Tag Archives: Memoir

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Title

I recently had the chance to catch up with some of my former colleagues from the University I previously taught at.  The school had a peace vigil this past Friday and since I’m in town house/pet-sitting, I decided to attend.  I’m pretty disgusted with the events as of late in this country of ours, and supporting peace through lovely words and prayers seemed like a wonderful idea.

Peace

While there, several people made the same comment to me: you look so happy.  I consider this compliment to be one of the greatest I can receive, because, truthfully, I do feel happy, and this wasn’t always the case.  This past year of living a writer’s life, spending as much time as I can with my husband, and playing with and caring for dogs in exchange for amazing houses to live in, has been such a blessing.  I am so grateful at the friends I have made this past year and the opportunities that have presented themselves.

These feelings of joy and gratitude were especially salient yesterday as I walked around a forest preserve.  I thought I had been driving to another community gathering of love and peace, but it turned out I had the wrong location.  Although that was bad news, the good news was I ended up at Fullersburg Woods, a forest preserve of DuPage County.

Waterfall

For about an hour, I wandered around enjoying the beauty of Salt Creek, before settling myself on some rocks by the Rainbow Bridge to simply be at one with nature.  Although I missed the community fellowship I had been anticipating, I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful way to spend my afternoon.  And I wasn’t really alone.  Spirit surrounded me, as did the rocks, trees, birds, leaves, and waves from the river.

Rainbow bridge

Walking along the trail on my way back from the bridge, I began marveling at the world around me.  Then, it hit me! One of the reasons I think I’m so happy is I’m able to find wonder and awe in the little things.  I began thinking of what brings me the most joy in life.  Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Laughing with my husband
  • Playing with dogs
  • Talking about dogs with my Mom
  • Reading a good book
  • Finishing a draft of a story
  • Helping someone edit a draft of their writing
  • Fantasizing about future travels, especially if they can include family and/or friends
  • Watching funny online videos of animals, particularly bears

It’s good to know these things because right now, there’s a lot of unhappiness and turmoil in the world.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when it’s hard to know what to do in response.  What I liked most about the vigil I attended on Friday is that the event was not against anyone or anything.  I have often heard spiritual teachers caution against what you give your energy to, such as an anti-war protest versus a rally for peace.

With these thoughts in mind, I am recommitting myself to focus on the things in my life that bring me joy.  Selfish and elitist?  Perhaps.  But I’m going to subscribe to the words of Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.  I wish to see peace and happiness.  So that’s what I’m going to be.  Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…one youtube bear video at a time.

Memoir Monday, August 1st (which is really a Tuesday)

HB to my blog

Happy Birthday to my blog! One year ago today I posted for the first time and I am now up to 97 posts.  A little bit short of my (overly) ambitious 156 (3 posts a week), but I’ll take it.

Originally, I started this blog as a way to document my new career choice as a writer.  I planned on writing about writing (there’s a novel idea [haha, pun totally intended]), as well as featuring some of my fiction writing (Fiction Friday posts), with a dash of other writing as well (poems, one-liners, life lessons from a dog, etc., for Whatever Wednesday posts).

Now a year in, I have more realistic expectations.  It turns out there is only so much I can write about writing in any given week.  A lot of my Memoir Monday pieces morphed into metacognitive pieces of how I am my own worst enemy in achieving my goals of being a healthy and peaceful person and a productive and prolific writer.

I actually quite like the evaluation process, having conducted program evaluation research for well over a decade, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that I ended up spending a lot of time reflecting on my goals, objectives, and whether or not I am making progress.  As I continue writing my blog, I expect the process of what I am trying to accomplish over several different areas of my life, not just writing, will continue to fall to the forefront.

My Whatever Wednesday posts and Fiction Friday posts certainly stretched my creativity and writing muscles.  But I often found myself feeling forced to come up with content.  Although I am a big believer in having a consistent writing practice, I like to have freedom in the process.  Telling myself I had to come up with a thought provoking one-sentence caption for a photograph or another flash fiction story created undue stress for myself and a lot of times I felt a bit resentful because the time and effort it took away from the writing projects that are closer to my heart (my children’s picture books and middle grade novels).

Therefore, year 2 of my blog will not include these outlets for my writing.  Over the next few weeks, I will be updating the blog site to reflect these changes.  However, at some point I would like to finish my Fox Through the Forest story.  For those of you who have read, I feel it is unfair to leave Malcolm the fox and his friends stuck in narrative limbo.  I know he has his journey to finish and I want to see him to the end.

It’s exciting to think about where year 2 will take me.  A year ago, we were housesitting in Johnsonville, NY, and taking care of a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Border Collie, and a Bordernese mix, as well as two rag doll cats and a barn cat, in addition to goats and chickens.

Johnsonville three dogs

Frank with Heath Rosie Jack Cat

Now we’re on the road in Joliet, IL, caring for an old timer Golden Retriever, a rescued Great Dane, a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix that came from the pound, one cat, and 37 (I think) chickens.

Phyllos Lilu Rafiki Triferros

A year ago, I had no completed manuscripts over 1,000 words.  Today, I have one complete 41,000 middle grade novel, and a 51,000 word middle grade novel sorely in need of revision.  I wrote an additional seven picture book manuscripts.  One of them won the top fiction prize in Kidlit College’s picture book contest.  As a result, this manuscript is now being considered by five publishers.  Plus, I now have an agent who makes me laugh a lot and is supportive of my story ideas.

I am so blessed and grateful to be on this journey.  I thank God every day that I had the courage to change the life I was living for the one I wanted to live. I am grateful to my husband who has shown me unconditional love, laughter, and support as we realize our shared visions for life.  My parents have also been incredibly supportive and I know they hope and pray for our continued prosperity and success, as do my extended family and in-laws.  We have met so many wonderful people along the way and every day we make new connections.

We have no idea where this next year is going to take us, but there is not a doubt in my mind it will be filled with abundant gratitude, joy, love, light, and laughter.  I look forward to telling you all about it.

Memoir Monday, December 19th, 2016

cc-p-3

Two years ago today, I broke my ankle while hiking the ancient Inca trail in the Andes mountains.

peru-4_2

We were at an altitude of 13,000 feet and I saw a festive blue tanager down in a river bank.

peru-7

Naturally, I jumped down to get a better look and in a classic reprimand of “look before you leap,” which I did not do, my left foot landed on a stone.

First there was a feeling of surprise as I fell over.  Then I saw stars.  Finally, everything went black.  But before I knew it, I came to my senses, hopped up from the ground, and looked around to see if anyone saw me.  Thankfully, no one had, and I pretended like nothing happened.

That worked fine for about the next mile.  Then the adrenaline started to dissipate and the throbbing pain hit me with every step I took.  I don’t know why I couldn’t admit to anyone what had happened.  Perhaps because it was an incredibly stupid injury or perhaps it was because I’m one of those people who never liked to ask for help (note I wrote liked in the past tense; I have since given up those silly ways).

After another mile, the pain became almost unbearable and when we stopped for a break I pretended the altitude had finally gotten to me.

peru-8

I asked our tour guide for two aspirin.  He told me I didn’t seem to be affected and only gave me one.  It did not help.

When we finally got within sight of the village house we were staying at, I almost collapsed from the straight shot up we had for the final ascent.  Several hundred feet up a steep hill.  It was at that point the tour guide asked me, “Are you okay?  You’re limping.”

I had to admit I was NOT okay.  After I made it to the village house, I had no energy or strength or stamina to move again.  The family took care of me, soaking my ankle in an herbal bath and then wrapping it with an ace bandage.

But the next morning I still could not bear weight on my ankle.  I had to be taken down the mountain by emergency vehicle, which in Huchuy Cusco was a horse named Cheero.  Cheero had an extraordinary knack for walking as close to the precipitous edge of the trail as possible.  To this day, I don’t know which was worse – the physical pain from my ankle or the mental torture of thinking at any moment Cheero and I were going to plummet to our deaths off the side of the mountain.

peru-6-2

Hours later, we made it down and we immediately got in a car to head to the next leg of our tour, Machu Picchu.  At this point because of the drastic change in altitude, I felt minimal pressure on my ankle and it was almost like nothing had even happened.

So of course I hiked Machu Picchu the next day.  I didn’t know my ankle was broken at the time and I would be heading back to the states in just two days.  I didn’t want to miss a chance to visit one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world.

peru-10-2

I didn’t actually find out my ankle was broken until about a month later when I thought, hmm, shouldn’t the pain have gone away by now?

ankle-3-2

ankle-1_2

ankle-2-2

I went to my primary care physician who ordered an x-ray.  I found out it was an avulsion fracture.  In this type of break, the ligaments snap so tightly when the ankle is twisted that they take off a chunk of the bone.  Thankfully, the doctor said I didn’t need surgery, nor would she put me in a cast because I had already started to heal.  I just had to keep a brace on for three months and limit my physical activities.

Talk about a kick in the pants!  How was I supposed to do yoga?  Or dance fitness?  And what about ice skating and hula hooping?   These were all the things I did regularly to stay in shape and take care of myself and now I had to stop them.

At first, I contemplated just doing them anyway and suffer through the pain.  I had dealt with the pain already for a month.  But then I realized if I wanted to keep up with these activities for the rest of my life (which I hope to be long and vital), then I really did have to give myself the time to heal.

I learned a lot during that time, particularly the role cardio plays in my sleep quality.  Without it, I had difficulty falling asleep and I would wake up multiple times throughout the night, even more so than because of my narcolepsy.

So as we countdown to Christmas, let us remember that one of the greatest gifts we will ever receive is our physical health.  A lot of times we take this gift for granted but it should be one we are most thankful for, especially because we never know when it may be returned to sender.

Memoir Monday, December 5th, 2016

countdown-to-christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  That’s what everyone likes to tell us, but I’m here to affirm it’s not necessarily true. 

In December 2012, Ebenezer Scrooge was my role model. 

Not only did I “celebrate” Christmas completely alone (I refused several invitations of holiday dinners and family get-togethers), I did not decorate my house or office, I did not buy anyone gifts (that I can remember), and I did not eat a single Christmas cookie.  The last one wasn’t by choice, more medical necessity.

For months leading up to that holiday season, I felt overworked and utterly exhausted.  My body was no longer successfully processing any food I ate, and I spent my days sick.  After invasive procedures recommended by a gastroenterologist found absolutely nothing wrong, an integrative medicine doctor recommended I cut out all sugars, gluten, and dairy from my diet.

As someone who loves cupcakes, I never would have followed such ridiculous advice if I hadn’t been so desperate for something to change.  Also, the doctor had excellent logic.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Kelly: I’m just so tired.  I feel exhausted all the time. 

Doctor: Well, what have you been eating.

Kelly: Marshmallows. 

In my defense, they were peppermint flavored and I love all things peppermint.  Seriously, though, I saw his point and something had to give because of how crappy I felt, literally and figuratively.  Here was someone offering me something tangible and concrete to try. 

I wasn’t sure if I could do it but I also couldn’t imagine continuing the way I had been.

A lot changed in that following year.  My digestive health improved, although it was still what I would deem “poor.”  There were many foods I could not eat without experiencing ill effects, including grains, soy, dairy, and most fruits and vegetables.  On the positive side, I was getting ready for my sabbatical and feeling grateful I could finally take a break.

When I was in graduate school, I used to fantasize I would be in a car accident – nothing fatal, just enough so that I could lay in a hospital bed and do nothing but rest.  I had started feeling that way again the past few semesters at my university job.  Yes, I know this is not healthy thinking and something I discussed with my therapist(s) on several occasions.  They often encouraged me to quit my job if I was so unhappy, something I didn’t think would ever be possible.  What would I do?  What would people say?  How will I make any money?  These are the questions that plagued my mind which discouraged me from making any real changes.  Of course, it was also around this time I started meditating.  I was looking for other ways to relieve my stress and just happened to get an email inviting me to participate in a Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey free 21-day-meditation challenge on the theme of Desire and Destiny. 

Little did I know that would be the start of some truly big changes in my life.

But at the time, while I was able to appreciate some improvements in my life, I was still feeling empty and alone.  Having a therapist helped me during this time and I began to understand what I was contributing to these feelings of lack in my life.  And, for the first time in a long time, I put up a tiny Christmas tree.

If you had told me next year at the same time I would be in Peru, I would have said you were nuts.  That’s exactly where I was though.  Two years ago, in December 2014, I attended COP-20, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima.  The invitation happened rather serendipitously but it was one I thought I would regret if I didn’t take it.

It was right around then, I began wondering why I didn’t miss teaching more and worrying that my sabbatical would be over too soon.  I still classified my physical health as “poor,” but my digestion issues had improved.  My biggest concern was sleep.  I had stopped taking my narcolepsy medicine for a variety of reasons, including worsening drug side effects of anxiety and paranoia, as well as post-traumatic stress from an accidental overdose of my narcolepsy medicine a few weeks prior.  Since I wasn’t working and I could take multiple naps throughout the day, I managed.

One year later (December 2015), I was in Paris, France, attending COP-21.  I had already turned in my resignation as an associate professor so I could pursue my dream of writing.  I started writing on a regular basis and I completed several children’s stories and a short story.  My physical health was good due to hot yoga and Dailey Method classes several times per week.  My diet became much more diverse, and I even enjoyed crepes while in Paris.  High quality sleep still alluded me on most nights, but with a good diet and regular exercise I was better than okay.

Now here we are in December, 2016.  I’m living in Norfolk, CT, with my amazing husband, and I’m a writer!  One of my short stories was published by Outrider Press this past year and I regularly write on my blog (THANKS FOR READING!).  I can now eat all the foods I eliminated from diet without too much worry of ill effects, except I’ve gone overboard having spent years not eating these foods and now I need to exercise even more.  I can’t really complain, because more exercise helps my sleep which is still meh.

All this to say, as we countdown to Christmas

please remember the greatest gift we can give ourselves is time.

There is no way we can predict where we will be in our lives one year, one month, one week, or even one day from now.  Life gets better; life gets worse.  And if you happen to be in one of the worse stages, just know that you are not alone.

Memoir Monday, November 21st, 2016

back-to-ct-we-go-title

We are back in Norfolk, CT!  My husband I enjoyed it so much here that when our next pet and housesitting job ended up being canceled, we accepted an offer to return for the holidays.   But now that we’re back it’s time to set some new goals based on what I learned the last time we were here.

One of the things I’m trying with these goals is to make them S.M.A.R.T.(er) than my previous ones.  For those of you who don’t know, I spent several years conducting program evaluation research.  One of the keys for measuring success is that objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1)      Write 6,000 words per week specifically for one of my novels

Rationale: I want 2016 to be the year I start and finish a novel.  If I stay on track with this goal, that gives me an additional 36,000 words.  Since I already have 35,000 words written for my middle grade novel, this should be more than enough to finish and make substantial progress on some of my other unfinished writing.

2)      Attend a weekly writer’s group

Rationale: Writers’ groups are invaluable for providing feedback and connection to other writers.  I cannot say enough good things about them and I’ve been blessed to belong to some outstanding ones (Durham Writers’ Group, Schenectady Public Library, United Church of Christ Congregational Norfolk, and SCBWI Eastern CT).  Attending a writers’ group on a weekly basis will also keep me writing a variety of projects.

3)      Listen to at least one Brandon Sanderson lecture on writing each week

Rationale: From my 8 years of teaching research writing, I have good technical writing skills.  Imagination and creativity are also two of my greatest strengths.  But after reading Libbie Hawker’s Take Your Pants Off: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better, Writing, I realized I still have a lot to learn about fiction to take my writing to the next level.  One of my good friends highly recommends Brandon Sanderson’s lectures and my husband reads his books.  Since I write a lot of fantasy, I thought this would be a good fit for me.  Plus, he’s got a lot of material freely available on the internet.

4)      Read at least five chapters of a novel every week

Rationale:  It’s simple – if you want to be a better writer, you need to read.  A LOT.  This is something I don’t always prioritize, especially when I’m reading a book that has slow pacing.  If I can learn to identify the strengths and weaknesses of others’ writing, though, I think this will make me a stronger writer in the long-term.

5)      Complete 3 sets of PT exercises every day

Rationale:  My right hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are much weaker than other muscles in my body.  I know, weird, because my left hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are doing just fine.  What these weaknesses amount to is, however, is pain.  As a big believer in prevention, these exercises should help me stave off any long-term issues.

6)      Spend 20 minutes every day on physical exercise

Rationale:  I’ve gotten blobby both physically and cardiovascularly.  I’m only 39.  I should be able to walk up a hill without getting winded.  Last November, I LOVED how I looked and felt.  I even kept up with my workout routine when I spent two weeks at the UN climate change conference in Paris.  I have no excuses.  I let myself go by making choices that did not honor my health and body on a regular basis.  I will always love myself unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hold myself accountable for risking my health in this way.

7)      Eat one salad every day that contains at least four colors of the rainbow

Rationale:  See points above.  We cannot do it better than nature and that includes food choices.  I love rainbows, so I might as well start eating them.

8)      Meditate twice daily for 20 minutes each time

Rationale:  Nothing has improved my life as much as meditating on a regular basis.  It started in November 2013 with Oprah Winfrey’s and Deepak Chopra’s Desire and Destiny Meditation series.  I started making some real life changes after I started meditating and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.

9)      Spend 20 minutes every day reading or listening to spiritual material

Rationale:  With my meditation time, this gives me approximately one hour per day devoted to spiritual health and my relationship with God.  In all honesty, I don’t think seven hours a week is actually enough and there have been times when I devoted two hours a day to spirituality.  Once I am successful with recreating these life goals as habits over these next two months, I’ll check in to see if I can amp up my spiritual time because time spent reflecting and connecting with God and the Divine is never wasted.

10)   Explore someplace new every week with my husband

Rationale:  My husband and I like to go on adventures and we especially like to be out in nature.  This will ensure that we actually do the things we say we’re going to do.  As an added bonus, I get to spend time with my husband and he’s super fun and cute.

So there you go – 10 goals and two months.  You may be thinking oh my goodness, that’s a lot! I thought the same thing when I typed the list out, which is why I limited it to only 10 goals (believe me, I could have come up with a lot more).  The truth is I do a lot of these activities on a regular basis already; the only difference is now I’m trying to measure and quantify them to help me manage and be more productive with my time.  I am confident I can do it!  I will keep you posted and in the meantime, please send me all the love and support you can.

Memoir Monday, November 14th, 2016

no-one-is-an-island-an-update-and-final-report-card

At the beginning of September, I wrote about a socialization plan I devised for my time in Connecticut and a little over a month ago I evaluated my progress at the halfway mark. Our initial stint in Connecticut has now ended and it’s time for my final grades – drumroll, please!

1)      Spend three days a week writing at the library to get me out of the house

Midterm Grade: F

Final Grade: F

Rationale: In the 63 days that my husband and I lived in Connecticut, not once did I spend time at the library writing.  So, not just a fail, an epic fail (I’m giving myself a ZERO).

Reflection:  I accept this failure because I learned something valuable – I prefer writing at home.  As much as I like the idea of writing at a library or a coffee shop, going to these places require several additional steps in the process, like showering/getting dressed and then walking (driving) somewhere.  For a procrastinator like myself, these steps fuel my fire of distraction and before I know it, I’ve wasted a ton of time with nothing to show for it.  Thus, getting out of my house from here on out will need to come through other means.

2)      Volunteer at the library (that is, if they’ll have me for just two months)

Midterm Grade: F

Final Grade: C

Rationale: I ended up spending my service time elsewhere (see point #3), but my husband and I gave a financial donation to the library before we left.

Reflection: Even though I didn’t write anything at the library, my husband and I spent a lot of time utilizing their wonderful (and free!) resources.  We both read some great books, watched some great (in my husband’s opinion; meh in my opinion) movies, and used their printers for personal use.  Since we both believe that 10% of our income should go to charity, it seemed like the Norfolk Library deserved a good chunk of what we earned while living there.  Money is not the same thing as service, so that’s why I went with a “C.”

3)      Seek other short-term volunteer opportunities as they present themselves

Midterm Grade: A-

Final Grade: A

Rationale:  In addition to continuing as a social media team member for the Young Adult Review Network, I managed to find some short-term volunteer opportunities as well, including contributing some of my writing to the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational’s Christmas pageant, donating food to the church’s food pantry, and entertaining children at the Colebrook Community Center’s Halloween party.

Reflection: These small service opportunities are a great way to get out of the house, meet people, and feel like I’m actively contributing to society.  I just need to keep my eyes open for them.

4)      Attend a weekly writers’ group

Midterm Grade: A+

Final Grade: A+

Rationale:  I attended a creative writers’ group every Wednesday and I attended a children’s writers’ group every time they had a meeting (which ended up being three times).

Reflection: I cannot recommend writing groups enough!  In addition to being a wonderful opportunity to socialize with writers and get out of the house (which is important to me; see point 1), my stories have improved based on the feedback from the groups.  There’s also a lot of utility in seeing and hearing people’s response to your work as you read it out loud.  I found both groups using Google searches, but I’ve also used meetup.com.  It is my sincerest hope that wherever my husband and I end up wandering to, we will always have a writing group to attend (yes, sometimes he comes with me).

5)      Work at short-term, limited employment jobs where I can see my contributions to society

Midterm Grade: B

Final Grade: B

Rationale: It’s official – I love making sandwiches!  I think it’s because people truly appreciate a well-made sandwich and appreciation is something I did not experience on a regular basis as a teacher of statistics or research methods.  I spent hours editing and evaluating students’ work and most of the time I felt like my efforts were wasted.  That is hardly ever the case with working a café!

On the downside, though, I’m still having difficulty managing my time.  I started working on one of my novels again (YAY!) but then my exercise fell by the way side (BOO!).  Then, there’s Halloween, which certainly did not help my sweet tooth, especially because the library had a huge candy supply, and finally we discovered Dee’s One Smart Cookie Allergen-free Bakery, which may be allergen free, but not sugar, calorie, or fat free.

Reflection: Blargle!  I don’t like being dissatisfied with how I treat my body.  This is the one body I get for life, so I need to do better at prioritizing it while I’m working.  I have a plan for that, though, which I’m going to share next week when I lay out my goals for the remaining two months of the year (and if you have any suggestions/recommendations for my November/December goals, feel free to let me know).

6)      Find a spiritual community that encourages self-reflection and growth.

Midterm Grade: C+

Final Grade: C-

Rationale: Although I actively worked on my spirituality and connection to God daily, I didn’t commit fully to any one community.

Reflection: This might have to be something I accept as my husband and I continue wandering around.  When you’re only going to be in one place for a set, limited time, it can be hard to motivate yourself to make commitments of this sort.  I enjoy connecting with others, especially those who center their lives on love, compassion, generosity, and service.  It may be that I modify this goal to reflect a more global community than local one.

Overall Grade: C

Reflection: WOOHOO – I passed!  If it wasn’t for that ZERO, I might even have been above average.  Oh, well.  Gives me something to work towards until the end of the year.

Memoir Monday, October 31st, 2016

happy-halloween-post

             In honor of Halloween, I’ve been spending some time contemplating Americans’ love affair with horror.  Nowhere does that seem more evident to me than with this year’s presidential election.  And even though this is not a political blog, I’ve noticed there are some similarities between presidential election politics and living the writing life.

              Similarity #1: Both are scary!  With writing, you never know what is going to happen next, whether it is plotting a story, submitting to an agent, or seeking publication.  You must put yourself out and make yourself vulnerable.  Unfortunately, our presidential candidates seem to think that less is more and so every week it’s one more instance of never knowing what’s going to happen next.  That’s why we keep getting “leaked” information, whether it be videotapes, emails, or something else that makes us all go “Doh!” with a face palm. 

              Similarity #2: Both are fraught with risk!  My vote is going to Jill Stein and the Green Party.  I know this is risky because I vehemently oppose one candidate and I would not, under any circumstances, want this person as president.  So, I debated about voting for the other candidate just to ensure that the other one is not elected.  Does this strike anyone else as wrong? 

              I believe it is and so I am willing to risk my country, my freedom, and my Affordable Care Act health insurance, simply because I cannot be a party to a broken system any longer.  When I embraced the writing lifestyle, I knew there were inherent risks with it.  No longer would I have a steady paycheck, tenure, benefits, an employer-matched retirement program and so on.  But I was nevertheless willing to give it up all to live my dream.

              In doing so, I have found joy, fulfillment, and freedom.  I do not want to lose it, yet at the same time I need to remain true to myself.  Neither major party candidate has remained true to themselves, so they will not get my vote.

              Similarity #3 – Both involve making stuff up!  For writers, this is a wonderful perk of our profession.  We get to build new worlds, create characters, and live inside their heads.  Our stories allow us to experience different cultures, lifestyles, and relationships, and we can learn about ourselves while at the same time weaving universal themes and life lessons throughout our writing. 

              In politics, pretending to be something you’re not appears to be par for the course, but unlike writing I wouldn’t consider it a good thing.  We have websites devoted to “fact-checking” our candidates and sometimes they are branded as having “their pants on fire,” in terms of how different what they state is from reality. 

              Of course, people are entitled to change their minds and our presidential candidates are no exception.  Before I decided to give up consuming violence in media (which essentially meant not watching the presidential debates as verbal violence is violence nevertheless), I LOVED the television series 24.  Based on my experiences watching that show, I believed there were some instances were torture should be allowed, especially considering national security.

              It took one of my good friends in graduate school to sit me down and explain just why torture is a human rights violation for me to realize that torture is, well, torture, and although Hollywood may be good at sensationalizing it, there is always real and true human life being minimized. 

              But it unfortunately does not appear to be the case that our politicians are “changing their minds” and showing growth in morals, values, or any other important qualities I subscribe to in a president.  No, it appears that they are simply catering to their party simply for the sake of getting elected.  Over ONE BILLION DOLLARS will have been spent by the time this election is over.  People do crazy things for money and having your pants on fire appears to be just one of them. 

              Similarity #4 – Both are wrought with rejection! Barring any unusual circumstances, we will have one big winner and one big loser come the evening of November 8th.  Thankfully, I have never yet had to experience being rejected by millions upon millions of people.  So far, it’s only been publishers, agents, literary journals, and websites.  Oh, and I suppose friends, schools, employers, significant others, pets (I’m talking to you aloof cats who pretend they’re not interested), and bears (see previous posts).  So, really, now that I think about it my whole life has been about rejection.  But, again, it’s never been on the scale of millions and millions of people! 

              Maybe someday though.  Wouldn’t that be amazing to be such a successful writer that my work could be commented on, loved, hated, debated, and so on by millions?!  Or I suppose I could just run for president?  Millions then would also love, hate, and debate my choices.

              Of course, not being even remotely qualified for president, that would be a scary choice for the U.S. population. Thus, for my final thoughts I will leave you with an original Halloween poem that I think sums up this post succinctly:

Happy Halloween

With lots and lots of treats

But only a few tricks

‘Cuz we’re all scared enough

Thanks to U.S. politics!

Memoir Monday, October 17th, 2016

bear

The other day I saw something move outside from the upstairs bedroom window.  I called to my husband, “It’s the bear!” and we scrambled to the window to get a better look, but then we didn’t see anything.  We headed downstairs and turned on the outside lights.  I put on my glasses because it was dusk and my vision isn’t too keen in the dark.  And there it was!  No, sadly for me, it was not the bear that’s been spotted around town, but a big, beautiful white-tailed deer.  Exciting to see in the front yard, yes, but not what I wanted.

Apparently black bears wander in and around the town of Norfolk, CT, on a regular basis, and everyone keeps seeing them except for me.  

I find this wholly unfair because I LOVE BEARS! 

When I was three-years old, I fell in love with the polar bear at the Philadelphia Zoo and I have never looked back.

When I started working for a research group back in the early 2000s, I was asked by one of my coworkers to name my favorite wild animal.  I said, “POLAR BEAR!” and then she asked me to explain why.  I told her it’s because they are white, adorable, fun, and they like to play in the snow. Turns out that was a “psychological personality test” and I just explained to everyone at work how others see me.

For reference, if you want to play this game at home, you can also ask, “What is your favorite domestic animal and why?”  That answer determines how you see yourself.   My answer to that question was dog, of course, and then I said it’s because dogs are loyal and always happy to see you.

But, I see plenty of dogs every day all day and while this is great fun for me and I would never want to not have a dog to play with, I long to see a bear ambling down the street.  One of my favorite children’s stories I’ve written thus far has to do with a bear breaking into to someone’s house to take a look around and unlike many of my children’s stories, this story was not inspired by observations from my daily life (oh, how I wish!), but it came solely from my love of bears.

It feels like every day someone comes into the café where I work and mentions a bear sighting.  Someone saw them on Route 44!  Another saw one on Maple Ave!  Not just one, but a mama and three babies! I know this is a lot of exclamation points, but I’m pretty sure a bear is my spirit animal and it doesn’t seem fair that everyone is seeing them except for me.

To add to my dismay, a regular came into the café just yesterday and complained that someone had let their dog poop in the middle of the walkway.  As a big believer in karma, I felt once I knew about such a crappy situation (HAHA, pun totally intended) it was my job to clean it up.  You can’t just leave a mess for someone else…only, I’m pretty sure it was bear poop once I got out there.  Universe, why must you torment me? 

My husband says I have to stop looking for one.  Only then, will it happen.  I suppose he does have a point, considering that’s kind of how we met.  It was early January and I was thinking about the imminent end of my job as an associate professor.  I had handed in my resignation October 1st, 2015, effective for May 31st, 2016, which may seem like a ridiculously long time but I wanted my university to have plenty of time to find a replacement for me and if you didn’t know, things move at a snail’s pace in academia.

I realized that given the life I was about to start (i.e., writing, wandering, dreaming), I didn’t want to find anyone who was settled with a house and lots of stuff as a potential mate.  I had just spent months getting rid of almost all of my belongings.  I remember thinking very clearly to myself, what I really want is someone who will travel around with me and go from one housesitting job to another, NOT a person with a house and job in IL.  So I immediately stopped looking because I was on my way out of there.

I kid you not, less than one week later I attended a writers group at a local college where the group always goes for a little socialization afterwards at an in-town restaurant.  I walked into the restaurant, sat down at the bar, and on my right-hand side sat my future husband.  He was in town for work and he had asked his colleagues for a recommendation about where to get some good old-fashioned Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

A few weeks later we eloped in Nashville.  So, I think it’s clear I need to do something similar with my bear quest.

I am now putting this out there to all the bears: 

Bears, I love you!  I long to see you from a distance while you romp and play in the wild.  If you could be doing funny antics, that would be awesome, too, and if you give me enough time to get out my phone to take a picture so I can post it in my blog and on social media, I would be ever grateful.  Thanks!  Love, Kelly

Memoir Monday, October 10th 2016

fall-autumn-red-season

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love all things Harry Potter.  One of my favorite quotes from the book series comes from The Chamber of Secrets when Albus Dumbledore tells Harry, “…help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”  I love the idea that all you have to do is ask and you shall receive.  Simple, right?  And certainly not restricted to just Hogwarts (e.g., Matthew 7:7 — Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you)

Where I struggle is knowing when to ask for help.

For many years I felt asking for help indicated weakness, that I was not strong enough or smart enough or confident enough or whatever enough to do the task at hand.

I remember one time sitting in my office at my former university struggling with calculating an analysis of variance hypothesis test by hand in preparation for class.  I just could not understand where I was making my mistake and as a professor, I thought it utterly absurd that I couldn’t figure it out.  I probably wasted a good hour and when I finally did ask a colleague to look at the numbers it turned out the formula in the book had a typo and it was missing a summation sign.  Duh.

Such a simple solution, you’d think I would have learned something valuable from that incident.  On the spectrum of enlightenment, I was still pretty dim at the point so no, I really didn’t.

I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that I have had this problem recur in my life. 

Most recently this happened last Friday when my husband and I decided to hike Haystack Mountain.  Everyone in town has recommended this hike and with beautiful fall foliage and glorious sunshine we drove up the mountain to the trail and began our ascent.  It wasn’t too taxing, though there was one steep section.

At the top a stone observation tower treated us to panorama views of the quaint New England town we’ve been living in for almost 6 weeks.  After getting our fill of the view, we started the hike down the mountain.

ask-4

ask-3

ask-2

We reached a point where we could turn left or right.  We opted to go right.  We kept going and came out at a road we were unfamiliar with and we couldn’t even GPS our location because my phone has been broken for the last four weeks and my husband’s was charging in the car.

My husband suggested we go left, so we did.  Then we took another left and ended up on a street named Roughland Road (oh, the irony!).

ask-1

At this point we had been hiking well over an hour since our descent and sometime later we ended up on a road which took us to the main road going into town.

We knew this location because it’s where the vet’s office is for the dogs we are taking care of in town.  My husband did graciously offer for me to stay behind there while he finished the walk, but to paraphrase Kate Winslet’s character from Titanic, I told him, “You walk, I walk.”   Except we weren’t very close to the mountain – about two miles away and then we would have to climb back up the mountain to where we parked the car.

So we continued on, and every empty bottle we encountered on the side of the road seemed to taunt me (that’s right, we didn’t have water either).  After 10 minutes or so I would take off my sweater because I would get too hot then a few minutes later I would have to put it back on because I got too cold.

Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, our circumstances were not dire.  But I was tired, having worked at the café that day, and I had been utterly unprepared for such a walk.  For some reason, though, I just couldn’t bring myself to ask for help.  I didn’t ask my husband, I didn’t ask God, I didn’t try to wave down anyone in their car.  I just kept going.

Then all of a sudden, a minivan veered off the side of the ride and headed right towards us.  I thought we were going to get hit, but it went around us and out jumped a young man.  The minivan was a taxi.  Oh my gosh, we’re saved!  I thought.  And then the taxi pulled away as my husband and I tried to chase him down to give us a ride.  But he kept on going and the young man explained he was a medical taxi and could only be paid through insurance.

Disappointing, yes, but it was just what I needed to let me know that I did, in fact, want help.  I didn’t know who could save us or how, but I wanted help.  I kept hoping someone we knew would drive by and sure enough less than five minutes later a regular from the café saw us on the side of the road and pulled over.  I had never been so happy to get in a car.

Our rescuer drove us to our car and as we made our way there, my husband and I realized we would have been walking for another two to two-and-a-half hours if we had not gotten a ride.  So thank you, Jon, for your awesome timing and kindness.

My only regret about the situation (other than fantasizing about pushing my husband out into the road as we were walking, which I later apologized for thinking about), was waiting for so long to ask for help. 

Hopefully, I have finally learned my lesson. 

Because honestly, if something is advised by Jesus and Albus Dumbledore, then shouldn’t that be good enough for me?

Memoir Monday – October 3rd, 2016

no-one-is-an-island-update

A few weeks ago, I wrote a socialization plan I came up with for my time in Connecticut.  We’re at the halfway point, so here’s an update on where I’m at and where I’m going.

1)      Spend three days a week writing at the library to get me out of the house

Grade: F

Rationale: Although I frequent the library to check out books (ALL THOSE BOOKS ARE FREE FOR ME TO READ AT MY LEISURE!!!!), I have not written a single word while there, nor have I ever headed there with the purpose of doing so.

Reflection:  I’m kind of okay with this fail.  My novel writing has ceased (again), but I seem to have finally gotten into a rhythm with blogging and my short stories keep a comin’.   I also now write about a full-page of stream of consciousness journaling on a daily basis and all of this writing takes place at the kitchen table.  I did 99.9% of my writing in Johnsonville, NY, at a kitchen table, so I seem to be drawn towards writing in big, open spaces with lots of natural sunlight.  I’m also getting out of the house in other ways (see point #5), so I’m not feeling isolated at all.

2)      Volunteer at the library (that is, if they’ll have me for just two months)

Grade: F

Rationale: In addition to not writing at the library, I have not done one lick of volunteer work for them.  I didn’t even ask because as you’ll see in points #3 and #5, other opportunities presented themselves.

Reflection: 

Ever heard the expression “you plan; God laughs?”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened here.

3)      Seek other short-term volunteer opportunities as they present themselves

Grade: A-

Rationale:  It’s not short-term, but ya’ll are looking at the newest social media team member for the Young Adult Review Network (YARN)!  YARN is an online literary journal devoted to the young adult genre.  As someone who hopes to someday have YA novels published, this is an excellent opportunity to read some outstanding work in the genre.  Plus, it gets me using twitter, which is necessary in publishing and this is volunteer work I can do anywhere in the world.  So, it fits in perfectly with our wandering lifestyle.

4)      Attend a weekly writers’ group

Grade: A+

Rationale:  Every Wednesday morning, I attend a Creative Writing Group at the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational UCC.  In addition, twice a month I head to the Simsbury Library to attend a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators critique group.  What’s fantastic about this group is all the women in it are writing specifically for children and the feedback I’ve gotten has been excellent.   Both writing groups have been incredibly welcoming and I already know I’m going to miss them when we move (much like the other writing groups I’ve been privileged to attend, including the Durham Writers’ Group in NC and the Schenectady NY Public Library Wednesday Afternoon Writing Group – I LOVE AND MISS YA’LL!).

5)      Work at short-term, limited employment jobs where I can see my contributions to society;

Grade: B

Rationale: As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I started work at a café in town. As I’ve never had a service job before, I’m struggling with the in’s and out’s of the job, but I do make up for it with enthusiasm.  I still find great satisfaction in providing lunch for individuals and even simple things like sweeping the floor and doing the dishes feel worthwhile because it’s helping the café owner present our best to the Norfolk community.

I’m also meeting some interesting people.  Just today I met someone who has published two books.  His fiction book is entitled Hypnogogia – A Life of Dreams, and as someone who has had vivid dreams as a symptom of narcolepsy I am intrigued by a story that blends dreams with reality.

He and his wife were two of the loveliest people I’ve met so far and I’m delighted that he asked me to call him with my contact information so he can send me a free copy of the book! 

They also gave me a 30% tip which is AWESOME when you are working at a café lunch counter.

The only downside to this job is that I feel physically exhausted at the end of the work day, so I haven’t been working on my novels when I get home in the afternoons.  I’m still prioritizing losing the post-PA weight gain from my parents’ house with morning cardio and strength training so there goes that writing time.

It also doesn’t help that my husband and I experienced our first and subsequently second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth tastes of apple cider doughnuts, but if you’re in New England for the fall, shouldn’t you experience such a delectable sweet and crunchy treat?  Good thing I was already exercising, but what it comes down to is exercise is still taking precedence over some of my writing (not all; see point #1).

6)      Find a spiritual community that encourages self-reflection and growth.

Grade: C+

Rationale: To quote U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Yet, and I refuse to give up.  One promising community is a health food store up the way in Winsted (about a 15-minute drive) that offers a Restore Your Soul Dancing Yoga Class for the next three weeks.  I’ve never done dancing yoga before, but we’ll see what it’s like.  If anything, what I’ve learned so far in CT is to keep an open mind and try new things.

So there you have it, my mid-CT-term report card.  What do you think?  Have I graded myself too harshly (many of my former students can relate) or do you think I should be more lenient?  And if you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my blog.  Then I can get an A when I evaluate my blogging endeavors!