Monthly Archives: August 2016

Memoir Monday, August 8th 2016

Why I am Terrified

There are typically two reactions when I tell people how I quit my very cushy and well paying fulltime teaching job to pursue writing.  The first is, “Can you make a living doing that?” and the second is, “Good for you!”

When I first started hearing reaction number one, I admit I became personally offended by it.  Oftentimes I would later stew over my response, wishing I had said some variation of the following, “I appreciate your concern, but I would much rather you think about my career in positive ways rather than failure to earn enough money.”  That is how enlightened Kelly would respond.  

Occasionally, I also fantasized about just saying, “That’s none of your damn business,” and dramatically walking away with my head held high.

That is how unenlightened Kelly would respond.

I mostly said responses along the lines of, “Sure, people make a living by writing every day.  There’s no reason I can’t.”  Then I would provide a lot of evidence in support of my claim and also add to my argument about how being a nomad with very little living expenses helps.  Of course, what it all comes down to with any of these responses is that I felt defensive about their question because that is actually something that terrifies me when I allow worry to break through my consciousness

Thankfully, I don’t allow that very often, and I have multiple spiritual practices in place to help me, but I have, in fact, already considered this concern.  I have probably thought about it a lot more than these people may have.  For example, here are some other concerns I have about being a writer:
I will be an utter and complete failure, never getting a single book published.

People will tell me “I told you so.”

I will die without making a mark on this world, which for me means empowering others, especially children, to live lives of gratitude, joy, abundance, love, light, and laughter through the stories that I write.

Or, worse yet:

I will have to get a job that not only stifles my creativity and imagination (like teaching statistics and research methods; I did that for nine years and I never want to do that again), but also controls my life with an inflexible schedule (like when I audited mortgage loans at a bank; I did that for four summers in a row during college and I never want to do that again, either).

But when I compare these worries to another one of mine, namely lying on my death bed at the age of 121 (yet miraculously still looking like I’m in my 30s), regretting that I did not give writing full time a try, the choice is obvious.  I am going with my dreams. 

I’ve already given up decades of my life trying to fulfill what society tells me is a successful life – “making a living” – and I’m ready to go for my new definition of success – “living a living.” 

That’s it, pure and simple.  Staying in the moment, staying true to who I am, and what I feel I have been called to be.  I am a writer and that is now how I am living my life.  Thank you, Spirit! And, thank you, Kelly!  We are in this partnership together, but I’m so glad you have my back.

And for those people who respond with reaction #2, I also can’t thank you enough.  I have had people tell me that I am brave and that I am living in a way they wish they could live.

Sometimes I do feel brave about this choice I made and whenever anyone wishes they could live this kind of life I provide them with the same encouragement that they have graciously given me.  I think we can all do it, we just have to face our own fears.  For me that is failure, embarrassment, death, and an 8am to 5pm desk job.

I’m pleased to report I haven’t experienced any of the above yet.  On the contrary, it seems like I’m on the write path (haha, get it?).

Since the spring of 2015, when I embraced writing as a way of living, I have written two short stories, one of which was selected by Outrider Press/TallGrass Writers’ Guild for publication in their annual anthology and the other I have submitted to various contests with literary magazines.

I have also written 18 children stories, one of which won second place in the Carteret Writers’ Inc., 25th annual writing contest, children’s literature genre.  I have several of the other manuscripts currently submitted to publishing houses and agents.

I am also one-third of the way through a first draft of a contemporary fiction novel, North Pole Rising, with the possibility that it could be a series.  In the meantime, I go to writing groups, workshops, and conferences, and meet other writers who give excellent advice and support.  I read writing and publishing blogs, listen to writing and publishing lectures, and complete writing exercises on a regular basis to better hone my craft.

So it’s not as if I am pursuing my dream with just a wish and a prayer.  I am willing to work at it and I am making sacrifices along the way.  But by living my writing life, I have found inspiration in the world around me and my list of story ideas keeps growing.  I have never been more excited by what I am doing and it makes me feel I am successful according to my own definition.  I am now fully comfortable and confident with my choice because it is my choice.  Others may disagree, and that’s perfectly fine with me, even if you catch me on an unenlightened Kelly day.  I will simply smile and wish you well.  Because that’s what I hope you would wish for me.

Flash Fiction Friday

Love and Grace

Unlike many girls, Ally never dreamed about her wedding.   She didn’t picture the white dress, the father-daughter dance, the groom.  Ally hated wearing dresses, her father had long since left, and she didn’t like boys.  Or, they didn’t like her.  Either way, she hated going to school because of how they teased her.

It started on her first day of first grade.  Her grandmother had packed her a nice lunch of sausage biscuits with gravy.  It seemed more like breakfast than lunch, but Gran liked mixing it up.  Ally pulled the food out of her lunch box and her napkin fell to the floor.  Just as she bent over to pick it up, one of the boys pointed.  “Look at that biscuit butt,” he laughed.  From that day on, Ally was more often called biscuit butt than Ally.

Ally had already been a plump girl, but with the incessant teasing she started eating more as if somehow that would show the boys she didn’t care.  Soon, she ballooned up to being the biggest kid in her grade, then the entire school.

By the time she reached high school, Ally wore the same thing to school every day – an XXXL button-down shirt over a t-shirt and shorts. Ally would look at herself in the mirror and press her clothes, if necessary.  But she did it for herself and no one else.  Ally believed that there was no one out there who would love her for who she was, that her size prevented anyone from seeing the real Ally.

It wasn’t until college that Ally began to wonder if maybe she was wrong.  Grace sat next to Ally in an American literature class.  They had long discussions about their favorite authors and books.  They both loved Harper Lee and regretted how her legacy seemed ruined with that unfortunate sequel.  Then one day Grace asked Ally if she wanted to go to the Varsity Theater on Hamilton Street.  They were having a special showing of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Grace thought it would be fun to go together.

The day of the movie, Ally looked into her closest deciding what to wear.  She still hated dresses, but wanted to look nice.  Then it occurred to Ally – Grace had never seen her in a dress, so why should she expect her to wear one now.  Ally wore what she always did and the smile Grace gave her confirmed that Ally had been right.

After the movie, they headed to the park.  Grace pulled out a blanket and sat down with a book.  She patted the blanket next to her and Ally joined her there.  Ally suddenly realized it wasn’t her size that kept her from love, but how she had closed herself off because of the taunts and teasing.  But Grace wasn’t like that, so Ally leaned in with her whole heart.



Whatever Wednesday — Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. You might say I have a bit of a Harry Potter obsession.  I once had a man withdraw a marriage proposal after I told him that if I could only talk about one topic for the rest of my life it would be Harry Potter.  Think about it – from just one book series you can discuss magic, spirituality, religion, racism, war, peace, and unicorns (among other things)!  I don’t think the man was serious about the marriage proposal in the first place, but I was certainly serious about Harry Potter.

That’s why when I was on a date with someone else a few months later and he told me that he and a friend had planned an all-day movie marathon of the Harry Potter movies for Valentine’s Day weekend, I began to suspect that this was the man for me.  That we then spent our honeymoon having this all-day movie marathon just goes to show how serious I am about Harry Potter.

              So of course I dove right into this latest installment.  And don’t worry, I’m not going to give any spoilers away until the second to last paragraph, other than I gasped so loudly on pages 17 and 20 that my husband had to leave the room because he was going to read the book second and didn’t want to know anything about it.

Now that I’m done, I don’t know how I feel about the book.  For the record, it’s also not really a book.  It’s a play script that wasn’t actually written by JK Rowling, although it is based on an original story by her, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany.  Part of me loves hearing any tidbits about Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the Hogwarts gang, and how their futures mapped out, but other parts of me are left feeling empty by the “book.”  I don’t know if I feel let down; perhaps the script format just didn’t work me.

Or maybe I just don’t like Harry as an adult.  There are some interesting choices that the writers make with Harry’s story.  But as Harry is not my creation, I cannot presume to know this character better than JK Rowling.  So I don’t think it’s my place to question her characterizations, although it does give me good fodder to reflect on character development and story choice in my own writing and I suppose I can be grateful about that.

**SPOILER ALERT PARAGRAPH**  I think ultimately, though, I felt the same way about Cursed Child as I did when Back to the Future II came out in theaters.  Like Cursed Child, I had been waiting for that movie for a long time (OMG, I had a super big crush on Michal J. Fox!) and I wanted it to make me love him even more.  So when the plot went everywhere and seemed to negate the very best moments of the original film, I had a hard time enjoying it.  There are some similarities with time travel in Cursed Child.  I began to worry about how everything would get wrapped up and I whether would I be able to believe in the story.   **SPOILER ALERT PARAGRAPH**

**SPOILERS OVER YOU CAN KEEP READING HERE** I suppose the fact I had such a strong reaction to the script indicates just how much the original Harry Potter stories resonate with me.  Regardless of my take home feelings, I did read the script in one day, and even though JK Rowling insists Harry’s story is now done I am confident that should she release another story I would read it with the same gusto as this one.  I think Harry Potter may be my first true love.  I’m pretty sure my husband is okay with that!

In 1000 Words or Less….

Why I Chose to Be a Writer

If I’m being honest, I don’t know if it was really a choice.  Part of me believes I am destined to be a writer, that this is my calling in life.  When I was a child my best friends were books and I would lose myself in imaginary worlds that others had created.  I excelled at playing pretend and my Barbie dolls and Cabbage Patch kids can certainly provide ample testimony to my imagination and creativity.  But as a child, any time I tried to write a story I never got very far.  Sure, I could come up with the idea, the characters, the plot, and so on, and frankly, I thought they were pretty dang good.  I just couldn’t get that to translate into prose.  So I quit writing my stories, time and time again.

When I was in high school, I rarely, if ever, got called out for writing.  Instead, I would slump in my chair as my teachers marveled over short stories and poems by my fellow classmates.  I can still remember one student being praised for her story of a teacher taking students on a field trip to the World Trade Center the day it was bombed in 1993 or another student who wrote a poem about starving children in Africa and their “petri dish bellies.”  Where these students drew inspiration from was beyond me and I felt wholly inadequate by what I was writing in comparison.

There was one lone exception in my writing history.  My senior year in high school I took a creative writing composition class under the guidance of Mrs. Carole S. Bush.  In that class, one of the assignments was to write a children’s story and I received laughter and praise for my Thanksgiving story about a little boy, his father, and their steadfast basset hound, who go turkey hunting every year only to be thwarted by a wily turkey.

I enjoyed every aspect of writing this story, and as I wrote it I could see the illustrations in my head.  Not being naturally gifted with drawing ability they still remain in my imagination to this day, but the story flowed effortlessly.  The same thing happened when I took an Introduction to Children’s Literature class the spring semester my freshman year in college.  We had to write a fairy tale and my story of The Apple Tree came to life in my mind and all but jumped on to the page for me.  I earned an A+ and a written comment of, “This is the best fairy tale a student has ever written in this class.”

But in all my investigations and research into college (pre-internet days, mind you), it seemed like writing and publishing were elite fields and every English major I knew ended up working at restaurants or department stores.  So, I didn’t consider writing a realistic profession and instead declared myself a psychology major.  By the time I graduated with a 3.93, I had been named Outstanding Psychology Major my junior and senior years, won an institutional research grant of over $2000 for my honors thesis, and presented this research at a national conference.  I was offered multiple assistantships or fellowships at almost every graduate school I applied to and soon I was on my way to earning a Ph.D. in quantitative psychology.

Eight long years later, I found myself with a doctoral degree and a tenure-track assistant professor position at a private university in the Midwest.  At first, I enjoyed teaching.  But then I became frustrated with myself and with my students and I felt that no one, including me, was getting anything out of my classes.  I was physically sick, mentally tired, and I woke up one day thinking, There has got to be more to life.  Then, in one of the greatest gifts I ever received, I applied for and was given a full-year sabbatical with two-thirds of my salary.

During that year I moved away from the Midwest and rejoined my friends and family in Chapel Hill, NC.  I focused on my physical and mental health.  I started meditating every day, sometimes twice a day.  I had a near-death experience.  I started working on a novel.  I went to group therapy.  I took a spirituality course in conscious living at a local church.

Then it hit me – I didn’t miss teaching at all.  I began to envision myself living a different life.  One where I felt fulfilled creatively and professionally and every time it centered on me being a writer.  Could I really do this? I asked myself.  Give up a well-paying job?  Tenure?  Benefits?  More vacation time than the average person ever gets? 

I debated about possibly doing both.  But I realized that not only was I doing a disservice to my students by staying in a job I no longer felt called to do, I was also doing a disservice to myself.  I am well aware how difficult it is to make a living as a writer.  I have heard countless pieces of advice not to make it your day job, to do anything else while you try to be a writer.  But I’m not trying anymore.  I just am.  I am a writer and so this is what I am now doing.  I don’t know how it’s going to work out.  The only thing I am certain of is I get more joy and satisfaction from writing, particularly children’s stories, than I ever have in my 39 years of life.  So this is what I’m going to do.  I appreciate your love and support on this journey.   I am excited (and terrified) to see what happens next.