A New Resolution

During the summer, when I had too much free time on my hands, it seemed simple enough to keep up a weekly blog. However, I severely underestimated the amount of time it would take to do so when I returned to my full-time teaching job, took on additional hours in the writing lab, and maintained everyday life activities such as cleaning, hanging out with friends and family, and, you know, sleeping like a normal human being.

Yet even though I already struggled with keeping up my blogging, I decided to take on National Novel Writing Month like a super reasonable person.

And let me tell you: if I seriously thought I was going to get 50,000 words when I spend so much time doing other things, I’m more of a fool than I ever thought myself to be.

I failed. I failed big time.

However, the experience was not without its good returns.

I now have a little under 10,000 words on the books, many further ideas to develop the novel under construction, and a healthy understanding of my own shortcomings.

I have always known that I am a terrible procrastinator, but November brought me to the realization (one that I have been coming to accept for a while, actually) that I spend WAY too much time on Facebook.

The first thing I do when I wake up is reach for my phone to get on Facebook.

Throughout my day, I find myself opening up Safari to log in and check my notifications.

I scroll through my newsfeed, sometimes for literally hours, reading both funny and horrible things.

And not only does this habit of mine take away from writing time or really any other more productive activity, it affects my mood and my thoughts.

There is SO MUCH negativity; it’s only in the last year with this election season that I have really come to understand this.

People I have always seen as good and nice have revealed the ugliest side of themselves. They bash others for not thinking the way they do. They regularly purge their friends list, as if a relationship with another human being is something to be ended with just the click of a button.

I understand that sometimes on Facebook, we are friends with mere acquaintances, so it seems easy enough to unfriend them, but there had to be a reason you accepted that person in the first place. And perhaps, though you disagree with them, you can find value in those differences. I know the people I have learned from the most are those who hold vastly different beliefs than I do.

But yes, I spend hours watching all of this play out on a little screen in front of me. I refresh my newsfeed time and time again.  I get drawn into the dreaded comments section on posts, and I am horrified and fascinated by the ugliness inside people’s hearts.

Then I start to feel that ugliness take root in my own heart, too. I start to think negatively of other people and other situations.

No amount of funny or cute cat videos, delightfully sarcastic memes, or even helpful book recommendations or writing posts can cancel out the negative effect those other posts have on me.

So that has led me to the decision that I need to stay off Facebook.

I have to be realistic, though, because I DO keep up with friends and family on Facebook who live far away, and I do have my author page and blog to consider.

I compromised between my realization and my reality: For the month of December at the very least, I will only get on Facebook once a day, toward the end of the day, to keep up with my friends and family and to post on my author page on Fridays about my blog posts.

Because now that I won’t be spending so much time glued to my phone on Facebook, I will be spending more time writing, both my novel and those blog entries.

Because even though I technically failed NaNoWriMo this year, I also won. I won back my passion for the PURSUIT of my writing. I won back my desire for the presence of happy, positive, and uplifting things.

I know I have said this before, but thank you so much for your patience with me these last few months. It is my hope that you continue on this writing journey with  me, even when I lag behind like I have, though I hope not to do that too often!

Stay tuned for my post next week, in which I will discuss my current novel and things I have read, watched, and listened to the last month and a half to inspire that novel and my writing in general.

Happy December, everyone!

Much love,

R

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How a Heart Breaks

Almost twenty-one years ago, my brother Jacob and I were playing outside together, and we heard some noise, so naturally, we decided to go investigate, as any young children would.

Across the street from our house, our neighbor was having a garage sale, and when we got over there, we found, to our delight, free kittens! Of the three available, we both chose one without consideration for our eldest brother who was not at home (unthinking little buggers that we were), and we put them in a box and proudly carried them home to Mom.

“Look Mom, they’re free!” we exclaimed, holding out our find.

She marched us back over there, fully intending to make us return the two fuzz balls, one grey and one tabby.

However, when we got over there, she saw the third little remaining fuzz ball, this one black and orange and so fluffy! There would be one for each of us—Aaron, Jacob, and I. She melted, and Jacob and I smugly returned home with not two but three little monsters as our prize.

Originally, the grey one was Ghost. The tabby one (my very own!) was Tiger. The third little one was Bones. Soon, however, they received names more fitting for them: Gray-bay, Prissy, and Sassy, respectively.

Aaron, who got Sassy, and Jacob, who got Gray-bay, did some swapping not long after, but Prissy was always my baby.

As we grew (children and cat-children) over the years, we experienced love, laughter, and loss together, but Prissy was always mine, and I never had quite the spot in my heart for the other two as I did for her.

Shortly before I moved to Baton Rouge in 2010, Gray-bay passed away, and because he was such a sweet and loving cat, it was a hard loss.

Prissy came with me to Baton Rouge, and Sassy stayed with Mom, but eventually, we decided it was cruel to separate them, so they both lived with me. I still proclaimed Prissy as my favorite, my baby, but Sassy slowly grew her own special place in my heart.

In early 2012, when I moved back to Shreveport, Prissy got sick and passed away. It was a devastating loss, because she was mine. At first, in my grief, I kept a distance from Sassy, because it felt like a betrayal to Prissy to love her so much.

It wasn’t long before I realized I could love each equally without taking away from the importance the one had played in my life up to that point.

When my mom moved away in 2013, Sassy and I became a team of sorts. We kept each other company, and I couldn’t imagine life without her.

A year ago today, I had to make the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my adult life. Sassy was in so much pain, and as much as I wanted to hold on and try anything to make her better, the options were just too limited and full of risk.

She’s not in pain anymore, and I’d like to imagine her in kitty heaven, reunited with her brother and sister, playing as they always did as young cats. Perhaps Jacob will be there for a visit and give her a good ear scratch as she likes so much.

It may seem silly to some, but I’m not ashamed of my grief over “just” a cat, even a year later. God gave us these furry little monsters to love and cherish while they are here, and sure enough, they steal your heart (even if you try to resist) and then break it to pieces when they have to leave.

Time heals all wounds they say, but as with any injury, there are scars that remain that remind you of your original pain.

I love you and am reminded of you every day in a million different ways, Sassy.

Sassy

See you later, my baby.

Much love,

R

*This post originally appeared in a bit of a different version on my personal Facebook page last year.

Images

There are moments I wish that I had camera in hand at all times or that the subjects involved wouldn’t mind having their picture taken. My own mind and the words on this page will have to suffice. (Though fortunately I have other pictures, in some cases, to share!)

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Last night as I drove home from teaching my evening class, I gripped the steering wheel so tightly that when I took a hand away to use my blinker, I could feel an ache deep in my bones. Outside of my windshield, rain poured down. When the thunder rumbled, I could feel the vibrations in my chest. The lightning streaked across the sky in all directions, leaving me blinded for mere seconds, but long enough to cause a slight panic to rise. If I hadn’t been driving, this would have been one of those perfect nights to sit on the porch and just watch. It was both magnificent and terrifying, and my only other wish is that I had been able to capture just a fraction of the show on camera.

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Today as I drove home along that same route, I was struck by the absolute stillness in the sky, which was a beautiful and clear blue. The puffy white clouds looked so soft that I just know if it were possible, they’d make the most comfortable bed ever. Music played softly in the background. My favorite radio station—KLOVE. The sun was a warm, reassuring kiss across my skin. There is light in darkness, as shown the night before, and there is an even greater light that comes after. This, too, made me wish I could have used my camera as I drove.

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My student. She doesn’t look a day over 50 at the most, but her face is calm and slightly amused as she tells me she is not a hop, skip, and jump from 70, but only a hop. The bright red in her stirs a bit of jealousy. I don’t think I could ever pull that off half so well. Her smile is genuine as she responds to today’s writing prompt and tells me that the person she admires most is me, because I explain things. The slight wrinkles in her dark skin, and the black compression sleeve on her arm speak to trials in her long years. The joy in her eyes as she tells about being a foster mom. The deep laugh as I make a fool of myself to make sure she and her classmates are at ease in my classroom. She is glorious in her bearing, and I envy and admire her poised confidence.

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A picture in my “On This Day” feed. My sweet, sweet Sassy, who nearly a year ago, I had to let go, because she was just in too much pain for me to selfishly hold on any longer. Her little chin resting on my hand, her not-so-sleek-anymore fur tickling my skin. I remember taking the picture just as though I’d done it right before writing this post. My heart swelled with love that this creature trusted me so much and loved me so much. What else could explain her need to rest on me at all times?

Sassy

(Luckily, in this case, I had the actual picture to share with you all.)

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Munni, my darling little girl, my fur baby, who came to me at a time when I needed her. A brother’s gift. A little hello from my Sassy in Heaven. She stretched across the table as I ate, even though she knew she shouldn’t be up there. Her round little belly poofed around her, and her soft fur brushed against my outstretched hand as she nuzzled against it, hoping for food, and looking too cute for words as she did so. A bittersweet love in my chest as she unknowingly (or perhaps not?) reminded me of the one I lost a year ago. She has to be AROUND me, but in her fierce independence, it must be on her own terms. I wouldn’t change a thing about her. I couldn’t do without her.

munni moo

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My mother. Y’all, there are hardly words for how much I adore this woman. From the slight tinge of silver at her temples that is a testament to her struggles to her wicked humor as she teases me about a weird phobia of mine. Words just don’t do justice to how absolutely my hero she is. This woman, who made me eggs every single day this week and last for breakfast so that I’d have something warm in my stomach as I headed to work. (Yes, I still live with my mom. So sue me!) This woman, who supports me in all my endeavors, including taking picture after picture for a post last week, even though she was beyond exasperated with me. Her face that is mine in 30 years, full of kindness and laughter and hardship and sacrifice.

mom and me

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I see the world in images. When my memories overwhelm me, the visual details are what stick out the most. When I’m writing a new story, I have to have that picture in my head. I have to be able to direct a mini-movie for the audience of one that is me, so that I know when I share my writing, others can see those images as well.

I hope you enjoyed the world as I see it, this small slice of the day (or maybe day-and-a-half) in the life of me.

Much love,

R

Odd Tips and Tricks to Get Out of That Writer’s Slump:

Hey all,

So continuing my theme of struggling with writing (because it’s still totally a daily thing), I thought I’d share a few tricks that could potentially break you out of your writer’s block. They’ve all worked for me to various degrees!

  1. Take a shower. No. Really. Go take a shower (or a bath if you prefer). I get my absolute BEST ideas in the shower, because, of course, I have nothing with which to write them down, so I have to hold them in my head until I’m finished. It’s an interesting exercise, because when I DO hold them in my head that long, they tend to take off in a direction all their own.
  1. Speaking of things taking off in a direction of their own, it was Luigi Pirandello who said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that characters jump off the page, fully formed, with lives of their own. Sometimes, though, the characters won’t cooperate and won’t come out of hiding in the recesses of your mind. When I’m having trouble coming up with characters, I use people I know. Yes, yes, yes. I know. This is dangerous territory. Obviously, I don’t LEAVE them that way, but sometimes it helps to get the plot down with people you know, and then the characters see how awesome the story is, and they come right on out of hiding to join in on the fun. For as long as I can remember, though, I’ve used people I know as stand-ins and understudies until the real characters are ready to show themselves. Occasionally this has gotten me into a pickle or two when people have read my stories pre-population of real characters, but oh well. Writers are weird. I’m weird. I’m used to funny looks. So, if you’re having trouble corralling some characters for that end-of-the-world-death-scene, I bet you can think of a few people you wouldn’t mind using as stand-ins, right? Only joking! 😉
  1. Read a boring book. Do you have a textbook handy that you have to read for class? Have you been putting off reading that latest book on investing that your father wants you to read? (Sorry, Dad!) Pick that baby up and read, y’all! What generally happens follows the same principle as when I’m in the shower. I’m reading the boring book. I really need to finish it. However, that is when the characters and ideas come out to play: “She’s busy now! Let’s go have fun!” The key is to keep reading for a while and let those ideas really have time to brew.

BoringBookPhoto

  1. This is another odd one along the lines of number 2, but I like to think about things I’ve been through or people I know have been through and ask, “What if?” “What if I had done this? What if he had done that? How would life be different?” Generally, when I do this, I can come up with three or four interesting alternatives and turn at least one into a good story idea. Of course, you have to be careful with this one as well, because you don’t want someone you know reading your book and going, “Hey, wait a minute…!”
  1. Write fan-fiction. This is something I’ve seen a lot of writers look down on, but I think it’s a legitimate way to practice and hone your writing skills. Now, if something is copyrighted, don’t go thinking you can publish it and make money off of it, but by all means, get yourself a pen name over on fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org, and write all those crossovers you’ve had churning in your mind since you finished reading Harry Potter and moved onto Outlander (Fair Warning: Ms. Gabaldon kindly requests that you do not write fan-fiction about her series. This is completely understandable, and I respect her wishes. I was simply using this as an example.). Do you ship an unconventional pairing in your favorite series? (Harry/Hermione for life! ;-D) Go for it! Unless you tell your friends, family, or fans, no one will eveeeeer know it’s you writing those steamy romances! 😉 (There’s a lot of winking going on in this post!)

HHr4ever

That’s all I have for now. What about y’all? Are there any odd or unconventional habits that help break you out of a writing funk?

Let me know in the comments below!!

As some of you know, I took Authors Publish’s August writing challenge to write every day in August, and so far, I’ve done really well. My goal is a minimum of 700 words and 105 minutes a week, and I will check in on my Facebook  page every Monday starting August 8th. Don’t forget to tune in this coming Monday to read about my stats so far, and don’t forget to look for a new post on here on Wednesday the 10th.

Until next time!

Much love,

R

Oh Atlanta, Both Sweet and Serious

Hello, dear readers!

This past week, I had the opportunity to make a trip to Atlanta with my mom on business.

(We were delivering a harp and picking up two others. Those things are heavy, if you’ve ever wondered.)

As previously discussed, I LOVE road trips and traveling in general, and I was feeling a little nostalgic, as right around this time last year, I made a life-changing trip to Scotland and northern England. This trip to Atlanta was the perfect pick-me-up to relieve my back-from-heaven-on-earth-blues.

I had grand plans for reading and being productive in the car and at the hotel at night, but those plans didn’t really pan out. I did read a little more of Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, which is excellent so far, but other than that, my plans went out the window as soon as we got in the car, as plans tend to do on road trips.

However, that is not to say I did not have fun or did not do exciting or productive things. In fact, I was able to take lots of pictures (that I then went crazy with filters on) to share with you all. Hope you enjoy!

(Seriously, filters abound in this post. Forgive me ahead of time.)

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Once the harp was delivered and the other two were acquired, the very first thing I did was go to a bookstore.

After combing through internet searches for the best bookstores in the Atlanta area (and those closest to the area of Atlanta my mom and I were in), I settled on Atlanta Vintage Books, a seemingly small shop in the northern part of Atlanta.

Once inside, I quickly realized the outside was not an indication on what lay within.

Walking through the door, I was immediately met with the scent of air freshener and cats. For some this might be off-putting, but I fervently believe cats and books go together like peanut butter and jelly or eggs and toast or tea and scones…

In any event, you grow used to the smell and quickly move to other important matters: the books.

Rows and rows of books. Some piled on carts. Some behind glass. Some rare. Some simply used.

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I told my mom I would only spend 10 or so minutes browsing, but at least 30 minutes later, I was still in there.

The thing I love most about used bookstores is that they give you a sense of the area in which they are located and of the people who donated, traded, or sold their books to the store.

My favorite place in AVB was The History Room (pictured in the background above). The books here were divided into your typical categories: WWI, WWII, American, Civil War, European, etc. There was a wonderful section on the Medieval period from which I had to tear myself away.

I made my way through the rest of the sections (Fiction and Literature, Philosophy, Religion, etc.) fairly easily, but I did spend some time downstairs—yes, there are two floors!—where I discovered the source of the smell in the form of two adorable black cats, both of with whom I  attempted to make friends and only one of whom I was able to do so.

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Upon checking out with the one (only ONE!) book I decided to purchase, I discovered my two new acquaintances had other friends.

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I cannot tell you all how much I enjoyed my brief (ish) visit to Atlanta Vintage Books, but let me sum it up for you in one picture:

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Another aspect of this trip I really enjoyed was spending time with my mom. She is my inspiration and my hero, so any time spent with her is a joy. On this trip, we were able to do something she’s wanted to do for a while, which is to visit an old courthouse to find out more about our family history.

Upon arrival at the Old Campbell County Courthouse, we discovered they were closed for construction, but my mom being the brave and bold lady she is decided to knock on the door, as there were cars outside.

The members of the Old Campbell County Historical Society, who are behind the preservation of this abandoned courthouse, were very friendly and helpful. They let us in, took down the information my mom had on the relative she is trying to locate, and promised to see what they could find. They provided helpful information, and they made my mom happy, so they’re good people in my book.

One of the members even showed my mom a creek that may or may not have been named after relations of my mother’s paternal family. How cool is that!

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All in all, the stop at the old court house was fun and informative, and it also showed me a valuable lesson in action: it never hurts to put yourself out there and ask. You never know what results you might get!

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Our next stop, one I was eagerly looking forward to, was at Sprayberry’s Barbecue in Newnan, GA, which was just up the road a ways and totally worth it.

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This family-owned, family-run business has been open for 90 years, and it was my grandfather’s favorite place to eat. From the old truck sitting out front to the red tables and rickety chairs inside, this place has a lot of character and old school charm. The staff are all friendly , and the food is delicious.

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Y’all, the last time I ate at this place was back in 2002 when I was in town attending a family member’s funeral, and I could still remember how good it was, 14 years later. On this trip, I wasn’t disappointed.

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The baked beans have a hint of honey and brown sugar, and while I’m not usually a fan of sweet pickles, their pickles added to their potato salad make for an excellent combination. The chopped beef is smoky and tender, and their Brunswick stew (which my mom ordered) is packed with flavor.

If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend you check this place out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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The last part of our afternoon adventures was spent cemetery hopping to look for the graves of family members.

We went to three different cemeteries, and save for one, we were able to find what we were looking for in all.

I found a bit more, though.

As morbid as cemeteries can be, they are beautiful places, and the older ones (such as those we went to) have so much history. You could spend hours just walking around and reading the different headstones.

Each one provokes a little curiosity…what was this person like? How did he or she die? In what way did they live? What were the times they lived in like?

I was particularly interested in the memorial at Oak Hill Cemetery, also in Newnan, that honored soldiers from the Civil War, World War I, and even the Revolutionary War.

There are some who would gladly see these memorials removed because of what the majority of these men fought for, and, to be honest, I don’t blame them.

Slavery is a horrible, ugly thing. To subjugate people and think less of them simply for the color of their skin is beyond deplorable. I know I would rather be judged by my character and my actions than by the simple fact that I am Caucasian.

Though our country fought to end slavery and the African American people and their allies fought to end discrimination and won both, racism still lingers on, and it will never truly go away, human nature being what it is.

These memorials, these monuments, the Confederate flag—all are painful reminders for all of us of a dark time in US history, reminders of what we as humans have been capable of, reminders of what some of us have been subjected to. I do not and cannot deny that.

However, we cannot whitewash history. Taking down historical monuments does not erase what happened. We must study history in all its brutal detail. We must confront it. We must learn from it. We MUST NOT forget it.

Being able to go to this cemetery and see those rows of graves, those representations of lives wasted, reminds me to never forget. That monument marker and those white stones serve as motivation to never stand for something like that, to never allow something like that to happen again.

Kindness. Respect. Love. Those are the things I will stand for and live by.

Cold white grave markers and “Confederate Dead” monument markers are the things that remind me WHY.

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Much love,

R