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Monday, December 24, 2012

Why Traditions are Important instead of Repetitive

You never quite realize how important traditions are, how much they define pieces of you, until they end. It's the little things...like fresh baked cookies when you get home on your first day of school or lighting marshmallows over the first fire of the year or reading the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve. Traditions provide a special stamp. An indelible mark that defines an important time. Something that unites years, decades even. That pulls you into that pocket of the familiar.

Ever since I can remember, I've heard my Dad read the Christmas story from the book of Luke on Christmas Eve. I can hear his voice, "And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

Tonight, the torch passed. My Dad couldn't be with us to read the Christmas story. And in this season of lights and gifts and family and food, I felt compelled to continue his tradition...his legacy of pulling out the Bible and reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke. Initially, it saddened me that it was my own voice instead of my Dad's reading the verses aloud. But my amazing husband reminded me that traditions are fluid and passed on. He told me that just as my father had read the Christmas story for the four decades of my life, it was now my turn to do so for my children. To continue the tradition by making it my own.

These words of wisdom by my sweet husband are both profound and accurate. Traditions aren't stagnant. They don't exist in the bubble of one generation. That is the antithesis of the meaning of the word "tradition." Such defining, important principals expressed through rituals shared every year or season are designed to be continued. Adopted by the next generation. Whether it's baking cookies, hanging wreaths on every window, watching "The Sound of Music," or singing along to "The Wizard of Oz," just enjoy your family and their traditions. For one day soon, you'll be the one passing on the baton. And the importance of that is immeasurable.



Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Miss You, Tay

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, my sweet puppy, Taylor, died in her sleep. Almost 15 years old, she'd battled heart failure for two years. But when I say "battled," I don't mean she was in pain or discomfort or not herself. She was Taylor until the very end. That's how she lived her entire life...on her terms.

We rescued her when she was 7 months old. I was working as an attorney in Miami and had recently gotten a Jack Russell, Paisley. Not wanting him to be alone, I'd let it be known that I wanted a friend for him. One of the runners in our office came to me and said, "There's one on South Beach! Go see her." That very day, I walked into this so-called pet store and was led to the back of the room. My beautiful little girl was in a crate she couldn't even stand in. There was only room for the nasty blanket she slept on and a water bowl. When I walked up to the crate and she stood, she had to stoop because her head hit the top of it.

Anger is not a big enough word to describe how I felt. But I knew these "people" weren't going to let her go unless I bought her. I turned to the woman, swallowed my outrage, and said, "I'll take her. Can I take her home now?" I wanted to get this sweet thing out of there as fast as I could. Taylor wouldn't even look at me she was so scared. The woman declared, "You'll have to come back tomorrow. I need to get the papers in order." So I drove home in tears and didn't sleep.

The next day after work (the "store" didn't open until 6), I walked in and demanded to take her home. When they handed her to me, I cradled her in my arms. From the moment I walked out of that place with her through the entire hour commute home, she burrowed her head under my elbow. Afraid to be in an open space. She'd lived her entire life in that tiny box and was petrified without its boundaries.

When I got home, Paisley sniffed her. Nuzzled her. But she was still afraid. She would bury herself under the couch pillows or under the bed. She simply didn't feel safe exposed to freedom. It took time and patience, and lots of nudging from Paisley, but within just a few months, they became best friends. They would snuggle on the couch and wrestle and play fight.

After all of that in just a few short months, I got married. A couple of years later, we had kids. We moved up the East Coast from Florida to Pennsylvania. And she was there every step of the way. When we brought Peyton home from the hospital, she sat at the end of the bed and pouted for days, but then got over it and became maternally protective of her little "sister." When I had not one, but two miscarriages, she laid by my side in bed and nuzzled me. When we lost Abby and I couldn't sleep, she would sit out on the patio with me at 3 in the morning standing guard. I sobbed and hugged my robe while she sat next to me, facing away from me, to protect me from anything else that might cause me pain.

For almost 15 years, she greeted me everytime I walked through the door as though she thought I was never coming back. She loved me as ferociously as I loved her. And she lived her life on her terms. When she was diagnosed with heart failure, she beat the survival odds by 11 months. And she was still herself. Alert. Loving. Protective. She died on her own terms, just like she lived her life. She fell asleep next to her daddy, on the couch, and didn't wake up.

I've sobbed over losing her. I've cried to Jamie, "she's just a dog. Why does this hurt so much?" He wisely reminded me: "She's not just a dog. She's Mama Yay (a nickname that evolved over a decade)." She was my girl and I miss her terribly.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

To Friend or Unfriend, that is the question

In the last few days since the election, I've seen posts on Facebook and heard TV and radio personalities talking about the current trend of people "unfriending" people on Facebook because of opposing political views. At first, I found this rude. Why would you unfriend someone, especially when you're friends with them in the non-virtual world, simply because they post a political affirmation different from your own?

But then today, I found myself wanting to do the same. Many of my friends from back home in Alabama that I've known my entire life have views that are polar to my own. I'm used to this because my husband's views are also polar to mine. But he and I have respectful debate. I'm sure when he's talking with like-minded friends, he might use words that are more colorful than those he uses when he and I debate. In fact, I know this to be true because I've overheard him. Yet, when he and I discuss issues, we use respectful tones and phrases. Just yesterday, I had a political discussion with a friend who holds opposite beliefs and we were able to share our differences with civility.

I say this not to tout myself or those closest to me as being able to politely disagree. I say this (and am posting this blog on Facebook) as a request to everyone to please stop with the venom. Some of my friends are gloating. Some of my friends are spitting hate. Please don't do this on Facebook and Twitter. These mediums are for sharing life and information, not climbing on a soapbox and screaming your opinion into your friends' faces. Maybe I'm an idealist, but discussions as important as politics and the future of our country are just that--discussions. It's pointless to shout into cyberspace and not engage in thoughtful discussion. Yes, that last sentence is going to get me unfriended by some, but I'm okay with that.

One final thought, in Romney's concession speech, he said, "At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. The leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work. And we citizens have to rise to the occasion." He also implored his supporters to pray for the President. 

I recognize the seeming hypocrisy of my posting this on Facebook after asserting that it isn't a place for politics. But I hope you see this post as not a political one, but as one where I'm asking for a return to the friendly, sharing-life medium Facebook represents. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Gratitude Reminder from Sandy

This week, Hurricane Sandy crippled a huge part of the East Coast. People wondered if the weather people were hyping it up, but--unfortunately--they weren't. The past several days, we've heard stories of death. Stories of people stranded. Stories of power outages and elderly being carried down dark stair wells.

But in the parts of the country Sandy didn't devastate, life went on. When Jamie and I lost our daughter, Abby, I remember my anger at life going on in the face of tragedy. As we drove home from the funeral home where we'd made the decision to cremate our baby, I grew angry at people waiting in line at the McDonald's drive-thru. At the businessman on his cell phone. At the Walmart parking lot full of people buying bandaids and sponges and light bulbs.

Watching these stories from Sandy, I'm reminded of how isolated I felt in my pain and loss. I re-indexed myself for any annoyance at delays caused by Sandy. In checking myself, I came to the following comparisons:

Me:  Something I expected to be delivered yesterday showed up today.
The driver:  I couldn't show up for my job as a delivery man because I still don't have power, my kids are home from school, and our local grocery store is out of water.

Me:   We were stuck at home Monday and Tuesday and lost productivity on those two days.
Waiter in downtown Manhatten:  I couldn't go to work all week because of the storm, so I lost a week's worth of income.

Me:   I had a sewage backup that caused a drip in my basement.
New Jersey Shore resident:  I'm sitting on the second floor of my house because my first floor is flooded with sand. I have no power or clean water.

Me:  The howling winds kept me up most of the night on Monday and the craziness in trying to catch up later in the week wiped me out.
Latest report:  109 people died in the United States from Sandy. More souls were lost in the Caribbean.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am acutely aware this year of all I've been blessed with. Beautiful, healthy children. A wonderful husband with a secure job he loves. Friends who have my back and help me grow as a person. My health. My home. My life.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Why It's Okay To Say "No"

This morning as I ran around completing errands while listening to satellite radio, one of my favorite songs by Reliant K played. Although I've heard the song hundreds of times and know the words by heart, one of the lyrics struck me today: "I am a hostage to my own humanity." Yes, yes I am.

I've always been a dreamer. An idealist. Wanting to believe the best in this world and in every single person who inhabits it. Wanting to fill every need I encountered. Wanting to soothe every hurt endured by not only those I love, but by those exposed to me with obvious hurts. I say this not to tout my empathy as some type of badge of honor. I say it with a tone of frustration because this song--this lyric--reminded me that I'm limited by my own humanity. The limits of time, energy, resources, and strength erected by the fact that I'm human.

I can't help every person who asks. I can't give to every cause (my husband won't let me answer the phone between 5 and 8 pm!). I can't say "yes" to every request made of me. Even though I want to.

I grew up in a home in which my parents had limited means. There wasn't money for dance class, the latest technology, or the hippest clothes. But despite my not having the ridiculous creature comforts my kids enjoy, I felt minimal loss. Sure, when I was in middle school and my friends were wearing name-brand jeans and could participate in extra-curricular activities that I couldn't because my brothers and I were latch-key kids, I nursed the narcissistic attitude of some teenagers that I was being robbed of something. Kids are kids and can have a tunnel vision that requires a re-indexing.

My sweet Daddy provided that re-indexing. He didn't do this through words; he did it through his example. He went on mission trips to help build things. He volunteered his time. He provided a vision of service that truly embodies the idea of giving yourself to those who need it. His life inspired in me a servant's heart. This can sometimes lead to an overextension of self. We get pulled in lots of directions. We get asked more often than most because those asking know we'll say "yes."

One of the most important lessons I've learned in my forty-something years is to navigate my life so that I willing offer my time, focus, and love to those things that matter most to me. So when the asks come that I need to say "no" to but would otherwise feel obligated to say "yes" to are a no-brainer. I simply don't have the time to dedicate because I've resourced it already.

As you examine your life and where your energies go, please give yourself the permission to prioritize according to what's important to you. Because if you give your energies in places your heart doesn't sit, you do both yourself and those you've committed those energies to an injustice. If we all simply focused our time and energy on those things that inspire us, all the parts would be covered.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Thought Required When We're Forced To Measure Our Words

Back in the day, before computers, typewriters, and even ball-point pens, people used pen and ink to capture their thoughts. Ideas. Creations. Sitting here, I can fly across my keyboard and type out dozens of words a minute, whereas in the past, each word required dipping metal into a pot of ink. Each stroke required deliberate thought because the task of putting it onto parchment didn't allow for superfluous ponderings (like using the word superfluous). It required precision and intent and careful consideration. Ink and parchment were precious and didn't allow the vomiting of opinions and ideas to which our present conveniences and media open the gateway.

I see this as both a negative and a positive. Anyone (like me!) can sit down at their computer and blog into the world wide web without pause, reconsideration, or even a grammatical or moral filter. The news media, which used to be limited to thirty minutes in the evening hour, is now a twenty-four hour talking head, love fest where whatever your political view is can be validated and explored ad nauseam no matter what the hour. Yes, we have access to information and opinions that we've never had before. And this is a good thing in that we can listen to and contemplate ideologies that we otherwise wouldn't. But this non-stop feed heightens our responsibility to consume this vast medium with a much stronger filter. We can't simply listen to pundits and adopt their opinions. Because there are SO MANY. We must think about our own values, priorities, and thoughts before we simply push a like button, a hashtag, or nod our heads.

I embrace the ease of my laptop. The internet. The vast landscape of ideas that open with a few mouse clicks. But I also miss the deliberation of a world where each word required a dip into a valued vat of ink. The work required in each stroke. The literal and metaphorical worth of each letter. Each thought. Because forcing such reflection in presenting opinion doesn't allow for empty words or thoughtless rhetoric.

So let us each pause and consider what is truly important to us. Then, having done so, use our powerful words and precious time to express that which is most important.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How Our Words Have Power Beyond What We Presume


When I began blogging a few years ago, I didn't really understand what I was doing. If you read my first few posts (please don't!), they sound more like a diary entry than what I've tried to do with my blog over the past three years. I initially assumed that blogs were meant to be online journals that you shared with whomever cared to read about whatever pursuit you were undertaking. I've tried to evolve mine into a philosophical reflection of not only my journey in trying to get my novel, "The Beauty of Grace," out there, but also in navigating daily life. I knew that my friends and family would read my pontifications out of a sense of loyalty and support, but I believed it ended there.

Then, today, I received a message from someone that surprised and humbled me. When we first moved to Pennsylvania eight years ago, I went to a jewelry show at the home of Renie. I loved her work and spoke with her briefly, but our paths haven't crossed in the past several years. Through Facebook's "friend recommendations," we touched base, but only virtually by following one another's posts. We've never met for coffee or chatted on the phone or spent time together. So when I received a direct message from her on Facebook today, it halted me.

In June, I went home to Alabama. The purpose of my trip was heartbreaking--my cousin and his eighteen-year-old daughter's funeral. And while I was there, my aunt delivered volumes of photo albums that belonged to my grandparents. These pictures and being surrounded by family and the heightened sense of mortality caused me to reflect on my family's story. So I blogged about it.

This afternoon, I opened a message from Renie telling me that she'd read the post about my grandfather and hadn't stopped thinking about it. In spending time with her parents recently because of emergent illness, she'd been asking questions, trying to archive experiences, and thinking of their stories. She articulated that she'd been thinking of the words in my post and trying to capture her family's experience. Wow. I responded to her that she humbled me with her words. How blogging often feels like an exercise in hubris. Why write something and put it out there for people to read? Assuming your words are worthy of time and reflection. Her honesty caused me to pause. I encouraged her to write her father's experiences. To write with honesty and emotion and without filter because her father's story as a World War II vet deserved to be told. That the tugging she feels to tell it is an instinctual validation of this.

We all have a story. It can be complicated. Messy. Painful. Funny. Or presumptively boring. But it is our story. And it should be told because when we share our stories, it brings us that much closer together as we realize that we aren't as different as we'd presumed.



Thursday, August 30, 2012

Politics and Discovering True Growth From Exploring Your Truth

My hubby and I are the butt of jokes amongst our friends. We passionately debate politics in ways that assume whomever wins the debate will change policy forever. When we first went out with friends and would start in with our normal banter, they would retract from the conversation with a "whoa, they really don't like each other" or "did we just befriend two people on the brink of divorce" look. But that's just who we are. Every night when we watch the news, we whisper commentary under our breaths at one another. Opposites in our beliefs on almost every topic.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. Because what I've discovered through our polarity is the reason and depth behind the beliefs I hold so close to my heart. My husband's views have required me to examine why I proclaim certain things as truth and why I hold the priorities I do. In defending my "agenda" vehemently to the one I hold dear, I've better understood what defines me. He doesn't dismiss  my ideologies as falling along "party lines" or "religious beliefs." His love for me presumes a thoughtful authenticity. And I've come to understand that his questions to me, just as my questions to him, are with the desire to truly understand the other's point of view. Not to excavate ammunition.

As a result, we've both grown intellectually, ideologically, and spiritually. Honestly discussing important topics from dichotomous points of view forces a re-evaluation. I've learned that it's a wonderful thing to be elastic in thought rather than immovably concrete. What seemed offensive twenty years ago is now open to consideration.

In supporting my honey the last couple of days by watching the Republican National Convention and its speakers, I've tried to do so with an open mind. Because I've realized (in the infinite wisdom of my 40-something age--LOL) that considering opposing views opens the mind to expansion and not redefinition. Although we all bring our uniqueness to the table, we're--in the bottom of our hearts, minds, and souls--fundamentally the same. So I hope. I pray.

With the events this week and next, let's not allow labels, finger-pointing, and predispositions to continue to divide us. For our wonderful country to thrive, we need to find a meeting place where what matters to the masses is more important than what matters to a few. This country was founded on democracy. One person. One vote. And our leaders should come together to offer solutions. Not sit on opposite sides and shoot spit balls at each other.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics and The Beauty of Its Spectacle

As I watched the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, it amazed me to see a choir sing as drumsticks struck smaller versions of the London Eye and the Tower Bridge. When the Olympics began centuries ago, they were a test of the finest athletes. Although our culture has evolved and our technology has inspired a spectacle of lights, the heart of the games remains unchanged. In the age of Twitter and the internet, results were known before the events aired. But that didn't matter. The spirit of the games remained pure. And it was a joy to watch.

These athletes are the best of the best. They've dedicated their lives to represent their countries by excelling in whatever sport has called them. Sixteen-year-old children who've known nothing but pursuing their goals. Thirty-somethings who've been declared beyond their prime fighting for one last medal. They've awakened before dawn their entire lives in the pursuit of one goal. To be deemed the best. To stand on a podium, hear their national anthem, and have a medal placed around their neck.

Last night's closing ceremonies were a stark contrast to the hard work and sweat these athletes have endured. Men paraded across the stage in yellow suits, hung from harnesses, and wore party hats to participate in a spectacle. Beefeaters carried tubas. The silliness belied the hard work the men and women who participated in the games put into the last four years. Into their lives. Why did the closing ceremonies have to be such pomp and circumstance? It seemed so disconnected from the actual games. Then I realized why. If I were a gymnast who'd sacrificed my childhood. My life. Hamburgers and chocolate. If I were a Kenyan runner who came across the world to race for one minute and forty seconds. If I were from South Africa and made history as the first double-amputee Olympian, who ran 400 meters in just over 46 seconds, I would want a spectacle. An over-the-top party. I would want princes and pop stars and acrobats celebrating my life-long work. My accomplishment of simply being present at the Olympics, much less setting world records. I would want exactly what last night was.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ten Things I've Learned From My Dogs


A couple of weeks ago, I posted some things I'd learned recently from a two-year-old. In thinking of what I'd learned from unexpected places, I realized I'd also discovered a few life lessons from my dogs:

#1: The moment you meet someone you know whether they're a good person or not.

Dogs have an incredible spidey-sense about people. A few months ago, when we had our deck stained, a rather rough-looking guy stepped onto our deck. Our three dogs barked incessantly behind the glass doors until I let them out. They ran to the guy like he was the dog whisperer. No more barking. Just lots of licks and tail wagging. I knew he was a good guy.

#2:  Snuggling evinces the deepest form of trust.

Our 14-year-old dog, Taylor, was a rescue who has had trust issues her entire life. Even though she's in heart failure, she races across the yard like a puppy when a stranger dares step onto our property. But at night, she finally relaxes and allows herself to sleep tucked in next to me and Jamie. Our most recent adoption, Ellie, lived on the streets for a while and is in constant alert mode. It's taken some time, but she now trusts us. When I drape a blanket across my lap, she jumps up and curls her crazy long legs into a tiny ball and completely surrenders.

#3: Allow yourself to nap during the day if you're tired.

I love curling up on the couch on a Sunday afternoon with one dog curled up in my arms and another in the crook of my legs. It's a yummy sleep, and gets me rejuvenated for the week to come.

#4:  Respect the alpha of your pack.

No matter how many dogs you have, there is only one alpha. The alpha commands respect but her role is actually to make the best decisions for the pack. We moms are the alphas of our families. In fulfilling our role of protector and decision-maker, we can't tolerate disrespect. Nothing shatters a family faster than disrespect between spouses or between children and parents. Although it usually arises from annoyance or impatience, the recipient feels it viscerally as hatred.

#5:  You need that person that will clean up your pee and poop with a simple utter under their breath and no true anger.

Having little dogs with little systems sometimes leads to little "accidents." Having two elderly dogs who became incontinent added a new level to my patience. When I watch my dad care for my mom, who's in the end stages of dementia, his love and care humbles me.

#6:   Lie in the sun at least once a day because nothing feels as good or will make you smell like Fritos. 

I love lying on the beach. Next to a pool. Or just out on the deck. There's something inexplicable about having the sun's warmth on your face. The comforting heat causes us to pause.

#7:  Stick your head out of the window of a car while you're riding down the road. It makes you feel alive, allows you to appreciate the speed, and gives you a glimpse of every relevant smell along the way.

We often focus on the destination when the journey is just as good.

#8:  Celebrate when the person you love comes home.

One of the many wonderful things about having a dog is the pure, unadulterated joy they show when you walk in the door. Even if you've only been gone for thirty minutes. If only we showed our loved ones such joy simply because they're present.

#9:  Bark when someone threatens those you love because even if it's just the UPS guy, you never know.

Becoming a parent has released the Kraken that is the mama bear inside me. Whether it's a school bully, a cranky teacher, a screaming coach, or my own family members, my normally docile disposition vanishes in the shadow of my protectiveness of my children.

#10:  Chase your tail when it smacks you unexpectedly because it's obviously unruly or just seeking an outlet. 

Our terrier, Ellie, has unbelievable energy. Sometimes when she's wound up and her tail is wagging, it accidentally hits her. And she attacks it for a split-second before she feels the pinch of her own teeth and realizes... In our hectic lives, our responsibilities sometimes overcome us. The proverbial "tail wagging the dog." Stop it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Homemade Grits, Changing Tastes, and The Constant Redefining of Ourselves

On Thursday morning, we pulled out of my dad's driveway in Alabama around 8:30 am to head back to Pennsylvania after a wonderful, full week with the family. We stopped at a coffee shop just before hopping on the interstate. I ordered a peppermint mocha latte and began to peruse the breakfast menu. When I saw grits listed, my decision for breakfast was made. Behind the espresso machine sat a black vat of homemade grits. Not the instant grits I buy in Pennsylvania that I microwave for 90 seconds then shove a dollop of butter into for flavor. These were full-on, homemade, Alabama grits. Slow cooked to perfection.

So imagine my surprise when I took a big bite and almost spit them out. Since I left home over twenty years ago, I haven't had homemade, slow-cooked grits. My entire adult life, my grits have come from a Quaker box. And that's how I like them now.

I pulled onto the interstate with my delicious and predictable peppermint mocha with three shots of espresso, and thought about what other tastes of mine have changed since I left Alabama twenty years ago for Atlanta. In 1991, I didn't drink coffee. In 1994, when my roommate, Jill, and I drove through the night to spend Thanksgiving with her family in Michigan, she convinced me to drink a big, plastic vat of coffee with at least ten servings of vanilla creamer in it. Now, I not only like to drink strong coffee, I drink straight espresso in their tiny cups of heaven. When I practiced law in Miami, I loved to stop at the counter across from the courthouse and grab a Cuban coffee.

When I moved to Miami for my first job, I worked six days a week. Monday through Friday were twelve hour days with six to seven hours spent in the office on Saturday. So I cherished my Sundays. I would sit on the beach and read. I devoured "The Winds of War," "Les Miserables," Neitzsche, Kafka, Kundera. I loved deep, philosophical books that challenged me and flipped my perspective, causing me to examine every bit of me. As a twenty-something, I sought my place in the world and needed to understand the layers of my relationships and beliefs before I could define my own identity and boundaries.

Now, as suburban mom, I read Jodi Picoult books, Parent magazine, and skim snippets of the news online in an attempt to remain plugged into what's going on in the rest of the world and in the sphere of my own society. I'd love to spend hours pontificating the complexity of everything around me. And its simplicity. The layers of what surrounds us. But the demands of being a responsible adult often interrupt these contemplations in their infancy. We have to instead figure out how to squeeze laundry, groceries, bills, the kids' sports, and a shower into a finite period of time. Doesn't really lend itself to Nietzsche and lying on the beach searching the stars.

As a kid, I loved Twizzlers and Twinkies. Now I love sushi and hummus. I loved soda and cheetos. Now I love broccoli and tomatoes. I loved cartoons and comics. Now I love National Geographic TV and poetry.

Tastes evolve and devolve, just as our priorities do. We redefine ourselves constantly. And the most important part of this is remaining true to our authentic selves and not allowing popular culture to dictate our interests and what is important to us. So embrace whatever is relevant, important, and defining to you. The extraneous doesn't matter.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Things I learned from a two-year-old: Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the adorable McKenzie Bishop (I had to include another picture. She's just too cute.) Over the past few days, she's continued to remind me of some basic, but profound, principles:

1.  Ask for what you want. Otherwise, you'll never get it.
2.  Use as few words as possible. Because people will try to actually listen and figure out what you're trying to say.
3.  Show your love unabashedly. Those you love will never grow tired of your hugs and affection.
4.  Eat when you're hungry and sleep when you're tired. Enough said.
5.  Cling to those you love as if they're a lifeline. Because they are.
6.  Always eat the inside of the grilled cheese first. It's the best part and if you eat the crust first, you'll be too full to enjoy the gooey goodness.
7.  Love your Daddy without condition. That's how he loves you. And no one else will ever love you the way he does.
8.  Laugh as loud as you can and express the pure joy you feel in your heart. Nothing else will ever feel as good.
9.  When you need help, look to your brother. As annoying as he might be sometimes, he will be your best friend and protect you. Blood is thicker than friendship.
10.  Dig your toes in the sand. Eat pudding with your hands. Drink your milk with both hands. And sleep with your mouth wide open. In other words, live life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What I learned from a 2-year-old this weekend.

I've spent the last few days in picturesque Seaside, Florida with my cousins and their families. Seaside is an amazing, quaint little town on the panhandle of Florida. Quiet, serene, and relaxing. We've spent lazy days where lunch isn't over until 4 pm and we simply sit on the beach together talking. Although we haven't seen one another in years, the forty-plus years I've known them erases any hiccups in time between visits. We seamlessly fall back into a familiarity that wraps me in warmth and love. No expectations. No awkward silences. And no make-up required. Although we're hundreds of miles from home, we're home.

My cousin, Ann, has a beautiful two-year-old daughter, McKenzie (that's her cherubic face in the pic). Until this weekend, I'd only seen her in pictures, which belied her beauty and sweetness. Yesterday, she sat watching a movie after having a full morning of play and pool time. Her eyelids kept slowly closing with fatigue. Her head bobbed. Her arms twitched. And just as she succumbed to sleep, she jerked her head up and protested, "I not tired." We watched her, laughing and breathing in her innocence and fortitude.

It reminded me of my own life, and that of most people I know. Our lives are filled with family, friends, activities, obligations, vacations, work, commitments to community. We become overloaded and our heads bob as our metaphorical eyelids beg to close, but we fight it. We continue to say "yes." We add that one more thing. Allow our child to play one more sport. Take on one more committee. Agree to one more additional task to our already bloated work load. When what we really need to do is stop. Say no. Breathe. Close our eyes.

The publishing world is a hurricane. It doesn't simply end when you edit the last page. That's just the lightening before the storm. There are then re-edits and re-writes and query letters and cover designs and website designs and marketing strategies and publicity. When I first began to write books, I did so to tell a story. Because writing is a compulsion for me. I didn't realize the enormity of the world of publishing. But even if I had, it wouldn't have stopped me. My heart. My soul. My innermost person bleeds through my fingertips and onto my keyboard. It's a sneeze I can't suppress.

But the choices I make in my daily life about the responsibilities I assume are my choice. I must learn to step back, take a breath, say "no," and allow my eyelids to close.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Emotions Trump Actual Words Everytime

If you had told me five years ago that I would be involved in working with middle school students--actually taking time away from my family, sharing a shower and a room with a bunch of messy, disorganized girls, and eating camp food for four days straight, I would have laughed. Although I've lived my life trying to find ways to give to others, it's always been with the idea of helping those in need like the homeless or battered women. In law school, I volunteered at the Achor Center, a women and children's shelter. We loved going down as a group every week to play with the kids while their moms had time alone. As I continued through adult hood, I've tried to always give back and pay it forward. But it never occurred to me that simply opening my heart to middle school students would be so important.

We live in an upper-class suburb, Manheim Township. My friend's kids and my own have iPhones and Ripsticks and Wii's and Abercrombie clothes. If they want to play lacrosse or dance or travel all over the place on the weekends to play a sport, we shell out the money for the equipment, the uniforms, the hotel rooms, the food. Because we can. For some families, the cost of a lacrosse stick is a week's worth of groceries. A year of dance is a mortgage payment. We have so much, but expect so little from our kids when it comes to giving back. Yes, we want to give them everything. Yes, we want to provide what we didn't have as kids. Yes, we don't want them to want because we can prevent it. But is that the best thing? Should our kids have flat-screen TV's, game systems, smart phones, and expensive clothes simply because we didn't. Or because we can give it to them.

I spent this weekend with my daughter and eight other middle-school girls in two rooms. Yes it was messy! And loud! But they were unplugged. No TV. No game systems. Minimal cell phones. No time for make-up and flat irons and multiple wardrobe changes. And it was amazing. Without the shellac of their daily lives, they could just be. There was no pretense. No trying to be "cool." No multiple mirror readjustments. They just lived in their skin (albeit stinky) and had fun. They were open and loving and amazing. It has been said that people don't remember what you say. They remember how you make them feel. This was evident this weekend in living 24-7 in close quarters with a group of middle school girls. I hope that I made the middle schoolers I spent the weekend with understand that I love them and are there for them simply because I made them feel accepted.

With writing, authors often try too hard with imagery, vocabulary, and metaphor. We seek depth and levels in our writing that end up being forced and insincere. We powder our words with unnecessary frosting because what matters isn't always how we say it but what we say. You might not remember character names or plot lines or settings, but you will remember that you loved a certain book. Or that an author consistently makes you unable to put her book down.

I hope to evoke such an emotive response with my readers. More importantly, I hope my own children feel my love every morning when they come down the stairs. When they're 30, they might not remember that they got a "morning hug" before anything else, and that the last words they heard at night were "I love you." But they will remember and know that they are loved.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fitted Sheets, Summer Heat, and Little Annoyances

Just a few minutes ago, I was in our guest bedroom trying to put clean sheets on its queen-sized bed. My honey and I (and the pups) sleep in a King, which is a square that doesn't require thought. So as my mind is in a million other places, I grew frustrated at trying to get the fitted sheet on the rectangular bed. In my frustration, I became annoyed with our three dogs underfoot who required me to step over them simply because they wanted to be near me. I also mentally complained about how because I'm growing my hair out, I'm hot. Last summer I didn't have hair on my neck. Then, as quickly as these ridiculous complaints registered, my mind involuntarily slapped itself.

I stepped back and thought of the thousands of homeless people who would appreciate a clean mattress, much less clean sheets. Privacy versus a shelter full of people. A bathroom to themselves instead of waiting in line simply to brush their teeth. I thought of my best friend's mother with a chemo-therapy-caused bald head and how she would love to be able to hold her hair up and complain about the heat. I thought about those who don't have the arms, the strength, or the mental capacity to make a bed. I thought of my mom who, if she were only aware, would love to be making that bed instead of sitting in a wheelchair unaware of her surroundings.

I'm not saying we never have a right to be sad or annoyed or angry. But we also have a responsibility to recognize and appreciate all that is good in our lives. And find the good even in the mundane. The ordinary. The annoying.

Oftentimes, writers will describe scenes or characters who appear to contribute nothing to the plot or dynamics of the story. But nothing we write lacks purpose. Isn't intentional. In trying to capture a reader's imagination and convince them to lend hours of their busy lives to the words we've written requires authors to be judicious with their words. Purposeful.

In fighting with the fitted sheet tonight, I was reminded that I need to live my live with gratitude and awareness. Purposefully.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What Makes America Great, Our Diversity, and Why "Bless Her Heart" isn't a Blessing

Yesterday, we celebrated our country's birthday. It caused me to pause and reflect on how vast and diverse our nation has become over the past 236 years. We landed on Plymouth Rock as one group of people and have since welcomed emigrants from all over the globe who have contributed to the uniqueness of our country. From the Cuban food and Flamenco dancing in South Florida to the deliciously ethnic dishes and cultures found all over New York City in China Town and Little Italy. Every continent and most nations have representatives who enrich our culture. Contribute to our society. And make us the great country we are. I'm not trying to incite a debate on immigration. To prevent provocation of nasty commentary, let's assume I'm talking about legal immigrants. The bottom line is that our country is great because of how much its citizens want to be American. Even if they weren't born here. It is Patriotism born from a love of what America represents and holds dear, and not simply from being born here.

As I walked across the parking lot of the CVS today, a warm breeze blew. Not a cool, refreshing, heat-wicking breeze, but a heat that did nothing to provide respite from the stifling summer. My granddaddy called that kind of breeze the "Devil's Breath." When I thought of this, it reminded me of antidotes you only hear in the South. Like how "bless her heart" is no blessing at all. Instead it means either she's dumb, she's ugly, or she's pitiful (I know it's harsh, but that's what it means). How "y'all" can be singular with the plural being "all y'all." How "pretty" is "purdy" and "pin" is "pe-en." I love when I go home to Alabama and slip back into the slow, beautiful language I grew up around. Its cadence mirrors a hot Southern summer. And each word, stretched to additional syllables, is filled with the emotion it represents. The way "Daddy" holds all of the love and respect it can, and children say "yes, ma'am" and "no sir."

Living in Pennsylvania for the last eight years, I noticed how locals say "wuter" where Southerners would say "waw-ter." They delete the "a" in the days of the week so "Wednesday" becomes "Wednsdy." In London, I heard the locals add "r" to words ending with a. "Agenda" becomes "agender" and "Ella" becomes "Eller." And anything good is "brilliant!" The Australians call a best friend a "mate" and any other guy a "bloak."

Yet despite the different ways we say things, we're all saying the same things. How much we love our family. How much our friends mean to us. How our dreams push us forward. How our lives are defined by the things treasured by us the most.

While writing The Beauty of Grace, I sent beta copies to a couple of people whose opinions I treasure. One of them, my sister-in-law, Stacey, caught an error in the dialogue that escaped me. Growing up in the South, I heard people use the term, "sweetie," all the time. In Grace, which is set in Atlanta, many of the characters used this same term of endearment. Stacey pointed out that it made the dialogue confusing, causing her to halt and re-read who was speaking. To a writer, this is a death-knoll. You never want a reader to stop and have to re-read passages. Although people use this term liberally where I grew up, I realized that not all of my potential readers grew up in the South. While staying true to the setting, I also needed to consider my audience. In her one sentence comment, Stacey changed my view of an important aspect of writing: dialogue. And making it true to the setting while also preventing the reader from having to pause.

Yesterday, I pondered how wonderfully rich our country is in how we bring diversity and perspective to one another's lives allowing us to better ourselves in every way we're human. In the arts. In our legislation. In our daily lives. God Bless America.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," and the Power of Words

Last night, I was reminded of the power of words. My love for words is obvious, as evidenced through the title of this blog and the compulsion to write my novels and memoir. I love their power. The depth of conviction and ideology that can be relayed. Their demonstration of passion, logic, compassion, and honesty. They can also reveal prejudice, hatred, and ignorance. But without them, we cannot express what is important to us. Protect those we love and demonstrate that love. Words are gateways to vast worlds.

So I spent last night with some powerful, life-altering words. I read the Supreme Court's opinion on the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"). Not what people are writing about it. Or saying about it. But the actual opinion. And I read the actual bill. Not all of it (because of its length), but I looked at the specific provisions that have people shouting obscenities at their neighbors and decrying the end of the republic. I read the actual bill and the Supreme Court's opinion because I want to be informed. I don't want people reducing such landmark legislation to soundbites that I bite and devour with my own ideologies as tasting buds. I want to truly understand what happened with the passage of the bill and not rely on people with agendas to shove their interpretations down my throat.

I know how polarizing this bill is. I've seen the debates it's inspired--which is good. Thoughtful discussion is always good. But I've also seen people argue and yell and even curse over this bill. I just ask that if you want to pound your fists, please actually read the words of those we chose to govern us before stepping onto your pulpit. Because the truth is, whether you like it or not, all three branches of government--the three branches that our constitution and ourselves rely on to provide checks and balances--all approved of the bill.

The point of this post isn't to instigate debate or the hateful bantering I've seen in social networking. I simply wanted to remind of the power of words. Because as I've watched pundits discuss Robert's opinion and Congress's passage of the bill, I'm reminded of the power of words. Not only in how the three branches of the government we so dearly love and defend protect the provisions of the Constitution, but in how it inspires us as a people to examine and clarify who we are individually and as a nation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stories to be Told: Part 2

A few years ago, a family moved in across the street. I met Dan and Michelle, and their son, Matt, within days. Within months, Michelle and I were friends. When we first met, Michelle briefly mentioned her son, Nick, and said he was "away at school." As our friendship bloomed, I learned that "school" is a residential facility for kids with special needs. See, Nick has tuberous sclerosis, a rare, multi-system disease that causes non-malignant tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs. When Nick was born, he had 28 tumors in his brain and 5 in his heart. Because of these inoperable tumors, he has seizures, developmental delays, behavioral problems, and is autistic. And he is loved. 

Michelle described to me their journey in deciding to allow Nick to go to the residential school. It had nothing to do with convenience for their family and everything to do with what was in Nick's best interests medically, socially, and developmentally. I asked if she'd like to tell Nick's story and she agreed. So we began. She's described brain surgeries, seizure episodes, behavioral issues, and the strain chronic illness puts on a family. But she's also described weekends at the beach, his passion for music, and how he inspires them with how extraordinary he is. They're an amazing family and I'm honored to write their story for them.

As we continue on this shared road of telling Nick's story--their family's story--I know it will stretch me as both a person and an author. To hear about heart-wrenching brain surgeries and frightening seizure episodes will break my heart and cause me to pause when I begin to complain about my life. I also look forward to how writing this story will help me grow as an author. To write someone else's memoir and be true to their life and purpose and emotions will be difficult. But I welcome the task. Because just as in life, we often must be pushed out of our comfort zone and test who we are and what we can become to discover where we can truly go. Thank you, Michelle, for this journey.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Granddaddy, Our Lives, and The Stories Waiting to be Told

On Tuesday, my Daddy and I flipped through photo albums that my aunt dropped off at his home. They'd belonged to my grandmother--Grandmomma Kelley, the matriarch of the family. They chronicled decades and included numerous photos of each of her nine grandchildren. She was one proud Grandmomma. When the great-grandchildren came along, they were included, too. A lifetime of memories. As I looked through these with Daddy, the stories they represented came alive when he began explaining the pictures. Who was in them. When they were taken. Where they were taken.

He was a military brat because my grandfather served a full career in the Air Force. In 1940, before my Daddy was born, my grandfather graduated from training as a propeller specialist. During World War II, he was stationed on an island in the Pacific working on fighter planes. Post-war, they moved to occupied Japan. The Air Force took them everywhere, resulting in my Daddy attending thirteen schools. Below is a picture of my Granddaddy in Italy in the 1950's. Original swag, huh?

As Daddy told me stories, I regretted never asking my Granddaddy about his life while he was alive. He died when I was 26. Like most young people, I was too self-absorbed as a teenager and too busy with my budding law career in my early 20's to think about the amazing stories in the hearts and memories of my family. I wish I could sit with him now and ask all the questions swirling in my mind about his experiences in the Air Force. What it was like to live during and be a part of the Pacific arena of World War II. What occupied Japan looked like. How important his country was to him that he would uproot himself and his family dozens of times. Oh how I wish I could hear his stories.

To me, he was simply Granddaddy. A man I admired and loved who always smelled of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum and had a toothpick in his mouth. Who always made me feel like I was his favorite (I later learned from my cousins that he made us all feel this way!). Who'd wink and say, "Baby, you're prettier than a Chilton County Peach."

The albums reminded me that we all have stories. Some good, some bad. Weddings, births, deaths, vacations, friends, careers, and even simple, shared moments weave together the stories of our lives. And they are each unique and worth telling.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Life, loss, and loved ones.

This morning was a typical morning. My ADHD miracle boy woke up, came downstairs, and immediately starting making random, non-sensical noises. The dog we adopted from the Humane League six months ago appears with her full-on crazy. Barking at the sunlight on the floor, squirrels climbing trees outside, and my aforementioned miracle boy who won't stop squeaking her favorite toy. This morning was just like every morning. Same button to push on the coffee pot. Same email address and Facebook account to check. Same chocolate milk for miracle boy and repetitive "shushes" to insane, but insanely loved, rescue pup. Most days start this way. Then they continue in this life my honey and I have created for our family. We have amazing friends. We're both pursuing our dreams. And we're best friends and incredible partners. The only thing missing is what we left behind. And that is family. His is in South Florida. Mine in the South (Alabama and Mississippi-- holla!)

Today, a call from my dad yanked me from my routine. It's amazing how quickly we insulate our "now" lives from our "before" lives. Yes, I would love to see my family more. My Dad is my hero. My cousin, Amber, is my sister from another mother. Her sisters and their children are so much fun to be with. There is so much to embrace and celebrate. But the distance makes the everyday connections hard. So life tends to compartmentalize. When we're here in PA, we're surrounded by our friends here. My church buds at LCBC. The life we've made. Then, something happens and I'm shoved into a time machine and catapulted back dozens of years. Although this can be painful at times, I'm not complaining. Reconnection is wonderful. It reminds me of who I was, where I've been, and what I've endured.

But I wish with all my heart that today's time travel never happened. More importantly, that it's facilitation never happened. Yesterday, my cousin, who is a year older than me, and his beautiful, 18-year-old daughter were killed in their home. All day, my heart has been sick as images flip through my mind like a slideshow. Eddie and Allison have been through so much. This sweet 18-year-old girl had a mother with MS. A little brother who was run over in his own driveway. A grandfather who raised her who died too young from Melanoma. And her sweet life, and that of her daddy, is cut short.

It makes no sense. It makes me question God. How can so much tragedy fall on one family? My Daddy is faithful and clings to his beliefs. Despite having one child in a coma for weeks from a car accident. Another lost at the age of 30. A grandchild who died. A wife who is in the end stages of dementia. A brother lost to cancer. A mother lost to stroke. I can't comprehend that kind of pain.

So no reference to writing tonight. Just homage on this Father's Day weekend to my amazing father who keeps taking punches. Mike Tyson got nothin' on him! And in honor of my cousin, Eddie Kelley, and his beautiful 18-year-old daughter, Allison, who became angels too soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The sacrifice of motherhood and being honest with ourselves.

When you decide to have children, you know it will require sacrifice. Midnight feedings, dirty diapers in inconvenient places, temper tantrums, sibling fights, bedtime battles, friendship drama, boo-boos, bullying, and never going to the bathroom alone. Again. Ever. You've heard (and pray it's true) that your child's smile will melt your heart. That her happiness will genuinely be yours. That the first time he catches a foul ball, you'll be as proud as if he won the World Series. Watching them sleep will make you weep. Sending them to summer camp for the first time will break your heart with ache.

It sounds cliche, but anyone who's had children will agree that you have no idea what you're truly getting into. The love and the aggravation. The pride and the embarrassment. Stretching the limits of your joy and the limits of your patience. The extremes of who you were, are, and will become. It isn't only the greatest pleasure, it is also the greatest test of character. Having children forced me to embrace all that is good and bad about myself.

In all honesty, the hardest challenge for me has been the loss of self. In many ways, I've developed dimensions that never existed until I became a mom. I see the world in a different way. News stories, politics, the economy, the environment all have more depth because I view them beyond my own life. I now see my children. And their children. And their children. It creates a responsibility that before ended with me.

But in taking on this burden, I've lost parts of me. Some good. Some bad. To qualify, the sacrifice is worth all that I've gained. Yet, in full disclosure, I miss being able to embrace the muse. In a prior post, I described how ideas and words flutter around like butterflies. If you don't capture them when they're in front of you, they're gone. Tonight, I sat to work on my fourth book. A book that I need to finish because it is the story of my friend's son and her family's life with his tuberous sclerosis. But each time I tried to write, someone needed something from mommy. Yes, I'd love to be one of those writers who can wait until it's quiet and write into the wee hours, but when you know your ADHD son will be up at the crack of dawn, it doesn't happen. Sleep trumps pursuing waking dreams. I can carve 15 minutes to write a blog post, but not two hours to write another chapter.

Of course I would do it all again. Give up my legal career. Give up research and writing full time. Give up being able to sit down when my muse decides to show her face and capture the thoughts. Because my children are everything to me and worth the sacrifice. But I do miss her.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Truth About Love.

I've mentioned in the past that I work with an amazing group of eighth-grade young women on Sunday mornings. Today, our fearless leader, Jason, stressed to the students that we don't need to earn love. A big point he pushed with the kids is that love is not earned and it can't be lost. It just is.

This resonated with me on so many levels and in talking with my girls about it, I drew the parallel of parental love. As a mom, I love my kids. Period. They aggravate me, annoy me, push my limits, and make me cry. But they also inspire me, motivate me, give me purpose, and endless joy. Every morning, my eight-year-old son comes down the steps and my heart smiles. Not just because he is the miracle we never believed would happen, but because he is mine. Simply stated, I love him because he is mine. It doesn't hurt that the first thing he wants every morning, even before chocolate milk, is his "morning hug" from me.

This same little boy has ADHD and spends the morning making random noises. Not singing, not talking, not even humming. Just random bleeps and blurps. And it's loud and incredibly annoying. I find myself clinching my teeth to not yell at him to stop. And just as I don't love him any more for the empathy, intelligence, and innocence he demonstrates every day, I don't love him any less when his ADHD makes me want to run far, far away. Because Ty didn't earn my love, so he can't lose my love.

This morning, another parallel struck me and I was reminded of my Daddy. Jason asserted that we believe doing good is necessary when in fact, that isn't why we do good things. We do them because we're loved. Period. Growing up, my biggest worry was not of my Mama's wrath (the woman could yell) or even of being punished. I didn't want to disappoint my Daddy. This wasn't out of fear. Anyone who's ever met my Dad will tell you he is kind, loving, and peaceful. In my 41 years, I've never heard that man yell. His gentleness and unwavering love for me is the reason I didn't want to disappoint him. I wanted to be like him and emulate him.

There is no parallel in writing. Readers don't love you just because. You must earn their respect. Their time. Their consideration. And you must keep writing to maintain it. Just as with any art or entertainment, you must work hard to stay relevant. I am so thankful my husband, my children, my father, my friends, and my God love me just because. And that's the way I love them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hunger Games, Keep Your Eyes Open, and the Origin of Pain

A couple of years ago, I read an amazing review of "The Hunger Games," so I bought it and devoured it. When I told my friends about the book, it embarrassed me to describe the premise, but I assured them, "It's amazing. I couldn't put it down." My husband cocked his eye at me and I realized how ridiculous the "children killing children in post-apocalyptic North America" theme seemed. I explained Panem and the districts to my (avid reader) sister-in-law, Stacey, and she also eyed me suspiciously. But I professed despite the looks because the work was so compelling. I read all three books in the trilogy in a matter of weeks. The world crafting is genius and, while dark, the books demand to be read because the protagonist, Katniss, is the person we all wish to be. She is nurturing, sacrificing, selfless, resourceful, and strong. All while being vulnerable, open, and loving. We swallow the difficulty of watching/reading about starving children being forced to kill one another because we find everything in the main character to embrace and cheer for. The metaphors and cliches abound, but it's authentic and raw. 


The soundtrack to "The Hunger Games" is equally compelling. Needtobreathe is a contemporary Christian band that successfully leaped to popular radio in the past. Their song from the sound track has followed. "Keep Your Eyes Open" resounds on Hits1. A line from the song strikes me as particularly profound. They sing, "Pain is just a place the will has been broken." I've turned this over in my mind since the first time I heard it. I've tried to reconcile the idea that weakness opens the door for pain. Do we feel pain because of cracks in our resolute strength or because of our inherent humanity? Is emotional pain caused by something internal rather than external? Is it a matter of perspective? Is it subjective?  


No. Circumstances create pain. People in our lives create pain. Words create pain. Bee stings create pain. These things all originate externally and they all create visceral pain. It isn't a crack in our will. It isn't weakness. It comes from outside us and doesn't define us. Limit us. Reduce us. It exists because it is real. Not imagined, extrapolated, or assumed. If we feel pain, it's because something has hurt us. So, I love The Hunger Games Trilogy, the soundtrack, and the pause it forces. But I love the human spirit more. Our resilience and how the written word can cause millions to stop and pause. Consider the unthinkable. Pontificate our values. Push us to think. All of the controversy surrounding The Hunger Games simply reiterates the point of literature. To cause us to pause. Consider. And think of something outside of ourselves.





Sunday, May 13, 2012

Capturing butterflies and escaping the ordinary.

Thoughts, ideas, reminders, epiphanies are like butterflies. They flitter around you and if you don't capture them, they're gone. We've all been driving, listening to someone else, showering, mowing the lawn...and an idea hits us. Or a reminder of something we've been meaning to do. A birthday or event we've forgotten. For me, it's words and ideas. I'll be making dinner or folding laundry or driving home and an idea smacks me in the face. It can be for a blog post or a poem or a new perspective for a book I'm working on. Sometimes the ideas are jumbled. Sometimes they come in blocks of clarity. Simple ideas. Sometimes the blog post topics seem common sense. Sometimes prolific. Every once in a while, they appear basic but profound. And sometimes irrelevant. But they fly around my mind and I try to capture them. They can be beautiful like Monarch Butterflies with striking colors, but seemingly reverent and incapable of capture. Sometimes my ideas are like moths. Benign. Bothersome. Gray and petulant.

What inevitably happens is that by the time I get home or regain control of my computer from my kids, the idea is gone. Vanished. The imprint of its existence a nagging shadow in the back of my mind. This escape is frustrating because I believe these tiny pieces carry with them realization. Truth. Or an insight into my soul and who I truly am. Because they aren't forced. They appear out of nowhere from my subconscious and demand to be heard. If I ignore them, they disappear and I'm left with a tugging ache trying to recall them.

These thoughts and epiphanies are so honest because they're unsummoned. We don't force them. This often happens when we're debating something important to us. Nothing betrays our intricacies as much as the banter we pontificate in trying to prove a point. Nothing betrays who we truly are as much as the arguments we propound when confronted with the weaknesses in the things we hold dear. Believe in. In this world of banality, there is nothing more sacred. These moments of clarity that appear either when we're doing the mundane or when pushed to our philosophical limits force us to set aside the irrelevant and allow ourselves to realize and embrace all that is important to to us.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Pain Demands to be Felt"- Part 2

In January, I devoured the incredible, The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green.  If you haven't read the book, you must. It was written for Young Adults but it is profound. Mr. Green succinctly declares, "Pain demands to be felt." The quote forced me to put the novel down (only for a moment because it's so amazing!) and reflect. Please check out that post here: Pain Demands to be FeltI've thought about that quote often and even resounded it with friends. Last night, I experienced it. 


In my January post, I described ignoring difficult and painful issues: "Trying to forget the pain gnawing at them. Trying to push it into a deep place where it won't be felt. Trying to numb it. But like inflatables you can't sink in a pool, no matter how long you try to hold it down, pain will pop right back up. With a splash." 


Last night, I sucked in a whole splash of pain. My dad told me recently that my mom is now on a puree diet. For those of you fortunate to not know what that means, my sweet mama is now being spoon-fed her meal in a baby-food consistency. What looked like meatloaf is now a brown mush. It's food. It's nutrition. And she opens her mouth and slowly swallows it like a baby bird. But if you showed a pureed meal to most people, they would turn their noses up. For my mom, it's a mark of digression. One more progression in this awful disease they call Frontal-Temporal Dementia.


I heard these words from my dad. Absorbed these words. But didn't allow myself to truly comprehend these words. Because in the busy world of suburbia with its bus stops, errands, meal-planning, and the wonderful bliss of life, such things halt you. Like a horse on a break-out run being yanked ninety degrees by the bit. At first, you sense but don't appreciate the change in direction. Then, as Mr. Green precisely averred, the pain will demand to be felt. And it slapped me in the face. Hard. And this morning, the sting hit me again with the tender bruise left in its wake.


I can only hope that my words move readers in a fraction of the way Mr. Green's provoked me. Forced me to allow myself to mourn the incremental loss of my sweet mama. That by discussing the difficult issues we face that we'll find release in confronting them. Even if the confrontation leaves us feeling broken. Because the pain demands to be felt.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Asphalt Rain, the Scent of a Baby, Cookies, and Memories

Everyone's heard of "comfort food": grilled cheese, tomato soup, mashed potatoes...But what about comfort smells? The things that make you inhale deeply and immediately smile. Take you to that warm, safe place. For some, it's laundry dried on the line. For others, it's chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Or a Tide-drenched blanket. For me, it's the little-boy smell of my son's room. The way my dogs' bellies smell like Fritos after they've napped. How warm vanilla reminds me of my Mom. Smell is such a powerful sense. Even now when I smell Ciara, an inexpensive perfume, images of my mom pop to the forefront of my mind. I can see her, circa 1983, with big hair and an equally big smile. I love when I glimpse a scent of Ciara because it takes me to that place where my Mom used to be and I was a child.

Our senses are powerful things. They can transport us to other worlds, including the past. And, ultimately, where we sit in our daily lives. Whether it's the chlorine-water-logged kid, the intoxicating smell of a baby after a bath, or the smell of coconut anything that reminds us of the beach. Our sense of smell takes us to the past, the future, and forces us to bask in the present. More than sight. More than taste. More than even music, our sense of smell is the ultimate time machine.

In writing, authors often take paragraphs to describe setting or the characteristics of the protagonist, and these things can be important if the setting is key to the story. Or you can't glean some hidden character flaw from dialogue and action. But nothing tugs at the reader as much as an accurate--and short--description of a familiar smell. Something that shoves us into that pocket of our minds where we not only remember, but have visceral reactions. Something as simple as the scent of pine at Christmas. The sharp espresso smell when you walk into a Starbucks. The musty steam that rises in the sun from the street after a quick, hard summer rain. It only takes a few words, and you not only are present in the story, your senses react. And like comfort food, you fall into it effortlessly.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The 3 R's: Rituals. Routine. Repetition.

Rituals. We all have them. Every day after lunch, I have a Reese's cup. I eat the outside first, savoring the chocolate, then eat the middle with the peanut butter. Every morning, I walk downstairs, turn on the coffee maker and open my laptop before my kids wake. My seven-year-old stumbles down soon after in his sleepiness, and says, "Mommy, can I have my chocolate milk?" Every morning.

When my newly-adopted dog, Ellie, sees me put my shoes on and grab my keys, she starts jumping and runs toward my car when I open the door. This winter, my brother-in-law, Mike, and I had an entire conversation on which foot we put the first sock and shoe on and how we walk through our homes at bedtime and check the doors and windows in the exact same order every night.

Rituals. Routines. Repetition. They help life flow. They provide consistency. They define us. Comfort us. Help us through the day with their normalcy and mindlessness.

With writing, routine and rituals force us forward. We sit in the same place that we always sit. We drink coffee from the same mug. We check our email, Facebook, and Twitter in the same order. Then, with external distractions purged, we begin. And the words flow. The monotonous routine frees our minds to the words waiting to be expressed.

When the daily junk haunts us. Taunts us. We procrastinate and find ourselves unable to focus on writing. It's a mental desk-clearing. We need to reassure ourselves that there's nothing that must be tended to before we can breathe and open the Pandora's box. Because once it's opened, there is nothing else. It becomes a singular focus and consumes us. Characters speak to us. Demand to be heard and brought to life. All day, every day, as we shower, drive down the road, and tuck our children into bed, the stories swirl in our minds. Precluding peace until we release them.

Today, I had someone tell me she'd read "In Search of Solomon's Wisdom" (thanks again, Laura Khan! It always humbles me when people read my words). She said such kind words about it and complimented me. I shared with her that it's involuntary. Once a writer's mind opens to the story waiting to be told, it becomes a compulsion. As necessary as breathing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Contrail and content...fingerprints on the mind

Today was one of those amazing Spring days. Actually, it was Summer-like with the eighty-degree weather. This evening, as I sat outside on our deck, I heard lawn mowers, dogs barking, and children laughing. I love this time of year when everything awakens after the winter hibernation. We see neighbors we haven't seen in months. We plan picnics and get-togethers. Life begins again with us, just as it does with the blooming tulips and daffodils.

As we sat on the deck enjoying the fading sun and the sweet, cool breeze, I saw a plane slice through the clear, blue sky. Contrail in its wake. You know, that puffy, cloud-like trail behind an airplane. Like a wake behind a boat. An echo in a cavern. Fingerprints on glass. Evidence of a presence. It reminded me of the importance of the impression we make. The imprint we leave on the lives of those we come in contact with. Usually, it is this residue that makes the most indelible mark.

Good writing doesn't simply entertain. Although many read for the sake of being entertained. To escape into another world for a little while. Maybe to learn something new or explore another perspective. But truly good writing isn't forgotten. The reader might not remember the exact words, but will remember how the book made her feel. Made her think. Changed her in some way, no matter how small. The amazing Maya Angelo said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is true in life and true in writing.

I hope my writing makes people pause. Think. Consider a new idea or perspective. But most importantly, I hope my writing makes an indelible mark on their soul. That while a reader might not remember exactly what I wrote, they will have a visceral reaction and remember the way my writing made them feel.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Want To Be A Dandelion

Today, I began the ever-exciting task of pulling the countless dandelions in my yard before their pretty, little yellow flowers turn into a plethora of evil, uncontainable seeds that will scatter effortlessly and destroy what remains of the grass in my yard. Some were obvious contrasted again the black mulch in the flower beds. The big ones with the ginormous flower were also easy-pickins. But many of them camflouged themselves. Their tentacles reaching out to the neighboring, healthy grass. Lying low with the budding flower tucked into itself. But I scoured each section of the yard with my dandelion picker firmly in my grasp, relentlessly pulling them out without mercy.

So as I'm working on this arduous task, which is mind-numbingly boring, a thought pops into my head. I want to be a dandelion. More accurately, I want my writing to be like a dandelion. They pop up then morph their flowers into fuzzy seeds before we have time to attack them. When I was a kid, I loved to pick them, purse my lips, and blow. Watching the little white pieces fly everywhere. My neighbors must've hated me. But dandelions don't need precocious children to multiply. A gentle wind is all it takes to strip the weed bear of its seeds. Each weed has so many seeds. Kind of like readers. If you read a book and love it, you tell your friends. You pass around your worn copy. I even released my beloved Hunger Games trilogy because I wanted its recipient to fall into the world I did.

I want those who read and like my work, who find value in it as either an escape or an idea that provokes reflection, to share it--to pluck the dandelion and blow. Because to be a successful writer doesn't simply require good writing. It requires people who are willing to share it. To support the writer on the journey to publish what we've put heart, pain, and much love into. One of the traits of a successful writer--self-promotion--goes against my nature. Against my Southern upbringing of humility and focus on others. But to reach people, writers must ask that their words be picked. That readers blow the white puff.

One last trait I gleaned from my battle with the weeds today is that dandelions are stubborn. Unlike most weeds that you can simply reach down and pluck, I'm required to use a special tool--my dandelion picker--because the roots are deep and will not yield without a fight. As I sit here, I can already feel a slight ache in my lower back from having to lean my weight into the picker and shove it deep into the ground. Until I reached the end of the long, anchoring root. And heaved.

I want to be a dandelion. My words easily scattered. My roots so deep and stubborn that it causes an ache in those who try to yank me from where I sit in this journey.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"The House That Built Me"

Living in Pennsylvania, having grown up in Alabama, people often assume I like country music. Truthfully, not so much. I can listen to Rascal Flatts because the lead singer has a unique and amazing voice, but that's about it. "Red Solo Cup?" Catchy, but really?

But in flipping through the radio the other day, I stumbled on Miranda Lambert's, "The House That Built Me." It stopped me in my tracks and made me cry. The simple guitar, the haunting and honest lyrics, her honeysuckle voice. So now I have one song in my country genre in my iTunes. In listening to the song a few more times, I realized that it wasn't just the trifecta that touched me. The song articulates everything I feel when I go home to Alabama to visit. Although my parents don't live in the house I grew up in anymore, just being home changes me.

I left Alabama in 1991, over twenty years ago, to pursue the world. I moved to Atlanta and got a law degree, then moved to South Florida and became a litigation attorney. I lived on South Beach and spent my weekends sipping Cuban coffee in cafes. I met celebrities while living there. I learned how to live on my own in a big city. I read literature and had discussions over dinner about politics, social issues, and changing the world. I lived my twenties in a place completely disconnected from the one I grew up in. I think part of this was purposeful. I wanted to define myself in my own way. Part of it was likely rebellious, having grown up in a small, conservative town in rural Alabama. But mostly, I just longed to see the world. To experience different cultures, people, and food. If you've never had a Cuban coffee, you are missing Nirvana. Every afternoon at three, some angel in our law firm would go into the kitchen and brew some.

Since meeting and marrying my pilot husband, we've traveled the country and the world. I love the chocolate croissants and cafe au lait in Paris. The gnocchi in northern Italy is heaven in your mouth. The views of London from the Eye are breathtaking. The Irish landscape is green beyond any green I've ever seen. The chowder in a sourdough bowl in San Francisco is amazing. The beach in Monterey juxtaposes mountain with sea. The exhibits in the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. teach me something new every time I visit.

But when I step off that plane in Montgomery. When I embrace my Daddy. When I have a hot fudge cake at Shoney's, I rediscover a part of me. A part that has lain dormant for twenty years. I become a daughter again. The wide-eyed innocent that grew up in Prattville, Alabama. The girl who believed anything was possible and nothing could hurt me. Yes, life proved that to be naive and untrue. But when I return to Alabama, to "the house that built me," I close my eyes. I push aside twenty years and seek that girl who'd never felt heart break. Who hadn't lost a child. Who hadn't left everything behind and created a new life--not once or twice but three times.

In listening to Ms. Lambert's song, it occurred to me that this excavation is necessary. I've compartmentalized my life, even though I know that we're the sum of our experiences. Our lives aren't an anthology of separate events, but rather one story told in chapters. Each building on the next, depending on the prior. In writing a novel, its evolution depends on the fluidity of the story. Creating a new chapter by incorporating the nuances and lessons of the former.

For some of us, we have to remind ourselves. Sit in the past. Visit that house that built us.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Squeaky Wheels and Squeaky Snow

This week, my family and I are in beautiful Beaver Creek, Colorado. Words can't accurately describe it, so enjoy the photo.

When we stepped out to go to dinner last night, the wind tunneled up the walkway and took our breath away. As we carefully walked out the back door of the place we're staying and headed down the last bit of the mountain toward Beaver Creek Village, we heard the snow squeaking beneath our feet. Normally, you hear the soft squish of snow. If it's deep enough, you silently step into it up to your knees. But last night, it was so cold that the top layer of snow froze. So as we traversed it, it squeaked.

Of course I couldn't simply overlook this phenomenon without finding out why snow sometimes squeaks. What I learned is that squeaking depends on pressure and temperature. Normally, our body weight presses on the snow and causes it to melt underneath our feet. The snow crystals slide quietly by each other. But when it's colder outside, the pressure applied by our footstep isn't enough to cause the snow to melt. Instead, the snow crystals break and crash into each other. They squeak.

In the ever-changing publishing industry, the spots available to new writers at a traditional publishing house grow smaller. The climate is colder than ever before. With the number of printed books purchased shrinking as the number of ebooks purchased grows, publishers are understandably more conservative about putting two years and lots of money behind an unknown. Resources are scarce. They won't risk what a publishing contract requires in the hopes that the reader stepping through the snow of available books will create a crevasse that leaves an imprint showcasing many. In the current climate, the snow doesn't melt when the reader steps into the field of available books, opening up many options the reader will consider. Instead, the reader's exploration of available printed books isn't pressure enough to open up the field. Instead, there is merely a squeak and only the ones at the very top are seen.

Unless the interest in printed books warms up again, unknown but talented authors will lay under the ice never to be seen in print because of the squeak created by the already known, lucrative authors sitting on top of the pile. Yes, we love our e-readers, but let's not forget the smell of ink. The crack of the spine the first time you open a book. The feel of the paper on your fingers. The sight of a book at the side of your bed, begging you to open it. The soft squish of powder snow.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Star Wars, Riding Bikes, and the Magic of Focus

My son loves Star Wars. So on Saturday, I took him to see "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" in 3D. Only seven-years-old, he babbled through the first ten minutes, despite my constant shushing, because of his excitement. As we sat there, it struck me that the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977--when I was just seven years old. George Lucas is a genius to create a franchise that lives on in a new generation. And it isn't just the movies. My son has the light sabers. He's been a Star Wars figure for Halloween. And we own two of the three movies in the recent prequel. Cha-ching, George.

I watched the movie with my son and found myself cheering for little Anakin in his pod racer. Of course, most of the movie depends on special effects over the quality of the dialogue. The freaky alien creatures, the space ships, the strange planets, and the Jedi's ability to harness "The Force" and move things. But as I sat there, a line from the movie struck me as oddly profound. Obi Wan's Mentor utters: "Your focus becomes your reality." Yes, Master Qui-Gon Jinn, it does.

Lately, I've found myself bumping along the rutted road of everyday life just going through the motions. Tending to my responsibilities, but in a passionless fog. I've focused on the monotony of each day rather than its beauty and the potential it possesses. Losing my focus on the opportunities around me and the incredible spirits inside the people I've surrounded myself with has left me cranky, unmotivated, and pretty crappy company.

As writers, we all go through lulls in our confidence. The struggle to get published seems to often be a sisyphean task. I build up the confidence and energy to send out query letters. I blog into the ethereal thing called the internet in the hopes of sharing my words. I read, read, and read more about the industry. Even since I began the quest of having "The Beauty of Grace" published, the industry has changed immensely. While before I knew the formula: query, query, and keep querying. Persistence will pay off. Now, e-readers have opened up a chasm that not only provides an alternative to traditional publishing, but also increases the number of authors out there. I see this as both a good and a bad thing. Such competition forces writers to polish their work until they can see their reflection, but it also can push good writing to the bottom of the fish net because the author sucks at self-promotion and marketing.

But today I decided to heed the words of Master Qui-Gon Jinn and shift my focus not from the size of the mountain before me, but to its peak. To focus on my goal rather than the struggle to reach it. To look up and keep climbing. Or, to the heed the words of another great man (my Daddy) that were uttered thirty years ago: "Baby, wherever you look, the bike's gonna go. Don't look down. Look to where you're headed."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

We Are More Than We Know

In finishing "Looking for Alaska" by John Green, I came across another epiphanous quote: "We are more than the sum of our parts." It reminded me of the lyrics in one of my favorite songs: "You are more than the sum of your past mistakes. You are more than the problems you create. You are more than the choices that you make." We are complex creatures. We have physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects that define us, influence our decisions, and create the indelible mark we each leave. No one leaves this world without making a difference. Some make great positive differences: Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Jesus. Some make great differences that scar our world: Adolph Hitler, Josef Mengele, Pol Pot. Some make small, but lasting, differences. We all leave a mark. Even the homeless man who shuffles through the drive through at our Starbucks each day for the free coffee they give him has a past. A story. Whether good or bad, his life left some mark.

Many aspects of our lives are within our control: what we go to college for, who we marry, where we live, the job we take. Some aren't: where we were born, who we were born to, illness, death. We can't choose to be born in Prattville, Alabama or Sierra Leone. We can't choose if we're born with mental illness, a birth defect, or something else that puts us a little behind the starting blocks. We can't choose if we're born into wealth, with gifted intelligence, beautiful, or with a musical talent. These aren't our choices. What we do with these things--with whatever we've been blessed with in life--is our choice. And our mandate.

Just as importantly, we must remember that we are more than the sum of these things. Our lives aren't defined by social status + education + talents and gifts. Instead, our lives are defined by something indefinable. The passion and drive inside of us that propels us to succeed, to give, to share, to love. To be more than the sum of our parts.

A truly good book isn't good because the plot is propelling, the characters are engaging, and the dialogue is realistic. A remarkable book doesn't leave its mark because the grammar was impeccable, the story arch clear, or the chapters consistent and relevant. The book that you read more than once. That you pass along to friends. That you talk about long after you read it. That you blog about. A great book transcends what appears in its pages. Reaches you beyond its words and characters. Touches you in a place you didn't know about or had forgotten about and brings you enlightenment in some way. I can only hope my writing comes close to this.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is the Chase Worth the Pain?

After finishing the fabulous "The Fault in our Stars" by John Green, I tackled another of his Young Adult novels, "Looking for Alaska." I admire his ability to intertwine deep philosophical ideas into his work by simply using a phrase, a snippet of dialogue, or a quote. There is no agenda. No proselytizing. No abuse of his platform. Instead, the little bits add depth to both his characters and the story, in addition to making you stop and think.

While reading "Alaska," I read this quote: "The Buddha said that suffering was caused by desire...and that the cessation of desire meant the cessation of suffering." Obviously he's referring to self-imposed suffering, and not that which occurs due to circumstance, natural disaster, or illness. There is no escape from that type of suffering. I believe he's referring to the type of suffering we often impose on ourselves. It can be financial suffering that didn't result from the loss of a job, but from consumption beyond our means. Bigger homes, nicer cars, expensive clothes. Wii's, Kindles, iPods, iPhones...the list is long.

We experience other types of self-imposed suffering, rooted mainly in our desire for love and acceptance. My father and I suffer as a result of our desire to have a relationship with my mom. Her disease has robbed us of her words, her smile, her wisdom, and her mean, Southern home-cooking. When we're with her, our hearts ache because we want her with us. Not even death will dissolve the suffering because we'll continue to miss her. Of course, this suffering was imposed by her illness, but only in the absence of a desire for a relationship with her would we find freedom from that pain.

Others suffer from broken relationships, broken dreams, and broken checking accounts. Freedom from that suffering could only be found in letting go of that love, that friend, that aspiration. Letting go to simply sit in a place of empty contentment. But is this living? We sometimes need to let go of certain desires. But the ones that cause the greatest (again, self-imposed) suffering stem from relationship and the pursuit of a dream. If we let go of those things, our suffering might ease. But so will our quality of life. We should seek to mend broken relationships and continue to pursue a better future for ourselves and our children. Happiness and pain are two sides of the same coin. We can't know happiness without knowing sadness. And we can't appreciate the light without having been in the dark.

So I will continue in my desire to have "The Beauty of Grace" published, either traditionally or as an ebook, despite the frustration that inevitably accompanies this pursuit. Because the desire exceeds that frustration. The Pain is worth the Gain.

I will also never stop missing my mom. Even though it splits my heart in two.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Read. Read it Again. Read it Again.

Sitting on my couch at 7pm on Sunday night, I'm exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I'm home from a 48-hour retreat with seventh and eighth graders. I've spent the last two nights on a mattress on the floor in a cabin in north east Maryland with 10 eighth-grade girls at a Winter retreat for LCBC. Forty-eight hours sharing thoughts with 10 amazing young women. I'm a 41-year-old mother of two. I'm a writer and inactive lawyer. I've been to Italy, France, England, Ireland...California, New York, Washington D.C., Colorado, and, of course, Alabama (born and raised). I've lived through illness. I've lived through childbirth. I've lived through heartache. I've lived in a 10 by 10 room on Miami Beach scraping to get by and pay enormous student loans.

So I leave for this retreat hoping to reach these girls. Have them open up about what's going on in their lives so we can help them. Let them know that someone's listening. Someone loves them and cares. To be an unjudgemental ear to whatever they need to say. And while I knew I'd enjoy my time with them, I didn't expect them to affect me the way they did. They shared things that made me laugh. They showed strength and beauty and grace in ways that made me literally cry. They reminded me that although they are young, they have wisdom to share.

In referring to the story of Adam and Eve, one of my girls said, "I find it interesting that the Bible says Eve came out of Adam's rib. Because it means we're all connected. And I'll never be alone because I'll always be connected to someone."

Growing up in a Southern Baptist home, I've heard and read the story of Adam and Eve literally hundreds of times. I've heard it used to explain why we bury the dead: "Dust to dust." I've heard it used to describe the terms "man" and woman." I've, sadly, heard it used to justify the subservience of women to men. But I've never heard it used as a metaphor to describe how people are connected. And by a sleepy, eighth-grader.

After I'd finished "The Beauty of Grace," I put it aside for a few months before picking it up to edit it (for the fourth time). In reading through it again, I stumbled on mistakes, but I also stumbled on pieces to expound upon. Although I've read and re-read it a hundred times in the editing process, I still sometimes find something new to fix or work with. Just as when you read a novel a second time, you see things you missed the first time because of the immense layers. There's always something new to discover even when you think you've exhausted it.

And sometimes it isn't you who sees the nuance, but someone unexpected. Sometimes even a child. If we open our hearts and minds, our view of something we thought we'd examined exhaustively can be renewed. Deepened. Bettered.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sisterhood of the Traveling Book Club

Tonight, four of my favorite women and I had book club to discuss "Cutting for Stone." Calling it book club is a misnomer because only one person actually read the book. We've been having book club for several years and we typically only talk about the book for fifteen or twenty minutes before moving on to the happenings in our lives. As an author, I wish book club involved more discussion about the themes and underlying issues in our selections. I flinch at the thought that all of the heart and effort involved in writing a book and getting it published is reduced to a quick discussion that doesn't contemplate all that the author bleeds into her work. As an offender who hadn't read this month's selection, I had nothing to contribute anyway so I cannot complain. In the past, we've had discussions spin off that lasted hours. Two selections ago, we sat at the host's house and discussed the book, the time period it involved, and moved on to larger topics like health care, entitlement programs, and helping the less fortunate. The discussion was spirited and deep. Challenging and thought-provoking.

Tonight, as we sat, the discussion was calm and focused on learning about the recent updates in one another's lives. Without the debate and dissection of current events and issues. And this was so okay. Yes, I love these women for the layers they add to my life. The challenges they confront me with in forcing me to confront my own long-held beliefs. The ever-so-slight shifting of my perspective as I listen to and absorb theirs. But, like tonight, it is equally enjoyable to simply sit and be with them. To feel their love and support without needing it voiced. To know that in this circle of strong sister-friends, I can forgo pretense and be myself. Whether that be my dorky self. My sad self. My silly self. My sarcastic self. I can just be. And that is the type of acceptance and friendship we all long for. I am blessed.