Friends, I know some of you are hurting and in a dark place. I want you to remember that good things are on the horizon. I know it may not seem like it, but better days are ahead. Happiness can seem elusive, always wiggling out of reach. Recognizing the opportunity for happiness is similar to searching for a rainbow. We take rainbows for granted, but unless the conditions are right, we don’t see them either. If you move just a fraction of an inch, the rainbow can disappear on you. While happiness may rely on many elements coming together, sometimes it is truly about the view from which we are standing. Don’t be afraid to take a step to discover another point of view. You might just find a rainbow.
I recently found out a dear friend from high school committed suicide. He was in a dark place the last time we spoke. Two years later, he took his own life. He was one of the good guys, and I miss him.
March is a special month for me, as it is the month of my wedding anniversary. I’m not the world’s luckiest person, for I have been known to attract misfortune. Yes, I’m the person who causes my friends to proclaim, “I never knew anyone experienced stuff like that until I met you.”
I obviously wasn’t born under a lucky moon or star constellation, as it has been this way my entire life. I’m the queen of drawing the short stick. Instead of moaning about the misfortunes, I try to do more for others and appreciate all the good that I have in my life. Sure, I’m not made of stone, and many a moment has left me wondering “why” and has successfully brought me to tears, but I’m not a person who wallows in sadness. There is always someone in a worse situation, and I know this because when I feel down, I offer my time and shoulder to those who are in need. I guarantee that your sadness will fall to the wayside when you help others who are in need.
I am lucky when it comes to my partner—my husband. I prefer the term partner, as that is truly the word that reflects our relationship. We are partners in all things. I’m reticent to put this out in the universe, as I don’t want to suffer like Sandra Bullock did when she professed her undying love for her husband during her Golden Globes and Oscar acceptance speeches in 2010. The universe doesn’t seem to like it when a loving couple is either in a music video together or one of them speak about their affection for the other. Perhaps this is a celebrity issue, and I clearly do not have to worry about that. Yes, I’ll choose to believe that.
I am a lucky duck when it comes to my partner. He is kind, loyal, generous, patient, loving, and honest. I can say without the bat of an eyelash that he loves me unconditionally. He has taken care of me through many an illness, and cheered me on when I’ve nearly given up on everything. He makes me laugh at the silliest things, and he keeps me looking forward to the next step in our journey together. Our wedding anniversary is March 14,, 2014, and I will spend the next two weeks honoring my love with my blog posts. I hope you’ll enjoy the opportunity to get to know me a little better.
This past weekend, I escaped the ten inches of snow we received in Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the seventh annual Savannah Book Festival in Savannah, Georgia. On the way down, I was stuck in traffic for two hours, as a tractor trailer had hit a guard rail and caught on fire. Thankful for my obsession of never falling below half a tank of gas on a road trip, I made it to my destination in one piece and with gas to spare.
Like a child anticipating the presents they’ll unwrap on Christmas morning, I found it difficult to sleep. I used the time to plan my festival itinerary. I planned to see Alice Hoffman, Wiley Cash, Hugh Howey, Anita Shreve, and Megan McArdle. Thirty-four authors were scheduled to appear, with up to four presentations running simultaneously. Authors were given an hour time slot, and following their presentations, they were available to sign books that attendees had purchased at the event.
The festival took place in Telfair and Wright Squares among a handful of churches and museums in historic Savannah. The sun shone brightly, but the wind was sharp and reminded me how grateful I was for having worn long sleeves and a sweater. I would have been more comfortable with a jacket, but the sun was very deceptive and lured me into a false sense of security for the day’s weather.
I and my companion arrived late to Alice Hoffman’s presentation in the Trinty United Methodist Church. We settled into some folding chairs in the balcony, as Ms. Hoffman had a packed house. I initially thought I had never read or owned one of her books. I knew she’d written Practical Magic (yes, the one that inspired the movie of the same name), but I’d never linked her as the writer of Here on Earth, a book that has sat in my vast library of books waiting to be read. Like so many of the books I own, I’m not sure how it came into my possession, but like chance encounters with strangers, I feel it has been placed in my path for a reason, so I have held onto it.
Ms. Hoffman won my heart when she declared herself a reader and said that the books we read when we are twelve years old are the ones that stay with us. Yes, I believe this too, and know that without those books, I would be a very different person. Those books helped to shape me in ways I’ll never understand. Ms. Hoffman spoke of her love for “the magic in the language” found in Toni Morrison’sThe Bluest Eye.
An audience member asked if Ms. Hoffman takes breaks between writing her books. Ms. Hoffman laughed and excitedly explained that she has so many books in her head that the stories wait in line to be cued for takeoff like airplanes at the airport. Once those stories have been written, she moves on and leaves the stories and characters for her readers.
I was excited to hear another writer say that they often forget details about their stories and characters. I have a very long memory about the most mundane things of everyday life, but I can hear a sentence read back to me from a story I’ve written, and I’ll be the first to ask who penned it. Friends and family are quick to point out that I did, and they cannot understand how I could forget writing it. I explain that writing is the only way in which I can truly release myself—rid myself of those feelings and emotions I pack up and carry with me every day. Once I’ve written it down, I’ve released it.
Our short time with Ms. Hoffman ended, and we were quickly on our way to hear Wiley Cash speak. Wiley Cash, in his plaid shirt and jeans, was relaxed and personable with the small audience that gathered in the Telfair Rotunda. Surrounded by works of art, Mr. Cash spoke about his latest book, This Dark Road to Mercy.
I traveled to the festival with his book in my bag. I often visit the setting of the book, Mr. Cash’s native Gastonia, a city west of Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Cash read from his novel, his southern accent bringing his characters to life. Nothing compares to hearing the author read his or her own work. The emphasis placed on certain words and the pause of a breath is so much more profound than one can ever experience from a recording read by someone else.
As questions of dialect and language arose from the audience, it was wonderful to hear someone speak about the slight variations in speech between counties in North Carolina, specifically Buncombe County, where my book Manual Exposure is set. Mr. Cash diligently strives to reflect the truest vision of the people and places he writes about, and his attention to detail was not lost on those who had read his books.
Asked how he felt about self-publishing and the success of fellow author Hugh Howey, Mr. Cash said that he knew self-publishing was a hard path. “The reason you know Hugh Howey’s name is because there are so few of them.”
When you write a book, you don’t know what’s gonna happen. You have to make decisions early on. What do I want? What am I gonna be satisfied with? The night we got the call that my book had sold, my wife and I decided this is gonna be the best moment…. So—self-publishing—you really have to decide, what’s gonna be my ‘best moment.’
I agree with Mr. Cash. Writers should choose what that best moment is for them and seek to attain it. In doing so, writers must also understand what that means for their work and future works. Some writers never aspire to see their books in Barnes and Noble. If they are content with seeing their work available online at Amazon.com in the form of an ebook, then that is their measurement of success and they should have that moment and embrace it. However, if a writer does want their book on that bookstore shelf, one has to accept that there is no time for complacency.
Asked about his writing process, Mr. Cash said that he encourages writers to have an event to pace the book against—a method he utilizes in This Dark Road to Mercy, as he believes it forces the writer to focus. I have to agree, as I used one semester of school as the bookends of my story, and it kept me on point and pace. Forcing yourself to tell the story within a frame of time eliminates the unnecessary elements of your work. Additionally, knowing that the story needs to be completed by a certain time helps maintain reader engagement. This method helps create an element of suspense and excitement in your storytelling.
It was time for lunch, and my friend and I were off to explore. I was surprised to see McDonald’s and CVS among the independent shops and historic buildings. We strolled to River Street and found more shops and eateries squeezed along the scenic view. We dined at the first café I found that offered a veggie burger. Vegans, you can find food to eat among the seafood and barbeque offerings.
Having grown weary of the afternoon wind attacking us, we quickly walked to the Lutheran Church Fellowship in Wright Square to hear Hugh Howey speak. I’ve only recently become aware of this author, in part because of his timely article on self-publishing. He has had great success with his self-published books, and has been lauded for signing with Simon and Schuster to distribute the Wool series while maintaining full digital rights of the book.
Prior to the start of the presentation, Mr. Howey walked among those who had arrived early, asking if they were in the right place. He stopped to engage with the attendees and speak with them in private conversations. Readers of his work were visibly excited to meet him.
He spoke about his experience self-publishing Wool. Comprised of five previously self-published novellas, Wool has been compared to The Hunger Games, and the film rights have been sold to 20th Century Fox.
Asked about his success as a self-published author, Mr. Howey stated that he doesn’t actively promote his materials by asking people to read his work. He appreciates the fact that his readership has grown by word-of-mouth suggestions—from one friend passing his book along to another. He believes this organic growth is inherent of a good story, but he acknowledges that his tale is a lucky one.
We made our way back to the Trinity United Methodist Church to hear Anita Shreve speak. Ms. Shreve is a favorite author of mine, and I was very excited to see and hear her. Happy to find a window seat, I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and felt like I had been welcomed into her home. She spoke candidly about her work and experience as a writer.
Ms. Shreve spoke about her journalism career in Africa and her decision to follow a different path as a fiction writer. As for her writing process, she prefers to write in the morning, avoiding any distractions or interruptions as she wakes from bed and makes it to her desk. She writes her works by hand and uses the computer for editing. I’m thrilled to share the love of writing in longhand with her.
An audience member asked for advice for those who are attempting to make it as writers, and Ms. Shreve didn’t hesitate to say that there are no shortcuts or magic formulas. She acknowledged the difficulty that writers face and spoke about the advantages of being lucky enough to have two of her novels featured as selections in Oprah’s Book Club.
Megan McArdle’s new non-fiction book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, informs the reader that failure makes success possible. Ms. McArdle explained that in order to discover what works, we must first learn what doesn’t work.
She spoke of the way in which many parents hover over their children in an attempt to eliminate any opportunity for them to experience failure or pain. She argued that those actions do not contribute to the success or growth of the child. For example, the way in which humans learn to walk—the fall is inevitable, but we must learn to get back up and try again. The small failures we experience as we learn to walk teach us about both our bodies and our environment.
Growing up, I was never given the green light to fail. Failure was not rewarded with a gold star. If you failed, that meant you didn’t properly prepare, you didn’t do your best, and you came up short against those who succeeded. Success and failure were the only two paths in front of me, and I was expected to succeed in every task that I attempted. Failure meant that you were a failure, and you should move on and try something else.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that failure is a tool for learning. Failure is inevitable. We won’t always succeed, and instead of seeing it as an end to that interest or aspiration, we must take a step back and learn from the reasons we failed. If I could go back in time, I’d teach young Jeannie this, and perhaps prevent her from having stomach ulcers at the age of eighteen.
While she doesn’t believe that everyone is a winner at all things, Ms. McArdle believes that we can become winners by learning from our failures. Our failures hold secrets that we never would have learned had we not dared to try. As we learn to overcome our failings, we venture to take new paths that may not have been available on the straight path to success, and these experimental avenues may hold answers to questions we’ve never thought to ask
The hour with Ms. McArdle came to an end, and with that, the festival came to a close. I, who had worried that attending the presentations of five authors wouldn’t be nearly enough, was thoroughly exhausted.
As I processed the events of the day, I found a unifying thread that ran through each of the authors’ presentations: luck had played a major role in their successes. Whether they had been successful as a traditionally published or self-published author, they each acknowledged that it is hard to become a successful author. While talent and hard work are requirements, they alone are rarely enough.
Sadly, I didn’t walk away from the festival with a recipe to guaranteed success. However, I did benefit from the companionship of fellow book lovers and writers. I feel lucky to have been able to attend, and I doubly enjoyed it, as I was with a childhood friend whose love of reading is a new occurrence, and it was interesting to experience the event with her by my side. While I don’t love the bridge to Savannah, I thought the city was beautiful and inviting. I’d love to spend more time exploring the city, and if you ever get the chance, I encourage you to do the same.
There are many things one may say about me, but I hope one of the traits that float to the top of that alphabet soup is how thankful I am. In my life I’ve gone without food, medical care, and many other necessities of life that some people never think twice about. The one deficiency that has left an indelible mark on my life is a lack of familial support.
My experiences have made me supportive of efforts others put forth, and if I can lend a hand when someone is in need, I will do everything I can to help them. I am truly thankful for any wisdom, grace, and kindness that is extended my way. I’m not a person easily brought to tears, but a kind word can make me cry in the ugliest of ways.
I know many individuals who have or have had everything their heart desires. This has not made them happy or grateful people. In fact, it has seemingly made them resentful and jealous of another’s success or happiness. I always find this shocking because I don’t understand how someone who has never had to sacrifice one thing for the other could ever have anything but appreciation in their heart. Sadly, I don’t have to understand it, as the actions continue without explanation or logic.
As I hit the “publish” button on my book, I was filled with so many overwhelming emotions, but the one that rose to the top was gratitude. I’m thankful that someone cared enough for me that they taught me to read. This singular act set my entire devotion to words and learning in motion. This gift is repeatedly given to me every day. Everyone who has ever read my short stories, newspaper articles, essays, and papers and offered a word of guidance or support are forever in my heart. So many people have helped me get here—from strangers who posted a helpful link, video, or article on their site, to the inspirational writers who’ve come before me.
As I step forward into 2014, I endeavor to be even more thankful. I’m taking up the 365 Grateful Project challenge and documenting something that I am grateful for each and every day. I can’t wait to see how the year unfolds, and I certainly don’t want to miss a moment of it. I’d love for you to join me in the project! I’ll post my daily photos to Instagram and share them on here in a weekly recap. I hope this activity helps you get to know me. I look forward to see/hear what you are sharing. 2014 – Show your gratitude.
I’m the first in my family to go to college. I paid for my college education. While at TWU, I worked twenty hours a week and carried a nineteen-hour class load. I was fortunate to find friendship and love at this beautiful campus.
The cold snap hit Charlotte hard. Our kitchen was without hot water for two days. The houses here are just not made for such cold weather. Our little backyard pond was the perfect illustration of the big thaw.
The little things my husband does, like making french toast and coffee, are the greatest tokens of affection. These are the things that you can overlook, but they are the greatest things that you will miss.
This is me without makeup. I woke up, turned on my computer, and snapped a selfie. Yes, I have a hole in my shirt. I haven’t even had coffee or brushed my hair! I’m sure you could point out 112 things wrong with that photo, and I’m okay with that. You know why? I’ll never be as beautiful as I am in this moment. Every minute it takes me to write this, I’m aging. My body parts are failing, wrinkling, and losing their elasticity. All of this is happening with neither my permission nor my approval.
You will NEVER be as young or as beautiful as you are in this moment. You will get this one day. You will turn back and question, “Why the hell didn’t I see how stunning I was then? Why did I think I was fat, ugly, and disgusting?” You will see that every day you are given the opportunity to love yourself. I don’t care about those people who have rejected you and haven’t loved you. Love yourself. Believe that your thoughts count more than whispered judgments.
If someone hasn’t realized how beautiful you are, thank your lucky stars. You don’t want anyone who doesn’t see how perfect you are. Turn off the negative talk in your head, and maybe you’ll begin to hear the positive voices that are trying to be heard.
We all keep a running list of things we don’t like about ourselves. I’m not going to list all of mine, because I think I’ve done enough sharing in this post (see photo above). So, you have a choice, sit and fume and pout about the crap you can’t change, or get to work on the stuff you can change. No, you aren’t going to drop fifty pounds overnight. Should you stop going out of the house or throw on a tarp? NO! Clothes are accessories, love. You are meant to be the star of the clothes, not the other way around. Wear clothing that accents the positive on your body.
Accent the positive in you, every day! You know the most beautiful thing about anyone’s face? Their smile. A smile can truly make or break a face. Haven’t you met someone who may have have been blessed with a beautiful body, but they didn’t seem very pretty because they looked sour? Everyone wins with a smile; you look better, and you make everyone around you feel better. Well, except for those super people who insist upon waiting to knock you down until you become miserable like them. Yes, those people exist. They are the ones who ask me, “What are you so happy about?” or better yet, “What made you smile so big?”
I’m tired of hearing people lament about how the media, and the fashion, advertising, and entertainment industries are perpetrating unattainable images of women. Yes, those images have always existed, but that is not where the youth of today are learning to hate themselves. They are smart enough to know that images are digitally enhanced, and that it takes hours to accomplish the looks they admire on celebrities. They are picking up self-hate from YOU- their moms, aunts, sisters, cousins, teachers, and close family friends. Yes, YOU.
Your little niece notices when you shy away from the camera stating that you “don’t like your photo taken.” Your daughter absorbs every minute of the self-hate you dole out, repeating the phrases she hears you say about hating your thighs and watching as your cry about your weight. When you starve yourself to lose a pound, your little sister learns what it means to be a woman.
Start owning the power you have, and realize that you are the instrument of change in this battle.
Why does this matter to me? When you choose to be more kind to yourself, you extend that generosity to everyone around you, and a profound circle of love and kindness begins to spread throughout the world. You can all it a cliché, but I just call it truth- loving another starts with loving yourself.
I cannot tell you how much I love this shirt. It glows in the dark, too!
It isn’t always a lack of motivation that prevents us from accomplishing our goals. I have witnessed too many people give up on a dream because they had no one in their life to offer support and encouragement. Our personal relationships have a profound impact on what we accomplish, as well as what we perceive we can achieve.
Throughout my education, I was fortunate to be surrounded by teachers and friends who supported my efforts and encouraged me to pursue my writing ambitions. Adult friends and acquaintances have been a different experience. Sadly, many people see writing a book as a fanciful task, an unnecessary self-appointed employment. Unfortunately, some of those very same high school friends who were once so supportive are now silent. I’ve found the silence to be the most hurtful.
I should not have been surprised, for as an entrepreneur I’ve encountered the wall of silence before. While business start-ups are no less personal, the endeavor to write is the most personal of all. I wasn’t prepared to hear crickets from friends who I have known and supported throughout different stages in their lives. I believe in being a cheerleader for my friends, and I expect the same in return.
I can only guess why I haven’t heard squeals of joy from the people who have chosen to be silent. I know some people are shocked that my first book is in the romance genre, and since they don’t read that genre, they are at a loss for words. Some people are very indifferent to the success of others, and then there are those who feel they do not need to expend valuable energy on another person.
It is no easy task to write a book. It requires commitment, sacrifice, and persistent effort. Writers who finish a book do so because they are forced to continue; they are driven to scratch the compelling itch. Many people do not feel this passion for their work every day. People go to work and do what is required of them as they count down the minutes until they can return home or resume the activities that give them pleasure. Writers, often feeling as though they are having too much fun, enjoy the work they are passionate about completing.
As creative writers, we must learn to destroy the inner voice of defeat and ignore the critical naysayers that surround us. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not encouraging you to surround yourself with “yes” robots who tell you everything you produce is amazing. Everyone needs helpful critical feedback! However, we don’t need to listen to the voices that predict failure even before we’ve attempted to succeed. Whether they are scared we’ll be successful and leave them behind, or they are attempting to protect us from failure or criticism, their reasons are their own, and we must learn to ignore them.
I’ve worked in animal rescue my entire adult life. Some people have horrific hobbies that center around abuse, torture, neglect, and death. If someone tells me they are doing anything that doesn’t involve the maiming, torturing, or killing of another living being, I take it as my personal duty to throw a hand on their back in praise and encourage them to go for it. It may sound silly, but it truly can make all the difference in someone’s world. We cannot afford to be stingy with loving support.
It takes nothing to give another person a supportive nod and encourage them toward their dreams. If there is a cost, in the form of a stamp or a phone call, it is minimal, but for most, there is no cost. Shouldn’t everyone be encouraged to do more, be more, and achieve greater things?
If we cannot find the encouragement we need within our circle of family and friends, we must go in search of new people who will be supportive of our creative efforts. Seek out others who not only share your excitement, but are staunchly standing on your side of the bleachers cheering you on. These like-minded individuals will have a keen understanding of what you are going through, and they are more likely to give you the type of support you need. Cherish these positive people, and surround yourself with them. Pay the kindness forward, as someone else is in need of the encouragement you crave.
“You need so much energy and encouragement to write that if someone says something negative, some of that energy goes.”