It's late the night before my 40th birthday and I'm lying awake watching FRIENDS reruns. They never get old, unlike...well, I don't feel old so I'll refrain from finishing that sentence and bumming myself out.
Life is good. Family, education, career -yes I've got it all. Are there times when I experience the cold chill of insecurity and regret? Yes to the former. As for the latter, the only thing I wish I'd done differently is start running a long time ago as opposed to just last month. But I figure if that's my one regret, I'm doing okay.
Usually I like to make big plans for the coming year. Start new projects, go on incredible adventures. This year though, I think it's going to be about patience and not trying to get too far ahead of myself. I'm in the "stay in school, don't rush things" phase of my world. Not a bad thing -especially if I can still squeeze in some great adventures.
Patience is is for parenting, writing the dreaded middles, and working toward an MFA degree. Patience is for personal growth and determination. It's for not giving up and finding yourself, once and for all, at forty.
What at do you need patience for? Are you embarking on an uncharted life journey? Tell me about it and let's support one another in the process. We've got this.
I’m a writer. And a pretty good one, I think. I’ve been told I do alright anyway. Yet here I am, another morning, feeling like a fraud.
I’m enrolled in an MFA program.
Does that explain my feeling of displacement? If not, let me expand on the idea with ten reasons why the deception of my role in this program feels so real.
There you have it. My truth about being an MFA student. I’d say more, but there isn’t much to add here -except that I've always wanted to get an MFA. I cried when I found out I was accepted. I stand in awe of the professors when I am around them or get feedback from them. I truly feel blessed to be part of such a unique experience. Besides, I have a short story to read and decipher as well as a critique to revise.
Do you have an MFA? Are you pursuing one? If not, I have to say it’s an excellent way to challenge yourself and discover who you really are, especially if you’re a reader and a writer.
If you’re not working toward an MFA, are you (or have you ever) pursued something where you felt like a fake? What about that undertaking made you feel like you didn’t belong?
When I spoke to the sleep study doctor on the phone because I had gotten desperate about sleeping through the night and he asked if I was depressed or anxious, I decided not to make an appointment. I didn’t want a pill for something that I didn’t have. I wanted to know why I wasn’t sleeping and then I wanted it fixed. For good.
That doctor didn’t seem to have a good plan in mind. In fact, he actually told me he didn’t know why I was having such strange symptoms.
I started running in late April. The first week and a half, I ran two different days, 3 miles each time. It hurt. I had to force myself off the couch, down the stairs, and make myself get dressed and out the door.
I didn’t feel strong either time. I felt winded and achy. I felt frustrated because it was so darn hard.
When you have lived a sedentary lifestyle, it shouldn’t be a surprise that running will exhaust you to the point of falling into bed as soon as you get home and shower the sweat off your body. I slept hard –even on the days I didn’t run. Those nights were pure bliss.
With a couple nights of good sleep, I decided I’d do things my way. I decided to keep running.
In an effort to not set myself up for failure, I chose what I thought was a reasonable schedule. I would run four times a week. I spaced out the days just so on the calendar and told my husband what I was doing. He told me he’d support me from the house as running isn’t his game. That was fine with me. I had my puppy Omar to keep me company.
Despite the physical aches that came with this new activity, I was sleeping better…and then something else changed.
I felt strong.
Free from the constraints of the world, of time, and the opinions of others.
Free from ordinary expectations and regular life.
Free from limitations set by others and myself.
Free to be a stronger version of myself.
Free to be confident and bold in my decisions as well as my mistakes.
And with that freedom, the aches and frustrations of running dissipated. I discovered that I look forward to my time to run. With earbuds in my ears and my trusty four-legged sidekick, at times I want to dance as I head down the street singing a somewhat winded and off-key rendition of whatever song is on my playlist.
The entire experience is bliss.
On the days I don’t run, I find myself planning the next day’s route and mulling over how I can challenge myself or counting up the miles to see when I’ll need a new pair of running shoes.
I also find that on the days I don’t run, I don’t care for sitting around on the sofa watching television. I do a little more housecleaning and sewing and reading. I take internal inventory of what project I want to work on and identify steps on how I’ll get it done.
I haven’t been tired due to sleeplessness in almost a month. I have more energy, smile more, and feel stronger than ever.
The Bible says: The thief comes only to kill, steal, and destroy. But He has come that you might have life and have it more abundantly. (Paraphrased John 10:10)
How wonderful is that? And now that I’m meeting Him on the road, life is definitely much more abundant for me.
Yesterday I really pushed myself. I did day 5 of a 15 day workout and then ran 5.82 miles. With a few modifications in the workout and a bit of walking during the run, I did it. And emotionally, I felt great. Physically I felt stronger.
Until the pain in my right ankle became more intense.
Based on the research I’ve done, I strained my right Achilles’ tendon. And it hurts. A lot.
I’ve been limping around the house while on grandson duty. I made bottles, fed, burped, and changed him. I cooked dinner and cleaned the kitchen. I even washed, dried, and put away a load of laundry. It was a full Sunday.
As I contemplated how this dull pain was going to impact the rest of this week’s physical activity, something happened that I hadn’t expected.
I didn’t get down about it.
In the past, if something like this had happened during a time when I was trying to enjoy a new hobby, I would have gotten discouraged. I would have given up on my plan to get strong and physically fit.
How many times have I given up on eating healthy because I ended up eating a cupcake? More than I can count.
Yet as I hobbled around the house pondering what my next few days would consist of, my perspective on things was different. I accepted the fact that I’m injured. I read up on how to manage the pain and how to ease back into my activities. I was disappointed but not defeated when I read that it may take up to eight weeks to get back to running.
Today, I woke up with the same pain in my ankle. It hadn’t miraculously healed during the night. So I decided to take a full rest day –no workout. It’s already my rest day from running, so no problem there. Since I’m already working from home this morning (still on grandson duty); I’m even debating working all day from home and just keeping my leg elevated and iced.
I work out to take care of myself. I run because I enjoy the challenge and the high that comes with it. I enjoy the time I have for me.
This injury is slowing me down a little, but it’s not going to stop me.
There will always be things in life that slow us down a little.
The rejection letter.
A less than stellar grade.
The relationship that ends.
Downsizing at the office.
These things happen. They slow us down, but they don’t have to stop us.
It’s that time of year again. The school house is emptying as teachers put the “teacher is not in” sign up on the door. The books are filed away for another year. Desks are emptied out as students find that elusive book report they never did get credit for, crammed amongst their trinkets and half chewed pencils. Backpacks are filled with everything the kids have stored in the classroom, no ready to be taken home for the parents to sort through and discard as necessary.
The weather has finally figured out its temperament and is staying steady in the high seventies. Any day now the public pools will open, parents will slather their offspring with sunscreen, and position the arm floaties just so in order to keep the kidlets upright in the water.
And we all know what this means for writers.
Summer has come and we must find time to write!
If you’re a writer reading this, relax. I’ve got ten tips on how you can keep writing all through the summer. Some of them might be a bit more creative than you’d like when it comes to your consistent ‘write-during-the-school-hours’ schedule you keep nine months out of the year. You may still find yourself perusing the various school districts searching for the one that just started year round schooling. But remember, even those districts take time off.
What you need to do is fit the summer schedule into your writing schedule.
Not the other way around.
It really can be done. It just takes some determination, creativity (which we know you have!), and planning. –If you’re not usually a planner, you can read more about how to plan for your writing here.
Tip One: While the kids sleep in, you get up early. Set the coffee pot timer (if you don’t have a coffee pot that can do this, I urge you to go out and get one. I got mine on Amazon. It has been a lifesaver. Programmable coffee pots let you get up to coffee freshly made. It’s a miracle. Once out of bed, sneak quietly to your writing spot and get some words in before the kids wake up!
Tip Two: Be willing to relocate your writing spot. This is helpful for all the places you have to go during the summer. What’s that Dr. Seuss book line? “Oh the places you will go”… For the mobile writer, you must be able to get those creative juices flowing regardless of your location. So, you’ll need the following things:
Laptop (or notebook and writing utensil)
A lap desk –these are amazing feats of engineering and rather inexpensive.
An insulated travel mug –whether you like your coffee hot or cold in the summer, this will come in handy.
A plethora of ideas (to write about, of course)
Tip Three: Utilize your surroundings. If you’re anything like I used to be, you find it challenging to write about anything unless you are tucked away in your designated writing space without any interruptions. But I’ve learned over the years that being in a new environment can really get those ideas coursing through my brain. When you’re out and about and have a few minutes to write, choose something (or someone) in your line of sight. Write about it (or him or her or them) for ten minutes. Even if you never use that bit of creativity for anything, it gets your brain percolating and can help you get into the zone.
Tip Four: So you need ten minutes to write, but all the kids are home. They want food and for you to entertain them for hours on end. What do you do? Implement daily movie time. It doesn’t have to be a full two hour movie; it can even be a half hour television show. Sit with them. Pop popcorn for snacking. And pull out your notebook to write while the show is on. If they ask what you’re doing or accuse you of not paying attention, let them know you’re taking notes on the elements of the production. They can join you if they want, but they can’t stop you from doing it. And voila! You’re guaranteed to produce at minimum thirty minutes of solid writing!
Tip Five: Rotate the play date responsibility. *Note: this typically works for writers who have a reasonable number of kids or are willing to separate their litter into small groups.* Find a responsible friend who has kids at or around your kids’ age(s). Schedule a rotating weekly play date or two. On the days your kids go to his/her house, hole up in your writing studio and crank out the words. Reminder: this will only work if you keep to the writing time. No running errands during these allotted play date arrangements. Those errands will be there long after you’re published.
Tip Six: Change your routine. If waking up early during the summer isn’t your cup of tea, morph into the kids’ routine. Do you have night owls for kids? Proclaim the late evening/night hours to be “quiet time” or “independent video game time” or some such thing and at the appointed time, march everyone off to their respective rooms to wind down for the night. You can march yourself off to your room or writing studio and get some words written. Don’t worry about being tired the next day; you’ll all sleep until noon anyway.
Tip Seven: Volunteer to be the co-captain on all family road trips. If you’re not doing the driving, you can write from the passenger seat. Just don’t forget to take your lap desk.
Tip Eight: Participate in the summer library programs with your kids! You can write in the delicious quiet of the library while your kids go to story time or use the internet or read books. As a reward, you can check out books to read later too. It’s a total win-win situation.
Tip Nine: Collaborate with your family on individual summer goals. Maybe your nine year old wants to improve her swim skills. Or your teenager wants to get a summer job. Sit down with your family and discuss those summer goals. While doing so, be sure to share with them your summer writing goals. Maybe you want to do July Camp Nano or you want to finally get that full first draft written. Tell them about it. Support one another and set up a homemade sticker chart to track each other’s’ progress. Then, when you all reach your goals, plan a family bar-b-que to celebrate.
Tip Ten: Change your writing schedule. If absolutely necessary and you are unable to fit your family’s summer schedule around your writing schedule, be willing to change your writing schedule. Family time is essential. It’s a blessed and wonderful thing. It’s okay to modify your writing time or even reduce it to three days a week instead of seven. Don’t feel guilty for making modifications that work well for you and your family. The ideas will be there when school starts again.
Other random, potential ideas for guarding the writing time throughout the summer:
Now get out there and write!
It’s early morning here and I’m awake as usual. I’ve eaten breakfast and there’s a pot of coffee waiting on me, but I can’t seem to remove myself from this cozy spot on the couch. Doing so means I’d inevitably disturb Omar who is lounging quietly beside me. I have uninterrupted quiet time that I could be using to write.
But I’m not.
The words aren’t coming.
My brain is just sitting here waiting for inspiration.
All because I don’t have a plan.
I’m the type of person that could easily get caught up in planning. In fact, I’m the type of person that does get easily caught up in planning. I even over plan. How many times have I written down a chapter plan for my latest novel? Yeah…a bunch of times. I even wrote a new chapter plan yesterday on my lunch break.
It’s possible planning is my way of avoiding the actual work and emotional strain that is writing.
I read somewhere one that in order to plan for productive writing time, one should write down just a phrase or two about the topic he or she wants to write.
The night of the storm
Cecil’s birthday celebration
The fight between character one and character two
Seems simple enough, right?
And it is. I’ve used this technique and typed out five thousand words in a morning episode of writing.
Not today though.
Even though I wrote out my (new) chapter plan yesterday, I’m sitting here without a word being written on my novel. It’s like I don’t even have a “pl” for my plan. –One of Phoebe’s best lines, by the way.
Probably it would have been helpful if I’d brought the notebook in which the new chapter plan is written into the living room with me this morning. I didn’t. It’s tucked safely away in my bag in my room where my husband is getting an extra hour of sleep.
I’ll have to try and do something from memory. Let’s see if I can remember what I wrote.
Goal: Get a full draft of the WIP completed –a whole start to finish.
Objective 1: Find and replace “Martha” with “Rhoda”
Martha is Jack’s wife. She informed me her name is Rhoda a few weeks ago and I have yet to help her with the equivalent of a novel name change.
Okay. I’ll do that. Find and replace.
Done. Martha’s name has officially been changed to Rhoda.
As I was doing my find and replace, I went through each consecutive chapter and learned that I’m missing some. There is no chapter two, no chapter thirteen.
That can’t be good.
Now that hubby is awake, I can snatch up my notebook and get objective 2 in place –put all written chapters in one word document and put chapter header/prompt placeholders in place for the chapters that haven’t been written. –Or for the chapters that are missing…like that elusive chapter two.
And done. I retrieved my notebook with the handwritten plan and I’ve got all twenty-six chapters in one document –either written or with a placeholder heading.
According to the notebook, objective 3 is to: fill in all placeholder chapters with content.
There are several of those, making this objective rather daunting. So I’m going to break it down into one placeholder at a time. I just did a search on the word “chapter” so that I can see which one needs work first and got to chapter five. It’s the one where Lee gets told his diagnosis. I know I have a draft of that somewhere.
So my lunch time objective will be to: locate that information and plug it into chapter five.
24-hour later update: During lunch yesterday, not only did I find that missing content and plug it into chapter five, I also found the missing content for several other chapters and plugged all of it into the respective chapters.
By the time my one hour lunch was over, I had one word document with either a chapter header or a chapter header with words in it for ALL TWENTY-SIX CHAPTERS of SOS! I was ecstatic!
Of course there was no one in the office who understood the magnitude of what I’d accomplished, so I couldn’t celebrate properly, but I’d done what I’d set out to do and in way less time than I thought it was going to take!
There is still much to be done on this novel to get a full first draft complete. Following that, there will be even more work to get it in decent shape for beta readers and presenting to the academic board as this project is my thesis for grad school. Yikes. The thought is daunting!
At least I’ll have this post to look back on when it’s time to develop yet another plan to get this book written and ready for the public.
What are you working on these days? Do you have a pla?
Mother’s Day has evolved into a strange and mysterious thing for me over the years.
When my kids were small, I got things like breakfast in bed (made by my thoughtful husband) and handmade gifts from the little ones. Some years we’d go out to lunch, others we’d eat at home. –The plans changing due to the ever fluctuating financial state of our household. But those days were more about my husband appreciating me for giving him a houseful of children than my children really understanding appreciating me as their mother.
As the kids got older and hit the pre-teen/teen years, Mother’s Day became a day of eating out for lunch (the finances had started to turn around in earnest then) and the kids taking the initiative to do a “group gift”. That was always interesting. When you have half a dozen children and a (then) stepdaughter with extremely different personalities and available funds, it gets very interesting.
My husband would still gift me something lovely –a necklace or some such thing and a book. Always a book. He knows my heart so well.
Now my children are all almost grown and my stepdaughter and I have reached a point in our relationship where we are mother and daughter sans the “step” part of the title. And honestly, every day has a little bit of Mother’s Day in it.
My kids and I text frequently throughout any given day. About their kids (Gigi to two unique grandchildren!), about their day, about my day, about work, about school, and the next family get together. Sometimes the older ones will fit my life into their schedule by house sitting or pet sitting so their dad and I can get away for a day or a weekend. Other days I’m surprised at work by my daughter leaving me a treat on my desk while I’m in a meeting
or my son leaving a note taped to my bike.
And when any (or some) of them visit for lunch…bliss.
Being a mother isn’t easy. There are periods of heartache, stress, and frustration. And sometimes those difficult moments can overshadow the good ones. Like the year I miscarried at ten weeks gestation. Or when we had to enroll one of our sons in boarding school. I cried as we drove away that day. My heart still hurts several years later at his estrangement from our family.
Watching my daughters become mothers is a challenge too. I think the only thing more painful than childbirth, is watching your little girl experience that same physical pain. Oh how I wanted to relieve her of the pain during that forty hour labor. Or seeing your daughter go through the trials of parenting a child with special needs –from medical appointments to surgeries to watching her wistfully wait for yet another milestone to be met. But oh the joy I experience when she celebrates each victory.
I became a mother at the young age of nineteen. Since then I’ve watched my life unfold while raising the children God has blessed me with. I’m grateful for all He has taught me through this adventure and for all He continues to teach me. I no longer have breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day (mostly because I find it weird and uncomfortable). We don’t go out to eat to celebrate (most restaurants are closed here on Sundays). And I don’t see all of my children on that day (a couple live far away and someone always has to work). But that’s okay. Because every day has a little bit of Mother’s Day in it these days.
Whether you're a young mother or a veteran mother, a foster mother, adoptive mother, a stepmother, a mother to the motherless, or a mother-to-be, may this Mother's Day be filled with love. And if you're a grieving mother who no longer has her little one(s) with you, may God give you an extra dose of love not only this day, but every day. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there.
My daughter texted me today to inform me she changed her math class for the following school year. We’d talked about it a couple of times earlier in the week. When I asked why she was hesitant about it, she replied:
I’m don't know the teacher.
I was glad that even her big sister was not sold on this idea.
Take the classes you want to take. If you like it, don’t miss out on it, my lovely almost-20 year old daughter said to her lovely almost-17 year old sister.
My heart swelled with pride. What a great big sister who encourages the younger one! Such fierce determination and adamancy about following your dreams!
Moments later and this afternoon when I received the text about the now changed math class, I was reminded of the younger version of myself and how she’d handled a similar situation.
Once upon a time I went to the guidance counselor, as was customary back in the early 90s, and when asked what classes I wanted to take, I replied with:
I don’t know. I think I want to be a nurse someday.
In less than five minutes, the counselor mapped out my entire four years of high school with every class he said I would need to take. There were multiple science and math classes. Neither of which I had an interest in. The latter I wasn’t even good at.
He applauded me for knowing what I wanted to do with my life and sent me on my way.
I didn’t end up taking many of those classes. And the ones I did, I didn’t do well in.
I probably should have told him I wanted to help people or that I had a passion for reading and an interest in creative writing. Maybe I should have told him that I found history interesting as well as some curiosity for the social science.
But I didn’t. I was fourteen years old and uncertain of who I was or who I wanted to be someday.
On the other side of things, the guidance counselor probably should have taken five minutes to peruse my academic history. Or to ask me what my hobbies were. Had he done the first, he would have seen that I scored 100% on the reading portion of the ISTEP test just prior to seventh grade. He would have learned that I read voraciously and had been reading since just shy of five years old. He would also have learned that the first “big kid” book I’d read was The Call of the Wild –it was the abridged version, but what do you expect from a six year old?
Perhaps if he’d done those things, it wouldn’t have taken me as long as it has to take my writing seriously. I might have gone to college earlier than the age of twenty-three. I might have taken more than one creative writing class in the course of four years of high school.
So when I got the text from my younger daughter today, I was proud of her. By changing her class to Calculus, she’s standing up for herself.
She’s choosing to do something she loves despite someone else. She’s focusing on making sure she’s getting the best education she can even though the class might be challenging in more ways than one.
Next time you hesitate to participate in an activity that you know you’ll enjoy and learn from, I hope you think of this story. May you always dig deep inside you and dip from the well of determination to grow into the best version of yourself. #beyou
I Want to Be a Runner (May 2, 2016)
A few weeks ago during a regular Sunday chat for #10MinuteNovelists (an international bunch of time crunched writers) someone mentioned that she’d recently taken up running. In response, I made the following response:
“I’ve always wanted to be a runner.”
It wasn’t until the next day as I was mulling over the chat, as I sometimes do, that I realized what I’d said.
I’ve always wanted to be a runner. Since when have I ever not done something I wanted to do?
Okay, so I still don’t know Spanish and I’ve always wanted to speak Spanish. But otherwise, the list is basically empty.
I wanted to get married. So I did. It’s been almost seventeen years of wedded bliss. –Yes, we’re one of those couples who are still on our honeymoon.
I wanted to have children. So I did. I’ve got a litter of them.
I wanted to go to college. (‘Your mom goes to college.’) So I did. I am working on my third degree as we speak…only fourteen days left of this break before the second year starts.
I wanted to own my own home. The house we live in now makes the third one we’ve owned.
I wanted to write and publish a book. So I did. Soaring Alone is available in paperback and e-book versions on Amazon.
I wanted to show God that I would follow Him where He led me. So I did. It’s how we ended up in the last frontier. You know where the majority of the year the air hurts our face.
You get the idea; I don’t tend to back down from challenges. So why was it that I’ve always wanted to be a runner without actually running?
When I realized that I was making the conscious choice to remain lying around on the couch during my free time instead of getting up and getting moving, I decided to do just that.
I got up.
I reminded myself that even if I didn’t run every day forever after, that getting up that day would mean I was a runner that day.
And that day was better than no day.
I got dressed in running clothes.
I put on running shoes.
I snapped the leash onto my sweet dog.
And we went for a run.
I’m the first one to admit that we don’t run fast. Omar would like to run fast (sometimes) but I hold her back. I’m more of the mindset that slow miles are better than no miles.
It was a week and a half after that first run before we headed out the door again. But I think we’re about to hit our groove. We’ve run every day for four days. And three of those days also included a six mile bike ride.
There have been a couple of days where I had to make the conscious choice to get off the couch and out the door. Apparently being a runner isn’t easy. I’m certain there will be days in the future where I will have to make the choice to get out the door.
But I’m doing it.
And each day that I do, I think of other things that I’ve always wanted to do.
Like work on craft projects.
Or continue writing my second novel.
And make healthier eating choices.
Many times I have to make that conscious effort to spend an hour on the project or go to my writing studio to write. And there is always that dilemma of choosing between a family size bag of tortilla chips and a yogurt.
Each time I make the choice to do the things I set out to do, I am reminded that I’m choosing a better, happier life one decision at a time.
I may never run a marathon or run really fast.
I am a runner though.
My books may not become international bestsellers.
I am a writer though.
What have you always wanted to be? And what’s stopping you?