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What I'm Into

I had to use the picture of ice cream because I just had my first snow cone of the season on Friday. That’s usually more of a May thing. Clearly, I’m slacking.

June was chaotic but mostly the fun kind. I traveled a little and worked a lot and played as much as possible.  Here’s what June looked like:

Favorite things to watch/read:

  • Michelle and I have decided to watch Supernatural together, because we are both scaredy cats but also we love the actors on this show. This way, we can watch the boys with their adorable quips and adorable etc. with someone who won’t make fun of us if we happen to watch it through the holes in the knitted blanket we’re hiding behind.
  • Inspired by this list, I am starting the whole Arrow/Flash/Supergirl/etc.-verse over again and watching it in order. I’m about to start The Flash again, and I am ridiculously excited about it.
  • Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers is my favorite book I finished this month. I love Kaur’s poetry. I recommend starting this book at an outdoor jazz festival and catching snippets of it on lazy afternoons sipping craft beer.
  • Leigh Kramer’s A Storied Life is wonderful. I definitely ugly-cried toward the end, so you should be prepared for that.

Favorite events:

  • I drove to Virginia to attend the writer’s retreat at God’s Whisper Farm (next year is June 21-23, if you want to go ahead and mark it on your calendar now). It was the first time I have driven halfway across the country by myself and the first time I led a workshop at a writer’s retreat. It was relaxing and inspiring and I recommend it to everyone.
  • I finished a rough draft of my Fishbowl manuscript. I won’t allow myself to touch it officially until September when I read through it and give it a first round of edits. Ever the loophole seeker, however, I have a pile of notes that I keep jotting down for when I tackle it seriously again. For now, I’m basking in the first step.
  • I got to help Hope with her tabling event at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship assembly in Dallas. Getting paid to lure people with chocolate and talk about trade and coffee and hang out with Hope? Sign me up always.

Random favorites:

  • Pear liqueur. It may be my new favorite thing. Mix with pineapple/mango juice. Or whiskey.
  • Seeing students get more involved in civic events. We have had quite a few around town lately, and it’s exciting to see a bit of a younger crowd there.

What I’m looking forward to:

  • 3rd annual Hemingway party coming up this month. We’re going super easy (but always delicious) on the food and super plentiful on the hooch. You’re welcome, neighbors. Also, come on over.
  • 24in48 readathon! Few things thrill me as much as a weekend where I don’t leave the house (except for that one thing I’m leaving the house to do that weekend).

What are you into lately? I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – hop over there to read more and add your two cents!

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Favorite thing about summer. FAVORITE.

Fresh peaches that practically burst when you touch them. Snow cones. Festivals and retreats and reunions. Lounging and reading. Air conditioning (because it’s already dabbling in triple digits here and Lord have mercy).

Ah, summer.

I don’t have to talk myself into fall and winter. I have made my peace with spring being my least favorite season, because allergies.

But the people looooove summer. And I just…don’t. But I also know how annoying it is to me when people complain about winter (just…shhhh. Let me enjoy the five minutes a year I’m not in a constant state of sweat and nausea in peace). Therefore, in the interest of not being the gnat swarm at everyone’s picnic, I decided to follow Joy the Baker’s lead and make a summer bucket list.

I know the purpose of a bucket list is typically accomplishment, and there’s an element of that in here. Mostly, though, this is a list of the things I’m looking forward to doing this summer.

  • Finishing Fishbowl. I’m super close to finishing my first rough draft of a full-length novel. Like…within-the-next-couple-of-weeks close. I’ve been playing with this manuscript for so long that I can’t imagine it being finished (well, the first step of finished, anyway). And it may expand in the editing process later, as I have pesky notes of a side view, and I’ll have to read it through to know if that’s a distraction or an important part of the story. But the bones will be written. So, so soon.
  • Road trip to Virginia to the writers’ retreat where I will be presenting my workshop. There are still spaces available, and you can read about it and register here.
  • Leave the house on purpose at least twice a week for fun. Not because I have work or errands or a meeting. Just to join civilization. It’s not something I need to do every day, but life is richer when I get out regularly. Summer is an easier time to do that.
  • 3rd annual Hemingway party. There may be dancing this year. There will definitely be alcohol and mixers and lots of food.
  • 24in48 reading challenge! July 21-22. Sign-ups are coming soon. I’ll keep you posted.
  • High school reunion in July.

I also need to settle into a better daily rhythm with the things I know that feed my soul. I started off well in January, but the goals have sort of fizzled. No, that’s an understatement. My resolutions tracking sheet (post forthcoming) is a desert. As most of the resolutions I set are activities designed to help me maintain balance and sanity, it makes sense that I have been scattered (tidy euphemism) as of late. I’ve been in survival mode for about three months. I know that there are other factors involved, so getting back to stability is not as simple as checking things off a daily to-do list, but the things on the list can help.

What are you doing this summer?

 

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Most of the writers I meet describe their writing practice as either their hobby or their work (or a hybrid of the two). Today I’m over at Andi’s place talking about how to bridge the gap and make sure inspiration comes along. Hop over and give it a read!

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Wild streak

It seemed fitting to end the year of wild with a little heat in my hair.

Other than cosmetically, however, I am not sure how wild the year was. It had its moments. We road-tripped to Virginia and made no real plans for the trip there and back. I ran alone sometimes. I tried new things and spoke out a little more about things that are important to me. I also discovered I’m wilder than I suspected, which is equal parts exciting and scary.

A significant part of the year seemed to be tangled up in trying to balance the wild with safety. This post from my 31 Days series sums up that struggle nicely. Wild is not safe. But wild can be free. It just needs a little room to run. I seem to love (and by “love,” I do mean “thrive in”) the chaos of the wild. I wouldn’t have guessed that.

I’m not through unpacking all of it yet, but that’s okay. The word doesn’t have to end its influence just because the year does.

In other resolution news, I’ve managed to meet at least a little of each one.

  1. Read 100 books. I read 63 books (or, at least, I kept up with 63. A few seem to be missing). I really loved a lot of them. The ones that stand out are Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, Meagan Spooner’s Hunted, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, and all the Fredrik Backman books.
  2. Learn conversational Spanish. I took a Spanish class at work. We only got to things like simple directions around campus, but it’s a start.
  3. Continue to make my home a place that is welcoming and does not hinder the life I create. My office is a madhouse. Everything that is still unpacked is in there, and it’s a lot. I think I met this goal in a way that I didn’t intend, though. Even though there are pockets of mess all around, I still had people over more often. I meant to keep my home in a way that was not a hindrance to hospitality, but what seems to have happened is that I just decided that it wasn’t going to be a hindrance and lived my life anyway. Acceptable.
  4. Continue to improve my health and well-being. This is another goal that morphed. My health is better. My blood pressure is staying down, and my focus has improved. Anxiety is still afoot, but it is the monster in the back of my mind instead of the one staring me down when I open my eyes, so that’s better. I haven’t lost the weight like I intended, but I haven’t gained either, which is something, considering that I didn’t pay much attention to it at all.
  5. Finish at least one manuscript and publish a 2018 calendar. I did not finish a manuscript. But I worked on one more consistently than I did the previous year, so…progress? I didn’t publish a calendar like I meant to, but I did make my own calendar of coffee pictures (currently hanging in my kitchen, and it’s sooo cute). I think I just needed to prove to myself that the printing of the calendar was the easy part if I would just get the pictures together.
  6. Run a 5K. Running is so much harder now than it was 20 years ago. I think I finally accepted that this year. This is a doable goal; it’s just not a quickly doable goal. I have a vague hope that I will run consistently one day, but this is not that day. And tomorrow’s not that day, either. Don’t hold your breath.
  7. Go on a writing retreat. Yay! I did! I went to Andi’s retreat, and I have to finish my Fishbowl rough draft by the time the 2018 retreat rolls around. I may have to insert some solitary retreats in there this year to get this done.
  8. Get paid for writing in some way. I totally did this. I make enough in writing to cover my grocery budget, and my Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify subscriptions. SEO writing is not my calling, but it’s a writing job, and I am happy to have it.
  9. Continue/establish beloved traditions. My traditions that have stuck are my Advent/Christmas rituals and my Hemingway party, and they’re both the newest ones. It seems like each home has its own traditions. The cooking/baking weekends all happened when I had a great kitchen (and Maggie to help). But parties with lots of people and space for a full-sized Christmas tree? That I can do here. I look forward to seeing what else this space might hold for me this year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Andi’s book is launching on November 14, and I’M SO EXCITED!!! As a member of her online writing community, I have benefited from Andi’s wisdom through my inbox every week, so it’s thrilling to see her letters compiled in a volume that I can share with the writers in my life. I interviewed Andi about the Love Letters to Writers, and I hope you enjoy it!

1. I am a to-do list person. One thing your letters (and your online writing group) have encouraged me to do is slow down and pay attention. Why is this important for artists in general and for writers in particular?

Oh, I’m a to-do list person, too. I like to feel like I’ve gotten a lot done, but I’ve learned that as a writer that product cannot be the end-all-be-all. Process is crucial, and part of the process for an artist is that we have to notice and bear witness to what happens around us. For writers, this means that sometimes our work is to take note rather than to shape things.  So sometimes we do a lot of writing that no one else will ever see.  We have to pay attention to our senses, to our bodies, and to our emotions. We have to slow down to try to see the Why? behind things . . . because it’s in that why that the life of a story lives.

2. You often write in your letters about the physical spaces you create to support the habits of your writing life. What common elements do you find necessary for such spaces?

For me, the space needs to be quiet. It needs to be filled with things I love but that don’t require my attention – pieces of art, books I know, objects that people I love have given me.  I really need to love the wall color (My office is painted in “Macaroni and Cheese.”).  I also need my writing space to be comfortable in terms of a chair and desk.

But that’s what I need. Every writer needs different things. Some people need to work in coffee shops for the gentle distraction of other people and their chatter, and others love to have music going all the time. Some people prefer a pristine, streamlined environment, and others find that the dining room table is ideal for them.

The key is for each writer to determine what works best for them and then to create the space they need. I recommend a dedicated space for writing – even if it’s that the dining room table becomes writing space after dinner – because when we return to the same space again and again to write, it creates a sort of mental memory of what we do there.  That can be a powerful tool for starting that day’s writing.

3. You are so gentle – in your letters, in your work, and in person. Have you found this gentleness to be useful in the work you do? Why or why not?

What a kind thing to say, Suzanne. Thank you.  In the work I do with writers, yeah, most of the time I think gentleness is key. We’ve all been scolded about our writing selves – either by teachers or blogs or by those voices that live in our own minds.  Most of us need to be spoken to with gentle directness, I think.

On occasion, my clients could probably use a more assertive coach who demands more of them, but then, the clients who work with me know who I am, so perhaps they don’t expect that.

In my writing life, well, I often wish I wasn’t so gentle. When I’m not working with writers, I research and write about the history and legacy of slavery, and I’m learning to make my voice more steely because American needs to hear the truth about this part of our American history.  I’m still gentle on the inside, though, so sometimes, it’s quite challenging to continue to speak strong on something that feels so obviously needed to me.

4. Great writers are often great readers. What is the best book you’ve read this year, and what did it teach you?

This is always a tough question, but I’ll just go with the first book that came to mind: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.  I read this book just after I miscarried this year because it’s about McCracken’s own experience of losing her son before he was even born.  It taught me to write raw about the pain I’ve lived, even if I’m not ready to share that rawness yet, and it taught me that you can recall the details and emotions of an experience even after it happens and even if you don’t journal the whole time. Sometimes, I feel like since I don’t journal my days I’m missing out on books I could write later, but McCracken’s memoir reminded me that those experiences still live in me – I just have to work to find them again.

5. What are your favorite moments when working with writers?

Oh, many.  My all-time favorite is when a writer decides to take herself seriously as a writer, when she decides to commit the time, when she decides to do the work because she WANTS to do it . . . even if there’s no recognition or paycheck coming. I love those moments because they are the moments I know that a writer is in and will keep going no matter what.  They aren’t that common, but when they come, I’m exhilarated.

I also love the moments when writers find that their own egos are not the best judges of their work, when they can put aside their intentions and what they thought a work was and hear the perspective of someone – a friend, a reader, an editor – who does not find the work flawless.  Those moments are the ones that make us better writers, and while they are painful, they are crucial.

I also love launch days for writers I know.  They aren’t always – or often – spectacular successes, but the joy of putting something out into the world, something built with hard effort and love, well, that’s a glorious thing.

Love Letters to Writers is available for pre-order now. Treat yourself to this gem of a book.

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Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, four dogs, four cats, six goats, three rabbits, and thirty-six chickens. She writes regularly at andilit.com

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Farm stand, sky and coffee. Pretty great trip!

June was fast-paced with pockets of slow. It’s a busy month at work, so of course I took a week and a half off, because I enjoy full mailboxes. It was a week well spent, though.

This was the first year I got to go to Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s writer’s retreat, and I am hooked. It was so refreshing. It was fun to meet people in person whom I’d only met online, and we got to drive through some beautiful scenery (note bottom left photo – Virginia is freakin’ gorgeous). I also got to spend lots of time with a couple of good friends on the way there and back since we drove from Texas.

No matter how busy it is, though, summer is always a heavy reading time for me. I picked up Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and Susan Hermann Loomis’s In a French Kitchen, both of which I liked. I loved Meagan Spooner’s Hunted. It may be my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast. My favorite thing I read this month, though, was Fredrik Backman’s novella called And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. You can read it in one sitting, and if you have someone in your life who is losing their memory, I recommend reading it someplace private where you can ugly cry.

I am growing tomatoes! I have two plants, and they have actual, real green tomatoes on them. I have spent more time on my porch watering and talking to them this month than I have spent on my porch the rest of the last year.

Speaking of the last year, today is my apartmentversary. I have officially been here one year in this great neighborhood where, for the first time in a long time, I did not wake up to fireworks still going off at 4:00 in the morning. Do not ask me if I have finished unpacking yet. It would be a shame for me to be forced to lie to you.

What are you into this month? I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – drop over there and join the fun!

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I received an advance copy of Andi’s new book, Charlotte and the Twelve: A Steele Secrets Story. I am so grateful for this new chapter in Mary Steele’s education as an advocate for those whose voices have been silenced or stolen.

As with Steele Secrets, where we first met Mary and her friends, this book deals with race relations and the uncomfortable conversations surrounding them. More importantly, it emphasizes that these conversations are absolutely necessary if any kind of justice is ever to happen. Some of the characters wrestle with their privilege and their guilt. Some of the characters bury their anger, and some of them embrace it. People say the wrong things. They call each other out. It’s helpful to see the tension in these conversations, and I appreciate that, although it’s written for a young audience, Andi didn’t try to mask the tensions.

The parts I loved the most were when old friends and family were unexpectedly reunited. The writing of that peculiar mix of joy and anguish was exquisite. Andi has a gift for holding multiple experiences – anger, grief, relief, guilt, love, discomfort, hope – in the same hand and honoring them all through her words.

Another thing I love about Andi’s writing, particularly with these characters and this ongoing story line, is that there were no tidy bows tied on the ending. It is an admission of all the work left to do and a firm exhortation to do it.

Charlotte and the Twelve releases today, and I encourage you to buy it. Enjoy!

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