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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oh, to be a child again

Last night, as I tucked my son in bed and read him "The Grinch That Stole Christmas," I kept glancing up at the underneath of the bunk above us. He always chooses to sleep on the bottom bunk. Lying there, I realized why he loves sleeping there. I had a flashback to our tour of Windsor Castle in London and the King's Chambers. Kings slept in beds with canopies and curtains. A cocoon. A den. A place of solitude created by fabric and artificial barriers. Most newborns can't sleep unless they're wrapped up like a burrito.

There is something about a peace mandated by the environment. Where you're surrounded and must surrender to the boundaries imposed on you. To curl up in peace knowing that you're covered. Restrictions that create liberties. That allow you to succumb and relax because you're safe.

As Americans, we love our liberties. Our freedoms to speak, live, and define ourselves. The Freedom of Speech. The Freedom of Press. The Freedom of Religion. The Right to Bear Arms. The Right to a Fair Trial. The Freedom from Search and Seizure...and so it goes. We have so many blessed freedoms, which we love and we give immense gratitude to those who fight for them.

But sometimes we wish for boundaries. For someone to swaddle us in a blanket and tell us what to do. After a lifetime of choices, we want to surrender to someone else's decision-making. Because despite our desperate desire for autonomy and freedom, sometimes we just want to rest in the safety of someone else's decisions. Someone else's wisdom. Because freedom requires an energy and stamina that can exceed our hopes and desires. Now, I'm not advocating for dictatorship or monarchies. They breed abuse and greed. I love our country and our freedoms. I simply wish sometimes for the simplicity of childhood where dictates define safety.

Writing might seem like the ultimate freedom of expression. We can create worlds, characters, situations and conflicts. We decide what happens with each of these. But the freedom isn't absolute. Once our work is complete, it must pass through the hands of beta readers, editors, agents, and you--the reader--who skims the back cover or the first few pages and decides whether to keep reading.

Over this holiday season, may you find rest and peace in the safety of your own cocoon.

Monday, December 19, 2011


This weekend in the 7th and 8th grade environment at my church, we talked about what it means to love and be loved unconditionally. Middle school is a crazy time of shifting dynamics, volatile friendships, drama, and change. We wanted to make certain they understood that they're loved unconditionally by the volunteers, the staff, their parents, and God. In our culture, we often forget about the unconditional love that surrounds us. We're bombarded by messages all day: if you wear these clothes, use this product, talk this way, drive this car, or weigh this much, you'll be accepted. Teens strive to be accepted every day at school. We, as adults, strive to be accepted by our peers, our spouse, our boss. Because acceptance is simply love under a different name. And we all crave to be loved.

This weekend was a reminder to me not only of this need, but also that I'm blessed with people who love me that way and whom I love. My children are loud, messy, energy-sucking, needy little people. But they are also smart, kind, joyful, hysterical, and warm. I love them with all my being and that love is unconditional. I don't love them BECAUSE they get good grades. I don't love them BECAUSE they stand up for other kids. I don't love them BECAUSE I gave birth to them. I don't love them IF they clean their rooms. I don't love them IF they mind their manners. I don't love them IF they talk to their grandparents on the phone. I love them. Period. Not for who or what they are or might do, I just do.

I'm also blessed to be married to my best friend. He's also messy, likes all the wrong music, grunts like an old man in the morning, and can't find a thing in the fridge. But he's also loyal and gentle. He'll sit patiently with our son and play Pokemon or chess. He'll cuddle with our five-pound Chihuahua and change his favorite (really bad) music station because he knows I'd rather hear fingers on a chalkboard. But I don't love him BECAUSE of these things. And I don't love him IF he remembers my birthday or is in a good mood. I just love him. Like crazy.

As parents, we must be mindful of the messages we send our kids. With sports, school, and activities, they're constantly being judged on performance, and we're at the top of the judge's list. We question a bad grade or a missed goal or why they sent 5,000 texts last month. But in parenting them and showing them the right way, we must always remind them that we love them. Period. No strings. No conditions. Because in this world, our most precious need to know they have a safe place.

In the world of writing, the only unconditional love is that of the writer. We love words and writing despite the fact that it's a lonely pursuit that takes place at your kitchen table or in a coffee house surrounded by strangers. We love it even though your chances of having a New York Times Bestseller are lower than winning the lottery. We love it knowing that if we persevere and get published and people like our work, they'll read it, close it, and move on. My book club teases me because I remember all the characters names, the settings, and all the other little details outside the plot of a book. The reason is because I know how much thought went into choosing that character's name or deciding to have the story go in a certain direction. We write for the entertainment of others, but these worlds consume us. They're part of us. Whether to name my protagonist's sister Sarah or Lilah was a deliberate decision.

Over the next week, we celebrate Christmas and Hannukah. As we surround ourselves with family and friends, let us remember (despite the drama) that we love them. And may we always shower our children with our love. Period.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thanksgiving in London, Stories, and That We All Have a Story to Tell

My seven-year-old son and I flew to London for Thanksgiving. My honey, a pilot, was going to be there over the holiday, so we decided to join him. England over Thanksgiving is interesting because, of course, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving. We had Italian. And went to Stonehenge. And the London Eye, and Windsor Castle, and rode "The Tube." At dinner Thanksgiving night, we passed around a notebook and each person at the table added a sentence to a story we created about knights and maidens and other worlds. Of course, my son had the best imagination and spun the story to new places. It kept him occupied during an "adult dinner," and made the grown-ups open up their creativity and spontaneity.

England is full of interesting history. When we moved to Pennsylvania from Florida, we marveled at how "old" things were. Our town was founded in the mid 1700's. George Washington's home is nearby. It all seems ancient until you tour Windsor Castle and see a plaque identifying the vault holding the ashes of Henry VIII. Then you tour Stonehenge, which is 3,000 years old, and ponder how they carried these giant stones over land when the wheel hadn't been invented. We walked down cobblestone streets and watched the guards at Buckingham Palace. We stood in front of a royal throne that dated back to 1359.

History was everywhere and you could feel the stories swirling through the rooms and down the streets. So many had walked those paths. Times were so different. The castle towers hinted at their legacies. The ancient swords represented battles from hundred of years ago. It reminded me of the importance of stories. Stories are how we share the past, pass along information, and intertwine generations. I sometimes feel that being a writer is a selfish, frivolous pursuit. But as we circled Stonehenge, I was reminded of the importance of sharing where we've been and what we've seen. What we've experienced.

Another interesting thing about London is its dichotomy. One moment you're immersed in ancient history and the next you're confronted with the most current trends. London is a global center for the arts and fashion. The theatre is as big, if not bigger, than in New York City. The art is incredible. The fashion is cutting-edge European. But I must admit, the coffee is terrible. I had to find a Starbucks for a decent cup!

But in the hustle and bustle of London, and even in the quaint country side, the English made me smile with their directness. The signs for the bathroom don't say "restrooms, bathrooms, ladies room, or mens room." They simply say "Toilet" with an arrow. Exit signs say "Way out." Yield signs say "Give way." Elevators are called "Lifts." I'll admit, I'd rather ask "Where's the ladies room" than "Where's the toilet?" but I appreciate the culture.

England has its layers and its many sides: history, culture, trends, and bad coffee. It reminded me of the layers we each have. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, teachers, advocates, and women seeking our place in this world. We are fathers, sons, brothers, buddies, hard workers, football lovers. In writing, we must make certain to give our characters layers. To make them realistic, they cannot be one-dimensional. There is good and bad, funny and sad in all of us. This must translate into our work.

And in life, we must remember that everyone has a story. Layers. Sides. One part of us might hold a royal throne from 1359 while another is an arrow pointing to a "toilet," but we are essentially the same. And we all have a story that deserves to be told.