Last month, I attended the Oregon Christian Writer’s (OCW) Summer Conference. It is currently the only conference I go to, as it is relatively close to where I live—if five hours counts as close!
The conference is three and a half days of workshops, keynotes, coaching classes, appointments with industry professionals, and the Cascade Awards ceremony, which is always fun. It is a busy week and one I enjoy.
My favorite part of the OCW conference is the morning coaching classes. We get three days of instruction from authors, speakers, editors, or agents on a single topic. My class was Melanie Dobson’s class on writing historical fiction. This class was simply delightful. Ms. Dobson clearly presented her information in a helpful, inspiring, and humorous manner. I learned so many new ideas to incorporate into my writing life to see if they work for my writing process.
Having the same instructor every day brings cohesion to what we’re learning and that is more helpful than you’d think! Getting to know the other people in my coaching class is also a great experience. And when the classes are over, I only want to stay and learn even more!
Leaving the conference is sad and an emotional high. I am pumped and inspired and ready to settle in and get to work.
But reality comes back quickly. I get to my “real” writer’s life, and don’t know what to do with all this information I’ve learned.
And now most of the energy and hope from the conference is gone after I settled in real life.
And how can I get it back?
If only there was a process where all this information could immediately settle in my brain and tell me which tools and ideas work for me. Instead, I am left with trial and error to see what will make my writing life more efficient, rewarding, and productive.
I’m sure if I turn to Google, that wonder of the internet, I will find moderately helpful listicles with advice, all of which I’ve heard before. The difficult part of “how to” listicles isn’t the reading—it’s the doing. If I don’t apply the tips, then reading them is a waste of my time. And I don’t need help with that!
I can go over my notes from the workshops, coaching classes, and the excellent keynote presentations. There’s so much to sort through! But again, this information is only useful if I apply it.
And that is where the trouble begins.
I’ve never been that great at figuring out how to apply new ideas. I absorb knowledge quickly and can easily recall facts and information, but applying it and figuring out how it can work for me is always the problem.
So can I use what I’ve learned? Is it even possible? Or am I destined only to be an information gatherer forever, hoarding knowledge until my brain is so full it explodes?
I know that’s not how the brain works. Let’s allow a little hyperbole here, shall we?
Now that the conference high is ebbing, I need to be more disciplined than ever. And sometimes—okay, pretty much all the time—discipline is something I struggle with.
How can I apply what I learned? How can I stay on track and get my work done? I could use some tips.
Maybe I’ll read another listicle.
“After all, tomorrow is another day.”
We all know where this quote is from, don’t we? It’s from the novel turned cinematic classic Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
And yet, the quote itself has a purpose beyond a book quote. It is an important reminder that tomorrow is just around the corner. We can’t prevent it from coming and all we can do is try our best to make it through
Don’t worry about tomorrow, everyone says. Today is difficult enough for most of us and worrying about what may happen can sap our energy, strength, and joy in living.
However, we can’t help but worry. Worry is sadly a foundation of human nature and one that we all endure. We worry if our families are getting enough food, if our friends need us, and how we can meet the requests of those who want our help.
I have a perpetual calendar and one of my favorite quotes on it is “Worry is like a rocking chair. It keeps you occupied but doesn’t get you anywhere.” I say this to people frequently and it always makes them laugh. And they all agree.
Then the person ignores the quote and continues worrying.
I’m not saying I never worry. I have PTSD, anxiety, and depression, and worrying is second nature when my symptoms are fierce. But I try to live my life in such a way that I do not become frightened of what tomorrow may bring.
That is, after all, what worry does to us. It makes us unable to appreciate our life now because we are anxiously awaiting tomorrow. And we’re convinced in the middle of it that tomorrow will always be worse than today.
We know this isn’t the case. Tomorrow is often better than today. I’ve had bad days followed by good days, and vice versa. And having that hope that tomorrow will be an improvement can override our worries and get us through the bad days.
But the worry itself is debilitating. And learning to embrace each day instead is one of the most difficult things we as humans must do.
And we must learn how to embrace the new day. It makes life more enjoyable to embrace instead of worry. But we are fools, and slow to learn, and so we worry.
And the cycle is repeated endlessly until worry is second nature, and the next day is something to be afraid of. But we have time to change it. Time to learn and grow and give up on worrying over things we cannot control.
After all, tomorrow is another day.
“They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
”Ode of Remembrance” from “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon
I want to preface my post by saying this is only my opinion, as other Veterans may feel differently and I do not speak for them. However, I am confident in my assertion you will find that some Veterans in your own life agree with my thoughts.
Memorial Day is coming up. We all know this! We can’t go anywhere on the internet without seeing posts and articles and pictures.
For those who don’t know, Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was adopted after the Civil War as a day to decorate graves of those who died during that war. It eventually morphed into its current form and is now a federal holiday, as well as the unofficial "start" of the summer season.
I am a Veteran. My time in the military shaped my life profoundly and I value the experience. However, please do not thank me for my service on Memorial Day. That’s not what this day is about.
Memorial Day, even in it's earliest form, has always been a day of remembrance.
And “remembrance” is the point that needs to be emphasized here.
As Memorial Day is a day to remember and thank those who died for their country while serving in the military, I do not want to be thanked for my own service.
It is not my day. It is not a day for those who survived. Those of us who survived have our own day, and I appreciate it. I enjoy spending that day with other Veterans, who understand how the military affects our lives even after we've left service.
This day, Memorial Day, belongs to those who died. To our friends and brothers and sisters in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. To those who did not come home, or came home in a flag-draped coffin.
Remember that those service members who died knew it was a possibility when they signed up, and did it anyway. Remember that they had families who loved them, who mourn them, and who wish every day they were safe, and home.
Do not thank me for my service this weekend. Thank the soldiers my unit said goodbye to at over twenty memorial services during the deployment. Thank the service members who gave up their lives for this country. Thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
But do not thank me. I don’t want it and I won’t accept it on this day.
It’s not my day.
It belongs to those who are gone. The ones we miss and mourn. The ones who sacrificed their lives.
Thank them. Remember them.
Journal Jar: Grocery Shopping
I’m not sure why the people who work with my mom thought this would be an interesting topic to write about. But, the rules of the Journal Jar stipulate the topic drawn at random must be written, so here goes.
Grocery shopping. It can be awful. When you go to the store and it’s payday, and it’s so crowded you have to wait for someone to walk by so you can continue on the aisle, I never want to go again. Sadly, it is a necessity and one that we all must do.
Though I do not find grocery shopping fun, I do find it entertaining if I am not stressed myself. It’s an excellent way to study human nature and how people react to mildly stressful situations.
Grocery shopping for most of us is a mindless activity that doesn’t require much brainpower. We use our lists and put the items on it in our cart, and then we go to the front of the story and check out, chatting with the cashier about the weather, how our day is, etc. See? I’ve completed hundreds of grocery shopping trips like the one I just mentioned.
However, I’ve also completed the other kind. Where money is so tight you have a calculator out and as many coupons as a store will let you use, the bare minimum of items on your list. When that shopping trip happens, a simple requirement of living can turn into a delicate balancing act.
Those of us who live on strict and tight budgets do not generally look forward to shopping. Prices can vary widely and we always worry we will not have enough money to afford what we need to buy. There is no room for “fun” groceries on strict budgets, and so we go without. We eat peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, and tons of macaroni and cheese. Cheap meals without any frills, and without any nutritional value.
But we often have no choice. Hopefully, for most of us, it is only temporary. But millions of people across the world struggle to find food every day and don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. I’ve never had that struggle in my life, and I am grateful for it. But we must do what we can to help those in need, and make sure they have affordable food options, though I cannot claim to know how to begin. For now, I donate food to local food banks and other food drives.
And I hope and pray for the day that we won’t need these options at all.
Reaching "The End" of the Story
What comes after “The End” of the book?
I finished my first draft in December, determined to have it completed by the end of last year. I started writing it in July and was about 10,000 words from my goal for two months. I didn’t want to finish it, too scared to learn what happens next.
See, this is my first ever completed novel length manuscript first draft. I can admit as much as I want to write books, it is very nerve-wracking to be at the end. Is the writing any good? Did I tell enough story? Are my characters believable? Is the plot outrageous? I had a million questions.
Now, as most writers know, of course it’s terrible.
It’s a first draft!
As I started reading through it in the middle of January, as I started marking errors and phrases and plot points that needed to be changed (my MC’s parents died at four different ages in the first 50 pages—not a spoiler, by the way), I realized it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. It needs a lot of work, and I definitely have a few more plot points to work out, but there are some nice quality scenes in there, too.
I finished reading through the draft this week, and am letting it percolate for another week or two. I have some more research and finetuning of my story’s timeline to do and will tackle that first, then I’ll move into reworking it to get my second draft. I can’t believe I can even say the words “my second draft” now.
When I quit working last May to write, I never expected to be here. I thought I would give up at the first hurdle, or the last 10,000 words. So actually writing “The End” was amazing. This story has been itching to get out since I was in high school (but I’m not telling you how long ago that is). And now that it’s out, I feel incredible. I can’t wait until the written story matches the vision I have for it in my head. Right now, it’s the bare bones of what I’m imagining. But I think they’re good bones.
I think I know what happens now. I’ll rewrite and edit, and rewrite, research, and edit, and rewrite until I have a book that I feel is the best book it can be. And at some point I’ll let another person read it. It may never be published. It may sit in a drawer for years. It may get picked up immediately (though that’s highly unlikely). Maybe no one will ever read it (except my first reader, who was thrilled to be chosen).
But for now, I’ll celebrate the first milestone in my professional writing life: completing a first draft. Come celebrate with me? I have coffee.
A little over sixteen years ago, I signed up to join the United States Army. I had barely turned seventeen and I was excited. Three years later, in 2003, I deployed to Iraq. This post isn’t about that, however.
Prior to my deployment, my mother had asked her co-workers to come up with ideas for a “Journal Jar” that I could use to keep up with my writing while deployed. And, if you check out the picture below, you will see that I still have it!
Every other week, I will randomly pick a topic and write a short blog post about it. I have written some of these topics before, though I did not get to all of them, and the journal I used thirteen years ago is packed away in storage. And these journal entries will be different from ones I may have written before I’ve had a lot of changes in my life since then!
Today’s topic is: “Treasure Hunts on the Beach.”
The thing is, when I say treasure hunts, I do not mean leisurely strolls along the beach looking for shells, or driftwood, or sea glass.
No, I mean teams of two or three frantically running up and down the beach looking for items on a list so the team can win. My family is ultra-competitive (my brother, mom, and I once stayed up until 2am playing UNO and took our cards with us to bed—so no one would peek at our cards—when we didn’t finish, and then finished the game the next night) and we wanted to make the treasure hunts a competition as well. It is a standard event for most of our beach trips.
One year, in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast, my mom, aunt, sisters, and myself decided to have a treasure hunt. I don’t remember what the winning team received, but my competitive instincts kicked in. When my aunt and I had every item on the list except for glass, I was determined to find some.
Of course, my sister, who had made this list, had assumed it would be easy. Every other trip to the coast, we never have any trouble finding sea glass. The treasure hunt for this trip, however, simply said “glass.” During my wanderings, I thought about where I would be likely to find glass on a beach.
And then it hit me. The garbage can!
So I ran up toward the parking lot, where an overflowing garbage can sat in the sand just before the sidewalk that led to the parking lot. I grabbed a bottle that was on the sand next to it and ran back down to the beach. My aunt and I won because we were the only team that had found glass. All the other teams had found all but one item on the list, and my aunt and I had all of them.
Of course, an argument started over whether the glass was actually on the beach. I told you we were competitive! When I justified it by saying the garbage was in the sand, not in the parking lot, the rest of the group reluctantly agreed that my aunt and I were the winning team.
There have been other treasure hunts, of course. We love them because it gives us an excuse to run around and act silly, and I love finding things. That time in Lincoln City is one of my favorites because the treasure hunt was so contested. But my team was still victorious!
And they’ve never let me live down the fact that I got the winning glass from a garbage pile. Families are great sometimes, aren’t they?
I was going to write a Christmas post, but wasn’t sure I could get my thoughts properly in order. Christmas, after all, is a time when a lot of people are thinking about Jesus and the “spirit of the season” means they may be more interested in learning about Christianity. But this post is also about politics, life, and Christianity. And what I hope this post conveys, even beyond all of that, is what I have had on my heart the last few months. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors and I believe that has been missing for a long time in the modern church and in our country.
One of the best songs that I’ve heard over the past few years is by one of my favorite artists, Casting Crowns. I only discovered Casting Crowns about four years ago, when I began to listen almost exclusively to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). This song is entitled “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJXIugwiN7Q on YouTube. I want you to listen to this song and think about how you treat someone who does not believe in the same things you do.
I am not speaking solely of my religious beliefs, but also my political stance and the ability to treat others with respect and without judgement.
This country is divided.
That is not a secret and on every Facebook page I visit there are comments blaming the other side for all the problems in our country—from both liberals and conservatives, from Christians and non-Christians—and it has almost made me want to quit social media. I will admit that I have blocked or unfriended some people because my core beliefs do not match theirs. I do not unfriend or block people who simply have different opinions, but for my own self-care it is sometimes necessary to get toxic people out of my life.
As a Christian, I am often confused on how to approach those who may not know anything about God or Jesus. I can admit that I am also sometimes reluctant to do so. Yet we must try. We are, in fact, called to do so, and to not even attempt to tell others what we know of Jesus means we are not truly doing God’s will.
But how can we approach people who are not receptive or who believe that all Christians are closed-minded, judgmental people who are trying to coerce them into a way of life they have no interest in?
That’s where the above song comes in. My favorite line in the song goes “No one knows what we’re for only what we’re against when we judge the wounded” and it is this verse I keep in mind when I am struggling with sharing my faith. We cannot judge the wounded because we are also wounded. It can be hard to show love instead of judgement to others who seem mired in sin. But when we realize that everyone, including ourselves, is standing in the muck, it makes that judgement hypocritical.
I’m a Christian. And I’m a sinner. These are both true statements, and ones that do not change regardless of how much I try to follow God’s teachings. And when we allow our “Christian” side to override the “sinner” side, we create people who think they are superior to non-Christians because we are believers and we have been saved.
We must do our best to remember that we are ALL sinners. One sin isn’t worse than another—they are all the same in God’s eyes. And we’ll be judged, one day. Not by each other, but by God. And not loving people that God loves is a sin.
We as Christians are called to love one another. It can be hard to do so when everything around you is divided and ugly and full of hatred. Like our country. Like our church. We must love each other and pull our country, and church, back together.
And what better time to begin than a new year? I am determined to make 2017 the year I began living without judging others. I hope you join me.
Happy New Year.
I’ve heard about this word a lot over the last month. And I’m sure most of you have, too. But what does it actually mean? Not the dictionary definition, but personally, what does it mean to be thankful? What things should I be thankful for? When someone asks me that question, I’m not always sure how to answer.
Should I answer truthfully and say that I’m thankful I’m alive? That seems selfish and tends to defeat the feeling of thanksgiving and gratitude that we’re supposed to show in November. Or do I say “family” or “friends” or one of the other words that people say to stop myself from telling the truth? To keep the situation comfortable and familiar?
Of course I am thankful for my family and friends. I love them and they love me. But I feel that not sharing what we are actually thankful and grateful for—what we’re humbled by because it is such a blessing for us—we are paying lip service to the idea of being thankful.
So, yes, I am thankful for the fact that I am still alive. I wasn’t always. I’ve fought hard to be in this place I am in and I appreciate the struggles that I had to make it through to get here. It’s the best place I’ve been in a long time, emotionally. And I’m thankful and grateful that I am able to focus fully on writing and editing, which for the last fifteen years has been a side enterprise to my full-time working life.
But I still hesitate to share my biggest reason to be thankful—that I am still alive—with people when I am speaking to them. I fear their judgement. I always said I don’t care what other people think of me, but that is not always true. I worry that if I do not fit into the “mold” during a holiday, other people will find me insincere in my thankfulness.
If I tell the truth, what do they say? What kind of response would you give someone who confesses they’re grateful to be alive? I’ve had people tell me that before, that they are thankful they are still alive. And it is difficult to form a response because it is a personal and private struggle that the person is sharing with you. I am humbled by these people, that they feel I am trustworthy enough to know the pain that brought them to that place of thankfulness.
As a child, we’re thankful for a lot of things, too. Sometimes new toys, or our friends, or families. And as children I feel we are completely sincere in our gratefulness, even though it may not seem so. But as life wears away at us we learn to appreciate what we are really thankful for, and for some of us, it is more complicated than we could have ever imagined.
And for me, life wearing away brought me to the place where I can say I am thankful to be alive.
I thank God every day for Vietnam Veterans.
Without them, I wouldn’t be alive.
It sounds melodramatic, as if it’s the first lines of a voiceover in a movie about the effects of war. For me, however, it’s a simple fact.
It was the fall of 2009. I had been in individual therapy intermittently since the onset of combat related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in May of 2007, and it was helping. I felt steadier, I was sleeping more (though still not every night), and I was beginning to learn how to live with my PTSD.
It was hard. Harder than I expected, and I stumbled continuously, unsure of where to turn.
I felt so alone.
I was in college, away from my family, and had a few close friends but they had no experience like mine. I was involved with the Veterans’ group on campus, but didn’t spend much time with the others in the group outside of school. Most of the others in the campus group were still in the “gung-ho ‘I served in the military’ phase and I didn’t have much in common with them, as I had moved into what I call the “unsure if it was the right course for my life” phase. I’m sure most Veterans have them.
I was afraid I would never learn how to live with PTSD. So when my counselor suggested that I attend one of the group sessions offered at the Vet Center, I hesitantly agreed. This specific group was called “Depression and Self-Esteem” and I knew I was likely to be the only woman. Most Veterans groups are all men, and I was uncertain how I was going to be able to connect to them. Would they have anything in common with me besides our military service?
Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. These men, the majority of them Vietnam Veterans, let me in and I felt comfortable there. Here were people who understood what I was going through in a way others in my life could not. And even though these men were old enough to be my father, they accepted me as one of them.
Well, not right away. It took a few sessions for me to feel comfortable with them and for the men to stop apologizing for cursing in front of me. As if I’ve never heard (or said) a curse word or two! We eventually began to connect and understand each other, even though their war had been fifty years before mine.
I spent the next two years attending group therapy in addition to my individual therapy. And for me, group therapy was the turning point. In individual therapy, even though my counselor was a Veteran, it didn’t help with the isolation that my symptoms had made me feel. Attending a group made me feel connected, and that more than anything helped me learn how to live with my PTSD.
I still have occasional suicidal thoughts, and there are a few times throughout the year which are harder than others, but I do not actively wish for it any longer. For those two years, it was a near-constant option and solution to my problems. But these men in group therapy were everything I needed and nothing of who I wanted to be.
Almost all of them were divorced. Most had been addicted to drugs or suffered from alcoholism. Most of them were estranged from family members or children who they had not let in to help during their struggles, and those families didn't understand. And I, with the benefit of being thirty years younger than they were, had time. Time to heal, time to make sure I knew how to manage my symptoms—which I knew would flare up from time to time through the rest of my life—and time to make myself ready for healthy relationships.
I am more grateful to these men than I could ever express, though I hope I have conveyed some of that here.
Remember that when you wish a person “Happy Veterans’ Day” they may not have only happy or heroic stories to go with it. Their stories may be of pain, and suffering, and loss. But I do not think you’ll ever really find someone who regrets their military service, though they may regret what they’ve lost because of it.
I am a Veteran. And I’m proud of that fact. I served to the best of my ability in the United States Army from 2001-2005. I have PTSD.
And I wanted to kill myself nearly every day for almost two years. I can’t be sure that feeling will ever completely go away. But those men helped me through the single most difficult time of my life and I will forever be thankful.
So enjoy your day off.
And Happy Veterans’ Day.
On Politics, Voting, and Family
I wasn't originally going to do a post on politics. It's all over the news and I'm not sure I can bring any new insight to it. But I would like to discuss my voting history (but not who or what I voted for), and why this election has been one of the most difficult for me.
I filled in the last circle on my ballot on Friday night, put it in the secrecy envelope, and signed it. It's now ready for me to put into the ballot box tomorrow (my sister is filling hers out today and I'm dropping them both off). We have mail-in voting in Oregon so we don't actually go to a polling place, which is convenient until you set your ballot under a stack of mail and forget where you put it. But that's only happened once and I managed to find it in time to vote!
After I signed it, I was filled with relief. This entire election cycle has been a roller coaster of emotions, and I don't even have cable to see what the media is saying about the Presidential candidates. I have, however, been studying all the platforms of all national and state candidates, their beliefs, and I considered both sides of my state's ballot measures carefully before voting.
I turned eighteen in 2001 so my actual first Presidential election was 2004, but I first cast a vote in the midterm elections in 2002. I know not everyone votes in midterms, but my parents instilled it in my head that voting is a civic duty and one we should take seriously. And I have missed only one election since, as I was struggling with my depression and did not have any inclination to do anything at the time.
See, to me, all eligible Americans should be voting in every election. My parents do, my siblings do, and this one is no different. The reason I am not saying who I voted for is because I believe it should private. It is your vote, not anyone else's. And your friends and family should not directly influence your vote. Of course, the way you were raised and what you believe now will do, and that is often a result of your family and friends' beliefs being similar to yours.
By all means, discuss the candidates and issues with them. With everyone you know, in fact. The more you know, the more likely you are to vote for candidates and measures instead of voting against them. My parents have been discussing politics with my siblings and I since we were children and answered our questions regarding candidates and ballot measures every election. Study and read and be an informed voter. But you are not obligated to share who you voted for or how you voted on state measures.
Voting is a duty, and we must do it. But for those of us who may have family members with differing views, it can be difficult to vote in line with our conscience and not feel as if we are somehow less because we do not vote the same. It can be difficult to even discuss politics during an election cycle, especially this one which has been so contentious.
So what I'm saying now shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but I'll say it again:
Be Informed. Vote. And Keep Living.
"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you." ~Pericles
Writer/Editor. Voracious Book Reader. World Traveler. Veteran.