10 Reasons to Confess You’re a Closet Writer

10. The public library becomes a death trap to your dreams! A routine trip with your kids turns into a mind competition. You can’t even check out Captain Underpants or Brown Bear, Brown Bear before you’re eyeing the shelves in your genre thinking, “All these people, rows and rows of them, have written down their words and convinced someone to publish them.” All those people are your competitors. “I will not go quietly into the night.”

9. You battle a self-conscious internal dialogue. It tells you the world already has a bazillion books and questions why anyone would read yours. 

8. Instinctively, you vow to negotiate for uber-hip cover art. Dang right, Skippy: we all judge a book by its cover! You will draw readers because they’ll fall in love with the front. Sure, words are important too, but let’s be real. 

7. Your “office” time takes place in the middle of the night– after your kids are in bed, likely while the rest of the neighborhood sleeps. Even though you’ve never been a night owl, writing is the adrenaline rush that changes your sleep habits. 

6. When in writing season, you revisit chaotic sleeping patterns comparable to your college years. You find it IMPOSSIBLE to fall asleep after writing in the wee hours. Unfortunately, now you have a day job and a family, maybe kids, and have forfeited your sleep for your writing obsession. 

5. And writing does become an obsession. So many thoughts! So many ideas and stories to share. They relentlessly beg you to set them free. 

4. You feel overprotective of your words and begin to realize it’s not all that different than raising your kids. You handle them with the gentlest of care like you would an infant, praising them for every little milestone along the way. You fuss at them when they won’t cooperate like your teenagers, occasionally giving them the silent treatment when they’ve made you so frustrated you want to scream and throw things. One day your words, like your children, will have to leave the safety of your hands. You’ve done the best you could. All you can hope for is the confidence that the world will treat them right. 

3. You are picky with whom you share your writing. When you need encouragement, you invite your mother over for a read. “Oh, darling! I loved every single syllable of it!” (What else would you expect from Mother Dearest?) When you feel ambitious, you seek out someone who hasn’t fallen in love with your words as deeply as you have, someone whose constructive criticism will better your piece. 

2. Others think you’re wordy. Brief email replies are non-existent in your world, and you hate Twitter because it’s a game of Revision just to be able to tweet. 

1. No matter how many words you’ve written over your lifetime, there will always be more waiting for their turn in your pen. 

Advertisements

Because Jen Hatmaker Told Me To

Things I love: sarcasm, the smell of books, children (yours, mine, the loud one in the next aisle, any and all of them), sleeping, using the restroom without interruption, laughing so hard incontinence becomes an issue, and WORDS.

Things I hate: loud noises, multi-tasking (how have I made it so long as a teacher then?), questioning myself (oh, see what I did there?), arguing with my husband or children, the dark, and waiting for feedback after clicking “publish” on my blog.

Jen Hatmaker posted some valuable advice on her blog last month, and in it she encouraged quiet writers like myself to force ourselves to write, write, write and publish, publish, publish.

Easy for her to say… She’s sitting on the sunny side of publishing, with a few or a dozen or a million or so books penned in her hand, something like 8 trillion followers on her blog, and pretty entertaining appearances on HGTV. But, I think she is pee-your-pants funny, so I’ll at least humor her and force myself to write, write, write and publish, publish, publish this week.

Writing for a public, knowing actual eyes that belong to actual people will read your words and will form actual opinions of you is HARD. You feel vulnerable and oddly defensive. You know that most of what you publish will fall on deaf ears. But… you know in the deepest parts of your heart the power found in words. “Words are power” they say. And when it’s your words that resonate with readers, you feel like you’ve hit the grand slam of publishing. Every once in a while, you print something really worthwhile. And it’s satisfying… and exhilarating… and terrifying all at once to understand the impact you’ve had on another person because of your words.

I think that’s why I so deeply cherish my love-hate relationship with writing. Much like my relationship with Grey’s Anatomy, which is obviously past its expiration date, submitting myself to an affair with Writing will inevitably be painful, but I just can’t quit it.

To the other Quiet Writers out there like me: it’s intimidating, this publishing process. However, let’s agree we owe it to ourselves to keep writing, even when we cringe at the thought of hitting “publish” and our dismal stats stare back at us from the dashboard.

No matter how busy we find ourselves or how demanding our “real” jobs feel (10 school days until my STAAR test! EEK!), let’s vow to keep publishing.

Even when you are so exhausted, you fall asleep at 7:45, foolishly thinking you’ll just lay down for a minute to pat your son’s back while tucking him in for the night.

Even when your schedule is so tight, the only pedicure you can swing is soaking your feet in the baby’s bath.

IMG_0896-0

Even when your kids’ lunch consists of an eclectic mix of gogurt, pop tarts, and fruit snacks because saying “a trip to the store is long overdue” is a gross understatement.

Even when your gourmet dinner is courtesy of Sonic.

Even when date night means you’re still awake when your man changes the channel to the 9:05 late start baseball game.

Even when you’re so pressed for time, your Quiet Time consists of a quick scroll through Instagram for a brief reflection on Priscilla Shirer’s inspirational quote of the day. (That makes it Biblical, right? That’s basically like reading the Bible.)

image

Even when some days leave you so frazzled, you utter a not-so-silent prayer instead of losing your mind on your 8-year-old who asks about his video game time for the 64859964.5 time in one day, even though you created an elaborate video game schedule to avoid this exact conversation.

IMG_3619-0

Even when you create a new version of the messy bun because you realize in the haste of your rushed mornings this week, you’ve already worn your hair up every day. And now it’s Thursday.

And when you’ve typed an ENTIRE 700 word post using only your index finger and an iPhone because your computer is on the fritz and your last shred of sanity is hanging on by a mere thread… (Not that I’ve done that. Not that I’m doing that right now. Not that I’m DYING INSIDE waiting for our tax return so I can get a working laptop!)

And finally, when you know in your head that hard work pays off, but you’re growing impatient to see the proof.

Those are the times we push ourselves, Quiet Writers, and keep writing. Our words need to be published! We can leave them screaming in our heads, or we can disclose them to the public. Who knows? Maybe your next post will be your grand slam.

In Defense of the Duggars

I’ve made up my mind. There are two kinds of people on social media: those who like the over-sized Duggar family and those who roll their eyes at the mention of that now-household name. Well, technically there’s the third category called “Who in the h**** cares?” but their voice doesn’t count right now. Mostly because they already scrolled past this post, muttering “Who the h**** cares?!?!?” under their breath in a frustrated sigh. My husband just joined the ranks of the latter two clubs. He doesn’t care, but he undoubtedly rolled his eyes because as the official “Man Who Shares my Bed and Watches a Ridiculous Amount of Sportscenter on my TV,” he is obligated to read my posts. It was in the contract somewhere just before “I do.”

I unabashedly go on record for supporting Jim Bob and Michelle and the rest of their thousand or so kids. (No, really, someone do the math here. I’m a reading teacher; numbers aren’t really my forte. But I wonder… Exactly how many Duggars are we talking here if all 19 children have 19 children of their own, and then all those grandchildren continue the trend? No wonder you’re annoyed by them. You’re afraid they’re headed for world domination. Well, at least thrift stores will remain a staple in my humble future then. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.)

image

My personal religious and political views aside, here are the reasons I enjoy following the family behind TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting…

In Parenting

1. They direct-teach character traits to their children. 

Since Michelle home-schools her kids, she is better equipped– no, strike that– more organized in intentionally teaching her littles positive character traits. For instance, I’ve heard her speak on the show about teaching patience and servanthood through planned lessons, led by a frank discussion and an opportunity to practice. Well, sure, that’s one approach. Probably more fruitful than my own wait-and-see approach. Wait until the 6-year-old turns around in the car to look at his older brother again. See my firstborn LOSE HIS MIND because “he looked at me!” And then after we’ve all had a turn losing it, me because the littles just lost it over NOTHING, I try to explain the need for patience with others and for caring about how our actions affect other people. I’m sure that’s effective too.

2. They keep a chore chart– and actually enforce it. 

I have a dream… Oh, nevermind. I do not. I don’t even dream it.

3. They have made teaching the value of a dollar and how to manage money a priority. 

Can you hear one of the older girls like Jill or Jessa saying, “Buy used and save the difference”?

4. They encourage their children to learn practical skills.

Maybe it’s the farm they live on. Maybe it’s because they’re from Arkansas. Maybe it’s out of necessity for child labor; I’m not even sure it matters. But I have noticed how the Duggar children are perfectly capable of things I can only hope my own kids will be able to do someday, mostly because I’ll have to find someone who can actually teach them. Even from an early age, those kids are learning how to ride a lawn mower, drive a tractor and other work equipment, do laundry, cook, clean the house (How many square feet did you say? I have a family friend who once leased a 500 square foot apartment in New York– and shared it with two roommates). I love that Jim Bob and Michelle allow the kids ample opportunity to practice too. I remember Michelle once admitting that sure, it would be easier and quicker to do a lot of the chores herself, but she chose to let the little ones help anyway because they needed to learn. And she was flexible, knowing they wouldn’t do it as well as she would. It’s hard to keep that Mom-OCD at bay!

5. I find their seemingly old-fashioned ideals refreshing.

Call it the counter-culture effect, but I enjoy a short respite from The House of Cards, Bruce Jenner’s gender transformation, or Thrive devotional videos on Facebook.

In Marriage

6. Jim Bob kisses Michelle ALL THE TIME.

ON THE LIPS.

In public.

My husband did that once too. Then the preacher announced, “It is my pleasure to introduce to you: Mr. and Mrs. Blalock.”

7. They’re always running late.

And miraculously it doesn’t lead to a yelling match in the front pasture as they head out to the caravan of SUVs they’ll need to transport everyone. Even if it is because Jim Bob is still upstairs applying another layer of hair spray.

I like it because they take it in stride.

8. They share their religious views without shaming others and handle opposition with grace. 

Oscar Review: Boyhood

IMG_3327

T- minus 4 days until my favorite awards show of the year! For the last eight years or so, I have teamed with my mother-in-law to enjoy a blow out Academy Awards party, complete with our own red carpet and paparazzi (Bless my father-in-law’s heart! At least he enjoys being behind a camera lens, even if he’d rather be shooting the aviary friends in his backyard.) This year we are unable to celebrate… and critique… and joke… and eat… and laugh… and most importantly COMPETE together, so we’ll have to settle for live texting from opposite corners of Texas with ballots in hand.

Undoubtedly, the most controversial film we continue to weigh in on is Boyhood. I disagree with its contention as a Best Picture, but I can see why the Academy holds it in such high esteem. They love artsy-fartsy stuff. I usually respect the artsy-fartsy stuff, even if I do have trouble appreciating it myself. However, in this case, even that is a stretch.

The Wall Street Journal reviewed the film last month, and I’m thankful the article explains the movie’s artistic element– how creator Richard Linklater produced the film by reuniting his actors for a handful of weeks each year between 2002 and 2013, allowing the audience a uniquely real view of the maturity and aging of the film’s characters.

Apparently, a similar idea has been used in photographs and a documentary, but not film. The article tells of a documentary created by Michael Apted which chronicles the “same group of British men and women every seven years since they were boys and girls.” The doc first hit screens in 1964 and was last updated in 2012. Similarly, a portfolio by Nicholas Nixon called “The Brown Sisters” showcases black-and-white portraits of Mrs. Nixon and her three sisters, the first of which was developed in 1975. The series crosses a 40- year span with the most recent photographs revealing that “the women’s faces and bodies are marked by the ruthless indignities of aging,” according to The Wall Street Journal. With all of that in mind, I can now more fully appreciate what Linklater has achieved cinematically. His is a groundbreaking film, in the context of art form.

Herein lies the problem with Linklater’s version of “real-time” film-making however: How in the world can he abandon a basic plot line in favor of the artistic element? The little boy (played by Ellar Coltrane) experiencing the process of maturity while the mother (Patricia Arquette) experiences the same thing, just during a later phase in life, does NOT equal plot. Maturity and aging are both themes, but they do not in and of themselves tell a story. The sequences failed to link together in a way that portrayed a seamless, able-to-be-followed common thread throughout the movie. Linklater aced film-making, flunked plot development 101. Points for trying though. And for pioneering “real-time” film-making.

Lastly, in short defense of Linklater’s script-writing, there remains a flash of brilliance found in the final scene of the film. The college-age main character, who by this point in the movie resembles little of his six-year-old self that started the story, says, “it’s constant, the moments, it’s like it’s always right now, you know?” That exact idea shadows the making of and the purpose of the movie– how the actors truly age right in front of us instead of using make-up and cinematic effects to produce the same affect. Enough symbolism to earn my praises as a Best Picture nominee? Not even close! But that’s some pretty expertly laid symbolism right there!

Kumbaya and all that other crap

I’m a facebook junkie.

I am.

I feel no shame in admitting it.facebook_logo_detail

Like any other social media outlet, facebook has its advantages, disadvantages, and at some point people who will use it for purposes of exploitation. This week especially though, I appreciate it. Several heartfelt posts I read recently prompted some incredibly meaningful conversations– like real ones, face-to-face discussions, not just cryptic messages left in the comments of the post.

I find it interesting to note the overriding sentiment behind the posts I’ve read lately. What I keep hearing these days is that people want to know they are in like company. The posts catching my attention feel a lot like distress calls. Apparently people, present company included, want to know they’re not alone, that they’re not the only ones experiencing struggles or battles or frustrations, no matter if the situations are serious or so inconsequential the whole thing becomes hilarious. Regardless, the resounding cry seems to be “IS THERE ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE WHO UNDERSTANDS WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH?”

Each time I’ve read between the lines– “DOES ANYONE ELSE FEEL THE SAME WAY?– there have been, of course, many people who reached out with encouraging words or funny anecdotes to showcase their own weaknesses. And I love how all of a sudden facebook has become a new way to minister to people looking for assurance.

I’ve responded with similar words online before, but twice just today, I reminded a couple of dear friends, “You are not alone.”

It all started with this chick’s blog– Lisa Jo Baker apparently. Never heard of her before last night. But she wrote an AMAZING and UPLIFTING piece titled “Grace for the working mother and her guilt” and I caught a glimpse of it on a friend’s facebook wall.  Well, shoot, down here in the ‘suthin parts like Texas, all us lil’ ole’ teachers were gearing up to go back to work this morning after enjoying our two week Christmas break. This is Texas, the tip of the Bible belt. Most of us will forever refer to this time as the Christmas Break– not the “Holiday” break. map with texasI hate to stereotype, but let’s face it. Most teachers, at least here in Texas where I’m from, are females. And most of us have families. And most of us were dealing with some pretty hefty, Texas-sized emotions as we faced the prospect of leaving our little ones and going back to work after the break. And on Sunday night, on the eve of the great slap in the face from reality that is called Monday Morning, that blog Lisa Jo wrote spread like wildfire among us teachers.

In fact, I was so moved by it that I re-read it again today. And here’s the best part, y’all: that blog, and just as importantly, the sharing of that blog through facebook, led to conversations today that I just consider priceless. Several of my friends and I were handed the opportunity to look each other in the eye and speak the words, “Oh, girl. You. Are. Not. Alone.” And I felt connected. Reassured. Encouraged. My resolve was strengthened. I still didn’t have all the answers, but I was comforted in knowing that neither did they. I was not alone.

photo credit: bangsandabun.com

photo credit: bangsandabun.com

In a world characterized by technological advances quicker than the speed of lightning, I understand the disadvantages of our plugged-in lifestyles. You’ve heard people quip how this generation is more “connected” than any other in history, and how they’re failing to make meaningful interpersonal connections despite the availability at their fingertips.

But today, I am grateful for technology.

Lisa Jo What’s-her-face understood a deep-rooted dilemma facing working mothers on a Sunday evening. She shared her sentiments on a blog. Encouraged friends and readers shared her blog on their social media pages. Several hundred (thousand?) more encouraged readers shared those social media pages. I have no idea how many hits Lisa Jo has recorded so far for this particular blog post, but I consider the whole effort worth it. She wrote words I personally needed to hear. Even more importantly, I was led to share my experience and encouragement with face-to-face friends.

And those are exactly the kind of meaningful interpersonal connections we’re working so hard to protect for the next generation.

The Face of Mental Illness

             I want to introduce you to the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

2013-02-16_18-27-36_22

Her name is Peggy. She’s named after her grandmother and carries many of her physical characteristics– the dark hair, the long legs, the slender frame. While Peggy was lucky to inherit those fabulous genes (picture the total opposite in every way, then you have me), she was also unfortunate enough to carry the genetic make-up for  several mental illnesses (not passed down from her grandmother).

My older sister, Peggy, is 36 years old. She suffers from Bi-polar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Social anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Conversion Disorder, and not surprisingly when you look at that all-star line-up, Depression.

At this exact moment in time (because it fluctuates often and unexpectedly), Peggy is what our family would call “stable.” What that looks like for Peggy is that she is functioning pretty well in the day-to-day. She volunteers part-time at a non-profit coffee shop, she is practicing driving again, she publishes the newsletter for a major network called NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). She still attends therapy groups three days a week, but she is down to taking about 18 pills a day.

If you are unfamiliar with the ridiculously broad spectrum of “mental illness,” here’s a drive-by lesson in Pill Taking 101. Your psychologist refers you to a psychiatrist. Your psychiatrist recommends medicine to offset some of your symptoms. While you hopefully trust your psychiatrist to make his best, highly-educated guess, this is not an exact science. You hope for the right brand of medicine, know that the dosages will likely have to be played around with until you get the right amount, and you must be patient because as far as science has come in the last 50 years, it still takes several weeks for the medicine to “settle” in your system and take effect.

That still doesn’t really add up to 18 pills on a good day (upwards of 30 during times of instability). Let me explain the beating your brain is taking when you ingest the pills to offset your illness. While your symptoms become more manageable, the side effects of the pills do not. So, naturally, now you need medicine to offset the side effects of your medicine. It’s pretty safe to assume that your body will have a hard time falling asleep at night after that rigmarole, so maybe you have to throw down a sleeping pill while you’re at it. And so on, and so forth. That’s oversimplifying things, but you get the general idea.

I can’t even remember to take my multi-vitamin every morning!

I joke that Peg is the pill pusher in our family, because– whew!– that takes some serious organizational skills, a skill set that has become a second language to both Peggy and my mom.

One of the things I’m very proud of my sister for is this vision she has for how she thinks mental illness should be presented, advertised if you will, to the general public. It’s no secret that when people think of the term “mentally ill,” they feel a negative reaction. That’s natural; if you are honest with yourself, you could admit that.

At first, I did too.

Photo credit: Peggy Johnson

Photo credit: Peggy Johnson

But Peggy has championed the phrase “Break the Stigma” to illustrate the point that mental illness unfairly carries a negative connotation. Look at her. She may wear her own brand of crazy but there is nothing bad or scary or threatening about her. And that is true for most of the people like her.

“Others like me”– that’s her phrase, not mine. I joke that she’s faking the whole thing just to join the therapy group. Ole’ girl will do ANYTHING for a reason to get a new t-shirt. Ha!

No, no the therapy group does NOT wear matching t-shirts.

I like to make lame jokes.

But isn’t it funny to think about what other people’s shirts would say if everyone had to wear one?

Besides, what would Peggy do? Make a quilt of all her bazillion different shirts and wear it like a toga?

So, why does society associate mental illness with crazy? And why does crazy always equal bad?

Fear is a natural answer. The average person doesn’t know how to react to someone who is mentally ill and behaving in abnormal and strange ways. We’re all afraid of what we don’t understand.

Also, I think there have been several high-profile criminal cases showcased by the media that presented an  inaccurate image of the mentally ill. Serious crimes have been committed, many people have been emotionally ruined, none of that is to be taken lightly. But I am bold enough to remind you that mental illness or not, those crimes were the result of a handful of unique individuals with unique differences, not an entire population.

This is the typical face of mental illness:
Fine, she's cute. But I refuse to stop referring to her as Butt Munch.

Fine, she’s cute. But I refuse to stop referring to her as Butt Munch. Til the day I die.

You probably wouldn’t even recognize it as such if you passed Peggy on the street. (Unless of course, she passed out cold right there in front of you in the middle of the sidewalk, which she has been known to do on occasion. Big tree fall hard. She can thank Conversion Disorder for that.)

Peggy is strong beyond reason. She is beautiful, she is funny, she is determined, she is insanely intelligent, she is a gifted writer, she has no rhythm thus making impromptu dance parties HILARIOUS, she is passionate, she is caring, she is courageous, she is optimistic. She is worth the time it took you to read my blog.

I don’t know why God made her the way He did, but I firmly believe He created her with purpose.

On behalf of Peggy and millions like her, Break the Stigma.

Visit ucfpeggy.wordpress.com for more info.

The other strong woman in my life-- my mom, Becky (pictured here with my ever-supportive dad)-- because mothers are fiercely protective of their children, no matter their ages. She is the glue that holds us together. "Her children arise and call her blessed."

The other strong woman in my life– my mom, Becky (pictured here with my ever-supportive dad)– because mothers are fiercely protective of their children, no matter their ages. She is the glue that holds us together. “Her children arise and call her blessed.”