So you sit down at your desk to start your project. And nothing happens. Your muse has left you sitting there like an idiot with a ton of enthusiasm and no product. He never loved you anyway. That smarmy bastard who swore he’d never leave you without words to put on paper. Oh, your muse is a woman? She’s nothing but a two-timing broad you probably regret having ever brought home to your mama. How dare she give you the cold shoulder when she’s probably snuggled up close to your best friend right about now?
Nothing happens. No book is written. No poetry is crafted. Your easel sits empty while your paints dry up. Your vaudevillian puppet sits there without moving his mouth. It happens sometimes, doesn’t it? Nothing can motivate you to get into the zone of writing or drawing or painting.
Honest, I’m not judging you or trying to make you feel bad. I’ve been there. I’m empathizing, I swear. In fact, I hate when this happens. And so do my writer friends over at #10MinuteNovelists. You haven’t heard of them? Oh, you have to head over to the Facebook page or the Twitter chats and get to know these folks. They rock.
Anyway, recently during one of our writer chats (you wish you’d been there, don’t you? It’s never too late to join, my friend.), we were talking about creating writer support groups. During the conversation, we talked about how it’s important to support our own selves in the writer world. And it was born.
#WriteJar is a writer self-care system. You find (or purchase) a jar of your choosing to use for collecting beans or coins or money or whatever it is that you want to use to acknowledge your work toward reaching your writing goal(s). Every Friday, we post a picture of our jar and/or tweet how far we’ve come.
Writing may be a solitary activity, but it takes a village of people to help a single writer reach his or her writing goals. And how can we expect others to support our endeavors if we aren’t supporting ourselves? So, find a jar and join us! If you want to have tons of fun, decorate it and then start setting those writing goals. Fill your jar with beans or buttons or IOUs for something fun. Fill your jar with coins or cold, hard cash. Just set those goals and reach them. Small goals, big goals, it doesn’t matter; because with #WriteJar, you’ll get there.
I have never run a 5K before. It wasn’t until just a week or so ago that I learned how far a 5k is. It’s three miles for the rest of you that don’t know and are too embarrassed to ask. I have walked 5k though. In fact, I’ve walked a 5K dozens of times in the last three years. (Not owning a car will do that to a person if you ever want to get to the grocery store.)
I have written 5K before. In fact, one Monday, last February, I was off work. It was a paid holiday and I yearned for that day the entire two weeks before it landed itself on the calendar. My plan was to have a 10K writing day. I sent my husband off to work and my kids off to school and I settled into the loveseat with my laptop. The fire was crackling in the fireplace and the pup and the cat were settled down as close to that woodstove as they could get without bursting into flames.
The house was quiet. My mug was filled to the brim with deliciousness that is hot tea. And I wrote. I wrote all day. Nothing interrupted me. Periodically I got up and refilled my mug and stirred the embers in the fire. And I wrote. And nothing stopped me. When my hands cramped, I flexed them. When my legs ached, I stretched them. And then I wrote some more. It was glorious and the week following when I had to wear a brace on both wrists it was a good pain. It was a pain I was proud of.
Well, last week, the 10minutewriter challenged her followers to a 5K. It’s the #Run/Write5K challenge where those who join run (or walk) 5 kilometers and write 5,000 words in a 24 hour period. At first, I steered clear of it. Because I didn’t know how far a 5K run was. It seemed insurmountable. And I’m not a runner.
But others started to join as 5K walkers and then I read that blog and learned that it was only 3 miles. I can walk 3 miles. And when I get there, I’ll treat myself to a smart water and a piece of fruit and walk back home. It won’t be as fun as a cake walk, but it’ll still be fun. And my other reward?
My other reward will be writing 5K words. Maybe I’ll write 5,000 words on multiple blogs. Or maybe I’ll dig up that novel idea that I wrote a few notes on and squirreled away months ago. Maybe I’ll get real organized before October 11/12th and I’ll find the gaping holes in my almost finished historical fiction novel, thus getting it to the almost-finished-I-need-an-editor stage.
Regardless of what I write, it’ll be epic. #Run/Write5K Challenge here I come…
We were on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when it happened. I needed a book. Something I could sink into and really enjoy. During an earlier cruise ship walk, we’d come across the Library Bar and I couldn’t wait to go back and check out a book. It was a lovely library bar though I would have much preferred a library coffee bar as I’m not one for the smell of alcohol, let alone the taste. But this would do. It had books in it; it would definitely be okay.
Anyway, there were plenty of books. They were so pretty, housed in lovely glass fronted cabinets that went from floor to ceiling. Each cabinet had a cute little key hole in it, which I assumed were just part of the case. Never would I have guessed they were being used.
But they were. Every last one of them. I could not get to the books. All I could do was tilt my head to the side and read the titles off the spines of the books. I couldn’t touch them. I couldn’t read the inside flaps of the book jackets. I couldn’t read the backs of the paperback books. There was no way for me to flip through the pages or smell the paper.
My anxiety went from 0 to 60 as I contemplated picking the locks. My fingers twitched and my hands started to itch. I’d read somewhere that stress causes eczema to flare up. The writer of that article was not kidding. I began to think the cruise ship staff combined the alcohol bar with the library to calm down the anxious patrons who couldn’t get to their precious books!
It was cool though. I hid my feelings. It was easy. My husband already knows what kind of a strange person I am, so he wandered over to the computer and pretended he didn't know me. The librarian held the keys hostage at the bar so she couldn’t see me. All I wanted was a book.
Finally, I was able to determine based on only the spines of the books that there were a couple that looked like they would do. Come on, I’m not the only one out there who judges a book by its cover. But judging by the spine and the title…it was the best I could do.
I wandered back to the bartender/librarian and looked at her. She was so smug and self-righteous.
“Can I help you?”
Um, yeah. You can unlock the books. Let them free! They don’t deserve to be treated like this and come to think of it –neither do I!
But what I really said was “I’d like to look at some books please.”
She picked up her hefty sized key ring and followed me back to the book cases (book shelves?) where I’d been judging by the spines of books.
“Which one would you like to see?”
Every last one of them. And your head on a platter for behaving so outlandishly toward books. Books that have never done anything to you to deserve this kind of treatment.
All of a sudden I couldn’t find a single title that looked familiar. It was as if the books were in cahoots with this lady and had all changed their titles when I’d left the room. I had no choice but to point and hope for the best.
“I’m not sure which one exactly, but maybe something in this case and that one over there.”
She gave me the once over and must have decided I couldn't possibly stuff a book under my sundress without it being obvious and unlocked two cases. She walked back to her station and left me alone with the precious books.
My heart rate slowed and my breathing returned to normal. It’s a good thing they have medical staff on cruise ships for things like this.
I caressed the books and re-read the titles. Occasionally I pulled one out to look at it just to prove that I could. It was bliss. My husband, pretending even more like he didn't know me, stayed at the computer.
In the end, I chose one book. Just one. Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard. A YA novel that was okay. It probably would have been better if I had started reading at the beginning of the series, but beggars can’t be choosers.
We were somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. I didn't know where, but I did have a book.
Can you feel the prison walls surrounding you? The judging and condescension that seep into your being from those around you who think they’re better than you? Or worse yet, the judging and condescension from those around you who make it their life’s mission to tell you that everything you do and believe is wrong. That only by doing it their way will you ever recover from the misery that your life is?
I’ve been there. It’s a scary kind of mental manipulation that strikes you at the core and leaves you wondering: how will I ever survive? What did I do that is so wrong? But most of all, it can damage your being. It can leave you wondering: who am I?
In my soon-to-be completed novel The Caged Bird, Rachel experiences that kind of prison. Her life takes on a surprising twist that leaves you wondering if she’ll ever recover; much less overcome the invisible prison that is close to crushing her completely.
Once TCB is finished and for sale, you’ll have to read it to see how it ends. I still cry when I read through the ending. My daughter asks me how that’s possible since “you wrote it, Mom. You know how it’s going to end.” But if you’re one of my writer friends, you understand that the book wrote itself and crying is sometimes a necessity when you get to the end.
Anyway, if you’ve ever felt like Rachel or like me or like the walls of an invisible prison are closing in on you, I’m here to tell you that you can experience freedom.
Your freedom may not come in a burst of hot white fire that splits you open from the inside out. It may be the kind that simmers on low for a long time; like one of those amazing slow cookers. You may at times have forgotten you’ve put it there, hoping that the heat will increase into a searing ball…that you can throw at your captors in an effort to free yourself.
Wait. No. This isn’t about revenge; it’s about freedom. Yeah, that revenge thing was another blog post that I’m still tweaking. :)
Anyway, freedom from the prison walls. Mine has been the simmering kind. The slow burn of a hot kiss. A long night of intimacy. The long night of practicing lay ups until the sun comes up and at the last minute, just as the dawn breaks, you get the sound of “swish” that you’ve been waiting for. The sound that you’ve been praying for.
That’s what mine has been like. A slow burn. This kind of freedom has its pros and cons. The waiting for it to finally come being the biggest con. But the positive? Is experiencing it in little snatches; feeling it sneak up and put a smile on your face like scenes from that sexy romance novel can do at the most inopportune times…say when you’re right in the middle of giving a presentation at work.
Last night, (The truth is, these Monday blogs aren’t all written at the dawn of Monday morning. Sometimes they’re written days or weeks or even months before they ever see the light of day.) was like that for me. I was standing there stirring frosting for a cake I was making and a smile crept across my face.
It was freedom. Freedom from judgment and stares and “I told you so’s.” It was freedom from potentially well-meaning, but highly toxic people that have flitted their way into my life and all that my life is meant to be.
It was the excellent, sweet-smelling moment of ecstasy at the freedom to be me. It was a moment where mentally I listed all the things that I will do or say or think or be because I want to. Because they represent who I am. Because being me is the only way to be. I will smile and laugh and plan and live –and find joy in doing so.
It was exhilarating. Freedom is like that. Whether it comes on quick as a flash flood or slow and soft and sweet like unexpected love.
There will be more moments like that. They will likely come in bits and snatches after a long moment of self-doubt or a second of fear that someone will judge me. Maybe someday, the freedom will always be there, never to be marred by the self-doubt that comes from years of being imprisoned.
Until then, I’ll enjoy each moment of bliss as it comes…while eating my cake, loving whomever I want, living wherever I choose, going wherever I please, and wearing that hat if I feel like it.
Are you a caged bird? Do you struggle to find freedom to live your life? You're not alone. So many people are imprisoned by the demands and expectations and judgments of others. I encourage you to free yourself...it's worth it.
People everywhere have strengths and weaknesses. You do. I do. We all do. Strengths are amazing and once we identify them, they bolster our confidence and radiate from the inside out.
The funny thing is that weaknesses, while they won't bolster our confidence, they too will radiate from the inside out if we aren't careful. How? Weaknesses can take on a life of their own if we harp on them or belittle ourselves and others when we notice them.
All people can make improvements. I know I can. And if others notice a weakness in me, I'm up for constructive criticism. I got some several months ago. It was tough to hear, but I learned so much from others who are strong in an area where I'm weak.
It's important to choose our words with caution. How do we want others to speak to us? With judgment and ridicule? Do we want others to talk down to us and treat us as if we're less than? No. Nothing good can come of that.
Which brings me to the importance of choosing our words carefully when it comes to children. Often I hear that kids are resilient. And they are. They're strong. But it doesn't mean we should speak cavalierly and risk crushing their spirits.
With kids we have a 50/50 chance of making or breaking them. Tell some kid he can't do something and you might have to get out of his way because he'll mow you over to accomplish that which you said he couldn't. But others?
Not always the case. You could end up ruining any chance a kid has at succeeding in life. Or in that subject or at that sport.
As adults we have life experience that our kids can learn from. But we have to remember that kids are kids. They need to learn to make mistakes, they need the chances to learn. Teaching them how to maneuver their way through childhood and adolescence (eek...those are rough years) is the role all adults have whether you're the parent or involved adult or even a kind stranger.
Be an example. Model for children what you want them to learn while giving them space to develop their own personalities.
Take a step back. Kids learn from doing so we can't do everything for them. Give them a chance to try things whether it's cleaning something or building something or drawing something. Practice is important and it's better for a child to practice young than be expected to do something as an adult that he's never tried before. i.e. managing money.
Smile more. Nothing is more discouraging than an adult's sour face. When you smile at a child, you're encouraging her. You're telling her she's doing well and trying hard. Not only will it lift her spirits but you'll feel better too.
Finally, meet them where they're at. Kids get frustrated. They want to do 'big kid' things even at a young age. When they struggle, we can help them through that or we can yell and gripe about their 'attitude' or 'mood.' Tantrums are a kid's way of expressing feelings they don't have the words to express. Help them through it. Remind them that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that it's okay that they aren't perfect or the best.
I'll never forget a moment in one of my son's lives when he learned this. He's an amazing artist. But when he was little, he didn't think he was. He'd draw something only to crumple it up and throw it away. It was upsetting to him to know that others were better at art than he was.
In came my husband. He went up to our son's room where he was upset about yet another drawing that wasn't up to his standards. He was one unhappy 6 year old. My husband could have told him to knock it off or to get over it. Instead, he met him where he was and taught him a lesson that changed everything.
He reminded our son that there will always be someone who's better at something than someone else. A preacher at the time, he used himself as an example. "I'm a good preacher, but that doesn't mean I'm the best. There are others who can draw a bigger crowd or have written books or speak better. There will always be someone who's better than me. But it doesn't mean I give up or stop. I learn from them. I keep practicing. I use the gift I have and I grow in it."
It was incredible. Our son felt better. The tears stopped. He kept drawing. He enrolled in some art classes. He even developed the confidence to raffle off his drawings to others. And he has continually improved his skill. The boy has talent.
Model, teach, support. Don't forget to smile. We as adults have seen the other side of childhood and the teen years. Sometimes I think the only reason we're adults is to help our littles cross over to the side of adulthood in a way that is healthy and helpful. Encourage the kids in your life; they may not thank you for it right now, but you'll see the fruits of your labor in the end.
Do you have a story about how you or someone you love has given a child something great to imitate? Have you been rewarded by all you've invested in the life of a child? Share your stories in the comments below. Let's encourage one another in giving children something great to imitate.
I took the stand and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. My palms were sweating. I reminded myself to take deep breaths. And truth be told, I took in the layout of the room, hoping to burn it into my brain for future writing use. You can take my pen and paper, but it won’t stop me from thinking like a writer.
“Can you have the witness speak up or talk more into the microphone, please?”
Yikes. I've just pissed off an attorney by speaking in my normal tone of voice. Oops. My sisters and cousin were right when they told me as a child that I wasn't cut out to be a lawyer. My mighty voice often resembles more of a whisper.
I pulled the microphone closer. Were the words I was going to say really going to make much of a difference? Images of Perry Mason and the whites of his eyes flitted through my mind. Six years of my career had passed by without my ever having to do this. It was a record. All of my colleagues had been to court more than once.
“So you recommended family therapy?”
This guy was talking to me. Had I recommended family therapy? What is family therapy? Is there such a thing? And if there is, would it have been good for this person? I skimmed through the assessment I’d written and tried to make sense of something I’d written ages ago.
There it was. Family therapy. It is a real thing.
I had been taught to be clear and succinct with my answers. No long drawn out speeches from me. Engaging in such would more than likely get me tripped up over my own words.
“And who was invited to this family therapy?”
Duh. It seemed like a simple and straightforward answer.
“So, the parent? A grandparent? How do you define family?”
Memories raced to the surface of my mind. Most of them unpleasant. How do I define family? As a mother, adoptive mother, and stepmother, family is a complex concept.
“Yes they would have been invited.”
“All of them?”
“And what if they wanted their neighbor to come?”
This lawyer was snarky and sarcastic. In any other setting, we’d have gotten along just fine as I’m excellent with the snarky and sarcastic. But in this moment, he was playing with fire. As a mother, adoptive mother, and stepmother who’d grown up in a family with more than its share of dysfunction, I’m an expert on the definition of family.
“Then the neighbor would have been welcome with the appropriate release of information.”
“You would have allowed the neighbor to come?”
“So how do you define family?”
Did he really want me to go there? I glanced at the attorney in my corner. She was calm and collected.
“Family is whatever the consumer and/or guardian of the consumer defines family to be.”
Had the setting been less legal and intimidating, I’d have drug out my soapbox.
Family is what an individual claims it to be. I don’t believe the adage “blood is thicker than water” to be of any importance, unless of course, you’re a vampire. Family is your parent or grandparent or uncle or neighbor or teacher or pseudo-sibling or the family friend. Family is the person or people that know you like no other and still accept you for who you are. Family is defined as the people who advocate for you when you need it and give you what for when it’s necessary. Family is the stranger you met on your journey through life that became the one you connected with and who, in return, connected with you.
Titles mean nothing if the individual bearing it can’t live up to it. A father is not just a sperm donor. A mother isn't just the oven for a bun. A sister or brother or cousin may be people you grow up with but the title means nothing if the connection isn't strong and lasting and forever.
“So a kid can just decide who she wants to have in family therapy?”
“A guardian would need to sign a release allowing an individual identified by a kid to be part of family therapy.”
“And if the kid wants some family friend to be in family therapy and the parent signs off on it, that’s okay?”
“That’s what I said, yes.”
He was angry, frustrated. “Even if they aren't related to the consumer?”
“Even if they aren't related.”
The attorney took his case to the judge. It seemed I wasn't giving the answers he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear me say that I wouldn't allow individuals to come to family therapy; that I had thwarted the “family’s” ability to participate because he saw me as the enemy to his client.
I don’t remember what he said to the judge. It’s possible I wasn't listening because I was mentally cataloging the number of books on the lawyer’s tables in front of them for future writing use. Or perhaps I had gotten silently caught up in the meaning of family and I was reveling in the profoundness of what I’d said.
I remember the judge telling him I’d answered the questions he’d asked and was very clear in what I’d said. I remember him saying “No more questions, your honor” and feeling like I was on the set of Law & Order. I remember the attorney in my corner giving a small smile as she stood and said “nothing further.”
The judge asked about my credentialing and I managed to pull to the surface of my mind where and when I’d gone to school. Images of my Alma maters came to mind and I smiled a little. I’m a fan of education and am thankful every day that I was able to go to college.
“Thank you. You may step down.”
And I did. As I picked up my bag and walked out of the courtroom, I felt victorious. I don’t know what happened with that case, but I knew I’d won one for myself. Family is what you define family to be. It’s the combination of people you chose and maybe even the ones you didn't get to choose, but were thrown together with due to birth or marriage or adoption.
With my bag in one hand and my soapbox in the other, I walked out of that courthouse and went back to my family.
What does family mean to you? Have you found people in your journey through life that make the family cut even though you aren't related to them?