The Ominous Whang of Narrow Bridges

or, how to deal with arrogant editors while setting fire to grief, loss, and writers’ block—all in an afternoon.

Guest Post by Tovli Simiryan

2020. There’s something ominous about saying, 2020, don’t you think? It has a hopeful aura, yet it reeks. It’s Orwellian. After all, by 2020 we expected to be living like the Jetsons. Well, aren’t we? We have cars that drive themselves; some are supposed to actually fly by the end of the year. Of course we’re afraid to get inside. “Details!” as my mother was known to comment, directing the conversation with her brand of self-centered sarcasm.

Frankly, she waited from the sixties until the moment of her 2019 death for Rosie the Robot to join her family. Unfortunately, the Rumba Vacuum was a disappointment to her. It wasn’t Rosie! She couldn’t discuss dust-bunnies or get it to pop the cork on the bottle of Prosecco her kids thought they’d successfully hidden from her. So, perhaps one’s expectations of the future are often wrapped in imprecision, or at least a tissue-papered hue of what might never be realized.

Will 2020 be a failure? I hope not. When these insecure thoughts race through our brain cells, my solution is the same as any other writer’s: grab white paper; latch on to a svelte gel-roller of a pen and turn insecurity into a short story, a blunt poem, or an essay. Nothing restores my self-confidence more than finishing a piece of writing and having a family member or friend say, “Where do you get this from?” “How do you remember these things?”

I love writing. I love the way something comes out and says just what you wanted to say. When this occurs, my place in the universe takes on an unbreakable sense of security and belonging. I am safe. I am worthy. I’m an introvert. I don’t talk; I write. Life is safe. Life is good.

Of course, not all writers are introverts. However, one thing I like to believe writers have in common is their little stories and songs become their children. They are born, raised; invested in and sent out into the world to find homes of their own and, hopefully make a meaningful change or statement no one else has thought to say before. Even if one word or a minor punctuation is unique, the writer has accomplished something beautiful and exclusive.

The year leading into 2020 was seminal. 2019 was the narrow bridge you make yourself navigate by learning to close your eyes, hum a tune, and precariously tip-toe across while learning to overcome fear and foreboding. Everyone died in 2019. Seriously. Only my little brother and I remain. The entire generation preceding us had left the world. If that wasn’t ominous enough, our own generation witnessed a fragility we’d never anticipated. Peers and loved ones we’d started kindergarten with discovered they were breakable and vulnerable. There were annoying knocks on their doors from diagnoses and illnesses that had taken their grandparents and great-grandparents. These malicious visitors pressed their unwelcome noses against the windows of our lives and rattled our door knobs. We knew, sooner or later, they’d have to be dealt with.

Solution? Pull out the pens, warm up the computer and knock off a few stories and a chapbook or two. Dust off the pages you should have sent out into the world a year ago, and encourage them to find a home. Write. Enjoy yourself. If you get stuck, find an antidote for writer’s block and patent it. While you’re at it, make peace with marketing. Consider becoming friends with someone who understands the nuances of 2020 copywriting. Give up on fear, point yourself toward the narrow bridge, find a unique tune, and enjoy the adventure. 2020 is happening, and you might as well jump into the Orwellian soup and have a good time, or meal, as the case may be.

Bobbie, our mother, passed away in 2019 while we were on vacation, enjoying our summer house outside Hillsboro, WV. She was robust, happy, and loved life. She’d moved to our Cleveland home due to significant health issues in 2013 following eighty years of California living. She did well. She thrived. However, in 2019 I began to see the same pattern I’d seen while caring for my great-grandmother. She was becoming frail. Her arms and legs resembled the balsa wood my little brother used to build his model airplanes. Just before our anticipated visit of Pearl S. Buck’s childhood home she became ill and had to be medevaced to Morgantown. My last memory of her was watching her disappear over the beautiful, awe-inspiring mountains of West Virginia on her way to a major medical center.

Change and loss do strange things. While she was living with us, she took center stage, and my writing took a seat in the back of the car. Still, a few short stories, poems and essays found homes of their own. One particular story was accepted in a new, but well-respected, foreign literary journal. I was excited to say the least. I signed a contract, even though no monetary payment was involved, and a 2020 publication date was identified. It would mean excellent exposure among writers I admired and wanted to emulate (Some since childhood!) My mother was quite impressed when I showed her the contract a year before her death.

As the publication date closed in, I received a copy of the story as it was to appear in print. There were the proverbial issues of comma here versus semi-colon there. Would you mind if we used block paragraphs versus indentations? Can we spell this foreign word using these English letters instead of those English letters? We require UK English instead of American English—do you mind?

I was a pushover. “No problem. You don’t like semicolons? Hey, use a comma; in fact, use two commas. Thank you for asking me. The copy looks fine.” Then it happened. I received an odd email from a sub-editor who recommended entire deletions, re-writes and other substantial changes.

Where is this emanating from? Was I just an innocent dufus, or did I mistakenly send something to an obscure writer’s workshop instead of an established publication? “You’re kidding me, right?” I mocked, privately. “Let’s accept a manuscript, sign a contract then wait almost a year to re-write the thing. Not!” I was obstinate to say the least.

Deep down, I knew this was not something I was going to tolerate. A good editor always should be taken seriously. When suggestions are made, the first thing a writer needs to do is freeze the ego. The second thing to do is listen. I did. I found myself reviewing suggestion after suggestion, rewrite requests and decisions to delete paragraphs and admonitions for using words that, according to a phantom editor, did not exist.

Good old 2019, the watershed year, the year where most of the folks I trusted and turned to, “the elders”, had passed away. It was inevitable. Along with my little brother, I’d become a member of the “first generation,” and we were alone. How daunting, lonely and frightening. I needed someone to tell me I was right, I was valuable. The only sound I heard was my own breath and my old computer making an odd clicking sensation.

This new generational membership began with questioning my ability, my sense of belonging and safety. Perhaps I was not a real writer, just a wanna-be hack. I had no one to commensurate with, no one to agree with me, no one who would even appreciate a well-placed cuss phrase. I was lost. For just a moment, the realization that writing might as well become a thing of the past was not so far fetched. I’d lost my self-confidence, and I was facing that narrow bridge without so much as a melody. I spent days rewriting. I implemented every so-called recommendation and deletion the magazine personnel had offered. It left me with a deeply embedded hollow feeling in the holy place from where words and ideas emanate. It was frightening, unsettling, and it made the grief for those we’d recently lost all that more devastating.

I decided to reach into the cyber world of writers, publishers, and editors; out-of-control writer egos and how-to formulas for standing up for ourselves. I was looking for support and understanding from my own kind. The result was odd. Without exception, the articles I found counseled writers to take a second seat: editors know best. Take the money, give up your words. Be compliant. Don’t rock the boat, or you’ll never be published again. It was disturbing. It left sadness behind that rivaled those losses recently encountered and collected as 2020 began.

Positive risks are scary, but it has been my experience that they usually pay off. I contacted a fellow writer and got back this response (I’m paraphrasing): “Just tell them to leave ‘the bitter whang’ alone.” It came from Rhonda Browning White, who’d recently published The Lightness of Water & Other Stories. I don’t know Rhonda well, but I enjoy her enthusiasm and writings. She didn’t disappoint me. Just that phrase—“the bitter whang,” Rhonda’s description of how a character created from her West Virginia culture and upbringing would describe the charming “scent” of diesel fuel, and an editor’s desire to exchange it for a blast of Downey, did it for me. In conclusion, she advised, “Don’t let them touch a word.” My self-confidence was back and my period of mourning the losses of 2019 was over.

After several deep breaths, stepping back to the edge of the earth for a day or two and taking a long, clear look at writers’ block and self-confidence, I realized it wasn’t my story anymore. I’d killed it. It no longer said what it was created to say, it was cardboard-ish and made no sense. It had no purpose and changed nothing in the world for the better or worse—an absolute disaster for a mysterious little story written in the irreal genre that thought it had found its perfect forever home.

Politely, I sent a note respectfully declining to make any changes, other than grammar, stylistic adjustments particular to the format of the publication, and compliance with transliteration consistency in the spelling of foreign words. I explained the story was likely not the best fit for the magazine after all and that I would be more comfortable withdrawing it from consideration.

We are now into the first month of 2020. My confidence as a writer has returned. I have sent several stories, poems and essays out into the world to see if they will find homes for themselves. The grief of 2019 is falling away. 2020! It sounds good like you’re pumping a shotgun, loaded for bear and trotting across the narrow bridges that make up our future. Isn’t it refreshing the air has the whang of fearlessness—the ambiance that satiates our writer-dreams with the perfect metaphor?

 

Tovli Simiryan lives near Lake Erie with her husband Yosif, who does all the talking.  Tovli spends her time filling up little pieces of paper with words until they morph into stories and poems.  Sometimes she makes these writings leave home, find cyber caves or journals of their own.  They are so faithful to their creator, they often send her royalties.  Stories and some poems are like that—always thinking of something outside themselves.    A few journals that have housed Tovli’s writings are: Ariga, Chabad Magazine, Jewish Magazine, Jewish Ideals-Conversations, Raving Dove and Tiferet Journal.  You can contact Tovli at:  tovli102@outlook.com; webpage: ​http://tovlis.wix.com/tovliwriter

Tovli Simiryan

Tovli Simiryan

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Three Things to Do When Writing a Book Review (And One Thing NOT to Do)

All writers covet considerate reviews from readers who appreciate the hard work they’ve sandwiched between their book’s covers. Additionally, submitting thoughtful reviews can be an excellent way to earn bylines for your writing resume, while being a good literary citizen of the writing community. Even one-liner 4- and 5-star reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Target, and Walmart can help a new writer get noticed among the bestsellers whose work always ranks at the top of most search engines.

So how should you go about writing a good book review? What should you do—and what should not do?

  1. As you’re reading, jot notes about the things you love in the story. Mark quotes or powerful lines that move you. Use those in your review (note the page number for bonus points).
  2. Think about and mention the story elements, such as memorable characters, sensory and setting details, or lines of dialogue that stick with you. Write about what surprises you in the story. (Be sure to denote a “spoiler alert” if you plan to give away the ending.)
  3. What about the story will you take with you? What will you remember long after you close the book’s cover? Chances are, if it moves you, it will move other readers to whom you’re recommending the story.
  4. Do NOT review books you don’t like. Sure, some say any attention is good attention, but if you’ve watched a two-year-old have a tantrum in a grocery store, you know that’s not true. The writing community is its own microcosm, and you don’t want to be known as “that spiteful writer” who dissed the work that another reader or writer loves. Let it go and move on to write glowingly about the next book you love.

Where can you publish your well-written review? Many local newspapers and library newsletters seek book reviews, especially those written by local authors. If your review is especially detailed and thoughtful (and includes quotes with the page numbers on which they appear), you may submit it to one of the literary magazines and journals that publish well-written book reviews. Bonus: some will even pay you for your review!

Here are a few you can try (be sure to follow their guidelines, as each is quite specific):

And while you’re here, check out some of my published reviews (linked on my Publications page) for inspiration, examples, and recommendations for your next great read!

Rhonda Browning-White on her first book: The Lightness of Water & Other Stories

It’s always exciting to be interviewed, but it’s doubly so when you’re interviewed about your first book by an institution you’ve long admired and with which you are so pleased to be associated!

Converse College Low-Residency MFA

Tell us a little about your book and the process of writing it. How long have you worked on the collection?
The nine stories in The Lightness of Water & Other Stories feature strong characters such as West Virginia miners, Florida bikers, Tennessee granny women, and Virginia professors, who grapple with—and sometimes overcome—harsh issues that many of us face; loneliness, loss, grief, and guilt. I began work on this collection during my studies at the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program. Some of the stories (in earlier form) were part of my creative thesis, while others are newer. Overall, the collection has taken about nine years to come together in its final form. The “10,000 Hours Rule” certainly held truth, for me, and I’m now looking forward to finding out what the next 10,000 hours of study will do for my writing. 

The+Lightness+of+Water+by+Rhonda+Browning+WhiteWhen and where can we find it?
Pre-orders…

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Summer 2019 Reading List — Four Books You #MustRead

Books Summer 2019 (2)

Whether you spend your summer days reading on the beach, in a shaded hammock in the mountains, or curled up in your own climate-controlled living room, you won’t want to miss grabbing one–or all!–of these Summer 2019 #MustReads! There’s something in the list below for everyone!

NOVEL –
Valerie Nieman’s To the Bones  is a murder mystery, slash romance, slash ecocritical novel, slash ghost story, and it deftly blurs the lines between these seemingly unrelated genres with page-turning skill. Y’all, this novel kept me up late, and the ending caught me so off-guard I know you’ll never see it coming. With equal parts Celtic mythology and Appalachian folklore, the twists and turns will have you laughing, gasping, and second-guessing what you think you know until the very last page.

SHORT-STORY COLLECTION –
The Sound of Holding Your Breath 
is Natalie Sypolt’s debut collection, and wow! What a way to start a writing career! These stories are set in modern-day Appalachia, but no matter where you’re from, you’ll relate to each of the fourteen stories herein, because these characters deal with emotions you’ve felt or feel, they’ve faced challenges you’ve faced or are facing–or shoot!–one might even be you! These stories will test your courage and your mettle, and you may find yourself at the end of this stunning work asking yourself if you would have behaved in the same way these characters did, if you would have responded in the same manner in which they did, should you be faced with what they are facing.

MEMOIR –
Dawn Davies writes “A Memoir in Pieces,” Mothers of Sparta, and even if you think you’re not a fan of memoir, prepare yourself to be struck to the core by the gorgeous rawness of these stories. It’s rare for me to cry over a book, but this one turned me inside out. I giggled, I shook my head, and I truly wept over the course of these sixteen stories, each even more powerful because I know it is true, I know Davies bared her weakest, strongest, and most honest self to us in these pages. We see Davies navigate her nomadic childhood, marriage and divorce, pregnancy and postpartum depression, and the beautiful heartbreak of motherhood. With blade-sharp prose, Davies bisects and dissects her life for us, and in doing so, she lays bare a path that leads straight to the heart.

FORTHCOMING NOVEL –
Though you won’t be able to order Jon Sealy’s latest, The Edge of America, until September 11th, you’ll want to go ahead and pre-order today and keep it at the top of your to-be-read list. This action-packed political thriller is set in steamy 1980’s Miami, Florida, and man, is it hot! The CIA is keeping their eye on employee Bobby West, who when in need of easy money succumbs to a money-laundering deal with the devil himself–if the devil is named Alexander French. West’s obstinate teenage daughter skips town with French’s millions and a small-town Southern boy who is merely looking for his own shortcut to riches, neither realizing an Israeli hit woman has been hired by Cuban exiles to find French’s money and exterminate them both. You’ll hold your breath on this one through to the very last page.
NOTE: Be sure to look for my detailed review of Sealy’s novel forthcoming in South 85 Journal later this year!)

 

 

Four Writers (and One Painter) Resolve: New Year’s Resolutions

Champs Resolution 2019

What good is a New Year’s Day without a juicy resolution or two? I mean, even if we let our resolutions fall by the wayside on January 30th or 3rd, we’ve at least thrown a pebble into the pond and cause a mind ripple to form, expand, grow. There’s always the chance that the seed we plant today—even if left in the dark ground—will germinate, receive rain, eventually surface to sunlight, and bloom into beautiful being.

That’s how ideas often work for writers. Sometimes our ideas are a lightning strike, and we rush to the keyboard and pound out an entire chapter. Other times, one perfect sentence comes to mind, and we jot it in a journal, and every week or so, another joins it, and one day it’s a poignant story. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that tings in the air like the toast of crystal goblets, and we scribble on a napkin, to find it later and craft a poem that resonates and, yes, ripples, from our heart into the hearts of others.

Have I convinced you to make a writing resolution? I hope so! Nothing ventured . . . right!

A few weeks back, I was thinking of resolutions and wondering if writers other than myself toyed with them, made them, avoided them, broke them. I asked around, and a few friends shared their own writing resolutions with us. (Thank you for playing along!)

I hope you’ll find one—or more—of their resolutions inspiring.

Writer David Davis subscribes to the seed germination philosophy of writing. He wrote as a youngster but let writing fall by the wayside. It didn’t matter: The desire to write had taken root, and it later grew into a gig as a feature writer for the Daytona Sun Times. After the magazine went out of publication, David stopped writing. It was a job, after all.

Or was it? After seeing a Facebook post about (imagine this!) writing resolutions, David felt a powerful tug, and he dug out some old story snippets written years earlier about his grandchildren. He picked up his pen, and he’s resolved to write those stories. See? Even broken resolutions have a way of reaching sunlight!

Author, poet, essayist, blogger (need I go on?) Tovli Simiryan adopted a more Pomodoro-esque resolution, using a Fit-Bit app to jolt her into submission—both figuratively and literally. “From the once cluttered and disorganized mental office of Tovli Simiryan,” here’s her step-by-step resolution to put more of her gorgeous words into the world.

Katie Piccirillo Sherman, a journalist and journalism instructor in Chicago, believes in success through failure, as evidenced by her resolution to rack up one-hundred rejections. “The more you’re getting no’s, the more you’re submitting.” Don’t you love her positive spin and sassy attitude? Cheers to your one-hundred, Katie, and to an equal number of acceptances!

My own resolution? Ahhh, I almost hate to share it, because I expect I will no doubt one day have to admit its failure.

I resolve to Write. Every. Day.

Yup, even though I’ve been writing for over a decade now, I’ve never written every day, not even during my deadline-crazy Converse MFA years. (Don’t tell my profs!) No, I’ve always taken solace in my former mentor Robert Olmstead’s words to our small workshop group that, “Sometimes serious writing is sitting quietly, staring out a window for an hour.” Indeed.

This morning, as I thought of the writing resolution I wanted to make—because I certainly intended to make one (or two—I’m also resolving to network locally with more writers: We all need a nearby tribe), I came across poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman’s Twitter post, an article shared from The Rumpus, written by author and artist Kelcey Parker Ervick who resolved to paint every day. A painting—every day. Ervick asks, “What happens when you commit to painting—or to any form of creating—every day for a year?

“You exist in the world differently.”

Wow. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, if that isn’t inspiring, what is?

Yes, I want to exist in the world differently. So, this year, I’m going to attempt the actual, hands-on, practical (though perhaps impractical is the better word) task, and write every day. Whether it’s a blog entry (checkmark today!), a chapter, a poem, or just one fine sentence that sings, I’m going to do it.

C’mon, writer. What’s your resolution?

Three Simple Ways to Attract Opportunity: Recognize, Magnetize, And Seize

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” –Sir Winston Churchill

All you need is one great opportunity, and your life will be all you’ve dreamed of, right? But isn’t it sad and unfair that opportunity won’t present itself to you?

Hogwash!

Here are three simple—simple!—ways to attract opportunity. It’s up to you to open the door, because opportunity is knocking right now.

RECOGNIZE – Opportunity is all around you. No, don’t scoff at this. It’s true. Too often, we’re so mired in our current situation—our heads down in depression, shame, or disgust—that we can’t see what’s in front of us. Strive to live in the moment. It’s important to be self-aware, but equally important to be aware of what life is presenting to you right now. Stop thinking about what you don’t want, and concentrate on what you do want. Envision your goal, but don’t stop there. Take a step toward it every day. Even baby steps will eventually take you to where you want to be.

MAGNETIZE – To attract opportunity, be the best you can be right where you stand. Maybe you hate your job. Maybe you’re in an unhappy relationship. Maybe you’re facing financial strain.

Dig in.

This is not to say that you should entrench yourself, but that you should be boldly aware of your current situation, and take whatever steps you can to remedy them in this moment. What can you do right now to make the situation better, even by degrees? Firstly and most easily, you can have a better attitude. Laugh at the situation, ala Tom Hanks in The Money Pit. If you can laugh at a problem and smile at yourself in the mirror, then you’ve already cleared your mind enough to recognize the opportunity for improvement in your current situation.

No matter your present job, be the best you can be at it. So what if you’re a janitor? Be the janitor with shining sinks and faucets, shimmering mirrors, and gleaming tiles. Soon you’ll be recognized for your exceptional work, and fresh opportunity will present itself.

Stay positive.

Positivity attracts positivity, and the opposite is equally true. Case in point: Two of my best friends and I began to work on our attitudes, striving to be more positive even in frustrating, infuriating, and unfortunate situations. None of us were truly unhappy with our jobs, but we each had realized that what we have to offer was being overlooked, ignored, or unappreciated. Instead of feeling unhappy or despairing, we each tried to put a positive spin on our different difficult situations. What can I do today to make my workplace better? How can I improve my relationship with that difficult coworker? How can I make my boss’s job easier? How can I raise our company’s bottom line? We each listened to or read positive affirmations every day. We studied the law of attraction. We worked to improve ourselves, and most importantly, our attitudes.

Out of the blue, each one of us received a new career opportunity in our various fields—each within the same three-week period. These opportunities practically fell into each of our laps, as we really didn’t seek them! The opportunities seemingly appeared out of nowhere. In truth, perhaps they’d been there all along, but none of us, until then, had been aware enough to see what lay in front of us.

SEIZE IT! Courageously take the hand of opportunity when it appears. For some, this may the toughest part. Change can be scary. We may think it’s better to remain secure where we are, even if we’re not ultimately happy.

Understand this: The only secure thing is that there is no such thing as security.

Economies collapse. Bubbles burst. Jobs move overseas. Relationships end. Homes are foreclosed, and money is lost. But life moves on. It’s up to you to move on with it. When opportunity presents itself—and it will if you recognize and magnetize it—be brave enough to step out and grab it.

I can tell you that my two dear friends and I couldn’t help but hesitate when opportunity presented itself to each of us. We each had made some improvements in our current jobs, largely because we’d become more positive. Still, there is little, if any, growth in standing still. We each seized the opportunity presented, we each expanded our reach and our knowledge base, and we each are excited and emboldened to enjoy our success, while watching for even more new opportunities as they come our way.

If you’ve already let a great opportunity pass you by, don’t dwell in the past. Recognize, magnetize, and be ready to seize the next one coming your way!

She Thinks I’m Fierce!

There’s nothing quite as satisfying to a writer as having your work published; that is, except having someone else mention your publication in their own work! This week I’ve been twice honored:

First, by Hospital Drive who pubbed my short story “Things Long Dead” (read it here).

two trees in the fog

Second, by award-winning poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman who interviewed me for her #FierceFriday feature on her website!

Cover art and design by Dawn Surrat

Thank you to the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Hospital Drive and to Gabrielle Brant Freeman for believing in me and supporting my work! You’re FIERCE!

 

 

Smile! You’ve Disconnected!

Life’s hard, y’all. And in today’s rabid political climate, it seems to be harder than usual. Some days, it’s difficult to even force a smile.

Is there any way we can make our lives softer, rosier, more comfortable?

Absolutely, there is a way.

Unfortunately, it requires doing something uncomfortable: disconnecting.

We live in a modern world where our fingers seemingly exit the womb with smartphones attached. We carry laptops home from work to complete tasks after hours or over the weekend. Television and newspapers bombard us with report after report after report of recycled and regurgitated news. We spend “downtime” scrolling Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and Instagram and . . . [insert any name from a plethora of social media sites here].

In short, we have no downtime.

According to Genesis in The Holy Bible, even God rested on the seventh day. And I’m not God. I’m a weak human, so I need a break more often than that! I’m betting you do, too.

Try something with me—for me. C’mon, it’ll only take a second!

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a nest. Maybe not a sticks-and-weeds nest, but perhaps an uber-soft, form-fitting, super-sized chair that nestles your body like a second womb. Add a soothing blanket. Or choose a hammock filled with plump pillows, gently swaying over the sea. In your mind’s eye, curl up in that cocoon; take a deep, cleansing breath, and exhale all the workday woes, media mayhem, and social stress that’s surrounding you.

comfortable-hammock

Feel better?

Of course you do! It only took fifteen seconds to take your mind and body to a more relaxed state of being. Now imagine what would happen if you relaxed like that for fifteen minutes. Or an hour. Or all weekend.

Disconnecting from the busyness of business, the network of news breaks, and the swirl of social connection might seem scary—I mean, what if you miss something important? What if Wells Fargo loses investors? What if Beyonce is pregnant with twins? What if an old acquaintance from high school sends you a friend request, and you don’t immediately respond?

Your life will go on.

And you will feel better living it.

And trust me: when you reconnect, the information you missed will again be in your face, but now your face will face it with a genuine smile.

smiling-cat

Self-Reflection: How I Checked Myself Before I Wrecked Myself, and How You Can Do It, Too

I can’t say I’m disappointed to see 2016 come to an end. This has been an incredibly tough year for my family and me. My husband of twenty years (the handsome man you see in deep contemplation above) was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. My daddy underwent cardiac surgery again. Hurricane Matthew tore apart the roof of my home. And, no small wake-up call, I turned fifty.

But I survived. To be honest, in retrospect, I think I have thrived, and you can do the same, regardless of the challenges you face. How? Follow my lead.

Facing health scares, financial loss, a natural disaster, and more, threw me into a tailspin—or twelve. Each of these awful events also caused me to look hard at what is important to me. And let me tell you, it isn’t material things. Don’t misunderstand me; I appreciate the security of my lovely little home, my dependable car, my paycheck. But I quickly learned that these things mean very little unless I am happy and content.

Enter self-reflection.

Turning fifty absolutely causes one to think about the fact that, in all likelihood, your life is at least half over. I realized—am still realizing—that now is the time to make changes that point me in the direction where I want to go, where I want to end up, what I want to accomplish. And since none of us knows our expiration date, we may be beyond the halfway point right now.

I realized I wasn’t happy with the three jobs I was working. Ten years of editing and ghostwriting, while enjoyable in the moment, left me feeling as though I was spinning my wheels, writing award-winning books for others instead of telling my own stories. Adjunct teaching left me feeling like my skills and education were not appreciated (read: low pay and no benefits). My sales job—the one I worked solely for health insurance—left me feeling undervalued, disrespected, even bullied, at times. In addition, it had been over a year since my family had been on vacation, or even enjoyed a long weekend together. No, I couldn’t simply quit work—I needed a paycheck more than ever—but I knew I had to take steps toward getting out of the situations in which I’d become mired.

I began to ask myself questions, keeping personal fulfillment in mind. What kind of job could I do that would help other people, yet still leave me with enough creative juices to write? If money were no object, what kind of work would I enjoy doing? And, since money is important to me, what could I do to ensure my family’s and my own financial stability? How could I change my weekly and daily routine to allow me to spend more time with my family? What hobbies bring me satisfaction, and how can I reintroduce them into my life?

Tough questions, indeed, but questions I began to ask myself daily. I wrote down these questions. I made lists of possible solutions. I prayed and meditated. I crunched numbers. I worked on these questions, and the more I thought about them, the more clearly I saw what steps I needed to take to make changes that would lead me where I wanted to be.

I made changes.

I spent four months completing a recertification class to return to a satisfying career path I’d once followed for many years, then left behind. I turned in a lengthy notice to leave my ghostwriting and editing job, which I’ve loved for years, but which keeps me from my own writing. Last week, I quit my “benefits” job; the one I disliked but stuck with simply for health insurance.

Monday I’ll begin a full-time job (with great benefits!) in a field I love—one that simultaneously fulfills me and helps other people. Soon I’ll be starting my final ghostwriting project, and when that one’s done, my writing time will be mine! All mine! And perhaps best of all, I now have weekends available to spend with my family, and vacations together definitely are in our future.

I’m not Superwoman. I’m not the best time manager, and I’m pitiful at remembering birthdays, phone numbers, and even names. But after facing some terrible, life-altering events, I took stock of what is important to me, and I made changes.

If I can ask and answer those difficult questions, so can you.

Don’t be afraid of introspection, and please, don’t wait for an illness or a natural disaster before examining your purpose in life and what it is that makes you happy. You may not be able to move away, or quit your job, or uproot your lifestyle today, but once you know exactly what it is that’s important to you, you absolutely can begin taking steps toward that goal—even if they’re baby steps.

Be truthful with yourself. Ask the hard questions. Face the tough answers. Because what you know—really know—about yourself and your goals—is more important than what anyone else thinks. This is your life. Check it!

 

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