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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Like many, I was devastated by the election. Not because my party didn’t win, but because it seemed to be referendum for hate. I worried about the safety and security of my African-American family and friends. I worried about people losing their healthcare. I imagined mothers and fathers being ripped away from their children and sent back to their country of origin. I shuddered at the thought of visitors not being allowed to enter the country because of their religion. It was all too much to bear.

When a friend asked if I wanted to go with her to march on Washington, I said yes even though it meant stepping out of my comfort zone. The issue felt too weighty to ignore. Something had to be done.

But as the march got closer, the more trepidation I felt.

What if things turned ugly? Visions of riot gear, tear gas and arrest plagued my mind. And when I wasn’t thinking about that, I worried about being shoot by a counter-protester. I hoped against all hope that something would happen to change the election results so that I wouldn’t have to go.

By the January 19th, I climbed in the car with three other women and headed to Washington.

Watching the inauguration protest and violence at an Arlington pub did little to quail my fears.

But Saturday morning changed everything. The hotel lobby was filled with men and women in pink caps and protest signs. And as we left the hotel, we were joined by more protesters. People lined up ten deep to purchase Metra cards for the various ticket machines. The platforms were jammed with people waiting to board chock-full trains. Though my friends and I, like thousands of others, ended up walking the four miles to the rally, we remained excited and determined.

Long lines of protester walked from Arlington toward the Capitol. Drivers honked and cheered as they drove by.  Once we reached the Washington Monument there were pink hats and protest signs as far as the eye could see. It made me wonder how we ended up with Donald Trump as president when there so many people who opposed him.

Perhaps it happened when people like me believed casting our vote was enough. But I knew better than that.  I didn’t take any chances when Barack Obama ran for president. I gave money. I made phone calls. I knocked on doors. But I did none of that during this past election. I cast my vote and hoped for the best.

Hoping for the best doesn’t work. Neither does waiting to see what happens. I’m guessing that’s why the organizers of the Women’s March felt it was time to act.

And thank God they did.

Standing on the mall during the Women’s March was amazing. You could feel a spirit of love flow through the crowd as a million women stood together in solidarity. The speakers reminded us that it’s our job to fight for the democracy we all hold dear.

Women are a force to be reckoned with. We have the power to make a difference.

That was amazingly clear as a sea of pink hats worn by women, men, old, young, straight, gay, queer, transgender, black, white, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Christian, moved down the mall toward the White House, chanting: “This is what democracy looks likes.”

What a beautiful sight!

We raised our voices. Now we must keep the momentum going by vigilantly working together as a community to be the change we want to see in our country.

We have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone. It may be scary, but it’s the only way we are going to make a difference.

Write your local congressman and hold them accountable. Attend your local governmental meetings. Check the accuracy of your news sources. Read. Volunteer. Donate. Run for office or support a woman who is.

The most important thing is that we stay engaged.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Strategies to Overcome Writer’s Block

Imagine this scene . . .

It’s ten in the morning. A woman sits at her desk with a cup of tea. She turns on her computer and opens a Word document.  With fingers hovering over the keyboard, she ponders what to type. Just an hour or so earlier all sorts of idea floated through her mind while she showered.  But as she stares at the screen, her mind goes blank.

Sound familiar?

Of course, it does.

Writer’s block is the enemy of many well-intentioned writers.  It turns the greatest ideas into mush and drives us to that basket of unfolded clothes sitting on the dryer. And while it may be responsible for our spotless kitchen, it does little to soothe the ache to tell our story.

When I first attempted to write this week’s blog, writer’s block hit hard. In fact, it started before I even sat down at my computer.

The hardest part of making a commitment to write and post weekly is figuring out what to write.  And while the adage says – write what you know – it often feels as if all things I know have been written about before, and I don’t have anything new to add.  It would have been quite easy to give in and divert my attention to the front hall closet, which was badly in need of cleaning. But fortunately, my Passion planner was laying open next to me with the weekly focus of self-discipline staring me in the face.

I realized I needed help, so I looked for a writing prompt.  And while I didn’t get my blog done, I did start an essay and a short story about Cinderella. It felt good to overcome writer’s block, but I still had to come up with an idea for this blog.

That’s when I saw this quote on Twitter:

writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all
― Charles BukowskiThe Last Night of the Earth Poems

It got me to thinking. I could write about my writer’s block. So here are five strategies to overcome writer’s block:

  1. Stay in the chair. Make a commitment to keep your behind in your seat, writing for a specified amount of time. Set the timer. Record the thoughts running through your mind. I can’t tell you how many times my writing projects start with some variation of the following sentence: I have no idea what to write or how to start this. Nonetheless, as I type out my thoughts, the piece starts to take shape. By the time the timer goes off, I’m well into writing.
  2. Read and annotate. As I type those words, I can almost see my daughter shaking her head and calling me an English teacher nerd. But it works. Reading stimulates our thinking, but we need to catch the thoughts as they are happening. Write questions and responses in the margins. Expand on those ideas in your writing.
  3. Visit an art gallery or museum. Wander through the galleries, paying close attention to what speaks to you and why. This blog came to me yesterday at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture. Many of the paintings reminded me of my childhood. I made a note in my phone about a painting that was similar to the wallpaper that hung in main room of my great-grandparents house. Another bought back the memory of a wedding gown my grandmother made for one of her customers. I came away from the center with a full writing tank.
  4. Be willing to write a shitty first draft. “Shitty first drafts” is my favorite chapter of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It taught me to get over myself and just write. Allow yourself to get the words down, then you can clearly see what the piece is supposed to be. The real work of writing has always been in revision. That’s where you craft the piece into what it’s meant to be.
  5. Make yourself accountable. Share your intention to write with other person or better yet several people. Join a writer’s group. My first novel happened ten pages at a time, because I didn’t want to let down the other members of my writing group. It also helped that one of the members sent frequent emails reminding me of the importance of getting my work done.

Don’t let writer’s block win. Your writing is too important.

Write on, my friends!

 

The Ultimate Writing Challenge.

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Always we begin again

 – St Benedict

I received a rejection in my email yesterday. It was particularly difficult because a few days before Christmas I had a telephone conversation with the editor of the press where she told me how much she wanted to see my book in the world. We talked briefly about the terms, and left it with her needing to sort through their upcoming publications to see if there was a place for my book.

It felt promising.

Though in reality our conversation came about after I received an email from her with news that I wasn’t selected for the first book award contest where I was one of five finalist. People say it’s an honor to be a finalist, but the reality is losing sucks. I was only partially comforted by the editor’s request that I call her to talk about her interest in publishing my book.

It seemed as if I was really close to a book deal.

Then came the rejection. The email was kind and personal, but a no nonetheless.

After a few tears and a little wandering around Target, I was faced with the question of where to send it next. Though to be honest, there was a part of me that wanted to say the hell with it. I toyed with the idea of giving up the whole writing thing. I questioned the sanity of subjecting myself to continued rejection. But after a prep-talk from my husband, sometime in prayer and a glass or two of wine, I realized the more important question is how do I sure myself up so that a rejection doesn’t feel so devastating?

Rejection is a very real part of the writing life. We all know that, but it doesn’t take away the sting.  It’s as if the editor’s no confirms our greatest fear that we aren’t good enough. We wonder if perhaps our parents were right to suggest we pursue something with a future – and a salary. But the truth is we didn’t choose writing. It chose us. We write because we have to.

Truth is I feel better about life in general when I’m writing. Writing clears my head. It clarifies and expands my thinking. It opens my eyes to the things below the surface of what is said or done. It helps me understand myself and the world around. It’s my lifeline.

No rejection can take that away.

So I begin again. I will look for new places to send my book and continue to write.

Prior to receiving the rejection email, signed up for a 52 week writing challenge. I loved the idea of  writing  one essay a week and posting it. It seemed to be the perfect writing goal for the year. It would give me the opportunity to develop my ideas and actually write the reflections and commentaries that float around my head. It would also be a way to produce more work while actively working on my craft.

However, after processing this last rejection it seems my ultimate writing goal for this year is to continue to write and submit, taking each rejection in stride, knowing that always we begin again.

Three Things I Learned From Writing Every Day

It’s December 31st and I have successfully completed the December Writing Challenge. I have blogged every day for this month. Although there were a few days that I didn’t meet the word count or the posting time, I did meet the goal of writing every day. And through the process I have learned three valuable lessons.

  1. You can alway find time to write. There have been plenty of times this month, including this very moment, when it wasn’t convenient to sit down and write. However, I didn’t allow myself to be stray away from my goal. I prioritized my time. Sometimes that meant getting up earlier in the morning. Other times it meant pulling away from other activities. Either way, I made time to write.
  2. The words will come if you give them time. There were several times when I sat at my computer without a clue as to what I would write about. I would actually start typing words like, “I don’t know what to write” or “I don’t feel like doing this”, and slowly but surely the words would come. In fact, the days that I didn’t know what to write were often the best days. Those post would get more likes than the post I spent more time thinking about.
  3. There is an audience out there who is interested in what you have to say. When I started this challenge, I didn’t really think people would follow or even notice what I was doing. But amazingly enough, just when I would start to feel discouraged or want to give-up, I’d receive an email from someone commenting on one of my post or someone new would begin to follow my blog. Knowing that I wasn’t writing in oblivion kept me going. It’s made me think quote from Field of Dreams is true: “If you build it, they will come.”

I’m glad I took the challenge. It’s been a great experience. But I am also glad it’s over. I’m really looking forward to a day off. I’ll be back in a few days, but now I have to go get dressed from New Years Eve. 

Have a wonderful and safe New Years!

Until next time. . .

Setting an Intention for the New Year

Often at the beginning of yoga the teacher will talk to students about setting an intention for their practice. This is designed to help students focus their awareness and attention on a quality or virtue they want to cultivate on the mat. The thought is that by incorporating a specific quality or virtue into your practice, you will be able to carry it into your life off of the mat.

In the past, I would always select huge concepts like inner peace or patience as my intention. However, my awareness and attention during class was completely focused on either the inflexibility of my body and/or the difficulty of the pose. It isn’t a surprise that I rarely left class feeling any sense of inner peace or patience. During a recent class, I decided to set a basic intention of accepting my body for where it is. Whenever I had difficulty with a pose, I gently reminded myself that whatever I could do was enough. And as a result, not only did I leave class feeling more at peace, throughout the rest of the day I found myself being more gentle in my self-talk. That experience totally changed the way I experience yoga.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to set an intention, especially as we approach the New Year. The goals or resolutions that we set are determined by what we want to accomplish in the coming year. Lose weight. Find a job. Write a book. Publish book😉. But these ideas come from our thinking mind rather than a longing from our highest self*. An intention is birthed at the core of our heart where we find our deepest truth. It’s our most heartfelt desire and realizing it leads to a sense of fulfillment.

We all want to experience the satisfaction of living a fulfilled life. So we set goals and make resolutions in January to guide our steps. But often, like my quest of inner peace in yoga class, we come away frustrate because our attention and focus drifts. We get too busy to go to the gym. We too tired after work to write, so we watch television instead. It takes too much effort to count points or whatever the diet requires. And at the end of the year we become a bunch of cynics, who don’t make resolutions because they “never stick”.   

What if instead we set a small intention for the year that speaks to our heart? It’s harder to figure out exactly what that should be, because we have to quiet our brain and actually listen to our heart. The heart is soft-spoken and easily discouraged. So give it time. Do that thing today that it’s urging you to do.

Go for a walk.

Read a book.

Take a nap.

Do whatever you need to do to listen. I’m going to paint.

Until next time. . .

Read more about Setting an Intention:

*Why Do We Set Intentions in Yoga?

Sankalpa: Going Beyond Resolutions

The Power Behind Setting An Intention In Yoga

Trusting God

I’m struggling today to come up with a topic to write about. I thought I’d go back to procrastinating but that doesn’t really interest me. My thoughts are split between planning for the New Year and reflecting on this year.

It’s been a tough year. That goes without saying.

Experiencing all the painful “first” while still trying to live my life to the fullest has taught me a lot about myself. The most valuable lesson being that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was. That strength comes from trusting the Lord and His Sovereignty. It hasn’t been easy to trust that God is good in the face of such a loss. I questioned why a lot. I also resented that He didn’t intervene so that things would have been different. But as I look back over the course of this year, I see all the times that He did intervene. His greatest gift to me has been the people He has placed in my life.

There’s the staff at Whole Foods whose hugs and kind words have helped me through several difficult afternoons. Then there’s the friends who not only remember the hard days like anniversaries and birthdays, but don’t hesitate to call or text to say I’m thinking about you just when I need it. And most miraculously are the random women I have met who have also lost children, especially the woman I met in the shoe department.

It had been a particularly difficult day. I went to the mall in hopes of maybe raising my spirits some. While looking at shoes, I noticed the tattoo on her arm because it was in the same spot as mine. I asked about it and she shared it was for her sweet daughter who had died three years ago in a horrible car accident. I pulled up my sleeve to show her my tattoo and told her about Matt. We hugged each other and cried. As she pulled away she remind me that God is with me. Those words were so powerful coming from someone who intimately understood my pain. We exchanged numbers and each went on our way. Meeting her was definitely Divine Intervention because I felt remarkably better after our interaction.

Those are only a few instances of how God has cared for me through my journey so far. Through it all I have learned that trusting God isn’t about an assurance that things well go our way. It’s about knowing that even in the worse storm of your life you can count on Him to take care of us. We can count on Him to provide what we need and strengthen us. And even when we are all alone He will still be there to comfort us. Knowing that has given me all I needed to stand strong this year.

As I think about the coming year, I feel more and more compelled to leverage my life in such a way that I can use my experience to encourage others. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. I’m sure that it will be more clear in the coming days.

Until next time. . .

Writing and the Procrastinator – Part One

One of the biggest problems I have with writing is staying put in the chair.

Whenever I’m sitting in the chair to write, I want to run. Anything and everything is a void excuse to get up and do something else. And if I make myself stay there, then my back or my neck starts to ache. We won’t even get into the slight pain in my head. It makes me wonder if maybe I’m trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

I question whether of not I am really meant to write. I say I love writing, but it feels like pure torture while I’m doing it. Well, not all the time, but a lot of the time. Does that mean I should be writing? Or is the problem deeper? Or is it simple procrastination?

According to an article posted on Oregon State University’s Academic Success Center’s website that was adapted fromThe Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, there are six reasons people procrastinate: skill deficit, lack of interest, lack of motivation, fear of failure, fear of success, or rebellion or resistance.

For years, I thought that writing was challenging because I didn’t know enough to do it well. My procrastination was a result of a skill deficit. I went back to school to learn how to write. Two rounds of Graduate school didn’t make writing easier. It taught me that writing well is a skill that takes requires more than just head knowledge. It has to be practiced over many hours with many, many drafts. However, if I’m honest, it’s the drafts that make me feel inadequate as writer. I struggle to get the words right. But that’s a problem most writers have. Anne Lamott even wrote a whole chapter in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life about “shitty first drafts” that cautions writers about expecting too much from themselves:

I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

Maybe the real issue is the belief that the words should flow easier from brain to page. There shouldn’t be the push and pull of discover and understanding as you write. You shouldn’t have to grapple over meaning. You should just be able to write what you thought you were going write. But it doesn’t always work that way. Writing is discovery. You start off thinking that you are writing about one thing and discover along the way that it’s really about something else entirely. The more you write the more you learn about yourself and your subject. And that takes time.

Some of the resistance to sitting in the chair could be the knowledge that it might take a while to get the work done. And in this instant gratification world with which we live, it’s hard to slow down and work at something. We just want it done.

Today is the perfect example. The plan was to whip this blog off in thirty minutes, then go get my nails done. That was almost two hours ago and I’ve only touched the surface of writing and the procrastinator.

I guess I will save it for tomorrow.  

Until next time. . .

Remebering His Birth Day

Today is my son’s birthday. He would have been twenty-seven years old. And for some reason I keep replaying the intricate details of his birth in my mind.

I spent the evening of the 26th watching Yentl on VHS with my husband and sister. We had to pause every three to five minutes for my contractions, which explains why I have very little recollection of the movie in general. Around midnight, I told my sister that I didn’t think I would be able to sleep if the contractions didn’t stop. Then my water broke. Things progressed pretty quickly after that because he was born a little after four in the morning.

I was totally amazed at the whole birthing process. I couldn’t believe that my body was capable of such a feat. I also couldn’t believe how much I was in love with my new baby. I wouldn’t let the nurses take him that night so I could sleep. I wanted him with me.

Twenty-seven years later I still just want him with me. 

Our goal today has been to celebrate his life by doing things he would have enjoyed. So far, we have gone to brunch and played mini-golf. We’ve shared memories and laughed a lot. But there has also been tears. I think there will always be tears. But all in all the type of day I think he would have enjoyed.  

Until next time . . .

Boxing Day Hike

Today is Boxing Day, a holiday celebrated in Great Britain and most countries that were settled by the English except the United States. Some historians believe it started back in the Middle Age when the servants who had to work on Christmas Day took the next day off. As the servants left to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes. Another theory is that the boxes placed in church to collect coins for the poor were opened and distributed on the day after Christmas. The tradition expanded over the years to include those that rendered any type of service. Now it includes gift giving to tradesman, mail carriers, doormen, porters and others who serve.*

For me, the day after Christmas was another shopping day. We generally went out as a family to shop the after-Christmas sales and to purchase gifts for Matt’s birthday, which is on the 27th. Though Matt would tell you he always got cheated because his birthday was two days after Christmas, that just wasn’t true. I always treated his birthday as a completely different event, never purchasing anything until Christmas was over. So the Brown family tradition was always shopping on Boxing Day. It’s sort of interesting that in Great Britain, today is their Black Friday.

But traditions change as our circumstances change. I had no desire to shop today. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was even going to get dressed and leave the house. I spent most of the day on the sofa reading. I wanted to finish the last fifty pages of my book – The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A brilliant young man that left Newark for the Ivy League – so I could count it in my reading challenge on Goodreads. And even though I knew the outcome because it was clearly stated on the book cover, I felt myself slipping into melancholy as I read the last few pages. And once I was done, I felt the need to write about it but couldn’t find the words. 

Fortunately, my husband invited me to go on a hike. We ventured about a half hour away from our house to Kennesaw Mountain, the highest point in metro Atlanta. 

About five minutes into the hike I began to have second thoughts. It was muddy and wet. Once we passed that, the incline sent both of our hearts racing to the point where conversation was no longer an option. Several times along the way I questioned whether or not the view was even worth it. But we persevered and boy was it worth it. 

   
   

I so enjoyed spending the afternoon in nature. The rocky terrain and fresh air challenged my body and renewed my mind. My husband and I  left park in a fabulous mood.  

Throughout the last 15 months, I’ve been so amazed at how healing nature can be. Though the unseasonably warm weather made it feel like summer today, I hope hiking will become our new Boxing Day tradition. 

Until next time. . .

Merry Christmas 

It’s Christmas morning and I’m waiting for my kids to wake up. It’s crazy how things have changed. It used to be that my husband and I would have barely fallen asleep before they’d come barging into our room ready to open gifts. Now I’m the one who can’t wait to see what’s under the tree.  

So while I’m biding my time before waking them up, I thought I’d take a moment to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. 

May today your day be filled with joy and peace. 

Until next time . . .