The UK with Karin: Day 5

Our fifth day in England was the most special. Not only was it the day that our driver showed up to take us to Wales, but it was also the day that Karin and I were going to meet Philippa Gregory.

On Friday, Sept. 6, I saw an Instastory post from Sudeley Castle that gave my heart a jump. I screenshotted it and sent it to Karin immediately, texting, “RED ALERT.”

We learned that Philippa Gregory would be speaking at a small, intimate event at the castle on the very night we’d be driving westward. Our route needed to shift slightly, and we’d need to rearrange our AirBNB reservation, but this was doable. We could go. We could absolutely positively meet Philippa Gregory on our inaugural trip to England.

It’s important to know that Karin’s and my friendship is partly rooted in Philippa Gregory’s works of historical fiction. She and I swapped these books back and forth for years, both enjoying Gregory’s depictions of the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. To meet this specific writer together AND in England was a gift I couldn’t have planned if I’d tried.

But first, we needed to connect with our driver. He showed up at the hotel on Wednesday morning in need of a shower and spot of breakfast.

Before leaving Kingston, we stopped by a local artist’s house (who I follow on Instagram) because I wanted to buy a print that I’ve been eyeballing since May. Lisa Tolley is based in Thames Ditton, which is across the river and on the opposite side of Hampton Court from Kingston. It was a delight to meet her, to tell her how much I love her illustrations, and to purchase the piece I’ve been wanting for months.

Off we went to the Cotswolds, specifically to Winchcombe, to explore the area and make our way to Sudeley Castle. Our tickets for the event included a tour of the grounds and remains, though photos were limited because Sudeley is still a private home.

Sudeley Castle was Kateryn Parr’s final home and resting place, where she retreated after Henry VIII died and she was free from her duties as his sixth queen. She married her long-time love but only lived a few more years after they finally got together.

What I love so dearly about Kateryn Parr is that she was the first woman in England to publish her own writing in her own name.

Like so many others, the castle fell to ruin as England’s landscape changed. Though some structures date back to the 12th century and much of it was built in the 15th century, the property wasn’t restored until the 19th century.

I’m sure Chuck never thought he’d have to walk so many castle grounds in his lifetime. He’s a trooper!
London has nothing on the English countryside.
Kateryn Parr is buried in the chapel at Sudeley, the only royal to be buried on the property of a private home.

Of course, the gardens were stunning.

We finished our tour of the castle and gardens and headed to town to find a place to eat. It was a weird time, something like 4 p.m., so we had a bit of trouble finding a pub that served food before 6 p.m. This is typical, particularly in small towns.

We had not eaten since our full breakfast that morning in Kingston, and we weren’t sure what food options we’d have after the Philippa Gregory event since we’d have to head to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Thankfully, The White Hart Inn served midday soup and sandwiches, and that was better than nothing, so we popped in for “a bite and a pint.”

THEN – in the midst of perusing the menu, IN WALKS PHILIPPA GREGORY.

No lie. She and her assistant walked in casually, no doubt in search of a 4 p.m. meal. I smacked Chuck’s arm (because he was sitting next to me) and said under my breath, “Karin, she’s here. Philippa Gregory just walked in. She’s here. She’s here.”

THEN – she and her assistant joined us at the row of tables next to the windows, with only one empty table between us. How were we not supposed to stare at her? How were we supposed to just SIT THERE like Philippa Gregory wasn’t sitting in our same breathing space?

I froze, so it was Karin who began, “Hi, Ms. Gregory.” We exchanged very short pleasantries, something about how excited we were to hear her speak that evening. I can’t even remember. I was so uncool. It’s no wonder that minutes later THEY MOVED TABLES.

These quotes hang above the bar at The White Hart Inn and Restaurant.

Now, logically, we know they moved tables so they could have a private conversation about whatever was going on in their private and professional worlds. They didn’t need a table of American fans hanging on their every word. Truthfully, I was relieved that they moved tables because I needed my body to RELAX and stop seizing.

Chuck was the sly one who snapped a photo of them while paying for our food at the bar.

Little did we know that wouldn’t be our last personal encounter with Philippa Gregory.

Starstruck, we went back to the castle and left Chuck in the car. (He was less interested in attending the event and more interested in taking a catnap to manage his jetlag.) We arrived in time to get a good place in line and score seats in the third row of the small room. I don’t know how many people attended, but it was somewhere in the 50-75 range.

Philippa Gregory spoke on “the women hidden from history” and how this has been a guiding force in her research and writing. She was just as inspirational as I hoped she’d be. I even felt brave enough to raise my hand and ask a question. After getting our books signed, that could’ve been the end of the evening and I would’ve been fine.

But it wasn’t the end.

As we sipped our wine and stalked Philippa Gregory from across the room, I kept trying to manage the urge to approach her again. I simply couldn’t do it. What would I say? What would she even want to say to me? Why am I so awkward in the moments when I really need not be?

Karin, my seize-the-moment friend, wasted no time waltzing across the room to ask the assistant if we could grab a photo with Ms. Gregory. With a smile on her face, she said we could.

You cannot tell by this photo but I am imploding. The wine must have helped.

Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, with Philippa Gregory at Sudeley Castle

It didn’t end there. We talked. We really talked. She started it by saying, “We meet again!” clearly remembering us from the pub a few hours prior. I told her I was a writer – a journalist with a dream of writing fiction – and she said, “I used to be a journalist too.” I swooned.

Bravely, I asked for her advice – what are the steps I should be taking? What should I be doing with my time? How exactly do I make a dream come true?

She said: Hone your craft. Don’t read bad books and don’t write bad books that you know will get published because they’ll still be bad books. Read good books that elevate your writing. Keep working hard. Write consistently. There’s no magic or secret. Don’t quit. KEEP GOING.

Then she said, “What’s your name? So I can keep an eye out for you?”

Shaking utterly and screaming on the inside, I said, “Jennie. It’s Jennie,” followed by silence.

To which Karin added, “…Treadway-Miller.”

I started to cry. Embarrassed, I worked hard to choke back the tears. My inner dialogue screamed GOOD GRIEF, WOMAN, GET AHOLD OF THYSELF. I barely had the presence of mind to speak.

The assistant told me to create a social media presence solely dedicated to the work, which I promptly did that night. As I felt the conversation coming to a close, I thanked them for their time. They could have denied us a photo and certainly not opened up a conversation, but they were generous and kind and that made the whole experience completely perfect.

I mean, seriously. Perfect.

We floated to the car, giggling and asking ourselves if the day really happened. On the way to Stratford-Upon-Avon, I typed everything she said to me in the Notes app on my phone, not that I even needed to. I remember it all. I couldn’t possibly forget a night like that.

Medal No. 17, Stranger Things 2, Halloween, NaNoWriMo

In the interest of time and space, here’s a recap of how I ran 13.1 miles in the pouring rain and ruined my phone, how we celebrated Halloween and Salem’s Supposed 10th Birthday, and why I’m taking another stab at National Novel Writing Month with my third novel.

My goal to run 20 half marathons by the time I turn 40 is moving along nicely. On Saturday, the day it monsooned in East Tennessee, I ran my 17th long-distance race. Before readying my cell phone for a wet run in ziplock baggies, I snapped this photo of the windshield.

Oh, the irony.

Fast forward two and a half hours and I crossed the finish line fully drenched but pleased with my run. It wasn’t until I was safely back in the car that I realized water had seeped into the baggie and, therefore, into the phone.

{insert expletives here}

I tried to make a call and couldn’t. The camera wouldn’t work. The speakers wouldn’t work. I was so mad at myself for deciding to run with the phone. I thought listening to an audiobook would distract me from the rain (it did!), but I also thought I’d taken enough precautions to keep my phone dry (I didn’t!). I drove home and immediately put the phone in a bag of dry rice for 24 hours.

The screen is streaked and the phone works fine, from what I can tell, but the forward-facing camera still does not work, which is the CRUELEST IRONY OF ALL for a photographer.

Still, I earned Medal No. 17, and I plan on getting Medal No. 18 in two weeks.

In between the race and Halloween, Chuck, Jackson, and I binged the second season of Stranger Things. (Jeremy opted out.) I loved it as much as I hoped to, but I was disappointed in the amount of profanity in the second season, particularly since Jackson was watching. Every episode I reminded him, “We don’t talk this way, remember?” It was just too much, and frankly, unnecessary. That complaint aside, I thought the plot of Season 2 was an excellent continuation from Season 1, particularly with the inclusion of Max. (I could’ve done without Max’s brother and about 85% of Episode 7.)

This, by far, was my favorite scene. I melted:

Halloween rolled around and we took Jeremy (as Ron Weasley) and Jackson (as Big Nate – his imaginary best friend and book character) to our friends’ house to trick-or-treat. I don’t have a photo of them because I didn’t bring a camera.

Actually, that’s not true. Here is a photo from trick-or-treating:

Only the front camera works (i.e., the selfie camera), and it’s actually terrible.

Oh well.

Before Halloween got away from us, we took a few minutes to celebrate Salem, our wonderfully fat black Halloween cat. As I’ve mentioned before, we have no idea when his actual birthday is, unlike Major, whose birthday is December 9. So, we selected October 31 for our favorite feline and celebrated what might be his 10th year on Earth (we aren’t sure about that either) by giving him a can of tuna.

Finally, since today is November 1, I am making a second attempt at finishing my third novel during National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated three times before and was successful in both 2013 and 2015. Last year was a wash, but here’s to trying again! (Maybe I only write novels on odd years?) I fully admit to starting the month ahead of schedule because I still have 3,000 (or so) words from last year that I’m recycling. There’s only one story to tell right now, so I’m not starting a new one.

Follow me on the Knoxville Moms Blog

I recently started contributing to the Knoxville Moms Blog, the local sister site of the nationwide network called City Moms Blog. While we each live out our own story, motherhood is a great connector since many of our experiences overlap. My contribution speaks to parenting older kids, homeschooling, and adoption, though my posts aren’t necessarily limited to those topics.

Below are my first three posts, one each from August, September, and October. Please, do a girl a favor and share the posts you enjoy on Facebook and via email, or however you like to share online content. I appreciate your support and encouragement.

Please click on the image to go directly to the original post.

Negativity is the enemy of creativity.

This is a quote by American director David Lynch, and right now it paints an accurate picture of my current headspace.

Something has happened to my brain, and my impulse is to blame social media, or rather, the garbage that is projected from people who use social media. Paired to social media is also this election cycle. I am down, down, down and depressed about the whole thing. So much spin, so many lies, so much coddling for the candidate you love.

And where am I? I’m standing in the center of a tug of war, watching the flag bob back and forth, with people whom I love on both sides, and I’m all, “How did we get here?”

While reading the news feels like the responsible thing to do as a voting, free-thinking citizen, I’ve determined that it’s only made me feel worse. The negativity is heavy and I can feel its claws in my neck.

I am choking.

When I returned from the monastery in July, I possessed a deep sense of peace and hope. I loved the disconnection from the outside world, and it took a full week plus a few days to feel like I was back in my own skin. It was delightful.

Now, more than two months later, there is a paperweight on my back so heavy that I cannot see anything beautiful. I can’t think, I can’t smile, and, worse, I can’t create. My soul is void of potential because the muggles finally got me down.

dont-let-the-muggles-get-you-down

Friends, I need to take a substantial break from social media, primarily Facebook. It’s a cesspool of despair and I don’t see it getting any better, not even after the election. We’re all so mad, so worried. Some of you hide it better than others, but I sense it still.

There are several reasons why I hesitate to leave Facebook and the primary reason has to do with our extended family and birth families. Facebook is one way we stay in touch, but I believe we’ll find other ways to do so. This blog will still exist, so there’s that. Plus, Instagram doesn’t stir any rage, so I’ll continue to post images there (but not cross-post them to Facebook).

Leaving Facebook altogether gives me pause because there are dozens of lives I enjoy watching from the periphery. Some of you are having babies and some of you are getting married. Some of you are making big life changes that have me rooting for you from afar. I love seeing it all. But since there is no way to sift through the muck, I have to step back. The muck overrides the merry.

Finally, and this is purely selfish, my photography page has served as an avenue for advertisement. The menial income is nice, but it still is not enough to pull me into the ugliness.

Truly, you guys. I’m over it.

It will take supernatural strength to break the habit of checking Facebook daily, but I’m at a point now that recognize how necessary it is. It brings so little joy and so much heartache. It is not good to feel anger towards people I love, but that’s what this election cycle has done and Facebook has fostered it. 

be-soft

My goals in stepping back from Facebook are twofold: 1) That I’ll rest my mind from stressful matters, and as a result 2) Give room for creativity to grow. NaNoWriMo starts in less than a month and I want to be well-prepared to start writing a third novel. If nothing changes between now and then, I will not be ready. 

I will still write on this blog and peruse Pinterest (a creative safe space) and flip through Twitter on college game days, but you will see me less elsewhere. That also means I’ll see less of you if we aren’t connected in other spaces. I used to enjoy social media for the way it connected us, but something shifted this year. It’s ugly, friends, and I don’t enjoy the way ugly makes me feel.

Update on Novel No. 2

At least once a week, sometimes more, someone asks me, “So how’s your novel going?”

Here are all the things I don’t say: 

“It’s going really well! I’m so pleased with my work.”

or “Oh, everything is just falling into place perfectly. I couldn’t be happier.”

or “Every night is another chapter!”

or “My character development is spot on and the plot has no holes.  Yippee!”

or “I got an agent and I’ve signed a book deal! Keep your eyes peeled!”

Instead, I smile and don’t cry and say, “Fine, thank you.”

Which is the truth. It’s going fine. It’s not horrible, but it’s not fantastic. I have days when I get a lot of writing done and I feel good about the direction I’m heading. I have days when I talk to another writer and feel encouraged because I’m not alone. I have days when God provides me little bits of providence that confirm that I’m taking all the right next steps. Those are the best days.

But I also have days when I feel like the crappiest writer in the world, that I’m a dreamer with zero talent, and I have no business trying to write fiction at all. AT ALL. I feel like a fraud. Those are the worst days. 

I don’t intend to share plot details publicly, but I will say that this second novel is different from the first for several reasons. I’ve changed the point of view from third to first. The main character is not endearing, and the story is a single plot, not a dual one. The writing is tighter and cleaner, a task that is much harder than I initially thought it would be. I don’t love this story more or less than the first one. Simply, it is different. The two novels are unrelated to one another.

Here’s what keeps me going: 

  1. There is an agent waiting for this novel, so I will not let her down.
  2. There is a story to tell and it must be told by me.
  3. I would not forgive myself if I quit now.
  4. When I hit a low moment and want to quit, providence steps in to convince me otherwise. (One day I will make these events public, but for now I’m savoring them and keeping them close.)

Here’s what will help me: 

  1. Some time away. My children are lovely but they are hugely distracting. This is why writers retreat and hibernate. I never needed hibernation in journalism, but for fiction writing, I do. There is a monastery in Kentucky that allows guests for week-long and weekend retreats. Two people have suggested this place to me, so it’s on my radar. I’m thinking springtime.
  2. A break. This one I need to give myself. If I could find the secret serum to CHILLING OUT and resting my own brain, I would benefit tremendously. Currently, my coping mechanisms include running, reading, and wine. What’s missing is a good night’s sleep.
  3. Your continued encouragement. I remain in a constant state of bewilderment that so many people have faith in me. Really, it leaves me speechless and uncomfortable in the most magnificent way. Thank you, and please don’t stop.

Favorite Thing: Chromebook

A few months ago I used Facebook to crowdsource opinions about the Chromebook as a means for writing only. No gaming, no designing, no uploading photos for editing. My iMac takes care of the big stuff but I wanted a laptop for portable writing and researching, and it seemed like a Chromebook was a logical, inexpensive option.

The feedback was mixed, which I expected. Why buy a laptop that does so little? And what about the graphics? How unexciting.

I bought one anyway and I love it.

blue chrome

Low frills? Yes, but also a low price. It goes with me almost everywhere and has allowed me to write in a myriad of settings. The only thing I need is WiFi.

That may sound like a hitch to you, but I was going to need WiFi anyway no matter the laptop I bought. If WiFi isn’t available, I can still write offline and have my work saved to the small hard drive. Once I reconnect, my Google Drive syncs and all is well.

chromebook keyboard

It would’ve been nice to buy a MacBook or a fancy touch-screen thingy that detaches and re-attaches and has all the cool stuff, but that’s really not what I needed. It’s likely that I could get distracted on higher-end laptops, which would defeat the purpose entirely. Lastly, I didn’t have $1,000 to blow on a new toy.

It’s important to note that this is a Google product, which means it’s only compatible with Google applications. That might be a deterrent for some, but since I already used Google Drive and do all of my internet work on Chrome, I didn’t have to change what I was already doing. In fact, I wrote all 50,000+ words of NaNoWriMo 2015 on the Chromebook. It was super handy.

Three Things I Love:

  1. Lightweight and portable. I bought the Asus 13-inch HD Chromebook. It weighs a little more than the iPad 2, so it’s nothing to carry in my purse.
  2. Reliable. As soon as I open it, the machine is on and ready. No start-up, no loading, no spinning wheel of anxiety. It just goes! Everything saves immediately, so there’s little room for error. BUT, if for some reason I’m nervous about something not saving, the Chromebook I bought has a USB port for a jump drive.
  3. Inexpensive. I could’ve bought the Chromebook for the standard $200, but I spent an extra $20 for the pretty turquoise shell. Included in the price was 100GB towards my Drive account, which has come in handy on the iMac for uploading images from photography sessions. Overall, you can’t beat the price.

Allow me a moment to gush

Normally, when prompted to write a few sentences to display his understanding of grammar and punctuation, Jackson writes about football. He used to write about Marvel (ah, the good old days!) or some other obsession of the moment, but the last year or two has been all about football.

Packers fan

Imagine my delight when I discovered that one of last week’s assignments on commas and clauses centered around us and not Aaron Rodgers  or Cam Newton. He was supposed to write four sentences about “someone you admire,” beginning at least two of the sentences with after, when, while, before, although, if, and so on.

This is what he wrote:

  1. Before I loved my mom, I was not even born yet, but I came in 2006 and loved her.
  2. I think my mom is cool, funny, smart, and a good cook.
  3. If I could love two people, I would choose my mom and dad.
  4. Mom and Dad are the two best Moms and Dads in the world.

So what if the last sentence doesn’t have a comma in it. AREN’T THOSE THE MOST FABULOUS FOUR SENTENCES EVER?

Jackson's eyes

Yeah, I think so too. 

P.S. For those concerned about the wire Jackson swallowed on Veteran’s Day, all is well. A follow-up X-Ray this morning showed that the “foreign body” had passed.

NaNoWriMo 2015 update

Despite all the distractions, like Jackson swallowing the wire from his braces, National Novel Writing Month is going very well. I’m close to 20,000 words and have reached the point in the story where the scene shifts from one place to another, we jump in time a bit, and horses come finally into play. It’s time to draw upon my visit to Franklin in March and pick the brains of riders I know around here.

Jenny leading a horse

It would be misleading to say I like this story more than the first one, but I wager the writing is better. There are rules I’m following, bits of advice I’m following, and I’m careful to make each sentence as important as it needs to be. Though it will need editing for sure, I’m trying to write a story that has little fat to trim.

I’m also on my 50th book for the 50 Book Reading Challenge of 2015, and it’s no coincidence that the 50th book I’m reading is Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. Of course it is, and no, I didn’t plan it this way. Providence continues to weave its quirky web around my writing efforts and I’m thankful for it. Each night I read and each morning I write.

Fingers crossed. Everything forward.

Blog Challenge Day 20: In 10 years

Where do I want to be in ten years? 

I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED. First, please refer to my dream job.

Second, let’s consider ages. In ten years it will be 2025: I’ll be 47 (gulp), Chuck will be 46, Jeremy will be 22 (double gulp), and Jackson will be 19 (where’s my flask?).

There are a few things I wish for that are obvious: Good health, stability, a family that’s not broken by tragedy. These are the things we all hope for. If these things are standard, the rest is up for grabs.

By the time I’m 47, I hope to have published works in bookstores everywhere and have a strong relationship with an agent and publisher. I hope the ideas keep coming and that writing is still my deepest love.

By the time I’m 47, I hope Chuck and I have finally traipsed around Europe. I hope we’ve gone once by ourselves and a second time with our boys.

By the time I’m 47, I hope Jeremy has graduated college and/or found a job that’s satisfying and rewarding. I hope he’s confident enough in himself to explore his options but wise enough to be self-sufficient. I hope he’s not easily swayed.

By the time I’m 47, I hope Jackson is embarking on his first or second year of college and has learned how to manage his time wisely. I hope he’s organized and efficient. I hope he’s still smiling. I hope he doesn’t move too far away. (Something tells me he won’t.)

By the time I’m 47, I hope that whatever comes our way we are able to muscle through with superhuman strength and a good sense of humor. I hope we’ve given more than we’ve taken. I hope I worry less. I hope I’m still running.

I guess we’ll see.

for better or worse copy

 

Family rules, according to Jackson

One of the classes Jackson is taking at our new (and wonderful!) co-op is Literature and Creative Writing. This is a topic I feel comfortable teaching at home, but Jackson has an extra creative mind so double-dipping for this subject can only benefit him.

The classes was assigned to write a paper about family rules. I only helped him with grammar and punctuation, not content. It was his own idea and choice to start the paper with humor, which I adore.

Of course I have to share it with you:

In my family, we have a lot of strange rules. Before we go to bed, we go outside and eat grass. If it’s snowing, we go out and get really, really cold rolling around without jackets! Then we go to a beehive and get bitten. Then we go in the mud and get really dirty!

No, I’m joking! A real family rule is that we are very kind to each other! Also we have table manners, because it’s rude to burp while we eat dinner. We also have an electronic time limit. On weekends we have one hour, and we have to obey our parents and do chores. Then we do school on weekdays and Fridays we take a test. We can’t talk to our parents if they are doing work. We can only watch some PG-13 movies.

If we don’t obey the rules, we are in trouble, but we always obey the rules. Sometimes, we have ice cream at night. We have no breaking anything, no attacking anyone, no arguing with school, no lying, no making the dog really crazy, no making anyone mad, and no video games on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. That is all the family rules we have here.

Writer nesting

It’s coming, and soon. That second novel is ready for attention. But before I withdraw to Scrivener and stream loud music through my ear buds to muffle the sound of my children, everything needs to be just so.

Isn’t that what nesting is? That preparatory time when every nit-picky thing has to be tended to? Bookshelves aligned, desk cleared, crevasses dusted. I pulled up Scrivener yesterday, in fact, but I couldn’t focus on the words because there were eight pens strewn about my desk. And then I noticed a stack of random receipts, a box of colored pencils, eraser bits, unopened mail, a role of tape, and crumbs from the brownie I ate four days ago. ALL THIS DISTRACTION.

So I clean and organize and nest. I’ve turned in the boys’ grades for the year, pulled out school books we no longer need, and dumped my overflowing garbage. I ran a scan on the computer, redesigned this blog for simplicity, and started the long, arduous process of deleting excess raw files on my hard drive, a task that will take me weeks to accomplish.

Become-a-writer

Do y’all do this? Fiddle about before starting something big? One might call this procrastination, but it’s not an issue of avoidance. It’s about creating an environment conducive for writing. I’m easily distracted, so there’s no way I can write dialogue or sketch a workable Freytag’s Pyramid if there are pencil shavings on my desk. It’s an impossibility.

I’m not sure how long this nesting season will last. It might be a couple of days, maybe weeks. I’m embracing it because it’s the process. Professional writers often say that to be professional one must write every day. It might be a single sentence or it could be 10,000 words. If writing a novel, I would agree. When I finally begin Mallory’s story, it’s likely I’ll write every day.

Until then, I see a long orange string on the floor and I must go pick it up.

“I’ll remember your name.”

After church on Sunday I met a friend for lunch. It was the sort of lunch that excluded spouses and children because we both needed to divulge feelings and thoughts without self-editing. I needed to tell her that I’m feeling low, like a dark cloud is coming and I’m well aware of it, that I knew this road would be long and hard but it’s feeling longer and harder than I anticipated. The things I said had no logical basis. It’s all feelings, which we know are unreliable. But that’s what friends are for – to listen to the irrational and offer comfort.

When our lunch was over we parted ways and I went to a local independent bookstore to peruse and daydream. I found a couple of used books as well as the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents. A dead giveaway, if ever there was one.

Union Ave Books

As I placed my findings at the check-out, the man at the register raised his eyebrows.

“Are you a writer?” he said.

I paused, then said, “Yes.”

“Well you know we like to feature local writers here, so when you’re published and want to do a book reading or signing, let me know,” he said, scanning my books and tallying the cost, as if what he’d just said didn’t shake the whole Earth.

My eyes welled with tears but I blinked them away.

“That would be great,” I said. “Here’s hoping.”

He looked at me, tilting his head so his long gray ponytail shifted.

“That’s humble of you,” he laughed. “That’s unusual for a writer.”

“I’m a realist,” I said, handing him my debit card.

He scanned the plastic and read my name.

“Jennie Miller,” he said, “Jennie Miller. I’ll remember your name.”

He swiped the card and handed it back to me as I choked down the breakdown I wanted to have in his bookstore.

“Thanks,” I said with a grin. “I appreciate it.”

Then I bolted out of the store and cried all the way back to my car. From his mouth to God’s ears.

TBT December 2010, when I was important

I recently agreed to serve on two unrelated committees and realized I needed to unearth my old day planner to stay organized. I knew exactly where it was – thrown into a Rubbermaid container, my personal archive of Amarillo Magazines. I didn’t want leave my job as the features writer and editor. I didn’t want to leave Michele or remove myself from the community that so graciously welcomed me. I didn’t want to leave a position that made me feel important.

I found the day planner in the exact state I left it on December 17, 2010, my last day.

TBT December calendar 2010

Back story: We moved to Amarillo in December 2008 for Chuck’s new job and I landed a position at the city magazine in February 2009. Career-wise, we were golden. In every other area of life, we were miserable. Chuck’s mother had just been diagnosed with brain cancer, Jackson was entering early intervention because he wasn’t speaking, and our “Life is an Adventure!” attitude tanked by the end of the first month when we realized how badly we missed the mountains. The high plains, with its wide open spaces and vast horizons, felt suffocating.

Still, we made do. I loved every part of my job, Jackson started talking and learning to read, and Jeremy loved his school, his teachers, and our church. However, Chuck, who traveled nearly non-stop, was quietly burdened by his inability to help care for his mother, and by the end of 2009, we knew our life in Amarillo was going to be cut short. By July 2010, our house was back on the market and Chuck was moving back to Tennessee. The boys and I stayed in Texas to await the sale of our house. We entered a geographical separation that ended up lasting eight months.

Our dog passed away in August 2010, followed by Chuck’s mom in October. I told Michele I needed to resign by December, even if our house hadn’t sold, mainly because the emotional and physical load I was carrying was too much. We spent Christmas with Chuck’s family in Santa Fe because a traditional Christmas was out of the question. Brenda was gone, our house had not sold. No one was in the mood. We rallied around one another in a beautiful city and enjoyed the snow.

I flipped through my day planner recalling our two years in Amarillo. So much good for me happened there, even though it was hard on our family. The day Chuck picked me up from work on my last day, I slipped into the car with my box of stuff and said, “I hope it’s worth it.”

Let me assure you: It’s been worth it. Though I miss feeling important in a professional way, I know what I’m doing now is just as meaningful. I’m not conducting interviews nor writing all the content for an entire magazine. I’m not helping on photo shoots or brainstorming with one of my favorite people. I’m not logging miles on the car, not proofing pages, not racing from one appointment to the next.

Instead, I’m teaching Jeremy fractions, showing Jackson how use proper punctuation, and taking them to volunteer opportunities on a weekly basis. I’m writing a second novel and keeping my fingers crossed for the first one. I’m taking photographs of lovely people. I completed a graduate degree and am looking for another race to run, lucky number thirteen. I manage this household, cook from scratch, and play hide and seek.

That’s all important too.

After a bout of reminiscing, I took out the old calendar and notes from the day planner – all of 2009 and 2010 – and threw them in the trash. It’s time to use that binder for something else and reconcile that even though my life looks very different now than it did five years ago, I’m no less valuable. 

Remind me of this next time I’m folding eight million loads of laundry.

A Game of Hope and Fear

I wish I could be one of those sorts who is endlessly positive, overflowing with optimism and possibility. Annoyingly so.

Alas, that’s not me, not even close. It’s only when the calendar turns from one year to the next that I get of solid whiff of that glorious mindset, a brief taste of believing this could be my year.

And then the melancholy returns, the doubts and discouragements, the little whispers of worry that remind me that I carry a heavy family trait, described best by something my grandma said once: “I guess I’m just turned that way.” Like her, I get sucked into my own irrational space of worry and resignation. I get blue and defeatist. Every New Year’s Eve is game of table tennis – hitting the ball back and forth over the net that separates hope and fear.

It makes for a dizzy night even when champagne isn’t involved.

This morning is no different. I settled on the orange couch in my office to read and simultaneously wondered if the stars will align for me this year professionally. Will I find an agent? Will the novel ever leave my computer? Should I even start on a second book? Has this all been a waste of a dream?

I hit the ball.

Of course it’s not a waste! Think of all I’ve learned! Think of what I’ve already accomplished – a graduate degree and a 135,000-word novel that a handful of people find enjoyable. I’ve come to appreciate fiction in a new way entirely and reignited my love of storytelling! So much as already been gained, you silly girl!

I hit the ball again.

But what if it was all for nothing? Going back to journalism feels like going backward. My heart isn’t in it anymore. That was then and this is now. I want to write fiction yet I expect a slew of rejection letters this year. How does one remain hopeful with those sort of odds? Why bother?

I hit the ball again.

Because it’s worth it. All of it. The process, the hope, the disappointment, the pick-yourself-up-and-try-again attitude… THIS IS LIFE. Doing what I love makes life worthwhile. And so what about odds? I hate math anyway.

I hit the ball again.

And every time someone asks me how it’s going, I’ll have to tell them nothing is happening. I’m right where I was a year ago, working on this piddly little project that I love so dearly and every day it goes unnoticed makes me want to apologize to my characters for letting them down.

I hit the ball again.

I didn’t let them down at all. I heard them and did what they asked. They came alive because of me, and whether or not anyone else meets them is not in my hands. Besides:

on the other side of fear

And so it goes, and so it will be.

Our coming year will be much more than what comes in the mail for me. Jeremy will turn 12, Jackson will turn 9, and Chuck and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage (19 years together in total). We’ll forge ahead with our wonderful life and be grateful for the blessings seen and unseen. We will triumph and fail and learn from it all. I pray the same for you.

CHEERS to you in the new year, my friend, and may your dreams be big enough to scare you. xoxo

And the bloody execution begins.

I’ve got good instincts, so when my first professional(ish) critique on the first chapter of the novel came back yesterday, I knew what it was going to say: There are too many characters introduced in the beginning, the toggling back and forth in time needs to be rearranged, and my point of view needs to be better defined. None of her remarks were a surprise, but my foreknowledge did not prevent the twinge of discouragement. Even with comments like, “Wonderful!” and “Well done!” and “Nice Southern dialogue here!” I still shrank in my seat knowing this long hard road is still going to be long and hard. Continue reading “And the bloody execution begins.”

Channeling Eleanor Roosevelt and Tim Gunn

Eleanor RooseveltChuck and I are slowly making our way through the Ken Burns series about the Roosevelts, which we recorded while we were in Washington D.C. Last night we wrapped the episode retelling Theodore Roosevelt’s death and Eleanor’s discovery that her husband, Franklin, had been having an affair. The entirety of the series is excellent, and for someone who did a mediocre job in history classes, it’s a great refresher for me. While the parts about Theodore and Franklin are engaging, my ears perk to their fullest when the attention turns to Eleanor. She’s intriguing in every way politically and professionally. To get to know her more intimately, I plan to read through her daily newspaper columns that ran for nearly thirty years, concluding at her death.

Changing topics, but not really, I’ve been wondering lately if I’m living in the monkey house. It’s a Tim Gunn reference from Project Runway, and while that doesn’t carry the same dignity and prestige as quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, here me out. Several seasons ago Tim Gunn, mentor to the fashion designers in competition with one another, visited a finalist in his home to critique his collection. The designer raised eyebrows by using human hair on some of his garments. Tim was disconcerted and wasted no time gently telling Chris that he should be worried:

“I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter into the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for twenty minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ You’ve been living in the monkey house.”

What in the world does this have to do with me? Everything. More specifically, the novel. As someone who’s lived her life under the weight of self-doubt and skepticism, it feels completely unnatural to be this confident about my work of fiction. I love it. I insanely love it. I love it like a child. I’m protective of it, frustrated with it, gentle with it, concerned for it, and very, very much in love with the people I’ve created.

I love it so much that I wonder if it stinks and I just don’t smell it.


 

Journey On

I stood in the kitchen late last night eating my stress with a spoon and container of Nutella. It was really good. As I took the last spoonful into my mouth, I realized that I’m in over my head. The trio of graduate school, writing a novel, and homeschooling has been an outrageous challenge, and it’s affected my attention span for Lent Reading. I’m still reading, but the progress is slower than I’d prefer. And here we are in the middle of Holy Week and I feel entirely disconnected.

Alive

The challenge, then, is to find God in everything – in the errands, in the assignments, in the tasks. He’s there, like always, in some way or another.  I get so distracted by everyday things, to the point that I think I’ve left God on the nightstand in the book I’m reading, or that I’ll see Him next time I’m at church. It’s awfully naïve to think that God stays where I put Him.

My daily mantra is still Everything Forward. It has to be, because as Pope Francis says something is wrong if I stop. (And I believe him.)

Pope Francis

I have two projects due – one this week, one next – and then the summer semester starts May 5. The boys are nearly finished with their work (hallelujah) and we’ve got a trip planned to visit the setting of my novel (double hallelujah). We are moving forward. We are on a journey.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was on a journey – to the cross, to redemption, to eternal life. If all I do this week is remember His journey while I’m making dinner,  folding laundry, writing a short film, editing my final short story, explaining fractions, then I’m still on the journey, too.

For what it’s worth, I’m ready for a summer slow-down. Can I get an amen?

 

Short Story 2: Tuesday

Yay Fiction

I felt it fitting to post my second short story, Tuesday, on a Tuesday. Corny, I know.

Like my first story, The Prep Room, I pulled from Chuck’s life experiences to write Tuesday.  My quiet, unsuspecting husband is more interesting than he lets on.

Feel free to offer feedback.  Also, there’s profanity, just in case you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.

Tuesday

Short Story 1: The Prep Room


Yay Fiction

Below is the first short story I submitted for class. It’s just shy of 5,000 words. The content will be familiar to some of you. Though it’s based on actual events, the primary work is fiction.

You should be able to click on the link below and read the story as a PDF.  Let me know if it doesn’t work.

A warning: There’s colorful language in it. Hope it doesn’t offend. If it does, then you might not want to read my future work. I say things.

Enjoy.

The Prep Room by Jennie Miller

My Favorite Scene – and a poll!

Our first assignment for Performance Writing was to transcribe in proper format our favorite scene from a movie. As soon as I read the instructions, I knew what scene I’d choose. It was a no-brainer.

It took about forty-five minutes for me to type out a two-minute scene from Stranger Than Fiction and I’m confident that it’s fraught with errors. I’ve already posted it to the online classroom and it’s currently being ripped to shreds. I’m not offended in the least. I don’t know squat about screenwriting, so it’s only through trial and error that I’ll learn.

Favorite sceneI’m also in the middle of writing my first short story of the semester. Depending on how it turns out, I might post it here. Of course, I need to know if anyone would be interested in reading it.

[polldaddy poll=7777267]

Salem appreciates your feedback.

My nighttime lap buddy

Confessions of an Infinitive Splitter

In five weeks I’ve written five papers for my Aesthetics class. I’ve gotten an A on all of them (of course I did!) but in the professor’s remarks at the bottom of each review, she’s written, “split infinitives.”

I know. I do that sometimes.

As a conversational writer, I type my thoughts and construct my points in a casual manner. Academic writing is a huge challenge because I’m not fancy. I use contractions and I start sentences with a conjunctions. And furthermore, I split infinitives because I just do.

Writing in a scholarly manner has taken far more concentration than transcribing an interview and compile it into a feature story. I could probably write a traditional news story according to the Inverted Pyramid model faster than I can write a 750-word summary of “On the Aesthetic Education of a Man” by Friedrich Schiller (which is due by midnight on Sunday).

Anyhow, I love graduate school so far, but that’s mainly because graduate school is about studying what you want verses studying what you have to. And even though I don’t totally love Greek philosophy in regards to literary aesthetics, it’s way better than math. Anything is better than math.

And another thing. Online learning is far more evolved than I anticipated. We submit our papers to turnitin.com, a website that scans your work for originality. Once your work is loaded the program returns to you a “percentage of likeness” found in your paper as compared to other works in their database. Genius AND nerve-wracking! My first three papers came back with 0% likeness, but the last two came back with 1% likeness, which scared me to death. My work is one percent simliar to someone else’s work. I’m a little uncomfortable with this since I take a strong moral stance on plagiarism. When I confessed my one percent to Chuck, he was all, “Get over it. It’s not a big deal,” to which I replied, “IT’S A HUGE DEAL.”

It really isn’t a big deal, but the perfectionist in me will work steadily to knock that one percent back down to zero.

Side bar: Jackson is crazy excited about Man of Steel, which is in theaters NOW. We shall see it as soon as life permits. Here’s hoping it’s not as PG-13 as Iron Man 3 was. That was a serious near-R, if you ask me.