A Walk in the Woods

We spent the weekend celebrating my newly minted 11 year old son. His birthday was Thursday, the sleepover with friends Friday and a dinner with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins was last night.

Throughout the candle blowing and meal preparation and attempting to not become a target in the Nerf battle that broke out upstairs, there was Charlottesville. It weighed heavy on my heart and I forced myself away from the photos and the news and the tweets to focus on my son and give him a weekend that he ended up describing as “epic” (a parenting win if ever there was one).

This morning, however, my heart was heavy and my body ached with the weight of all I had been attempting to ignore. The stillness of the house as the boys left for school descended and I went to my desk to work. Only, I found I couldn’t. I was heartbroken and confused and unsure how to make a difference in this tumultuous world.

So I took myself to the water.

IMG_9473The water has always been my balm, my solace, the place where I can find my center. I laced up my shoes and headed to a local walking trail not far from my house that goes around a small lake.

The trail was somewhat busy this morning. I passed retired couples strolling, a mother and teenaged daughter deep in conversation, middle aged women with their headphones on getting their steps in, people walking dogs, a pair of teenage boys with their skateboards propped next to them fishing off the pier, a trio of mothers and their respective broods waiting while their bigger kids checked out the turtles in the lake while a chubby-legged, smiling baby cooed in the stroller and two preschool-aged stow aways clung to its sides.

My pace was steady, the clouds hung low, the humid air of a Southern summer filled my lungs. I found peace in my breath. I found peace in each step. I found peace in the muddy scent off the lake. I found peace with each good morning I uttered with a nod because each was uttered to someone different from me. A different age, a different gender, a different race. Of the mothers and the daughters and the retirees and the men and the women with their dogs, I passed people that were African American, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, white.

And I thought, yes. These are my people.

These are the people fishing, moving forward, taking in life. These are the people making eye contact with their neighbors, giving a greeting, sharing a smile. These are the people loving, nurturing, working, growing, aging, living life in our community. These are we and we are these.

What happened in Charlottesville is happening everywhere. It might not be as blatant or caught on tape, but it’s there, in the quiet spaces. To assume racism is a thing of our past is naive. I strive to keep my eyes open to that. I realize that I am white and Christian and that those two cards offer me entry into the world at a higher step than many. I acknowledge that privilege. I acknowledge that my boys will never encounter the same challenges in life that their brothers and sisters of color will. It doesn’t make it right. But I see it. The trouble, is what to do about it. Here is where I struggle and will continue to struggle and ask my siblings of color to show me how I can best be a part of the greater fight.

While I seek that out, I will keep my eyes and heart open, to listen to the experiences of others. I will continue to read voices of color. I will make sure my children’s eyes are open and never lulled into complacency by the safety their privilege provides. I will teach them that for equality to be a reality, it doesn’t mean someone has to go down the ladder in order for someone else to come up. Equality isn’t a see-saw.

I came across several caterpillars on my walk. They littered the path, inching their way to find food, safety, shelter. I think America today is a little like those caterpillars. We are slow and low to the ground and trying desperately not to get squished by the giant feet overhead. We need to find the safe trees with the leaves that satisfy our hunger. We need to climb to higher branches. We need to cocoon ourselves in knowledge and empathy. We need to wrap each other tight in warmth and safety. And somewhere, during a process that seems like magic but is actually after the hard work of climbing and cocooning, we will emerge changed.

Only then will be able to soar together as beautiful butterflies of all colors.

 

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A Little Rain Must Fall

The sky was overcast this morning as I headed out for my morning walk. It’s summer and I admit, I don’t tend to check the weather that often this time of year. What’s the point? I live in the south. It’s going to be hot. It is going to be humid. There will be a chance of thunderstorms whether there is a cloud in the sky or not. So while it was overcast, it didn’t look like rain and so off I went without double checking one of the several apps on my phone.

About a quarter of the way into my walk, it began to rain. Not just mist or drizzle, but a quiet shower that whispers through the trees and comes down all at once. The kind of rain best listened to as you hit the snooze button and roll back over for a few stolen minutes of cocooned peace. But I had already silenced that alarm clock. I had already dragged myself from the cocoon. I was soaked in a matter of seconds.

The Dixie Chicks Long Way Around came up in my shuffle and so I tucked the phone away and kept going. I was already wet. Water dripped off my lashes and nose. No reason to end my walk early. Like the song, I’m not one for short cuts.

It was beautiful. I laughed. I splashed through a puddle. It was me and the quiet and the scent of fresh cut grass and damp earth. The rain was cool and tickled my skin. I felt ridiculous and invigorated all at once. The rain was brief and the last half of the walk was dry save my shirt, shorts, shoes, and the drops slipping from the drooping and heavy crepe myrtle trees overhanging the sidewalk.  I kept going.

I recently entered my manuscript into #PitchWars, an online contest where aspiring writers submit their work to an amazing group of selfless authors who will serve as mentors. These mentors will select one lucky manuscript each to guide through an in-depth and intense two month editing process to revise and polish the work with an opportunity to pitch the final book to a similarly amazing group of agents.

There are several weeks between now and the selection announcements. There are thousands of entries. There are 149 mentors. There are fewer mentors suitable for my book. There are four that I submitted to. There are odds that are small and then there are these odds. And I admit, I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed with how inept my book is. How wrong it must be. How trite and amateur and many more adjectives with less friendly sides to them. Because I am a writer. And what is a writer if not filled with self doubt?

Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. – Stephen King

But I’m not one for short cuts. The wait, the work, the doubt, it’s all just a little rain and while I may get wet, I will also get to see bright yellow leaves skid across puddles and the shift of the clouds across the sky. I will be uncomfortable, but I will be making progress. If I let it, the rain – the setbacks that seem annoying, painful, discouraging – might simply be watering the work so that when the sun shines again it will grow and blossom into the beautiful thing I know it to be.

I am back at my desk. Back at work. Letting the rain fall where it must and putting in the steps to get where I am going. See you there.

 

 

The End 2.0

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. – Michelangelo

Today. For the second time in my life, I reached “The End” on a book I’ve written.

This time, however, I didn’t actually type the words. It felt different this time. I know it’s not the end. Not really. It’s just the beginning. Right now I’m skimming the surface of a story that’s hidden in the dark and weedy depths.

For the last year, I have been chiseling and hammering at this giant rock of a story. But, after a year, I find that instead of seeing my angel in the marble like Michelangelo, I realize I’ve only managed to get the rock free of the mountain. Now, I need to haul this giant piece of rock home and dig in to start the real carving.

Like last time, I am being public about my process, my accomplishments, my struggles. Unlike last time, self-doubt is winning. I posted to Facebook in an effort to fake it till I make it. If I post I’m excited, maybe I will be? But instead of bringing the excitement and giddiness I felt last time, I cried.

I cried because I know enough to know it’s nothing right yet. It’s lacking flow, possibly plot and maybe even some fundamental main character development. It’s based in historical events and I need to make sure it’s RIGHT. Like really, really right. Like accurate, truthiness right. The more I cried the more it also became borderline boring, trite and simply bad.

Then I stopped. I stopped because my husband hugged me. I stopped because my sister-in-law happened to text around the same time and when I sad I was wallowing in self-pity she told me to stop. I stopped because the story doesn’t get better if I simply wish it to.

So I’m picking up the rock. It’s heavy. Heavy with responsibility. Heavy with doubt. I am secretly wondering if I haven’t picked up Sisyphus’ rock by mistake.

But it is heavy with something else. It is heavy with hope. Hope that this is the story, this is the one that works, that resonates, that says something. Hope that I am learning, slowly, but surely, how to do this better. Hope that I can use the tools at hand to set my angel free.

It’s time to find out.

 

The Maybe of Muses

On July 28th, I went to the NC Museum of Art. The kids were back at school. We were 21 days post move. I needed to recenter. To come back to my creative self. The months of March through July were so tumultuous and busy and mind numbing that I was afraid I would need an ice pick to chip my way back to my creative core.

Art, the visual, is one of the fastest ways for me to touch that core. Music can be fleeting, at least for me. Each song brings its own emotions but when the last chord sounds, it’s gone, dissolved into the air again, it can be hard for me to pull it back.

But art? Art for me hints at a story. It shows me just enough and nothing more. It leaves me with questions and, on a good day, avenues for answers, the possibilities spinning, weaving, endlessly simple, inextricably complicated. Someone saw something – a bowl of fruit, a blackened barn door, a look between lovers – and captured it in paint, on film, in stone. The subject is nothing without what the artist brings to it. And when it is combined correctly? Pure magic.

I wandered the over air conditioned museum, happy I brought a sweater so I wouldn’t be distracted by my physical feelings. I happened into a temporary exhibit of photography. I was floored. I was immediately sucked into the fifteen to twenty photos on display. I love photography, although admittedly couldn’t name any famous photographers beyond the big A’s: Ansel Adams and Annie Liebowitz. But this photographer intrigued me. Or rather his work did. I moved slowly, staring down each one. Going back. Taking a closer look, then a wider. I think I made the security guard nervous. I was in front of the same two photographs for so long I think he suspected I was planning to make off with one. And if I had a malicious mind and could have figured out how to get away with it, I might have.

The months passed and I can still call to mind his images. There were the famous Woodstock photos and the chilling images of a waxen Martin Luther King laid out in his coffin at his funeral that would certainly stick. But there were also the images of twisted and blackened books with only a few words still visible through the carnage from his “Burned” series. There was the back of a blackened barn from his “Just Add Water” series, the barn’s doors thrown open wide in the front, our perspective making it impossible to see what could be hiding inside, discarded bottles littered the weeds around it, dents and scratches marred the exterior walls, and there is the black. The barn painted in some haphazard fashion of what looks like buckets thrown at it, black drips streaking like tears, blank spaces cloudy like smoke. These images left me wondering, thinking, considering. They left me melancholy, yet full. They sparked. The creative core in me had warmed.

But this was all months ago, remember. A long time. Spark ignited, I was back at the keyboard, working on my own projects, the blackened barn now just an image in my phone.

Then, today, during lunch, I grabbed the Sunday News & Observer I didn’t have time to read yesterday from the counter. There, on the front page of the arts section was a beautiful feature on a North Carolina photographer. He’s embarking on a fascinating portrait series celebrating African American culture. His thought process and care with each subject were fascinating. I found myself curious when they mentioned his bio, his credentials. They seemed so familiar. Could it be? The same man? The one who caught my eye months ago at the art museum?

It is. A quick Google search confirmed it. So why? Why is Burk Uzzle suddenly popping back into my life? Coincidence? Maybe. Sure. Probably. Perhaps it is no more than that. But what if it’s not? What else is it?

I have been scrolling through his web page and staring at images (the black barn is in the Just Add Water gallery on his page). I have subscribed for updates on the documentary currently filming on his life and work (watch the trailer here). I have written this post all without really knowing or understanding why. I just feel I need to. I just know that his work is flat out beauty to me. Beauty in the honesty of it. The heart of it. The ugly truth of it.

Maybe it’s his camera’s insistence on shining a light on things often forgotten or hidden or silenced. Maybe it’s his sense of humor (just check out some of the titles of his work). Maybe it’s simply good photography and I appreciate his art.

Maybe.

Or maybe it’s a muse. Maybe it’s someone trying to tell me something. Show me something.

Maybe it’s all those things. Maybe none.

 

But whatever it is. I feel it. In that creative core. Something has been planted. What it grows into, only time will tell. When it has blossomed, though? That will be the story I tell. Then it will be my turn.

And so the cycle continues.

Voices

I attended the Women’s March on Washington on January 21.

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Why?

I had so many reasons. I posted them on my personal Facebook page in the days leading up to the march. I thought and prayed on it.There seemed to be so many reasons and motivations floating about in my head. I thought I understood it.

But I didn’t. Not truly. Not in my bones. Not until I was there.

Somewhere, in the sea of humanity that morning, pressed between people on the Mall, the sweet voices of a group behind me singing “This little light of mine” to calm those of us who were starting to wonder where the fresh air was when all I could see in every direction were people, as I clutched the arm of my friend or she clutched mine and we both fought back tears, one simple word bubbled up out of the depths:

Voice.

Out of those hundreds of thousands of people:

Some marched for science.

Some marched for equal pay.

Some marched for black lives or Muslim lives or gay lives.

Some marched for abortion rights.

Some marched for health care.

Some marched for the environment.

Some marched for respect.

Some marched for impeachment.

Some marched to be funny or to be serious or to be humble.

Some marched for their grandmothers.

Some marched for their granddaughters.

It didn’t matter if we didn’t completely agree. We all marched. As women, we stood up and said enough is enough and we came together to give power to our voice. It didn’t matter in that moment what the group had to say. The group gave the power to whatever you needed to say.

We don’t all have to agree. We don’t all have to assimilate. That’s the very point. Or at least the one I came away with.

I left feeling powerful. Finally. There are so few times I can say I’ve ever felt powerful in the four decades of my life. That’s a long time. A very long time. I can, however, name dozens of times I felt powerless. It was a seismic shift to feel that change.

And when it was over. I was jazzed. I was inspired. I was motivated. I cried for nearly the entire first hour of my four hour drive home. I was overwhelmed by what had just happened, what I had been a part of. I was joyful and sad and all of the other things.

Then I came home. I hugged my boys and let them stay up well past their bedtimes as I told them about the march and what I had seen and what I had heard and what it meant to me. I posted pictures. I rested. I tried to process all of it.

And then Monday came. I started to see the wedge. The criticism. The put downs. Other women trying to tear it down with flippant dismissals. Men trying to stereotype the kind of women who marched.

I wanted to rail. I wanted to fight fire with fire. I wanted to battle back with logic and facts and statistics. I wanted to try to explain. I had this voice now. I wanted to use it.

But none of what I wanted to say – the carefully crafted posts I had tried to write last week, the thoughtful responses to social media posts, the attempt to explain and explain and explain – would have mattered. Not to those who don’t want to listen or who aren’t curious to understand the other side.

So I started to lose my voice.

In one short week.

Powerlessness began to seep back into my soul. And I felt uncomfortable. I could feel the battle waging inside.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a boat rocker. I’m a people pleaser through and through. I have a very hard time standing up for myself. And when I do, I replay every moment over and over to make sure I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings in the process.

The problem? These feelings from the march, the motivations, the momentum, they are still there tickling at my edges, clarifying my vision, keeping me awake at night. The power hasn’t left. I had simply stuffed it into a corner in order to keep on with my regular life.

Until I finally had a realization: Fuck it.

(The people pleaser in my wants to apologize for the use of language…I’m still a work in progress). 

I will write. For myself. For this blog. For Facebook. For whatever. It’s how I process. Sometimes that might get shared and sometimes not. But I will write.

I will stand up for what I believe in. In big ways (I have called my senator’s office about senate confirmation hearings that mean the most to me to voice my opinion. I will call today about the Muslim ban and encourage the creation of effective and clear immigration and refugee policies that help, not hurt, those that need the most protection) and small ways (I have emailed my church to amend one of our weekly prayers of the faithful that felt exclusionary, not inclusionary).

I will teach my children our most treasured values – hope, peace and love – and how to protect them not only for our family, but for all families.

I will be curious. I will read books, I will watch documentaries about lives different from mine, I will continue to learn and be an educated citizen of this world.

I will volunteer my skills and time. I have offered pro-bono writing services for women running for local offices.

I will use my voice to protect my values. Not my politics. It’s time we blew up the party lines and spent a little time truly searching our souls for the values we hold dear and then protecting those.

That’s how I plan to use my voice. How will you use yours?

Sounds of Silence

Every day, I tuck myself into my office. From 10 to noon, I ignore the outside world and enter another. This is my protected writing time. My work in progress time. My focus on the novel time. I keep the house quiet during this time. The door is shut. The heat clicks on. A bird chirps outside. A construction vehicle beeps as it backs up down the street. I settle in for the work. The silence is mine. I shape it and fill it with words on the page.

The afternoons are not silent. There is usually music or a podcast in my ears as I edit or run an errand or work through a plot problem. There is chatter and thought and ideas clattering up against my ear drums.

Then, it is 3:30. The focus shifts.

School dismisses at 3:45. At 3:46, the school’s bus alerts start dinging on my phone. One ding at a time.

The buses arrive on campus – ding by ding.

The buses depart – ding by ding.

My children’s bus is one of the last to arrive back at school (thanks to bus sharing between schools) and so I wait and wait for the bus three ding. My ding. The ding that means I should head for the bus stop.

And while I wait, I finish whatever task I’m working on. I click off the music, pause the podcast, turn away from the book’s voices. The house settles and is suddenly quiet again in a way it isn’t the rest of the day. The heat clicks on again. I hear car doors slam at my neighbors houses as older kids return home. Someone laughs or hollers at another kid across the street. I hear the trash cans being dragged up a driveway.

This silence is no longer the same as the writing silence. This silence is the quiet pull back of the tide before it returns the quiet water in a rush and crash of a wave.

I suddenly long for my boys, crave them, can’t wait to see their bodies and minds return to me to tell me about their day. The attention they grant me is fleeting. Sometimes only as long as it takes for us to walk back from the bus stop or for me to help get them a snack. I remind them to put their bags and lunch boxes away. They pull out their homework. They disappear to play.

But their breath, their laughter, their stomping feet, the rustle of their turning pages, their whirring brains fill my silence and I wrap it around me like a blanket. My mother silence is anything but quiet, and yet it stills my soul and calms my anxieties.

It is 3:34 and the house is too quiet again.

I wait. For the boys to fill the silence.

I crave it. Like a drug.

I wait.

Another Year in the Books

Last year, I resolved to focus on one word. That word was forward. Rereading that post a few days ago, I smiled. I sounded so ambitious and excited.

I remembered where I was emotionally and what I was hoping to accomplish.

I remembered the roadblocks, the physical and mental ones, that had been holding me back. The obstacles that always (always, dammit) popped up when I was feeling the most momentum.

I remembered the book I was writing then. Or at least the book I thought I was writing then.

I remembered the thrill of the run, the progress, the determination.

And yet somehow I forgot.

I forgot the promise of progress.

I forgot that I controlled the steps.

I forgot the plan.

At the beginning of this December, it sure did feel like it. I was halfway through the very rough draft of this next book and realizing that I needed to rewrite that first half. I was feeling stiff and stuck and thought that the entire year had been dominated around our move.

After some thoughtful reflection (because what else is happening when you’re stuffed on ham and cookies and cake and your husband is watching a football game you don’t care about but you’re too exhausted to leave the couch), I realized I haven’t been standing still. Not at all.

2016 still ended up being the year of forward. Boy, did it ever.

2016 was the year I decided the book I was writing wasn’t the book I was writing. The real book I was writing was now a historical fiction. I researched. I read. I researched some more. Despite the cursor’s lack of movement across the page for many months, I was building a foundation for the book. And although it felt like stagnation, I can see now how far I’ve come in that year. How different this book will be. How much I’ve had to learn, and still need to learn, in order to finish it, to make it work.

2016 was the year we moved. A move away from all we’d built for our children, our family. We endured their tears when we proposed the idea to them. We suffered their blame when they didn’t want to leave their school, their friends, the only home they’ve known. And we endured our own sleepless nights trying to pull all the logistics together. We wept for all the familiarity we were leaving behind. We uprooted one painful root at a time and took our tree to North Carolina. And although we replanted that tree, we are still nursing it, watering it and adjusting to the new soil. Six months later. I wonder some days how long will it take. How long before I feel as entrenched, before I know the right balance between extended family events and incubating our nuclear one, before I get back to the most effective writing routine? But even I can see each step is a step forward in our new life.

Despite the destination being completely off from where I thought it would be a year ago, I suppose it was still the year of forward. I just didn’t anticipate the universe taking it so literally.

So 2017.

My kids are at a wonderful elementary school with a principal I love. She is not only elegant and graceful, tall and direct, she is warm and passionate and smart in a way that’s apparent in her hello. And you can tell she absolutely, unequivocally loves what she does.

Not only is she the principal, she has brought a new principle to the school. She has instituted a growth mindset at the school.

Not sure what growth mindset is? Watch this. Read this.

But in a nutshell, the idea is that our brains are constantly growing. That the growth mindset allows us to enjoy the challenge as opposed to focusing only on the outcomes.

For example, ever told (by yourself or someone else) that you were just not a math person  (raises hand) and allowed that to justify your subpar performance in math without putting in too much extra effort? That’s an example of the fixed mindset.

Ever train for a marathon? Did you tackle the training step by step and trust every run’s expanse of your running prowess until one day you actually could run the marathon when at the beginning you couldn’t run more than four miles? Growth mindset.

(Really, watch and read the above links. It’s a much better explanation than these sad examples.)

In the classroom, however, it means that the students are taught strategies on how to tackle problems when they run into challenges. “I can not” is not a valid response. That when something is new and hard, students can’t…YET. The students focus on their effort. Their growth. Mistakes and wrong answers are simply parts of learning. FAIL is now the First Attempt In Learning. It’s a fascinating field of psychological study and it is slowly seeping into my parenting and how I approach my own work as I am aware of when I am employing a fixed mindset. It’s been interesting to see where I am fixed and where I use a growth mindset naturally. Relationships? Totally growth. Academics? A little fixed, I have to admit. My public relations career?  I looked back and found I approached that with a total growth mindset (and realized I was also lucky enough to have growth mindset bosses at nearly every turn – thank you MJ, MB, SD, LZ, PG, and MO). My writing? Completely, utterly fixed mindset.

Why? I have a feeling people telling me I was talented at writing or good-naturedly saying they wished they could write like I did, all internalized into my thinking that I shouldn’t have to work so hard at writing. It’s a talent, so it should come easy, right? That because some writing comes easy to me, all writing should. Ah. There is the flaw, right? All writing is not created equal and only the best writers are the best writers because they continue to work on their craft.

Are you all still with me? Thanks. I know it seems like I’ve gone off the New Year’s Resolutions rails.

But not really.

2017. It’s my year of growth.

The year where I focus on learning, stretching, trying, challenging. The year of mistakes. The year of wrong paths. The year where I try on my own growth mindset. The year where failure is celebrated because it means I’ve learned something. The year of YET. I haven’t finished my book…YET. I haven’t found the right agent…YET. The list can go on and on and on.

As a family, we created a few other growth mindset resolutions. Each member answered the following:

In 2017, I want to learn…

In 2017, I want to help others in my community by…

In 2017, with my family, I want to…

And then a general, in 2017, I want to…

That general category, that’s where my paper says in big, capital, permanent marker letters: GROW.

And boy, did my boys smile when they saw that. Won’t that be wonderful for them to realize that growing doesn’t end? That even their old mom can still stretch her skills and learn something new and accomplish something fantastic and new? That you don’t ever finish growing up, you still continue to grow? I think so.

What’s your mindset for 2017?

 

 

 

 

Adjustment Period

It’s been awhile since I posted. Part of that was calculated. The election season was fraught. The aftermath even more so.

And a lot of why I wasn’t here wasn’t on purpose. Not consciously. But the fact was, I was struggling with what to say. Struggling with a lot of things.

Struggling since the move.

A few weeks ago, some ladies on my street got together for breakfast and invited me. I had a wonderful time getting to know these different and wonderful women I can see as part of my new village. They are good people. Fun people. People that get it – most of them have also moved here from somewhere else at some point. But I got in my car afterwards and felt a strange compulsion to cry.

And I didn’t know why.

The next day, I was meeting up with some ladies that also live in my neighborhood that I had only met through an online exchange about helping to coordinate an upcoming event for the neighborhood kids. I was a little nervous about this meeting. I didn’t know these people.

My husband told me to try to have fun as I walked out the door.

Try.

That’s what it was. I was just so tired of trying.

We are settling into our new lives, but there is a constant amount of trying. At our old school, I had already gone through the random volunteering to finally land the position I wanted as newsletter writer for the PTA. A position I sadly had to abandon after a year of shadowing when we moved. Now I’m starting over. I’m back to randomly picking up shifts at the book fair and spirit night events. It’s all great – these are all events I love – but I’m taste testing, meeting folks, working out where I best fit here.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s all great. I love our neighborhood. I’m in love with our school. Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has been nothing but welcoming and supportive.

But it’s still all new. All the time.

Even yesterday, I wanted to take the boys Christmas shopping to pick out gifts for the cousins. I had to Google where the independent toy shops were. Then map them so I wouldn’t get lost.

And Facebook reminds me daily of all the Christmas traditions we had in Atlanta. The santa we visited every year. The lights at the Botanical Garden we visited each Friday after Thanksgiving with the rest of the city and their out of town guests. The neighborhood Christmas party. The streets with the best lights. We knew how early to get to church on Christmas Eve and to head straight for the cathedral’s gym since the cathedral itself and overflow room were filled hours in advance.

Now, I feel like I’m starting from scratch again. And while the boys are just happy that their Elf on the Shelf is back and our advent calendar of activities is as comforting and fun as usual, I’m left trying to make sure that I find a Santa with a real beard since my kids have never been to one with a fake one (something that probably means nothing to them and I have latched onto as being of the utmost importance).

Trying. Again.

Then there’s today. Today the boys went back to school. They’ve been out since Veteran’s Day. Adjusting to year round school means adjusting to their three week breaks every nine weeks. The bonus was we took a nice trip to Washington, DC – partly because we love our old stomping grounds, partly so I could do some research for the current book and partly because most everything to do in DC is free (yay Smithsonian!), we hosted Thanksgiving in our new home, we hung out with my sister-in-law in town from Louisiana, we went for walks, the boys learned how to ride their bikes (no more training wheels here), we shopped small business Saturday with my sister in our new, adorable downtown. But through it all, I didn’t do a lick of writing except for scrawling down on a post it note the physical descriptions and mannerisms of a guitar player at a concert the hubby and I went to who will most definitely be showing up in the work in progress.

But when I sat down in the chair today. Ugh. I had lost it. Three weeks was too long to be away. I reread the last two sections I wrote, determined not to edit as I went but to find the thread. I went back to some research materials I collected on our trip. And hopefully the words will start to come back tomorrow.

So I sit here blogging instead. Trying.

And that’s all I can do. I keep trying. Trying to meet people. Trying to find new experiences. Trying to balance being near family during a time of year when we were used to being alone. Trying to write this impossibly daunting work in progress.

The trying isn’t bad. It’s everything really. It’s just that sometimes the trying can be, well, trying.

So if I’ve been missing or I’ve been distant, it’s not you. It’s me. Trying.

 

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.