10

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

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

Ten.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten.

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Amazing.

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

Creative Re-Entry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the boys? They’re good.

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

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

My boys taught me that.

 

 

Whiplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye Begins

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

But it is.

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

But today there is an end.

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

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

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

And, Atlanta, it has been wonder-full.

 

 

 

 

Stretching

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

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

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

Something still wasn’t right.

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

After I banged my head against my desk in frustration…

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

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

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

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

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

No one said it would be easy, right?

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

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

Voices Out Loud

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real voices. Our voices.

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

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

Vote.

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

Be counted. Vote.

Tell your story. Create.

We all have a voice.

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.

 

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.