After my death meditation last month, the biggest regret I’m taking with me into 2019 are the writing goals I have yet to achieve. Because some of these goals, like being traditionally published, require circumstances beyond my control, I recognize there is only so much I can do.
That’s where discipline as a way to freedom comes in.
I want to be free of the nagging thoughts, the procrastination, the fear that what I’m doing is not enough. So I’m taking the time now to develop a disciplined plan for my writing that, at least on my end, means that by the time we’re celebrating 2020 I will feel more at peace with the work I’ve done.
Since this is a year-long process, I’m devoting January to the planning stage. I’m deciding on my specific goals, then working backwards from December 2019 to figure out what I have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to reach these goals.
For example, one of my goals is to write and submit 12 guest blog posts in 2019, like this one that got published in 2017. I only submitted two last year (one didn’t get published and the other is to be determined). I enjoy writing about minimalism, joy, dogs, libraries, traveling, etc., and I’d like to share my thoughts with a wider audience. This is easier writing for me, then say a novel, so I feel a nice sense of accomplishment when I crank out a blog post in a relatively short amount of time.
How this goal translates into activity, is that I can easily break it down into writing one a month, which means I need to schedule guest blog writing on my calendar for six hours each month, in two three-hour increments.
I was going to keep it at one three-hour increment, but then I recognized that I often underestimate how long it will take me to do something, and I made a change accordingly.
This one act of self-awareness made me feel pretty dang good, as if I really am more serious this time around about achieving my goals, and it’s not something I’m doing on a whim.
YAY for small wins!
I’m also feeling pretty good about my role in this process thanks to a comment made by one of my extended family members over the holidays as we were eating homemade cookies – “I’m awful at self-regulation,” this family member said.
Yes, me too! Although I’d never described my problem as being awful at “self-regulation,” before.
I’ve shared this story before, but I think it’s the best one I have to describe my limits at self-regulation. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, lamenting that I couldn’t keep my room neat and organized. “My clothes never make it into the hamper,” I complained.
My therapist started laughing. She said she was picturing my clothes marching around on the floor. Then she said something along the lines of “Kelly, who is the subject of that sentence?”
“My clothes.” I said this matter of fact, as if it was obvious.
My therapist gave me a look.
“Oh my God, MY CLOTHES.” My whole life came crashing to a halt as I realized I was the one not putting my clothes in my hamper.
I approach 2019 with a renewed sense of what I can do to reach my goals and how the choices I make either take me closer to reaching them or keep me from getting where I want to be.
My life is, and always will be, God and Kelly willing. I have complete confidence in God’s role in my life. Now, it’s time to act like I have confidence in my own.
With Christmas fast approaching and only nine days left in 2017, it’s time for my yearly reflection entitled, “Even Though It’s Christmas, People Still Die.” And yes, I totally stole this idea from the late 1990’s sitcom Friends.
Because I know many of my friends and family who read my blog sometimes worry about me based on what I write, let me clarify that thinking about death during the holidays does not mean I’m depressed. Quite the opposite.
This has been one of the happiest, most joyful years of my life. 2017 also happened to be the year I read five different books on happiness (two of them I re-read for the second time):
I recently told someone about all these books and she joked, “shouldn’t you be happy by now?” Her point is excellent, except I read these types of books as someone who has a professional interest in psychology, science, and research, more than as an I need these books to improve my life mentality.
Although, I would be lying if I said these books haven’t improved how I live. Each one of them has contributed positively to some aspect of my life, most notably The Sweet Spot because I’m now exercising on a regular basis and it’s become an actual habit.
What I find most interesting about these books is that every single one of them included a chapter on death. They all claimed that to truly experience sustained and long-term joy, you have to keep your own death a central part of your life.
Last Christmas, death ended up being forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we were caring for had been diagnosed with a mass on his spleen. He didn’t have much longer in this world and sure enough, he died within a month.
I also wrote last Christmas about my 43-year-old cousin Becky, who was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2013, and succumbed to the disease in April, 2014.
Those losses are still heavy in my heart today, just like all the other people and animals I’ve lost throughout my life. But like these books suggest, I don’t allow the losses to weigh me down.
Instead, I use their heaviness as reminders which ground me to my own life; they’ve become a rock on which I can stand and look around at our wonderful and marvelous world. These losses lift me up into the here and now because all of us could be one hour, one minute, or even one second away from death and I know it.
Our time is so precious and because I still have so much of it right now (God and Kelly willing), I don’t want to waste it. This reason is why death meditations can be so useful. If I knew 2018 would be my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?
Based on what I wrote last year – spend more time with family and friends, travel with my husband and/or niece to national parks, pet as many dogs along the way as we could, finish my first novel, publish my picture books, and see a bear in the wild – I’m tearing up with happiness right now because I’ve either done what I set out to do or I took major steps towards making these dreams a reality.
In addition to spending time with my parents in Pennsylvania,
and my husband’s parents in Tennessee,
we visited with various extended family members in North Carolina,
and my husband got to meet my oldest brother who lives in San Antonio, Texas, when we all met up at my parents’ house in Harrisburg.
We brought my niece to visit us in Connecticut for a week in May,
This past August, my husband and I visited the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio on one of our house-sitting road trips,
and this coming June we’ll be in Glacier National Park as part 2 of our super secret summer plans (SURPRISE! This is how my husband is finding out about our trip to Glacier. He still doesn’t know part 1).
Anyone who reads this blog, knows I’ve wholeheartedly met my goal of petting as many dogs as I could along the way, and I even managed to befriend some cats, llamas, chickens, turkeys, a goat, and a pig.
And, although I have not yet seen a bear in the wild, this past July I applied to be a volunteer at the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, for bear season (October and November). I had an interview a few months ago for fall 2018 and my prospects look good for being selected as a volunteer.
As for writing, not only did I finish my first novel, but I wrote another book, started two more, and outlined several more. Those don’t count the picture books I finished. I also submitted two stories to Highlights magazine (no word yet on their submission status) and I submitted a blog post to a major minimalism blog that featured the post in their weekly newsletter sent out to over 24,000 readers. Combined with getting an agent to represent my work, this has been a benchmark year for my writing.
So when I think about my life this past year, I can boil it down to one sentiment. I’m about to break a cardinal rule of writing right now (i.e., avoid clichés), but here goes: WOW! My cup runneth over.
I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way, most notably God who gives me the courage to live life this way and my husband who is also my best friend.
The question still remains, though: if 2018 were my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?
My answer? Nothing. It is with delight and joy that I can say this and feel nothing but enthusiasm and hope for the coming year. I’m going to keep on keepin’ on! And maybe, just maybe, I’m finally going to see a bear in the wild.
Tomorrow marks an important milestone in my family’s genealogy – my niece turns 21! I can hardly believe it. I remember when she was a little nubbins of a human being, super sweet and quiet, barely making a sound.
Since then she has grown into an extraordinary adult. And although I can no longer pick her up, some of us still can because her nubbinsy-ways have carried forth.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, here are 21 reasons why my niece is AWESOME, in no particular order.
#1. Her nickname is Monster because she was so quiet and good-natured as a baby that I had to somehow create excitement for her; thus, an ironic nickname.
#2. She loves dogs nearly as much as I do (she’d probably argue that we are on equal footing when it comes to doggo love; however, as I’m older that means I’ve had more time to love them).
#3. In the Harry Potter Universe, she’d totally be a Ravenclaw. That girl is SMART! and I’m not saying this because I’m biased (and I’d totally be in Hufflepuff, by the way). She graduated from high school with the highest science GPA in her class, she got accepted into the Honors College at UT-Austin, she double majors in Chemistry and Economics, and she’s living right now in Washington DC as part of a prestigious fellowship program.
#4. Her motto is, “God made the dirt and dirt don’t hurt.” Don’t we look GOOD in our detox mud masks?
#5. She totally gets my narcolepsy frustrations because she has narcolepsy, too!
#6. Even though she has narcolepsy, she was totally on board with my let’s go watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon plan during our 2016 southwest springbreak roadtrip extravaganza. As she said when the sun started to rise, “Narcoleptics Prevail!”
#7. Speaking of roadtrips, she’s always up for one! So far we’ve gone from San Antonio, TX to Chapel Hill, NC, by way of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with stops in Austin, Murfreesboro, and Memphis; Phoenix to Las Vegas, with stops at the Petrified Forest, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon; and a mini-tour of CT ala the television show Gilmore Girls.
#8. Together we created only one rule for our roadtrips – if you see a stone staircase, you have to take it!
#9. You should always stop at botanical gardens, too, especially when they’re on a top 10 list. That’s not an official roadtrip rule, but I think it’s good practice. I almost didn’t stop because I thought the admission fee was too high. That would have been silly, but she was okay with that. This glass chapel helped me see the error my ways.
#10. She’s enthusiastic about llamas, as we all should be!
#11. If you ask her to make a face like a tiger, she quickly obliges.
#12. She also quickly obliges when you ask her to play games like Memory. I will never get tired of playing games like that, especially with someone as fun as she is.
#13. Her advice is excellent. When I asked her how I should tell my parents my husband and I eloped in Nashville, she suggested I spell it out during a game of Scrabble since my mom and I play every time I visit home.
#14. Hamburger cakes are just weird, but because she wanted to try one I now know differently.
#15. She believes in reduce, reuse, and recycle. See these awesome sandals? She wore them for a few seasons then passed them on to me when I needed a pair.
#16. Even though she’s sleepy a lot of the time, she’s always willing to be a co-pilot. Even when we have to drive to the airport at 4:00am.
#17. We both hate Las Vegas. That right there makes her an outstanding individual.
#18. She always has a book to read. And she takes it with her everywhere!
#19. My extreme sun safety protective measures – she always supports them.
#20. Have you seen her smile? Beautiful, always.
#21. She is a bright light in this world. Literally and figuratively.
Happy 21st birthday! These last 21 years have been a true gift. Thanks for being one of the best parts of my life. You are amazing and I love you.
On Tuesday morning I met with a friend to discuss writing. I shared with her how I seem to keep writing new material, while my older manuscripts hang in limbo waiting for me to edit and revise them. I then told her about my plan for how I wanted to tackle this problem: on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I was going to block out time specifically devoted to manuscript revision.
Why Tuesday and Thursday afternoons? These were the times in my past life as a professor when I typically taught research writing. I couldn’t just cancel class on a whim, though on really nice days I did sometimes move us outside to have class next to Lake Benedict.
As a self-proclaimed self-help junkie, I know that many experts recommend this approach for getting high-priority tasks done. By scheduling time for them on your calendar, you are validating that, yes, this task is important to me. I resolved to make editing and revision a recurring appointment on my calendar.
Then yesterday I received a text message from someone who wanted to meet with me to discuss a new writing project. She asked about my availability next Thursday. Funny thing is, I hadn’t actually blocked out Tuesday/Thursday afternoons for manuscript revision and editing on my calendar. Since I like this person and find her writing project to be quite interesting, I typed out on my phone, “My schedule is wide open.”
I knew I was already breaking my commitment. I can always start the next week, I said to myself. Then I’ll definitely add it to my calendar.
Just as I was about to hit SEND, I stopped myself and asked why was I so willing to break my plan. Hadn’t I declared only a few days earlier my intention to prioritize editing and revision? What was wrong with me that I was willing to put it off?
The deciding factor came down to other plans I had already made for the following week. Next Tuesday, my writing friend and I were going to meet again to continue our discussion. I somehow felt that if I didn’t follow through with my revision and editing commitment, I would have to admit that to someone other than myself.
You know what self-help advice also recommends for getting your work done? Find a partner to make yourself accountable. I’ve read that advice so many times, but I’ve never applied it to my writing. How interesting to see that it actually works. Well, so far. We’ll see what happens next Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (and beyond).
I ended up retyping my response text to say I was available to meet on Thursday until 1:30pm. It felt quite good to honor my commitment and then I rewarded myself with a head nod and “way to go!”
Of course, I laughed at myself because self-help books also recommend recognizing your achievements with intrinsic rewards. After 20+ years, it’s good to know the advice is finally sinking in.
My mom and I like to say, “no news is good news.” For the most part, I believe this saying to be true. No news that North Korean is nuking us – GOOD NEWS! No news that the Affordable Care Act is trying to be dismantled again – GOOD NEWS! No news that the president hasn’t said something inappropriate on Twitter – GOOD – oh, wait a minute. This one hasn’t happened. Well, two out of three isn’t so bad.
Where “no news is good news” can be tough is when you’re a writer. The publishing industry is notoriously slow and a lot of the time you simply have to wait for editors to get back to you/your agent. This time can take days, weeks, months, or even over a year.
the important thing to do during the waiting game is to keep writing. In addition to working on several new (and old) picture book manuscripts, I’m about two-thirds of the way done with the first draft of a chapter book tentatively titled Henry the Housesitter (Not by Choice!), which follows the adventures of a 10-year-old boy as his parents ditch their lawyer jobs and become professional house sitters. Considering all the source matter I have on house sitting, this book is pretty much writing itself.
I also started writing a daily devotional, which means every morning I write a prayer asking for help with my day’s work. A lot of the prayers deal with motivation when feeling exhausted (I’ve had several days in a row of poor sleep) and I’m wondering if the end result will be an inspirational prayer book for those of us dealing with chronic illness. I suppose time will tell.
My goal is to write a new prayer every day and so by September 2018 I should have the first draft of this manuscript done. Talk about an easy way to finish a draft! Though at first I felt a little lazy at the idea that it would take me 365 days to finish a first draft, but the time is going to go by anyway and I already have several writing projects which will be finished in what I consider a more acceptable length of time for someone who aspires to be a prolific writer.
Another way I’m passing the time during the publishing waiting game is by immersing myself in children’s publishing as much as possible. I’ve started attending author readings at local libraries and book stores. Last week I listened to the incredibly talented Sara Beth Videtto read her picture book Turtle’s First Winter: A Read and Find Storybook at the Norfolk Library
and Tuesday I celebrated the release of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarineby Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead by attending “the shortest, grand parade,” in downtown Hartford, followed later in the day by a reading at the actual Mark Twain house (Mark Twain lived in Hartford, CT, from 1874-1891).
I also came across this gem of a book at the Norfolk Library last week:
I wasn’t even looking for a new nonfiction book to read, as I was trying to finish The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for a book group, and then I had Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry on tap to read. But there Wild Things sat on a shelf in the “new nonfiction” section at the library’s entrance, just begging for me to pick it up and read it.
The fairytale chapter is rather gruesome; however, I am completely enchanted by the Good Night Moon chapter and all the fascinating historical tidbits from Margaret Wise Brown’s life. I’m now on chapter 4, which is all about using animals in children’s literature. Considering 75% of my main characters are animals, I suspect this chapter will also enchant me.
With all that I have going on and all that I have to look forward to, I find the publishing waiting game much more tolerable. Dare I even say, enjoyable. It’s fun to be out in the world, going new places and hearing new stories. So it looks like the no news for me is, in fact, good news for now, until that day comes when I receive GREAT NEWS by way of a book contract.
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.
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.