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Just Say Cheese!

Cheese is one of my favorite things. While living in China in 2012 some of the things I missed most were the three C’s, namely, cheese, chocolate, and carpet. Tofu, which might be called the cheese of China, tasted nothing like it, and though I grew to love it, it could never replace cheese. Any cheese-like substance I found in supermarkets was highly processed and slightly disgusting, and in the few pizza restaurants I ate at there, it just wasn’t the same, except for maybe at Pizza Hut, but having corn on the pizza seemed to spoil it. Yes, for whatever reason corn seemed to be a popular pizza topping over there! In the photo above, taken last weekend, I had just enjoyed some tasty mozzarella cheese on a delicious pie.

This being Golden Week in China, which begins with the Lunar New Year celebration (this year it happened on February 5th), I thought I’d share a few memories of my experience in China. I reflected back on some times there as I collected a beautiful red envelope from the Asian Culture group at my workplace. Yay for the year of the pig!

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Despite this, I found myself “saying cheese” more often during that year than in any other year in my life. When I was young someone told me once that I was photogenic, and no one seemed to believe that more than my Chinese students, or Chinese strangers I met on the streets, at cultural monuments, in parks, or even on mountain trails.

Sometimes I caught students pulling out cameras in the back of my classes, or running away laughing after snapping my picture on the street during the weekend. Strangers might approach me when I toured places in smaller cities or rural areas and ask to get a photo with me, although funnily enough they didn’t often pull out a camera and I got it with mine. Of course, I was a novelty. In both cities I taught in, I was one of very few foreigners the residents had seen. In the first, I was the first foreigner to teach in my school on the newer side of town. In the second, I was the first American to live in the city. My pale white skin, blue eyes and light hair were fascinating to them. I suppose they felt somewhat similar to the way I did when I once glimpsed an albino girl in Beijing holding the hand of her darker skinned Chinese father. At first I mistook her for a foreigner, which seemed rather odd, but then I noticed the shape of her eyes.

Being the shy and introverted person I am, I didn’t enjoy this attention most of the time and it was quite foreign to me! Not only did strangers want my photo, they stared at me often for long moments after I had passed by. My first school put me in a local television commercial (and of course I received no pay for this and was not informed I would be featured). I found out only when I took a walk in the park one night with a teacher friend and he pointed excitedly to the jumbotron on one end of the court where people might practice tàijíquán or synchronized dance or perform grating Chinese opera. There was my face in gargantuan size, teaching in the classroom.

In the day I remember as finding “Paparazzo on Nan Shan”, I took a hike with a few of my darling students and the little sister of one who was lucky to have a sister during this era of the one-child policy. Little did I know only four years later it would end. It was a beautiful fall day, and hiking up Nan Shan seemed like a perfect choice with the cool air and golden leaves decorating the ground. It was such a perfect day, in fact, that several couples were out taking wedding photos on the mountain. And my goodness, what luck they had to find a hapless American wander right into their photo shoot!

To my surprise, they invited me to jump in. I agreed to the first, and felt too awkward to do so again for the second. But to my joy, there was a kind photographer on the mountain that day, and he offered to take several pictures of me with my own camera. Unlike any other before him, he took the photos for me, not for himself only. One of my most favorite photos ever taken that year is the one he took on Nan Shan with my little group of girls around me.

One day in Beijing (about half way through my stay in China) I had a shocking realization that I not only was getting used to having my photo taken by strangers, but I even enjoyed it a bit. I tagged along with a group of Americans around my age for the day. In my previous days there I quickly noticed that in such a large city foreigners were commonplace and I wouldn’t need to worry about being stopped.  But as there were several pretty American 20-somethings with golden, platinum, creamy or buttery blonde locks, my strawberry blonde hair wasn’t wanted. A Chinese woman gestured towards me and I smiled and nodded an “OK” for her to take a photo, but then she ushered two blondes forward and ignored me. For half a second I felt a bit disappointed. And then thought, “Hey! Why do you care? Silly girl!”. I’d rather eat the cheese than speak the word anyway.

Have you ever had strange or funny moments when you were asked to “say cheese” abroad? I’d love to hear about them in comments below!

Art Begets Art

My creative writing professor in college was a genius with her assignments. She asked us to go out four times in the semester to something like a play or symphony and write a paper about it. But the main purpose was to get inspiration from one type of art to inspire the art of writing. A painting might inspire a novel, which might in turn inspire a movie. Such was the case with the iconic painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, by the Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer. Over 300 years after Vermeer completed this masterpiece, Tracy Chevalier, an American author, published her novel which took the same name as the painting. Reflecting on the painting made the characters evolve in her mind. Several years later the movie adaptation hit theaters.

A recent example I came across is in Hozier’s song “Almost (Sweet Music)”. I found it so catchy that I had to listen again. And then again and again. A remarkable aspect of the lyrics is that they incorporate a good number of 1930s and 1940s era jazz song titles. A folk song inspired by jazz. There’s a list of the referenced jazz hits here: Almost (Sweet Music) Song Facts. Isn’t that so sweet?

This made me think of lovers at first but after paying more attention to the lyrics, I pictured a father sitting on the beside of his young daughter, who is beginning to remind him more of her late mother. The daughter wants to listen to the same music her mother loved as a bedtime ritual. He’s healing from the grief and of himself he says, “I’m almost me again” and he says his daughter is “almost” her mother.

He’s worrying about raising his daughter alone and thus doesn’t know where to start and tells himself not to ruin this. But they are starting to heal and he laughs again and the daughter’s laugh sounds like her mother’s. The second line in the beginning, “She likes to roll here in my ashes anyway” could be the daughter resurfacing thoughts of the own figurative death the father died when his wife died. It’s a bit painful when his daughter reminds him so much of her. And although he has some nights when he’s okay alone, when he thinks of his lost wife sometimes, sitting on his daughter’s bedside as she settles down to sleep, still awake she notices his sadness and asks if everything is alright. So, there you go, someone reading this should take this idea and write a book or make a movie out of it. You’re welcome.

Almost a year ago, my older brother took me to a Cameron Carpenter concert. Wow, what an organist! I didn’t know such a person with such a soul existed. Afterwards, I was so inspired that I wrote the poem below. I thought it was beautiful and wonderful that his original compositions were inspired by J.S. Bach’s works.

Divine Creation

An organist performing with passion

Delivering delicious esoteric knowledge and deadpan humor

One word came to mind:

Divine

A creature created by the Divine




J.S. Bach, with 26 surviving children

Who must know something of love, surely,

Was the composer Cameron Carpenter couldn’t skirt

As the sun

But even if singed by closeness

How divine it is

Composer

To musician

To artist writing this poem

How a song inspires others to create through

Their interpretation

And how the playing inspires this listener

To create through words




The ultimate way to create perhaps is composition

And how glorious for an obscure instrument

With numerous stops and combinations

All the sounds of the orchestra combined

Variations from artist to artist

No interpretation quite the same

Nearly infinite creation




Notes ringing on to be shaped and molded

And never decay from the pipes unlike with hammer on strings

His improvisation-how I witnessed a creator in the act!

Sounds none have heard before or will ever after

Is it sad he does not enjoy listening to music much?

No, I think not.

His whole purpose he says is this

And while consumerism may lead to gluttony

But never fill us

He who consumes little, and creates much

I say is happiest

For love is creation

Creation is love

The divinity inside speaks to it

Something that did not exist before

How divine it is




Here recorded, the warmth and light and truths pondered

From spending a night in the presence of an organist performing with passion

Here’s the lesson. Stare at a painting, go to a concert, a museum, a dance performance, a choir concert, the symphony, ballet, opera etc. and get inspired. Seek out art in many varying forms and let that feed you with new ideas.

Loving the Lost

Everyone suffers from loss. We lose time, innocence, memories, youth, family, friends, lovers, relationships, opportunities, perhaps our dreams or hopes from earlier years. Loss may come from death, disease, or distance, anger or selfishness, procrastination or rushing through life and missing the important things in favor of being busy.

Earlier this week, I wrote this poem after a friend pointed out a duck on the side of the road as we were driving.

Dead Duck

Dead duck, dead duck

Hit by a truck

Left out to get cold in the muck

Tilted in the gutter

Must have been taken out by a nutter

Who had a splendid stutter

And only wished to putter

This way and that

Oh, unearthly angle

I won’t let them make you dangle

On a stick to get cooked

No, you won’t get hooked

But buried under a pretty tree

By the side of the sea

At least you ventured from the canal

To try and find your pen pal

He tried to reach you too

But was also hit by the truck boo-hoo

You’ll remember this noble quest

As you are laid to rest

Finally alongside your friend

Who lived just around the bend

It reminded me of the Chinese students I taught and loved seven years ago. The photo below is with one of them, who would be a full grown adult now. For over a year after I returned home I tried to keep in touch with some of them via QQ, but I had to uninstall the app when it started causing viruses on my computer. It made me want to cry. Nearly all my cute little pen pals were lost.

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I recently realized that I’ve written a good number of poems related to loss, and most of these relate to other people. Some are about death, but most are about those still living. How do you overcome the loss of the way things used to be? Of the presence of someone who brightened your life who you may never see again, or who has changed dramatically, and perhaps you’ve had a fallout with? You may even mourn over lost pieces of yourself.

If you’ve been kept up at night by memories racing endlessly on your personal eyelid movie screens, dreamed about the past and woke up to realize it’s not true, burst into tears due to some unexpected trigger of scent or sound or sight, you know what loss can feel like. And oh, how difficult it is when sparkling parts of your imagined future get washed away like glitter down the drain and swallowed by a fish that ends up on your dinner plate one day and makes you sick.

Unless you want to have a lot of regrets on your deathbed, you may want to consider your relationships with other people, especially the ones closest to you, before you lose them. While there are things we can’t control, what we can is what matters. Three out of the five top five regrets of the dying, as reported by Bonnie Ware, an Australian nurse who cared for those in the last days of their lives, are about relationships. Check out the list here: Top Five Regrets.

So how can you get over what you’ve already lost or what you seem to be losing this very moment? Here’s what I’ve tried and would suggest.

  1. Be grateful for the good times. Find things to smile and laugh about.
  2. If you need to forgive (this may include yourself) do it quickly.
  3. Think about what you have learned or are learning.
  4. Write about it to process your feelings. You can delete the file, or tear up or burn that paper if you don’t want to keep it. I usually do though, so even if it’s too raw and ugly I could turn it into a poem later (that’s just me always thinking there is beauty in sadness).

Recently I’ve very much enjoyed listening to Haevn. I love, love, love finding individual artists or groups who perform with unique soul. There are so many who aren’t the most well known, at least in the U.S. anyway, but if they never are they may stay at their most authentic. This group’s music just melts away angst or anxiety, even if the song happens to be about the fear of losing someone, like “Back in the Water”. Go ahead, take a listen and tell me if you don’t experience a lovely calm.

 

The thing about loss, is that the more we care the more it hurts. Back in China I met someone named Joe. The poem I wrote about him will likely be featured in my second book (yes, I already have a plan for the second). He was 32 and tan and beautiful, and I was 23 and pale and my face was suffering from the effects of high stress coming from living on my own in a foreign country and dealing with roughly 1,200 teenage students at a time only a few weeks before. But this was my summer break.

It was like a movie as he ran up the balcony I was leaning over staring down at the party below, at the little summer school where I was studying Mandarin and he was teaching English. Something unexpected and incredible happened next. He knew my name. A friend tipped him off and being one of only a few Caucasians in tiny Yangshuo, I was easy to find. The ladies I was just chatting with faded away, and the two of us were alone in that space. He introduced himself and started talking. I’d never been so intrigued by anyone’s monologue before. He spilled out some sensitive information, not something you’d usually tell a stranger. Then he seemed a bit embarrassed about divulging what he did without knowing anything about me. We chatted a little after that and I saw him around in the days that followed.

Each time my teacher gave me a break at the same time he took a break with his class, I just beamed at the sight of him in the courtyard. I got his number and we tried to set up a time to do something together. He expressed great interest in that. Once he did join me and three others for a little church meeting and we all took a photo. But my friend who owned the camera lost it on their trip home. And Joe’s work schedule was crazy, and when he was off he went off to relax by himself, so we never hung out. He told me he was going to Ethiopia next. He was hopping around the world to figure out his life. Soon enough one day Joe was gone and there was no goodbye. I hadn’t learned his last name, and his Chinese phone number was no longer in use.

In 2015, reflecting on all of this, I wrote a poem for Joe. Later in the summer of 2016 I wondered if I might be able to track him down somehow. I sought out people on social media who were in Yangshuo in 2012 and knew him or might have known him. Most responded but didn’t know much more than I. I even got a contact to ask the person I was pretty sure was his employer to look through records for me. But they told me they didn’t keep good records of temporary summer camp workers like he was. Without even a last name, my search was hopeless. I heard back from one contact finally just the beginning of this year but learned nothing. I decided in 2016 that I’d give up hopes of finding Joe again and agreed to believe that some people are meant to be in your life in certain times only. But a part of me is a tiny bit sad that Joe will never read the tribute poem I wrote for him (even though I might be embarrassed if he did).

Losing Joe was small perhaps because I knew him so little, but every time I reread that poem, I love that lost Joe of 2012. I love what was lost. I love that photo of that morning we spent together, the photo that slid down the aisle to disappear on a turbulent plane ride. I love what he taught me about doing the right thing, and even taking desperate measures to make sure temptation didn’t get in the way (no, not with me silly, if that’s where your head was going). I love how he trusted me with his story. I love how he showed me the correct way, through experiment, to find out if something is true.

It’s important to focus on the here and now, but sometimes it’s okay to take a moment and love the lost. You might draw out something you’ve almost forgotten but want to always keep.

 

Cover Reveal!

No, the cover isn’t me walking through the Charlotte airport. But aren’t the trees inside the airport incredible? When I saw them Friday morning the ingenuous idea hit me the same way the news that grave gardening exists did (years back when I heard about that tradition in Germany). If you’re interested in this tangent, check out this article about grave gardening in Philadelphia: Grave Gardening in the U.S.

I did choose the photo, I suppose, because I feel like I’m moving. Also, I did promise to be transparent through this journey, and look, it’s my first photo I’ve posted in which I’m not wearing any makeup. How’s that for a reveal? Hahaha! Okay, okay, that was a bad joke.

This past week, while I was in Atlanta for a work training, I hunched over my laptop in my hotel room in the evening and went through the process of submitting my files to Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). My first book, a poetry chapbook, will be available on February 26th in e-book and print! And here is the cover, created by M Borgnaes of The Electric Scroll.

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It feels wonderful to get this far in the process. I may have my proof copy to review by the time you are reading this, or if you’re finding this after the published date, I probably already scoured through it! I also added a link to an About Me page from my home page today which you may check out to learn a bit more about my history. Also, there is a My Book page (later this year to be My Books). Oh, did I mention yet I have a book coming out? Oh yes, yes I did. Ahem, excuse my excitement. Some of the next steps in my process will be setting up a newsletter you may subscribe to. I will update you on the other steps I’m taking as I get there.

Today’s post will be short because of my slight jet lag made worse by how ridiculously early I arose for my early flight this morning. But, if you’re ever in Atlanta, my, my, do visit Mary Mac’s. Trust me, the comforting Southern favorites will make you droooool, the photographs on the wall tell a long dazzling history, and any place that’s been open since 1945 is doing something right. Also, all the cool people go there. Such as celebrities (I didn’t spot any), and policemen (who sat at a table next to us and caused quite a stir when one got a call on his walkie talkie and ordered the rest to move out, and they went running in a curving line around the tables and out the door in a hurry).

Happy moving! May you notice the progress you are making with your own goals, in writing or otherwise, and take time to celebrate each success along the way. If you feel so inclined to share how you’re moving along this year so far, or to have a “reveal” of your own, I’d love to read about it in the comments below.

Cover Image Credits:

Mirror cover image by Thomas Quine, via Flickr. Lion cover image by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay. Arm silhouette image by Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay

 

The Words are Forgetting Me

At the time of writing this, it’s one of those nights my body was screaming for meat, but I gave it peanuts. Wait, what?

I thought I had enough of viruses last month, but a minor one came to stay for a while, disguised as something else a few days ago. It was all out of order from the usual so I was fooled. What a trickster this one was! While the other day all I wanted was dark chocolate (I recently discovered on accident that this works, which is amazing because it’s one of my favorite foods) and bone broth to soothe a sore throat, tonight that wasn’t enough. My body wanted meat, specifically spaghetti with lots of ground beef in the sauce, or perhaps meatballs.

I don’t crave meat very often. My year in China changed my palate a bit in a funny way. Being somewhat deprived of the amount of meat I was used to, and filling up mostly with rice, noodles, veggies and tofu made me want more of the same when I came home. But not tonight, and alas, all the meat I had was frozen solid, and thawing it or going to buy some fresh seemed like too much effort. But I have hope for tomorrow.

Okay, that’s enough of that aside. This post is to show a bit of my writing process, using the example of a recent poem I wrote this week. Here it is:

 

The Words are Forgetting Me

Because I need to strengthen my relationship with sleep

My mind is losing me

Because my emotions are usurping it

Curiosity is gripping me

Because something sweet struck a faintly familiar chord

Danger is walking towards me

Because my hand slipped from its hold on precaution

Understanding is hiding from me

Because your actions won’t parallel your speech,

Nor my thoughts my responses

Confusion is becoming me

Because the words are forgetting me


 

What are your first impressions? Think about it for a moment. What kind of feeling does this poem give you? What do you learn about the speaker in this poem? Can you relate, and how? What kind of elements do you notice in the writing? Do you think there are certain techniques I used, and if so, what, and for what purpose?

Now, after you have your own idea of this, take a look at my beautiful handwriting! Great, isn’t it? At least it should be legible. My teachers used to praise me for my neat writing all the way from elementary to college, but it’s a bit sloppier now, especially when ideas are coming so fast and my fingers are trying to catch up. You can see on the left is my first draft with some edits, and on the right is my second and in this instance, my final draft.

Each writer is different, but my process 99% of the time when I’m writing poetry is to write by hand first, and then to type it up later. I’ve found that there is an actual difference in the result of my writing when I use a pen first. It slows me down a bit, which gives a chance for ideas to somewhat catch up with me. I’m not sure about the rest, but it does feel very different if I type first and somehow I feel a sense of loss for what could have been if I’d written it down on paper first. I can’t say why. You can try both ways and see what works for you. Maybe for you either will work!

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Here is some backstory to help you understand my process. I was riding with one of my roommates in her car. I don’t remember now what she was sharing, and I actually got stuck on her slip of the tongue. “The words are forgetting me,” she said. Then she paused, laughed and said what I knew she meant. “I’m forgetting the words”. But the way she said it first impressed me. I wrote a note on my phone and asked her if I could use it as a title for something someday. She agreed, and I am forever grateful.

This is the first part of the process. If you’re going to write, make sure you always have something to write with wherever you go. I get inspiration from things I hear others say, song lyrics, images, even sensations I experience. Sometimes I’m just thinking and an idea pops in my head like an invisible being deposited it there. You never know when it will occur. I have notebooks all over my bedroom, and notebooks and pens in my purses and bags, sticky notes at work (which I admittedly use when I sometimes get an idea and take an impromptu mini break to write it down). Using a note app on your phone also comes in handy. Now I have notes I’ve kept with ideas I haven’t used yet but as soon as I was home Monday night I wrote down the phrase for a title and then the rest came quickly.

I focused on the idea of reversal, so that “I’m losing my mind” became “My mind is losing me”. And then “I’m getting curious” turned into “Curiosity is gripping me”. At first I only noticed that the shifted focus was intriguing. I used repetition with this reversal, and I also repeated every other line with a reason why, starting with, “Because”. Repetition may be a simple rhetorical device, but it can do several things for you. It can create rhythm, it can highlight something you’d like the reader to focus on, or emphasize a feeling you’d like to convey. What did it do here for you?

I also repeated “the words are forgetting me” in the last line, so that it matches the title, which can also be read as the first line of the poem. Bringing back an image, phrase or idea in the beginning of the poem and repeating it in the ending wraps up the package nicely, creating a sense of completeness for the reader.

You may rightly ask why I didn’t write “The words are forgetting me” down again as the actual first line. By not doing so, I left the ordering and poem meaning open to slightly different interpretations. One of the beautiful things about poetry is that every reader will interpret a poem a bit differently. There are certain ideas and thoughts and feelings I want to share and can attempt to convey, but I cannot determine how a reader will understand the poem. And that’s okay. Actually, that’s great! When I share my work with others and ask them what they think it means, I’m always awed by what I hear. It never fails. There is always a reader who has a different interpretation that makes me nod and smile and think, “My goodness, yes, why didn’t I think of that?”.

For example, with this poem, one reader may read the title and think the first line is the reason why the words are forgetting the speaker. The speaker is just tired! But another reader may set aside the title for a moment and read the first line as the first thought of this poem so that the lack of sleep is the cause of the speaker losing their mind, or the speaker’s mind losing them. It may be a small difference, but try reading it through both ways and see how it changes the meaning slightly. This is the reason why I reversed the ordering of some of the lines in the end on my second draft (as you can see with the arrows) and added some lines in.

There is also a shift in the subject towards the end, which adds depth. The “I”, the speaker, is joined by another person, which complicates things. Everything that happened before is not just the result of losing losing his or her mind, which can be done very well by oneself. Bring someone else in, and it has a profound effect. In this case, the speaker is becoming confusion. The reverse here is almost the same. It’s not that the speaker is becoming confused. No, the speaker is becoming confusion, or in the reverse, “Confusion is becoming me”.

A last thought, because right now I’m getting tired and the words are truly forgetting me! Sometimes as a writer that’s what writer’s block feels like! And this post is getting long.

As I continued to write, I realized that the reversal of the normal sentence structure made the speaker, as an actor in all that is happening to them, a bit muddied. It’s as if the speaker is being acted upon instead. When I got a sense of this idea I purposely used passive voice in the 7th line of the poem, “Because my hand slipped from its hold on precaution” rather than having the speaker admit that he or she let go. Perhaps the speaker is enjoying a ride right now, focusing solely on how everything happening to them feels. If they say, “Danger is walking towards me”, wow how terrifying that sounds! But yet the speaker here is walking towards danger, and maybe, just maybe, it’s a risk worth taking.

Of course, you may also have a different idea about the meaning, and I’d love to read your comments about it. What do you think?

 

 

My First Book!

Do you ever feel like this little girl must be feeling? That’s been me lately.

You’re familiar with the warning on passenger side-view mirrors: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” Well, now that it is 2019 my first book is closer to coming into existence, and maybe even more so than it appeared to me only a few weeks ago.

Six months ago I didn’t even know what a poetry chapbook was. Yet when I discovered what it was, I set a goal to publish one! Chapbooks used to be, and sometimes still are, bound together by the author rather than mass produced. It’s a showcase of select poems based around a common theme. To learn more about the history behind chapbooks, check out this lovely explanation below written by the poet E. Kristin Anderson.

What is a Chapbook?

Back in May of 2018 I decided, in a burst of optimistic confidence, that I would self-publish my poetry, and start on it soon. It wasn’t sudden in the sense that I’d never had a goal to get published before. I always dreamed of publishing YA novels like the ones I devoured in my junior high and high school years. And then, for Christmas of 2014 my mother gave me a book called Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico, which she found used. It seemed a little quaint with it’s yellowed pages, copyright date of 1983, and picture of a multicolored and almost psychedelic typewriter flying through a cloudy sky on the front cover.

This book, full of writing exercises used to engage both sides of your brain and learn expressive writing techniques, engendered a love of writing poetry in me. Yes, I’d written a few poems here and there before this, but my focus was always on prose. Then, something changed. The exercises for shorter vignettes made it natural for me to choose poetry as the form to complete them. Without my mom’s gift, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten to this point. After going through several of the exercises, I began to produce poems I almost felt proud of.

I brought these poems to share with my writing group, who gave me more encouragement and praise than I ever expected. Eventually they began to ask when I was going to publish my poems. I didn’t think much of doing so in the beginning,  because I still thought I should go with my original plan of publishing prose only. But life surprises you sometimes, and it felt right to begin to share my poetry with the world, starting with some very personal poems I wrote for friends. Later on, I plan to share my other poems in larger poetry collections. It wasn’t too long ago that I realized, looking through my work, that yes, I did indeed have enough material ready to publish, not just one book of poetry, but two or three!

Here are some of the more major steps I’ve taken along the way.

First, in June, after coming back from a dazzling choir trip in New York City, I was ready to start learning. I attended a writer’s retreat and took a mini self-publishing class from Marsha Ward, the founder of the American Night Writers Association, of which I am a member.

Second, I met up with a special co-worker and friend who agreed to help me plan my publishing goals and support me along the way. We met several times to discuss what I’d learned, what I’d completed, and what my next steps were.

Third, on July 24th, I found a poetry chapbook publishing company and submitted my chapbook for practice and on the small chance I might be published in a more traditional way. On November 18th, I finally heard back. My book was not selected (Yay! I earned my very first rejection!) among the many other entries. I decided to go ahead and self-publish the chapbook instead of submit to other small presses and play the waiting game longer.

Fourth, I created this website and blog on October 26th.  For several years I knew I needed to create a website if I wanted to be a published author, and as I mentioned in my very first post, fear kept me from starting this sooner. Finally, on December 29th, I set up my Facebook author page.

Fifth, I moved my goal of publishing my first book by August 2019 to before my next birthday on March 6th. On New Year’s Eve of 2018 I nailed down the company I’d ask for help with formatting for print and e-book distribution, as well as creating the book cover. For several months I contemplated doing these myself and researched into how. It can be done, but ultimately I decided to add someone else to my team to save some time and stress.

Thank you for coming along with me on this ride. Stay tuned for my release date early this year as well as a book cover reveal!

 

 

What’s in Your Mirror in 2019?

At this time of year, we reflect on the past and look forward to what we want to do and become in the next. Making goals and resolutions is common, yet it’s always easy to give up, forget about them and months down the road, regret lost time. It’s so common that some resolve not to make New Year’s resolutions. Of course, you can create new goals at any time, but never making and striving towards goals is a loss. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that have prevented me from keeping resolutions in the past:

  1. My goals weren’t attainable
  2. My goals were non-specific
  3. I didn’t check and rework my goals when necessary
  4. I didn’t have an accountability partner/mentor

When I was young, my family followed a tradition of taking time sitting down together and writing out goals for the new year. We kept them on sheets of paper in folders stuck in a bookcase. I’ve continued the tradition of writing resolutions for each new year, but I also make goals at other times. When I learned about S.M.A.R.T. goals, some of my earlier problems had a solution. S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. Many companies use this system, and it is a great way to create personal goals as well. You can learn about how to write S.M.A.R.T. goals here: Writing S.M.A.R.T. Goals.

Down the road, as this article notes, you may need to rethink some of your goals as you and your circumstances change. When a goal you have written is no longer relevant, it’s time to write a SMARTER goal. The next two steps added to this are to evaluate and re-do. It helps to put your goals up in a place where you will see and be reminded of them often. You could also try setting reminders on your phone. Breaking down goals into smaller milestones along the way to your larger S.M.A.R.T. goals is a good way to keep motivated with your progress.

Choosing a person to check in with you at set times is also key for me. In some things I’m quite self-motivated and will move forward on my own. However, even in these cases, I know I can do more when someone will be following up with me. Find someone you trust who is willing to do that for you. You might offer to be their accountability partner as well! Choosing a mentor is another step that may help you rise higher than otherwise. This can be someone in a field you plan to get into or are just starting out in, anyone with more experience than you in a certain area you wish to improve in or just someone older and wiser that may help you with resolutions and goals in general.

But before doing any of this, it’s most helpful to take some time for deep thinking. What do you desire? And why? Sometimes I pass by the mirror and catch the sight of my own eyes and I’m curious about something I see there. Being a fan of the Harry Potter series, I wondered what I’d see if I had my own Mirror of Erised. But I don’t need magic to tell me. I just need time to sit and think in peace. In fact, one idea in your quiet time is to think in the reverse. What do you NOT want to do or be or to happen in 2019? What’s the worst thing you don’t want to happen?

I sat down once around a year and a half ago and wrote a poem about my worst nightmares and best dreams. Who was I in each? This led to great insight on what I wanted to be, because of what I wanted to avoid becoming! And that led to insight on what I should set goals to do! I would suggest a similar exercise before writing your goals or revising them. I wish I could claim the idea as my own, but I did it as a writing exercise from the fabulous book by Gabriele Lusser Rico called Writing the Natural Way. It just so happened that this writing exercise not only made for good writing, but for good goal creating!

What strategies do you have for making and keeping resolutions and goals? What do you want to see in the mirror in 2019?

 

My Inaudible Cry

Here is my fourth and final post following up on Making Art. In pondering upon the need to be heard, I first thought of listening. In today’s world many people may yearn to be listened to. Active listening is a challenging skill, and I for one always see a need to improve in this area. I believe if this was a more common goal in conversations, the world would be a better place. It’s a skill I received coaching on in my current workplace, and one that I later coached and trained new hires on. However, it’s crucial to apply not just in the workplace, but in interpersonal relationships. One problem may be a failure to realize you a need to improve listening skills, as noted in this article by Psychology Today: Deep Listening.

This is a bit of my story. As a naturally quiet, shy and introverted child, I experienced the frustration of being talked over, and missing the chance to give input. In larger social settings I was often afraid to speak up, but when asked a question sometimes a well meaning adult or peer would answer for me. If they only knew I just needed more time to think about my response. For as long as I can remember, I chose words carefully. When I would speak slowly and carefully, I often needed pauses to think a bit more before finishing.

The script was constantly changing in my head, just a tweak here or there, oh, that word, not that one. Sometimes it was hard to focus as I was observing everything and a constant stream of consciousness ran through my head even while talking. I would be acutely aware of my listeners and their reactions. Sometimes during a pause when I meant to add more, someone would jump in and start chattering too soon. Or I might think my listeners were bored, and trail off, giving up.

Yet people seemed to notice I listened fairly well.  A little girl in second grade loved to walk and talk with me on the playground, declaring me a therapist. She even referred another friend to me to discuss a problem one day!

Just one experience of being listened to can make me smile. I’ve heard stories of some of the new hires trained at work who practiced active listening skills learned there with their friends or significant others and seen the delight in their faces at the result. If you want to learn more about how to actively listen, this article provides beautiful tips: Active Listening Skills.

However, I have found that even when it seems like no one else is around to listen, there is one who will listen whenever I ask. I am more grateful than I can express for this gift to be heard and to be understood. I am especially grateful for many more gifts that God has given me, and I reflect more than usual during Christmas season about the gift of Christ coming to earth for us. Below, I share with you a poem I wrote around Christmas time three years ago, and it is still one of my favorites.

 

My Inaudible Cry

My inaudible cry, my invisible pain, my inescapable guilt, my irretrievable loss, my darkness, sad and cold.

The ringing carols, the joyous season, the peaceful night, the selfless gifts, the brightness, happy and warm.

He hears my prayer, He bore my pain, He frees my soul, He restores my bereavement, He brings me hope.

All this, because long ago, a Savior was born.

 

 

Merry Christmas!

I Failed the Marshmallow Test

Yep, many times. If this was a test I had in school, I’d probably hide in shame. But this is a test in real life. And this is all a bit more complex. Here is my third post following up on my promise in my earlier post Making Art. I’m musing on wants versus needs.

When I first heard about Walter Mischel, a psychologist at Standford, and his acclaimed test in the 1960s, I wondered how I’d react if I’d taken it as a child. What with claims that children who waited and delayed gratification at their premature age did better later on standardized tests and in careers, I think others wondered too. Then I realized this didn’t matter.

Before I get more into why, let me share a bit of my story. There was a time I must be humble about, as it was not long ago, and I’m in danger of repeating the same mistakes. At this time, I essentially said, “I’ll choose less, thanks.” I favored instant gratification over a later, but greater reward. My future self waves her arms and shouts, “It’s a trap! It’s a trap! You’ll regret this!”

Of course my past self can’t hear, and if she could, she wouldn’t want to. I wore an invisible caption on my t-shirt that said, “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero”. Notice I’m not giving specifics. I did say I failed many times, and the above can apply to more than one occasion. Say, in relationship limbo or in reaching for dark chocolate late at night for endorphins (because gosh darn it I needed them right then) although it might keep me up all night. I can look back and think how I could have done better. It wasn’t that I had major problems self-regulating.  I just didn’t want to. Not in those moments.

In some cases I was dealing with regular bouts of insomnia. Or because of experience I feared no greater reward would come along, or not anytime soon at least. Sometimes it was both. I was tired, and it’s easier to make bad choices when you’re tired. But you know what? The great thing is it’s possible to rejuvenate. And the test of self-control is one you retake over and over and over again. In reality, I believe I’ve passed the test more often than I’ve failed it! Dear reader, I bet you have too.

If you search online for information on the marshmallow test, you’ll likely run into reports on more recent studies that cast doubt on the original findings. However, Mischel explains how his study is often distorted in the media. You can read a fascinating interview with him full of intelligent rebuttals here: What the Marshmallow Test Really Teaches. And then there’s the Chocolate and Radish experiment by Baumeister, and those who say the theory of ego depletion has been debunked, and chaos over the reproducibility crisis in social psychology.

While debates go on, I’m sure of one thing. Self-control, or willpower, or delayed gratification, can be practiced and become easier. You can always try again. And you can get better at it! You’re probably better in some areas than in others. That’s just fine. I’m going to celebrate my successes over here and think of challenges as things I’ll one day be proud to say I overcame. Think of how much happier you are when you have to work hard to get something anyway. I’d rather fail the marshmallow test one hundred times before succeeding than to succeed at first and assume I’m set for life.

If you’re not familiar with the test, here’s a video with Mischel himself explaining it:

 

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