Words Matter

I was riding high today after a morning breakthrough in the novel plotting. I’ve been doing my best to come to the work every day now that I finally have time, but it’s been frustrating to say the least. I’ve been stuck, the work was stuck and I didn’t know what to do about it. And so I’ve been focusing on craft – reading everything I can get my hands on, contemplating my characters, my plot, my themes. I’ve been continuing research even when it pulls me into the internet wormhole and seems like wasted time. I’ve been jotting down notes and doodling and simply sitting my butt in the chair every day anyway.

So today, when a simple little note answering a tiny little “what if” suddenly cracked open the potential direction of the two thirds of the book, I was ecstatic.

Then reality hit. I had to run a few errands, including picking up the packs of circus peanuts I agreed to provide to the fourth grader’s teacher for a “treat assignment” they were doing this week. The first grocery store didn’t have them. Neither did Target. Nor did the second grocery store I went to. Finally, I cranked up the Google in the car (while safely parked) and entered “where to buy circus peanuts?” An area drug store topped the list and so I went back in the direction of the first darn store and crossed my fingers. A wild goose chase was most certainly not how I envisioned spending my afternoon.

I tried to keep my high. I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast in the car. I was noodling where I wanted to start when I got back to my desk. I pulled into the parking lot. A right turn off the main road, a right turn into the main artery of the parking lot. I wasn’t sure which side of the building I wanted to park on. Another car was turning from the far side of the building and approaching from the other side of the road. I made sure I had enough room for us to both pass and stopped quickly when a large pick up started emerging from a space to my right. I don’t think he’d seen me. I certainly hadn’t seen him yet – he was pulling forward from the space on the other side and my eyes had been on the approaching vehicle. I paused. He paused. I proceeded to drive past and park my car. I disengaged my cell phone from it’s charger, put it in my purse and then got out. The pick up was waiting, inching slowly towards my car. I was looking both ways before crossing the lot when the driver of the pick-up rolled down his window and told me to “Slow down, ASSHOLE.” Then drove off.

What?

First of all, huh? I couldn’t have been driving that fast. Truly. I was already watching another car, I was looking for a space, I had just made a turn, all of which add up to me going not very fast at all. I’m not even sure I’d hit the gas.

Second of all, why? Why did he feel it necessary to slow down and stop to yell at me and call me a name for whatever slight he felt I had made. And even if I had been going “too fast” (which again, I fail to know what that would have been), I had the right of way. His car pulling out of a parking space should have waited for me whether I was going 5 or 15 (which seems unlikely) or 30 (which I certainly wasn’t).

But here’s the thing. I replayed the whole drive in my mind over and over and over again as I picked up my circus peanuts (yes, they had them and even on SALE!) and on the drive home and as I recounted the story to my husband. I was certain that if someone called me out for something I must be in the wrong. Why else would someone get so angry? Why would he waste his time to call me names?

Maybe he’s just having a bad day. Perhaps he was picking up medicine for his sick kid or a wife recovering from surgery or his own prescription for a terribly nasty and humiliating condition. Or I reminded him of someone who has wronged him. Or he thinks women in SUVs are bad drivers. Or he just lost his job. Or he couldn’t find the damn circus peanuts.

I don’t know.

I don’t care.

It doesn’t matter. but the words do.

There is too much name calling.

This election cycle has been full of it. I don’t want to get political, but the fact of the matter is that the words that are uttered do have meaning. But whether it’s a politician, a neighbor, a friend, a family member, a stranger, these words can’t be taken back. They land on people’s hearts. They have meaning. They can’t be mitigated by calling them jokes or sarcasm. They can’t be excused by saying you were hurt when you said them. They can’t be apologized away. They fall into the minds of people and affect them. They leave marks – sticks and stones be damned. Words hurt.

That man calling me an asshole – he affected me. My high was gone. I was shaking. I was embarrassed. I was mad. I’ve spent the last hour questioning my driving in parking lot skills and going over every short stop, swerve and honk I’ve ever made at the wheel.

If I was truly going too fast in the parking lot (can you see I’m obsessed about whether I was or not?), that man could have made a more meaningful change in my alleged behavior by rolling down his window and saying, “Excuse me, ma’am. You might want to slow down in a parking lot, I didn’t see you coming.”

Instead, his name calling made me defensive.

Not only that, but he’s ruined the rest of my day.

And maybe he wanted to ruin the rest of my day. Maybe his day has been so bad and he can’t control whatever it is that’s happening to him and so he lashed out at the first thing that crossed his path, literally. I hope it made him feel better. Because it made me feel shitty. And I’m fairly certain I didn’t deserve that today. Or any day really.

How we speak to one another matters.

Let’s think about the words we use and why we use them. Let’s consider context and circumstance. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt that we’re all coming from a place of goodness, of love, or at the very least neutrality. If you find yourself wanting to call someone a name or say something ugly, think about why? Most of the time, I bet it has more to do with you than with them. You might be lashing out to cover your own insecurities or your own confusion. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes people are down right in need of a comeuppance, but even then, can you say it without the trappings of anger or meanness? Can you insert kindness in all of your questions and actions and reactions?

That man today had to go out of his way to shout his profanity at me. Let’s go out of our way to say something nice to someone. I made sure I thanked the drug store sales clerk for having exactly what I needed. I’ll be making some treats for a neighbor later who helped us out with a yard project without us having asked him to.

Words matter. Let’s make them count for something good.

Prince, The Dixie Chicks and the Power of Music

We were at Prince’s last concert in Atlanta in April. Eight days later, he was dead. The show was beyond incredible. The hubby is, and always has been, a rabid Prince fan, so we have been to quite a few of his shows. There was my first show I saw with the hubby where I was just a casual fan and didn’t appreciate what exactly I was witnessing. There was the weird disappointment show in DC one year where he went on late then had to wrap too soon because the Metro was about to shut down for the night.

Then. Well, then there was Musicology. By far the best concert I had ever seen. Ever. The music, the energy, the seats we never physically sat in because we were on our feet the whole time but were close enough to the stage that I made eye contact with the man during Little Red Corvette and my ears didn’t stop ringing for three days from the bass. That night was soul changing.

Until Atlanta. A man and his piano. A man and his music. A man and his people. It was magic. Pure and simple. I turned to the hubby at one point and said “Prince is taking us to church.” And he did. And it was glorious. And we were still riding on that high a week later when the news came and it didn’t seem real because we had just seen him, larger than life, teasing the audience with Chopsticks and giving all he had in a way we didn’t understand at the time but cherish now that we know that it was, truly, all that he had left and we were the chosen few to carry that piece of him on into the future.

Last night, we went to our first concert since that show. Instead of the sequins and stilettos I had worn to see Prince, I pulled on my cowboy boots and shorts for the Dixie Chicks.

The lights went down, the stage dark. Suddenly, Let’s Go Crazy pulsed through the speakers in the dark. And I cried.

Since Prince passed there have been numerous tribute performances. Some delivered, others not quite, but all were meant in a sincere honoring of the legend that was Prince and his music. What moved me last night was hearing his words, his voice, his guitar licks and seeing nothing but a dark, empty stage. The stage he will never again grace. The absence was palpable.

We danced and sang. We rose our arms to punch a higher floor. And it felt meaningful. And sad. And right.

Later, the Chicks sang Nothing Compares 2 U and I’ll even forgive the Sinead O’Connor-esque arrangement because they sang that arrangement the way it should have been done, full and throaty and deep and full of angst. His symbol drenched in purple behind them, the song ending on his profile. And I’d like to think that in that musical moment his spirit rejoiced. Mine did.

So thanks to the Chicks for that closure. For giving us a moment to mourn and then to celebrate. For being unabashedly yourselves always. For never apologizing. For never backing down. For being women with something to say and saying it. For being stellar musicians and fantastic performers and challenging your audience. Because that’s the legacy Prince left: using his gifts for music to say something, to stir emotion – joy, sadness, regret, passion, love, euphoria, grief – and then challenge the listener to ignore that whatever that was now that it was known to them.

That, and putting on one helluva show.

 

10

Ten years ago, I spent 30 of the most excruciating, boring, horrible, wonderful hours in labor with my first. I could probably recount in infinitesimal detail those 30 hours, how I felt, what happened, what didn’t, and who said what to finally get me through the finish line of labor. It felt like forever.

And yet, somehow the last ten years have flown by. First teeth, first steps, preschool, kindergarten, soccer, baseball. Now he’s a fully formed person with his own sense of humor, anxieties, skills and dreams. He’s lovely. Truly. Sure, he’s got his foibles, but I love those, too. As much as one can. And I do my best to help him navigate this world with them so that one day those weaknesses can be strengths.

Ten.

Five years ago he was five, barely able to read.

Five years from now he’ll be a freshman in high school with a driver’s permit.

Ten years ago he was swaddled and safe in my arms.

Ten years from now he’ll be twenty and making his own decisions in a big world where I won’t be able to protect him.

We are here in the middle at ten. And it is glorious. He is funny and smart and annoying and goofy and tries too hard at some things and not hard enough at others. He is finding his way in this world. He is rereading Harry Potter while begging to read The Hunger Games. He’s trying to stay a kid and trying to grow up all at the same time. He loves Battlebots and Jeopardy. He hates taking showers, his feet smell and he’s got morning breath. He would eat a breakfast burrito, PB&J at lunch and cheeseburger for dinner every day if I let him. He still wants me to sit with him on the porch swing while he’s having a popsicle and snuggle with him at bed time.

He mirrors the best and worst of me. He teaches me every day how to best be his mother, if I’m paying close enough attention. He is curious. He is introverted and kind. He has set the tone for this family by his mere arrival into the world and every day I work to earn him.

Ten.

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Amazing.

I am in awe of all that he is and all that he has yet to become. Mostly, though, I’m just grateful that he’s mine. Today, I will do my best to make sure he feels special, that it’s not just an ordinary day. Because his mere presence has made my life extraordinary.

Creative Re-Entry

Back in March, my second novel took a turn. Or, more accurately, I set it free to make room for what was a better story. I was digging in on research and finding my way through this new, much more daunting idea, getting to know my new protagonist and trying to fill in her life a little. Then, we were suddenly discussing moving. Upending our lives and starting over. My mind was filled with debate. Once we made our decision to indeed follow this course of action, my hands were filled with tasks to complete it. Staging, repairs, finding movers, it all became my job. Research on new neighborhoods, the end of the school year and trips to see possible new homes of our own took up my time. Packing and moving and living in limbo at my parents for three weeks while parenting our boys through this transition demanded every iota of my attention. The idea languished. The research stalled. The words stopped. My computer has seen many a map search as we learn our new town and plenty of online shopping as we fill our new home, but very few full sentences were typed from left to right across a blank page.

But the boys are in school now. The house is mostly put together. And for the first time in months, I felt the lack of writing in my bones. Kind of like when I get sick. When I’m really sick – laying in bed with the door shut and the covers pulled up and the medicine nearby and the hubby taking on all one hundred percent of the life tasks – I don’t notice the mess. The toys on the floor. The clutter accumulating on the counters. The laundry exploding from the hampers, the pantry’s empty shelves. But one morning, after moving from bed to couch and cruising HGTV, I will suddenly look around from my sick bed haze and finally notice the mess. That’s how I know I’m feeling better. When I start to see all that has fallen by the wayside in my absence and it starts to bug me.

Now, with the book (or at least the idea for the book), I’m starting to see all that hasn’t been done, all that needs to be tidied and filled in. Similar to being sick, however, when I start to see the mess, it doesn’t always mean I’m well enough to do something about it yet.

I don’t know if it’s simply being out of the routine, out of practice or out of excuses, but I’m a little scared to start writing again. Okay, a lot scared. I recognized this week that I need a plan. A plan to squash the doubt and ease myself back into a creative life.  Julia Cameron outlines the importance of the artist date in The Artist’s Way. Doing things for your creative soul can inspire, offer new perspectives and open up new pathways of thinking. This seemed like an easy place to start. So I spent an afternoon this week brainstorming locations – museums, coffee shops, historical spots – in our new town for me to explore. And for now, I will commit to visiting one a week. These field trips may have nothing to do with the topic of the new book or writing, but they will force me to dedicate time to nurturing the part of me that needs strengthening. The part that has been left forgotten and dusty for the last few months. The creative part.

Although I was tired and cranky and really didn’t feel like it, I took myself out on an artist date anyway. My first date was to the NC Museum of Art. Art has always been an easy way for me to unblock. What better exercise than to sit in front of a painting and then write about it? Write about the scene, the people, the emotion. The visual is already there, you just need to capture your imagination’s interpretation. Today, I didn’t write. I let my self simply look. I let my mind settle and my eyes wander. I found myself entranced by a Burk Uzzle photograph, The Black Barn. It was just a barn filling up the frame. But I felt my writer’s eye start to wake. I noticed the beer bottles discarded in the grass by a corner. Did teens find this abandoned barn? Did they sludge through the fallow field burdened down with coolers or six packs to spend an evening drinking and bellowing the laughter of youth? I noticed the impossibility of the paint job on the barn. Did someone try to spray paint it? Why? How was it both cloudy and dripping streaks of black at the same time, as if clouds of paint were raining on its rough hewn wooden canvas?

I wandered through Egyptian artifacts and European still lifes. There were the Monets that always manage to settle my soul a moment with their hazy light and thick layers of paint. There was the Andrew Wyeth that felt so real I nearly expected the curtains to move in the breeze if I stared at it long enough. And there was the Rodin sculpture garden with his impossible ability to capture weightless movement in the heaviest of mediums.

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And I wasn’t breathlessly inspired. I didn’t rush home to write. In fact, I stopped by the grocery store, the most mundane of all tasks, on the way home.

But I did feel something open. A small crack that let the air rush back in to my writer’s soul. And I found myself here. At the keyboard. Wanting to share, to tell you about it, to write about it.

For me, frustration was the first indication that I was neglecting myself. I stewed on that frustration for awhile. Probably too long. But this week, today, I was ready. Ready to turn that frustration into some kind of action. And although it was a small step, it was a step. A step towards re-entry into writing. Re-entry to the novel to be. Re-entry to the creative life. My creative life.

What places inspire you? Will you honor yourself to take an artist’s date this week?

When I Grow Up, I Want to be Like my Kids

We’ve been on a hamster wheel of non-stop activity and change since spring. Every day I keep thinking that’s the day my real life will start. The day when I own my life again. The day when I feel comfortable and ready and the hours stretch ahead of me in an organized and productive way.

Instead, I wake up to boxes that still need unpacking, blank walls begging for pictures to be hung, a worn out GPS app from needing directions to everything, and an ever-growing list of errands. To top it off, our school registration plan backfired a bit and the boys started their new year-round school this week. Our school district offers a variety of traditional and year-round schools. Unfortunately, the traditional options were closed to us and although we had been hoping to keep them on a traditional calendar because, you know, creatures of habit, it wasn’t meant to be. So a week to the day of our furniture being delivered to the new house, the boys packed up their school supplies into their back packs and started a new school.

The boys? They’ve been fine. Excited even. They were unfazed about starting school several days into the new school year. They have rolled with the change to their summer schedule. My boys are happy, optimistic, content. They play between the boxes. They sleep in their make-shift beds. They explore the new spaces. They still hug us tight, maybe a little tighter. But they come home excited about things they did at school, people they’ve met, ways that the new school is different.

And I wish I could be more like them. Instead, I’m still hungering for a normal. The school routine starting earlier than I expected threw my non-routine into further non-ness. I’m wandering the house tackling projects that never seem to get finished and wondering when I will ever get back to writing.

But the boys? They’re good.

We might have been the ones to initiate this great and risky plan to move to a new state, start a new school, uproot our entire lives for something bigger in the grand scheme. But in the little ways, my kids are showing me daily how to actually do it by being brave and open and receptive to this new life.

So I will follow their example. I will do what I can when I can. I will start to learn what the quiet feels like in this new space without their feet on the stairs. I will take a deep breath and realize that the non-routine is where I am and where I am is still pretty damn good. Because every day is different. Every day is an adventure. Every day is an opportunity.

My boys taught me that.

 

 

Whiplash

The move is done. Or at least phase one is. We are out of the house, out of the city of Atlanta and currently in the middle of our three week layover at my parents’ home while we wait for the closing on the next house. I can’t register the kids for school until we close. I can’t order new furniture and window treatments until I’m in the house. I can’t unpack. I can’t learn my way around our new community. I can’t start making friends. I can’t do much of anything.

Which should be a relief. We have spent the last few months at warp speed getting the house ready for sale, deftly keeping the house immaculate for showings, wrapping up the school year, managing the physical move and surviving the emotional aspects of leaving all that we have known and loved for the last twelve years. I should be relishing this down time.

But it’s not felt like a relief. I am feeling a bit lost. I now have no routine, no to do list, no impending task requiring my focus. It’s just me and the kids. In a home that is not mine. The hubby’s gone back to work, albeit in a room in my parents’ basement. My parents are back to their work and routines. The kids seem fine playing and going to the pool with the occasional field trip thrown in. I enjoy following along with them. To a point. In the moments where they are occupied with screens or LEGOs or creating new games in the front yard, I am stumped, unsure how to restart the creative engine for the new book or even the freelance project I have awaiting me. It’s like I’m just waiting for the next step so we can start our “real” life.

This is temporary. I realize that. I know we’ll get down to the nitty gritty details of our new lives soon, but for now, it’s all limbo, purgatory, an extended pause in reality. But most days I am bored. And I don’t do bored.

During the months leading up to the move, all I could wish for was a quiet moment to actually have a thought. Now those moments are here and I feel like I’m squandering them. The hubby tells me to take advantage of the lull. And I am trying. But in those moments when the boys aren’t whining or we’re running around town together, I am left listless.

I wonder if the real pieces of me were accidentally packed into a box and loaded on the truck, languishing amidst the cardboard and bubble wrap in our storage facility. I wonder if they were accidentally left in our old house, wandering the echoing spaces looking for the ghost of my old life. I wonder if I’ll ever find them again and how they’ll fit in our new life. The yet to be determined life.

It’s all just a phase. That uncertain time between things. A week from today I’ll be knee deep in unpacking boxes and rearranging furniture in our beautiful new home. And later, after I’ve created space for me to create (did I mention how I’ll have my own office in the new house? A pretty room that’s all mine? With doors on it?!), those pieces of me will all fall into place again.

Until then, I’m nursing the whiplash that came from this move, this process, this massive change. Like whiplash, there is little more I can do than stay still and rest. If only I was better at that.

Steps

Today I will walk down these steps for the last time.

IMG_7749These steps have been the entry and exit point to so many stages of my life. I bounced my roller suitcase against them in the dark on my way to catch early morning flights for work. I waddled up and down them, heavy with growing babies in my belly, then balanced those babies in car seats, carriers and on my hip as I fumbled for my keys at the bottom of the diaper bag. I stood swaying fussy infants on those steps during the witching hour, hoping the change in air temperature would calm them. I sat with toddlers counting cars waiting for the hubby to come home. We took first day of school pictures of each boy every year on these steps as they made their way out into the world. I spent many an afternoon sitting on these steps waiting for the school bus to return the boys home to me. I have put band aids on skinned knees, read books, sipped coffee, written blog posts, eaten ice cream cones and watermelon, hugged, kissed and cried, all on these very steps.

For twelve years they were mine. And they witnessed our lives. The comings, the goings, the stopping and pausing, the friends and the family.

Someone new will soon walk up and down these steps. They will walk their dog and lug their groceries. They will run down them late to work or run up them eager to see a friendly face. They will receive packages that bring them joy and welcome guests that bring them love. They will hopefully stop and sit awhile on them, watching the neighbors go about their days, wave and smile and become a part of that same fabric. I hope they look up and will marvel at the view of a bright blue sky telescoped by the bright green canopy of our gorgeous trees. Maybe they will even come out after a summer storm, searching the patches of sky through those trees for a rainbow like we did.

And I want all these things for the person who is next. A new beginning as they walk up them after we walk down and take new steps of our own. There is a new door coming for me and my family. There will be big adventures that build our next steps and tiny moments that will become the mortar of our lives.

But right now, I am sad. I am quiet and reverent and awestruck at how four simple steps could come to mean so very much in my life. I will cherish the moment when I walk down these steps for the final time and look back up at my front door, a door that has now closed on our time here in this home, but will soon open on someone else’s.

There will be time for me to look ahead to my own new door.

But today I’m taking it one step at a time.

Saying Goodbye Begins

I am in pain today. Tears and heartache. I am raw and vulnerable. My soul feels exposed and uncomfortable as it tries to hide from the harsh light and dry air of the outside. I want to crawl back into my bed and pretend it’s all not happening.

But it is.

We are moving. Away from Atlanta. Back to North Carolina. A choice we made of our own free will and with excitement. As much as we are looking forward to all that this move means for our family, I am sitting here today devastated. For 18 years we have been away from “home.” For 12, we have been here in Atlanta. Building a life. Having babies. Surviving late night feedings and preschool and first days of kindergarten. We have made trips to the emergency room (one trip per person). We have made friends and changed jobs. We have laughed and drank with friends and chased the ice cream truck down the street. We have spent Christmases with neighbors, made casseroles for new babies and illnesses, gossiped on street corners and around fire pits, shared stories and histories and filled our neighbor’s yard with tacky inflatable Christmas decor. We have hiked the banks of the Chattahoochee and plodded down the sidewalks of Peachtree Street. We have seen art and exhibits and eaten in the best restaurants. We have taken our fill of Atlanta, will carry it with us always and be back for it will always be my children’s origination point, their home, their stories’ beginning.

But today there is an end.

Today is the last day of school. The last day the boys will ride bus 752. The last day they will walk the halls of their precious, wonderful, amazing elementary school. The last day they will hang with their friends in the silly goofy way that they do when they are all together on the most euphoric day of the school year. And I am an emotional mess.

In my logical head, I know they will again ride a bus to school. They will make friends. They will have a new wonderful school. They – we – will be fine.

In my heart? Well, there’s no telling my heart anything today. And that’s okay. Today I am taking care of me by wallowing. By allowing all of the emotion to be whatever it needs to be. I will cry when I have a private moment. I will feel joy at the Kindergarten last day of school splash down as the local fire men spray my giggling bundle of six year old boy with the fire hose. I will pass out the popsicles when the afternoon bus brings them home. I will cheer my nine year old on in his league’s AA baseball championship game tonight. I will hug the teachers and the moms and the kids that cross my path. I will not avoid the pain. I will invite it in because it only proves how wonderful this journey has been.

And, Atlanta, it has been wonder-full.

 

 

 

 

Stretching

I have been diligently working away on my second novel for the last two months. I was feeling good about it until the characters in my real life started demanding some emotional and mental time effectively drowning out the fictional voices. It happens. I wasn’t too worried at first. It was more important to focus on the real people issues first.

I began to feel a little panic as the quiet continued, though. These people I’d been building didn’t seem to have much to say anymore. I thought perhaps once the “real” things died down they would open up again. Or maybe I was simply stuck in the dreaded middle where all rough drafts languish and I needed to just listen harder, push through, keep going. Whatever it was, I was feeling nervous. Something wasn’t right. And I knew it.

I went back to some craft books. I brainstormed. I did some exercises. Still no breakthrough. Then I considered that maybe it was really a story about characters B and C, not A and B like I started out with. Perhaps that’s why everyone was so quiet. I spent some time thinking about B and C and plotting out a story that still encompassed most of the existing material, just mixed up a bit. It was better. Truly. But I still felt it was a bit forced. I thought I just needed some time to sit with it. So I sat.

Something still wasn’t right.

Then, in a bolt of lightning moment, I saw Character D. She was waiting patiently with her hands in her lap. She was only supposed to be a tangential character to Character C  when I started with A and B, but when I looked at her, I realized there was something in her eyes. She needed me to ask her a question. She, apparently, had lots to say. Lots to say about her own story before A and B were even alive. Before she had ever met C.  This was turning the book on its head. If I went with D, well, this is something completely different than the existing 30,000 words I have been working on since January 1. This would mean starting over.

After I banged my head against my desk in frustration…

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…I took a deep breath and went back to some earlier research I had done for what was supposed to be this little bit of backstory. As I did so, I felt character D’s voice coming through. She is an extremely strong woman who has so much more to say and share than the poor woman I was forcing onto center stage in those original 30,000 words.

As I dug deeper, I allowed character A to exit stage left. I felt her relief. She smiled and nearly ran out – I think she’s halfway to a margarita and beach towel by now. As I waved goodbye, I ushered in this new person, invited her to sit and now she’s smiling at me, waiting to answer my questions and tell me her story.

I’m irritated that there is all this work that seems wasted, though I know it’s not. There are at least two short stories in those 30,000 words I could tease out.

Mostly, though, I’m scared. I’m scared that this story will be a much harder one to tell. It’s more real and requires a knowledge of a period of time and events I’m not as familiar with. It represents big ideas and complicated cultural and political issues. It’s not at all like the previous book.

I’m still not sure what happens in this book exactly – she hasn’t told me everything. I just know that she holds the story. One I haven’t heard before. One that speaks more honestly to my core. One I’d rather be writing about. And if I’d rather be writing it, I can guarantee you’d rather be reading it.

No one said it would be easy, right?

I may stretch my skills to the limit to tell this story. And I may fail. But I think if I don’t try, I’ll always regret it. And character D? She may never forgive me.

So yet again on this writer’s journey, I find myself taking a leap of faith. Only this time, I feel like I have a partner in crime. She’s just as invested as I am. Together, we have a story to tell. I hope I can do it justice.

Voices Out Loud

Chris Rock was amazing at the Oscars last night. It was a tough if not near impossible job to write and deliver jokes about a very serious issue: diversity in Hollywood specifically, but more broadly, the larger racial divide ingrained in our American culture that limits true opportunity and growth. His performance will have people talking for awhile and with good reason.

Another powerful moment from the evening: Lady Gaga. I had chills and tears and all the uncomfortable reality that was her performance and what it means. Her song, “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus rape in the United States, was a stirring moment giving voice to silent victims, many of whom stood on stage with her last night.

Then Spotlight took the somewhat surprising win for Best Picture. A film about real-life journalists doggedly pursuing a story of the Catholic church’s cover-up of child molestation in Boston. Not only is it a story that lauds real reporting and journalism, but speaks up for the child victims of an unspeakable horror.

Buried in the middle somewhere was the powerful statement from documentary short subject winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy that her film, Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, about honor killings inspired the Pakistani government to take action against this horrific violence.

These are voices that all need to be heard. Desperately. Stories about real deep, dark truths that affect countless people across the globe. Movies, books, music, theater, dance. The arts all seek to illuminate a greater truth, to tell an untold story, to give voice to the voiceless. And we are all better for hearing and seeing these stories.

On this eve to Super Tuesday I was greeted by numerous television ads this morning attempting to sway our votes. These ads all spoke of fear and pointed fingers of blame at their opponents. The touchstones weren’t hope, they were anger and anxiety, name calling and vitriol. What a strange counterpoint to an evening where stories about overcoming, about hope, about joy, about change, about acceptance, about accountability were celebrated. Yes, these stories point out problems. Yes, these stories are not solutions. But no, these stories are not meant to send us cowering into bunkers or heading for borders to escape the decline of the American state. These stories give voice to those unable to speak for themselves. This election? So far, all I can tell is that it’s allowing more loud and angry voices to perpetuate the same rhetoric of fear that keeps the real voices silenced.

The real voices. Our voices.

I, for one, am tired of hearing the same voices over and over again. I stand with those whose voices are whispered in the quiet space. The voices of calm truth often drowned out by the tornadoes of cynicism, misogyny, racism, bigotry and greed. The voices we heard last night were only a few of the small fighting amidst the cacophony. We need artists, writers, movie makers, and playwrights to continue to tell stories. All the stories. The funny ones and the allegorical ones and most especially the hard ones.

But as movie goers or readers or simply citizens moving through our own daily stories, we have an obligation to use our own voice.

Vote.

The voices are shouting at us. But we are part of the conversation. Unfortunately, we aren’t heard unless we use our voice. The out loud one. The one that can be counted.

Be counted. Vote.

Tell your story. Create.

We all have a voice.