Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Markings with Meaning

On this eve of giving thanks I am reflective of all there is to be thankful for. Two mementos that bring on feelings of thanks are inked on my body, and I am often asked about them. My tattoos remind me that I am fulfilling my dream of seeing the world, and that I know eternal love. 

I got my first tattoo in Auckland, New Zealand. I was fortunate enough to travel there with a wonderful group of Iowans through Rotary International. It was phenomenal and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I had never been that far from home before, and it was empowering to have been chosen to participate in that exchange. 

At the end of my four weeks there I felt as though I had conquered something. While the trip offered many adventures, there wasn't one thing I could pinpoint that I had overcome, but overall I felt different having had the experience. I wanted to commemorate that feeling. I wanted something that I could turn to when I needed that sentiment renewed. It had to be more than a souvenir. A t-shirt or stuffed kiwi wouldn't do. I had wanted a tattoo for a while, but didn't know what it should be, or where to put it. Inking something permanently onto my body was a huge commitment, but it seemed like the perfect commemorative token of what that trip meant.

The moment the needle touched down for the 1st time
The Maori culture was fascinating to me from the moment I learned I was going to New Zealand. They are the original inhabitants of the land. They have fought, and continue to do so to preserve their language and culture. Much like indigenous peoples of all lands, they have been persecuted, enslaved, and treated as less than human. Only in the last few decades have they been regarded as an asset to the region. Their traditions, like the Haka, made famous by their national rugby team, are becoming something the country is known for. Although most people think of people who look like Lucy Lawless when they think of New Zealanders, the Maori come in an array of beautiful brown shades. I was often mistaken for one when I was there. Maori children would come up to me and speak to me in Maori. The language sounds a lot like Spanish. I picked up enough of it to be able to tell them I could not speak Maori, and that I was an American. They are an island people, linked to the sea. It reminded me of the Tainos who were native to Puerto Rico. I felt a connection to the Maori people.

Once I decided that I wanted a tattoo, the design took almost no thought. I chose the Matau, AKA Maori fish hook. It is symbolic of prosperity, abundance, good health, power, authority, and respect for the sea. It is also believed to provide good luck and safety while traveling over water.

The meaning resonated with me. It made me think of my ancestors who were fishermen, and my dad, who loves to fish and passed that down to my brother. It was a little bit of my history entwined with the exhilaration of the present, and my excitement for the future, which I hoped involved many trips over water and near the sea. The colors in the design represent the inside of a seashell, a delicate yet vital part of our eco-landscape. I put it on the back of my right foot so it will be part of all my forward movement.

Some people believe that tattoos are addictive, that no one can stop at one. I didn't believe that because I was satisfied with my first round of ink. However, after my second tattoo, I think there is some truth in that statement. 

My second design was almost a no-brainer as well. At Warren's funeral one of the pastors who is a dear friend, presented an analogy during the children's message that stuck with me. She told the story of waterbugs and dragonflies.

According to the story by Doris Stickney, waterbugs living at the bottom of a pond wondered why when their friends and family climbed up the stem of a pond lily they disappeared forever. What they didn't know was that they became dragonflies when they left the water. As dragonflies, they changed form and were no longer able to survive below water. Because of their new form, even if the water bugs saw them flying above the surface of the water, the dragonflies would be unrecognizable as the waterbugs they once knew.

This was a way to explain how Warren was gone, but not far. He would be waiting for his loved ones to get their wings and join him in their new form. At the time, and many times since, I have been eager to get my wings and see him again. The dragonfly became a symbol of comfort to me. To this day I notice them more than I ever did.

On the second anniversary of Warren's death, I inked some wings, along with two hearts and the infinity symbol on my left wrist. I wanted it to be in a place where I could see it often. I chose to keep it simple and colorless so that nothing would dilute its meaning and message. I look at it daily and I love it as much now as I did the day it was made a permanent part of my body.

Tattoos aren't for everyone, but for me, they are constant reminders that I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am proud to live a life I can venerate through art I will enjoy forever.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

In a Year

I started this blog a year ago. A lot has happened in that time. Lots of it I've written about in past entries. Lots happened off here, too. Most of the time I am an open book to those who know me, and my blog has been a way to open up even more. It's good practice as I prepare for the scrutiny of publication. Speaking of publishing, I'll start there.

I shared about my agent in a post last November. I am still represented by Adriana Dominguez of Full Circle Literary. Under her guidance I have turned in what feels like forty million revisions, along with buckets of sweat and tears. I just turned in the strongest version of my novel that I have ever written. When I hit send, I felt as though I had completed a marathon. Even if it goes nowhere, I am proud of the writing and I still love the story I created. It is the one I want to tell, with characters I still love. It was therapeutic in many ways.

I started writing the novel five months after Warren died. It involves mixed martial arts. At the time, I had never seen a match, and didn't know anything about the sport. Many people asked me why I chose to write about violence. I thought it just came to me. Over time, I realized that it wasn't random. It was a way to digest my pain. I was feeling pain I had no words to describe. It was intense and I couldn't escape it, cure it, or understand its depths. But, I knew how to control physical pain. I knew broken bones and bruises could be mended. Bleeding can't last forever so I wrote about pain I could discern. That is why no matter what happens with publication, this story will forever be part of the saving grace that was born at the darkest point in my life. 

Today, Adriana is presenting my story to a select group of editors. They will love it, hate it or anything in between. I am thankful that the holidays are here and I will be distracted from the waiting game that is the submission process. I am also grateful that I have Adriana to go through this process with me because I know she believes in my story as much as I do. My family, friends and writing tribe have been supportive every step of the way: providing child care when I needed quiet time to write; encouraging me to keep going; offering advice along the way; calming my fears and easing my doubts. They are a huge part of why this novel was able to be written, and rewritten, and revised and revised some more. Without them, I can't imagine where it would be.

Without the people in my life there is a lot that would be different today. I wouldn't have been able to travel to New York, Denver or Korea. Each trip helped me grow as a person and a writer. They offered me a feeling of accomplishment when I thought the days of travel and world exploration were behind me. It is a love that has been reinvigorated in me, and I look forward to more trips. 

Speaking of love, I have found someone who has renewed by belief in genuine love. There was a time when I didn't think it was possible to find it twice in one lifetime, although I very much wanted to be wrong. When I witnessed the remarriage of a widower and friend, it opened my eyes to the possibility of love in my life. I am learning to love again in a way that is different than it has ever been, with a man who is kind, understanding and honors my past.

Every day we're together I learn something about my new self, and the way I love him doesn't change the quality or quantity of love I have for Warren and what we had. This new love is something entirely unique to Nate and I. It is not a replacement, or a place holder. What we share is a new beginning for both of us. It is a chance for me to apply the lessons about love that I learned from loving Warren, and being loved by him. Nate makes me laugh more than I thought I ever would. He tells me I'm beautiful with a sincerity I trust. He offers me a hand even when he knows I can do it myself. His companionship and acceptance of me as I am is a gift I didn't expect. 

It hasn't come without its critics. I have been told, "It's weird seeing you with someone else," and "He's just not Warren." Nate is not Warren. No one will ever be him. I knew better than to look for that.  Warren set a high standard when it came to being someone's partner, and I won't settle for someone who doesn't make me feel as valued as I did when I was with him. Feeling that again is an amazing discovery. Many close to me have seen the joy Nate brings and are happy for me. They support this new turn my life has taken, and I am moved by their acceptance.

I take it a day at a time, because there's no way to tell when you're ready for love. It found me and I'm taking a risk pursuing it. Nate makes me happy in ways that once seemed impossible. Whatever happens in a month, or a year from now will be valuable in shaping my new identity and helping me understand a new perspective on  the mysteries of love. It has already changed me and taught me a lot about my capacity to trust, love and hope again.

Loving Nate hasn't dulled my love for Warren, although it has made me see it in a new light. I still think about the "what if's" and feel cheated out of them. The third year anniversary of his death was one of the toughest yet. I felt an anger so deep that at times I thought it was cutting off my oxygen supply. The shock and sadness were secondary to feeling that I had been robbed of so many "could have beens" and "should have beens". Having another man in my life doesn't change those feelings. It is a pain and injustice I will carry forever, but I keep taking steps to help me cope so that it doesn't eat me from the inside.

My fitness journey has been a huge part of weathering those negative feelings. I continue to work out four to six days a week. I love pushing my muscles and seeing them form. I feel sexiest when I'm red and sweaty, huffing and puffing during a run, hitting bags, or doing reps with a weight that is heavier than I could handle a month ago. When I feel physically strong it makes me feel powerful inside, like I can handle anything, including the feelings of grief that often gnaw at my soul and remind me of all that was lost that horrible day in February. My workout time is sacred because it has given me more than a toned physique. It has given me an outlook on life that is all natural and healing in multiple ways.

It has been a year of challenges, triumphs, laughs, tears, changes and unexpected surprises. Through it all I have been lucky to have love, support and feel enlivened through the people who have been part of my life, and those of you who read about it via this blog. I am excited for what next year will bring, and will keep writing about it as it unfolds. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Spoke Too Soon

Last week I blogged about how much I enjoy speaking to large groups. That is still very true. However, between posts I learned something about myself and speaking: When it comes to speaking about Warren, everything changes.

I was asked to accept an award on his behalf by a local chapter of a national organization. Anyone who knows our story knows that it isn't the first time I have had to accept an award in his honor. However, something about this time felt different.

I was asked to speak for no longer than two minutes, which is not a big deal. They also wanted a photo that showed his personality, and some facts about him for his introduction.

For some reason, knowing that I was going to hear about him and see his photo before speaking about him made me feel like I couldn't do it without becoming a mess of tears in front of everyone. Breaking down was absolutely unacceptable to me. I hate to cry, even more so in public. At least half that room knew him in some capacity and that affected me, too. They had an image of him that they were bringing to the experience and it made me nervous in a way that felt foreign to me.

I wrote and re-wrote my speech. My words felt inadequate. The delete button became the most used key on my keyboard and it was frustrating. My usual writing techniques were not helpful in this case. I felt stuck. I almost cancelled. Looking at photos took me back to happier times when I thought I had so many things figured out. Times when I felt excited about the future and secure in the present. Seeing his smile in exotic places we visited frequently brought the sad realization that my life is so different now than it was then. From the outside looking in, it may seem like it's not because I got to travel to Korea, or because it's been almost four years. Sometimes in my day to day I trick myself into thinking that his absence is due to a business trip, or a late night at the office, even though my heart knows otherwise. I know it's a coping mechanism, but flipping through photo after photo was like reminder after reminder that those thoughts are futile, silly and over simplifies my reality. 

Each photo felt like it mocked me, piercing me with the reality that I'll never accompany him on a business trip to exciting locations. I would never again peek into a conference room and see how he owned it as he articulated his passion for his work. Gone were the days of being at his side while he worked a room or event. It's not the first time I've realized these thruths, but they hit me harder last week as I tried to think about a way to present him that hadn't already been shared. 

I hate to say, I think I failed. I did not share a photo that captured his personality. I chose a photo that appears when you Google him. It would be easier for me to see right before speaking (which became a non-issue since they never showed the photo). I wrote a 2 minute speech that began with a quote that always makes me think of him. It included an example of how his work changed the community and those living in it. I didn't go into all that. Instead, I thanked the group for continuing to honor his memory, and challenged them to do what is right, even when it's not the popular thing to do. The whole thing maybe took fifteen seconds. 

When I walked off stage, the first thought I had was, "Did I just de-value his work and his memory? Why did I cut it short?" He deserved every one of my words and more.

I was disappointed in myself and felt like I had let him down. After thinking about it some more, I realized that I did what Warren wold have preferred. Warren didn't do anything for recognition, so he wouldn't have cared to hear about himself for two minutes. To him, that would have seemed like an uncomfortable eternity. He would have been bright red and hoping for the two minutes to end. The thought of his humble and modest reaction made me smile. It brought me peace. I left feeling like I did what he would have wanted - kept it short and sweet and made it about those who remembered him, those working to build on his vision. 

Looking back on the evening I wonder what he would have done if the tables were turned. He also felt comfortable speaking in front of crowds, so I don't think he would have been nervous. I smile because I think we would have had the same reaction. I think initially he would have felt like two minutes was not enough, but in the end would have realized that the award wasn't about the recipient, but about what it can inspire in others. And he would have kept it short and sweet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sharing My Story

I was shy as a child but somewhere along the way I lost that quality. It's a good thing, too because it has allowed me to discover a talent that has helped me in many ways. While most people are terrified of public speaking, I really enjoy it. 

I don't know at what point I began feeling like I had something worthwhile to say, but once I did, I had no problem sharing it publicly. I remember being interviewed on camera when I was in middle school and not feeling nervous. In high school I did presentations to donors of the scholarship that allowed me to attend my private school. I don't recall being nervous sharing my gratitude about the opportunity the scholarship provided, or how I planned to make the most of my education. In college I traveled throughout Iowa speaking alongside Dr. Jischke, the university president at the time. It was pretty cool getting to know him while flying from city to city in the school's private plane. Sometimes we spoke at small intimate dinners, other times it was an auditorium full of people. 

Every career I've pursued has included public speaking in various forms, from presentations to training others, to managing media as the company spokesperson. Along the way I'm often asked how I can get up in front of strangers and speak as though it's a room full of friends. The truth is, I don't know how I do it. All I know is that I rarely get nervous, and don't think about it as a room full of strangers. I think of it as oral story telling, which I love. I've been pretty lucky that I've gotten to speak about topics I have researched and am very familiar with, or something I am passionate about.

Two weeks ago I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at a local insurance company. The audience consisted of about 65 or so middle school girls and their mentors, made up of women from the company, including some high-level VPs. 

Sharing my story
The girls were excited to be there, and I was delighted to share my story with them. They wanted to know my path to writing a novel, and asked great questions about the process of writing. I had forty-five minutes for the presentation and answering questions. Their questions were so good, I could have stayed an extra ten minutes to answer them all, but we ran out of time so I left business cards and invited them to contact me. I really hope they do.

When I was done, I got a lovely thank you email telling me that, "[t]here was positive feedback from the students, and the staff were mesmerized." I was all smiles at the word "mesmerized." Not only do I appreciated a strong adjective, but knowing that my story resonated with the crowd is encouraging. I worked hard to make it as age appropriate as possible, knowing the audience would be mostly young girls my daughter's age. I spent time on the Internet looking for images and downloading photos so that they'd have some visual aids as I went along. The night before I rehearsed in front of my daughter and got her feedback, plus I practiced some more in front of the mirror and in the car on my way there. I wanted it to be comfortable - like a dialogue. My goal was that the girls would feel like they were hearing from someone who cared, because I do. They are not only an age I enjoy, they are my future readers. 

So relieved that no one fell asleep!
I shared the challenges and fears I have that they won't want to read my work, or that I would insult their intelligence and capabilities by not writing to their level. They shared their favorite Harry Potter characters with me and took notes as I spoke. It was a lot of fun, and I loved doing it. It made me think that I'd love to one day make a career of speaking, along with writing. So if you're ever in the market for a keynote speaker... ;-)

Contact Me


Email *

Message *