Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Armed for 2016

With the end of the year comes thoughts of new beginnings. Everyone is making resolutions and reflecting on how they want 2016 to be different. Personally, there are many ways I would like 2016 to differ from 2015.

First and foremost, I want to be more deliberate making time to write. I let so many things get in the way that it's almost laughable to call myself a writer anymore. With two jobs, my volunteer commitments, and a child with an active social life who counts me as her chauffeur, there's not a lot of time or energy left in the day for writing. By the time I pull out my laptop, my brain is spent and the crap that comes out of me is hardly worth the ink it would take to print it. Yes, I know that the worse thing I write is better than anything I don't write, but as a perfectionist, I can't accept writing poorly, it aggravates me.

Having spent so much time and money on an MFA in writing, I feel like it's imperative that I write on some sort of regular basis, or it was all for naught. Writing brings me pleasure. It puts me in a better mood. Many times I am proud of what I write, even if I never share it. Despite all these positives, I have not made writing a priority. By writing, I mean new content, not revising. I did a ton of that in 2015. I hope to do more revising in 2016 because it means that perhaps I have another book that could potentially be sold. But, I also want to work on one of the many stories that I've started over the years. I believe in all of them, even though I wouldn't share all of them with my agent. They are all bits of me in one way or another. I need to find the time to feed them so they meet their fullest potential.

When I think about my schedule, I find pockets where I can write. Somehow, though I ended up filling those pockets with other stuff that put writing on the back burner. I can't continue to do that and think that I can still build a career out of writing. That doesn't make sense. Like any art, writing gets better with practice. The more I know myself as a writer, the better I can create stories, develop characters and map out plots that make readers want to read on and on. I've relied on writing in pockets of time in that past, but that isn't enough. Sustained success doesn't come in bursts. It comes steady, builds as you work at it. I'm failing myself when I don't do what it takes to achieve it.

Sadly, I know what it takes. I pushed writing into a predominant task while in school. For those two years it was not optional. I made choices that allowed me to have time to write at least every other day. I made time for reading so I could see writing techniques in action. Today I am lucky if I squeeze in a chapter before my eyelids close the night.

"Write every day" sounds so simple. There are so many things we make time for every day. Why can't writing be one of them? I can list over one hundred reasons, but I won't. That's not a favor to you, it's something that I am telling myself I won't accept. While I make it a point to write this blog every week, I need to make it just as imperative that I write creatively on a regular basis, too. This is not a resolution. It is a challenge to myself. So if you see me out and about, tell me to go write. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Time for Christmas

As a child on Christmas day, I recall running to the tree first thing in the morning, hoping for Barbie accessories, books and whatever cool new toy was constantly being advertised at the time. I looked forward to spending the day playing with everything I got, and ending it curled up with a new book. 

As I got older and started saving birthday money to buy my family presents, I would think long and hard about what they would like that fit within my meager budget. I enjoyed coming up with the perfect gift idea, and then trying to find a way to get it without them knowing, especially my parents who were my means of transportation. When I got old enough to get a job and ride the bus, I loved going Christmas shopping for my family. I couldn't wait for them to open what I got them.

That excitement for giving hasn't left me. What has left is the desire to open gifts for myself. There is nothing materialistic I want that I can't go out and buy for myself. Knowing how hard my family works, I don't want them to spend their money on me. I would much rather have them use it for the things they need. However, asking them to refrain means that I take away their chance at the joy of giving. It is a selfish request, even though it is a thought that is fully about them.

What I want for Christmas isn't found at the mall or on Amazon. It can't be put on a credit card. Yet, it might be the hardest to give. 

My Christmas would be made if I got the gift of time. I am often running from job to job, meeting to meeting, one event to the other for myself or my daughter. There are days when I am up at 5:45AM making dinner for that evening so we can scarf it down in the fifteen minutes between getting from commitment A to commitment B. It leaves me very little quality time to spend with my daughter, or get a minute to myself. An ideal gift would be an invitation to share dinner so I don't have to wake up before the sun to ensure a warm meal twelve hours later. It would come with the additional gift of sleep.

In the days of a dual parent household I could escape to do something I wanted to do, like see an art exhibit without rushing because my child is bored and ready to leave, or shop for items I need, like winter gloves. I didn't have to hurry back in time for a sitter because Warren wanted that time with our daughter. They made memories and enjoyed each other's company. It allowed me the peace of mind to take my time, maybe even sneak in a chai tea and catch up on a magazine in one of my favorite coffee shops. Those days are gone. I have to take my daughter with me pretty much everywhere I go, while she usually prefers to be anywhere else and lets me know. She wants to be with her friends, or on the couch watching Netflix, not going from store to store comparing prices, or sitting silently through meetings. It stresses me out when I know I have someone in tow who would rather not be. It is not enjoyable for either of us. Even though I try to squeeze in conversations with her, it isn't exactly quality time.

Since losing her dad, my daughter revels in being around other families. She loves me, but I am just one person. She used to be surrounded by two people loving her. Try as I may, I cannot make up for that. I catch her staring longingly at families of 2+ when we go out. She misses sitting between us at the movies, holding both our hands as we walk, and having an audience of more than me to cheer her on. Giving her the gift of spending time with her is a gift to me, too. It gives me alone time, but more importantly, it reminds my daughter that we're not in this alone. It reinforces to her that she has a supportive network of people who love her and want to be with her. Whenever she comes back from spending time with others who love her she has a little more pep in her step. She smiles more and laughs more easily. It revives her and makes me happy in the process. 

Sometimes the time we need isn't to be apart. It is nice to have our house filled with voices and laughter that is not our own. We love hosting others - formally or informally. It is something I am getting back into after a few years of not being able to bear too much life in my home. We miss getting unexpected visitors stopping by to say hi. It used to happen a lot more when Warren was alive. It happened a bit after his passing, but today it is rare. Our house feels warmer and more like  a home when we share it. Share of your time with a visit. I promise it will be a gift to all of us that will create laughter and lasting memories for all of us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Doing for Others

For the past three years I have led the Christmas Eve dinner at my church. I am a member of a church in one of the poorer areas of Des Moines, where it astounded me to see young children walk in by themselves on Christmas Eve. Some of them had working parents who were not home to share a meal. Others are being raised by elderly grandparents on a fixed income who cannot afford to provide three meals a day. Serving meals to the neighborhood is nothing new to my church. They serve free breakfast and dinner six days a week, along with various other free services and programs. 

The church is one of the few left in an area that used to have a church on nearly every corner. It serves a multilingual congregation that worships together every Sunday. 

They are a community near and dear to my heart. They were the first place I volunteered when I moved to Des Moines. I woke up at 4:30AM to prepare and serve breakfast before work. I donated books and coats on various occasions, and helped interpret when they hosted events for their Spanish-speaking neighbors. They are like a second family to me. My pastor was at my house, praying with me less than two hours after Warren's death. As the day wore on, church members stopped by throughout the day, bringing breakfast, lunch and dinner as my house filled with family and friends who came to pay their respects. Today they remember him with me, and include his photo on the alter every year for the Day of the Dead service.

Aside from filling my soul through serving, organizing the Christmas Eve meal is a wonderful way to show my daughter that giving to others is the best gift we can give. She comes with me and spends nearly twelve hours alongside all the other volunteers making sure our dinner guests feel welcome, get enough to eat, and have a lovely evening. I have never had to force her to serve with me. Every year she has wanted to do it and looks forward to it enthusiastically. I am proud of her for having a kind heart that wants to share her time and talent. It reminds me how much of her dad lives on in her.

2014 Christmas Eve Meal

Volunteers & donations make the Christmas Eve meal possible
I look forward to organizing the Christmas Eve meal. I began the year after Warren died because I wanted a distraction from grieving his loss during the holidays. The first Christmas without him was tougher than I imagined. I couldn't believe that his smile wouldn't light up our house as we welcomed family for Thanksgiving, decorated the house for Christmas, and planned our date night for New Year's Eve. He loved family time so he was nearly always smiling from November through the new year. Without him I didn't feel like doing any of the holiday traditions we'd started. If it wasn't for my daughter, parents, siblings, niece and nephews, I wouldn't have participated in Thanksgiving dinner. Had it not been for my mother, Ariana wouldn't have had a Christmas tree or festive lights in the house. I don't have any recollection of what I did for New Year's that year, perhaps it involved sleep.

When the chance to plan the meal came up, I jumped at it. I wanted the holidays to mean something else. Making it about others seemed perfect. It would allow me to get active, plan something that did not revolve around family time that held a gaping hole of loss. Also, serving others is the best way I know that I can honor Warren's legacy. Plus, it was something that I could invite others to do with me if they chose, and spread the gift of giving among those I know and love.

Families enjoy a free Christmas Eve meal

200+ 2014 Christmas Eve dinner guests enjoy a free meal
As I head into my third year leading this effort, it is getting easier. I am working out the kinks of last minute plans falling through; better understanding what it takes to cook and serve 200+ people; managing volunteers so that two rounds of meals and clean up can happen in a condensed amount of time; and making a new tradition that I share with my daughter. Over the years, my parents, friends and siblings have joined in to help, and it's become a family affair. Their support is a reminder that I have wonderful examples of givers within my bloodline who are also living up to Warren's ideals. In this time of giving, I am grateful that I can give of my time, talents and resources in a way that is consistent with the precedents my parents have set, and those that Warren lived by. It is an honor I hope everyone can experience this season and beyond.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


The other day someone called me an elitist. The person wasn't trying to be mean, but pointed out that I have very distinct expectations of how things should be. At first I had a negative thought about said person that began with one of my favorite 4-letter words. I refrained from expressing that and thought about the word elitist. 

According to
As an adjective, the word means: (of a person or class of persons) considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, wealth, or position in society

As a noun, it means: a person having, thought to have, or professing superior intellect or talent, power, wealth, or membership in the upper echelons of society

For the record, I do not think of myself as superior in any way. The word, as stated above does not fit me. I dug a little more, and prefer Urban Dictionary's description:
A person who holds him or herself to higher standards than those of lesser beings because he or she is naturally more honorable, intelligent, funny, good-looking, and awesome than the rest. Elitists are usually well-groomed and well-dressed, although this is a not one of their defining qualities. Also, elitists have the right to look down upon others but often don't for the sake of saving the time and effort needed to criticize those of lesser abilities. 
 Elitists exercise often and eat healthily to keep their bodies fit and desirable-looking. In addition, elitists are too smart to do drugs. 
Elitists have stimulating conversations that keep their minds fresh and their lives active.
Elitists are proud of being elitists but are secretive at the same time; for instance, the elitist code used by elitists to facilitate their advanced conversations is a well known phenomenon for those who associate with elitists; however, only elitists will ever know this code. 
This definition made me laugh, and made the label a little more tolerable. In all seriousness, I still do not feel it is an adequate representation of me. However, I do believe I have high expectations and definite ideas that I'm not afraid to share. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. Part of it I blame on my reading habits.

As a child, I read avidly and by the end of the book, everything usually worked out for the best. The protagonists made the right choices and all was right in their world. That was how I wanted my life to be. I wanted everything to fit and make sense. My greatest desire was for outcomes that made everyone happy. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work like that. Life is messy and unpredictable. There is pain, war, rejection, sadness, loss and disappointment. While characters I read about faced all these things, I knew they would be OK in the end. There are no such guarantees in real life, but that doesn't stop me from trying.

Growing up in a place that held danger beyond my control, I tried to control as much as I could. I still try. It is not a feeling of being superior that I struggle with, it is creating superiority. I want to create those happy endings; make outcomes better than they might otherwise be. The only thing within my control towards that end is living my life from examples that are positive, or do things in a way that makes their life better, and extends that for others.

Within that thought process, I am elitist when it comes to expectations of others. I have high expectations of those I surround myself with because I firmly believe that if you expect nothing from someone, that is exactly what you get. But no one wants to be nothing. Everyone wants to be important, valuable, feel like their existence matters. Expecting a lot from someone gives them the gift of value. My goal isn't to make anyone feel like they are less than me if they don't meet my expectations, but rather for them to know that someone believes they are capable. I hope it empowers them. In doing so, I sometimes come off as harsh, abrasive and according to some, an elitist. If I am an elitist for wanting to be surrounded by the best, I can live with that. Perhaps I should embrace it. - After all, there are worse things I can be called.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Life is a Competition

I am an extremely competitive person. That might sound strange coming from someone who considers herself very much a non-athlete, but it's true. There are many ways to compete, and I do so every day. I don't do it on a court or a field, I mostly do it in my head.

Not sure if it's because of my type-A personality, because I'm a Scorpio, or because I'm the offspring of an athlete. Whatever the case, if you spend some time in my head, it would sound very much like you were at a sporting event. 

Sometimes I cheer myself on. If I've consistently run four miles my last few runs, on mile four I might tell myself, You got this! What's one more mile? The same can be said when I'm writing. YAY! You wrote 1,000 words. You can totally crank out another 500 - GO! That positive reinforcement is great and often works to get me to the next level. On days when I'm feeling sluggish, it's not enough. 

On those days, I need something more potent than cheerleading. That's when I become a drill sergeant. When I'm moping around in the evening in one of my moods, I'll yell at myself (in my head) to take my butt to bed and stop wasting valuable resting time. I say it in not so nice terms and it works. It's like when I was a little girl and my mom would yell at me to get to bed. When I'm lifting halfheartedly I berate myself internally, telling myself that I'm not doing anything for my body if I'm not focused so I need to shape up, or leave the gym. When I write a shitty line or scene, the voice gets loud, reminding me that I paid big bucks to learn how to write, and I need to stop messing around or I'll never get my ROI on that investment. The voice is usually deeper than my every day voice, yet not quite masculine. 

The best is when I challenge myself. Most of the time it's against my own accomplishments. If I do three reps, I challenge myself to do four. If I can lift 35lbs, I challenge myself to increase it by five. If I can write one chapter, why not two? Other times it is a challenge based on someone else. When others succeed in something I admire, I ask myself why I can't do that, or better yet, when will I surpass it? It gets the gears churning in my head about how I can do better than what exists. It has been the driving force in my life. I'm not some snob trying to be better than anyone else. When I see something in others that I know I can replicate, it doesn't seem like enough to emulate it, I want to put my own spin on it. 

This competitive nature has gotten me to where I am today. It's not to say that my parents and other influences aren't a huge element of my achievements, because they are. Part of the challenge to myself has always been to make them proud. Doing better than expected is how I chose to do that most of the time. It has made me push harder when I didn't think I had it in me, and go above and beyond when I knew I could. It has served me well in life, so I'm glad that I treat myself like a star athlete, even if only in my mind.

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