This weekend I will be trying my first dance class in years. It will be an Afro-Caribbean dance class. As a little girl, I took ballet and tap for a year. I loved to workout to dance videos and fell in love with Neena and Veena, the Bellydance twins’, work especially. A few years ago, I even took a bellydance class. For reasons I cannot remember now, I stopped. I still continued doing Zumba and going on walks now and again. But I haven’t committed to a class in years and I finally feel like I’m ready. Hesitant but ready. Doubtful but ready.
But as I have said before if I am claiming to be on this wellness journey, then I want to throw everything at my disposal at it. In a previous post, I talked about how my husband and I are leaving for California in mid-January. I want to see and feel a visible difference in myself by then. I want to take those runs, move every inch of this body with more ease and erase the doubts that have taken up residence within me.
What have you given up that you would like to try again?
I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual James River Writers Conference 2017 which started with Master Classes held on Friday, October 13th. I did not attend the master classes but I was there on Saturday and Sunday. The conference offered one-on-one meetings with an agent or an editor, panels on writing (both the business and the craft), Library of Virginia Literary Luncheon featuring an interview with honoree and Richmond native David Baldacci, an opportunity to play the Agent Dating Game and First Pages panel.
Day 1, ready to connect with my fellow writers!
James RIver Writers Conference celebrating 15 years!
There were several sessions running concurrently so I could only go to three each day. The first session was a panel of agents answering questions about paths to publication. One agent, Cherise Fisher, made a striking point that as writers, that we should understand our dreams. The consistent message was that we should be self-aware. We should know our genre, be able to name realistic but comparable titles and take time to research the agents-their Twitter, other authors they represent and books they have sold. Ms. Fisher from Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. also reminded us not to forget about the smaller publishing houses. I particularly enjoyed the tip that we should write such a dynamic query letter that they should have to do little else before sending it to a publishing house/editor.
The social media panel gave insight into how authors Sadeqa Johnson, Sonia Yoerg and Panio Gianopoulos manage their social media. They covered topics such as when to post, scheduling apps used, blogging and the major importance of a newsletter in reaching your audience. I admired how they didn’t pretend to have it all figured out and advised if you don’t, then seek counsel! A solid piece of advice given by Sadeqa was to know your lane and build from there when posting on your media sites. For example, if you like gardening, post pictures and video of yourself doing things related to that along with content about your writing. They all acknowledged that readers like to feel as if they know you, not just your work.
The Literary Luncheon was fun and the food was tasty. I was grateful they had a real vegetarian option (a flavorful Portobello mushroom and peppers dish). It gave us the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the day with friends (my awesome writing tribe!) and meet new ones. David Baldacci’s interview was engaging and although emerging authors like myself can’t relate to his meteoric rise, I believe it gave us all a dream to aspire to.
The third panel was moderated by a local writer friend of mine, David Streever. It featured Library of Virginia Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’ Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed. Belle Boggs recited a quote I liked: “Writing won’t make you a living but it will make you a life.” They shed light on what it is like to devote copious amounts of time to research, interviewing and unearthing untold stories that were long overdue for its place in the sun.
The end of Day 1 was fascinating: an interview with “Hidden Figures” author Margot Lee Shetterly. Getting to hear how she grew up in a neighborhood full of engineers, professors and mathematicians in Hampton and had no idea the greatness she was in the presence of astounded me. I loved hearing about her professional background which included founding an expatriate magazine in Mexico with her husband and working on Wall Street. I believe we all gasped about how quickly the book and the movie deal came together after the book proposal was accepted. Listening to this woman was a sonic delight I will not soon forget.
The second day was introduced by highlighting Richmond Young Writers’ books. I was inspired by the literary talent of Richmond’s youth led by Bird Cox. After the opening ceremonies, the First Pages panel began. I commend all of these people who submitted their first pages and were willing to be judged. I submitted my first page last year. Although it did not get selected for reading, I remember the anxiety I felt waiting to hear my words read in front of a crowd of strangers.
There was a Lunch and Learn session. I attended the one about content marketing. Phaedra Hise of Legacy Navigator explained in detail what it takes to succeed in that field. She was blunt in what we should expect and be asking for with content marketing. The session was a welcome departure from the long form writing heavily discussed throughout the conference. It opened my eyes to revenue streams with writing that do not get enough attention at events like these.
One of the more notable panels was Sexy Narratives moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Tia Williams and Marguerite Bennett. The way writers describe flirtation, sex and the buildup between two people is more than titillating conversation. Tia Williams referred to it as a “careful, slow manipulation.” I love this advice! We all had a good laugh at their blanket condemnation of clichéd scenes with heaving bosoms and throbbing body parts.
My last panel before the Agent Dating Game was Family Stories: For Your Family or the World? My book draws so much from both mine and my grandmother’s life that I knew I needed to hear whatever the panel had to say about this subject matter. I did come to a realization that since there are many details about my grandmother’s life in Haiti that I cannot corroborate, it is best to keep my work as fiction.
The final event was the Agent Dating Game. It was a rendition of the throwback TV show. This time an agent asks his/her bachelors (or writers in this case) the same three questions about themselves, story lines or characters and based on their answers, determines which author they want to learn more about. The segment even had a corny but hilarious host.
I need to say a few words about this year compared to last year. Outside of the crowd being bigger (they sold out this year!), it was much more diverse. The authors were more of a representation of what I like to see, which is a healthy sprinkling of what this world already has to offer. I hope they continue this inclusion for years to come. No one likes to feel like they are the only, or one of a few.
All in all, I am excited about returning next year. I will definitely be ready to pitch my novel and get to know more of the smiling, nervous, pensive, curious faces I see roaming the Greater Richmond Convention Center in 2018.
I submitted a piece this afternoon about seeing buffalo in Colorado. I knew I would write about it when I saw a field of helicopters right before we touched down in Richmond on our return flight from Denver. It seemed incongruent. The beauty of nature I never have the opportunity to see here in Virginia and machine constructed by man to do something we cannot do naturally. If only we could will our bodies to take flight. But that’s not how we are built.
There are so many things we are built for: walking, dancing, inventing, running, praying, solving equations, sex, connection, writing, healing, love…etc.
And I have to wonder, especially after this trip…what else am I built for? I know I am trying to bust out of the box I created by writing, publishing and moving myself more often but what else? Many of our mothers and fathers told us we could be anything we wanted as long as we what? Put our minds to it!
But how do we even know what we want unless we are in a near constant state of curiosity and active exploration? I know who I am now but I can confidently say I don’t want to know exactly who I will be next year.
I want to fundamentally shake this whole notion of Kristina.
Last year, she wasn’t the woman who would take an impromptu trip to Colorado and run a blog. I am glad I didn’t know that in 2016. Neither of those things may mean much to others but it’s more than enough for me. I didn’t have to abandon my community, my faith or fall out of love with my husband to become those things. I just had to be willing to see more of what I was built for.
Over the next couple of months, I will work harder on the health front. I have always dreamed of seeing the Pacific Ocean and running along a beach in California. I will be there mid-January. I may not be able to do it for long right now but that has the possibility to change. I know I am built for the experience.
I am curious: What do you believe you are built for and what steps are you taking to make it become a reality?
I am sitting in a hotel room in Westminster, Colorado.
A week ago, I had no idea I would be sitting in a hotel room in Westminster, Colorado.
A shift had to occur inside of me. Hubby and I had originally planned to go to California but decided to push the trip back until the beginning of the year and stay a couple of days longer than the three days we had originally allotted for our trip.
Then we were going back and forth a lot last Thursday on where to go instead. For a hot minute, we were sure we were going to take a train up to Boston, a place neither of us have ever been. As a couple, we have put aside most of the gift-giving in favor of traveling to destinations that either one of us or neither of us have traveled to. A gift to both of us.
After doing some thinking (and pricing), we discovered we wanted to take the advice of some dear friends and go to Denver. Neither of us are particularly outdoorsy except that we do like to take long walks so we had some doubts as to how much we would enjoy it.
My doubts have been erased. I should have known it would happen, too. I have long shifted my attitude to embrace the customs, quirks and idiosyncrasies of the new places we go to. I often leave a trip wishing I had more time to explore and silently (and sometimes not so silently) promising myself to come back.
As soon as I walked off the plane, I could not breathe. I had been warned to stay hydrated but I thought that I could at least walk outside before I would be robbed of my breath. Hubby had to buy water for me and I sat down for several minutes before I could move on to baggage claim. Side note: I left the book I was reading “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas on the bench while I was catching my breath. I am upset but I will definitely buy it again.
The first afternoon we explored a neighborhood called The Highlands with tasty vegan cuisine at a restaurant called Vital Root. We walked past a park honoring Cesar Chavez and settled in at Book Bar, a quaint and charming bookstore and bar/restaurant combined.
I felt much better by the time we got back to the hotel and geared up for dinner in the city. We were excited to find so many food options for us! We went to Watercourse restaurant and I was blown away by the menu items: mushroom risotto, nachos, mac and cheese with broccoli, key lime pie and so much more.
The next day, snow started to fall. It was gorgeous and fortunately stopped mid-day. We had Tibetan take-out and rested. Later that evening, we went to another vegan spot in the city named City O’ City with beautiful artwork lining the walls and a Sam Shepard quote written above the bar. The food again was delicious and the main highlight was the fried ravioli with pesto and marinara.
We ended our night at Meadowlark Bar, a basement bar with Jazz Nights on Mondays. I had to have another moment where I shook the doubts away. When we first entered, we were clearly the only Black faces in the venue. We took seats at the bar and waited for the performances to start. And as with every place we’ve been to since our arrival, we were welcomed warmly. Neither of us are drinkers so we nursed our waters and chatted with the bartender and eventually a painter that showed up later. The crowd that filled the bar were people of stripes of all kind-races and ages. After getting lost in conversation with the painter, we swayed to the music and I was reminded again how much I love the energy of live music.
Today we decided to be our version of an outdoorsy couple. First, it was off to Red Rock. I do not do well driving up high but I shifted my mindset quickly. How else was I going to experience this majestic beauty if I keep myself paralyzed with fear?
The beauty of the landscape is indescribable. I have never seen anything like it. Any amphitheater I have ever been to pales in comparison. The red rock steps, the fall leaves and the freshness of the air overwhelmed me. While we toured the visitor center, I teared up. I couldn’t believe we were here. There are moments when we all know we are blessed beyond measure. There was this current of gratitude coursing through me the entire time I was there. I felt like God was showing off…look at what He made…look at what He has allowed us to build. I cannot imagine what it must be like to attend a concert with such a backdrop.
After Red Rock, we headed to Boulder to visit Pearl Street specifically. It was an outdoor mall that stretched several blocks peppered with tourists, UNC students and locals alike.
The town seems idyllic and health-conscious. It was definitely geared towards pedestrians and cyclists. After taking lunch at a Japanese restaurant, we finally headed back to the hotel.
The feeling is here again. If only we had a few more days, we could have seen the Black Western museum only open on Fridays and Saturdays, taken in more of the city and found a hot spring to soak in for a couple of hours. It’s those silent promises again, begging to be taken more seriously this time.
I know it’s because I want to see, feel, taste, experience as much as I can. I am painfully aware that we only get to do this once.
The shift that has taken place is turning down the volume on my fears and doubts and I am propelling myself forward.
Besides, what good has ever come from standing still and looking backwards?
I met up with an old friend yesterday afternoon that had me pondering the question today. We had not seen each other in at least 10 years but had known each since we were 12, both of us a little young for the 8th grade. It was nothing but love and laughter. When I saw her face, I kissed her cheeks and left lipstick stains like an old Haitian grandmother. I felt a sense of sadness that we had not worked harder to keep in better touch.
It probably didn’t help that I shunned the idea of social media up until last September when I joined the School of Greatness Academy which forced me to join their private Facebook group. It opened a new world to me I thought I wanted no part of but ended up with no real regrets about entering.
But back to my question. Are we wired to stay the same? And if we are, is it always such a bad thing? In some obvious instances, change is life-affirming like having a child, getting married, opening your own business or taking control of your health.
As my friend and I stood outside after getting our nails done, laughing, sharing pictures and the details of our realities we had carved out for ourselves as grown women, I felt our 12-year old selves not far behind..giggling in Reading class..taking long walks in the summer heat not having a single idea in the world how our lives would turn out. The core of ourselves remained unchanged. We are two women who love our families fiercely, value our independence and are on the precipice of establishing new fulfilling careers who just happened to be connected for life.
I feel blessed to be wired this way. I am ok with being unchanged if I can still yearn for and foster connection. I am ok with being unchanged if I am not too “cool” to remember what it was like to be silly and young and reminisce about old goofy pictures we took posed at a Wal-Mart.
Although a lot of what I write here is about the journey to change in regards to my wellness and writing, it is also about bringing forth and committing to what is already inside of me. As I write this, I am thinking I have to learn to celebrate that woman, too.
I didn’t think I was going to mention this here but my day did not go so well..minor setbacks that I believe is just God’s way of telling me to work harder on my writing. A message telling me not to slow down because I will be writing full-time soon. I listened and I actually submitted two pieces to a literary magazine this afternoon. I have fears around putting myself out there when it comes to aggressively pursuing my business of helping others with their vows and speeches. But how is that celebrating the woman that I am? Even though I won’t fulfill all the fantasies I had as a young girl (I won’t be soon dancing back-up for Janet Jackson), writing has always felt real, tangible and within reach.
The young girl in me and the woman I am can celebrate that.
I still feel like I am coming down from an amazing and busy weekend. I had the pleasure of watching my sister and her pole sisters perform in their student showcase. Those women put on a spectacular show and I shed more than a couple of tears watching my sister confidently execute the routine she choreographed along with two other group performances. I had many videos of my sister in varying stages of preparation for her solo over the months so seeing it come together before my eyes was a thing of beauty. As we watched playback of the video I shot, both of us laughed because we could hear my running verbal reaction with every move she made. It was pride spilling from my lips.
The next day while she was with her personal trainer, I made good use of her visitor’s pass at her gym. It had been a couple of months since I had been on a machine so my body and my mind had to warm up to the idea of doing the repetitive motions again but I found I loved the groove that settled in after a few minutes of pushing the incline up on the treadmill. I am not sure why there is such discomfort for me around going back to the gym regularly but I do know I have to get over it. These goals can be met without it but that’s not what I want. I want to make use of all of the tools I have available to me whether I have deemed them as one of my “favorites” or not.
The next day, my mother, sister, adorable niece and I went on a little shopping trip to add a couple of pieces to my wardrobe. I had been meaning to update this site with new pictures so I thought it would be a good time to take them. Here are a couple and my About, Work with Me and Home pages have been updated with all new pictures:
After these were done, hubby and I were off back to Richmond when we had a small accident trying to avoid a much bigger one. It meant one more night at my sister’s until we could go to the garage the next morning but I was so happy to be able to spend more time with my family. While I was there, I managed to finish the essay I was working on last week and selected a couple of sites to submit new work to by Thursday.
When I got to work today, I got the sweetest note (with a green pen!)from a co-worker:
It was in my mailbox and I pulled it out at the exact moment when I needed it. I was all smiles when I opened this blessing and I am not ashamed to admit I teared up driving home from work this afternoon thinking about my new treasure.
As we all know, the last few weeks in this country and all over the Caribbean have been harrowing to say the least.
It is the kindness that will remain. It is the kindness that will restore.
Have you been inspired lately? I would love to read your thoughts!
Tonight, during my writing group, my friend and talented poet Hope, brought a green pen. She explained that the legendary poet Pablo Neruda only wrote with green pens because green is the universal color for hope. She went on to talk about how he was deemed the people’s poet and how he wept when his fans recited his poetry back to him.
It could have been a combination of her delivery of the story and my excitement of being with my writing tribe, but my synapses were firing. What must that be like? To write so passionately that you inspire nations, millions? To value hope so much that you cling to its symbolic color?
I may never have the impact of a Neruda but I can have the passion and the love of the written word of a Kristina. I cannot control impact. I cannot control who chooses to support or love me in my quest to fully devote myself to a life as a writer.
But I can control what I choose to acknowledge. I acknowledge the moments I had tonight with a group of women listening intently, brewing up ideas of collaboration with one another, expressing support and validation of our ideas.
This is what I have to offer this evening. All of my other goals talk can wait for next Tuesday. I know I have workouts to do, water to drink, essays to write and a submission to send off.