I wanted to say a few words about support. Last week, I was under the weather at my writing group meeting at one of our member’s homes. She was such a gracious host, providing us with snacks and each one of us was gifted a journal. She said she thought of me because of my travel coffee mug my sister gave to me for Christmas that says “Keep Calm and Blog On.”
This past weekend, I went to Charlotte to visit family and was greeted with two gift bags on the bed. One was for me with a gift and card from my mother and father, congratulating me on the publication of my E-book, “What I Love About You: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Proposal and Vows.” The other was a cute mug and a card for my husband for being an amazingly supportive husband.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the smaller things when you are trying to live up to your full potential. Who is really supporting me? Am I promoting it the right way or enough? Has my book helped people with writing their love letters, proposal and vows? There are about a hundred other things I could worry or stress about.
But when I read her card, I knew all of those other things really don’t matter.
Like my new journal says, all I have to do is Keep Calm and Write On.
It’s been a couple of days since the release of my new (and first) E-Book: What I Love About You: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Proposal and Vows. I am having a range of emotions. The excitement of it being in the world is here, the wondering of what to do next besides talk about it and keep writing and hope–that people buy it, use it and love it. I am processing the entire range of emotions.
I know I am proud of myself and hope that those who use it, whether it be for themselves or for those whom they wish to gift it to, find it helpful and become inspired while answering the questions and reading the prompts and quotes.
It’s interesting what you picture while writing something. I was imagining men and women of all ages reading and writing at desks, on kitchen tables, in break rooms or during quick stolen moments at work or lying in bed, recapturing memories of the relationship thus far. While I was writing, I even started thinking about my own “origin story” with hubby. I believe allowing myself to remember the details of how we met, the qualities about him that still make me swoon and how it was to meet his family for the first time strengthened my resolve to continue writing this journal and better yet, captured our “why.” By “why”, I mean why we fell in love and chose to stay there.
Because loving is action. Loving is an active decision.
Your turn: What have you done lately that has stretched or excited you? If you haven’t, why do you think that is?
On my last blog post of 2017, one of my goals for 2018 was to be intentional about reading two books a month. I know I could read more but I want to start there. At one point in time, I swallowed books, especially novels. Within the last year or so, I have been introduced to a lot more non-fiction. I would read the occasional autobiography but fiction always had my heart and attention. I found myself feeling like I had to read these non-fiction books to increase my knowledge about setting and achieving goals, financial fitness and self-awareness. While I think the subject matters are worthwhile and many of the personal development books I attempted to read have an engaging style, I find myself setting them down and moving on to another one without finishing.
I heard recently that I need to break down all of my goals. In that spirit, I will choose one non-fiction/personal development book to read each month along with one novel. This month my fiction selection is a book of short stories I began but never finished: The PEN literary award winner “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self” by Danielle Evans. I had started reading it at the beach over the summer and for some reason I can’t remember now, I put it down.
My second selection is “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown. I started reading this book over the fall and I remember my interest waning after about 50 pages. I love watching Brene Brown being interviewed and delivering speeches but for some reason once the research was being introduced, I started getting distracted. I will not be surprised if I love it after committing to finish it.
It’s been said that how you do one thing is how you do everything. I don’t know how true that is but if I start with something as small as committing to my reading goals, my other goals will not be far behind.
I’ve actively resisted using the word “weight” on this blog. I happily write about wellness in its totality. However, the world seems so invested in exact numbers. It’s as if people need to know exactly where to place you.
Sometimes “people” is me.
I don’t define beauty and worthiness by a number. For sure, I want to change the number but I don’t subscribe to any of those notions. I heard a podcast host (an extremely fit man) in response to his guest who is struggling with his weight loss goals say something like: Yeah, I love doughnuts! The guest said nothing about doughnuts and the host repeated it more than once.
Clearly, this is not wildly offensive. I am sure it was just an awkward attempt to relate to his guest but I was disappointed by it. For me, it fed into the notion some people have about overweight/obese people sitting around, glued to the couch and shoving _________ (insert whatever junk food you would like) down his/her gullet. I actually have heard some version of this on more than one podcast, radio station, TV show, magazine, book or film.
Since you can find overweight people sitting next to you at work, class or at a sporting event, traveling beside you on the plane or working out with you at the gym, why does this notion persist?
Maybe I feel compelled to write about it as my husband and I, who eat a plant-based diet to heal from our conditions exacerbated by inflammation and love to be out and about, are about to undertake a serious weight loss journey. I don’t want who we already are to be lost on those who read this or already know us. I start as someone who works, writes, dances, prays, reads, travels, nurtures and cooks and I will be that woman in a smaller body and my husband will be who he is in a smaller body, too.
Not people who are waiting to get off of the couch but people who are ready to move on to the next adventure.
Last night, I was going through some files and found a book synopsis I wrote earlier this year. It was 8 pages long and a joy to read. I had such a clear vision of where I wanted my book to go. It provided a short burst of inspiration to keep going and finish this first draft. Next week, I have the entire time off to put in serious hours towards completing it. Even though there will be hours when I want to throw my laptop across the room or crawl under the covers to avoid it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is being the writer, more importantly the woman, I thought I’d be. The woman who doesn’t waste time talking about it, she does it (she writes about it, too).
I just got back from writing group where I am always reminded of the support I have to become the woman I want to be. I would encourage anyone to look around and take an account of all of the support that is already present in your life. I would bet there is more than you realize, even if it’s just one person praying for you daily living 5 states away or a reader who sends positive vibes your way directly after reading one of your posts.
Or it could be more obvious like the love of your life baking you a vegan apple pie while you were away at your writing group.
I picked “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert back up again. I have a horrible habit, especially with non-fiction, personal development books of reading a quarter of the way or halfway through, sitting it down and diving into another one. It got worse after coming back from Summit of Greatness 2017 with a whole new stack to add to my dysfunction.
Lately, I have been reading a few pages every morning of Big Magic and there have been several moments where I have been slapping an invisible Elizabeth Gilbert hi-five in my bedroom.
Here are a couple of the gems that caused me to act a fool:
On keeping a day job: “I held on to those sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay their bills. I’ve seen artists drive themselves broke and crazy because of this insistence that they are not legitimate creators unless they can exclusively live off their creativity. And when their creativity fails them (meaning: doesn’t pay the rent), they descend into resentment, anxiety, or even bankruptcy. Worst of all, they often quit creating at all.”
That passage was screaming at me earlier this week. It was the exact confirmation I needed that I had made the right choice to leave where I was to provide more for our family. The insight was impactful because I realized I was putting undue pressure on my creativity and to be frank, I am not there yet. I will get there but it will take time. I will work on my craft and my discipline in the meantime.
2. On Permission: “It doesn’t matter in the least. Let people have their opinions. More than that–let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business. Lastly, remember what W.C. Fields had to say on this point: “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.”
When I decided to leave my career at Social Services a few years back, I did not encounter a lot of negativity but I did have some hesitation about proclaiming my choice to pursue writing when I shouldn’t have had a moment’s hesitation at all. It was between me and my God, me and my husband and me and my creativity.
Outside of writing, dancing and a couple of other commitments this weekend, I will devote my time to work on this dysfunction and blissfully get lost in the joy of reading “Big Magic.”
Even though I write a lot of non-fiction and lately, have been inundated with a lot of personal development books, my first love is fiction. Yesterday, after thanking God for waking me and my husband up, I grabbed the latest book I am reading: “The Perfect Find” by Tia Williams. She is one of the authors I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of weeks ago at the James River Writers Conference 2017. I am not ashamed to admit I spent my morning wrapped up in my blankets, getting caught up in the tension and excitement of the story.
The words “keep the story moving forward” have been ringing in my head for a while now and it got louder as I read yesterday. One of my writing teachers, author Sadeqa Johnson offered similar advice to me during the Pens Up, Fears Down course I took earlier this year. I heard it again at the James River Writers Conference during the Library of Virginia Nonfiction Awards Finalists panel from Annette Gordon-Reed.
Writing has taken a more central role in my life this year so those words do ring true. However, why the volume turn-up right now? As I am writing, I am having an onslaught of realization. Those words have been my theme “song” this year. I have challenged myself to do more writing, traveling, confronting of my health, posting, applying, conference-attending and class-taking than any other year of my life. The song is just beginning to build, no deep-throated belting yet but make no mistake, it is audible. With my acceptance of the #bloglikecrazy challenge next month, the commitment to complete my first draft of my novel, starting the process of establishing my business and falling in love with dance again, the vision and the song have clarity.
I have been moving my story forward.
Your turn: What have you been doing to move your story forward?
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 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?