Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year, New View

Happy New Year's Eve, friends!!

During this time of transition, as one year (finally) ticks into the next, our thoughts naturally turn toward change and growth. We talk about it with our friends and coworkers. Are you making any resolutions this year? We acknowledge that we should probably start eating better, drop a few pounds, quit smoking, save X amount of dollars, or some other such ideal, and we set a super ambitious goal. We may even map out a plan that we are determined to follow. We're amped up for the new year, and we can't wait to get started!

And then January 3rd rolls around.

We didn't make it into the gym, we ate outside our predetermined meal plan, we miscalculated our budget. We stepped off the track we set for ourselves. Discouraged and annoyed and guilty, we decide to just give up. We give in. We're done with those stupid resolutions – until next year, that is! It's a vicious cycle.

Or, "Sincerely, January 3rd."  Either way.

But maybe this year don't enter into it. Don't make a resolution. Set your intention instead. There's a difference there, folks. In making a resolution you set yourself up for discouragement. Resolutions are outcome oriented, and as such can easily connect our sense of success and value to a very specific result. Intention, on the other hand, is not connected to any outcome, but rather the way of being. With this in mind, I have spent the last few nights journaling. I reviewed 2016 and looked honestly at my hopes for the future, and I asked myself this question: What do I want 2017 to look like?

This applies to all areas of my life: family, social, love, career...everything. I jotted down some of my hopes for 2017. Some are major and specific (being published! a book deal!), and others are a little more general (“tasty food and healthy choices”). Rather than making a resolution to wake up every morning and write 1,000+ words, or to eat by a very specific diet, I asked myself how I wanted to go about achieving these things. How do I want to live this year?

Good ways to live here, friends.

I believe that typically, when asked these types of questions, the first word or phrase that comes to mind is what you should go with. This has been true for me in the past. I have set intentions to be independent, courageous, and – last year – purposeful. All of these words jumped to mind almost the exact instant I thought about setting my intention. This year, though, it took a few days. I let the question roll around in my mind and then, yesterday, I landed on it: Release.

It's a print!  Get it here.

My intention for 2017 is to basically live my life and see what happens. Rather than stress about how I am not achieving some resolution I pressured myself into, I am going to follow the things I love and consciously let go of trying to control the outcome. Here, from my journal, is what I'm hoping for in 2017:

But I am looking for release.
Release from fear.
Release from anxiety.
Release from perfection.
Release from the past.
Release from old ways.
Release – to give me the freedom to...live the life...set out for me.


I'm sure we're all eager for 2017 to hurry up and get here already, right? Let's make this year mindful and intentional. I would love to hear (or read) your intentions for 2017...share in the comments!

 Happy 2017!!


Sunday, December 25, 2016

In Which I am Overwhelmed by a Shirt...

So you may be wondering, "Who is Emily Rose? Which series is she in?"

It's a sensible question.

She's mine, friends. She's in the Light-Bearers Series, which is neither published nor even completed. My agent is pitching Emily's story to publishing houses, and while I am SO EXCITED that some editors have asked to read my manuscript I am also SO ANXIOUS because I can't do anything to make them take it. So I wait.

I work on the sequel to Book One. I plot and plan another project. I work not one, but two jobs. I go to church and choir rehearsal. I try to make time for a social life. I scrap and I save and I cobble together a living and I make sacrifices in order to write. I go to conferences instead of visiting friends, buying clothes, or going out very often. Because that's what you do to chase a dream. Sweat, blood, and tears, right? Oh, so many tears.

I get discouraged and disappointed.  And I get so tired.
SO. TIRED.

I tell myself that it's okay; what will be will be, and it's good that I have some distance from Book One, seeing as how I'll probably have to deal with editors passing on it. I start to wonder if maybe this book won't sell. I remind myself that this is the writer's life, the #writelife I tag on so many social media posts and photos.

And then --
Then I open a gift from my sister-in-law. I see my girl, my Emily Rose, sharing space with Frodo and Harry, and I make a sound that frightens me. I double over in tears, completely overwhelmed by emotion. Even as I am crouched crying, holding a white t-shirt in my hand, I know that my family is worried....even the Littles got quiet. All I can do is lay the shirt out so they can read it.

Mom cries, too. As do Sisters, and probably Dad, too. I am reminded that no matter how solitary the writer's path seems, I am not alone. I am reminded of how much my stories mean to me, and am given a hint of how much they may someday mean to others.

It's amazing. Sometimes the simplest things - like a white t-shirt - can hold an ocean of meaning.

Here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful day, friends. I hope that you, too, are gifted with reminders that your sacrifices are worth it.

Much love and Merry Christmas to you,

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beast.

I've recently started seeing a therapist.

As an aside, I would recommend this to anyone everyone.  We can all benefit from speaking to a professional, even if just for one session.

I've been going to therapy for a few weeks now, due (in large part) to my anxiety.  I promise there's an anxiety blog post coming.  I just have to slog through some things before I can get there.

Yesterday my therapist and I were talking about romantic relationships and, more specifically, my fears surrounding them.  He asked me to identify something inside me that feels that fear.  Some people, he said, feel like there is a younger version of themselves, which suddenly rises up, hurting and angry, triggered by some sort of hurt/rejection/disappointment/whatever.  He wondered if I ever experience anything like that.

Folks, I knew what he meant by a "younger self."  More often than I like, I have had to talk to my 8th grade self.  When someone tries to cross boundaries I've set, 8th Grade Steph suddenly remembers what it was like to have boundaries crossed by a teacher.

(NOTE: This person no longer teaches.  Also, while there was no "officially" inappropriate touching in a sexual sense, there was a definite discomfort and ambiguity in his touch.  Also, I think hitting someone in the stomach and telling her to, "suck it in" on a daily basis counts as inappropriate touch.  Don't you?)

When this happens, when she rears up, I let my mind travel deep inside me and I meet 8th Grade Steph.  I wrap her tightly to me, the way I do to Little Sis when she looks angry or hurt or sad.  I hug 8th Grade Steph to me and tell her that I know, and that she is safe.  I ask her to forgive me for not taking better care of her, and I tell her that I have incredible grace and compassion for her.  I remind her that she was in eighth grade.  Of course it was confusing, and of course she didn't want to get herself, or anyone else, in trouble.  I know.

So you see, I knew what my therapist meant when he asked that question.  But 8th Grade Steph didn't come to mind yesterday.  Neither did 3rd Grade Steph, or Kindergarten Steph, or any other Steph.  What came to mind was the memory of a statement I made to Mary about 4 or 5 years ago:

Mary and I sat outside Starbucks as I cried about my relationship insecurities.  I summed it up by quoting one of my favorite movies.

"For who," I asked, "could ever learn to love a Beast?"



Ouch.

Now, I know my friends and family who read this are eager to tell me that they love me.  They'll feel the urge to inform me that I am not a Beast.  To them - to you - I say, "I KNOW."

I know that I am not a Beast (excepting, of course, the times I'm in total beast mode at the gym.)  And, to be perfectly honest, I'm embarrassed to admit I have ever felt this way about myself.  I wouldn't claim I feel this way now.  It's not an open wound; it's a scar, albeit a relatively recent and still tender one.

But I am afraid of that place in my past because it hurt so much.  I don't want to go back there, and in therapy I realized that I am afraid of relationships because I am afraid they'll send me back.

And, more importantly, I am worried by the fear, because the fear, I think, implies that it's possible to go back.  Which, in turn, makes me wonder if there is still a part of me that thinks so poorly of myself.

Of course, as is often the case, we stumbled upon this breakthrough? discovery? thought? with five minutes left of my session.

I left the therapist's office with a lot on my mind.  Where, I wondered, did this thought come from?  I have a few theories (being an overweight child/adolescent/adult with frizzy red hair that has garnered a lot of teasing comes to mind).  But more importantly, How can I remind myself that I'm not Beastly?  How can I recognize the Beauty within me?

So that's where I am.  Fun, right?

I think it comes down to self-care, self-love, and self-trust.  Which is not, as some may say, synonymous with selfishness, narcissism, and pride.  No.


It means recognizing my worth and not jeopardizing my mental/spiritual/emotional/physical health so as to be sure I don't make waves or cause others to feel uncomfortable.
It means treating myself kindly.
It means filling myself up with things that make me feel beautiful - sparkly, even.

Lots of ideas have danced through my mind.  Some are simple and straightforward, others are complex and out of my comfort zone.  Some will be done.  Others may not.  We'll see.

For now, in a terrifying turn, it means sharing one of my deepest hurts with the world.  It means trusting that you won't look at me with pity or disdain, but that you'll look at me the way you always have.  Like I'm Steph.

Because I am.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Artists, We Are Needed

Artists, we are needed.

I know. It's too hard to find it, to tap into that creative space and pull from it.  We are too vulnerable; with everything going on in the world and in our nation, it just hurts too much.  I know.  I feel it, too.  But we are needed.

It hit me today as I sat at my desk, humming the refrain of 'Hallelujah,' over and over again.  Cohen, I thought, was a poet.  He would have been able to make sense of this.  Because that's what poets do.  As Gwendolyn Brooks said, and my sister lives, "Poetry is life distilled."



I will (with all due respect) take this one step further: Art is life distilled.  It is finding the essential and extracting it.  You've felt it, right?  Something - word, song, photo, paint, animation - something hits you with a ferocity that leaves you shaking.  It makes you realize, as though for the first time, that true beauty is a jagged edge.  It tears you open and drives you to your knees, leaving you gasping and quivering, and somehow in need of more.  You are changed.  Tender, open.  Broken.



So we are driven to our craft, to our art.  We find it deep within us and we pull it out.  It may be loud, it may be soft.  It could be for the world to see, or the solace you find in your quiet garden.  But you create.  You recognize the need.

Artists, we are needed.

We need to show up and let the light shine through our brokenness.  Because that is our super power, our secret weapon: we do not cover up the hurt.  We use it.  We harness it.  We face it and direct it.  We are broken open time and time again, and it lets us see the world with a vision others refuse to face.

We breathe in hurt and breathe out love.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

Artists, we are needed.

We are needed to take a step forward, even though the air is heavy and the bog hinders our progress.  One step, and then another, and then another - until the earth firms beneath our feet just enough for us to rest, for only a moment, before moving again.

I have been suspended this week, held in the air, frozen, unable to move as I looked all around me.  Looking through the words I have seen hurt.  Hurt all over.  I see it and I feel it.  It presses on my shoulders, my chest, my back.  Down, down, down.

I turned to look for the light, and saw in surprise that it shone through me, through my broken parts.  So I took a deep breath, and then another, and then I lifted my head.

I cannot promise it will all be okay.  I don't that it will; I am not a Seer.  I can look at the past and see what we've survived, and I can glean hope from that.  But empty assurances are not helpful, especially to those who feel fear and hurt and despair directly in their lives.  So I won't offer them.

Instead, I promise this: I will watch, and see what is going on around me.  I will listen and hear what those who are afraid and hurting have to say.  I will make certain my path is safe for any who come across it.  I will be the vessel for the Speaker: Come to me, He says, and I will give you rest.   The sun will rise and set, and I will let it shine through me.  The earth will turn on its axis, and I will mirror the dance.  The wind will arrive, sometimes drifting, sometimes whipping, and I will let it blow through me, sweeping away the darkness.

Artists, we are needed.

But what if - you ask - what if I don't create art?

I have a secret for you.  Come close, and listen.

Artists, I believe, are nothing more or less than those of us who still remember we are all human.  We live our art in an infinite number of ways: gardening, cooking, writing, painting, designing, dancing, animating, singing, composing, speaking, running, lifting...the list goes on and on.  The only thing that makes us artists is the recognition that we share a nature.  We see that the lines of connection have been covered, they have been twisted and stretched and even torn, but they have not broken.  We are still all connected; we belong to each other.

We see this and we live this.

Artists.  We are needed.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Heard the Bells

Oh, what a day.

Fear, excitement, panic, hope, dread...the list goes on and on and on.  Sitting at my computer (at work...shhh) I felt it all rise up within me.  I became suddenly overwhelmed.  How on earth will we go on after this election day?  No one can deny that this campaign process has incited and ignited passion within people.  And not just good passion.  No.  Anger...hatred...vitriol...

I wondered how our nation could move on after all this.  Surely we are more divided than ever before.

Except -

As I let my mind spiral downward a song came on my Dave Barnes (Holiday) Pandora station.  (Yes.  Holiday.  Judge not.)  As I listened I felt tears come to my eyes and peace wash over me.  The carol was a song based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1863.

Folks, 1863 was the middle of the American Civil War.  A time when our nation was more divided than ever before, a time in which it seemed we could only splinter apart.  Longfellow, the widowed father of six children, had recently learned his oldest child had been severely injured in the war.  So he did what the artists and dreamers do: He put his pain and hope on paper.

I think it applies now, just as surely as then.

Here is his poem (emphasis mine):


I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Monday, October 24, 2016

On Fear

When I was young I made the Powers-That-Be turn on the lights inside the Haunted Mansion.



I know.  Cool, right?

Except it was my terror that made them do it.  Memory is faulty, and I was very, very, very young, so I don't remember much about it.  Here is what I can recall:

Sitting on someone's shoulders (my mind says my Grandpa's?  But that seems crazy....So maybe an uncle?) as we walked from the elevator to the Doom Buggies, clutching at his forehead in horror as I sobbed, "Turn on the lights!  Make them turn on the lights!" over and over and over again until suddenly the lights flickered on.  I remember my Grandpa saying, "Looks like you're in luck."  And I remember the relief.  That's it. I don't know if we all left the Haunted Mansion or if it was just a parent and me.

Just terror, searching for something to ground me to reality (in this case the feel of skin beneath my fingertips), and then relief.

A few years later I made them stop Star Tours mid-ride.  It was the same sort of thing, although this time just my mom and I left the ride, and I definitely recall that walk back to meet up with the rest of the family.

We've all been there, guys.  Don't deny it  (Love you, Mama!) 

I'm not bragging at the power I apparently hold over Disney ride operators.  (Not much, I mean.)  No, my point is this:  My fear is big, and loud, and demands to be heard.

Now, I have mixed feelings about fear.  I mean, if you look over the history of our species, fear has been a good thing.  Fear keeps you from stepping too close to the edge of a high cliff.  Fear redirects your steps when you hear a roar from out in the darkness, assuredly saving you from ending up in the belly of some great beast.

Or, if you're a small girl with a vivid imagination...
And impeccable fashion sense, clearly.

...Who has against her better judgement entered a Haunted Mansion, been herded into a secret elevator and then told - essentially - the only way out is to follow the choice of a hanging skeleton...

...Been plunged into a darkness filled by screaming people...

...And then suddenly finds herself in a dark hallway with pictures that only prove the house is, indeed, haunted...
It's waaaaay scarier with the lights out, folks.

Well...Fear steps up to the plate.  Fear reminds you there are GHOSTS INSIDE.

Fear is there to warn you when something may hurt you.

There are many who will tell you that fear is a liar.  I disagree.  I just think fear is really good at its job.  Seriously, Employee of the Month, time after time after time.  And let's be very real here - fear is good at its job because there is no way to be a human being and not be hurt.

One of my favorite quotes from Welcome to Night Vale
Fear has had a lot of practice.  Fear has been hardwired into our DNA as surely as joy, sorrow, delight, or anger have.  Fear may go even deeper, existing on the same level as thirst, hunger, the need to breathe.  Personally, I believe those who say they have no fear are either lying or foolish - or both.


Fear is not the voice to be shut up and ignored!  Fear is that friend who has your best interests at heart but just never quite hits the mark.  You know the one.  Maybe the Christmas gift is never right, but is given with a good spirit.

Maybe words are awkwardly phrased and the hug too tight/loose/long/whatever - but you can tell the intention is there.

Fear isn't out to get us, it's out to help us.  So instead of ignoring its voice, we instead need to turn and face it and say, "I hear you, fear, and you're not in charge here."

Boom.

That's it.  It is as simple and as difficult as that.

So whether I'm walking the sinister hallway toward the Doom Buggies and am feeling that familiar lick of terror along my spine (every time, guys), or I'm finally telling people that yeah, my agent has put the pitch out to a few editors and some have asked to read the complete manuscript - fear doesn't get to keep me from doing something I know is good.

Remember that time I said guilt could hand me the roadmap but didn't get to come along for the ride?  (No?  Let's change that.  Check it out here.)   It's kind of like that, except that fear has a seat in the car.  The backseat...and fear is an avid backseat driver.

Ideally fear will be passed out, though...just sleeping the drive away.

I just don't have to follow its direction.

Another winner from WTNV

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My Quilt Square

I visited my grandma today.

It was a spur of the moment decision; I happened to be in the neighborhood and had a few extra minutes, so I stopped by.  Because it was a last minute thing I didn't follow my normal routine of visiting her.  Usually I stop by Starbucks and pick up some coffee - decaf, because it's always so late in the day.  But today, sadly sans coffee, I followed the now familiar turns and lowered the volume of my radio out of respect for anyone else who happened to be around.  I parked in my usual spot and walked the short distance, wondering, as always, why I even bothered to lock my car. After all, it's not as though my little, red Bug would be out of my sight.

And then, with a quick glance to Grandma's neighbors, I lowered myself to the ground.  "Sorry I don't have any coffee for you," I said, and I touched a hand to her headstone.

This is usually the point when I say (out loud, because I think she would get a kick out of it), "Pour one out for my homegirl," and tip the coffee cup upside down.  We share that coffee as I talk about what's going on in my life.  I alternate between taking sips and pouring some beside her name, and I always feel a gentle swell of pleasure in the knowledge that my love of coffee is something that came from her and Grandpa.  It is not groundbreaking or earth shattering.  It will never save a life or change the world, but it is a part of the legacy I have inherited from her.

I've been thinking about that word a lot lately.  Legacy.  I'll spare you the sordid details, but "legacy" has been something of a hot topic in some recent drama.  Truthfully, "drama" doesn't at all capture the reality of the pain caused, but that's not currently my story to tell.

Legacy, though, that is mine, though I share it with many.  Legacy is like a blanket - a quilt - which lays over many, offering warmth and comfort, and unique in each individual space.  I've been inspecting my quilt square, trying to see clearly which pieces of each of my grandparents have made it into my little portion.

Mama Bear from The Berenstain Bears and Mama's New Job.  LOVE those quilts!

So today I sat at my grandma's graveside and I thought.

I thought about the moment my grandpa mentioned Grandma's great love of Christmas, when my brother leaned over to me and whispered, "That's where we get it."

I thought about jumping excitedly onto the couch when Granddaddy was GOING TO TELL HIS MICKEY MOUSE STORIES!!!!  And then laughing years later when kids I babysat asked me to please tell a Mickey Mouse story? 

I thought about Mimi and her sense of humor - the moment during our Easter service when she just could. not. handle. the way someone was chanting.  She and I covered our mouths with our hands and laughed and laughed and laughed as silently as possible.  Even now I get a flash of that memory when I notice something ridiculous.

I thought about Grandpa's great love of family, the way you can tell he is soaking up the chaos around him when we're all together, and I remembered moments at family events when I just looked around, in awe of and grateful for all these crazy people around me.

Webster's dictionary describes "legacy" in the following way:

I am going to ignore the first definition, because my family has taught me that while money is nice and helpful and certainly not evil, it is by no means the most important thing in life.  So let's move on to the second definition:

Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.

This.  Yes.

This resonates with me.  Because when I think of my legacy, I don't think of property or money - unless we're joking about how our inheritance was used to buy Beanie Babies.  

Wait!  This is actually my legacy! ;)

No.  Money, properties, or things are not a part of the quilt laid over me.  My legacy is a strong sense of justice, loyalty, and family.  It is a goofy and silly sense of humor, and a sardonic delight in the ridiculous.  It is standing in front of people and feeling comfortable speaking to them.  It is yelling at other drivers.  It is whistling - a lot.  It is a tendency to assume that I know exactly what's best, even when I have no idea what's actually going on.  It is caring about my appearance.  It is wanting to know who is in church this morning - not to judge...just to know.   It is taking everything so hard.  It is being incredibly self-critical.  It is my storytelling.  It is the sound of my exhale when dismissing something.  It is the shape of my mouth and the slope of my nose.  It is the sound of my laugh.

My quilt square is not perfect, but it keeps me warm.  


And I love it dearly.



Photo credit: Aunt Judy Braun