Last night Phil and I went to the Walgreens down the street from our house. We were standing in line behind a young man who was in the process of paying for a pack of cigarettes. I looked at him and said, “My sister died two days ago from smoking cigarettes. I really hope you are thinking about quitting some day soon.” Phil stood frozen as we watched the young man whom I had never met before process what I had just said to him. Phil’s first thought was that the young man was going to punch him. The young man looked at us and said, “Wow, that is REALLY heavy.” He looked rather freaked out and said it again, adding “I won’t be able to sleep tonight.” Phil, in an effort to soften my blunt statement adds, “Don’t worry, you’re still young. You have time.” The young man shook his head. “No, you are right. I am twenty-eight years old and I have been smoking for fifteen years. I need to think about quitting, but it’s hard.” I told him, “I know it’s hard – I used to smoke too until I was a couple of years older than you are now. You can do it, you just have to get yourself in the right place mentally.” He smiled and said, “Yeah,” than shook his head again. “Man, that was really heavy.” I replied, “I know, but it was said with love. I really hope you will start working towards quitting. God bless you.” “Thanks,” he replied as he turned to walk towards the door, obviously still freaked out. Phil looked at me and shook his head. Only you would do something like that. “Hey, I know Fran (my sister) is laughing and cheering me on from heaven,” I replied. You see – her last years on earth suffering from COPD were very difficult to watch. The last time I held her hands while she was on hospice she told me she wanted me to share her story because by her sharing it, she might save someone else’s life. Maybe in a random encounter in Walgreens, she just did…
It’s been quite awhile since my last post and a lot has happened along the way. At Chapter 24, my science fiction novel is almost 2/3rds complete and is a blast to work on. Life has been busy as my husband and I have let go of some responsibilities and taken on new ones. But what I have really felt impressed upon me lately is finding joy in the moment.
If you are like me, your days are filled with tasks to be completed. As soon as I get caught up in one area, more things to be done appear on the horizon. It is so easy to get caught up rushing to the next task that we don’t pause to enjoy the moment that we are in. I often have to stop and ask myself, “Is there a neighbor I need to check on? Is there a friend I have not talked to in awhile? Is there someone I have meant to get in touch with that I haven’t made time for? When is the last time I went with our teenage son for a walk in the park, to the library or a breakfast outing?” I am so grateful for so many things, and especially for my husband Phil. His birthday was this past Tuesday and I knew he always wanted to drive a bulldozer, so I surprised him by taking him on an adventure that he truly enjoyed. We set aside all of our thoughts about our responsibilities and just immersed ourselves in the day. I am grateful we had that opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime. Who knew pushing huge mounds of dirt could bring so much joy!
While life continues (along with the pressures and stresses of life) I am learning to keep my focus more on God and loving people and less on the stuff that I can’t change anyway. When you really do make an effort to see the glass as half full, and further, to be grateful that you have that glass in the first place, it changes your outlook and joy becomes resident where disappointment or anxiety used to reside. While there is a degree of necessity in doing many tasks, it is the perspective we choose and how we prioritize our day that allows us to make room for the special experiences of life that are truly meaningful…and reminds us to take joy in the moment we are in.
I have spent these last few weeks busy with graduation activities. My son just graduated from Early College High School which means that we had double ceremonies and more events than the average high school graduate. A Senior Honors breakfast, Senior Walk, High School Graduation Ceremony, College Graduation Ceremony, Church Youth Group Recognition Dinner, and a graduation party for family and friends that I planned and hosted, kept me very busy. This morning I accompanied our son to the second day of freshman orientation where he registered for his Fall classes and is officially a University student. I have barely had time to absorb the fact that my main priority for the last eighteen years, caring for my son and raising him to be a successful young adult, has taken a dramatic change. While hubby and I will always be there for love, support and encouragement, it is time for him to grow into his independence and to be his own person. If I had any illusions otherwise, the college freshman orientation experience makes it abundantly clear – while parents are welcome for the various informational sessions, they are not allowed to accompany their student to registration. My baby boy is now responsible for making his own decisions.
I have had a lot of varied emotions about all of this. On one hand I must admit I am a little sad – it’s hard to let go of the little guy that I have spent so many years nurturing. It feels like just yesterday he was pretending to be Buzz Light Year, talking into his report recorder and using his laser. It seems I was just planning his “dinosaur dig” 6th birthday party, yet we just finished his high school graduation party. Precious memories are mixed up with anticipation for his future…but through all of that emotion comes another realization. I now have more time to devote to my own dreams – the ones that had to be put on the back burner while I took on the more important role of Mom. There is a freedom in my son’s graduation – not just for him but for me and hubby too. I feel like I am getting to reinvent myself. I spent most of my adult professional life as an engineer and I loved it. Engineering has it’s own kind of creativity but is also a very technical discipline. But what I really hope to do now that our son has graduated high school and is pursuing his academic career as a young adult, is to devote time to my creative side with much more focus.
As a teenager I wanted to be an actress or a songwriter – I had creative ideas bursting out of me in all directions. I wrote a book when I was in my early twenties. I took courses in film and photography. But life happened and I never was able to pursue any of those interests. I have been writing for years (mostly technical articles) and I have a story inside that I can’t wait to tell. It’s science fiction filled with action, adventure, humor, and universal themes that I hope have an emotional impact on my audience. It’s been in my head a long time but now, I am able to focus and let all those ideas out. Now – I get to reinvent myself. I have accomplished my task of raising my child and helping him to have the tools he needs to be successful (and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him!) but I am starting a new journey too. I have come to understand the value of entertainment in a very personal way as I dealt with some losses in our family and I have realized that entertainment in all its different mediums is a gift, a way to relieve the stress and burdens of life at least for a little while – making them easier to endure. How wonderful to laugh out loud at a comedic moment in a television show or movie or to immerse ourselves in a book that captivates us to take a break from the troubles of life. So today I am announcing to the world – I am reinventing myself. I will focus on my current work in progress as a daily endeavor, rather than just snatching bits of disjointed time blocks that hinder the creative process. I will continually study my craft, and I have an additional goal of learning how to write a screenplay. I will shoot for the stars. I will reinvent myself.
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I have been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately. I know many people who struggle with it, in that they are either unable to forgive themselves for something they have done or they are unable to forgive someone else for hurting them. When I think about God’s limitless grace and that it is through Christ’s sacrifice at the cross that we have received forgiveness for all of our transgressions – what is even more amazing is that God initiated it, we read in Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died for us knowing we were a mess, yet loving us anyway. His forgiveness heals us and if we are unable to forgive ourselves, or others, we are unable to fully experience the peace that comes from the healing power of Christ.
When we forgive others, we make a choice to humbly follow the example Christ set for us, and I believe God will use that step of faith to release healing in not only the person offering forgiveness and the person being forgiven, but also anyone else who has been affected by the broken relationship.
It’s no wonder we sometimes struggle with forgiveness – it is such a universal struggle and that is why songs are written about it…For those of you who are struggling with events from the past, it might help to remember what Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Many people focus on verse 14 but notice what Paul says in verse 13: “Forgetting what is behind” is SO important before proceeding to verse 14 – We need to NOT allow our past to dictate our present or influence our future. It doesn’t mean we won’t have consequences from the past that we will have to deal with, but the past does NOT direct our present or determine our future. If you consider Paul’s past before he became a Christian, he crossed many lines in persecuting the church – this becomes very powerful because he put his past behind him and by focusing on what lay ahead, he overcame his past to become a great pillar of the church whose influence through the Holy Spirit has guided Christians for thousands of years. Wow! He initially had to deal with a lot of unpleasantness because of his past but he didn’t let that stop him. Something you might want to share with someone who may be struggling with the past.
For those of us who have trouble forgiving others, I don’t believe you will ever be truly at peace until you do. It doesn’t even matter how the other person responds (if they are even around to respond – offering forgiveness is an intentional action that flows out of your heart – while it is hoped that it blesses the person you are forgiving – their positive response is not a requirement).
I believe God gives us a great gift by teaching us to forgive one another and it is also for our own benefit – a heart weighed down by the bitterness of being unforgiving can never experience true joy. I love this video by Matthew West called “Forgiveness” because it speaks eloquently to both sides of forgiveness. If you have something weighing you down, I hope listening to this song will help you to take the steps God may be calling you to take, so that healing can occur through the power of Jesus Christ and despair and disappointment can be replaced with healing and love.
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I saw a pretty thorough rant as a blog post, regarding the superiority of the author’s work in comparison with other novels. This person pretty much lambasted the quality of other novels that were successful in getting published via the traditional route. Due to their inability to get published by a traditional publishing house, this person went the self-published route. According to the blog, due to their lack of expertise in marketing, this person was unable to market their book well, which resulted in poor sales.
I am being gender neutral to protect the identity of this person, because I believe they are writing purely out of bottled up emotion. Which is okay as a cathartic exercise, but not really appropriate on a public forum, especially when it criticizes an entire industry. While I felt this person’s angst, I think this kind of attitude is very dangerous. I can truly empathize with their frustration over the hard road it often takes to traditional publication, a journey I have only recently begun as I search for representation. However, one thing I have learned in both my academic and professional careers, is that writing is very subjective. What one person embraces as wonderful literature, another person may have absolutely no interest in. That to me, while frustrating at times, is actually one of the beautiful things about storytelling. It is about knowing your audience because you are also your audience, and then writing in such a way that you touch their hearts and if you are really good – stir their souls too. This is not something you can contrive, because as soon as you try, it will sound artificial. You must write what you are passionate to write about.
One of the best things you can do when traveling the road of traditional publishing, is to know your audience. This applies to both your targeted readership and to the professionals you are seeking to partner with as part of your publication journey. If your passion is their passion, you have found the right audience to present your work. For the person who posted their rant, I would respond by saying I feel your pain. But celebrating the successes of other authors rather than denigrating their work, is the better road. There is no need to insult other audiences, just because they are not your own. Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever claimed being a writer is easy. There are lots of times we are assaulted by self-doubt and frustration at rejection. In our chosen field, working hard does not guarantee success. But by working hard, we will grow. By being able to accept constructive criticism and apply it, we will grow. The road to publication may be long and difficult. We may receive multiple rejections. But that doesn’t mean we set aside our writing aspirations. We simply work harder to improve our work. Having people around that will pick us up when we are feeling down is always a good thing too.
I love the quote by Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Most importantly, if you are getting a lot of rejections, you shouldn’t be so inflexible that you can’t rethink your project. A definition of insanity that is often quoted is “Doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting different results.” A few rejections may simply be a matter of taste, but being rejected over and over by industry professionals is probably a sign that you are either submitting to the wrong audience or that some major revision is needed. Think of revision not as a negative activity – but as an opportunity to make your work even better. Don’t stop writing, revise that project. You can also start another project, being assured that you have grown in your craft through your previous labor. A writer must write, after all. But when it comes time to submit, know your audience.
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I was thinking about why I write this morning. Writing, for one with a passion to express themselves through the written word, defines a good portion of who we are. Reading does not equate to writing, but without reading, writing for some seems almost pointless. Some of the greatest praises from a beta reader for me are, “I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to find out what happens” or “It really tugged at my heart” or “It gave me a whole new perspective.” Those phrases are what really get me going as a writer.
While it is perfectly okay to write simply for the act of writing, which can be a very private matter and can be very cathartic, sometimes revealing what one has written in those moments can touch people in a way that even our best efforts at creative writing can’t capture. I think for the writer, part of who one is must enter the story, if the story is to resonate with others, even if it is only a reaction to the writing rather than personal revelation. Does the story you are typing make you pause and think about what you just wrote in a way that evokes emotion? Does it make you stop and laugh out loud, or cause your eyes to water unexpectedly? Do you find yourself smiling while reading a scene you wrote, or empathizing with a character you have developed? Does it make you want to keep writing so that you can share the story with others? Do you wake up at night with an idea you hastily scribble down on the notepad you keep by the bed for that purpose? Do you hear someone say something and think, “That would be a great line to use in my story?” I think people write for many reasons. For me – I write because it is a part of who I am. It is a natural response to the thoughts rolling around inside of my head, having the potential to become a story that could touch the lives of others in a positive way. There are other reasons but for me, that is the most compelling. Why do you write?
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Here is an interesting premise to write about. Imagine that you are going to live in a foreign country. Your company has transferred you there, and you are expected to adjust to your new surroundings and begin work immediately. You have learned the language in a classroom, but have had very little, if any, conversational practice. Your physical needs of food, shelter and transportation are provided through your employment. But when you venture out, it is into completely unfamiliar territory. And while your co-workers are very nice, they don’t have a lot of time to provide guidance. If you are going to explore your new home, you must be brave.
I have recently been hired to help three young adults from Japan, here for one year, to learn Business English, while they work for their company and interact with American clients. When I spend time with them, it amazes me at how courageous they are. They have been living and working here for only about two months, and are driving our highways, shopping in our grocery stores, and venturing out on their own to experience American culture, which in so many ways is very different from their own. Something we take for granted like going to an American grocery store is very bewildering since it is much different from grocery shopping in Japan. I can be brave in my writing by exploring new places on paper, but these young adults are doing it for real.
One of the great things about being their teacher is that while they are learning from me, I get to learn from them. That opens up new ideas and ways of thinking, enriching my own experience as I enrich theirs. Just because I have been hired to teach them Business English doesn’t mean it has to stop there. Conversation and cultural immersion will greatly facilitate their success in their goal of becoming proficient at conducting business in the United States and promote understanding between our two countries. We took them to ride my horse this weekend, and what a blessing it was to introduce them to this part of American culture. Their smiles were priceless. Lunch at a local country cafe with real Texas chicken fried steak and mashed taters topped off the day. It was fun to see the waitresses equally fascinated with my students and smiling – they were showing each other the signatures on their master cards which were in Japanese. The great thing about smiles are that they are universal, they transcend any language.
If you are wondering what you can do to get inspiration to write about something new, just look around you. You don’t have to be a teacher to befriend someone who recently immigrated here or is working here for an extended period of time. Sometimes it takes bravery on both sides to reach out to someone different from us, but the blessings you’ll receive by doing so can turn into lifelong friendships and may even turn into a great story for you to write about someday. And it really is not all that hard – all you have to do is start with a smile.