Writing Under the Weight of Sadness

Harnessing the energy to seek and expel words from my mind and onto paper seems like more than I can bear. It seems almost impossible. In the moment I don’t know how I feel or how to focus on finding the right words to work through it.

I think about how you can pursue a life in which you constantly look for the good, especially when times are rough, but sometimes the world around you looks gray and dull no matter what you do. You’re caught in the middle between of a state of glass-half-empty and glass-half-full and you struggle against both sides. The idea of sinking into the dark feels cozy, but you know you are supposed to climb out and away from its pull on you.

I find myself wondering why I spend time on any of these things that I do and why I care. Meaning is suspended and I suddenly don’t have energy for anything. Under the weight of anxiety and sadness and worry, I feel less like talking. I want to keep my vulnerability under wraps and close to my chest for safekeeping.

But the thoughts in my head are there regardless, so if nothing else seems to make sense, why not use them? I try to embrace them and accept them and let myself go to feel whatever it is I need to feel. Snippets of phrases form in my mind and I consider writing them down. I know that the stagnancy will eventually turn to movement. It’s easier to write when I feel moved rather than weighed down, though perhaps under the weight of sadness is when I need to do it the most.

Suddenly the emotions manifest into full sentences and things begin to make sense again. The sensation of writing is like a warm blanket made just for me. It covers me completely so that I can sit in the dark and hide while staying safe from the darkness itself. It’s a shield that allows me to let the light back in slowly at my own pace and in my own time.

The world continues to turn regardless of who is in it and how I feel about it. There is purpose and meaning, but sometimes it’s harder to see. The possibility of losing someone is hard to face. The reality of losing someone, of life disappearing from existence is hard to accept. One person fights to survive while another leaves this world too soon, but I am still alive. I still have a choice to breathe, and so I do. And I write. And I feel a little lighter.

Summer Love + 10 Books with Summer Settings

Summer is the season of adventure. It’s the season love, friendship, travel, and new experiences. The sun shines bright and the heat warms our skin making us feel young and free and happy. Summer is when we aim to spend more time outside.

I have an abundance of amazing memories from my summers past – going out dancing, traveling through Europe, flying across country to see friends, marrying my favorite person in the world, lounging by the pool and reading for hours on end.

Summer is the season of reading. We seem to have extra time to devote to our books whether we find ourselves needing something to do on a flight or relaxing on the beach after a dip in the ocean. Books become our summer companions, and we turn to them for some of our adventures.

Here are some great reads to accompany your summer fun. They all start or take place during the summer season as well!

FrogMusic

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

This story takes place in San Francisco during the summer heat wave of 1876. Blanche is a burlesque dancer distraught by the sudden murder of her friend Jenny. Blanche will stop at nothing to figure out the culprit and bring him to justice. Despite the plot line, this is not a fast-paced thriller. It’s a mystery that slowly unravels amidst vivid and through details that bring the setting and the characters of the story to life. The author even incorporates songs from the time into the book, which is quite cool and impressive in my opinion.

 

 

Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Mabel feels average compared to her wild, beautiful, college roommate Ev. When Ev invites her to spend the summer together at her family’s estate, Mabel is ecstatic. She falls fast in love with the place and lifestyle, feeling like she finally belongs and is living the life she has always wanted. But there are dark secrets buried within this family, and Mabel is faced with a dilemma as she begins to uncover them. The novel is much darker than I anticipated but made me wish I summered in Vermont even more.

 

 

SummerBeforeWarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

After the death of her father, Beatrice takes a job as a Latin teacher in a small Sussex town. The story starts in the summer when Beatrice arrives and unfolds as she forms friendships with Agatha, the patron the supported her hiring, and her charismatic nephews. This book has a slow and steady pace that makes it easy to form attachments to the characters. It explores small town gossip, nontraditional relationship, social class, and gender roles during the time. When WWI begins, the lives of those in the small town will never be the same. I cried hard at the end.

 

 

TheGirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline

It’s summer in the late 1960’s, and a lonely 14-year old girl becomes mesmerized by an older girl and her free lifestyle that turns out to be a dangerous path in disguise. The cult and thriller aspects of this book are captivating, but what makes this book worth reading is the author’s exploration of the complex web of both female and male relationships and early interactions that shape who we are and who we become. It is dark and candid interpretation of the female coming-of-age experience that I found insightful.

 

 

EarthThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

After tragedy strikes, a boy moves with his mom over the summer to live with his grandfather in the Kentucky Appalachians. The boy finds solace in his relationship with his wise and rugged grandfather and with his new best friend as they explore the woods. When the town becomes divided over mountain blasting, a camping trip into to the wilderness becomes a fight for survival. It’s gritty and poignant. It’s also the author’s debut, and I can’t wait to read his next book!

 

 

LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A group of four friends spend carefree summers together on a family island until one of them has an accident and loses part of her memory. She returns the following summer to piece together the puzzle of what happened. This is a story about friendship, loss, and facing your demons. The negative ratings on Goodreads describe the book as tedious and pretentious, but I found something honest and beautiful in this coming-of-age story. I did listen to the audiobook and loved the narrator, so that likely improved my experience. I cried twice.

 

 

WhistlingGraveyardWhistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

It’s summertime in Mississippi 1963. When 9-year old Starla gets in trouble for attending the July 4th festival against her grandmother’s wishes, Starla runs away, aiming for Nashville, the city where her music star mother lives. On her way, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman suspiciously traveling with a white baby. Together they find themselves facing a series of incredible dangers. This is another book that took a darker and more violent turn than I anticipated, but the resolution brings it all full circle for a satisfying read.

 

 

ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Before becoming silent film star, Louise Brooks traveled from her home in Kansas to set to NY to attend prestigious dance school. She was 15 at the time and thus forced to travel with chaperone, Cora Carlisle, who had personal reasons of her own for taking the job and making the 5-week trip. This work of historical fiction is an insightful reflection of the changing culture and values of the time. It was an intriguing read and left me wishing I could experience 1920s New York for myself. I think there is a plan for a feature film in the works!

 

 

InterestingsThe Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

This novel explores the complexity of friendship over time as lives shift and change, often leading people in directions they question or even regret. Six friends forge deep bonds when they first meet at art camp over the summer. While they are all clearly talented, some of them pursue successful artistic careers while others follow different paths. While the main character Jules is unlikable in my opinion, she provides a candid representation of envy, a prominent concept in this character-driven book, to which most of us can relate.

 

 

RainLighteningThe Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

It’s summertime in small town Kansas when Jody learns that the man convicted of killing her father on the same night her mom disappeared, is getting out of prison and is getting a new trial, presided over by the convict’s son. New details come to light about the events of the horrible night that Jody lost both of her parents and her family will never be the same. This is a quick-paced suspenseful novel that was a fun and easy read. This is a great one to take with you on a road trip or flight!

 

 

Happy summer and happy reading!

The Dream of Being a Writer

“Everyone thinks they’re a photographer just like everyone thinks they’re a writer.” My coworker said this to me casually as we exited the conference room at the conclusion of our project meeting.  I nodded to her with a knowing smile of agreement on my face. As soon as we parted ways, however, my face fell as I acknowledged the sinking feeling in my stomach. Her statement bothered me. I felt disappointed for some reason. Why?

What defines people as writers (or photographers or any other label for that matter)? Do they have to be published? What about the people who spend countless hours laboring over writing projects only to never publish anything?  Are they officially considered to be writers, and who decides? These are just a few questions that manifested in my mind as I returned to my desk at work.

I do not think of myself as an “official” writer. I do not refer to myself as much to others or in my own mind. To me a writer is someone who pursues the art relentlessly and formally as a profession or as a means of livelihood. A writer to me is someone who feels compelled by an unseen force to put pen to paper and release the perfect words like a waterfall. I write as a hobby. I write because I enjoy it. I have been doing so since I was a little kid just learning to write her letters and mix them together to form words and meaning.

So why did my coworker’s statement bother me?

At a small company holiday party some years ago, we kicked off the festivities with an ice-breaker question: What is your dream job? There were some fantastic and surprising answers, such as a ship captain and a concert pianist. My answer was a writer, historical fiction to be exact, although the genre is mostly irrelevant when it comes to this dream.

I have thought about being a writer in accordance with my own definition of such for years, for as long as I can remember. I have never given it a real shot. I have not tried to write about the hard things but only focus on what comes easy to me. When I go to the bookstore and wander the endless rows of books, half of me feels inspired to know that so many people have become true writers because it makes me think maybe I’d stand a chance if I gave it a real shot. The other half of me is disheartened by how many writers there already are. There isn’t enough room for everyone.

Dreaming of being something reinforces the belief that I’m not that thing already. Sometimes a dream becomes a crutch. We dream of something for so long that we become the dreamer and accept the identity rather than attempting to become the thing in the dream. We find comfort in the certainty of the dream and grow too afraid to confront it and to try to make it reality. What if we try and fail? Then we have no dream to fall back on but instead have to face a harsh and brutal truth. In our dream we imagine whatever we want.

My coworker’s statement bothered me because it reminded me of my dream. It reminded me of the thing that I’m not. I cannot even feign blissful ignorance and be one of those people who identifies as a writer simply because I have a blog or because I write copy for corporate communications. My definition of what it means to be a writer prevents that. I’m too honest with myself to be one of the people to whom my coworker referred.

I do not think I am a writer. I know I am not. But perhaps I could be.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We have beliefs about ourselves to which we hold on tightly. We build a sense of identity around them as if they are truths set in stone. We tell ourselves stories that support our identity and behave in ways that support what we believe to be true, even if that truth is a dark one.

After high school I left home, embarking on a new journey. Many of my friends did the same, scattering to new places all over the country. The path my friend P took however could not have been more opposite from mine. While freedom and possibilities stretched out before me as I started college, P faced five years of imprisonment in the state penitentiary.

P grew up without much parental guidance. His father was often absent from his life. His mother struggled to make ends meet and to care for P’s much younger sisters. P helped his family out by stealing and selling drugs. He dropped out of school at an early age, opting for a street education instead. His lawless activities gradually escalated in nature, as did his mentality. It shaped who he was, who he believed himself to be.

P was a good and loyal friend, and he had a big heart.  While he was in prison, we corresponded through written letters. He always decorated the envelopes with intricate drawings, often of flowers intertwined together by vines of sharp leaves and thorns. I got one every couple of weeks and wrote him back almost immediately. His stories about life on the inside were minimal, but the darkness and hardness of the place emanated from all of the things he didn’t say.

More importantly though, were our philosophical discussions about human nature and being positive and optimistic. P’s life in prison was exposing him to time and experiences that made him seriously question who he was and who he wanted to become. In every letter I wrote, I poured out an immense bounty of positive messages, energy, and encouragement. I wanted desperately for him to change for the better, to emerge from prison with the intention and the willpower to turn his life in a positive direction, and I knew he wanted that, too.

His letters indicated that he was hearing me, taking our conversations to heart. But then he sent me a letter that woke me to the truth. P got a tattoo while in prison. It was of a demon, and it covered his entire chest. When P looked in the mirror every day, he saw his own face, and then he saw the face of the demon, reinforcing what he believed to be true about himself – that he was a bad person.

Sometimes we believe something to be true about ourselves for so long that it feels too hard to test that certainty and see if our belief is still true. It’s easier to simply go on believing and existing in the reality we have constructed for ourselves in our own minds. I could not change P with a handful of letters. I could not unravel the story he had been telling himself for most of his life. Only he could change that story.

The news of P’s tattoo broke my heart. I felt like I had lost him. I continued my letters of positivity and encouragement, however. Once he was released from prison, he never went back. I’m glad for that, but his internal struggle didn’t end there. After he was out, we talked regularly about his questionable ethics and morality evident by the choices he had made and was still making. Eventually it became too much for me, and as I pushed to keep that darkness out of my life, our friendship faded away.

What are the things about yourself that you “know” to be true? Ask yourself why you believe these things and question their validity. We should always be questioning ourselves and the truths we hold so close. After all, we are the ones that constructed them.

We decide what defines us and what we see when we look in the mirror every day. Some of us see a demon, like P did, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We decide our truths, the things that define who we are, and we can decide to change them. We can change the stories we tell ourselves and be better.

Trying to Judge Not

I judge others, sometimes quickly and harshly. As my time and experiences in this world have expanded, my cynicism towards and judgment of others have as well. I realized recently that my judgment and the anger and frustration I sometimes feel as a result was holding me back and hindering me from being the person I needed to be, and I had to let it go to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago I stood in the kitchen, my arms crossed with a scowl on my face, in full judgment mode. I was irritated and trying to wrap my head around the situation K was presenting to me. Our friends had decided to give up their dog Juno after five years, and they planned to take her to the shelter, simply because she had become an inconvenience.

IMG_0708This dog is timid, quiet, mild-mannered, well behaved, listens, is house trained, and gets along with anyone. She is a dream dog! Her shy personality in conjunction with her age and large size would work against her in the shelter, not to mention her physical characteristics indicate that she is likely a mix of multiple breeds associated with aggressive behavior. There was no way we could sleep at night while this sweet dog sat in a cold, dark cage cowering at the shelter, alone and heartbroken.

So I was angry. I was angry that someone would do this, that people I know would do this. I was angry that they could so easily shirk their responsibilities and cast their dog aside without any accountability. I was angry when I learned that the dog was flea-infested and hadn’t been to the vet in years. I was angry that they were making their problem our problem. We already have three dogs of our own!

But this was the reality of the situation. I had to move on from my judgment and anger in order to show feelings of love and acceptance when K picked up the dog and brought her to our house. Dogs are sensitive to human feelings and behavior. The last thing this dog needed was to feel like she is just another problem. I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable and welcome. I also did not want this situation to drive a permanent wedge between our friends and us. I realized that my judgmental attitude had left no room for empathy, and as hard as it was, I tried to see the situation from the other side in an effort to be more understanding and forgiving.

Many people are not responsible pet owners. I have had my own learning experiences as IMG_0744a pet owner and I understand the challenges. Many people do not form bonds with their pets the way others do, the way I do. This doesn’t make them bad people.

The lifestyle of our friends is very different from my own and is one to which I cannot relate. Much has changed for them over the past five years, many of those changes leading to added stress and overwhelming obstacles and obligations that I know would be difficult for anyone. I would like to think that I would continue to care for and nurture my dogs no matter what happens in my life, but I suppose I cannot be sure until something truly challenges that value. I hope something like that never happens.

Despite my disagreement with their overall care of Juno, our friends did call K and I before opting for the shelter, and we are grateful for that. We have had Juno for just over a week now. She is still adjusting, but she plays with our other dogs and likes to run around the yard. I think she’s homesick and maybe a little sad, but we try to mitigate that will lots of love and attention, and of course, treats.

K and I are thankful that we have the means to provide a home for Juno to keep her out of the shelter. We hope to find her a new home soon where she can live out the rest of her years with a loving family who will love and cherish her. In the meantime this is her home, and we dote on her as much as we can.

I know that I make mistakes. We all do. We all face situations in our lives that are hard and in which we make less than ideal decisions. We can judge each other for our actions, but those judgments reflect back on us as well, often in the form of anger and frustration. Letting go of those feelings allowed me to move past my judgment, keep my friendship intact, and focus on the more important tasks of making a positive difference, showing kindness, and providing a home for Juno.

IMG_0764

Getting Past a Rough Start

Do you ever wish you had a rewind button? Do you ever wish you could simply go back to the beginning of your day, to the moment you first opened your eyes, and start over? In the absence of a magical button, I recently faced this dilemma and I realized something: wishing only makes it harder.

Last week I had one of those mornings. Mondays are notoriously hard, but Sunday night I felt prepared to start my week and fell asleep without any concerns. Suddenly, my alarm clock was going off all too soon! I barely remembered silencing it before I fell back asleep, only to have hear my husband’s alarm go off a short time later. Already I was running late.

As I pulled myself out of bed, I went through the routine of my morning in my head and silently cursed myself for oversleeping. It was going to cost me. I was not going to have enough time to do everything I needed to do. Or was I? I tried to pick up the pace but eventually found myself standing in the living room immobilized. I was dressed for my morning workout, but it dawned on me that I didn’t have the time nor the focus to workout at that point given how much I was fretting. In that moment, I felt a wave of regret.

My morning workout is what really wakes me up. It’s the source of my energy that fuels me and rockets me through the day, at least until lunchtime. It’s what gives me the endorphin boost I need to keep moving. Not having the time to workout immediately put me in a sour mood. I thought about how the morning and possibly the rest of the day was shot. I immediately wished I could start over, and the fact that I couldn’t made me feel frustrated and trapped and then angry.

While anger may be helpful in some situations, it was not helpful to me in that moment as I locked myself in a pessimistic mindset. It started to overflow into my attitude towards my husband and the day’s outlook as my irritation escalated. I didn’t want to feel angry at the very start of my day and my week, especially over something so ludicrous! So why be angry then? I asked myself that question, and then I decided to let go.

Rather than holding on to my irritation at myself and at the day for already not turning out the way I had planned, I decided to let go and give myself a break. Rather than being angry, I decided to take it easy on myself and take my time through the rest of the day. There were no lives at stake. There was no reason to foster such negative thoughts and emotions. So I just let it go. I stopped making such a big deal out of it, and in that moment, I felt free and relaxed.

Yes, I still wished that my morning had gone more smoothly, but turning my thoughts around towards positive acceptance set the tone for the rest of my day. At work, my team meeting started with friction and a misunderstanding, but again I decided not to let the frustration and the wish that I had conducted the situation differently affect my overall attitude and the rest of my day. I made note of the experience, what I’d do differently next time, and then moved forward. After all, that’s the only direction we can go. We might as well go with intention.

When things aren’t going our way, we can wallow in pity and frustration that there is no magical rewind button, or we can accept the situation and move consciously though it, perhaps even learning something along the way or resolving a way to avoid similar situations in the future. We can sink into the negativity and let it define us, or we can recognize it, see it for what it is, and just roll our eyes at the setback as we move on. Accepting and even embracing a rough start to the day or a rough day as a whole is the best way for us to take control and move on with our lives in the most positive way.

Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

“A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.”

4.5 out of 5 stars 

TheWonderAn English nurse, Lib, travels to a small town in Ireland for a two-week job. She learns up on arrival that she was not hired to be a caretaker but to simply be an observer of an 11-year old girl, Anna. Anna’s family claims that Anna has not eaten for four months and is instead sustained by divine will or influence. The Catholic priest and a local committee have sanctioned a 24-hour watch to find out the truth. Lib is confident that she will discover evidence of a hoax before the end of the two weeks, but she soon realizes once the watch begins that this puzzle is more difficult to solve that she anticipated.

I devoured this book. It was so intriguing that I struggled to step away from it even for a little bit as I wanted to keep pushing through the story to get to the bottom of the mystery. When I first started reading it I thought I was going to get bored. I mean, how complex could this story really get? I never got bored. It is a mystery that kept unraveling, and when I thought the protagonist had figured most of it out, the story would unravel even more and lead to more questions. I found myself asking questions alongside of Lib’s inner dialogue as she worked through all the possibilities and tried to consider all the angles.

The Irish history and landscape painted a vivid backdrop, and the insight into Irish Catholicism and the culture of the time made the story even more intriguing. I felt emotionally invested in Anna’s situation and felt anxious about the actions or lack thereof from all the adults around her. I gasped aloud in frustration more than once and felt genuinely concerned about how this story was going to end. The book also made me very hungry. 🙂