Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Reunion of Fall

When trees start shedding their leaves and noses become rosy, I'll slip a brittle gold band on my finger and cradle The Odyssey. Both are treasures from two of the most influential men I knew.

As a child, I was precocious with a dash of inquisitive--or just plain annoying. It takes great skill to trip over flat surfaces (while reading a book) or memorize the entire Greek alphabet and write letters to yourself in your secret Greek code (true story) but conversing with my peers? Not so much. Awkward and nerdy aren't exactly the most appealing attributes of elementary aged children. I can't imagine why.

But not to Uncle Ray. Even now, a few painful years later typing his name makes me pause. 

My insatiable fascination (borderline obsession) of the ancient Greek culture won a smile and a book. From his beloved library he gave me The Odyssey and then later, the Iliad. He encouraged the art of strategy by teaching me chess. To this day, it's one of only three board games I'll play. 

Instead of being odd, I was deliciously different. He'd read my poorly written tomes and chuckle at my ambitious goals. His unsteady handwritten letters still found their way to my door while I was in college. No matter how wrong my point of view was or how ludicrous an idea, he would listen.

I miss my uncle. I miss my friend.

Never did I need him more than last winter, a rough patch I'm still trying to forget. His greatest talent was his ability to pluck a silver lining from my tense perspective. 

A few years before the loss of my uncle, I was introduced to a crowd of strangers by my soon-to-be-husband. I was fighting the instinct to hide when a bespectacled Grandpa Hulse grinned at me from across the living room. He patted the couch cushion next to me and before I could sit he said, "there's too many damn people here."

We snickered a moment before he recited a poem, The Man from Snowy River (the inspiration behind the movie). It was the movie I first watched at Uncle Ray's house. The same movie Damon played when he was laid off and the stress halted the labor of our second child. After a few scenes, my nerves calmed and a beautiful baby came into the world.

Grandpa Hulse was known for his blunt attitude and scathing words--but not to me. He was tender and mischievous. We conspired to slip cow tongue into the enchiladas at the weekly family dinner. He'd wink at me after asking about my animal science research and encourage me for the hundredth time to apply for a job on Antelope Island (a completely impracticable position). When the crowd was too large for us to handle, we'd disappear downstairs where he would encourage me to write. Not just the poems he'd pen for the family but to author the stories he never could. 

Before he died, I was given the gold band he first gave Grandma Hulse. The metal was brittle and the edges worn by the battle of mortality. When I slipped it onto my finger he chuckled, saying, "That's the second woman to take a ring from me."

I miss my grandpa. I miss my co-conspirator, my friend.

When I hold these treasures I feel the tenderness of acceptance and love. And the hope I will return the ring and the book to their masters--a reunion worth waiting for.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lauryn's Legs

Several times over I've invited my friends to begin or advance their running. Feeling the strength of my legs and the rush of accomplishment are something I beg to share. Wherever I travel, the world looks infinitely more simple when explored from one of the oldest form of travel. Even the busy grandeur of New York City becomes quiet. It reverts to a time when buildings were beautiful instead of efficient. This love, this experience is what drives me to share the art of running with friends and family. There are fewer pleasures than watching a friend who abhors running (or sweating of any kind) slowly become strong. Soon they make the half-skip from strong to hungry.

Running is an ever inclusive sport. It is no longer just for the twiggy legs and taut abs. It's everyone who understands that our will is forever stronger than our body. 

There's a code between runners, they will encourage each other and stop to aid a fellow runner. But more than any other sport, runners are the highest donators (and higher than any nonreligious group). Logging miles isn't the only reason our hearts our larger than our nonrunning peers. We give beyond our capacity in every mile, and every charity.

Twelve of my friends assembled a Ragnar team, a 200+ mile relay that must be completed in 36 hours. We trained, we laughed and then one day we cried. One of our own lost her oldest daughter. Together we rallied around her and changed the direction of our team. We no longer trained to represent our friendship, we now devoured miles for the memory of an angel.

Her daughter was unable to walk or talk in this life, prompting our team to adopt the mantra "Don't Rest. Run, Scream, Jump and Have Fun." She was a princess in her own right, loving tiaras and pink zebra stripes. On the two month anniversary of her daughter's death, my friend stood at the starting line. She was strong despite the tears and uncertainty. This was her daughter's race and yet, like so many times since her daughter's birth, she was once again the legs of her child.

The moment she crossed the start line, I realized my arrogant mistake. I had not included my friend in my favorite sport. She had included me in her pain, the raw loss of a child. A privilege I am wholly unworthy of.
Our team of thirteen was determined, we believed we would carry our friend to the finish line. Little did we know that our friend's love of her daughter would carry with us for much longer than the 36 hours.
We are runners. We are mothers. But more than anything we are women. I know I've included more pictures in this post than I normally do. Please, I want you to look at each woman, see their strength. See their determination. The level of compassion they hold is inspiring - they have taught me, encouraged me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Critic and The Creator

From Stephen King to the writer next door, there's one universal rule--if you want to write, you must read. The religion of authors dictates that the greater our ambitions, the more novels we should consume. By studying the masters (and the mistakes) I am taught what works and what doesn't. 
I spend hours devouring novels from all genres. Thrillers teach me tension while historical teach me setting. I scribble notes on each book as if the author were in my critique group. Over time, I suppose I could become a fantastic critic. 
But not a writer. 
Reading is one aspect (a crucial one at that) but so are critique groups. Both of which help us identify errors in our work and others. And that is where many if us get stuck, in the valley of The Empty Page. We become so adept at finding flaws that we forget to write. And even when we do, the fear of becoming what we critique destroys our ambition. 
I can no more become an author by only reading than becoming a runner by reading about runners. There are things such as cross training that can enhance my ability but nothing can replace it.
Reading, critique groups and conferences are the enhancements of writing. But there will never be a novel until I actually write one - this may seem obvious to those actively writing or reading but take notice of your fellow "would be" authors. If they're offering critiques but not work, hold their hand and guide them through the painful editing process. If your favorite wordsmith has recommended his opinion on the best seller list but struggles to put two sentences together, meet him for drinks or invite him to your local writers club. Because let's face it, we're in this together, both our inner critic and  inner creator. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

More than a Blog

Last fall, I accepted the Writers of Kern Blog Challenge. Not surprisingly, I struggled to carve out time for family, running and writing--let alone time for blogging. The challenge was a twice a week post for thirteen weeks that fell smack in the middle of the holiday season. Homework, tantrums, and cleaning were tempting excuses to escape my online duties. 
But something happened, as with most challenges. The normal stresses of the mundane became little bursts of beauty. When there was nothing in my fatigued brain (and a blank computer screen staring back at me) I'd remember the adventures of the day. The humorous moments of parenting or the strength found in running became precious gems, painting my point of view a pretty shade of grateful. Family and friends (then friends of friends) began sharing my posts - my perspective of an imperfect life. 
As I continued to blog about marathons, my novel and the chaos called kids, I discovered two forgotten truths. One, we're human and we embrace the lovable flaws of each other. We trip, we fall and we laugh, even at the expense of our pride.

Two, I have an incredible life. Only when I've cast a spotlight on my blessings do I realize how much I've been given. This house might be heavy on the crazy and light on the calm but it's mine. And "my cup runneth over." The obvious blessings may have surrounded me but when I'm waist-deep in the daily grind I rarely look up to the see the blooming garden, the fruits of my labor.

Most people blog to become better writers, to hone their talent. Their craft. Some blog to be heard, needing a platform to pontificate. Others blog as a way to communicate with family and friends through an ever increasing social (and global) world. 
Over time,  my blog became more than a website. Strangers have become friends touched by a post, or long lost friends distanced by time or space have reconnected through the internet. But more important - I have a record of who I am. I've privately published for my family and very close friends my digital story. Some have themes, like the Writers of Kern Blog challenge, while others are purely chronological journals. Either way, I've left a legacy for my children. I wanted them to know of my beautiful, fault-littered life as well as the written word. 

For those of you debating the merits of blogging, think beyond the commitment required and more of your potential influence. Not just for strangers but for your family, both present and future.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Welcome...One and All

Due to the recent posts, my blog has received a higher profile in the last few weeks, prompting readers to ask about writing. I apologize for answering via social media but most of the questions were repetitive and could easily be addressed here.

Where are you in the process of writing/submitting your book?
Two editors from two separate publishing houses have the manuscript in full - which is typically the last step once you land an agent. (I do not have an agent as of yet, that's an entirely different post). 

What are your thoughts on NaNoWrimo?
I have a love/hate relationship with NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month - in November). I think it's a fantastic way to urge writers to do just that, write. It forced me to sit my butt down and churn out 50,000 words in a 30 day period. However, that churning is closer to word vomit than an actual story. Writers need to realize that a) 50,000 is not a complete novel. Depending on genre, you still have anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 more words and b) welcome to another year or so of editing and re-editing.
Do you have readers or a critique group?
Yes and yes. 
I have friends who are not writers who read the manuscript (if you could even call my first draft a novel). 
I am a big believer in quality critique groups - quality is the key word. A critique group isn't a cheer leading squad. The best groups give "tough love" and honest feedback. The entire goal of a critique group is to help each other become published. It's better to have your fellow writer tell you what's missing than an agent delete your submission (or offer a form rejection). You get one shot with agents/editors. If you're turned down by that one agent, you're done with his/her entire agency.

I've always wanted to write. Any suggestions on how to begin?
Become involved in a writers group. 
If you're local (and even if you're not) check out Writers of Kern, or WOK for short. We are a professional writing group, the local chapter of California Writers Club (the very group founded by Jack London). The WOK board has proposed the following activities over the next few months all of which are included in the annual membership fee. The New Membership Application is available online as well. You do not have to live in Kern County to be an active member.

Critique Groups are an absolute must have for every writer. WOK provides an ever growing list of critique groups. Once a member you can subscribe to a group with openings or start your own WOK sponsored group. 

If you're unsure about writing a novel but would like to hone your craft you can 1) enroll in our A-Z Blog Challenge starting on September 10th and/or 2) submit to our Fall Writing Contest
Again, neither one limits your residency to Kern County.

For the entire month of November you will produce a minimum of 1,667 words per day. No editing. No researching (you can do that in the months preceding). Just pure writing, plus or minus copious amounts of caffeine.

 30-day (intensive editing) bootcamp
The word vomit from NaNoWriMo will be sliced and diced into a smooth, seamless novel. From there, you're able to join the various critique groups for more feedback. If you do not live in Kern County, there are online and skype critique groups.

For February, March and April:
From Inspiration to Publication
Spring 2015 for WOK members will look more like Publishing 101 and less like a "run of the mill" writing group. The know-how and how-to of publishing: query letter, pitch, proposal, genre, agents and editors will be covered in these months. Don't fret, this will be a step-by-step process.

Any questions or comments, please feel free to email either myself or any other WOK board member.
Clarissa Kae

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mother on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

It was roughly six years ago when I braced myself against the toilet. My three year old and eighteen month old were banging their tiny fists against the bathroom door. Sleep deprived and borderline crazy, I called my husband to tell him the news. I was pregnant, again.
He nearly died from excitement, while I imploded from exhaustion.

But then something miraculous happened, my youngest daughter was born. She came out swinging and dug her little fingers into my heart, never letting go. When my oldest went to school, parenting became easier. Then when my second daughter began Kindergarten, life changed. I'd save my Target runs for when we'd be alone together. We had our inside jokes. By the time she turned four she'd deadpan, "seriously?" and "this is not negotiable."
And then Monday came. My husband and I walked to our oldest daughter's class while the school swirled with parents and nervous children. My youngest turned pale at the chaos. Only during gymnastics does my child become gregarious. She'd lock her sisters in the garage and wrestle them 'til they screamed for mercy, but put her in a room of people and she's done. A melted puddle of emotion on the floor.
We turned to my second daughter, who walked in like a Prom Queen, minus the crown. She waved to her adoring audience while she floated to her seat while donning a leopard print fedora. Children from several grades shouted her name - while my youngest tried ever so desperately to escape the circus surrounding our family.
We then faced the door to her Kindergarten classroom, her face stoic and stone. I hugged her rigid frame and kissed her on the cheek. She offered an awkward smile when her dad took a picture.
I felt her nails grip my heart ever tighter as I walked home. Alone, I drove to Target and parked the car across two stalls. Not because I'm an idiot, but because I couldn't see through misty eyes. I sat and cried in the car like the baby I was missing. 
In six short years, a baby girl changed me (and my life) from tired chaos to a complete, satisfied mother.

In the Arms of Strangers

Within 24 hours of posting Misplaced Anger, my blog was viewed over 30,000 times. Friends and family shared my post, and then their friends shared the page again. Before the week ended, my email was bombarded with private revelations from strangers. Their shoulders were heavy with the shame-filled struggle of mental illness. 
Although I've already responded to every email I've received, I would like to address those that are still cringing in front of the computer, afraid someone will see through their facade. Put one foot in front of the other - and soldier on.

You are not a disease, you are not broken. This is but one part of your life. 

And you are not alone. You are...(wait for it)...more normal than you think. A quarter of our population is tinged with mental illness in one form or another. You and I are ordinary, run of the mill people. We have nothing to be ashamed of - how do you like them apples?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Misplaced Anger

The death of Robin Williams, and everyone's opinion is everywhere. Everywhere. More than not, it's with a culmination of both sorrow and condemnation. The latter is what I hope to discuss here.
I've read several thousand comments where people unfamiliar with the situation (or suicidal depression) judge Robin Williams for his method of relief. I, myself, have fallen more than once from the edge of sanity and have clung to fragile branches, knowing they are the only barrier between me and death.

Many bystanders have ridiculed Mr. Williams, stating "there are so many good coaches" and that he/she is "angry at Robin Williams for doing something so selfish" or "don't take your life, live your life!" These wonderful people are most likely well-intentioned, but unfortunately, they are misinformed and wholly ignorant of the overwhelming temptation of suicide.

The thought has crossed my mind on many, many occasions to burn the billboards announcing "suicide is preventable" with the number to a helpline at the bottom. Perhaps, dialing a number and speaking with an absolute stranger could help a deeply depressed person. I doubt it, but maybe that would help someone else. But perhaps, and just maybe, Robin Williams suffered from moods so severe that this would not help - maybe he was a little more like me than other sufferers who could be lifted from their dangerous state with a simple phone call.

Let me be clear, I am in no way "anti-help."

I do wish to clear the air on many misconceptions in regard to suicide as a whole. When I (and others) are in this completely irrational state, I do not feel or think like I "normally" do. I lose control of rational thought and physical capabilities. If I were rational and clear-headed enough to pick up a phone and dial the damn hotline, I would also be in control enough to not commit suicide.

Another fallacy is that those who are depressed or suffer from mood instability are "crazy," "lazy," and "selfish."

I am a thirty-three year old woman with three kids and a husband of eleven years. I took my first round of SAT's when I was twelve and attended a top rated university before I was supposed to graduate high school - and from that university I snagged an Animal Science degree (with a business minor to boot). I've run full and half marathons and written a book while juggling three kids (born within four years of each other) and a husband who's on call 24/7. If that's lazy, then I'd love to see what ambitious is.

The idea that suicide is giving up holds no more validity than me claiming that everyone could squeeze into my size two jeans if they'd just have "more will power." Both statements are ridiculous, ignorant and wrong on so many levels - it's an oversimplification of a very complex, disturbing disease.

I know to many outsiders who have not suffered from severe suicidal episodes it may appear that we are selfish. Mental illness and mood disorders are like a poison seeping into your blood, much like a cancer. To move, to think, to just be is painful. Agonizing.
You desperately need relief. You seek medical help (counselors, psychiatrists, etc) and attend the sessions while your doctors play with your medication (medicating mental illness is not science, but an art - not everyone manifests symptoms the same). This is not days, this is not weeks, this is month after month, year after year.

You are also heavy with guilt that you've saddled your husband, children, parents and friends with someone that is "broken." You want to save those closest to you from the menace you have become. You are convinced that you are an eternal thorn - at least that is what you believe when you are in an episode. You forget the lofty goals you’ve accomplished and forget the circle of influence you’ve attained. You forget, you.

I may have the correct dosage, I may have the greatest coach/counselors and I may still fail. I pray that I won't. I hope, like so many others, that I will continue to stand up again and again after each heavy blow.

Please, do not judge, do not condemn those that commit suicide. Celebrate who they are and remember that mental illness is but one facet of their lives. It is not who they are, it is one of their many characteristics. I believe we all struggle in one way or the other. Let us be kind, compassionate. I am no better than someone who suffers from addiction or any other genetic disease.

Robin Williams, you are an incredible comedian. And that my friend, is who you will always be to me.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mischief by Munchkins

Whilst deliberating over several identical brands of cereal, a silver-haired woman asked me, "Your kids are potty trained? Congratulations! You're on easy street 'til they start dating."
Diapers and dating are the only milestones every parent dreads and celebrates?
The lady forgot driving, or should I say dying. I suppose dying at the hands of your daughters rather than a stranger should be flattering, in an "et tu Brute" kind of way.

It was a lazy Summer afternoon when my life flashed before my eyes. I had just dismounted our friend's small airplane with my youngest daughter. Flying in a tin can was nothing compared to what happened next. Two of my darling girls approached me, asking if I'd like a ride in the airport golf car. These two saintly children normally argue about vastly important topics such as who is breathing more than her share of air or who should enter the house first.
 But united they were today - my first clue that I was in for a surprise.
Daughter #2 jumped into the front seat of the golf car - my second clue. This kid abhors moving objects, unless of course they become out of her control. Teaching her to ride a bike was a cardiac inducing experience.
Third clue - Daughter #1 grins and says, "you're going to looove this."
These two angels make Danica Patrick look like a harmless manatee. The girls think driving on all four wheels is optional, a mere suggestion. Their idea of golf car dancing is alternating between the brake and gas pedals to the rhythm of One Republic's Love Runs Out.
Diapers - check. Drivng - check. Dating - heaven help me.

Friends and Family

When I privately battled the idea to post about depression I never anticipated, nor could I have ever understood, the amount of support I'd receive. There's been a troll here and there but for the most part I have cried and laughed at the overwhelming number of emails and private messages (via Facebook). There have also been a handful of times when I've been stopped in public and introduced to someone struggling with depression - and those moments are precious to me. Please, never hesitate to call or email me. I am here. I will always be here.

My dear friends and family (like there's a difference between those categories!), thank you!

Clarissa Kae

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Lion and The Lamb

Please Note: This is a deeply personal post, and has been written, erased and rewritten countless times. The amount of courage I'm trying to gather in publicly speaking on this topic cannot be underlined enough. I realize the nature of blogs and the unending, far reaching consequences of emotionally stripping yourself to the masses. I wrote this post for a version of me - I could have used this letter. I'm hoping this helps at least one person out there in the untamed internet landscape.

We each know of a friend, a family member...but rarely (if at all) do people speak about their own fears, failures and struggles. Only after we've conquered our personal Mt. Everests do we lend our advice. But this isn't about conquering. This is about living. It's about being in the trenches - in the most literal and figurative sense. I'm caked in mud and covering my ears from the onslaught of guns - and I'm here. We're in this battle together.

The Lion and The Lamb

My package had arrived (finally) a culture miniature statue with a lamb delicately carved next to a powerful lion. 
Alone and overwhelmed, I traced the lion's mane and wept. I cried for every hope, fear and failure this statue represented.
Because life used to be different.
A shadow once held me captive. I had lived with it since I was nine years old. It interrupted my sleep one night, and never left. The shadow lived inside me and stole my voice. It clouded my mind and sucked the very joy from my soul. Twelve years ago, as a college student, I was suffocating in the thoughts of my perceived failure. 
I was imploding from within - and no one knew. The shadow was my secret. It was kept under the bed, in the closet and in the back of my heart where no one would reach.
And then one night, I curled under my covers and prayed for the pain to be gone. The hurt was a gaping hole in my chest. I had sought refuge in church service, scripture study, pleading prayer and even prescription medication. But the hole never shrank. Instead it grew as I redoubled my efforts to conceal the shadow and its power. 
I watched every minute pass that night in slow, agonizing seconds. I wished the hurt would stop. Even if it included my life. In the pit of my isolation, I wondered if the sun would rise. Would hope become a forgotten companion? Morning came - hope did not.

But help did.

The exhaustion from hiding the shadow had taken its toll on my personality and relationships. There was only one person left at my side - with the talent of a sharp tongue and even more lethal pen, I had chased away family and friends. Then promptly built a fortress so deep and so high that only a shadow could thrive in the cold, sunless heart.

But one person didn't give up. With a tear in his eye and an arm around my shoulder, my childhood friend guided me that morning to a counselor. As I entered the room, I noticed a painting. It was a lamb nestled next to a lion. It promised peace between the rage of a powerful predator and the tender soul of the prey. That day I received a promise, that one day the lion would rest with the lamb.

I healed enough to graduate, marry and devote myself to three beautiful girls. But my lion has not made peace with the lamb.

Depression is not just a mental illness. It is a physical one. It depletes the body and murders its host. It's a cancer of the soul imbedded in my genes. Even with strict adherence to antidepressants (exercise, diet, social and intellectual stimulation...) and avoidance of triggers (isolation, silence, too much social stimulation, lack of exercise...) the shadow can still threaten my joy.

I am in the trenches. My hands are sticky with the shadow's blood. I have fought for every inch, every gain against the enemy - and damn it, I'm still here. Though there are seemingly endless nights, I am still here. Life is good. But sometimes my perspective is not.
There are moments of peace. There are moments of pain. But the shadow has not won. As my husband says with a chuckle, I'm too damn stubborn to stay down for long.

Depression is so very real. So is the stigma attached to the disease. I am convinced of my weakness and failure when the shadow is strong. I cannot see my own worth, regardless of my religious conviction. People don't talk about this. Most people assume the illness is for the weak-willed or the effect of a guilty conscience. But those of us who struggle are in the company of giants. George Albert Smith, a pillar of spiritual leadership suffered so desperately from the tyranny of depression that he begged his maker to take him home. The shadow bound him to his bed for three years - and yet he was a leader of a church and would continue to do so for several more years. He was not weak. And neither am I. Winston Churchill attacked his shadow during, and after, World War II. Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton...

I will stumble. I will fall. And I will get back up. Again and again.
Can I do it alone - absolutely not. 
I have a team of devoted soldiers that are crazy enough to stay at my side and pull me from those trenches long enough to see the sun shining through the clouds. A husband of herculean strength along with loving and loyal parents, a counselor and a slew of tender friends make even the darkest shadow shrink back in fear.
Do I laugh - why, yes. Yes, I do.
My natural temperament is not morose. Life is something I quite enjoy feasting upon. Joy is something I find in gardening, running, writing, reading, my children, learning...
Life is profoundly good. It is oh so hard at times. But life is good. And one day, my lion will slumber lazily next to the lamb. Until then, I am here. I am fighting. And if you're battling the same unseen enemy listen to these four words. Do. Not. Give. Up.
You are worth this war.
You are not weak.
Hold my hand, let's do this.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Puppy Band-aid

My middle daughter is beautiful and bright but sometimes her imagination can take her to a place flooding with anxiety. Experience has taught me the soothing effects of a puppy's love. The quick, soft kisses calm even the stormiest of days.
 There's a bond between a child and her dog, one I know quite well. Books are read, secrets are shared and fears are chased away with the loyalty only a dog can provide.
 I was once the little girl, longing for the consistent love a puppy generously offers. Bad hair-days, sucky test scores and geeky tendencies didn't dampen my dog's affections. She would still wag her tail and whine for attention - my attention. Me, and me alone. Because I was somebody to someone (a four-legged someone).
 Puppies are the greatest Band-aids, they never fall off and they never stop healing. I'm profoundly grateful for my daughter's puppy, and the puppies of my past.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Z is for Zen

The last post for the Writers of Kern A-Z challenge is Z for Zen. No need to fret, my legs aren't crossed and there are no monotone hums vibrating from my lips. Whenever I try yoga (or any type of meditation) I look like a deformed duck or an uncoordinated toddler. My zen is a different type. It's the aura at the finish. The hours of contemplation after closing the cover of a fantastic book. The last sentence of a letter. The wiping of tears from a heart-wrenching movie. It's that moment when I became aware of the world around me and yet, the feel or the pull, the necessity to be alone and process my own thoughts and emotions.
That is where I am.
I finished The Fault In Our Stars which is a compelling story of two teenagers finding love and battling cancer. Yes, it's intriguing. Yes, it's memorable. But that's not what triggers the euphoria that lasts for days. It's the beautiful words laced together, the poetry found in simple letters that has me recalling the story. For me, great literature is when I can strip a few sentences from the novel and paste them in my own life. Something deep inside me changes, bit by bit from the beauty of the words.
It's the same with music. It's not the lyrics or the instruments, it's the feeling that wells inside of me. I remember reading The Giver as a child (several times over) and discovering  zen for the first of many times. It wasn't the beginning of my life-long love affair of books, but it was the trigger of a deeper, more meaningful approach to stories - the upgrade from girlfriend to wife.
The eternal search for zen propels me forward in my own quest for literature greatness. I want my story to stay lit in the minds of readers. I want them to discover words that speak to them, begging for eternal life in their hearts. I want them to find their zen between the pages of my manuscript. Unless of course they'd prefer to master the art of yoga, heaven knows I never will.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Y is for You

I have a confession. I tell my daughters why I love them. It's a problem - and here is why...
When my husband was out of town for two weeks my oldest daughter would wake early in the morning to make lunches for her sisters. She would insist on morning prayers and schedules kept. She is intrinsically motivated to do everything by the book. The world is painted in strict black and white lines. She wants nothing more than to be and do right. For three straight years she was honored with Student of the Year award. She out-read (by over 100 points) her entire grade last year. She strives for perfection and praise.

But sometimes I forget that perfection comes in many forms.

My middle daughter doesn't color in the lines. She rips the pages from the book and creates her own picture. She embarrasses her older sister with her imaginative stories and colorful ensembles. She doesn't march to the beat of her own drum - there is no drum, there is only her.

Charm rolls from her tongue, friends flock to her, and adults adore her. But her mother wants to kill her. As cute as she is, it's incredibly hard to teach (or discipline) a child who's never had her feet touch the ground. 

My oldest has thrown her hands in the air. She's frustrated because through her diligence she has earned her way at the head of the class. Yet her sister floats about from one fantasy to the next, coming down only when a teacher or parent demands her attention. She aces the task, and promptly excuses herself from reality.

Yesterday, I stood in my house wondering how to reach my middle child. I had a stack of papers from her teacher (she had stared off into space the day before and hadn't done her classwork). I walked from room to room and saw only her clothes scattered throughout the house, her written stories littered in various rooms, and her art projects plastered on several walls. 
I questioned why she couldn't be more like her older sister. Why couldn't she at least pretend she listened to me, or anyone.

Today, I would teach her a lesson.

She greeted me outside the school and slipped her hand in mine. I tried not to mirror her dimpled smile, that kid was too cute for her own good. She froze, pulling me to a stop.

"Today was the best day ever," She clapped her hands together. My heart sank. I couldn't discipline her now, her smile had reached her eyes. "____ got Best in the West today. I am so super proud of him. He so deserved it. I am like beyond happy!"

The boy my daughter mentioned had been struggling. I had forgotten her devotion to him. And to every kid that was different. In that moment she reminded me of when her older sister was being bullied and she intervened, not caring that she was a fraction of the girl's size. I had forgotten how she held my hand when my dog died.

Today, she had taught me a lesson I hope never to forget. 

She doesn't value the world the same way as her sister, or her mother. Nor does she value people in the same light. Everyone's a person. And every color has a purpose. It's not a black and white world but a colorful, fantastic world. And one day, I hope to see it through her rainbowed set of eyes.

I hope to tell her, I love her. Not because of what she does but rather who she is. I need to say, "I love you, because you're you" and nothing more.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

X is for XX chromosome

Ten years ago, after my hands gave out from gripping the bathroom counter, I told myself that although I was pregnant, I'd be a great mother of boys. Because that's what I  decided I would have. I even had the name picked out. It was done.
 I may, or may not, have been a wee bit wrong. Times three.
 Over the course of four years we added two more dogs and a cat to our brood of three daughters - and yes, they are female as well. Apparently, there's only room for one XY chromosome in this crib and that position is dutifully filled by my husband.
 Our lives consist primarily of the color pink along with braids and Disney movies.
 Babies (human and animal) are greeted with squeals, followed by unending requests to take one (or two) home.
 We don't simply "walk" from one room to the next. We glide, we dance, we skip, we twirl...and yes, you will be corrected if you lack a certain giddiness.
 There is enough hair in our house to make Rapunzel retire to that tower once more.
 Despite boasting eight bookshelves in three rooms, there are books littered from the living room and on down the hallway, the crumbs of devoured stories.
 Our laundry is heavy on the color and light on the black, these girlies want their outfits to "pop." Yes, that was a direct quote.
 But I wouldn't have it any other way. My daughters have taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible. I prayed for a son because I wasn't confident in my maternal and feminine side. But these darlings came with their own agenda. They sat me down and let me know how this life was going to be played out. There was going to be shopping, curling irons, and polished nails. I was going to be a mother of three girls - funny enough, I'm not half bad.

W is for Wedding

Nearly eleven years ago I spent a week blowing into a brown paper sack and whispering reassurances to myself - in other words, I got married.
This last weekend, I was able to walk my youngest sister through the motions (craziness) of becoming a bride.

It's a strange phenomenon. You meet someone, fall hopelessly (and somewhat foolishly) in love. You dance, you date and then he bends down on one knee. He slips a small metal ring on your finger. The invitations are sent, the flowers are bound and you've shimmied yourself into white dress.
And then...
You panic.
You analyze every moment leading up to the dreaded wedding. Every embrace, every conversation...down to the inflection of each word exchanged. Your hands tremble, your voice shakes - and then, you're a wife.
The building didn't implode, your hair didn't catch fire and the photographer isn't naked.
Life will go on.
And p.s., it'll be great.
I stood with my three children and husband behind my youngest sister with the sure knowledge, the ultimate comfort, that I made the best decision of my life nearly eleven years ago.
I wish all the joy (and the angst) for my sister and her groom. The late nights with crying children and the sweet kisses from those same adoring kids. Because just before every great moment is a hesitation, a question. The greatest athletes and writers alike analyze the seconds before their crowning moment. My "finish line" started an amazing journey through two states and three degrees, not to mention, a fantastic family of my own.
Cheers to the newly weds, may you have many moments of greats and finishes!

V is for Vernacular

Every family has a favorite movie or story, but it's the language that binds siblings and parents together. For instance, not feeling well means they'll live. Sick means the meds have been exhausted and the fever still won't come down - urgent care, here we come.
 Sleeping holds the record for definitions. If I'm referring to my husband or oldest daughter, it means a 9.5 earthquake couldn't shake the slumber from their bones. If it's in reference to my middle daughter, that means she's having a private conversation in her bedroom, with her eyes closed. If I'm referring to my youngest, I'm joking. Or cursing. The kid DOES NOT sleep. Ever.
 Freezing when referencing the weather means anything below 60 degree, at least for this California born and bred girl. There's a reason I couldn't survive in the snow.
Root beer means a quick run to A&W's drive thru for a gallon of their goodness (and if you're really lucky a dollop of home-made ice cream)
Running errands is my favorite little nugget. It means listening to my youngest daughter sing her little heart out to every song on the radio or on her Disney movies. Life doesn't get any better than this.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Year's Race

(So sorry, Writers of Kern Challenge - this post is not part of the A-Z challenge)

Last year I ran the inaugural New Year's Race in downtown L.A. We ran through historic buildings and in Dodger's stadium. It was far too much fun to pass up when the invitation came for 2014's race.
 This time, we brought three of our friends to join in the fun. We stayed at the host hotel, The Biltmore. I love the history and the story behind the old buildings. 
Few things cement friendships like 13.1 miles. 
Happy New Year, my friends!

U is for Unique

I asked (or maybe yelled) down the hall for my middle daughter. For the fourth time. Why? Because she takes exponentially longer than her sisters to get ready in the morning. She isn't primping in the bathroom or trying on new clothes - she's trying on different characters.
Every morning is a new day, and a new person. It's much more of a revolving door than just a few years before. In Pre-K she refused to be called by her given name. Instead, she only answered to Toby, from the movie Astroboy. Her teacher finally succumbed and subsequently her classmates. Eighteen months later, she became Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon.
I put my foot down, I was NOT going to yell "Toothless" at our local park. Not happening.

Today, she is Lily Potter (she conned Grandpa into taking out dark lens from the 3-d frames). She's complete with an English accent and a quirky tick every time she says her p's or t's. By tick, I mean her left shoulder circles along with her hip jutting out. She looks more like the victim of a break dancing session gone very wrong.
When her friends laugh and call her "weird" she responds with "I'm unique, you know, creative."
Her older sister tried to teach her how to dress properly. Her retort? "It's okay if you lost your imagination. I'll still love you."

T is for Tradition

I was born the daughter of an artist, a goldsmith to be precise. Before my elementary school days, I played for hours in the back of my father's jewelry store. It was only the two of us, day after day. When I turned twelve, the adoption of my siblings became finalized. I was no longer the younger sister. No more was I the baby of the family. I was now the second of six. But every Saturday after my horse back riding lessons, I was only one of one. I had my dad's undivided attention.
That year, while my family readied the house for Christmas Eve dinner, my dad and I spent the evening working side by side until the last shopper left. During the tumultuous teenage years I would find solace in the store on Saturdays. Dad had a knack for listening to my narcissist rants fueled by raging hormones and lack of perspective. He'd tease and grin but never - never would he correct or chide. When I was sixteen and attending the junior college, Dad closed his store to see my final in a colt breaking class. He snapped pictures while I beamed alongside an obedient horse. It was our last Saturday of the semester, my last month living in my parents' house.
But it wasn't sad. Why? Dad and I still had Christmas Eve.
I would fly home every year, continuing the tradition. Whether I was newly wed or swollen with child, I would work Christmas Eve. The holidays wouldn't hold the magic of Christmas or the sparkle of the season until that day. Time had always been my love language, and to have a whole day with my dad every year of my life is a gift beyond price.