For those of you who don’t know, I work part-time at the Congregational Church in Norfolk as The Director of Community & Creativity. Essentially, the job is exactly how the title sounds. I look for creative ways to connect others throughout the Norfolk community (and beyond) in activities that celebrate compassion, generosity, love, tolerance, and spirituality. Examples of such activities are our Does It Matter Bible Study, where we debate theology for 50 minutes every week and then decide none of it matters because all we want is to not be a jerk to other people, Sunday Night Loving Kindness Meditation meetups (currently suspended due to COVID-19), and The Blessing of Less, a lesson and meditation on living with less in honor of Earth (very likely suspended due to COVID-19).
One of my job requests recently was to record a “prayer for the people” to be included in our new weekly worship service videos. You know, since we’re all trying to stay safe and healthy since congregating in groups is a bad idea.
I received the request on a Friday around noon and had a draft ready to read and record by Friday at 4:30pm. Of course, when I read it the following morning, I thought, oh, it could use some more editing, couldn’t it?
Well, too late for that! Well … too late for the video. I had to send off the recording ASAP on Friday to our outstanding video editor so he could work his magic on it. By outstanding video editor, I mean the pastor’s newly college-graduated son who is AWESOME at this sort of thing and offered to help the church with our social media content now that he’s back home.
But not too late for my blog post! So, with love in my heart and joy at the opportunity to share these words, I present to you my Prayer for the People:
If you’d like to see the online worship video, you can check it out on YouTube:
And if you’d like to see my outtakes from the recording, you can check that video out here:
Now that a full week has gone by, I wish I had spoken extemporaneously instead of reading from my computer. Being a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes try too hard to get something “right” rather than speak directly from my heart. It’s a good lesson to be reminded of should I be asked to do something like this again. A
Special thanks to Heath, my cameraman, who did an excellent job with the filming, and Smudge, a most-excellent co-star who hit his mark every single time.
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.
My first three weeks at Churchill have been exhausting and exhilarating! The exhausting includes the 6-hour shifts a day, 6 days a week. Shifts can start at 6:30am and some don’t end until 8:30pm. For someone with narcolepsy, the constant schedule changes can be a bit daunting and since I’m usually in bed by 9:00pm, a late night shift also has challenges.
Thankfully, the work itself isn’t hard. For example, the other day I washed dishes for about two hours and then dusted and mopped several rooms in the science center. The dusting also included the Aurora Dome, which seems to be one of the greatest challenges for us volunteers to clean. Although there are still streaks on the dome, at least it’s not dusty.
I followed up the housekeeping with 90 full minutes of peeling red potatoes. When in doubt of what to do, volunteers are always welcome to peel carrots and potatoes to help out the kitchen staff. There are currently three cooks who prepare three meals a day for all staff, volunteers, and visitors.
Peeling potatoes was a rather enjoyable experience, especially since the aroma of Oriental Glazed Chicken filled the air. The science center’s kitchen has some of the best smells on a daily basis, including, but not limited to: French Toast, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pumpkin Pie Tarts, Cinnamon Rolls, Chocolate Cake, Banana Bread, and Berry Crumble.
The orientation packet wasn’t kidding when it stated, ”You will not lose weight while you are here.”
Another part of the exhausting is something I wasn’t prepared for at all: The Northern Lights.
Here in Churchill, the Northern Lights fill the night sky on a regular basis. They are stunning and awesome and I find myself in a constant fear of missing out when the Lights are doing. Thank goodness for cloudy days because then there’s no expectation whatsoever about seeing the lights in their full glory and I can get to bed at a decent time.
Also interesting to note, the Northern Lights are one of the greatest PR campaigns of the travel industry.
The colors that you see popping out in photographs, may or may not be visible to the naked eye. A lot of times, the greens, blues, and pinks can only be captured through a camera lens. These pictures look nothing like what we were actually viewing in the sky, which were shades of wispy white and grey, with just a light tinge of green every so often.
I have yet been able to capture any of the Northern Lights on my camera phone since a Pixel 2 doesn’t have a professional setting mode. Shout out to my fabulous roommate Rachael for sharing the above photos with me. Just for comparison purposes, here’s two of my Northern Lights photos:
Now, on to the exhilarating! Check out this sunrise.
And how about this sunset?
The town of Churchill is interesting in and of itself, and I am fascinated with how this town of about 900 people coexists with polar bears. For example, there is the 675-BEAR alert system that you call if you see a polar bear.
There are also places, like this boat, designed as safehouses for you to hide whenever you encounter a wandering bear in town.
If you’re wondering if I’ve seen any polar bears yet, the answer is YES! I’m saving that experience for my next blog post, but here’s a sneak peak in the meantime:
Now, it’s back to peeling more potatoes and dusting and mopping. Totally worth it!
End Note: Extra special shout-out of gratitude to all the people who have reached out to me in support, excitement, and encouragement over my subarctic travels. I’d especially like to thank Heath for taking on extra work with the pups and house while I’m gone. I miss everyone so much, but thank goodness for the Internet. Heath and I talk every day and he indulges me every time I ask to see what Smudge and/or Faith is doing. I love you all!
I’ve never been one of those people obsessed with supermodels. Until I found out that there’s such a thing as wildlife supermodels. Meet Bruno!
And, yes, he really is this good looking in person, plus he oozes charm. I mean, what bear doesn’t?
In all seriousness, I really didn’t understand the concept of a wildlife photography model until my husband and I took part in my Christmas 2017/Valentine’s Day 2018/Anniversary 2018/Birthdays 2018/Christmas 2018 present to ourselves.
All the way back in December 2017, I was watching episode 309 of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. In this episode, Jack and his wife visited a ranch in Montana to photograph bears. Hmm, I thought. That would be the perfect present for my husband for Christmas, et al., since he’s a photographer and I’ve wanted to visit Montana for many years now.
I immediately Googled Triple D Game Farm and discovered that they offer photography workshops for the public. There were a whole host of options to choose from, such as horses or birds of prey.
The choice was tough. I, however, couldn’t resist a workshop featuring baby wildlife. With this option, there’d be a little something for both of us: adorable animals for me to dote over and new photography skills for my husband to master.
I was determined NOT to make the same mistake I made last year in surprising my husband with his birthday present.
One of the things I love most about my husband is his curiosity and drive to learn as much as he can about anything that interests him (which is a lot). A few years ago, he made a goal to be fluent in Spanish by December 2017. I wanted to support him, so when a Norfolk friend told us about a Spanish immersion school in which she and her daughter attended in Antigua, Guatemala, I surprised my husband with a week-long program for his birthday last year (May 2017).
Unfortunately, because I wanted the trip to be before December 2017, the only time that worked for him to travel to Guatemala was at a time when I couldn’t go with him. In hindsight, I should have said to heck with the goal date, because I missed out on my husband’s first international trip. We could have hiked a volcano together!
Lesson learned! So, hello, baby wildlife!
The workshop was lead by an incredibly talented and knowledgeable photographer, KathleenReeder. After observing Kathleen during the workshop, I felt a renewed sense of certainty that I made the right decision to quit my teaching job two years ago. Kathleen is a natural teacher, who thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing and enthusiastically shared her gifts with others. In other words, a model teacher who embodied many of the qualities I lost (or never had) after choosing a profession by default rather than true interest and passion.
Every day the photographers would assemble at the crack of dawn to work with different animals, which included baby foxes, wolves, coyotes, otters, pine martens, Canada Lynxes, and a juvenile mountain lion.
Perhaps I’m just naïve, or, maybe the animal lover in me is too attached to the possibility that I could be wandering around the woods and happen across Canadian lynx kittens posing in a log and get to witness the adorableness of it, but I had no idea a lot of wildlife photos are staged.
Watching the animals land on their marks during photo shoots in between romping and playing is something I will marvel over for the rest of my life.
Then, I met Bruno.
You may be thinking that Bruno is not a baby animal, and you’d be right. I think Bruno is maybe 6 years old.
As part of the workshop, participants were offered the opportunity to photograph additional species for a fee. Talk amongst the participants who had previously attended Triple D workshops was that Bruno the Bear is a ham. He’ll pose during his photo sessions and look at the photographers to make sure they’re watching. He loves laughter and applause and applesauce and wants everyone to love him loving those things.
Of course, I suggested we participate in a Bruno the Bear photoshoot. No brainer, really. Just look at him!
Since I was only attending the workshop as a “sidekick,” I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs of the animals myself, lest I be charged the full cost of attending. So, the photos in this post are some of my husband’s cast-off photos. He said he’s saving his best ones for his own social media purposes, unless I wanted to pay him. HAHA, he’s such a funny guy. He and Bruno could be BFFs, if Bruno wasn’t, you know, a wild bear who just happened to also be a supermodel.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad, lately, and parents in general, as I see more and more news stories about immigrant children being taken from their parents while coming into the United States. These stories make me wonder how I was lucky enough to be born into my family.
My father is a retired physician; his specialty was internal medicine. When my father went to medical school, his textbooks cost more than his tuition each semester. His father, I believe, was an engineer, who traveled the world as part of his job, and his mother was a nurse.
When he was in high school, my Dad read the book Arrowhead by Sinclair Lewis. The story is about a man, Martin Arrowhead, who is from the Midwest and who becomes a doctor. This story was one of the motivating reasons my Dad wanted to go to medical school.
For many years, my Dad worked 14+ hours days, multiple days in a row. When he was on call at the hospital, our phone would ring all hours of the night. I’ve overhead phone conversations where he’s had to tell family members that a loved one has died.
Because of my Dad’s hard work, I had the privilege of attending private nursery school, private grade school, and private high school. Reading was the #1 activity of my childhood and almost any book I ever wanted at Waldenbooks was mine to be read. Stacks and stacks of books filled my bedroom and kept me company during childhood.
I spent summers going to horseback riding camp and Disney World. We traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for vacations.
Every opportunity was afforded me as a child. I wanted for nothing. I’ve never had to know what it’s like to be hungry or wear second-hand clothing or have to worry about how a bill was going to be paid or what would happen if someone in my family became sick.
When I turned 18, I then attended college without having to take on any student debt. My summers were filled with working at a bank in downtown Harrisburg auditing mortgage loans for $6.25 an hour – this was $2.00 above minimum wage at the time.
I also got to experience international travel for the first time, as I spent not just one summer studying abroad at Oxford, but two. The programs lasted three weeks each and part of me didn’t want to come home because there was so much to see and do.
In 1999, I graduated from college with a 3.93 GPA (magna cum laude), named an outstanding senior psychology major, and earned honors in the psychology program. I had already been awarded a small research grant for my psychology honors thesis and this research had been presented at the American Psychological Association’s national conference in Boston that year.
After graduating from college, I landed a full-ride at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to pursue a doctorate in psychology. Again, I graduated with zero student debt, a university award, and the opportunity to present my research at conferences and through publication.
I immediately landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University.
I continued achieving milestone after milestone in my career – professional development grants, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and presentations at national conferences. These achievements lead to promotions and raises. The university had a 7% matching program for my retirement account. I took full advantage of it. That money got added into my already growing retirement accounts that my father started for me after my first job working at Hersheypark when I was 15.
Let’s not forget my paid sabbatical for the fall 2014-spring 2015 academic year. I know full well how lucky I am to have been given nine months of time to consider my career and the changes I wanted to make. It was during my sabbatical that I realized I wanted more in my life, to pursue the other dreams I’d had, the ones that started in childhood that never got fulfilled.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing now.
Everything about my life has been an absolute privilege because of who my Dad was and how hard he worked.
Because of his hard work and sacrifices, I am now able to lead a life that is centered on creativity, imagination, kindness, compassion, and generosity. I do not have to worry about basic security needs and I never will.
So when I read stories about parents wanting a better life for their child and coming into the United States, I understand. I will not judge them for doing something “illegal” because some laws are arbitrarily created and not rooted in equality and justice but are more based on fear and lack and limitation. If you want an excellent example of this, look no further than Jesus Christ, whose own family had to seek refuge in Egypt when he was born because living in Judea was not safe at the time.
My Dad raised me to believe the messages of Jesus Christ and Jesus was quite clear in what he considered his greatest commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.
Every child deserves the same privileges and gifts I received from my Dad’s love. My Dad gave up years of his life working so I could be taken care of. And I was.
That doesn’t make me special, though, just because of who my Dad is and how hard he worked and how much he loved me. Some Dads work just hard and love their children just as much but will never be able to achieve the same kind of security that I grew up with.
Imagine what kind of world we would have if everyone could share their gifts instead of having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. That’s the life my Dad created for me and it’s one I now want to create for others in the world.
So I’m now doing that the best way I know how, the one that brings me the most joy – taking care of animals, loving my husband, and writing stories. On face value, these choices may not seem like the most proactive in terms of working for peace and social justice. Yet, I think of Gandhi’s words of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I’ve written about Gandhi’s words before, but today, on Father’s Day, and on a day when some fathers and mothers are being separated from their children, these words seem much more alive to me than ever before.
Thank you, Dad, so much for everything you’ve done for me. I am trying to make the world a better place because of you and be that change I want to see. I love you!
Today is the third morning in a row I’ve woken up exhausted from narcolepsy. This occurrence is nothing new.
What’s different this time is that it’s the third morning in a row I’ve woken up from a dream about teaching. It’s always the same dream, though the details are different: I’m unprepared for class and make a fool of myself in front of the students.
In the dream, I feel myself losing control of the situation, the classroom, the students. My humiliation becomes deeper and deeper. I don’t know what to do. Then I wake up.
These types of dreams are not unique to narcolepsy. Though because of narcolepsy, my dreams will last significantly longer and be in much more vivid detail and color than a typical person’s.
I also just happen to be house-sitting in the Chicago suburbs right now, an area where I lived for 9 years as a psychology professor, except for the year I took a sabbatical. Coincidence? I’d bet not.
After my sabbatical, I handed in my resignation for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list was because I didn’t want to teach anymore. I often did not feel comfortable as a college professor and that’s something I’m still feeling the effects of today.
Part of my discomfort was because I lacked confidence. My entire time in graduate school I had undiagnosed narcolepsy. While I could handle the exhaustion and sleepiness in undergrad, I fell further and further behind in graduate school.
Yet, somehow, through the Grace of God, and perseverance on my part, I graduated with a doctoral degree. And yes, I also have dreams where I am back in graduate school and I still have to defend my dissertation.
I wake up from those dreams, too. Thank God.
A good friend of mine, who is a social worker, recently suggested to me that part of the problem was that it’s hard to take seriously the concerns of someone in a top-tier doctoral program who believes they are failing in life. By the sheer fact I had excelled enough in college to be on a full-ride in grad school, including tuition remission, stipend, and health insurance, I couldn’t be too much of a failure.
Another part of my discomfort with teaching is that being a psychology professor was never my life’s dream. It became the next best option after I listened to someone who said to me, “you can’t be a high school English teacher. Those kids will walk all over you.”
High school English teacher also had not been my life’s dream, either. It became the second-best next-best option after I listened to several people say, “you can’t get a job as an English major. You’ll never make any money and you’ll end up working at a department store.”
So, psychology professor became the goal. And I achieved it. I’m really glad I did because I met some wonderful students along the way. You know who you are. Thank you for being amazing and awesome and I hope you are doing well.
I also met some not-so-wonderful students. I didn’t get to know them in any situation other than the classroom, and that is how I judged them. That was my mistake. And, again, something I am still feeling the effects of today.
Unfortunately, these students also know who they are. How I treated them is one of my biggest regrets with teaching.
I let these students down. They are the ones I now suspect were most like me during my time in graduate school, struggling and uncertain and maybe even feeling like they were not supposed to be in school in the first place. I was often rude to these students, allowed myself to become offended by my assumptions about them, and treated them with arrogance and condescension.
To these students: I am so sorry. I wish I had been a better teacher for you, the type of person that I needed when I was in school. I didn’t see myself in you and your struggles and for that, I am sorry.
Another of my regrets is those students I met at the end of my teaching career. After 21 years of pursuing a life that never really felt like mine, I was on the verge of making my dreams come true after handing in my resignation.
I tried not to check out, but in the end I did.
To those students: I am so sorry. I never wanted to give you a bad classroom experience or an educational experience that was less than you wanted or needed. That wasn’t fair to you and the time and effort you were putting into your studies, and for that I am sorry.
To any student who may recognize themselves in this post, please know that I think about you often and hope you are living a good life. Thank you for teaching me such valuable lessons, and I am so sorry if they came at your expense.
If there are any students out there reading this who are struggling, please know you are not alone. You have my heart and prayers. I have been one of you and in some ways I still am. Please reach out to me if you need help.
Finally, to any student who has ever been told they couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue a goal, go for it anyway. No one can predict the future.
Saturday brought significant snow fall to Norfolk.
Since it’s still early in the season, I’m welcoming the snow with open arms and a profound sense of joy. I think part of that has to do with my new dog buddy, Dodger.
At the request of his human mom, I’ve been walking Dodger a few times a week. He’s a frisky pup who likes running and adventures, so when I arrive on their doorstep to pick him up for our walks, you can imagine his excitement. Not only do I receive lots of licks and paw offerings, but he likes to sit on my lap and lean into me like we’re hugging.
Eventually we end our love fest and get on with the walking. But first, I have to get Dodger past the electric fence in his yard. Even without his collar on, he refuses to cross the boundary line. Sometimes, he won’t even get in the car when he thinks it’s too close. But once I drive him out of the yard, we are good to go!
We then head off to a local field for some excellent romping. On the way, I’ve taken to singing Dodger songs, since he’s so happy and I can’t help but feel happy around him. Also, the name Dodger lends itself well to many holiday songs. For example:
Dodging through the snow
In a one-dog open sleigh
O’er the fields we go
Barking all the way
Woof Woof Woof
Bells on Furry Rings
Making Spirits Bright
What fun it is to Dodge and Sing
A Dodger Dog tonight
Oh, Dodger Dog, Dodger Dog
Dodger All the Way!
Oh what fun it is to Dodge
In a one-dog open sleigh, hey!
Dodger seems to enjoy my singing despite my awful voice. He definitely enjoys the snow more. Though if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine there are things in this world he doesn’t enjoy.
As we walked through the woods, the snow freezing in my hair, on my hat, and on my scarf, I almost started crying for how beautiful the world looked. I said prayers of gratitude for being allowed to experience the moment; not just the quiet solitude of the snow, but also being blessed with the companionship of Dodger.
Not once when I was a college professor did I ever feel so at one with the world and my place in it than I did for those moments with Dodger in the woods.
I often joke these days that I should start replying to people when they ask that my PhD is in Professional House and Dog Sitting. I know it doesn’t quite have the same prestige as a PhD in psychology, but I didn’t truly belong in the classroom as a professor.
Yes, there are some students out there who have let me know throughout the years that I had a positive impact on their lives; similarly, there are some students who impacted me just the same. I’m not saying I don’t have some wonderful memories of teaching or that I didn’t enjoy certain aspects of my job.
But my heart was never truly in teaching, at least not teaching statistics and research methods. I knew in year 2 of my PhD program that I was in the wrong field. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t brave enough to quit then.
Once I graduated, I picked a job I thought I would like and one that had many appealing qualities, especially a flexible schedule and summers off. In retrospect, I learned the hard way that when I lived a life I was not passionate about I was slowly poisoning myself. It’s no wonder I had so many health issues for so many years.
Since leaving teaching, I’m still asking the question where do I belong? It’s scary not to be sure, but at the same time exhilarating because I’m open to so many possibilities. I may never end up knowing the answer for certain, but for right now I can say with enthusiasm and joy in my heart that I belong in the woods, with a dog, writing about the experience. Thank you for your willingness to read my words. And WOOF! From Dodger.
Tomorrow is an exciting day for me. The only items on my agenda are 1) take my trash and recyclables to the transfer station (Norfolk’s fancy name for the town dump); and 2) write.
Not only do I have copious amounts of free time, but my only company for the day will be canine companionship. Considering the three dogs I’ll be with are the inspiration for my middle-grade book Top Dog of K-9 Academy, I think I’ll be in good company.
I have a lot of different writing projects I could work on, including my aforementioned middle-grade book, as well as another middle-grade book I finished the first draft of this past December, and several picture books that need revision. I also have a nonfiction picture book I’m doing research on regarding therapy llamas (who know they could be such a wonderful companion and therapy animal – which is why I want to tell the world about them) and I have a children’s story that someone in publishing told me could make a good magazine article, so I need to investigate publication possibilities for that.
Since I am always optimistic with my time, I’m going to focus on the revision of Top Dog and believe that I will finish the entire revision in one day. We’ll see. But on a positive note, I already have the first six chapters revised, so only 25 more to go.
Realistically, I’d like to have the complete manuscript revised and ready for submission by June 10th, which is the date of the next writers’ conference I’m attending. This will be my fifth writers’ conference since I started taking my life dream of being an author seriously. The first one I attended was in November 2014 and it was one year later that I told myself I was not going to attend another writing conference until I had a book finished.
At the time, a friend of mine recommended that I meet up with her at the North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference and I flat out refused. I had decided that I needed to put all that I had learned thus far about fiction writing and children’s writing, in particular, to good use and it was time for me to actually finish a novel. I made a promise to myself that I was not going to attend any more conferences until I had something to pitch to agents or editors in the event I randomly struck up a conversation with one of them somewhere.
It only took me a year and half to make good on my promise. Pretty good, I think, considering it took me eight years to finish my PhD program (although I did have undiagnosed narcolepsy the ENTIRE time). I also like to remind myself of this accomplishment whenever I feel I need a boost with my writing life. I have to remind myself I haven’t been at this for too long in the grand scheme of things and I’ve come a long way.
I also like to remind myself that I went from being single to married in only three weeks. Just like that, my whole life changed for the infinite better and my dream of finding the perfect partner came true.
When I think about how this can happen with my writing – maybe it will be today, maybe it will be tomorrow – an agent or publisher will say the magic words of book contract, I get giddy with the possibilities of the situation. Because, honestly, I cannot imagine a better husband than the one I sat down next to that fateful night when we randomly met at a restaurant bar I had never been to before, so I can only imagine what’s going to happen when this publishing dream of mine comes true.
I’m already looking forward to telling you about it….
Oh, I’ll just write my next blog post tomorrow. Well, maybe I’ll wait another day. Make that two more days. Actually, better just to wait until next week.
Now it’s four weeks later and boy did I drop the ball on keeping my blog momentum going. The good news is, I did not stop writing during this time. I just stopped writing my Monday posts. And most of my Wednesday posts. And Friday posts, too. Although a part of me is realizing (not for the first time) I might have been a tad too optimistic in setting myself up to have three new blog posts each week.
It was easy to let my posts lapse, mostly because I told myself no one would notice. Except someone did notice (no, not my husband). And I’ll tell you what: hearing a friend comment that they read my blog every week and wondering why I had stopped warmed my heart so much it was like I had just drunk a homemade hot chocolate made of Not Your Sugar Mamas dark chocolate (best dark chocolate in the history of time and handmade in Martha’s Vineyard).
I stopped blog writing because I had a February 28th deadline to spruce up my second middle grade book, Top Dog of K-9 Academy. The deadline I was working towards is for the Unicorn’s Writer Conference, upcoming on Saturday, March 25th, at Reid Castle in Purchase, NY.
Specifically, I am meeting with six different agents and editors to receive feedback on the first 40 pages of the Top Dog manuscript.
This opportunity is HUGE in the book world because I get to sit down with industry professionals for 30-minute appointments and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscript. Usually at writing conferences the agent/editor appointments are limited to 10 minutes or less and you simply “pitch” your idea; that is, you tell them the gist of your story and they say yes or no whether you should submit the manuscript for consideration.
With these pitch sessions, there’s no guarantee anything more will come from the interaction. I’ve only been to one conference so far where I pitched to three different agents, and even though all three asked me to submit my full picture book manuscripts, that was at the end of October and I still haven’t heard anything back.
I’ve also read on several writing blogs and websites that agents consider some aspects of the pitch session to be truly awful. Which I understand. As someone who used to exhaustively critique student research papers for a living, I know what’s it like to crush someone’s dream. In my case, it was a student’s dream of getting an ”A.” In an agent’s case, it’s someone’s dream of getting published.
Given these circumstances, the agent/editor sessions need to be approached carefully. Some of the best advice I’ve received about my upcoming conference appointments has come from someone who worked in the publishing industry for many years for various publishing houses. She told me not to have expectations about getting an offer of representation, but to instead focus on next steps for my manuscript.
Not having expectations will be difficult for me. I have an incredibly active imagination; in fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m able to write so many stories. And who doesn’t love to fantasize about their big break?
I have, however, been working on the challenge of letting go of expectations in other aspects of my life for a few years now, so I’m feeling confident I can remain neutral going into the appointments. As an aside, I credit this step towards enlightenment to my 21-day meditation challenges with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. They have a new challenge starting on April 10th. It’s totally free and I highly recommend it, almost as much I recommend Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate.
Anyway, I’m also feeling confident because I have a lot of faith in my manuscript, and as I further progress along the path to publication I can actually why this story could be published. Aside from the fact that it’s funny and well-written (not just my opinion, by the way, but my class from the Mark Twain House and the critique groups I’ve been going to are quite enthusiastic), I’ve done my market research and my story has commercial appeal. Two of the books in Publisher’s Weekly Best Books Middle Grade, 2016, featured animal narrators, and The Secret Life of Pets earned nearly a billion dollars worldwide. In addition, nearly half of US homes have one or more dogs. Considering my story features the antics of a pack of dogs narrated by a scrappy mutt named Lilly, I believe there’s broad appeal for this story in a market that is currently trendy, yet not saturated.
I think the fact that I also now approach publishing as a business and not just as a pie-in-the-sky dream to accomplish makes me a strong partner for agents and editors. I am willing to put forth the time and effort towards branding, publicity, and marketing.
That’s why these agent and editor sessions will be so good for me. Regardless of whether I end up with representation, my manuscript will be even stronger than when I started. I will be in a better position to market myself. And I will be several more steps closer to getting published.
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing on my blog. Most weeks….
I think I’m making progress towards this whole I am a writer thing. I say this because today I am utterly exhausted and I still wrote my daily word count, exceeded it, actually. 1500+ words when you are a narcoleptic and you haven’t slept well is quite an accomplishment.
As my niece would say, “narcoleptics prevail!”
Someone today commended me on my writing habits. He said I had “discipline.” It’s funny, because that’s one of the last words I would use to describe myself. How many times do I check my email, scroll through Facebook, look for new stories about JK Rowling or Pitch Perfect 3, or send a funny dog video to my husband before I sit down to write? Probably about 1,265,317 times. And that’s just in one morning.
Then there was this morning. I did not want to write anything for my novel. Not even a teeny tiny bit. I tried to get going by revising a picture book I wrote for my online class through KidLit College. I then sat and stared at my computer feeling rather belligerent about everything, especially writing. Just write 100 words, I encouraged myself.
What I really wanted to do was go back to bed and take a nap. It was only 8:00am.
The last time I got a good night’s sleep was February 12th, 2016. Seriously. My husband and I stayed over at his friend’s house because we were having an all-day Harry Potter movie marathon. I don’t know if it was the bed, how cold the room was, or the fact that my husband and I secretly eloped that morning. Before that, my last good night’s sleep was the end of September, 2015, when I was housesitting for a friend, and before that it was a day in March, 2014, when I went to a chiropractic open house.
You know you’re dealing with a narcoleptic when they can tell you their last good night’s sleep. What this means, though, is that it’s been many days in a row of not good sleep and ever since the full moon last week it’s been many days in a row of not good sleep and incredibly vivid, and often disturbing dreams. Suffice it to say I feel exhausted.
It’s time like this that I’m incredibly grateful I had the courage and inclination to quit my teaching job. When I was a professor, teaching four classes, advising 30-40 students, serving on committees, and conducting research, I was exhausted simply by the sheer weight of my work, never mind the narcolepsy.
I would never have been able to write the way I do and I would not be where I am with my writing if I had not quit.
That’s one of the reasons, though, I could power through. When I started writing this morning I was only 1500 words away from crossing the 20,000 word mark of my second novel. I wanted to get there and I wanted to do it today so tomorrow could bring another goal. I’m on track to finish the first draft of my second novel by the first week of February. It blows my mind that not only do I have the first draft of one novel completed, but I’m getting to the finish line of a second one! How did this happen? Is it discipline? Or is it positive reinforcement? I don’t know, and right now, I don’t care, because I am tired, yet I am writing. Narcoleptics prevail, indeed!