move it, would be off in two weeks.

And so I stared at that carpet square--oh, how I stared--trying to have my moment with Thomas.  It didn't quite do it for me.

Though I didn't check this item off of my bucket list, I still had a lovely time in London.  I enjoyed a magical afternoon tea at Covent Garden, snapped pictures of The Savoy (with a dream of having tea here just as my darling Oscar Wilde did), saw the Crown Jewels, and toured the Churchill War Rooms.  London never truly disappoints.  Besides, now I have a pressing reason to return.  Perhaps third time's the charm?

Next stop: France

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Reflection

Writing has been difficult lately.  When I write, I feel free; I know that life is pouring out of me, that someone's story is becoming known.  It's liberating, as if I've been holding the story inside of me to the point of bursting and then there is a sweet release.  Hemingway once wrote that after he finished writing, he felt an emptiness.  I know that feeling.  When I completed Sweet Divinity, I wept because I loved living with Amanda Jane--and now her story was on the paper and no longer solely in me.

But lately I've felt a different kind of empty.  It's a terrible feeling for a writer to feel alone, as if there are no characters living inside, no stories tucked down deep in the pit of her.  That's how I've felt since January.  There's been no liberation, no freedom, no feeling of release.  Emptiness.  I've been alone.  And I'm not sure I've truly been alone as a writer in all my thirty-nine years.  I remember writing stories from the time I could grip a pencil.  A recording exists of a single-digits me retelling the story of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  As I've written on this blog, I am a vessel, a willing vessel, for stories.  And so this period of emptiness has been a trial.

I know what brought about this empty era, and like many trials of life, this one cannot be put aside or deflected: it must be lived through.  But I firmly believe that when you live through struggle, when you finally emerge on the other side, you come through with a story. 

And so will I.

In the meantime, I've decided to force myself to write.  I'm a little late to take on this discipline for Lent, but perhaps I'll begin my forty days today.  I've never gone in for the advice of "Write one thousand words every day" or "Don't eat.  Don't brush your teeth.  Get up and write."  But I'm wondering if those words are the advice of empty feeling writers.

I have come to realize that I am not empty.  It feels that way, sure, but it is not reality.  There is no dearth of story inside of me.  The stories are present within me; they are simply silenced.  I cannot let them remain untold.  It is my vocation as a writer to give these stories voice.

And so today I take on the challenge.  I am not empty.  I am very, very full.  My voice is important.  Words matter.  This I believe.

I believe in myself.

I am a writer.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Hello There!

Hello there!

I've been away from the blog for a bit now.  I've been working on some side projects and exploring some new interests...and I have been reading up a storm!  At the same time, I've been reflecting on myself as a writer and waiting patiently to see where inspiration will take me.

Great news for 2019: Sweet Divinity is confirmed for publication this year!  I'll be updating the blog with my journey through publishing now that I've made my way through the queue and on to the actual process of publication.  In the meantime, I'm exploring some stories that have been marinating in my mind, ready to make the keyboard hot with my follow-up novel!

In reflecting on the year that was 2018, there were certainly a few stand out moments for me.  I finally got to see Hamilton, and it surpassed my extremely high expectations in every way.  I am a person who likes to experience live theatre purely, so I made it a mission to avoid too much of the Hamilton soundtrack before I saw the musical for myself.  This decision ended up being a great one; I loved experiencing the genius of the music and lyrics for the first time, live.  Also, the staging of the show was some of the best I've seen.  And the touring cast was astounding.  What an experience.

I signed my contract in 2018, after years of seeking a publisher for my dear Sweet Divinity, and it was an amazing moment in my life.  It changed so much for me.  I felt affirmed in my writing and, much like the change that follows the birth of a child, I shifted many of my priorities to taking care of this novel and of my writing career.  Thus, I began freelancing and seeking more opportunities to write.

I read fifty books in 2018, a mix of fiction, biography, general nonfiction, memoir, young adult, poetry and drama.  I've already read five books this year, and my favorite so far has been Becoming, by Michelle Obama.  I already admired her in so many ways, but after reading her personal story, I admire her persistence, candor, and servant's heart even more.

I've also made it a point to see as many of the Oscar Best Picture films as possible, and I'm lacking only two: Vice and A Star is Born (I've been waiting for DVD with this one so that I can cry in the comfort of my home!).  I'm hoping to post my Oscar picks in the next week, but (fingers crossed) before I do, I want to get these two films in.  It's an odd collection of films this year, and I'm pretty sure I have my Best Picture prediction chosen, but I'll hold off a little longer and see if I can make a fully educated projection!

I have several personal goals this year.  Above all, I plan to write more.  I also plan to finish another novel and get a few thousand more words into Reliance.  I plan to travel and market Sweet Divinity.  I also vow to spend more time with myself.  More yoga.  More meditation.  More reading.  More listening.  More time in nature.

I hope 2019 is a beautiful year for you as well.  As my amazing sister-in-law loved to say: "Make it an epic life!"  Let's do this thing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Traditions

Another Christmas has come and gone, and now it's time to focus on finishing this year's reading challenge on Goodreads and to make my New Year's resolutions.

But I couldn't let this Christmas season (which technically began yesterday and runs until Epiphany, for those of you who are keeping track) pass by without sharing our family's unique Christmas Eve tradition.

We take part in many common Christmas traditions.  We decorate, bake cookies, light the Advent wreath, keep up with an Advent calendar, leave cookies for Santa, and set out reindeer food.  But my favorite Christmas tradition is our annual Christmas Eve meal at Outback Steakhouse.

Stick with me.

When my husband and I were first married, we owned a little townhouse in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.  We bought a cute little tree that I referred to as our "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree", and we decorated it with a few ornaments and a tiny strand of tinsel.  Two tiny gifts sat underneath the tree, which was perched on a cheap TV table.  We didn't have a lot of money, but I purchased a couple of steaks from the butcher and baked potatoes, ready for the grand debut of married life Christmas Eve dinner.

The potatoes were in the oven and I had just put the steaks on the stove top to sear when the power went out.  For no reason.  It wasn't raining.  There were no wind gusts.  It was a beautiful Christmas Eve.  With no power.

We waited for a few minutes as my heart broke apart even further--our first Christmas, and it was ruined.  And more so--I had wasted all of this money on the partially-seared steaks.

Eventually we had to admit that the power wasn't coming back on in time to salvage our meal, so we got in the car and agreed to stop at the first restaurant that was open and had power.  Lo and behold, the Outback Steakhouse sign illuminated the darkened sky!

And so, every year since, we've made it a tradition to have our Christmas Eve meal at Outback Steakhouse.  The kids have even gotten into the tradition, and they make us tell the story each year as we nosh on cheese fries and that wonderful, warm bread that soothed our bellies fifteen years ago.

Some holiday traditions come out of culture or even family backgrounds.  But often the most meaningful traditions are the ones we make for ourselves.  They remind us where we've been and help us keep perspective at a time of year when it is easy to lose.  Perhaps our meal at Outback Steakhouse doesn't seem as significant as lighting candles, singing traditional songs, or visiting family, but it certainly brings us together (except when we're fighting over the last cheese fry).

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Slow Down, Lady

I am a person who goes one hundred miles an hour at all times.  Seriously, ask my students.  I decided early in my teaching career that if students didn't have time to get distracted, they wouldn't be a problem.  It's worked for me for fifteen years.  Additionally, I am passionate about that to which I dedicate myself.  Thus I get really, really excited...about teaching, about conversing, about puzzles, about baking, about music, about--well--everything. 

So I've lived my life at a rapid pace for some time now.  I get up each morning, get ready, dress my son, shoo my daughter downstairs, make breakfast for my son and self, throw together snacks for my day, get my son's teeth brushed, and drive my daughter to school (hubby handles our son--praise!).  At work, I get everything together for the day, perhaps run morning car line, teach classes, meet with students during "planning periods" about college essays or help with class, sit in club meetings at lunch, and then meet with students or fellow teachers after school.  I pick up my daughter, go to the gym (if there's time--there usually isn't), come home, cook dinner, get my son in the bath, dress him, read to him, check on my daughter's homework, get a shower myself, pick out clothes for tomorrow, and get in bed with a book.

This is a normal day for me, but I've come to realize it isn't normal.

I'm an over-committer.  And this pneumonia has been a swift kick in the rear, a reminder that I need to take care of myself.  Caring for myself isn't being selfish; it's being respectful of the gift of my body, my mind, and my emotions. 

I imagine a lot of you are over-committers, like me.  The real problem is that I genuinely want to do all of the things I've over-committed myself to doing.  None of it is a chore to me.  There's nothing I'd easily cut out.

And yet, I am certain that's what I'm being called to do.  To sand down the business of my life and leave time for myself.

Did you notice what was missing from my "daily routine"?  Writing.  And yet, as I've written here before, I am, at my core, a writer.  And in denying myself the time to write, I'm denying a bit of who I truly am.

In the past few days, as I've languished on the couch, unable to focus on writing and unable to do any work, I've watched amazing movies: Black Panther and Call Me By Your Name, read two books, and watched two Trevor Noah comedy specials, the pilot of The Man in the High Castle and the pilot of Victoria.  I love movies, and it's crazy to me that I'm just seeing these two.  I love reading, and yet I still need to read ten books to meet this year's goal.  I love escaping into comedy and into period dramas, and yet I don't take time for that either.  Amazingly, though I haven't felt like "myself", my high-speed, go-get-em self, for the last week, in some ways, I've felt more like myself.

My anxiety has decreased amazingly.  Granted, my chest still hurts, but it's not from anxiety.  I've cancelled almost everything on my calendar for the next two weeks, excepting church services, which feed my soul, and, of course, Hamilton.  And I'm finding that I'm okay with that.  I learned to own my "no" a long time ago, but being able to wield a "no" and knowing that you have to are two different things.  I'm grateful to be learning that now.

All of this is to say, that I encourage each one of you to take a look at your life right now.  Take inventory.  Write down your typical day and decide which parts of it are for the benefit of YOU--your physical, mental, and emotional health.  If you don't see it there, then I ask you to honor yourself and make some time.  Say "no", not because you want to, but because you need to.  And in so doing, you will say "yes" to yourself.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Literary Illness, Take Two

Evidently I'm prone to pneumonia.  So I, along with my 80-year old relatives, will be lining up to get a pneumonia vaccination as soon as I'm well.

I had pneumonia back in 2016.  I've written on this blog about how it was during that time that I began sending out queries for Sweet Divinity after a hiatus.  Pneumonia is a very literary disease, and by that I mean that it seems to be the ailment of choice in a lot of classic literature, and also, that one can get a lot of literary work done whilst recovering from it.

I tend to pretend I'm not sick and keep living life at a ridiculously rapid pace.  And then in comes pneumonia, knocking me on my rear end and reminding me that I should actually listen to my body.

And so I've spent the better part of three days quarantined in an upstairs room, occupying myself with Outlander, Black Panther, The Man in the High Castle, and Trevor Noah stand up.  But I've also been writing.

I've been trying for months to pound out the opening of the sequel to Sweet Divinity.  I've written some funny stuff, but nothing that is just right.  I love the opening of Sweet Divinity.  Its sequel deserves something just as grand.

And then this morning, snuggled under my blankets, eating crackers (which is basically all I've eaten in the past forty-eight hours), it happened.  I opened a document, titled it "Aunt Annie Mae", and went to town.

But I'm not thanking pneumonia.  It's a horrible illness that really wrecks lives, but I am thanking the cosmos for the swift kick in the pants, and thanking my amazing doctor who's given me some good stuff.  I'll happily crawl back beneath my covers now and rest a bit.  Until the next bout of inspiration hits.

I advise you to take some quiet time for yourself...no...I advise you to choose some quiet time for yourself.  Only then can we hear our inner genius.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thankful

I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am aware that there are so many people who struggle on this day to find gratitude in lives that are lived with so much struggle.  So before I begin this list of things for which I am thankful, I send out a prayer of gratitude and a prayer of supplication for those who struggle to find the places of gratitude in their lives.  I wish that they would, in the coming year, experience the love and acknowledgement of dignity that we, as humans, have the ability to gift one another.  I will strive to do my part.

A few things I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving:

1. My children.  Even at six o'clock in the morning on a Saturday when I hear, "Mommy...Mommy...Mommy...Mommy" in monotone.
2. My husband.  Who lives with a writer.  Enough said.
3. Books.  I just finished Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje, a fantastic read.  I was swept back in time by this convoluted tale.  I could feel the smoke closing in around me.
4. Words.  I'm currently reading Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah.  Words matter.
5. Food.  I know that I am blessed to have more than enough to eat, but I'd be lying if I weren't especially thankful today for cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole (with brown sugar pecans, no marshmallows).
5. Family.  We don't agree on everything, but we agree to love.
6. Friends.  Man, a tribe is so necessary.
7. Beauty.  It's everywhere, but I find it so particularly in nature.  I love to be in nature, first thing in the morning, when the creatures haven't yet been disrupted by our human antics.
8. Mary Oliver.
9. Beds.  My favorite moment of the day is getting in bed.  Under the covers.  Snuggled with a book.
10. Lemurs.  They're adorable.  Weirdly adorable.
11. Central heating and air.  And blankets.
12. Faith.  Believing in more than myself keeps me centered.
13. Bubbles.
14. Puzzles.  They focus my mind when it tries to pull me astray.
15. Art.  Because expression is of utmost importance.
16. Chocolate.  My body may not tolerate you, but my taste buds are grateful.
17. Stars.  They keep my self-importance in check.
18. Seashells.  Natural art.
19. My abilities.  I must write, and I'm so thankful that I can.
20. Support.  If you're reading this, thank you.

There's much more, but I'll stop, for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is on the horizon.  I wish you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.  May you eat, drink, and be merry.