What’s Making Me Happy: February and March 2018

It’s been a strange two months. Strange in terms of weather here in Massachusetts, since February was milder than average (our temps were close to 70 deg F a few days!) and March clobbered us with four snowstorms in three weeks. Strange in terms of life in general, too. My blogging time has taken a HUGE hit because of work and other things. So if I haven’t replied to your comments yet or visited your blog in a while, I’m very sorry, and I hope you understand why. 😦

Yet, as frustrated as I’ve been, I never cease to find “real-life magic.” So let’s use this What’s Making Me Happy post to highlight that magic, and also to catch up on things.  How’s everyone doing? What have you been up to? Were February and March kind to you? (I hope so!) And what are some of the things that have sparked your sense of joy recently? Like last time, I’ll share three things from each month, starting with…

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Learning to Build My Writing “Cathedral” Again

Last year I read Sage Cohen’s Fierce on the Page, a collection of essays that encourages writers to transform their attitudes and habits so that they can unleash their creativity, overcome fears, and define success on their own terms – all ways in which they can practice ferocity in their craft. One of my favorite essays from the book is Chapter 14, “Build a Cathedral,” which Cohen begins with this allegory:

… [A] traveler in medieval times comes upon a stonemason at work. He asks, “What are you doing?” The man looks weary and unhappy.  He responds, “Can’t you see I am cutting and laying down stone?  My back is killing me, and I can’t wait to stop.”

The traveler continues on his way and comes upon a second stonemason. “What are you doing?” he asks. “I’m building a wall,” says the stonemason. “I’m grateful to have this work so I can support my family.”

As the traveler walks on, he encounters a third stonemason who seems to be doing exactly the same work as the previous two. He asks the man, “What are you doing?” The man stands up straight. His face is radiant. He looks up at the sky and spreads his arms wide. “I am building a cathedral,” he answers.

Wow. It’s such a simple tale, but the shift it made in my perception of my writing was like feeling the earth move under my feet.

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Thank You, Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

In early January, I was at a local bookstore when I came across Ursula K. Le Guin’s most recent book, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters. This collection shows Le Guin, who excelled at writing a wide range of literature (fantasy, science fiction, children’s stories, essays, poetry), exploring yet another form of writing: blogging. Yes, No Time to Spare is a collection of blog posts, in which Le Guin shares her thoughts on family, the publishing industry, society and the world at large – and, perhaps most notably, aging. And I knew, just from holding the small blue hardcover and perusing the pages within, that it would be different from any UKLG book I’d read before.

Yet there was no question in my mind that I’d buy it. Because, after all, it’s Ursula K. Le Guin, my favorite writer ever. I’ve loved everything I’ve read from her in the past, and the thought of bringing No Time to Spare home was like opening my inner circle to a new friend whom I felt I’d known forever.

How fitting that this book, where Le Guin was contemplating the final frontier of life, was the last one she published, and the last one I bought by her, before she passed away.

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Poetry & Song: “At A Loss” and Autumn’s “Alloy”

Do you listen to music while you write? Has a specific song or music artist ever influenced one of your stories, poems, etc.? This has happened with a number of my published poems. Thus, Poetry & Song is a limited-run series where I share one of my published poems and the song that “helped me write” it. I also offer insights into why I chose that particular piece of music, as well as any other inspirations for the poem.

With the past two Poetry & Song posts, I’ve realized – or, rather, remembered – how personal some of my sources of inspiration have been. Today’s is no different. A few times while writing this post, I felt… well, uncomfortable, but not in a negative way. It wasn’t so much the idea of sharing the story behind this poem, since other people in real life already know it. Rather, it was the act of revisiting that inspiration, and reliving the warring emotions tied to it, that made a heart-wrenching situation from the past fresh again.

So, yes, “At A Loss” isn’t a happy poem. Neither is the song that helped me write it. But what makes this Poetry & Song combination unique is that, together, they provided some much-needed insight on an unraveling friendship. If it makes any sense, this post chronicles the first time I learned an important life lesson from my own poetry.

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What’s Making Me Happy: December 2017 & January 2018

I’m sort of glad now that I decreased my blogging schedule again. Because January was a blur, and not a fun kind of blur. I was buried with work at my day job for most of the month, which cramped my free time to a minimum and zapped my blogging time to… well, zero. :/ But some good things happened in January, too, and I can’t forget or discount any of that goodness.

That’s why I’m grateful for this series. What’s Making Me Happy reminds me of the highlights, fun events, and other recent joys – and after a month that drags you down in some ways, it’s a nourishing perspective to have. This month’s Happy post is twice as delightful, too: I’m covering both December and January, with three joys from each month. And with my slower blogging schedule, this bimonthly format might be the way to go from now on. What do you think?

Let’s start with…

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Reflections on 2017, and What Matters More than Having the “Best Year Ever”

Last January, a friend gave me this New Year’s party hat. The timing for this sparkling “gift” couldn’t have been more appropriate: I was ready to send a YA fantasy novel to beta-readers, and 3 weeks into a crowdfunding campaign to help me afford a trip to the Iceland Writers Retreat. Not to mention I had a whole list of goals and plans for 2017, and if things worked out the way I’d hoped, maybe I’d be closer to my dream of being published by year’s end – a pretty good “best year ever.”

Today, that hat still sits in my writing space (a.k.a. my dining room table), and I’m no closer to being published than I was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean 2017 was “not the best year ever.” Rather, it turned out much differently than I thought it would.

Was it challenging? Absolutely. Discouraging? At times, yes. But it was also one of the most exciting, inspiring, and humbling years I’ve had the privilege of living.

For all those reasons, I can’t write this annual reflection post in the same way I’ve written those of past years. Instead of focusing on milestones, blog statistics, and defined plans that could change in a few months, I’d like to share what I learned this past year. How certain events sent my mental health spiraling and shook my faith and self-confidence. How other events and important choices helped me heal and made me look at life – even why I write – from a different perspective. How it all, in the end, reminded me that I’m intelligent, creative, and determined enough to rebound from setbacks. Continue reading

What’s Making Me Happy: November 2017

Does anyone else feel like November zoomed by? Again? It feels that way every year, first with Thanksgiving and now Christmas approaching fast. And while November was relatively stress-free, I’ve been struggling to keep up with blogging because of changes in my work circumstances. I’m not sure how this impact the blog in the long term. But since I’m planning to take an annual holiday hiatus from blogging soon, the time-off might be a good chance to think about what changes, if any, might be needed for 2018.

But I shouldn’t get too ahead of myself, shouldn’t I? 🙂 So let’s turn our attention away from what may be ahead to what we can already be thankful for. As always, feel free to share your joys of the past month in your comments. But for now, I’ll share with you the things that made me happy this November!

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Lessons and Good Habits for Writing (and Living) Well

Recently my DIY MFA colleague and writing friend Leanne Sowul launched a “Be Well, Write Well” interview series at her DIY MFA column. Each interview explores a writer’s process, habits, routine, and management of their overall well-being. She also tested the questions on herself and shared her answers at her own blog. I liked the overall idea of opening up about how our work and living habits intersect so much that I decided to try it out. (Hope you don’t mind, Leanne!)

So what good wellness habits do I try not to skimp on? What “tools” are essential to my writing process? Does my process change depending on the stage of writing I’m in and/or the time of year? I share these and other answers below, plus a few writerly well-being tips and recommendations for favorite resources on writing and wellness.

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What’s Making Me Happy: October 2017

Wait! It’s November now! Isn’t this post late? 

Well, sort of. (Better late than never, right?) But with my new DIY MFA article posting earlier this week and S.J. Higbee’s blog tour stopping here last week, today is the most convenient day to look back on the joys of October.

And, boy, do I need this post right now. October was very stressful, between sudden changes at my day job and unexpected (and expensive) car repairs. And when I’m already stressed / anxious about one thing, it’s so easy for me to get stressed / anxious about other things. If you’ve felt the same way lately, let’s take a moment to inhale deeply, exhale slowly, and give thanks for our accomplishments and joys over the past month. And as always, feel free to share what’s made you happy lately in your comments.

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Finding Gifts and Inspiration: The Blessings of a Writer’s Relationship with Nature

During a recent lunch-break walk at my day job, I almost stepped on a bird feather. It might not sound so extraordinary. After all, birds are part of the everyday outdoors. But unlike fallen leaves, clods of dirt, or patches of grass, it’s not every day that your foot comes in contact with a stray feather. So I stopped and picked it up.

Two thoughts crossed my mind then. First, the feather itself. Gosh, was it gorgeous. It was slender, slightly curved, and mostly brown with white horizontal bars that became indistinct closer to the tip. And at over 1 foot long from shaft to tip, it was also HUGE. I still haven’t identified what species it belongs to. (Someone suggested the wild turkey, and it seems to be the closest match.) But as I twirled the feather between my fingers, what bird once wore it didn’t matter. What did matter was how I felt at that moment: as if I’d found a piece of treasure.

Second, as I returned the feather to the ground, I thought about writing. For me, nature and writing have been deeply connected for a long time. In fact, they might be more so now than ever before. Continue reading