“Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die I don’t belong, and my beloved, neither do you Those Windermere peaks look like a perfect place to cry I’m setting off, but not without my muse
I want auroras and sad prose I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet ‘Cause I haven’t moved in years And I want you right here A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground With no one around to tweet it While I bathe in cliffside pools With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief” – Songwriters: Jack Antonoff / Taylor Alison Swift
The writing muse is finicky. My current lifestyle makes him/her/it hide a little more than I prefer. I’m ready for change. “I’m setting off, but not without my muse.”
I came home from work tonight with a boatload of work to do before an insanely wild week, next week. But you know what, bro? I don’t wanna. It’ll be there tomorrow, right? Things that won’t be there tomorrow? My time this evening. My time writing, planning my vacation, and making myself a somewhat normal dinner instead of ordering takeout. So, on that note, for old time’s sake – here’s some random musings and favorite tunes this week . . .
1. It’s hot and humid in the south. In my corner of the south, it will probably be hot – off and on through October. There are times Halloween is chilly. And then there are other times when I hold Halloween/Fall events and I’m switching out hot cider and hot chocolate for water & extra ice. But, I digress. I have some big events coming up, in the midst of the super hot/humid that is our August. I’m not a fan. So this weekend, I am re-evaluating my clothing choices (haha) and may just show up wearing the most comfortable things I own, which may be things I would not normally wear to work. Whatever, bro. It’s mid-August in the south – you get what you get.
2. My dog – Abby the Wonder Dog – is the sweetest, funniest dog. She is hilarious. She is also weird and very particular. I’ve paid for expensive dog training for her. It worked for a while. But after a bit, she lost the most important part of that training, which was to peacefully co-exist with other dogs. She has her favorite dogs. But they’re few and far in between. This makes life with her quite . . . a pain in the arse sometimes. Like today. Today, I didn’t realize, while I cleaned up after her, that her leash wasn’t truly in my grip. She charged. You wanna know who she charged? A cute little blonde boy and his PUPPY corgi. You know how small Corgis are, right? Yeah, this is a puppy. She’s such an arsehole. She’s pretty big (54 pounds). But charging at a little boy and a puppy, I’m sure she seemed gynormous…
The photo above shows my dog in her natural state, which is being lazy. She sleeps most of her life. And she’s quite serious about it. She will nag me to go to bed if I’m up too late. Right now, I’m propped up in my bed, typing. I’m even wearing my nightgown (though it’s barely 6:30). This is her preference so she can contain me in one place and voilà, I’m close to my bed for her favorite thing – sleeping. But alas, when she’s charging at a child and a puppy, she’s menacing (looking). All she wanted was to run over, give everyone a sniff, and come right back to me. Which is what she did. She didn’t so much as lift a paw.
But boy did she scare that poor kid. I was horrified. I mean, you know how small corgis are, right? IT WAS A FREAKING PUPPY. Needless to say, there was a time when she was a puppy, 11 years ago, that I prayed she’d grow out of this. Nope. She’s 11 (aka 72 in human years). What a butthead. I kept apologizing to the little boy as Abby ran back to me wagging her tail. He kept saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” But not so much. When will she act like an old lady and be all uninterested in sweet little puppers? I told her she was rotten. And that she was going to get the silent treatment tonight. I think she prefers this.
3. I was eating vegan or maybe I should say partially vegan for a while. I kind of still am for breakfast/lunch, at least. This started when my rheumatologist suggested I was allergic to milk and egg whites. Do you know what has egg and milk in it? Everything. Everything has eggs and milk. I dumped tons of staples like the nectar of the gods that is mayo (that’s a joke, relax). I bought vegan mayo, vegan butter, coconut or almond milk yogurt, vegan cheese (my fav is cashew cheese from Trader Joe’s by the way), cashew ice “cream”, etc. I’ve added some egg and milk products back into the diet. But a product I probably will continue to use, is plant butter. It does have less fat & calories. But here’s the best thing about it – it melts super fast. Take a stick out of the refrigerator before dinner and by the time I’m ready to eat, it’s melty. If you’re a fine connoisseur of unhealthy foods, as I am – this is tops in my book. In related news, my favorite vegan finds include: Tattooed Chef Buddha Bowls, Daiya “burritos,” and Sonoma Flatbreads veggie pizza. In case you’re wondering why I felt the need to share this tonight, it’s because I had some on gluten free pasta tonight. Hey, I said random.
4. Did you know I love all things mid-century? Mid-century modern and mid-century ranch home architecture, (much of it anyway) is a true love (see photo above) of mine. I adore it primarily because of its incredible use of light, their enormous windows, and the way the inside and outside combine. As a lover of the outdoors (I sometimes think I could live off the grid in the wilderness), this is the main thing that draws me to it.
I could do without shag carpet. And some other weirdness from the era. Like racism. And fake plants in atriums. And rampant sexism. But yeah, much of it I adore. I love the movies, the barware & glassware (which I collect), and the cheerful colors or the way the decor matches nature. They really knew how to entertain, which is one of my absolute favorite things to find in thrift or antique stores (mid-century stuff used for entertaining).
Growing up in SoCal during the 70s & 80s, we were no strangers to this kind of architecture (combined with what is called Tiki Architecture in Mid Century Modern terms). In the town I grew up in, we even had an Eichler neighborhood. Palm Springs, where I would later shop – every weekend while living in the desert – was always fun with its mid-century modern style, literally EVERYWHERE. Eichler would be super disappointed at the cost of his homes today. He built them to be affordable and accessible. Now they’re anything but (almost 2 MILLION dollars in my home town). This is an Eichler-inspired home in Orange (where I grew up), that’s currently for sale.
So what’s the point? I don’t know. I guess I need to become a millionaire. You think I can do it? I have expensive taste. Expensive that doesn’t look expensive – which is the absolute worst. Can I become a millionaire whilst writing novels and working in the wine industry? If so, sign me up.
Alright, I think that concludes the random portion of my post. Or not. The music is probably random too. Whatever. There’s little chance you’re still reading so . . .
Things a Man Oughta Know – Top of the playlist heap, this week. This line, “If you really love a woman, you don’t let her go/Yeah, I know a few things a man oughta know”
An oldie (so old), but goodie. I’d forgotten how much I loved this song (You and I Both by Jason Mraz)
Kicking it way back to summers on Newport or Huntington Beach (1988) . . .
Man, the 80s were weird and wonderful. Lol.
Speaking of the 80s, I’m on a kick. Partly because of my new novel, waiting in the wings (Sea Glass Hearts). The novel, written about an abandoned 80s kid – who grew up on the beaches of SoCal – well, that’s where the music reminiscing comes from. I was born in the 70s so I have a healthy love of all things 70 music. But the 80s…that was when I was really falling in love with music (of all kinds).
I grew up in a very Christian household – like church on Wednesday, church twice on Sunday – we only listen to Christian music – kind of Christian household. No offense, Mom – but I’m so glad my Dad and my friends didn’t abide by mom’s rules (hahaha). I truly love music of all kinds. Imagine a life without memories like cleaning to “Thriller” in my Grandma Avalos’s house, and listening to Belinda Carlisle, KROQ, Depeche Mode, U2 (greatest album of all the times is Joshua Tree, by the way), on the beach all summer? Well, I can’t dudes.
So Depeche Mode has been high on the list lately.
Another favorite of Depeche Mode is Personal Jesus. This caused much scandal in Christian circles, back in the day. This article talks about the song and about what Martin Gore was going for when he wrote it. As the article mentions, some thought he was talking about the “commercialisation of religion.” What Gore was actually writing about was, oddly enough, the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla Presley (based on her autobiography).
“He explained: ‘It’s a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care. It’s about how Elvis Presley was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody’s heart is like a god in some way, and that’s not a very balanced view of someone, is it?”’ Deep, dude.
In related news, the best cover of Personal Jesus goes to Johnny Cash. I mean, I don’t know if anyone else covered it but he’s Johnny Cash. Unrelated, Hurt by Cash – so good. “What have I become, my sweetest friend?” P.S. June Cash in this video, oh my heart!
Also on the Sea Glass Hearts soundtrack & reminding me of the olden days (this time just after high school in 1995) is Everclear’s Santa Monica (and a few other songs of theirs). Loved their music.
They were always saying something emotional and angry:
I am still living with your ghost Lonely and dreaming of the west coast I don’t wanna be your downtime I don’t wanna be your stupid game With my big black boots and an old suitcase I do believe I’ll find myself a new place
Like . . .
Father of mine Tell me where have you been? You know I just closed by eyes My whole world disappeared
Man, The Black Crowes. They were so good. In later years, believe it or not – their one-time guitarist/vocalist, Marc Ford, would eventually become part of my church’s worship band. By the way, he happens to be married to one of my favorite singers ever (Kirsten Ford). Oh my! I just went down a rabbit hole and found Kirsten Ford on Spotify.
I can’t remember the name, but at one point, Kirsten and a few others from my church, had a band. My friends & I saw them multiple times at places like The Roxy, and Whisky a Go Go on Sunset in West Hollywood. Yeah, serious rabbit hole there. But fun to see that Kirsten & Marc were still part of Vineyard/Vineyard worship at least not too long ago. Anyways…
I’m about done. But while I’m reminiscing, here’s a “newer” song that is super melancholy and a California favorite. El Cerrito Place – either the Kenny Chesney (I never liked him until I heard this) or Charlie Robison’s version.
“Somehow I wound up in the desert Just after daylight There’s a Joshua Tree Grows that little place you always liked These pioneer town people They ain’t got too much to say And if they might have seen you They ain’t givin’ you away Now it’s been two days”
On that note, I’ve been random enough for the evening. But somehow, it has a little bit of the writing mojo churning. Music, as always, inspires me. I hope it’s enough to keep me going through the wild week I have next week. Counting down the days until I can vacay…
I drove south, about 250 miles, this afternoon. Though I’ve lived near the coast of North Carolina (aka Eastern North Carolina) for most of the last 20 years (with a few detours along the way), I saw country this afternoon I’ve never seen before. No matter how many times I encounter these backroads swamps, corn fields, or sweet potatoes – stretching out forever – nestled between thick pine forest, it still catches this city girl by surprise. It’s always a delight.
I’m in South Carolina’s Lowcountry now, staying at a sweet little Airbnb. My room – with a view of the marsh, is nothing compared to the gift of sitting on this quiet front porch this evening. Blessed quiet. I can’t tell you the joy of not being in an apartment today. The fan is whirring, I have a glass of wine, and I’m currently listening to Ray LaMontagne’s “Such a Simple Thing,” from this playlist:
I don’t know what the days ahead hold for me. I mean, who does, really? But sometimes we have these sweet breaks. Moments of pure joy & delight in the midst of the unknown. And today/tomorrow is one of those breaks for me.
I write about the places I know (California, D.C., and the lovely North Carolina coast). They are featured heavily in my fiction. But outside of Nicholas Sparks, there aren’t many traditionally published writers based in and writing about North Carolina – the coast in particular. There are books set in places such as the Outer Banks. But they’re not “North Carolina writers” and place isn’t something they’re truly intimately connected to. There are exceptions. They are out there. But, those writing about the Lowcountry of South Carolina are a whole other story, however. There are so many. Some of my favorites write about the Lowcountry. I crossed the Edisto River this afternoon, and though I’ve never been here, it’s a name I know well – as if it was an old friend.
For blog readers that aren’t familiar with the area, I’m about an hour and twenty minutes from Charleston, SC and about 50-ish minutes from Savannah, Georgia. The thing about Lowcountry writers is that they write these marshes, pluff mud creeks, palmetto tree, low-tide, and high-tide rivers and creeks, and sea turtle – places, as if the place itself is an actual being. The place is a character in the book. No one else, except maybe North Carolina’s Sarah Addison Allen (who writes magical realism – set mostly in western NC), does this. I can be corrected. Feel free to prove me wrong. But Sparks, though he writes of roads and places and events (New Bern’s Ghost Walk for instance) I know well – his novels don’t make the place a character. The places are written well. But they’re not living and breathing beings. The closest he gets to this is a A Bend in the Road (set in my beloved downtown New Bern – where I once lived).
Low County writers write this place as if it is a living and breathing being – as if the creeks, rivers, and marshes will rise up and chat with you – if only you would sit still long enough. My favorite book (one of my favorite of all-time) that does this is Sweetwater Creek by Ann Rivers Siddons. It may not be the most critically acclaimed novel I’ve ever read (though a bestseller), but I will tell you this right now, Ms. Siddons writes these marshes and creeks in a way that made me long for them as a home, though I’d never been here before.
Maybe one of the most famous Lowcountry writers is the Pat Conroy. Conroy had an ability to write just about anything in a way that made me want to read more. My favorite book of his, isn’t a novel, however. It’s My Reading Life – a sort of autobiography – only it’s through the lens of the impact of the most significant books he’d read in his lifetime. Though I wished to go to the Pat Conroy Literary Center while I was here, they’re not open until Thursday (insert sad face here). I will make it eventually.
“When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.” ~Pat Conroy.
Eventually, I will make my way back up the coast, tomorrow. I may take the long route – but I’ll eventually find myself back in Eastern North Carolina. For how long, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that this brief break in the pace of my every day life, is a kindhearted reminder, that I can’t lose sight of the main thing.
I’ve spent nearly twenty years of my life making my job the thing. It’s not that it’s not important. I would not trade these years. Maybe. I may not find myself outside of working for the federal government for quite some time. Who knows? I certainly do not. But I do know that I’m learning every dang day, to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the job just ain’t it. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I’m reminded of the pursuit of this thing that makes me who I am. The dream I laid down? It was for a worthy cause, surely. But sometimes comfort become a habit, one we’re meant to throw off.
Sometimes the place you’re used to, is not the place you belong. – Unknown
In the quiet of this cute little brick, ranch house – with its ticking clocks and wooden saints in the window – I’m reminded of the way I was formed and the way I grew. I remember the hard and rocky roads that brought me here. It’s all led to the words I was meant to write. There is redemption and restoration there in those hard places. There is restoration in the words I’m writing now.
When you speak for a person (in your professional life), you can possibly (as I have) become uncomfortable with the push and pull between public vs. private. Even more so when your name is not easily lost in the Jennifer Smiths of the vast interwebs. When the vulnerability you know is required in your writing, exposes you to those you’d rather not be exposed to, you could (I did) shrink back, lessen your words, shrink what you once believed possible, and grow too comfortable with what was.
When I stood at the kitchen sink, in this quiet airbnb this evening, and looked into the yard, past the saint in the window, I remembered what it was like to learn from the artists I knew best (mostly my Grandmother) growing up. If I’m not writing “clear and hard about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway), I will always miss the mark. I have been missing the mark for quite some time.
For friends still reading this far – here’s what I want you to do:
1. Keep writing (clear and hard) about what hurts (or gives you joy or sets you free or lights a fire in your heart). 2. Don’t hold back. 3. Chase (hard) after those things you know (in your soul) you’re meant to do and be. It may not happen over night – getting to this place you know you’re meant to be. But nothing meant for you will pass you by. Of this I am certain. So keep at it. Keep pressing. Keep waiting – but actively waiting with expectation and hope. 4. And then, keep waiting, hoping, & working.
I don’t know where the path is taking me, but I know what I’m called to do – wherever it leads. I think you know, too – friend.
I wrote a novel. In June of 2017, my novel Chasing Hope was published. As I approach the four-year anniversary, I thought I would share a bit about the book. You can find it here in Kindle and print format. There is a preview available on Amazon. You can also sign up for my newsletter to read the first chapter for free! You can do that, by clicking here or here. You can also view what some of my readers have written about the book, here.
Here is the book blurb, from the back of the book:
Dr. Ava Cooper has it all. Scratch that – she had it all. The day she buried her daughter was the beginning of the end. With one fell swoop her ex-husband took what was left of the life they created together. All that is left is a demanding boxer, her worldly possessions, and the SUV she bought as a first year resident. With nothing left of the old life, Ava heads south to help out and old friend. In the small and quirky coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina – a tiny hamlet situated on the Southern Outer Banks – Ava quickly learns that her plan to quietly fade into the background to find some semblance of normalcy is not on her new neighbor’s and staff’s agenda for her. As she settles into southern small-town living, she meets a family and a baby in the foster care system that threaten to break through her grief-stricken and heart. Will Ava be able to let hope in long enough to get back the life she desperately longs for?
This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons – mainly because it’s the first complete novel I’ve written. It’s also one that took me way too long to write. The process was daunting, to be honest. I let so many things distract me and get in the way (like my day job). Rather than be single-minded in my focus on accomplishing my dreams and using the gifts God has given me, I focused far too much on the job that paid the bills. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, I didn’t put enough emphasis on my dreams or writing what I believe I’m meant to write. I let work take over my life. I mean, take over.
I worried too much about what people would think. I shied away from writing content on my blog (I had a different blog that had a larger audience and community at one time). Overall, I just let my writing wither away under the weight of what other people would think. That’s just dumb. In years past, I was part of multiple writer communities online. Many of the people I have known in these circles over the years have gotten literary agents, publishing deals, and are cranking out books with traditional publishing houses.
It’s not arrogant to say I think that I could be in their shoes too. The only difference is, I didn’t work for it. Phew, what a sucky realization that was when I first woke up to it. It was all my fault and all of my own choosing. But one day I came to terms with this and decided I wouldn’t let my life go unlived. I wouldn’t let the books go unwritten. And I certainly wouldn’t ignore the dreams I’ve long held in my heart.
Today isn’t Monday Motivation – but we’ll call it Tuesday Truths. The only thing standing in the way of you accomplishing your dreams and goals? It’s you. It’s me. We can make all the excuses we want. But at the end of the day, we are own worst enemy when it comes to going after what we want. I just refuse to live that way anymore. So whatever it is . . . go get it, friends.
Reason was my goal in this longing. I am failing. I wanted to see through the fog and confusion to understand. But no matter how much correct thinking and logical reasoning I muster, it’s still you. I don’t hold it against you. I didn’t then and I do not now. In the fog and confusion, I tried to reason myself free, but you can’t tame wild things. I don’t want to be tame anyway. The truth is, I don’t want to lose my ability to understand and live well in the greys. I don’t need black and white and perfect little boxes that I fit my life and feelings into. That’s not who I am. I tried to reason. I’ve failed. It’s still you.
“I live here in this tension, with what will not be, settling into the cold, wild – alone.”