A No Reading List Summer

Every summer since I had mine own library card, I have had a summer reading list.

Until now.  IMG_1011

Summer 2014 began, and I meant to cull together the books I wanted to read. To have some order, some purpose to what I pulled off of my bookshelves. But it’s July, and no reading list ever happened. For a moment, I panicked a bit–what if my lack of a formal reading list means that I don’t read as much? what if I get sucked into those terrible summer reality shows? what if, what if….

But most of the time, all of those what if’s really don’t come true. Unless by summer reality shows, you lump in anything on HGTV and I’m hopelessly going to watch. But I always read during the commercial break.

But not having a formal summer reading list taught me a few things about me and writing and this blogging life:

  1. Just because other bloggers have their lists doesn’t mean you need yours. Fine, I’m also hopelessly addicted to any reading list on the web–academic books, beach reads, literary fiction, sci-fi–you put a book in a list, I will peruse the list. I don’t have to follow the crowd. Most of what I like to read isn’t very beach friendly (I read a Faulkner novel for fun. Nothing about that screams beach read). Plus, summer is when I escape the well-ordered world of the classroom for a bit.
  2. Getting that GoodReads Currently Reading List under control. I admit to reading several books at one time. If you don’t believe me, there is quite an impressive Jenga-like tower next to my bed threatening to kill me in my sleep.  Right now, my currently reading list is somewhere around 7 with more being potentially added. I started all of these books with good intentions of reading them all, but oh look, another shiny new book or Kindle deal and another book on the list. Slowly, I have been finishing those books that I started and trying hard not to add too many more before I am done.
  3. Remembering why I love binge reading. This summer, I have been trying to make it a habit to read before bed rather than watch a rerun of The Big Bang Theory or the late news. Of course, TV shows have a definite end, but books have these magic chapters and you just have to read one more. Of course, it soon becomes 1am, and you finish said book knowing the next morning will require extra coffee. But there is nothing better than soft, cool sheets and a good book especially in the summer. It is the best magic in the world.

So, do you have a summer reading list? If so, share what’s on it in the comments.

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Writing Through the Fog

Writing has been my life for four years now.

I started this blog after I graduated with my Master’s because I needed an outlet–to write out what I think, believe. A verbal map of where I have been, a compass to where I am going. Many times, I write and let the blog fall silent for months. Sometimes, it goes quiet because I’m working feverishly on my fiction, or I allow others to intimidate me into writing nothing. (Note: cyber stalking your ex’s blog says more about you than your ex or his wife).

But most of the time, I am just trying to write myself through the fog. 

Where the storytelling happens

Where the storytelling happens

Two weeks ago, I took the train from Lynchburg to Baltimore to visit my aunts. I had my laptop to write, but I couldn’t. I read a novel and stared out the window as the kudzu passed by. For a writer, travel always inspires me. Going somewhere new or in this case somewhere I haven’t been in 15 years, I soaked up the good food and experiences. But nothing really inspired me to write.

Until we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. I had been several times before, before I called myself a writer. We walked through the Cone collection first–a large eclectic display of Matisse to Picasso to Monet. But the two Monet paintings struck my writing nerve. Both of the same bridge in London except the light and the fog were different. In one painting, you notice all of the hushed blues and violets as you try to make out the outline of the bridge and factories. The fog obscures everything but the basic shapes. The second painting, the fog has cleared. Greens and light and distinct buildings appear without the fog. Staring at these paintings side-by-side, something hit me about my writing.

We have to write through the fog.

Nothing is ever clear when I sit down to write. I don’t fully know my characters or the plot, and sometimes, I use these as excuses for not writing. Albeit, writing makes me happy, so not writing isn’t the best choice. The fog can discourage us because it can be so thick around us, hiding the essential thing that we are towards, but when we show up and do the work and write through that fog–we see our work more clearly, better even.

Today, I needed to write on this blog because the fog has been more like fear and discouragement. I needed to write past my fears, past the those who want me to be silent or unhappy, past my inner editor who says my writing isn’t very good.

Now, the fog has lifted; let’s write.

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On Writing and Going to the Gym

I.

I started going to the gym again. Seriously, going to the gym in April. Not the if I feel like I need to go or to satisfy some girl math so I can eat frozen yogurt or tacos. But really going to work out. I hadn’t been feeling like myself for a long time in that bloated, I don’t like how I look way. I could feel the stress everywhere on my body–the sore ache that clenches tight all of my muscles and exhausts me. So, I started going back to the gym. One Word

II.

Writing became too hard, too emotional to handle. I started a few stories then stopped, too tired to keep my ass in the chair. For awhile, I told myself that watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory would help or another episode of No Reservations. Any lie to help me believe that muse needed to be fed before I could work. Like my physical muscles, I could feel the tension in my writing muscles tightened to a chokehold. Nothing came. I wanted to write but didn’t want to actually sit down and bang words out on the laptop. But my writing self started to wither, and  I couldn’t keep up this self-medicating on television reruns. So, I started to write shitty first drafts again.

III.

For some reason, I entered a Twitter contest to win free personal training sessions or a free water bottle. I was hoping for the water bottle. But of course, I won the personal training sessions. I don’t really know if I had an ideal trainer in mind. Maybe, someone trained in yoga or pilates. Someone graceful and lithe who would help me find a workout routine that wouldn’t hurt so much and perform some type of miracle fat exorcism.

That’s not who I got. My trainer is more drill sergeant less namaste. My gym is fairly small, so I had seen him before. Several times actually. He rules over the free weight section like a king. Every so often, making his rounds, checking on the other more intense weight lifters, all those people who usually ignore those of us more casual gym goers. Those of us who run to the locker room and slink toward the back row of ellipticals, those of us who believe that if we cross too far over the line into the free weight section something bad will happen.

I assumed that we wouldn’t get along. That he was just like all the other overly athletic guys I’ve known. The kind that only talk to me if they needed help on their English homework or if I were leading the literature study group. Sometimes, it becomes too easy to construct a whole back story for someone you don’t know and judge him. Like most assumptions, I was wrong. He was nice, really nice. So, I actually enjoyed going to our personal training sessions even thought I once convinced myself I wouldn’t.

IV.

Going to a real writing conference sounded like a good idea. I had been to one writing retreat last year. A small one and loved it, but a writer’s conference felt too big, too many people, too much to take in. But Saint Anne would be speaking, and I needed to hear her. Of course, Anne Lamott could talk about anything and I would try to save my money to buy a ticket. She’s been the driving force behind my writing for a long time. When I hate what I’ve been writing, I read her book “Bird by Bird.” Always helps my writing and me become closer.

I didn’t realize how empty my creativity tank was until I went to the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids. There just wasn’t anything left to give except a few tired clichés and some whining about being exhausted. My internet friends would be there which helped me decide to go. After the first day, I started to feel the enthusiasm brewing again. My love for writing awakening from its slumber, and I could feel myself refreshed and ready to write again.

And now, a month after the conference, I’m not sure that I want to do a full recap of it. Too personal, too private as my muse and self finally got some much needed R&R. We can’t write on empty forever. Or at least, I can’t.  So, I allowed myself to be filled again in order to write.

V.

Writers tend to be superstitious. When something is going well, we keep doing it, hoping the muse will never leave or at least find us hard at work. Maybe, it is a coincidence that my writing has been so much better, richer since I started going to the gym, working out with my personal trainer. I don’t know. But what I do know is that writing and going to the gym are too similar for me. I know I need to go and I know I need to write, but I don’t. Then, I worry about it, and everything starts to unravel. For me, I have to do the work and show up. I will admit that I am never thrilled to walk through those gym doors, nor excited to stare at the blinking cursor on a blank page. But I do the work. That’s all I can do.

 

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Jesus Crucified–A Guest Post

Today, I’m guesting for my lovely and talented journalist friend, Emily. She has been focusing on the Stations of the Cross, and we shall focus on Jesus Crucified.

 

Jesus Crucified photo-14

 

I.

the Word–

the Word who was made Flesh

splayed open

to the humid heat of bodies mingling at the foot of the cross,

to the tears of Mother Mary

to the murmur of sinful syllables

spoken for the Word’s death.

 

II.

the Word—

the Word who spoke

the tree seed into existence

its roots cut open mother earth’s womb

as limbs reached up, branches contained life and death,

did You, the Word, the Word made flesh

watch as Your cross grew?

To read this, head over to Emily’s blog by clicking here.

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7 Things NOT to Say to a Writer

Everyone should have one friend who is a writer. writer pens

In case, you don’t have one, you may consider me your friend via the interwebs because I hate people being left out. But really, everyone needs an in real life writer-friend if for nothing else, you may be immortalized in her work.

Maybe, you are a part of the lucky few who do have real live writers for friends, and you might want to keep them as friends. Because there is nothing worse than a pissed off writer working on a zombie novel–hint, hint, your character isn’t going to make it.

Of course, I digress. 

As a writer, I have a vested interest in bridging the growing chasm between writers and non-writers, simply because non-writers have a tendency to say or ask certain things that make writers crazy.

Here are 7 things NOT to say to a writer:

  1. “I don’t really like to read much.” Well, to borrow the cliche–this puts your relationship with said writer behind the 8 ball made out of C4. I’m not sure what compels sweet, caring people to tell me, a writer, that they don’t like to read. Of course, it is always AFTER I tell them I’m a writer. Even if reading isn’t your thing(I don’t understand why not, but okay), don’t tell me. A safe way to fix this faux pas is to ask me about my writing. I always like people to ask me about my writing.
  2. “When’s your book getting published?” A fair question, but let me be clear–publishing is NOT the end goal of writing. Just like being thinner or prettier or richer won’t make you happier, being published doesn’t make a writer any happier either. Writing is the end and reward.
  3. “Hasn’t somebody already written that?” The answer is probably. In fact, we could go even say that most of the truly “original” ideas for novels, short stories, plays, etc. already exist. The whole point of writing isn’t to say something new, but to say it in a new and creative way. How many riffs of Romeo and Juliet exist? A lot. Also, that idea wasn’t even “original” with Shakespeare either.
  4. “Aren’t there enough books already?” Enough? Are there enough scarves or quilts or crafts that involve mason jars? Yet, we don’t ask people who sew or craft or scrapbook if there is ENOUGH of whatever they make. So, rule of thumb: don’t ask a writer if there are enough books out there already. Just don’t do it.
  5. “What if you run out of ideas?” This is loosely translated in any writer’s mind into: WHAT IF YOU FAIL! We writers always have that worry, the horrible specter of writer’s block hovering in the shadows, so reminding us of it doesn’t really help. For most of us, we sit our bottoms in our chairs and hit those keyboard keys until something starts clicking. Then, thank God that revision exists.
  6. “Oh, well, everyone needs a hobby.” Let me be clear–writing is not a hobby. For me, writing is my life, my obsession, what keeps  me both sane and tipping toward the chasm of insanity. A hobby suggests that I can just leave it when it isn’t fun any more or I find something better. This is not writing. Even when I’m not writing, I’m listening to how people talk, waiting for inspiration–a phrase, an image– anything, composing plot lines in my head. Writing is my life.
  7. “What if no one reads your stuff?” Of all the other 6 things not to say to a writer, this one hurts the most. All writers want someone to read their work. In fact, this writer would love nothing more than if you would subscribe to my blog and read my stuff. We worry that what we write won’t resonate with anyone besides ourselves, and what makes this hurt the most is that a friend is asking this question. If a writer shares her work with you, take a minute to read it.

What else would you add to this list? Share in the comments section.

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What I’m Into: January 2014

 

 

January was a big month.

For me, it wasn’t just a month to kick off 2014, but a rapid paced, do all the things, read all things while everything is fresh and new and I have energy kind of a month. One Word

I began January with a new semester, new students, and teaching online for the first time. And because I’m an all in kind of person, I’m teaching four college online courses. What I’m noticing is how much I really do enjoy teaching in my pajamas, searching for cool interactive tools to teach literature, but I also miss the classroom, its hodge-podge of students brought together, the in person community of learners.

Of course, it never hurts to be able to read Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and Alice Munro for work and GET paid to do so. Although, I could have left William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” off the reading list because that story creeps me out. Every. Time. I. Read. It.

But January did bring some exciting news…

My short story, Three Tapes,  was published in Quaint Magazine! You can read it here.

For any writer, being published is one of the best feelings ever. Someone else loved your work and wants it. Of course, money sweetens the deal too. And it also helps that I adore the premise behind Quaint Magazine, a publication that focuses on female identifying writers.  You should read the first issue because it is amazing.  cupcake driveway

In book related nerdness:

I read four books in January. Yes, I know that doesn’t sound like a whole, but I also teach literature courses which mean plenty of my reading time is taken up by research and literary criticism.

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt: Any time a novel breaks the rules like telling who murdered whom in the first chapter, then I’m on board. The middle of this very long book felt a bit too sluggish for me, but I really did like the overall plot lines.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple: Quirky, very quirky. Not entirely sure how I feel about the unusual presentation of the story, but I found myself thinking about long after I finished reading it.
  • Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach: I love food memoirs. I love food memoirs with recipes. I love reading food memoirs with recipes that aren’t overly hard and I might be able to cook.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth:  My closet genre of choice, my real love will always be Young Adult Dystopian novels. Please, please don’t judge. I loved the premise of the book, and its kick ass female protagonist, but it lost me somewhat when she needed a cute, brooding guy.

If you want more of my thoughts on books I’m reading or have read or want to read, you may follow me on GoodReads.

In TV watching land,

I should point out that I don’t watch a lot of television. We gave up cable a long time ago for Netflix and Amazon Prime, and I don’t miss the bazillion channels with nothing on. But I do have a few favorites:

  • The Big Bang Theory: This month’s episode with James Earl Jones was the funniest ever. It may even eclipse the episode when Sheldon becomes the crazy cat lady.
  • Game of Thrones: I’m late to the party, but damn…my favorite characters are dying left and right and I have only made it through season 1.
  • The Taste (both US and UK versions): While I don’t do reality TV, I love watching Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, and Chef Ludo bicker over food. This go around, I’m siding with Team Ludo because Team Nigella was all crazy, Bourdain’s team isn’t as exciting as it was last year, and Marcus’s team could be feisty too.

In blog land,

I have been relatively quiet on the blog, but this year, I am going to be making a effort to be more consistent with my content. I did write about my OneWord365 and how it is really hard to live out. I took pictures of my dogs when it snowed because we don’t get a lot of snow in the South and we enjoy it to the fullest.

So, what did January 2014 have for you? Share in the comments section below. Then go check out all of the other submission for Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into Link-up.

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Southern Snow Day

By now, you probably have heard that it snowed…in the South.

Having lived my entire life south of the Mason Dixon, I feel the need to make something clear–SNOW IS A BIG DEAL!

We don’t see a lot of the white frozen stuff. In fact, we have had entire winters in which there was snow at all. So when the almighty weatherman calls for snow, we run out to get our eggs, bread, and milk because we don’t want to be unprepared. Or we might just have a hankering for french toast.

But I digress. Since we get so little snow, I took the opportunity to romp around, to take pictures of my dogs, to enjoy the powdery white stuff until my toes felt numb and my hands were too cold to press the camera buttons. So about 20 minutes have real outside time, then it was all roaring fire, big stacks, and puppy piles for me.

Today’s blog post doesn’t have any literary significance just showing off I spent my snow day or how I took lots of pictures of my dogs which will convince my readers that I am that crazy dog lady.

 

Cupcake chase Ophelia

Ahh, observe the natural taunting of Springer Spaniel siblings–Cupcake and Ophelia. Can you not see the love? The tenderness? Cupcake’s crazy eyes as Ophelia runs away.

Cupcake cold

You can almost hear dear Cupcake saying: “But MOMMY, I’m cold! I promise I will sit on your lap and be your heating blanket if we go inside now.” Yeah, he broke that promise later when he flopped on to the couch and started snoring.

Ophelia runs

 

But Ophelia trots ever so lightly on the snow. Its icy crust tickling her toes as she runs toward me. Of course, she wants her belly rubbed because that is the only thing that I am good for…and putting kibble in her bowl. Priorities.

Cupcake and Ophelia run

 

“Look Mama, we’re flying!”

cupcake driveway

Never knew my dog could fly, did you?

cupcake happy

But at the end of the day, everyone is happy, tail wagging, and glad that the snow will be gone tomorrow.

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When to Let Go

Pull up a chair friends, it’s confession time. Pour a big mug of coffee or tea or whatever happens to be your comforting  beverage of choice. Comfy? Good…

Confession: I’m a perfectionist. One Word

There, I said it. My name is Sarah and I’m a perfectionist.

Now, you would think that being a writer and college English instructor that being a perfectionist would be helpful. Doesn’t every Freshman Comp instructor need to be able to spot a misplaced comma from a mile away? Maybe. Doesn’t a good writer hover over her words to revise, revise, revise because that’s what good writers do? Sure. On the surface, being a perfectionist is really helpful. I get things done right, the first time. No wasting energy re-doing stuff.

The problem with perfectionism isn’t the good things that I can do, but all the great things that it keeps me from doing.

Right now, I’m fighting my perfectionism. I stop, I read, I revise, I question myself. Stuck in this cycle of non-writing because I’m too damn scared to write what I want to say. Maybe, you are one of the lucky few who can just write and not over-think everything., hit publish on your blog post, and walk away. I wish I could be like you. Then, my mind replays who might read this post, what if said person is super mean and nasty and leaves horrible comments or just wants to cyberstalk my blog because said person has nothing better to do than be a cyberbully. Whew, glad I’m not brave enough to hit publish on anything super personal.

Too many times, I confuse bravery with guilt and fear.

This is when perfectionism steals away my creative powers. I stop writing cause it will never be good enough, perfect enough, for goodness sakes, not perfect. But I’m a perfectionist, a habitual over-thinker, make myself feel guilty for doing something that I really love and makes me alive because I haven’t done all the laundry/dishes/mopped the floors/ironed the clothes.

And that’s just what my mind did this morning. 

It brings up all the imperfections, my failings as a writer and creative, and puts it on repeat. All the time. I haven’t been able to turn off the “you’re not perfect and let me show you why” playlist. It’s hard. Right now, I want to delete this whole post because it isn’t focused just a stream of consciousness hot mess. I don’t have a plan for a good call to action, a nice sum up, or even how I beat perfectionism and you can too ending. I can tell you what I do know:

Really, perfectionism is just fear in nice dress.

For me, living out my One Word, Brave, has showed me how I have been living in fear. Fear of what others think of me, of my writing, of whatever the proverbial they feels judgy about…

Maybe, overcoming fear is more about choosing what is good for me in this moment. Like writing a blog post on perfectionism as my laundry needs to be folded and dishes washed and knowing ALL of it will still be there when I’m done writing.

Maybe, I need to learn simply this:

When to let go…

So the dishes are still there, but I’m writing. The laundry will still be there, but I’m creating. The guilt and fear of the imperfect are there, but maybe, I can convince to help out with the dishes and laundry. Or just learn to ignore until after I have chosen what’s best for me.

 

 

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On Being Brave: My 2014 One Word

We’re fourteen days into 2014. rose bud

So, this post is a bit late, a poor omen to how the rest of 2014 will be, I hope not. For the past three years or so that I have been blogging, I have chosen a word, a One Word to guide my choices for the year.(Kinda like Frodo and the One Ring but without the creepy Black Riders following me around).

Last year, I chose the word–IGNITE. For parts of 2013, my word represented my choices: I remembered why I loved teaching, why I loved writing. Looking back over 2013, I see how my one word helped me back better choices like submitting my poetry and fiction for publication and attending a writer’s retreat in Michigan. I published a couple of stories, began writing a novel that I still love, overcame my fear of flying (I have a strong hatred for O’Hare), and adopted a kitten (really the kitten has nothing to do with my One Word just throwing it out there in case you wanted to know).

Even with a strong One Word showing for 2013, I didn’t plan on choosing another word for 2014. Until one chose me.

The word niggled at my brain. It found its way into my new favorite song with the title as my word. Now, my 2014 theme song. This word wouldn’t let me go. Despite wanting to focus goals and checking off boxes next to things that I accomplished, this word, this one word kept hounding until I accepted:

My One Word for 2014

Brave

Brave looks like submitting more writing, consistently putting myself out there for both acceptance and rejection.

Brave looks like being bold with my words, saying what I need and want.

Brave looks like fierce honesty coupled with compassion.

Brave looks like blogging consistently, being more open both online and in person.

Brave looks like embracing imperfection and accepting that I can’t be perfect.

So, here’s to a BRAVE 2014.

Maybe, going to Mordor with Frodo would have been a safer idea.

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Birthday in 32 Parts

OneWord2013_Ignite

I.

TODAY, I’m celebrating the big 32, or if you prefer 2-3 reversed.

II.

This is also the month in which my friend, Sarah Bessey releases her book  Jesus Feminist. Her words are pure healing for those of us who have been set adrift by the evangelical, fundamentalist movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s. She traces how women have been both excluded and the need for inclusion in the church. While the beginning part of the book does unfolding slowly and methodically(necessary since she is putting forth foundational truths for the later chapters), Sarah Bessey moves quickly into her natural cadence of Warrior Poetess and hand-raising Pentecostal.

(Full disclosure: I received an ACR from NetGalley. The review and thoughts are entirely my own)

III.

This past year has been full of healing. My 31st birthday wounded me, but I’m slowly recovering.

IV.

Cake.

V.

Something finally snapped inside my head, and we got a kitten.

VI.

My new kitten, Lily, will never “haz cheezeburger.” She spells correctly and uses proper writing mechanics at all times.

VII.

I really should be writing for NaNoWriMo, but I’m not.

VIII.

I need all of the coffee in the world…forever…

IX.

I have developed a thing for wine bars, good cheese, and cured meats.

X.

I have no dignity about bragging about my new obsession on Instagram  or Facebook.

XI.

Did I mention CAKE????

XII.

After years away from teaching, I’m back teaching. I love it!

XIII.

There are many papers to grade, many, many papers.

XIV.

The kitten tried to eat a student’s paper. She could taste the quality of the writing and went back to licking herself.

XV.

After years away from church, I finally feel able to sit in the service and Sunday School without a minor panic attack.

XVI.

Trying to remember how to do Roman Numerals is hard.

XVII.

My writing group is the best ever. Who else would put up with all bazillion rewrites of my stories? Also, there is beer and wine, so that might be why.

XVIII.

I HAD SOME SHORT STORIES PUBLISHED!!!!!!!!!!

XIX.

I have had lots of rejections too.

XX.

But I kept on writing.

XXI.

Because I don’t know how to evict all of these crazy characters from my head.

XXII.

I can neither confirm or deny that I may have hugged my new Keurig coffeemaker.

XXIII.

Trying to focus on being healthier…but it’s my birthday and CAKE!

XXIV.

I should be using my words to advance my word count, but I’m blogging because in reality I really like blogging.

XXV.

I have to remind myself that blogging was part of my forays back into writing for fun and fiction and poetry and being creative.

XXVI.

The music by HEY OCEAN! is amazing and lovely. Also, I could listen to Vampire Weekend all day on repeat.

XXVII.

But I lose all hipster street cred when I admit I have an unabashed love for country music.

XXVIII.

Deal with it.

XXIX.

Also, I am married to best husband in the entire world, and of course, I am his very best also.

XXX.

Why yes, my 30’s were far better than my 20’s.

XXXI.

My library has swollen to epic levels and I must needs read!

XXXII.

Here’s to another year, a better year than the last.

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