Friday, March 30, 2012

Living loud. Living NOW.

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.

~ Emile Zola

It's been a roller coaster kind of month. I've been down with strep throat and a stomach bug. Last week, my 16yo broke his arm, requiring surgery Wednesday morning. Later in the day, my 20yo's car stalled out completely on the interstate; the good news is he was able to coast through four lanes of traffic to safety on the shoulder and call for a tow. My spring break starts today, and I'm going into it with a broken air conditioner. The temperatures are supposed to climb into the low 80's this afternoon, but the repairman can't be here until after six o'clock tonight.

Now, there was a time in my life when a string of bad luck like that would throw me into the brink of despair. I would question every decision that might have brought me to this place, consider the possibility that it was all the consequence of evils committed in a past life, make myself sick with worry over so much responsibility and the ever mounting bills.

But I have been too busy to wallow in self-pity. Because this month I also got to visit the great city of Savannah, Georgia and attend a writer's conference in Pensacola, Florida. I met with Haywood Smith and received some valuable feedback on my novel. And that trip to Tahiti is confirmed; a friend of mine won an all-expenses paid cruise for two, including airfare, and invited me to be her travel companion. It's an opportunity of a lifetime. 

What I have come to realize is that every moment of our lives, no matter what is going on around us, we have a choice. We can live in fear, trapped between regrets about the past and concerns about the future, or we can live in joy, let go of both the past and the future and simply BE where we are, safe in the moment, regardless of the challenges we might be facing.

Now, there are times when fear is a good thing, like when instinct tells us that we are in a dangerous situation and we need to run, fast. Or when we reach a crossroads in our lives and the fear of things staying the same outweighs the fear of making a change, prompting us to create something better for ourselves.

But I am talking about that everyday, mind-numbing fear that can become a way of life. We accept our roles as helpless victims, unwilling to take action because we cannot guarantee a particular outcome. We drift like seaweed on the ocean, battered by every wave that passes, tossed eventually onto shore to wither in the sun, effectively dead though our hearts are still beating.

I continue to meditate on the word RELEASE, deliberately letting go of painful memories as they surface, forgiving myself for past mistakes, releasing concerns about possibilities that I cannot influence. And I keep reminding myself that every second of every day is precious, to pay attention with all my senses no matter what I am doing, to be fully engaged when I am in the presence of another human being, however insignificant that person's role might seem to be in my life.

I have stopped flogging myself in penance for things I cannot change; I have stopped asking myself, "what if?"  Instead of imagining a future fraught with loneliness and peril - always the default; why don't we envision futures filled with unicorns and rainbows? - I choose to focus on the many blessings I have in right here, right now. Yesterday is gone; I have little, if any, control over much of what is yet to be - besides, of course, what I can do in the present moment.

And I'm going to play that moment for all it's worth.

Monday, March 26, 2012

One Step Closer

Haywood Smith and Me
To believe in yourself and to follow your dreams, to have goals in life and a drive to succeed, and to surround yourself with the things and the people that make you happy - this is success! 
~ Sasha Azevedo

In these days in which digital publishing is king, the odds of being traditionally published are smaller than ever. But that is my dream. 

And when a dream is involved, well, it is important to have a support group. That's one reason I am a member of Georgia Romance Writers. And recently I had the opportunity to participate in the Virginia Ellis Critique Workshop sponsored by GRW.

Except I was at the Silken Sands Writers Conference the day of the workshop and was unable to attend the official workshop. To my delight, I was paired with New York Times Bestselling author Haywood Smith, who also had to miss that day. When she emailed me to let me know she had read my submission, Haywood said it had "real potential" and she looked forward to discussing some "advanced writing concepts" with me. And our subsequent meeting exceeded expectations. Not only did Haywood give me a line-by-line critique of the first several pages of my manuscript, she gave me some general advice that will help improve my fiction writing in general. Most important, she encouraged me to continue pursuing my dream, affirming that I do, in fact, possess the ability to write a successful, traditionally published novel. 

I am holding onto that.

What is your dream? Whatever it is, find a support group. Consult the experts. Do the work. And don't stop until your dream becomes reality.

Now, back to my revisions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Silken Sands Writers Conference

Thankfully, the antibiotics did their job. By Friday, I was feeling well enough to make the drive to Pensacola Beach for the Gulf Coast Chapter Romance Writers of America Silken Sands Conference.

The view from my balcony room.
My roommate and I checked into the Hampton Inn and started our weekend adventure with a short walk across the sand and lunch at nearby Crabs restaurant.

It's always five o'clock somewhere.
Then I made my way back to the hotel for an afternoon of workshops. I picked up some great pitching tips from author Casey Crow and got some good advice on building brand from Angela James. After that, there was just enough time to unpack before the costume party, dessert bar, and editor and agent panel.

My PFHT sisters (from l-r) Susan Carlisle, Sia Huff, Sandra Elzie and Debbie Kaufman dressed as their favorite literary characters. Author Dianna Love is in the center.
Barbara Vey was our dynamic kick off speaker. She announced that she is this year's honoree for the RWA service award, which will be presented at RWA Nationals. No one is more deserving!

Congratulations, Barbara! 
Then it was late to bed, early to rise, and start all over again. Saturday morning I attended a great workshop on "collaging your way to a great story" with Susan May before spending a few minutes putting the finishing touches on my pitch and presenting it to three agents and editors. Maybe it was the idyllic patio setting - tropical breezes brushing my face and the sound of waves lapping the sand in the background -  but I have never felt so comfortable pitching before. And my efforts were rewarded with two partial requests and one full request. Happy, happy! Joy, joy!

A celebration was in order. I joined a group for lunch at Pegleg Pete's then hightailed it back to the hotel for another workshop presented by Manda Collins and Holly Blanck on how to build a high concept trilogy. With a few minutes to spare before dinner, I decided to check out Gilligan's Tiki Hut situated near the hotel pool. The group of St. Patrick's Day revelers bellied up to the bar welcomed me into their circle in spite of the fact that I was wearing a dress and high heels - and not a speck of green! But when I explained to them that I am a writer and was in town for a writer's conference they became quite enthusiastic. They draped some beads around my neck, asked thoughtful questions about my writing and requested business cards so they can follow my progress on Facebook. The couple seated next to me even bought me a beer. Yes, I enjoyed my little taste of "celebrity."

Finally, it was time for the conference banquet. It is always fun to travel and see far-flung pals that I don't get to spend nearly enough time with

Author Kelly Stone and Me. 
Christine Glover and Me.
and make new acquaintances, too. 

Me with new friend and roommate Susan Sands.

Our keynote speaker was Beverley Kendall. It is always encouraging to hear about a fellow writer's successful journey to publication.
Author Beverley Kendall
 And the creme brulee cheesecake was to die for. I wonder if this recipe will come close.

It was hard to say goodbye to all my writer friends and the beautiful beach but I am grateful for the lessons I learned there. I have a much better understanding of who I am as a writer and a greater clarity about what needs to be done to polish my manuscript before I send my pages to the agents and editors who requested them. 

And I'm ready to start saving for that beach house.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The best-laid plans

I know I'm several days behind telling you the story of my weekend adventure. I went to Savannah!

Jennifer, Carol, Jasmine, Aili, Pam
On Friday afternoon I picked up my friend Jennifer, her daughter Jasmine,  and Jasmine's friend Aili; we drove to Jennifer's mom's house, piled into her car, and made our merry way to Savanah. We checked into our hotel, too tired for adventure, had a late dinner at a nearby Chili's.

Pomegranate Margarita
Shrimp Tacos
Jennifer is a Girl Scout leader; the real purpose of the trip was for her, Jasmine and Aili to attend a bridging ceremony crossing over into the second century of girl scouting. So we got up bright and early Saturday morning and made our way to Forsyth Park

and took care of that important business first.

Then it was time to play in the park

That's ME going down the bouncy slide!
and see what there was to see

Park musician.
All the fountains were already dyed green for St. Patricks' Day.

After lunch at the Gryphon Tea Room


Inside the ladies' restroom. I'm not making this up.
we went on a walking tour. I got just enough of a taste to know I need to go back and dig deeper.

On our way back from the tour, we ran into some pre-St. Patrick's Day revelers

so when we stopped at Kroger for a few supplies, we decided to do a little reveling of our own.

It was after we got back to the hotel that the trouble began. I hadn't been feeling up to snuff all day; it turned out I was running a fever, which climbed all the way to 103. 8 degrees before the night was over. There was a point in the evening when it seemed the big decision was going to be "Do we keep our dinner reservations or take Pam to the emergency room?" Fortunately, the fever finally broke so that my friends could go to the Olde Pink House as planned while I stayed in and slept. 

I slept all night and most of the next day, rallying up just long enough to take a quick shower, throw my belongings in my suitcase, and climb back into Carol's car. Much later, we had dinner at Cracker Barrel; I ate even though it felt like I was swallowing glass with every bite. Eventually I made the drive from Jennifer's to home and collapsed into my own bed.

I had to wait until 2:00 Monday for a doctor's appointment but my suspicions were confirmed; I had strep throat. I requested a steroid shot, filled my prescriptions for antibiotics and a lidocaine rinse, came home, went back to bed and stayed there until my quarantine was over on Wednesday.

I have tried in vain to get back into my normal routine the past couple of days. My energy level is uncharacteristically low; I was scheduled for an 8-mile run today; instead, I managed only a 2-mile walk. Not only that, today is my youngest son's sixteenth birthday, so it was important to make time for celebrations, for dinner out last night and birthday cake and ice cream tonight.

The moral of the story?

Plan your trip, chart your course, start your journey. But expect the unexpected. Be prepared to trim those sails and alter your course if the winds change suddenly. If the rain kicks in, you might even have to go below deck and hunker down for a while. It will be okay, though. The sun will come out again.

I hope to see you again soon, Savannah.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Everything's coming up roses

Life is so good right now, I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming.

No, I haven't met anyone. Money hasn't started falling in the sky. I don't have a publishing contract. I'm working harder than I've ever worked before. But all of a sudden wonderful, unbidden opportunities are falling into my lap. I'm not sure how it all fits into the big picture. But I'm not saying no to anything.

Wednesday night, for example, a girlfriend called me and invited me to join her on a weekend adventure. We are leaving in just a few minutes. I will tell you all about it when I get back. Next weekend, I will be heading to Pensacola to a writer's conference I had given up on attending. Details will follow. And I might be going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Tahiti in June. Tahiti! A place I never even dared dream of visiting.

So I'm going to keep reviewing my goals, writing those affirmations, meditating on my word of the year. And trust that wonderful things will keep happening.

* * *

I'll be back Sunday night or Monday morning.  Meanwhile, I'm also blogging today over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales (click HERE) with a progress report on my half marathon training. I hope you will pop over and say hello.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On Power

Gutsy Smurf
Recently, a good friend asked me an interesting question.

What do you do in your life or what have you done in your life that makes you feel powerful?

I’m not exactly sure where this came from. Perhaps my pal is under the impression that I feel like a powerful person in general. If so, she is mistaken. I possess none of the attributes our society typically associates with power. Money. Prestige. Popularity. Physical strength.

Generally, I don’t even exert my authority over those I might be considered to have power OVER. My piano students. My sons. Sure, every now and then I am forced to play my teacher/parent trump card. But for the most part I trust my students and my children to do the right thing and, generally speaking, they live up to my expectations. Children are awesome that way.

So maybe she was simply wondering what makes ME feel powerful as opposed to what make someone else feel powerful. That I can address.

I feel powerful when I accept my unique strengths and weaknesses and circumstances and determine to be my best self in spite of/because of them.

I feel powerful when I express myself creatively through writing or blogging or beading or making music or teaching, when someone tells me I have left footprints on her heart or made a difference in his little corner of the world.

I feel powerful when I take care of myself, when I meditate and eat nutritious food and challenge my body to run.

I feel powerful when I believe deep inside that I don’t need anyone else’s approval of who I am, what I want, or what I stand for. That applies to my weight, body type, lifestyle choices, spiritual beliefs, and long-term goals.

I know what it is like to feel powerless. I spent more than twenty years with an abusive man; he wanted me to believe that I was unworthy and helpless. He was wrong. Ten years post-divorce, sometimes I feel lonely and frightened and unsure of myself. But all I have to do to make those feelings go away is acknowledge them and they disappear like a vapor.

I have learned to differentiate feelings from choices. I can live in fear or I can choose to feel whole, calm and confident.


What makes you feel powerful?