Monday, November 23, 2015

One Year Later ...

A year ago today, I wrote this post and hit publish.  I really had no idea what to expect, I only knew that if I didn't start sharing some writing in a public forum in some capacity, I would never grow as a writer. 

Also, I knew I was afraid.

I have a complicated relationship with fear.  I'm still learning how creativity, joy and wonder can peacefully coexist with it.  Because I know rational fear can serve an important purpose in our lives, I don't want to banish it entirely.  But I also know that when I make decisions out of fear, I usually am disappointed with the outcome.  I am still gathering strategies to get fear to hush it a little.  Or a lot.  I mean, that first blog post was nothing but a list of fears, for crying out loud.  But I hit publish anyway.

And then they all came true.  Every single one.  A quick recap on what I was afraid of:

1.  Everything I have to say has already been said by someone else, but more eloquently and with better punctuation.

I cannot tell you the number of times I've written something in this past year only to find it written by someone else, sometimes that very same week.  We can call this coincidence or collective consciousness but I think it really just means that humans are constantly exploring the same ideas, emotions, and narratives.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

But I do have a story about editing.  It's short.  It goes like this.  Girl writes blog post.  Girl hits spell check.  Girl hits publish.  Girl clearly forgets to hit save before hitting publish, and the unedited version of blog post publishes.  Girl's awesome brother alerts her to the matter.  Girl uses some profanity and corrects the problem.  Girl now has compulsive behavior regarding spell check.  Grammar and punctuation are another story, as is my overuse of the ellipsis...and emoticons.  ;)

2.  Writing a blog feels a little self-involved.

Yep.  That's because it is.  If one of my blog posts ever reads as prescriptive to you, that is likely unintentional.  More than likely, I'm just writing about something I'm working through at the time.  If it speaks to you, know I'm right there struggling with you.  It's been gratifying to connect with people dealing with similar issues, like trying to rid my house of excess stuff or trying to slow the speed of life. 

3. Writing a blog will involve dealing with negative people who reside in internet-land. 

While I have yet to receive the level of commentary of this post, I have had to deal with negativity.  It has been leveled by people who simply don't share my views, which is okay with me.  I'm open to conversation provided that the conversation is civil and productive. I moderate my comments because I choose not to spend time reacting immediately to negativity, or to randomness, like the time my home was named one of the "best party spots in Brooklyn" in a comment on one of my blog posts.  True story.

If you decide to live a creative life in any capacity, or invent something to offer to the world, or even just share your opinion about something, you will be met with criticism.  That's just the bottom line.  Not everyone is going to like what you have to share.  And that is okay.  But that doesn't mean it is easy.  I truly believe that we've never lived in a time where this has been more challenging, because we now have to listen to the voices of not only a handful of reviewers/readers, but of anyone who decides to take to the internet to make their opinion known.  But quiet retreat is not an option, at least not one I'm willing to consider at this time.

4.  I’m not a photographer.  

That's still true.  My photography has not improved at all.  I just share my pictures anyway.  

I may not take pretty pictures, but at least the latte is pretty!  For the record, I didn't make that either.

5.  I’m not sure I can keep up.

There have been months when I have not written regularly and others during which I blogged a couple of times a week.  I'm not sure what I had in mind when I used the phrase "keep up" or who I was intending to keep up with, but I'm still here. 

I don't yet know exactly where I'm heading with this blog, but I do know that I am deeply grateful for this space, and for the reception from all of you who read it.   I'm grateful those of you who have collaborated on stories with me, those of you who I have met through this space who have become friends in real life, those of you who have shared something I've written, those of you who have continued to encourage me to keep writing.  In short, if you are reading this right now, I'm grateful for you.

And even though I said that my writing is not meant to be prescriptive, I'm going to go ahead and offer up some unsolicited advice to you, my friends.

Just go ahead and take one step towards doing the thing.  I don't know what the thing is, but you do.  You know what the thing is that you really, truly want to do.  Maybe you want to write a book, or move to another state.  Maybe you want to tell the girl you've always been in love with her, or adopt a child.  Maybe you want to start a business.  Maybe you want to close your business.   Maybe you want to go to school, or play music or weld together bottle caps into giant sculptures the size of your house.  Maybe you want to create a safe space for people to heal, or maybe you want to go to a safe space to heal yourself. 

All of our days are numbered, and none of us know the number of our days.  All of us are born to create, and as Brene Brown says, "Unused creativity is not benign--it metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame. We are creative beings."

Creativity doesn't always mean some sort of artistic creation.   Sometimes creativity is creating the life you long to live.  If there's something that's gnawing at you, something you are longing to try, take a step in that direction today.  I'm not suggesting you take all the steps, but maybe just one tiny step in the direction of the thing you want to do.  You're unlikely to regret it.  

And if you do, you can blame me later.  You know where to find me.  

I'll be here, writing. 

Thank you for reading.







Friday, November 20, 2015

Read These Books! (Because I Said So!)

Remember how I used to love children's books and I'd talk about them all the time and then suddenly I just stopped reviewing them on this blog?

Yeah, me too. 

So, here's the deal.  I'm still reading a ton of children's books, and from time to time posting short and sweet reviews of those books on an Instagram account called Kit Lit Concierge, which you can follow here.  I still adore children's literature as much as ever, and want to share the books we are reading with you here.  But for now, the longer reviews are taking a back seat because I'm working on a couple of picture book manuscripts and that is where I'm choosing to spend my dedicated writing time.
 
I'll still write an occasional full review, or do a post about a featured author, but in the meantime, I'm going to start posting the books we're reading that week without much fanfare.  Basically, I'm going to suggest you read these books just because I said so.  Then, you'll go and read the books.  See how that works?  Maybe I'll even call these posts "Because I Said So."  I really have a way with words, don't I? 

On that note, here's what we've been enjoying this week:




Pepper and Poe by Frann Preston- Gannon

Confession:  Our delight in this book might be, in part, influenced by our own newest addition, this sweet kitten Eragon:


This funny book about a cat having a perfectly happy week that is suddenly disrupted by the addition of a spunky new kitten mirrors the events of our home these past two months all the way down to the brown, floppy-eared dog at the end.  

    

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler

This debut picture book by author/illustrator Joseph Kuefler is visually enchanting.  When a little boy decides his ordinary home is lacking in adventure, he takes a deeper look into his backyard pond and finds the extraordinary.  


Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer, Illustrations by Oliver Jeffers

This book had me at Oliver Jeffers, and though I'd never read Eoin Colfer, his Artemis Fowl series was a hit with my oldest son.  This is a story about an imaginary friend, but with an unexpected and charming ending.  It's a little longer than your average picture book and I was grateful for the extra pages to turn.  


The Marvels by Brian Selznick
  Oh boy.  Where to even begin with this one.  Brian Selznick's books are pieces of art.  I cannot imagine how long it takes him to write a book from start to finish because the drawings are all beautifully detailed and there are over 300 pages of them.  The first half of this story is told entirely in pictures and I cried (twice) before I even read a single word.  It's a story about the dark secrets that follow a family through generations, ghostly encounters, the London stage, and mostly, the healing power of stories.  This is a must read.

Okay, that's it for this week!  I'll be back soon to share a few more. 


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, Art and Holy Ground


Last night, I went to the theater with two of my oldest and dearest friends and two of our children.  We arrived at the restaurant we had agreed upon for a pre-show dinner, Paris unspoken (as the children present varied in age and need/appropriateness of information that could be shared) but heavy on our hearts.  A phone was discreetly lifted, revealing a rising body count.  We swallowed our sorrow, but I know we all we carried it into the theater with us later.

The musical we attended provided moments of transcendence, moments where I forgot what was happening outside the walls of our shared space, as good theater often does.  We laughed riotously with the audience at times, sat somber in other moments, and at intermission, the cell phones powered back on, were brought back to the jarring reality that is the co-mingling of grief and also joy in the present moment.

Half a world away another audience had gathered in another theater to share in the collective experience of live art at a concert.  As I drove home, safe in the comfort of my car with my son lost in his book in the backside, I finally let the tears fall, thinking of the more than hundred vibrant lives that wouldn’t make it home from that other theater halfway around the world. 

It felt like an attack on holy ground.  There is something otherworldly about a concert, a play, a symphony, something extra that happens when a small group of humans gather together to collectively experience the transformative magic of creativity expressed.  Out loud.  Live.  There is a palpable energy in a concert, a moment when voices are raised together and you swear that maybe your heartbeats are in sync with your tapping feet.  There is a moment at the symphony where the instruments swells and you think your heart might burst from swelling alongside it.  There is a moment when a performer is storytelling the truth onstage in such a vulnerable way that you remember that we are all connected.  That we are sharing this human experience.  That we belong to each other. 

So I’m not surprised that those who wish to terrorize and destroy life would deliberately choose to attack those committed to living creatively.  Living collectively.  Embracing the tenacious and vulnerable and diverse expressions of humanity.  I’m not surprised they would choose a place where humans are gathered to celebrate the beautiful source of creativity within us, no matter how we choose to define that source.  It's perhaps the closest thing we have to a church that embraces all of humanity.

 But I am devastated and a part of me is worried.  Worried that we will continue to slowly pull back from collective human experiences.  That we will continue to retreat into ourselves, our private spaces, our safe homes in order to protect ourselves.   That we will continue to qualify and categorize humans into groups, easily identifiable good guys and bad guys, so we can have answers now.   I am fearful that the easy answers, the ones that come wrapped up in pretty paper with a bow on top, the ones that promise swift and thorough solutions to the world’s most ancient and complex problems will win out over the hard answers.  The complicated answers.   The answers that require much more than the course of one lifetime. 

There was a moment last night when my friend commented that he just wanted to get on a plane to Paris.  I knew the feeling well.  When we are confronted by unspeakable tragedy, we want to help.  We want to do something, even if we have no clue what that something is.  I see the collective prayers, love, light and energy being sent out to the city of Paris from around the world and I have to believe that is something.  I see the lines of people in the streets of Paris waiting to give blood and am reminded that there are tangible action pieces we can take. 

But it’s more than that, more than the desire to help.  I think we also desire to be there to simply mourn alongside those who are suffering.   To remind us that they are our own brothers and sisters.

So we will do just, mourn alongside Paris.  But I think there is one more thing we can do, all of us.  We can keep creating.  Keep sharing creative space with other humans.  We can keep making our art and playing our music and writing our books.  We can go to a play and laugh generously.  We can attend a concert and sing way too loudly.  Dance with abandon.  Look at the people standing next to us, look them in the eye and see ourselves reflected in them and them reflected in us.  We can renew our commitment to participating in this thing that helps define us as humans, our desire to make something with the lives we have been given. 

 I am hopeful that we will do just that.  In the immediate hours following the breaking of this news, this illustration began to circulate on social media, and it was followed quickly by many others.   Thank you Jean Jullien for your work, for reminding us to respond to violence with creation, to despair with hope. 

12243032-10156185695635693-8962473270057554752-n.jpg


It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still love it."  - Oscar Wilde

Let's be courageous together.  For Paris.




Friday, November 6, 2015

I'll Have a Peppermint Mocha With a Side of Outrage

This morning a news article popped up on my Facebook timeline about how people are upset about Starbuck's 2015 Red Cup design.  Like a total Internet dummy, I clicked on that link.

There I was confronted with my first "War on Christmas" faux outrage article of the year.  And it's only November 6th.

In a nutshell, some people are upset about Starbuck's cup design because it is plain red, and does not feature any seasonal decor.  Look, I hear you, to a point.  The cup is kind of boring.  I imagine this is how the graphic design meeting went down.

Red Cup Designer 1: Hey, I've got an idea!  Let's make the Red Cup red this year.  Just red.
Red Cup Designer 2:  We can't do that!  We can't just have a plain red cup! You're an idiot.
Red Cup Designer 1:  Hmmm.  You make a good point.  Two shades of red?
Red Cup Designer 2:  Brilliant.  You're a genius.

source: Starbucks.com
But to turn this into some kind of battle in the so-called War on Christmas because the cup is missing its usual (secular) holiday graphic snowman is just lunacy.

Every year when this debate rears its head, memories of my childhood float to the surface.  I remember the greeting cards from relatives that said "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" and I also remember no one being offended by them in the least.   But memory is a capricious historian, so I did a little digging.

Last month, the Wentzville Community Club held an event celebrating the town's anniversary and it featured a plethora of memorabilia from clothing to washboards, from old toys to newspapers.  The newspapers were my favorite part.  I flipped through articles written in the 1950s and marveled over the commonalities to themes our town still faces today, like funding for the school district in a growing community.  But things got really interesting when I stumbled upon the papers released near Christmas.  Page after page of the paper featured paid advertising from companies all over town, many wishing newspaper patrons "Merry Christmas" and many others wishing "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" or "Holiday Cheer."



Just look at those ads.  Talk about a war on Christmas!  It's no wonder Kelley's Beauty Shop is nowhere to be found in Wentzville these days.  I'm sure that Kelley was run straight out of business after she featured that heathen child holding a stocking. 


This one is the most confusing of all.   First it says "Happy Holidays" but later it mentions Christmas, then it references the Pagan holiday Yule but there are angels decorating the tree which makes it unclear if that tree is a Christmas tree or a Yule tree and the babies are naked.  How do we know if we are supposed to be offended or delighted?

The ads went on for pages.  It was immediately clear to me why the streets were filled with angry mobs demanding an abolishment of the words "Happy Holidays" in the 1950s.

Oh, wait.  No, no they weren't.

It turns out that outside of one pamphlet released by a communist conspiracy group, most people in the 1950s were able to view these egregious advertisements and instead of feeling offense feel ... joy?

Crazy, right?

They saw words of merriment where today we see words of political agenda.  They gladly accepted their neighbor's wishes of joy instead of ascribing malicious intent.   In short, they behaved like rational grown-ups.

Every year, writer Rachel Held Evans posts this very useful graphic to help you determine whether or not you are being persecuted during the holiday season:
Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/holidays-persecuted

Because the truth is, there are very real examples of religious persecution happening in this world every single day.

Being handed a plain red cup at Starbucks is not one of them.

Here's the bottom line.  We can either accept one another's holiday wishes in any form with gratitude, or we can dismiss them because they don't meet our expectations of what should be said.

When we choose the former, we are reminded that for the most part, people mean well with their words and actions.

When we choose the latter, we must accept the fact that we are the only ones taking the Merry out of our own Christmas.

And if you still can't move on, draw your own snowman on your Starbuck's cup. 


Thursday, November 5, 2015

November, You're Not So Bad

As I boxed up our Halloween decorations this past weekend, I could not help but think about poor, underrated November. Smack between October with its brightly colored leaves and pumpkin patches and festive December with its twinkly lights and Christmas carols and maybe even snow, November is the introverted middle child of this most wonderful time of the year.  November is so unassuming.  Most of the leaves have fallen, but in many parts of the country it would be foolish to start wishing for snow.  And though it holds my very favorite holiday of all, Thanksgiving doesn't really demand the kind of encompassing preparations the holidays of its book-ended months do.  On top of all of that, November bears the burden of the end of Daylight Saving Time, an event that according to the Internet might be the end of the world for at least fifty percent of the population.  

Poor, misunderstood November.  It's not your fault.  

If you are one of the many who loves to hate November, I'm here to ask you to reconsider.  I'll even give you ten good reasons to give this quiet fall month a chance.


1.  It's Still Autumn.

November is unabashedly a fall month.  The weather here in the Midwest fluctuates between warm and sunny days and cold, blustery days that let us break out our favorite sweaters and knitted hats.  Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, but they are still on the ground, providing crunchy trails for hiking on the weekends and new vantage points once hidden by leaves.  It's a great time of year to get out and explore a new park.



2.  Leggings.

November is the perfect time to break out a pair of fleece-lined leggings and not take them off for the rest of the month.  Last week, there was a lot of chatter on social media about a video of a bunch of men telling women how to wear (or not wear) said leggings, which I did not watch.  Instead, I put on my own favorite pair and wore them for three straight days and I regret nothing.  

3.  Extra Hour of Sleep.

You know what else happened last week?  We all got an extra hour of sleep.  (Unless you have children under the age of five, you didn't get an extra hour of sleep, and I'm truly sorry about that).  I'm not a big fan of Daylight Saving Time and the whole switching back and forth, but I was feeling pretty happy about it last Sunday morning.  We also use "fall back" in our house to reset our clocks, which by November have shifted to staying up too late, and all of us are now getting to bed at a more reasonable hour thanks to the time change.  

4.  Candletime.

This totally fictitious holiday popped up on my Facebook feed this week.  Lighting candles and drinking some yummy hot cider every evening? I'm in.  What a charming way to acclimate to the darker evening hours, plus I love a fake holiday.


 5.  Movember.

Speaking of fake holidays, how about an entire month dedicated to growing facial hair (and raising funds and awareness for prostate cancer)?  I'm considering participating by not shaving my legs in solidarity.  They're going to be under those leggings anyway, right?

6.  NaNoWriMo.

Or, if you aren't into facial hair, maybe dedicate the entire month to writing a novel?  I absolutely love this idea, and though I'm not working on a novel, I did assign myself some daily goals and word counts for the month of November and have already drafted out a couple of truly terrible children's book plots (and one workable idea).  My kids are on board too, which is making our homeschool days a little more interesting this month.

7.  November Movies.

Usually November brings about the release of at least a couple of good movies.  I don't make it to the theater that often, but I'm more likely to make it a priority this time of year than any other.  We also have a fancy new theater opening up the road today, which makes me even more likely to check out a film this month.

8.  No More Pumpkin Spice.

I love pumpkin bread as much as the next girl, but I'm so over pumpkin spiced everything by the end of October.  I really don't need my ice cream, cream cheese, tea and body lotion to be pumpkin spiced.  November brings back a variety of flavors to the shelves and menus and I am so ready.

Image: Jell-O

9.  Thanksgiving.

Speaking of flavors, my very favorite holiday is in November.  A whole day devoted to preparing some of my favorite foods, drowning them in copious amounts of homemade gravy and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?  Yes, please.  



10.  Giving Thanks.

Oh yeah, and the most important part about Thanksgiving, practicing gratitude.  I've talked about gratitude practices on this blog before, but November is always a great month to kick start a new gratitude habit or revive a lost one.  I love reading my friends' posts on social media, which often point me towards more things to give thanks for myself.  



There you have it!  Ten reasons to elevate November a little in your hierarchy of awesome months. What do you love about November?

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