2019 held lots of beautiful memories. It was truly full of firsts– indoor rock climbing, my first open mic, teacher facilitation training, someone telling me I could be an athlete (Strong woman, here I come!), submitting a short story, throwing axes, completing 75hard, my first pole fitness class, attending Summit of Greatness solo, the publication of The Digital Storytelling Project for Women of Color and my citation in “Liminalities” and finally getting around to buying necessities to distribute my E-book (coming in 2020).
I also experienced some of the most scary moments in my life– terrible anxiety, unexplained pain, calling 911 for the first time and spending many nights in the hospital with Hubby this summer (we are so blessed he is well). There were times when I did not know if our lives would look even remotely the same. I knew better than to wallow in sadness and feed into the defeat and sadness that sometimes threatened to overtake me but I wasn’t always successful. I had to trust God and our past triumphs over health trials guide us back to the place we were supposed to be.
I reviewed 2019 and it would be fitting to set goals for 2020. Because I have already started work on the goals I intend to complete for 2020 (the Spartan Trifecta, Strong woman competition, book selling, teaching writing next year ), I will continue what I have been doing. Anything else I aspire to do like more reading, writing, travel and volunteering will be done but I don’t want to see it as part of a resolve to be a new person, I see it as a natural evolution.
Evolving into this person who chooses her experiences, forgiveness and leaves who and what does not serve her behind.
Happy New Year to all of you.
I send love and peace of mind as we start a new decade and revolution around the sun.
This past weekend, I attended the 2019 James River Writers Conference. I walked in this year feeling different. I didn’t care I didn’t have a book to pitch and all I wanted was to hear about was quality writing in all of the many forms it takes. I took some notes but I realized what I needed was to be around other writers.
I needed to catch up and laugh with some of my friends.
I needed to be reminded to set aside time for myself each week to put pen to paper and let this particular truth deliver a gut punch: I shouldn’t be devoting more time to my blog than to all my other writing.
Which is exactly what I have been doing for several months now.
Every novelist, screenwriter, memoirist, short story writer, journalist, poet and agent reminded me that there was story still beating inside of me.
The keynote speaker, the incomparable Marita Golden, emboldened us to celebrate ourselves as writers even if we are not published or under contract. This wise woman had me at the edge of my seat telling us how she had been birthed twice. Once on the day of her actual birth and again when her mother told her she was a writer. I also was blessed to hear her on the panel discussing memoir.
Marita shared that sometimes you need to write the memoir to free yourself to write fiction. The vulnerability in memoir panel impacted me emotionally the most. I love how they brought three writers with wildly different tales to share their points of view. I wish I could take classes regularly from Marita Golden (Migrations of the Heart), Mary Bonina (My Father’s Eyes) and Jon Pineda (Sleep in Me).
A special note about this year’s conference: It was beautiful to see the level of cultural diversity this year. James River Writers Conference has come light years in this respect, especially since my first year as an attendee in 2016. Thanks to the chair, Robin Farmer and co-chair Sonia Johnston for not only creating a conference that ignited my fire to devote more time to my craft but for creating an experience where I had the distinct pleasure of seeing faces that reflected the real world around us.
Last weekend, I made my way to Columbus, Ohio for The Summit of Greatness hosted by Lewis Howes. This was my third time in attendance (had to miss last year due to The Digital Storytelling Workshop at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa).
And it was my best time.
Not because any of the other speakers weren’t impactful or powerful (they absolutely were) or that I didn’t make beautiful connections (without a doubt I did). It’s because I could truly enjoy the experience by myself. No one has ever held me back but I did hold myself back when I attended with others.
Even when I had a couple of pangs of loneliness, they quickly went away because I knew it would be just a matter of time before I would strike up a conversation with a stranger who would soon become a friend.
The Summit started with a welcome party at the Columbus Commons. I got to reunite with old friends and meet a few new ones. One of the more notable parts was a tent devoted to crafting instant poems based on the word of intention for the weekend.
A group of amazing drummers led by Elec Simon opened the conference. The energy was electric and instantly reminded me why I come here.
The first speaker was renowned singer Leann Rimes. Apparently, it was her first speaking engagement and her vulnerability was palpable. She spoke about the isolation of fame and her growth. She sang a beautiful song and led us all in a chant:
I am human.
I am holy.
Grace renews me.
It’s love that guides me.
The vibration and the spirit in the theater left many in tears including me.
The next speaker was Ed Mylett. His idea of hell: meeting the person you could have become at the end of your life. This concept is not a new one to me but his phrasing was exceptional. He called it “chasing his twin.” He was unapologetic about his faith but at the same time inclusive of everyone and exuded humility. He seemed to be the perfect person to seek advice from for my future students at the nonprofit I work for. I took a chance and sent him a message. I was right! He sent me a voice message with wonderful recommendations and I will be eternally grateful for the time he took to send it.
Kyle Cease was up next. He had a few messages that resonated with me but his emphasis of staying in the now was particularly impactful for me. Learning to embrace it is a non-negotiable for me as Hubby and I navigate life post health scares.
Jesse Itzler, former rapper, serial entrepreneur and endurance athlete delivered an impassioned speech urging us to inject more adventure into our lives. He compared life to a bus that never stops and does not go in reverse. At 51, he completely rejects the notion of being “too old” and is smart about the risks he takes.
Day 1 was great but I needed to take a minute to power down afterwards before heading to North Market for the Friday social. I loved on old friends I only get to see at Summit and was inspired by new ones. There was even a mural by Ruben Rojas painted representing our community.
Day 2 proved to be massively inspirational and incredibly fun! Marisa Peer’s message of “I am enough” and teaching us not to criticize ourselves was powerful. Our thoughts listen and execute the stories we tell about ourselves.
The R&B group Final Draft performed for us. They were amazing and had great command of the stage. Dr. Alaa Murabit was incredibly impressive. She is a UN Commissioner, a doctor changing the world with her peacekeeping efforts. She graduated high school at 15, medical school at 21 and is only 29!I loved how she stressed that we should listen to all leaders of all ages. Heed the wisdom of those that came before us. Figure out what went wrong before, what was missing and execute from there. She said that a leader is not someone with a lot of followers. It’s someone who creates other leaders.
Stephan speaks offered us sage advice about relationships. I agreed we should be telling each other what we want and need specifically and the power of a written letter. Also, we are not responsible for anyone else’s healing. It was wonderful to see Lewis honor his team, volunteers and highlight Pencils of Promise and the hundreds of schools built all over the world.
In-Q closed out the conference with his soul stirring poetry. There was also a special video from Sean Stephenson. He recently passed and his message to love our bodies, love ourselves was the perfect note to end on. The closing party was a blast and the return of DJ Irie did not disappoint. I danced until I ached. I wouldn’t have it any other way. After a couple of hours of sleep, I was at the airport, reeling from the weekend. On my layover in Philly, I ran into Elec Simon who was just as gracious and personable as he seemed on stage.
It’s all over until 2020.
So what now?
I found that when I was the most engaged, it was with people who travel, seek adventure, take action and are creative. In addition to hitting my fitness and writing/teaching goals, I want to create my own (mostly) solo adventures.
That part of myself has been slightly repressed over the years due to letting myself become distracted with work, relationships and a bit of good old-fashioned laziness. Realizing it was painful but it is a box I don’t have to stay in.
I can tell myself a new story.
Special thanks to my friend, Gina Molinari for graciously hosting me at her home and surprising me with a stay in the hotel.