Change is not a Four Letter Word

Change is not a Four Letter Word, though sometimes it is used like one. It is a black widow spider armed with venom and a stinger to deaden those limbs that need to be severed. Those habits that need to be abandoned. Change can come as a shock, like a blow to the stomach or a slap to the cheek. She is almost never expected and almost always accompanied, darkly and with a mustache, by the mysterious stranger Unknown.

Eight weeks ago on Monday, Change slammed into my body and broke my kneecap.

Okay, I fell on my kneecap and broke my kneecap. But now, in the hindsight gained from a lot of time laying on my ass in the downstairs guest bedroom, I recognize that it was Change that broke my body not the floor I fell against.

Change had decided to visit me whether I invited her in for whisky or not.

In the weeks — the now almost two months — since Change set up residence in my house, I have hobbled through upheaval, wheeled around uncertainty, and cried in the face of loss. I have watched the things I thought I needed die while others broke ground, sprang to life like a sprout of new grass, budding like the trees outside my house.

I watched the end of one season and the beginning of another.

I let go of a valued friendship. Change carved out my heart and showed me it in a harsh light, and when I’d seen enough, she threw it on the pyre to burn. Change forced me to let someone walk away because right then I couldn’t chase them, and maybe Change had known that the time of running after instead of ahead of, was ending. In that moment, Change was Goodbye, an unfamiliar feeling to a girl who thought she didn’t really believe in endings.

I put a house that I love up for sale. Change reminded me of all the beauty, all my passion, as I painted the walls, watched the staircase be refinished, the flower beds planted, and the deck be stained back like new. Change told me this was the end, too, and I’d done all I could do. It took my claim away for someone new.

I began to walk again. To bend and straighten. To press up on tip toes and balance without wobbling. To feel less shaky, less like a victim, more like a hero. I felt my shoulders ease back and start to tighten with the certainty that I could and would and damn everything that would say otherwise.

Change gave that to me.

Change gave me hope.

No, Change is not a four letter word. It’s not ugly unless you ignore it, carrying around that dead limb and pretending that you don’t see it, that it’s still alive and capable of giving you what you need. Because once bitten, you will never again find the strength you once had. Never again will you walk that way and not stumble. Because…

Change is always violent.

Always a death and a resurrection.

Like the holiday coming up, like winter and spring, like goodbye and hello. Change always means It is Finished, It can begin. It always fights with you, bruising your ego, squashing your pride. It steamrolls what you expected and doesn’t have a band aid for your wounds.

But in the midst of all that meanness, Change promises there is more. And better. Dreams you have yet to see clearly, days you have yet to live fully. If only you will let Change do her work and let go.

Today I walked around a forty-nine acre garden. It hurt the now mostly mended but still weak leg Change has been trying to make new. It tingled inside me that this was the first day of the rest, and the pain was good, a sign something new was coming.

A sign I was almost ready to run.

A Broken Bone Does Heal

free

Two weeks ago, I broke my left kneecap. Right after it happened, I refused to acknowledge the pain, the promise of a longer recovery than an afternoon propped up in bed reading, because how could I be confined so completely, restricted so unkindly? I had life to live and plans that week and everyday my household, my husband, my son, my friends, my family needed me.

But I’d done it. It was broken and nothing would change that.

Anger lit me up inside. I stewed over my sudden and complete inability to function as I had grown used to functioning. And the frustrating thing was, I didn’t even know who to blame, but I wanted to blame something, someone. I wanted to blame myself for not wiping my feet on the doormat before I stepped on wet tile with wet shoes. I wanted to blame the circumstance for presenting itself. I wanted to blame the chaos going on in my life for distracting me enough to misstep.

I wanted to heal fast. Sure, the Doctor said it should take four weeks, but I wanted to take two. I wanted to bend my knee. I wanted to speed this up. I’d had enough rest. I didn’t want to watch TV or sit and stare out the window with tears in my eyes. Those romantic images from movies where the girl languishes in a wheelchair in the garden, embroidered afghan over her legs, convalescing with a cup of tea: not my idea of a well-spent afternoon.

I didn’t want to be confined to the downstairs guest room of my house, or the back porch in a wheelchair. To be swollen and bruised, in pain with nothing to do but feel it. I wanted to get up and walk. To clean the kitchen and make myself a snack. To run errands. To walk the dogs. Basic things I usually never even paid attention to, I longed for the freedom to do them. For the right to grumble about them.

It has been days of scrabbling on the tips of fingers up the side of a deep dark hole of feelings. Thoughts my normal speed allows me to ignore. Questions I prefer not to seek an answer to.

But this confinement did have an expiration date. Four weeks. And the fact that I was still spiraling, not coping great, stuck inside me like a thorn. I have friends that exist on the razor edge of chronic pain. They live with disabilities well beyond my comprehension, they triumph and create, all with a daily battle that has no end in sight. What right did I have to complain? How dare I? This is not the way a brave girl responds. This feels like crumbling. Tipping over a ledge I didn’t realize had gotten so close.

If honesty is still a virtue, here is another nugget:

Being forced into a narrow boundary casts everything outside that boundary into a harsh and brutal light.

In the end, these were the things that survived the bright light.

My husband is a glorious knight of raven headed kindness. My son is a true and solid friend, with the ability to cope and comfort well beyond his seven-years.

Writing and reading create a life-raft.

The people that truly love you emerge in the midst of crisis.

Grace is a gift we are given, but it is also one we must extend even when we are thoroughly pissed off.

Don’t be afraid to go dark for a while. That may be the only way to chart your course.

Two weeks down. Hump-day for the broken-boned. Today I feel better, but not mended. I feel more hopeful, but not sure what that actually means. Not sure, at all, what the other side of this will feel like.

Sure, only, that it can’t belike it was before.

Book Activism: January/February

Though these be reviews in nature, I prefer to think of them as raising awareness.

Book activism, if you will.

There will be links to further check out these titles should my enjoyment make you curious.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

hating

If you follow me on any social media platforms, you will have already seen me gush over this book. What a joy to read. The whip-smart dialog and super sexy, steamy romance set this book apart for me from other rom-com’s.

Description from the internet:

Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.

2) A person’s undoing

3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

I read it in two days. I carried it around with me like a security blanket. I sniggered in the parking lot to pick up my son at school when I came to a sexy scene and realized only I knew what I was reading. Loved the characters, the pacing, the setting, and the sexy times.

I would 1000% like to see this made in a movie. Some fan casting to wet your whistle.

The Hating Game on Goodreads

Follow Sally Thorne on Twitter because she is adorbs

And/or on Instagram 


The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

wing

Shifting gears to a YA debut by London-based, American author, Katherine Webber. From the first time I read the description of this book, I knew I wanted to read it.

Description from the internet:

Wing Jones, like everyone else in her town, has worshipped her older brother, Marcus, for as long as she can remember. Good-looking, popular, and the star of the football team, Marcus is everything his sister is not.

Until the night everything changes when Marcus, drunk at the wheel after a party, kills two people and barely survives himself. With Marcus now in a coma, Wing is crushed, confused, and angry. She is tormented at school for Marcus’s mistake, haunted at home by her mother and grandmothers’ grief. In addition to all this, Wing is scared that the bank is going to repossess her home because her family can’t afford Marcus’s mounting medical bills.

Every night, unable to sleep, Wing finds herself sneaking out to go to the school’s empty track. When Aaron, Marcus’s best friend, sees her running one night, he recognizes that her speed, skill, and agility could get her spot on the track team. And better still, an opportunity at a coveted sponsorship from a major athletic gear company. Wing can’t pass up the opportunity to train with her longtime crush and to help her struggling family, but can she handle being thrust out of Marcus’s shadow and into the spotlight?

The prose blew me away. Voice and passion pulsed from every page. I loved the setting, which is 1995 Atlanta, and loved the characters even more. Katherine’s descriptions of everything from the track field to Wing’s LaoLao’s dumplings were absolutely delicious. I immediately felt I was back in time experiencing a taste of a world I have never seen, and thankful for the chance to see it through Wing’s compassionate eyes.

What a completely satisfying and rewarding read.

This book is already out in the UK, but will not be out in America until March 14th.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones on Goodreads

Follow Katherine on Instagram and also live in London vicariously through her

And vicarious living can also be done through her Twitter

(I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for honest feedback.)


Girl out of Water by Laura Silverman

girl

Another YA, by the super rad Laura Silverman. I was so intrigued by this book, which is such a departure from what I normally read, that I simply could not wait to get my hands on it.

Description from the internet:

Ocean breeze in her hair and sand between her toes, Anise can’t wait to spend the summer before her senior year surfing and hanging out on the beach with friends. Santa Cruz is more than her home-it’s her heart. But when her aunt, a single mother, is in a serious car accident, Anise must say goodbye to California to help care for her three young cousins.

Landlocked Nebraska is the last place Anise wants to be. Sure, she loves her family, but it’s hard to put her past behind her when she’s living in the childhood house of the mother who abandoned her. And with every Instagram post, her friends back home feel further away.

Then she meets Lincoln, a charismatic, one-armed skater who challenges her to swap her surfboard for a skateboard. Because sometimes the only way to find your footing is to let go.

Oh how I FELT for Anise! Such a compelling character. Her voice just leaps off the page at you. She is complicated without being angsty, and her journey is relatable and real, and a little swoony. I did find myself wishing for the ocean right along with Anise, but was so wrapped up in the plot that it didn’t deter me. Definitely a great early summer read.

This book comes out May 2017, so keep it in mind for those lazy, hazy days.

Girl out of Water on Goodreads

Follow Laura on Twitter 

And Instagram for bookish and social awareness news. 

(I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for honest feedback.)


Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

follow

I decided to read this book for two reasons:

  1. My trusted friend, Kayla Olson (author of The Sandcastle Empire, which I will have a post for next week!!! STAY TUNED), insisted. Intensely. Maybe she hovered over me while I requested it from NetGalley.
  2. It is relevant to my fangirl interests.

It SLAYED me.

Description from the internet:

Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

*flails all over the room* *Tweets @ author in panic* *emoji face explosion*

This book was not what I expected. Every time I felt I had gotten my footing, had figured something out, it changed. And I loved every second. I was completely sucked in to the mystery and romance. Loved how the author used Transcripts and Tweets, as well as traditional prose narration to weave the story.

This book is out in June and I highly recommend you add it to your TBR list.

Follow Me Back on Goodreads

Follow A.V. Geiger on Instagram

and Twitter and use the #EricThornObsessed hashtag to express your feelings 

(I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for honest feedback.)


I’ll just go bury myself in books now.

xo,

Rebekah

Hashtag 2017

The woods outside my house is shrouded in fog. It’s New Year’s Day and I feel just as foggy as the woods. Not because I stayed up into the wee hours, partying, clinking glasses, making promises to myself for the next year. I didn’t. I went to bed before midnight after tucking my son in his, kissing my husband, listening to the bang-crack of fireworks from near and far, faint and loud all around.

I woke up this morning and without even seeing the mist on the trees I felt the fog settle in. Cloaking. Touching my edges and sending me into myself.

New Year’s Days are made for wondering what will be ahead. They are hopeful, melancholy, whimsical creatures. They are wishes and they are wanting.

But they cannot tell you the future. They cannot promise the dream come true. That power exists in every day after.

If you had told me last year at this time how the future year would shape up, how much change would come, how much I would see, do, accomplish and uncover, I do not know if I would have believed you. I don’t know if you could have made me believe even if you gave me a glimpse.

As I lay in the dark last night, I tried to remember last New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t for a while. I confused it with two years before. I was certain it wasn’t that one three years prior. I had to go back and look on my phone, scroll through a year of pictures so much more brilliant than I was expecting. A year far fuller than seemed possible.

When I reached the videos I took of my son that night, he was little, he was Star Wars obsessed. He, too, has changed so much this year. We made churros and talked about the Force. We had no idea who we would be just one year later.

I scrolled to the picture I posted the next morning. My one statement for what I hoped my year would hold.

Hashtag 2016:

2016

2016 had eclipsed the end of 2015. I had done the thing I purposed in my heart to do:

Be curious and have adventures.

2016adventure

This year, foggy and hidden away as it has begun, I purpose to do the same. To put down on paper the hope of tomorrow. To promise myself I will live fully and bravely, be bold, but kind. I will win some battles and I will take some giant, frightening leaps.

And next New Year’s Day I will not remember what I did that final night of that other year because I will be full of hundreds of nights and many more dreams come true.

Hashtag 2017.

2017

The Christmas Spirit

This year I didn’t want to Christmas. I didn’t want stockings and trees hung with tinsel, twinkle lights, fragile glass ornaments. I didn’t want to pull out the dusty boxes from the shed, look for spiders and sneeze. I didn’t want to feel jolly, merry or bright.

I didn’t want to be distracted by the Spirit, the blessing, the idea of Christmas. Not right now. Not this year.

For a while, I’ve been the girl wearing a Ba Hum Bug sweater and drinking in the kitchen while everyone is gathered in the den singing Tra La La! It’s a fist fight with the Holidays — it’s gotten worse every year, like a degenerative illness.

Sometimes I blame consumerism. The mad grab for gifts. The long list of people I wish I could buy for. The feeling of TOO MUCH and NOT ENOUGH. The stress of saying no, or not no and wishing you had. The way your adrenaline spikes with the rip-tear of the paper and then crashes when its all over and there’s just no more. The way you feel when you realize gifts don’t always mean what you want them to. The let down. The fact that you don’t need anything at all, yet so many will never have enough. The way that makes gifts look ugly even wrapped in sparkling crimson and green.

Sometimes I’m selfish. I blame the disruption of my routine. Maybe if Christmas could just politely come and go and not disrupt everything around it, screw up bed times, mess with weekends, alter workdays. Maybe then it wouldn’t bother me so much. If there were no parties and no extra work. If Christmas could be like Columbus Day, then maybe I’d tolerate it better.

Sometimes I blame family. Mine. My husband’s. Other people’s. The First Family. The Royal Family. Mary, Joseph, Jesus in a manger. All those people doing Christmas their way and me still trying to figure out what my way is. All the schedules that have to line up. All the emotions that fill rooms already too small and warm. I blame the missing family, the ones we wish were around but aren’t, can’t be, and so there’s a strange cold place where they used to sit, laugh, cry. All the adjusting we do. All the expectations that will never be met.

I blame the election. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter. The news cycle. I blame everyone’s Christmas Tree pictures on Instagram. It’s Starbucks and Target’s fault. It’s Taylor Swift’s fault for creating Christmas goals I will never be long legged enough to achieve. I blame Christmas movies with John William’s soundtracks when my life just sounds like video games and Michael Jackson on an endless loop.

But it’s not really any of those things, and I know that.

It’s me. It’s because I’m afraid of it spoiling. Getting tainted. Painted in colors and shades that make it look ugly. Somewhere along the way everything became a target for anger. Somehow everything can fall apart if we let it. How can we feel Christmasy with the world the way that it is? What is even the point?

I decided I wouldn’t put up a tree. We are traveling for some of December. We aren’t doing a lot of gifts. We aren’t even doing Santa with my son this year. He quietly told me last week, You know mom, I don’t need that anymore.

Ba Hum Bug. Pour me some Scotch.

On the way home from my mom’s house today, my son asked me if we were putting the stockings up. Stockings, that’s our thing. We go to Target a couple days before Christmas Eve and my husband and I separate, buying ludicrous, silly, tasty, thoughtful things to stuff our stockings full with. We’ve done it since we first got married. We added our son to the tradition when he came along.

Stockings. A memory worth clinging to. Blip. That’s the sound of my heart growing Grinch-style.

When my son and I opened the dusty, wasp infested shed this afternoon and started rummaging around in the cobwebs for the box with our stockings, he scooted right up to me, big blue eyes shiny even in the dim light. I want to put up the tree. Just a whisper.

Blip. My heart grew again.

And even though I had convinced myself it didn’t matter to me, that I didn’t need the tree this year, I said okay. I pulled out the box and we hauled it inside. We sneezed and laughed,  blaring Christmas music over his Pokeball mini-speaker. A section of the lights wouldn’t light. I couldn’t get the topper to top. It was all a little messy and uneven — like life, like everything else that I love— but then he started pulling out ornaments, telling me where they came from, what they meant to him. Reminding me where we got this one, when we made that one. He said I love this one, and this one and this one.

Blipblipblip. My heart was too big.

It mattered to him. The Tree. The moment and memories. They were something to him. And the scary truth I didn’t want to face: they were something to me, too. Something that could be cracked and chipped, loose luster, but somehow not beauty. Something of value that I wanted to love and appreciate especially because it might not be perfect.

Christmas isn’t perfect, but neither are we. Neither is the world.

That’s a reason to fight for it.

tree

London: Day Three

Today is election day, and I woke up in London again to sunlight and fall colors and the tap of room service delivering morning coffee. Since being here I have seen more coverage on the election than at home and I’m not sure what that means, but I do know this: the whole world is watching the US right now. I would be remiss not to say, even here, even living a dream, I too am unable to forget the reality of this day for America. But my feed today, and for the coming days, will remain a break, an escape, a moment away from the political battleground.

Yesterday began with a trip on the Tube, again. I’m growing really fond of the Underground, learning the routes and the best transfer stations. So far I’ve ridden the Piccadilly, District and Circle lines. I find the easiest way to survive public transport is to let your body feel the rhythm of the crowd. Be prepared with your card (called an Oyster card here, a Metro card in NYC) and never stop in front of stalls or in corridors. If you must pause, pull off to the side and get out of everyone’s way, otherwise, you’ll learn why locals hate tourists. Same goes for stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo, or, worse, wandering into the crosswalk.

tube

We traveled north to Kings Cross. Yep. That one. Where the Hogwarts Express takes young wizards-in-training to study. I was the epitome of not cool when we walked up the stairs from the train. However, we were bound not for Platform 9 3/4 (more on that later!), but the Treasures of the British Library exhibit where we would see, in short:

Jane Austen’s writing desk and hand written manuscript for Persuasion

Mozart, Chopin, Handel’s Messiah and so many more composers original sheet music

Shakespeare’s sonnets

A Gutenberg Bible

Ancient Maps

Early prints from China

Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript pages for Jane Eyre and letters

T.S. Elliot’s Waste Land

The Magna Carta

Handwritten lyrics to some of the Beatles most famous hits including: She Said, She Said, Ticket to Ride, and a Hard Days Night

Leonardo Di Vinci’s Notebook

…and so much more.

Photographs were not allowed, but here’s a few from the Library to prove we were there.

This was a singular experience. We spent about two hours inside the exhibit and could have stayed for more if we’d had time. I walked away with deep wells of inspiration digging through me, and plenty of notes to mull over later on.

Next, we headed back to Kings Cross where we…well, you can probably guess what we were planning to do. Both my husband and I are fans of Harry Potter. I’d read the first four before we met, but when we got together, we read through them together again, and then with each new book we embarked on the journey together. He took a class in college called Imagined Worlds, where, for his final project, he wrote a scholarly essay on the science of Magic.

Yeah, we’re fans.

As we queued up for the photo op at Platform 9 3/4, I was still shocked by how giddy and smiley my normally stoic husband became. He watched with great interest as people posed, getting annoyed with everyone else in line when they tried to be cool and not jump for the shot. And when we reached the trolley, he got his Hufflepuff scarf and joined in the journey to Hogwarts with me.

We wandered through the shop alongside the platform, buying up gifts for fellow wizards in our family and finally getting my husband some Hufflepuff gear. We listened to the cashiers— a Slytherin, a Gryffindor, and a Hufflepuff— banter in true House rivalry form, making obscure references and slaying with their English wit. Overall, this was one of my favorite moments so far simply because I got to see such joy on my husband’s face.

Then it was back to the Tube and hotel for a quick change because we had booked a fancy afternoon tea and couldn’t show up disheveled and shabby. Again, my husband fell right into the moment. We giggled and bantered, took pictures and ate too much despite our assertion that we weren’t even that hungry. We’ve been married over ten year and we still find each other quite amusing.

About twenty minutes into our tea, a dapper dressed dad and his little girl arrived for theirs. She didn’t want any of it except the scone, and she was fairly adamant about sitting on her daddy’s lap and snuggling. Her little voice in her very grown up dress, curious blue eyes, and typical childlike disgust melted my heart.

To top off our day, we’d booked theater tickets to see Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart in the play No Man’s Land. It hit us, as we sat in our seats, drinking champagne and just a few feet away from the stage, that this kind of magic doesn’t happen often and should never be taken for granted. With wonder, we watched film and stage legends, best friends and longtime colleagues, give emotionally charged and wonderfully funny performances live. We turned off our phones. We ignored the world and took in the moment and it was perfect.

no-mans-land

Then we wandered back through London, via Tube and our feet, to a little French Restaurant just off High Street Kensington. Where I was mistaken for Taylor Swift, and my husband was sure that this day would be hard to top.

Lets see how we do tomorrow?

London: Day Two

This morning, the sky over London is pale blue streaked with shades of gray. I’m still here and it is still like being in a dream.

Yesterday’s journey from my hotel began with a ride on the Tube, my first. Having lived in NYC, I was inclined to think the Tube would be like the Subway. It wasn’t and I like it better. I found the lines quite a bit easier to decipher, and the whole process a lot more intuitive. But then, also, I am now older and less easily plussed, and so maybe it isn’t the Tube that runs better, maybe it is me.

I met up with a group of writers who are all going to be published in 2017 at a restaurant called Dishoom. We tucked into a booth downstairs and dug deep into conversation. It was lively and lovely, and I was in awe of each of them.

swanky

Photo cred: Katherine Webber’s phone and my husband.

London is an incredible city to experience on foot, and that’s exactly what we did.

We trailed down Charring Cross road and broke out at Trafalgar Square, a bustling, vibrant spot with famous landmarks and a smattering of talented street performers. Crawling along one edge is the National Gallery.

We walked through a portion of the Gallery, taking in works by Cezanne, Monet, Van Gough and lesser known pieces (or at least, to me) but no less breathtaking.

There was one, a self portrait by the female artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, that I found particularly arresting. She was the only female artist in a room full of men, and even now she demanded respect.

painting-1

I stopped on the far side of the Square to get a shot of the Gallery, and when I turned around I was met, to my complete surprise, by a view down Whitehall Street of the top of Big Ben. I don’t know if it was just that I’d not expected it, but tears welled in my eyes. I stood there for a moment stunned, arrested.

Walking toward Parliament feels like the building of a climactic moment in a movie. With each step you get closer to the thing you are looking for, while also constantly walking into  moments that surprise you. We saw the House of Guards, 10 Downing Street, the side of Westminster Abbey, the London Eye. My eyes kept trailing back to Big Ben, and once we were upon it, I couldn’t seem to move. I didn’t try.

I stood. I stared. I embraced the utter disbelief that it was right in front of me and was easily one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I’d seen up close.

As we walk across the Westminster Bridge toward the London Eye, it began to rain. That didn’t stop me from stopping repeatedly to take more pictures. It didn’t dampen my fervor for the walk. It meant pulling my hood up and baring into the splatter.

from-the-london-eye

Somehow, London in the rain is even more charming.

big-ben-dusk

We finished our night at a Kensington restaurant called Ffiona’s. With walls papered in sheet music and a country scene, flickering candlelight on the shabby chic tables all tucked into an intimate space. The patron is a woman, unsurprisingly, named Fiona, who not only owns but runs the floor. We ordered the night’s specials, roast beef and half a chicken, potatoes, gravy, some kind of ribboned greens that I devoured. It was an experience for my mouth and my mind. When my husband ordered a whisky, she plopped the bottle down on the table and let him serve himself.

ffionas

Later I asked for a cup, and we sat there talking and dreaming, laughing and thinking, and when it was sadly time to go — because as much as we might want to, we couldn’t sleep there —Fiona sat at our table to work out the bill and have a chat. We walked out smiling, and my husband said quietly, “That was perfect.”

 

The whole day was perfect.

 

London: Day One

I woke up in London, today.

morning

While I drank coffee from a china cup (because tea is wonderful, but jet lag is a real thing), I watched out my window at the rooftop of Kensington Palace and attempted to let it all just sink in.

There is a great danger in having dreams come true. They can let you down. They can be not what you thought. They can take from you a reason to get up everyday. Some of us need the longing to keep going.

I think I do.

Coming to the UK, for some reason, always felt impossible to me because it just mattered so much. It was this sharp and persistent desire and therefore I began to believe it would never be mine, as so many things that you long for don’t come to you— or, at least, don’t come in the way that you thought. I had almost resigned myself to forever talking about my daydream of London.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I had to keep reminding myself that this was happening. I had to make a decision to believe that the dream come true would be better than the dreaming.

Yesterday, as our plane broke through the dense cloud cover over London, I began to cry. It’s a moment that I will never forget: seeing the land and feeling a promise answered.

plane

As I walked through Hyde Park to Kensington Palace, observing dogs frolicking leash free and children kicking a ball with their dads, hearing the chatter of locals and watching other bewildered tourists try to absorb the majesty of Queen Victoria’s childhood home, I felt at once an outsider looking in on a world I wasn’t really a part of, and completely, perfectly at home.

I took pictures of streets and wondered at the people who got to live in them.

I wished I was brave enough to climb into the private garden for residents only. Like I was Julia Roberts and Nathan a longer haired Hugh Grant.

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I saw a Pub I’d seen on Pinterest and wandered in for a pint and some Fish ‘n Chips.

I walked through the store that Paddington Bear visited. (They prefer you not take photos from inside.)

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I took a picture of the Travel Book Shop from Notting Hill.

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I was stopped for directions and ruined the facade that I was a local with my very obvious American accent. (Don’t have a picture of this, you’ll just have to take my American word for it.)

I was home and also away, the same and also aware of my differentness, touristing and living in the city, in the land, I’d loved since I was a little girl.

And in the midst, there was now room for new dreams to begin to take hold. I had jumped the hurdle, or the pond, and now found myself on the other side of an impossible thing. What more can I do now that this has been done? What else can I let myself long for and go for?

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Dreaming Of

Everyone has dreams. Be they secret and hidden away where no one can see, or exposed and constantly on display for anyone willing to look, one thing is certain, we all have them. Regardless of the dreamer’s style, it can be very hard to believe that the big dreams buried or screaming inside will ever really come true.

It’s been my experience that two things happen as we get older. We let go of certain dreams and cling to other, more reasonable ones. And we decide that, rather than take the reigns of our life and follow the thing in our heart, we should be content to wait it out, hoping that we’ll be just happy enough— safe and fed and hopefully sane— to forget that dream ever existed at all.

Often the colossal dreams of our youth crumble because we realize that certain ambitions are outside our abilities or natural talents, skills, resources or control. Things like going to outer space. Or becoming a doctor when you loath science and math. Like achieving unmanageable fame, making the Olympic gymnastics team when you never really developed balance, inventing the device that will replace the iPhone. As we grow up, we hone our dreams based on who we see ourselves becoming. It is our mind and will looking to protect our ego and heart so we don’t set ourselves up for a meandering existence wrought with sadness. Or so we avoid a stunning collapse from failure.

This kind of dream modification is healthy. A good honing is valuable as you mature. It allows the true dreams, the ones polite enough to wait until the Jedi-Princess-Snake-Charmer-Married-to-Young Harrison Ford has run it’s course, and you’ve developed the ability to reason. It allows the dreamer to live on.

The other scenario, that one is much trickier. In my experience, dreams don’t ever really die. At least, not the ones that truly matter. Because once you’ve honed your dreams — and this, too, is a continual process — if you don’t follow the path you will someday look back and wonder what if, but you will never truly forget. Dreams left to fester and rot become the ugly wrinkles in your forehead and the sour expression on your face. They make you sloppy and boring at parties. They lead to lethargy and the eventual demise of whatever made you unique and vibrant.

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Since I was a child, I’d been infatuated with London. I’d read Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden and EVERY Jane Austen novel. I loved Princess Diana, and had been obsessed with Lady Jane Gray, Anne Boleyn, Victoria and Albert, Queen Elizabeth (1 and 2)…

And this didn’t fall away as I grew up. I’m so much like Bridget Jones it’s frightening. I do tea in china and watch The Great British Bake Off. Downton Abby was my everything. If a book is set or a movie takes place there, I love it by default. I read all picture books in a bad British accent and follow Very British Problems on Twitter. I’ve researched it. I’ve romanced it. I’ve promised to have it’s babies. I even found myself a literary agent in London and somehow managed not to ask her to marry me based solely on her accent.

Yet somehow, even more than all the ways I loved it, it felt like it was already a part of me, tucked in my spirit, hidden among the thorns and briars of my personality. Like it existed in me from the beginning. From before the beginning.

But I have never been.

A couple months ago, while ensconced in the ever so glamorous task of folding laundry with my seven year old, we put on Paddington (a delightful British movie about a marmalade-loving bear’s adventures in London) to pass the time.

In the movie, the Bears meet and befriend an Explorer in their native land. He’s traveled there from London to study them, and I assume, bring back a specimen. Eep. But he doesn’t. These bears are highly intelligent, and so he leaves behind tapes and books about London, and he encourages them to come, to look him up if they do. And for years, they plan and dream of someday visiting London. They memorize the tapes. They know all the right words to say and proper way to act. But someday never seems to come. And finally, one day, Uncle Bear’s time runs out. He never got to go.

That moment hit me hard. Suddenly, I saw how fast time runs away from us. How little we are guaranteed. I turned to my husband and said, “I will not be like those bears. I am going.”

Someday resides in the future until one day it becomes the present. Until one day you look at the dream and you say: I will wait no more. It’s been long enough.

And it takes an act, or more often, many acts stacked all on top of each other until finally you reach your dream. It takes admitting that you want it and acknowledging the batter ram from fear that it will never be. It takes pushing your dream from the safe, silent cocoon of your imagination out into the dangerous, blinding light of reality. It takes guts and faith to take anything and give it life.

Dreams live.

Dreams tingle with nerves and the electricity of promise. They can hurt you. They can disappoint and underwhelm. They can end up falling apart. They are not unalterable and never quite finished. But if you have one, you are not powerless to wake it up.

Don’t be like those bears. Don’t miss your chance to go to London. Be like Paddington, who took the long boat ride necessary and found a new dream once he arrived.

Three Ways Critique Partners Are Unicorns

There are so many articles and blog posts out there detailing the publishing road, it’s various ups and downs, twists and turns, plummets into deep holes of revision malaise and rejection induced cookie-binges. But tucked into those stories of woe and perseverance, are characters many of you will recognize.

Critique Partner(s): an enchanted creature one meets on their journey to publication endowed with the magical power to inspire, encourage and enrich the writers quest.

But in order to gain the magical being Critique Partner on your journey, you must first be able to recognize the value of honest, thoughtful, layered critique— both how to give it and how to receive it.

My first experience with critique was actually a literary agent that I met at my local city park in Brooklyn, NY. Looking back, I recognize the disaster that could have transpired. She was a pro, I very much was not. But this agent — who quickly became one of my close friends in the City— offered to read my manuscript and give me feedback. It helped that she didn’t represent my genre, and that we had met wearing our mom and people hats, not writer and agent name badges. It helped that she was gentle. With her feedback and encouragement, I revised, I revised, I got very close to getting agented with that manuscript. Without her feedback, I would have hit send too soon. I would have done all the wrong things.

Unlike Unicorn Critique Partners, my agent friend felt more like a fairy godmother. She taught me industry protocol. She taught me about critique. She sent me into the world to find my own heard of magical beasts.

Critique Partners believe when you can’t.

Last year I hit a rough patch in my writing journey. I wrote about it extensively on my blog, which is the equivalent of screaming into a pillow at the top of your lungs. Cathartic, but ultimately useless. I had experienced the ugliness of the query trenches. I’d been rejected, I’d been hopeful, I’d been the recipient of the form letter and the thoughtful rejection. It had taken it’s toll on my creative well. I desperately wanted to give up. I couldn’t face my manuscript, let alone stomach doing another revision or sending another query letter.

In swooped critique partners, rainbow tails swinging, hooves of faith clomping.

I am part of a big tribe of young adult writers, so I want to stress that this sense of community and magic is not limited to the writers I count as critique partners. But when doubt creeps in, the best defense is a person that has read your book and believes in it. My critique partners were unrelenting in their support that someday, somehow, this thing would find an agent, a home.

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Countless emails. Countless texts and Facebook chats. Many days of me veering off course, detouring and wandering and spazzing. They still encouraged me to go back to the story. To give it another chance.

When I was finally ready to revise again, they were there to encourage and advise. They cheered for the story. They told me they never doubted me.

But I did doubt. I wasn’t as certain as I needed to be. Anyone that has endured rejection will understand my behavior. I was inclined to believe the many no’s. I actually think, maybe, I had to believe it for a while to find my way back to my story. But without the faith and insistence of my Unicorns, this little writer would have never found her path because she would have given up.

Critique Partners don’t belittle the struggle. 

Something that becomes increasingly clear the longer I pursue publication is this: the loneliness is real.

The journey to a book in hand, while something many writers will one day likely take with varying results, is ultimately still not a well understood process to those not in the midst of it. For the first few years of mine, I knew a grand total of two people that understood the arduous task of trying to get published.

I count two separate but equally significant plot points in my own writing saga as the game changers for me.

  1. Befriending a local author— Over three years ago Lindsay Cummings followed me on Twitter. At the time, I was still living in Brooklyn. When we decided to move back to Texas, I direct messaged Lindsay and asked to meet up for coffee. This was a gamble for both of us, and after Lindsay researched me online to make sure I was a legitimate  human writer, we met up for dinner. Not only did she become one of my best friends in real life, but she became my ally in the book world. She read, critiqued and loved my writing. She helped me meet other writers in our area. She helped me not feel so alone.
  2. Taking a writing workshop online — I signed up for an online class taught by Nova Ren Suma. Not only did I gain an incredible advocate and teacher (and now, friend) in Nova, but through her class I connected with five of my critique partners. After class, we embarked on the organic process of emailing each other pages and tentatively giving feedback, then more boldly responding, asking for help and thoughts on more than just pages, but idea seeds and life twists, until we found a rhythm unique to our tribe and needs. These writers have become some of my favorite humans.

On the writing journey, critique is the key to support.

Through critique, I found people capable of walking through this with me. We’ve lived in the trenches together. We understand the sting of rejection and the swell of pride that comes with a request, a yes, that phone call that leads to an agent…or doesn’t. That moment when you have to start over, go back in, move on. And we know that the pain from the publishing journey hurts just as real as other pain, can cause just as many problems as marital issues or job hell, and is not for the faint of heart.

Critique Partners make you better.

Words are hard. Writing is bad, and then it’s a little less bad, and then a little less, and every time you chip away a layer of bad the promise of beautiful begins to emerge. There is only so far you can take your own words. No matter how skilled, critique is often the key to making a decent story great, finding plotholes, worldbuilding issues, character development flaws, and so on. Without clever eyes on your work, you must rely of your own mind. The closer you get to a particular story, the harder it gets to see the issues as they arise.

Getting a good group of readers that you can turn to at different stages in revision to help you clarify, hone, polish and shine, is an important step in preparing your manuscript for query, and later, publication. I am a firm believer that reader feedback should be taken seriously. Yes, this is your story, but at some point it needs to make sense to the rest of the world.

Critique partners can come in and unicorn-horn slice through the crappy words in your manuscript better than you. Then, they come back to you with ways to improve, with glowing praise and passion, and it’s often the push back into the story that you need.

Every time I’ve felt lost in a work in progress, I’ve emailed one of my critique partners with pages or plans or scene ideas, and they’ve helped me find my way.

Find your unicorns and hold them tight. Stroke their mane and give them sugar. They are invaluable to the quest!

If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, some of my critique partners and I have decided to pay back the writing community that helped us find each other. We’ll be hosting a live critique workshop called Manuscript Crit-Chat, scheduled to take off this fall. Whether you’ve been critiqued before and want a new set of eyes on your pages, or you’ve never been critiqued, but want to get your feet wet, we want to give a taste of the magic. Over the next month we’ll be revealing more info, so stay informed by following us on social media. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our tribe!

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To engage with the Manuscript Crit-Chat gals:

Facebook :: Instagram :: Twitter

To Tweet at the individual masterminds behind all the fun:

Susan Bishop Crispell :: Courtney Leigh :: Jessica Fonseca :: Rebekah Faubion 

And do check out Courtney and Jessica’s posts on their personal blogs!

4 Reasons Why Critique Partners Saved My Writing Life

Five Reasons Every Writer NEEDS a Critique Group