Five Years Later

In the days after 9/11, I voraciously consumed the news. I watched bleary-eyed and numb. I read the stories, the names, the histories. I wanted to memorialize what I could, bear witness, honor their sacrifice.

In the days after Newtown, I shut down. I turned it off. I refused to read the stories. I wouldn’t talk about it. The day it happened, I wrote this, and then I wept for the children, the teachers, and their families. When I would start to read a description of the day or of a parent’s heartbreak or see a name – one the same as my youngest son – I would feel physically ill. I stopped.

I couldn’t.

I still haven’t.

Not really.

I feel guilty about this. Selfish even. Who am I that I can protect myself from that pain when those parents, those teachers, that town can not?

A piece of me broke that day. Newtown entered my heart and took up residence in a place that is now hard and scared and whispers how my kids could one day be taken from me Somehow. Someway. I lost a piece of my naiveté that day and I wish I could have it back, but the world is now a place where kids can go to school and not come home.

I can’t shake the images of those kids being led from the school in a line, holding hands, their eyes shut tight. I can’t not feel the burn of anxiety in my stomach for the parents who endured the wait in that fire station for their children who never returned.

Five years and it feels like yesterday. And yet they would be sixth graders today. They would be in middle school, playing sports, going to piano lessons, begging for cell phones for Christmas, and passing notes in class. Except they are not.

I am no closer to an answer or an understanding on this one. I try again to read the stories and see their faces. I am getting better at it. But I still weep for their absence in this world.

I will remember. I will carry these children in my hearts.

We are all Sandy Hook. We are all Newtown.

Close your eyes. Hold hands.

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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.

 

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?

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?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

Forcing Creativity

Writing a book is not a unique pursuit. There are many of us writers out there going about day jobs, pounding away on keyboards at night, at dawn or at the kid’s baseball practice. The difference between those that succeed in actually becoming a published writer and those that do not – I have been told and cling to as if these words might keep me afloat in a flood – is simply writing. It’s that easy. One verb: write.

I have an E.L. Doctrow quote pinned over my desk that says:

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you are doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.

E.L. Doctrow

Or, as the old Yoda adage goes:

Do or do not. There is no try.

Yoda

And yet, for some reason, writers still find this hard. I, for one, now picture myself doing nothing but this job of writing and yet each morning I sit down at my computer and think “Oh, God. Not this again. I suck at this. I should go scrub the shower instead. Or get a “real job.” Or maybe take a nap.”

Instead, I try to start typing. Sometimes it works (yesterday I knocked out 1,300 words in two hours – hooray!). Sometimes it doesn’t (the day I wrote one sentence in two hours- ouch). But even when it isn’t working, I’m working. I’m there, committed, waiting for the muse, the inspiration, the tiny train of thought that will show me where we’re going.

Can you force creativity? Can you demand that inspiration join you on the page? How much of a creative pursuit is in our own control versus the elusive muse? And what happens if she doesn’t show up?

Creating, whether it’s writing or painting or photography or building, takes practice, time and a whole helluva lot of behind the scenes work that you probably don’t want to know about. It takes commitment and stamina. It is not for the feint of heart. It is a soul-wrenching, doubt-whispering, self-flagellating process that leaves the creator empty and beaten until they take a step away. It’s in the step back, when we take a look at that painting or re-read that essay or reconsider a photograph’s lighting, that we realize somewhere in all that work there was magic, muse, inspiration. We then become Michaelangelo and must work to free the sculpture from the morass.

This month, I am working on creating the morass. I have committed to writing 20,000 in the current work in progress for the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association Write-A-Thin. I am no stranger to gimmicks to get me working. Back in 2010, I did NaNoWriMo. I am not the only one. More than 325,000 writers and growing participate in NaNoWriMo each year. Because sometimes you need someone to hold you accountable. Because sometimes you need a kick in the pants. Because most of us don’t have a Yoda whispering in our ears. But mostly because inspiration, magic, muses, whatever you call them, they don’t show up unless you invite them.

I sit at the keyboard again today and wonder will today be the day the words run out (no)? Will I cry (possibly)? Will it work today (maybe)? Will it be worth it (damn straight)? Thankfully, every morning when I drag my feet to the desk and grunt as I open the work in progress, I have a husband who reminds me “it’s not supposed to be easy.” And he’s right. Through all of the struggle, I still love it. I still love seeing that perfect phrase emerge in a string of keystrokes on my screen. I still love when my characters surprise me. I still love when I finally find the answer to what my protagonist does for a living and it fits so absolutely perfectly no matter how small a role it may play in the book. I still love realizing that two hours passed and I had no idea. I still love the potential, the promise, the process. Even when I hate it. Maybe especially when I hate it.

The point? We can’t all wait for inspiration to strike. It’s simply unfeasible. Yes. It happens. And when it does, it’s wonderful and fantastic and pure magic. But more often than not, we have to remember to invite inspiration. And the only way to do that is to start the work and see what happens.

This month, I’m inviting my muse to join me daily as I work towards my 20,000 word goal.

To all of you out there who are struggling with your own creative pursuits, perhaps you need a gimmick, a challenge, a Yoda to keep you accountable. Whatever it is, find it. Promise it. Pin it to your wall. Do it.

Writing is writing.

Do or do not.

I am right here with you.