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!

 

 

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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!

 

Call Me a Fresko Foodie!

While I frequently play at being an amateur foodie, it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a restaurant review about my culinary adventures. Fortunately, our recent meal at Fresko Restaurant & Grill on South Ridgewood Avenue in South Daytona proved scrumptious enough to bring my taste buds and pen out of hiding. Fresko recently opened their authentic Greek-cuisine restaurant in the space locals know as the old US 1 Restaurant.

My husband Randy and I stopped in relatively late on a Friday evening with friends Ron and Paula. Updated décor includes a royal-blue-and-white color scheme replete with Greek key motifs and traditional stoneware adding charm to rustic brick walls, plus tables graced with floral arrangements designed by a family member of one of the owners. Near the restaurant’s entrance, a Greek market is being built, and shelves were already lined with canned goods, sweets, and spices, and a glass display case promises freshly made offerings, as well. Outside, a tiki bar was temporarily closed, but we were told it would soon be open and staffed.

Fresko Market

The Fresko Greek Market (coming soon!)

Between the four of us, we sampled several dishes. From the orektika (appetizers) menu, I chose a personal Greek favorite, saganaki, a pan-fried Greek cheese topped with a splash of ouzo, flambéed and finished with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Because the ceilings in the restaurant are low, our server was unable to flame the cheese at our table (an initial letdown), but she served it piping hot—crisp on the outside and oozing on the inside—along with tasty wedges of warm, grilled pita wedges. After only one bite, we quickly forgot to be disappointed in the lack of a fire show.

Randy ordered soutroukakla (Greek meatballs) to share, and these light, flavorful, football-shaped meatballs simmered in a well-seasoned tomato sauce arrived topped with crumbles of melting feta cheese and several large cubes of fresh-baked bread. The order included four large meatballs—plenty to share with our famished group with a little left over.

Ron selected the gyros pikilia, a heaping platter of sliced, juicy gyro, surrounded by grilled pita wedges and topped with a hefty slathering of tzatziki ( a creamy cucumber and garlic dip made with Greek yogurt and onions). The lovely presentation included thinly sliced Roma tomatoes. The four of us worked hard to devour this yummy platter, but we still had enough to take home for lunch. This would be a perfect take-out dish to carry to a party. So cool and refreshing!

A cup of avgolemono (egg and lemon soup) arrived steaming and chock full of chunks of chicken. The soup was tangy and thick—more like a stew—and served with large, fresh bread cubes for tearing and dipping. Paula and Ron each ordered gyro wraps served in grilled pita bread. Each tzatziki-topped wrap could easily serve two people. Paula selected a side of over-roasted potatoes, which were a bit crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ron’s side of orzo was flavored with tomato sauce that gave the dish a comforting spaghetti-like flavor.

We arrived hungry, yet we never expected each of our dishes to be so generous in portion-size, nor so hearty and filling. We each took home boxes for lunch the next day, and no one had room to sample from the dessert menu that includes, among an impressive list of choices like baklava, rice pudding, Greek chocolate cake (sokolatina), and sweet Mavrodaphne wine.

Have I used the word fresh too much? I could say it a dozen times when describing each bite we tasted, and still not convey how truly fresh the food proved to be. We’re so impressed that we’re already planning our next trip to Fresko. Hope to see you there!

 

 

Rock Bottom Is a Firm Foundation

Woman-underwater-Kaare-Long-article

Sometimes when you think you’ve reached rock bottom, you’re actually finding firm footing. When you feel stone-cold solid rock beneath your bare feet, curl your toes into it. Press hard. Wipe your tear-filled eyes, and look up. You may be surprised to see the many hands of true friends reaching down to pull you up, while others’ hands are folded in prayer on your behalf, and still others’ hands are lifted in praise for your abundant victories yet to come.

Take the hands reaching out for you. Feel yourself being lifted.

Share your gratitude and joy, as it’s contagious, and so many need your smile.

The bountiful blessing you’ve just received is wasted unless you share it.

Now is good.

Share it now.

And if you find yourself at rock bottom as you read this, reach up. Take my hand.

*

Thank you to those of you who’ve extended your hands, your love, and your friendship to Randy, Jacob, and I, as we toppled, keeled, and pitched headlong downward, found our footing, and looked up toward you for friendship, encouragement, support–and found love.

You know who you are! 

Breaking News on Facebook

              “You have cancer,” the doctor says.

             For a moment, the only sound you hear is your heartbeat thrumming much too loudly in your ears.

             “How bad is it?”

            The doctor’s sincere stare unnerves you.

            “Randy, it’s bad.”

 

This is the exact conversation held last week in the physician’s office between my husband and his doctor. Nothing can prepare you to hear those words. Within seconds, your life has changed.

Minutes later, you’re holding a handful of papers: pamphlets, orders, biopsy results, a CD with photos of the cancer, even the doctor’s personal cell-phone number. It’s pressing toward 5:00 pm, so you’re rushed to the clinic to pick up contrast liquid for tomorrow morning’s CT scan. Drink this. Don’t eat that. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the radiologist. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the surgeon.

Somewhere in there, you remember that you haven’t eaten since breakfast.

*

It’s an understatement to say that my husband and I were caught up in an immediate whirlwind—perhaps tornado is a better metaphor—within minutes of his diagnosis. We cried for a few minutes, but there were simply too many deadlines to meet to cope with the flood of emotions, questions, and next steps for tears just then.

And we needed to tell our son.

How do you break such news to an eighteen-year-old who is a day away from final exams? How do you risk discoloring what should be the happiest time of his life—his high-school graduation—which is only a week away?

When we arrived home that evening, our son was at work, so our decision to wait until after he’d completed his exams the next day was made easier. But in the meantime, we began receiving phone calls from concerned relatives who knew we were to receive the biopsy results—which we’d been convinced were going to be benign—that day.

We broke the news to immediate relatives who called, adding the admonition, “Please don’t say anything to anyone yet, as we can’t tell our son until tomorrow afternoon.” Besides, we’d have the result of the CT scan by then, so we’d know exactly what to tell him.

Relaying this news once is painful. Two or three times is agonizing, but having to say “aggressive cancer” five or six times is excruciating.

Bad news travels fast, and in a small town, it spreads like . . . malignancy.

By the time we received the results of the CT scan the next afternoon, our phones were blowing up. We shared the news with our son and discussed our next options and plan of attack. One day at a time. We will kick this!

As our home and cell phones kept ringing, we realized we had to get ahead of this, and we certainly had to free up the phone lines, as we were expecting calls from doctors and hospitals. Though we’d first said we’d never put such news on social media, we realized we had no other option—if not, someone would likely do it for us and perhaps not with the kind of message we wanted to convey.

That evening, we requested on Facebook the support, prayers, and love of our friends and family as we fight the battles before us in order to win this war. We anticipated dozens of responses, but we were truly humbled by the hundreds we received. The outpouring of love touches out hearts and does much to strengthen our faith and hope.

And then came the other comments: the scoldings via IM or text or phone. “Why didn’t you call me right away?” “Why did I have to read this on Facebook?” “So-and-so told me. You should have called me yourself!”

Hear me when I say this: it’s not about you.

It’s about the patient. And more remotely, it’s about his children and his wife and his parents and his siblings.

We’ll be the first to agree that Facebook isn’t the best place to break such news, but in order to maintain some semblance of sanity during an insane period of our lives, it seemed the logical option; the quickest and least-painful way to say those words once instead of dozens more times.

Worse than the scoldings, however, was the IM from an old friend who related the same diagnosis in her church member, and how the cancer had metastasized and invaded other parts of the body, and how he would soon surely die. I stopped her short between messages: “No negativity, please. We are surrounding ourselves with positive vibes, positive thoughts, prayers, and positive people. Faith, hope, and love.” It startled and appalled me several minutes later when she returned an I-wasn’t-finished-yet-here’s-where-else-he-had-tumors message. A few days later, I listened (briefly, before walking away), as someone else tried to tell me a horror story of another person with a similar diagnosis and rotten outcome.

Listen carefully: when you’ve learned that a friend or family member has cancer, if you can’t offer supportive, kind, uplifting, encouraging, loving, or compassionate words, then Shut. The fuck. Up.

Yes, I said that; and yes, I meant it.

I’m grateful to say that these kinds of comments have been few among the deluge of caring and encouraging, love-filled messages we’ve received. The sensitivity and compassion of our family and friends who have rallied around us have helped strengthen our resolve to face each morning and each long, sometimes-scary night with steadfast hope and faith.

Understand that, in the days that follow a cancer diagnosis, a person’s day-to-day life and that of his family is turned upside down and shaken. It’s easy to momentarily forget to call even the dearest of friends. Don’t be offended if, in the great confusion of the days following such news, you feel forgotten, and please don’t be offended if you (aren’t an immediate family member and you) learn such news through social media. Know that your friend still needs you—now more than ever before.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to send an “I care” note to a friend who’s dealing with a devastating diagnosis; you simply have to be kind. Your friend needs you to remind him or her that there is hope in each new day. Put yourself in that person’s mindset for a moment, and think of what positive things you’d like to hear. Send warm thoughts and well wishes. Light a candle, and say a prayer (or twelve).

And if you have a spare moment, please say another for us.

faith hope love

 ” . . . but the greatest of these is love.” –I Cor. 13:13 (ESV)

Adventures of a Neti Pot Spartan

Meet Glen Hager.

Glen is, among other things, a US Navy Veteran, a skilled craft-beer aficionado, and a CrossFit junkie. He regularly wins or places highly in local Spartan Races. In short, he’s a manly man, and a good-looking one, at that. Glen has no need for the wimpy things in life, so when my husband Randy and I encountered Glen on one of our eight-mile beach walks, we were surprised to see him sniveling. Well, sort of sniveling. Sniffling is more like it.

“Allergies,” Glen said. “I’ve tried everything short of dynamite to open my nose. Nothing works.”

“Have you tried a neti pot?” I asked. I went on to explain where to purchase and how to use this awesome little piece of equipment that’s highly recommended by physicians and surgeons to clear, clean, and soothe the sinuses. “Be sure to boil the water to sterilize it, let it cool to a comfortable temperature, and add a packet of the saline powder that’ll come in your kit.”

neti-pot

“Sounds like waterboarding,” Glen said, then puffed out his chest. “But I can take it.”

I convinced him that it’s an easy process, and while it may take a time or two to get the hang of it, he’d feel much better even after the first try.

If only!

That evening, Glen told us that when he went to pick up the neti pot I’d recommended, sitting just to the right of it was the Spartan version—a squeeze bottle with “a huge, black, nostril-filling power head.” Of course, that’s what he bought. He got it home, breezed through the instructions, and dumped out “a whole butt load of saline packs” that came in the box. The plastic neti bottle he’d purchased was stiff and firm, and it took a little effort to squeeze water out of it when he first rinsed it, so our strong-man friend knew he’d purchased the perfect macho product for his masculine needs. Remembering my admonishment about sterility, he boiled eight ounces of water in a measuring cup.

And that’s when things began to go south.

“If one packet of saline is good for you,” Glen later said, “two would do the job better and faster, right?” He dumped in two packets and poured the boiling water into his bottle and headed for the bathroom sink.

“I let the water cool for a few minutes, then I bent over the sink, inserted the big, black, power-nozzle into my nose, and gave a mighty power-squeeze. Well, the boiling water had softened the bottle just enough to allow me to generate about 150 PSI of water pressure, so I rapidly injected about four ounces of scalding water—with a saline density approximating that of the Dead Sea—into my skull.

“Hot water shot out of every orifice above my shoulders (and a few below). Snot, earwax, eye boogers, a tooth filling, that ball bearing I shoved up my nose when I was three, and the bug that crawled into my ear when I was six all came shooting out at once.”

“Oh, no, Glen!” I said, trying to contain my giggles, “What did you do?”

“Well, before I fully regained my senses, I quickly injected the other nostril.

“The good news is,” he said, “I have no more congestion! Afterward, I felt so darn good I went on a Harley ride to cool my scalded-and-salt-cured sinuses. Truly, I feel better than I have in weeks!

“I gotta say, though,” he said in a humbled voice, “do-it-yourself enemas are now off my “I Can Do This’ list.”

Yes, readers, I probably should have prefaced this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story with a “Don’t Try This at Home” warning, but surely no one, save Glen Hager, will ever have quite this same experience.

“After all,” he said, “you should keep in mind that I’m the guy who has performed minor surgery on myself more than once with a Kabar.”

True . . . but that’s another story.

 

 

Writing Advice from the Masters: Writing in Paradise

WIP Magnuson

I recently spent eight fabulous days at the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise, under the tutelage of some of America’s finest authors. Set on Eckerd’s idyllic waterfront campus (some of us took a boat ride into Boca Bay as the sun set late one afternoon), we attended readings, social events, lectures, panel discussions, and intensive workshops over the course of the program. I was privileged to be awarded the Sterling Watson MFA Fellowship to attend this exciting conference, and doubly privileged to have a chapter of my novel workshopped by eleven brilliant authors, including multi-award-winning author and conference co-director Les Standiford.

As you might imagine, in a conference of this lauded measure, one receives a plethora of great advice and inspiration. It’s a serious writer’s job, then, to apply that advice to her manuscript and to carry that inspiration into her work. (Check out my brief essay on how to do that here.)

If you have the opportunity to attend a conference of this high caliber, I strongly recommend it. Until then, here’s a tiny taste of some of the advice and inspiration shared by the masters at Writers in Paradise. I hope you’ll support these generous spirits by attending their readings, buying and sharing their books, and reviewing their outstanding work.

 

On the craft of writing:

“Every good story is personal.” –Les Standiford

“Let suspense hook the reader, but don’t show them the hook.” –Dennis Lehane

“We can’t know who you are, until we know what you’ve lost.” –Andre Dubus III

“Don’t shroud the opening in secrecy. Tell the whole story in the first sentence.” –Les Standiford

 

On the writing habit:

“The ones who make it are the ones who stick with it. They’re the grinders.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Sculpt your entire life around getting your writing done. Don’t waste time. Write. Write. Write.” –Ann Hood

“We need special language to commemorate our lives: weddings, love, death, inaugurations. We need poetry.” –Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“Writing is an act of humility, and it takes its own time.” –Ann Hood

 

On researching story details:

“Go where the story takes you.” –Gilbert King

“Writing is problem solving.” –Sterling Watson

“Start from ignorance. Admit you know nothing.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Always be particular. Writers will do anything to weasel out of being specific.” –Les Standiford

 

What success means to you as a writer:

“Success means being able to continue writing. I don’t want to be publishing, marketing, or finishing a book. I want to be writing. That’s where the reward is.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Writing a poem is devastatingly difficult; it’s also a privilege. Writing is a privilege.” –Aimee Nezhukumatathil

 

Do any of these words of wisdom speak to you or your process as a writer? What is the best writing advice you have to give?

 

Tiny Poetry at @Tiny_Text “Spirits Tasting”

It’s always a pleasure to have your work appreciated by and shared with others. It’s an honor when one of those others  is @Tiny_Text, who regularly Tweets some of the most powerful, concise, thoughtful poetry found on Twitter. If you aren’t following @Tiny_Text, you’re missing out! Go follow them now, and enjoy a little bite of literature in your day!

Thank you, Tiny Text,  for publishing my poem, “Spirits Tasting.” I appreciate your support!

 

@Tiny_Text is currently accepting submissions, so send in your best work! Here are their guidelines:

Teeny tiny Twitter fictions and memoirs. 140 characters or less. No other limits except quality. Submit to teeny.tiny.text@gmail.com.

Good luck!

 

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