Observe with Your Whole Self: A Writing Lesson for Life

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Writing has taught me a lot, but the coolest thing I’ve learned since I’ve started writing (book, poetry, and the Proof blog) is the awe-inspiring power of observation. I’ve been writing even before I began actively observing others and the world around me, and I can attest that your work becomes worth reading if it portrays real life rather than if it what you think real life is.

I don’t mean that memoirs are the only awesome literature. Or that you should Hemingway your WIP.

There can still be contented endings, beautiful people, and even happy coincidences. Those things do happen in real life (though they are few and far between, and for the love of Rufus, don’t be annoying with them, please.)

This is what I mean:

There is no way I can create a character that isn’t like me if I don’t open my eyes and my heart and soak in other people. Invest in them. SEE them for all they are—a perfect swirl of chaos and beauty.  Experience them, empathize with them, take their humanity and roll it around in my head for a while until I UNDERSTAND something integral, and why it’s there.

(This also applies to setting, in my opinion.)

I’ve had to do this first with me…and I didn’t always like the images I saw. (I still look inside for understanding because I just haven’t gotten to the bottom of my crazy.)

I don’t know if it’s this stage in my life or if I have writing to thank for this deep soul-diving. Probably a combination of both? But I’m so thankful because more than writing better, observing and internalizing has become imperative to living better.

It embeds in me the worth of who or what has my attention. And that breeds respect.

I imagine the soul is like a spider producing web; I press my hand into the other person’s, and they share with me a silver thread. I tie the end to my own strand…and, there. We are connected.

(Places are kinda like that, too.)

When Crabs and Spiders Collide

[This tiny, crab-like spider is way less scary than the other picture I took, so…You’re welcome.]

This path—writing, observing, connecting—has made me grow up…and out. I digress sometimes, but ultimately I remember the joy and find my way again.

Truth Bomb: It can hurt sometimes, what you see. Don’t let it stop you.

Are you writing real life from a point of understanding? If you’re not, shouldn’t you be? (This is rhetorical, unless you don’t want it to be.)

Have you discovered your observational superpower? Has it changed your life, too?

-Mea

 

A Word to You Graduates

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Hello, Graduates! Congratulations on this crazy awesome milestone and having the guts to jump blindly off this cliff of adolescence into the abyss of adulthood.

Y’all are so brave, and I mean that.

I remember not feeling brave at all when I was a high school graduate, ducking into abandoned hallways or taking the long way to my car, so I could avoid people asking me the question all graduates hear:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It was always followed by a sardonic laugh, like the person who asked it created the question for the pure joy of seeing me squirm and fish for words.

Ha, haa, huhhh…

Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted my career to be. I didn’t have a lot of talents, or so I thought. I never internalized what my “dream job” would be. Truthfully, the only career options I considered was what I could do that wouldn’t kill me and provide, you know, food.

It never occurred to me to “dream big”, to “search deep”, to “care” about what I should be. The question was so monstrous, so intimidating, I decided that I just wouldn’t “be” anything. That what I would “be” inevitably would pale to whatever dream I could conjure, so I might as well not conjure one at all. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

I was not a confident teen. I was driven by fear-fear lead to procrastination-procrastination to denial. Denial that I even wanted more than what I had allowed myself.

I’ve heard a lot of people blame the world for failures, but I was the worst kind of hypocrite. The world wasn’t my problem. I was my problem. And I had convinced myself that I didn’t need to know myself, that I didn’t need to believe I could be more.

I had been telling myself “NO” long before I donned a cap and gown.

For example, I was waiting tables my senior year of high school, and met a news anchor for the local television station. When the check was delivered, she put her card in the small, black folder and asked me to contact her if I wanted an internship with her.

I was elated. My heart burst forth lighting my path with rainbow dust. The opportunity of interning with her hung before me, a colorful piñata ripe with sweet possibilities. I held the stick. All I had to do was whack the thing open.

I didn’t.

I lived off the good feeling the offer gave me for a year before I realized I’d wasted it.

The phrase “my life will do” took the place of “I love my life” and, my young friends,  “doing” might make you feel good for a moment, but long-term, you want the “loving”.

I settled on a path in college, and didn’t dare question it until my senior year, and by then, I was so close to a degree, I just sucked it up and finished it.

Why did I do this? Why was I so self-destructive?

I’m not a thousand percent sure, but I have an idea that this is part of the reason:

I was asking the wrong question.

It shouldn’t be “WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?”.

It should be “WHO do you want to be?”

To get to that answer, maybe answer a few of these questions could help.

What kind of person do you want to be, inside and out?

What characteristics do you want to embody?

How do you want to affect others?

What about you do you want others to admire?

How do you want to feel at the end of the day?

I don’t want to give you the impression that answering this question is easy. In fact, my answer two years ago is different from the answer I hold in my mind today. It’s an evolving answer as we grow, observe, learn, and change.

BUT the hard work will be worth it.

In my heart of hearts I know if I would have ventured onto this path of self-discovery, my career choice would have been chosen to complement me, rather than an obstacle to overcome. And if I would have stumbled into a career choice that didn’t match my expectations, it would have been okay because at the end of the day, I would have known who I was. I could have recognized when I was in a situation that didn’t honor WHO I wanted to be and I could have made the necessary career changes earlier.

So, WHO do you want to be? WHO do you want your future spouse to fall in love with? WHO do you want your parents or guardians to be proud of? WHO do you want to face in the mirror every morning? WHO do you want your future kids to look up to?

Find that person, BE that person, and the WHAT, WHY, WHERE, and HOW will fall into place.

Cheers, class of 2017! Don’t be afraid to show my generation up!

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Update on Life-April Edition

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I have so much to tell you since the last time I’ve written. I think I’ll put it in sections, so I don’t forget anything.

A. The Poetry

With the poetry book done, I got a notice my alma mater was having a poetry reading that weekend. Standing in front of people I may or may not know and reading something that comes from such a private, personal place sounded terrifying. So I did it. And it was terrying.  I choked the last line because I was trying not to cry.

But something good did come from it. A past professor, one I really looked up to, was there and after the event, she sat with me and went through every word of the chapbook and made sound suggestions that really made the quality of the whole project leaps and bounds better.

Though I’d settled on the title, it bugged me a bit. She helped me change it. I’ve already reworked the suggestions, and even submitted it to the first competition. There are two more that I’ll send to soon.

I’m going to write more on this, but I see merit now in choosing a smaller project to see through, beginning to end, before launching into a novel. I have tangible evidence on what “done” is like, and it is addictive. I believe the memory of it will carry me to completion on the next novel project.

B. Camp Nanowrimo

I have a goal of 25,000 words to get me to the end of a first draft of SongNovel. There is a new layout method that I’m in love with and am itching to put to action. (Dan Harmon’s story circle. Check it out!) I was doing really well, even exceeding word counts during the weekdays, so my weekends would be more family focused. Approximately 7,500 words in, my husband found a house that he loved. I love it, too, and through a series of emotional events, we’re…

C. Buying and Selling a House

After Hurricane Katrina (2005), the apartment the newly wedded Smiths (that’s us) lived in became too expensive. Not only my apartment complex, but also a host of others who sustained damage from the hurricane raised monthly cost $100 or more. We also had a pet, which meant most affordable complexes would not rent to us, even before Katrina. So we bought a little baby house, in hopes that we would be able to move to a toddler house about two years or so after.

For the past, 11 years, we have shared 1 bathroom about the size of an office desk. And we have grown from a 2 person family to a 4 person family as well. There are no secrets where there should be secrets. My friends, it’s time for a second bathroom. Please, Lord Jesus, let it be time for a second bathroom.

So we put a contract on the house that we love, contingent upon the selling of our current home.

Relatedly, on January 21, 2017, a tornado hit our small town, and I am still in conversations with contractors to complete/start work on our house. AND NOW WE HAVE TO SELL IT.  Per our contract, we had to list the house asap.

I cleaned the house to take pictures of the inside of it before the sheetrock gentleman came to fix spots in two ceilings and a section of carport. Then I cleaned more when people wanted to see the house before the work was done. I will also have to deep clean the house again when the workers finish. (I don’t know when that will be because they are on contractor time, which I found out recently is different than Mea time.) There is a daily tidying situation that has to happen before work everyday because you never know when you will have to tell your realtor, “Sure, these potential buyers can see the house without the 24 hours of notice we asked for.” (Daily tidying wouldn’t be difficult if my two toddlers weren’t sleeping on a pallet in the living room because their ceiling is getting worked on, and–I have two toddlers.)

And then there are…

D. Kittens Residing on my Front Porch

My sweet kitty is the best mom and wants her babies to see the world, but not from the cozy confines of our outside laundry room, as I had hoped. Instead she’s set up shop on our front porch, so anyone who would like to look at the house must first pass five tiny, blue-eyed, toe-biting guards and their mother. (They are adorable and we’re keeping two of the five because we love them so.) (I just wish I could love them so from the house we want to buy instead of the house we want to sell.)

E. Conclusion

I know this is just a season of life that will be fine in some months. It’s just messing with my creative life so I’m a little resentful. I can adjust with this unexpected change because at the end of the day, it will benefit my family. The house is a fixer upper, too, so I hope to be posting some before-and-afters of rooms and projects. I’ll tag them something clever in case you don’t care to see.

So…this is my life currently. Anyone else going through a big change?

Iiii….It’s Done

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At 4pm on March 29th, I finished my poetry chapbook.

 

A writing project complete.

 

Since then, I’ve done a lot of staring at things. And blinking.

 

I honestly feel like I’m in shock. I don’t really know what to do.

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It’s been so long since I’ve finished a writing project.

 

This year I decided I needed a baptism by fire. Something that would blast through this fear of acknowledgement/discovery. Not discovery as an author–that would be stupid cool–but discovery as in, the inner workings of Mea Smith. Which, I believe will be a huge step toward the author thing. I know I’m all sunshine and roses on the outside, but there are some pretty dark unicorns and tricky sprites inside that I’ve had (and have) to deal with.

My Southern upbringing taught me to deal with these things privately, but do you know how lonely “privately” is? And who really “deals” with their shit if they’re not pushed by someone or another? So, poetry has been my way to “deal” with the poop piles of death, disappointment, and depression (woah with the alliteration).

“No one has to read it,” I told myself. “Just write it down, get it out, cleanse the inside.”

And that’s what I did.

So, back to “baptism by fire”. I am a fearful being by nature.

And I’m friggin tired of it.

So when making my list of things I want to do this year, I wrote–Get Over All The Fear. I made a plan, and at the time, it felt like a good one.

The Plan

Step 1: Find that poetry that means the most to you. [Maybe subconsciously I wanted to share it because I typed it up after I hand wrote it–Or maybe I thought Iwould want to remember where I came from one day when I am not crazy (so probably never) and typed it up. Either way…]

Step 2: Write some more about The Things. You know what they are, Mea.

Step 3: Put them all together in a pleasing fashion.

Step 4: Share with world.

See, poetry is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It’s my therapist since I can’t afford one, so putting this out in the world for others to judge and scowl and laugh and cry over…is probably the worst thing I could do to my poor, fearful self.

So that’s what I’m doing.

And that’s what I mean by “baptism by fire”. It’s going to hurt like hell, but I know I’m going to come out a better, braver person when it’s all over. (I so, so hope.)

Now, I sit. It’s cover glares at me when I tell it I’ve picked three competitions to submit to. I’m not sure it wants to go, but this is the Year of Overcoming, and so I and my darlings will overcome.

I decided to go mixed-media with it and added poems on photography I’ve done and illustrations. It’s this Thing that I’ve become proud of (look what I’ve overcome) instead of ashamed of (you don’t want to see my darkness; look glitter!!!).

So here is the cover:

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I’ll let you know if I get chosen from one of the contests, but right now, it just feels damn good to Finish Something.

-Mea

The Unintended Effect of Embracing My Tribe

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At some point, I don’t recall when, society began glamorizing what it’s like to be “awkward” and I had finally found my People.

I was elated!

I wasn’t alone!

There were others who had the tendency to trip on her own shoes, or say embarrassing random things in front of important people, or go to hug her husband and accidently poke him in the eye.

I don’t know if it started with Bella Swan, I feel like we can (almost) all agree that she wouldn’t have been so cute if she didn’t fly her Clumsy Flag high.

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There are amazingly hilarious shows like NEW GIRL and 30 ROCK that have main characters I relate wholeheartedly to. It’s like sitting with old friends and accidentally choking on biscotti sticks between stroppy life stories.

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I had never felt so welcome.

And suddenly, I was even collecting embarrassing”events” like Pokemon cards. As soon as I would do something weird, I would catalog it so I could tell my other “awkward” friends. It was like a strange Girl Scout group, and for those of us who are somewhat socially moribund, it felt good to be a part of something, even if it’s an Embassy of Embarrassment where you must have at least three level 10 incidences on file before you could be a full member. And that’s only to join. To stay in, you have to meet quotas.

About the same time, I unconsciously decided that those descriptors were the best attributes I had. That I was only these awkward instances stitched together into a timeline.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the words I use to describe myself.

Awkward. Weirdo. Clumsy. Dummy.

All super uplifting, right?

And then I realized, those words weren’t just in my head.

“I am so awkward.”

“You don’t know me yet, but I’m a weirdo.”

“Listen to this dummy thing I did.”

“Mea, you idiot…”

It wasn’t someone else saying these things to me. It was me…demeaning me.

I  noticed something. Something I didn’t really like. I was starting to be ONLY awkward–ONLY a clumsy-dummy-weirdo. Before, I would have these moments of brilliance. I would at least feel confident with a pen in my hand. I used to hold on to these moments like you would a string tied to a helium balloon because, before awkward was cool, I wanted to be luminescent when I “grew up”. Well, at least mostly shiny.

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Slowly, though, those shiny moments separated farther and farther in time until I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen one. But I could totally remember the last 10 times I told myself I was an idiot.

To my tribe, I told funny anecdotes.

But I was not happy.

I wonder how many of them aren’t happy either?

I heard myself one day, “Gah, me equals awkward,” and it made me stop in my tracks. (Literally, I almost caused a traffic jam in the hallway.)

I. Heard. Myself.

How long had I been shoving myself in this soggy box? So long that I forgot what it felt like to be competent and confident in my talents. “I am not one for false modesty…” (Elizabeth Bennet said) but, in the past, I had not been one for false condemnation, either. Was I really a dummy-wierdo? God, I hope not.

For an experiment, I practiced not saying aloud the things I didn’t want to resemble.

It was hard.

It is hard.

I’d unintentionally ingrained this line of thinking to flow freely from my head to my mouth to my heart that stopping it took constant attention.

Until it didn’t. (I did it again today, but I’m writing this post, so I wonder if old habits truly do die hard, or if it’s just in the forefront of my forehead.)

I’ve noticed an improvement. I feel more “together” in the world rather than cliquishly “awkward”. I feel more capable with publicly verbalizing ten words in a row without accidently creating a dirty joke. I feel more Real Smiles than not these days.  I feel more like Sometimes Shiny Me instead of Always Awkward Me.

Now, I’m working on my thoughts. Even the disappointed tone I hear my inner voice use when I do something dumb. I can’t change the fact that I am naturally clumsy and that I think differently than most people I know (which makes me the life of the party, let me tell you.) But I can forgive myself, and I can release those moments, rather than hoarding them for future hilarious floggings.

I’m finding that I WANT to be forgiving. That I want to see what more I can be by just…believing I’m more than a failed trek up the stairs (true story). This is what I want to tell all the members of my trippy tribe. We don’t have to just be an after-dinner story. We are more than our awkward experiences.

I’m not saying you have to change anything after reading this. I just want to be real with you.  We are Writers and/or Readers. We KNOW words are powerful. Why did I NOT think that applied to Real Life, instead of to just the lives I create? For me, right now, it’s the lack of words that have made all the difference. But don’t we Writers already know that, too?

Until next time, *pregnant pause* (See what happened there???)

 

Why I Liked THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE.

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Hello! It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book review. I have a few to do, but if you don’t mind, I’m going to start with THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness. **Spoiler free.**

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This book captured my granite heart for a few reasons:

  1. Structure: There are two stories going on here. One story is told in the actual book and the other is told IN THE CHAPTER TITLES. At first I was confused until I got to chapter two which was the same moment that I realized that Patrick Ness was a genius.
  2. Characters: The story revolves around four friends and is told from the perspective of Mikey. He’s the younger brother of Mel (another of the friends). His best friend Jared and his crush Henna are also in the group. Each of them has his or her own worries outside of saving the world, and the friends can deal with them because they are not the Chosen Ones. Mickey battles OCD, Mel struggles with an eating disorder, Henna grieves the loss of her brother, and Jared works through identity issues. We get to watch the inner trauma of Mickey’s situation, including a therapist meeting that had me wanting to cry on someone’s shoulder. The other characters reactions to their circumstances are subtly yet clearly shown to us as the story progresses. You grow to love each character and see how this group of friends, with all the vices and what some would call “faults”, work together and love each other as friends turned family members. (Especially since some of the families they were born into suuuuuck.)
  3. Prose: The story is just told well. The prose is engaging with just the right amount of “pretty”, and you feel Mickey’s struggle and relief within the arrangement of words. Wonderful.
  4. Ending: I really liked how the chapter titles story and the actual story pulled together in the end. It had a hopeful feel to it and hinted that the characters were all going to continue to grow and turn into even cooler adults. And dang it if I don’t like a happy ending. (I do. Happy Endings are my Thang.)
  5. Movie?: Yes! I think this would make a really neat anti-Chosen One movie. There are neat visuals that could be done, and it’s a fresh take I personally have never seen on film. Ya here me, Hollywood?! Make it so!

Until next time!

Mea