Finding Forty

I just turned forty.

I have a distinct memory of a surprise fortieth birthday party for my father when I was in the fifth grade. We decorated with a myriad of black balloons and over the hill decor. I thought forty was so old.

Now here I am. Forty.

And I don’t feel old. If anything, I feel a little weird to wear the forty badge when most days I still feel as insecure as my seventeen year old self. I wonder if there should be a test to see whether you have truly earned forty. Not just in physical time, but experience and growth. In a novel, a character is supposed to change or learn something about himself. I feel that maybe by forty, I should have learned more, changed more, done more.

Forty.

The first forty were momentous, to say the least. I learned to walk, talk, eat, read, write, add, ride a bike, drive a car, kiss a boy, make friends. I left home and went to college. I fought and won and lost. I got married, moved to DC, bought our first house, met some of the most incredible people I have had the joy of working with not to mention call mentors and friends. I attended showers and weddings and lots of early morning media tours with cold control rooms and bad coffee. I have celebrated weddings and births and said final goodbyes to two grandparents, an uncle, a mentor and a dear friend who was too young to leave us behind. I moved to Atlanta. I had two beautiful baby boys who are the sparkle to my every day. I stepped away from my career. I stood by family and friends as they fought disease, divorce and the occasional abyss of depression and anxiety. My body has made it through three surgeries, two child births, and one horrifying night with a crash cart. I have said yes even when it was scary. I took a leap of faith to honor the career I’ve always wanted. I have written a book.

Forty.

Halfway to 80, which is a life.

I stand on the precipice of this hill. It’s a wonderful view. Behind me I see strength in others and myself that I didn’t realize was there. I see faith and love and courage. I see how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. Ahead of me, I see bigger challenges. I see my boys becoming young men. I see the work ahead for securing this new career in writing. I see my forties as being the opportunity to live the life I’ve been building. I see a freedom in taking these lessons and living unapologetically, deliberately, purposefully.

Forty.

I continue moving. Not just because time continues on like a treadmill and I have no choice but to take another step or fall on my face, but because I choose to. I choose to keep walking my path and seeing what is next. The first forty gave me the skills I need for the next forty. What a wonderful place to be: armed and ready and open to receiving the next thing, the thing I can’t predict.

Forty.

So maybe I am over the hill like those old decorations taunted my own father. But I can’t wait to see what’s on the hill behind this one. And the one after that. If the first forty is any indication, it promises to be quite the journey.

Forty.

Forward.

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year! IMG_6841

I’m not going to lie. I have had a hard time with the start of this new year. I don’t know if it was because of the holiday whirlwind with two boys, our trip home to NC smack in the middle allowing no mental down time or the fact that 40 is staring me down later this month (40? really?), but I was feeling very stuck. I didn’t have a resolution. I didn’t have a goal. I didn’t seem to have much but an “oh crap, it’s January already and there was so much I didn’t do in 2015 and so much I want to do in 2016 and so much I don’t know how to do all the time and every day” feeling and then my brain would shut down.

Thankfully, returning home opened something and thoughts slowly started to bubble. Following the thoughts came a few ideas. They might not be flowing as quickly and consistently as I’d like, but they are tumbling around softly under the bed with the dust bunnies in the hopes that they become true, real and solid soon so that I can take them out and truly understand them.

The boys finally went back to school today and I was both eager and apprehensive about reclaiming my writing time. I am ready to get to work on manuscript two, but am still lacking a direction. I have a bunch of loose threads that someday I know (hope?) will be a beautiful sweater, but right now are simply an intimidating pile of cloth spaghetti. I have characters I can’t completely connect in my mind. I have motivations that aren’t driving anyone anywhere. I have too many and too few ideas all at once. I also have manuscript one that needs to be addressed. There are new agents to query and more business to be done to that end. Add to that my attempts to build up my freelance writing work and I can feel my brain starting to power down in retreat.

Back in November, with a number I didn’t like popping up on the scale, I decided to tackle something else that I fear. Running. I’m not a runner. I have always looked at it with some level of romance. It looks so freeing, liberating, graceful. It’s just you and your feet. The pavement. The path in front of you. But in reality, I always ended up sucking wind and bent over with a stitch in my side.

I did some research and finally downloaded the Couch to 5K app. The first three weeks were great. Not easy, but I liked it. I looked forward to it. I was proud of my accomplishments. I was doing it.

Then week four came. The week of Christmas. With it’s impossibly difficult looking long stretches of running. And it rained. And kept raining. And we were busy. A lot. And the kids were home. All day. And then we were out of town. But I packed my running shoes and one day the rain stopped and I went out. Halfway through, I tripped over a curb and wiped out. Gloriously. I scraped my hip and banged up my elbow and proceeded to sink into a very soggy patch of mud that was pretending to be grass. I limped my way home, wet, disappointed that it had been hard, but even more frustrated that I didn’t have the opportunity to finish. And so I shelved the shoes until today.

Today, with the scrapes and bruises finally fading, I ran. Even though it’s freezing out. And it was hard. And I cheated one of the runs a little because it was uphill, but I stuck with it. I closed out that last running segment even though I was cursing and creeping at a snail’s pace and my lung’s were burning and I was desperate to stop.

I wonder why it is that I can push myself physically, but find it oh so tempting to give up mentally (as it pertains to my writing)? I told myself over and over as I neared the end of my run today that I can do anything for one more minute. And I did. I know that every step I take is another step forward. That eventually my stride will be surer, my pace faster, my legs stronger. I know I don’t have to be perfect today because I’m training. My body is learning. If I keep doing the thing, I get better. Knowing that I finished today has me already looking forward to Friday when I know that I will repeat today’s run and maybe not have to cheat that hill. Because I know I can finish. Because I already did.

This year, I need to look at my writing in the same way. I need to recognize that the first novel is what it is. That it’s training. It might sell and it might not. And that’s okay. Because this next book will be better as a result of the first. Writing this book still won’t be easy, but every word is another word forward. Every scene I scribble now will help me to develop a stronger voice, a more vivid setting, a more solid plot. I don’t have to know all the answers, but all that’s holding me back doesn’t get solved by sitting on the couch/checking social media/avoiding the hard stuff/over-volunteering.

So I’m resolving to making a writing training plan. I will not spend today continuing to stare at the blank page and wait for a sweater to appear (especially if it is actually supposed to be a scarf). I will decide how my days need to be organized to maximize creative time, research time, manuscript one query time and freelance time. I will create a plan to beef up my chops in areas I found particularly difficult in writing the first book. I will set realistic goals – maybe I need to make some kind of Blank Page to 85K Words app? – and not beat myself up over cheating a few hills.

There’s a movement this year for creating your one word theme instead of a list of resolutions you’re bound to break by the end of the month. I like this idea of a theme for the year, a quick mental reminder to keep me on track in all aspects of life, love and parenting. To get to my word, I wrote down a general list of things I wanted to do this year: WRITE, RUN, PLAY, LAUGH, TRY, ACCEPT CHALLENGES, MOVE. All great things. All things that encompass more specific goals I have for the year. But what did they have in common?

What I came up with to sum up these goals for 2016 is my one word: FORWARD.

This year, I will stop mentally beating myself into stagnation. Instead, I will lace up. I will type. I will explore. I will search. I will seek. Whatever it is I need to do to keep moving forward.

Forward for 40. Let’s do this 2016.

After all, I can do anything for one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more week, one more month, one more year.

What’s your one word for 2016?