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?

WWRD? – What Would Rhonda Do?

enjoli1

From the time I was a pre-teen, I wanted to be an Enjoli woman; you know, bringing home the bacon and all that goes with it. I love bacon! (Ooops! Sorry. Got a little excited there.) Even now, I have a ridiculous number of personal goals—so many I’d have to live to beyond Methuselah’s age to reach them all. Because of this, I have many role models whom I call my everyday heroes; women whom I admire for the way they do this thing or that thing, who have accomplished goals at which I hope to succeed, who grab life by the horns each day, shouting, “Ride ’em, cowgirl!” I won’t attempt to model myself after Oprah, Martha Stewart, Suze Orman, or Bethenny Frankel, because the thought of having to do all that they do (with the aid of a team of assistants, of course) terrifies me. Instead, women whom I personally know are the sources of my inspiration, because if they can achieve success, there’s hope for me.

I’ll admit that I stretch myself thin. I am a wife and a mother. I work as an editor and ghostwriter. I am an adjunct English professor and a Realtor. I write for this blog and occasionally for two others. I review books, and I am currently writing two novels and revising a short story collection of my own. Rarely does a day pass when I don’t think of at least one of the talented, inspiring, women in my life, and in some small way, I try to imitate the thing they do or have done so well. They are, each one of them, an inspiration to me, and when I’m faced with a challenge, I ask myself, “What would she do?”

Christians sometimes utilize the catch phrase, “What would Jesus do?”, and while it’s admirable to apply that kind of wisdom to the big decisions in your life, I find it difficult aspire to those heights, especially when dealing with life’s minutia. Jesus is a godhead, after all, and since I’m just a regular ol’ human being, I won’t begin to pretend that I can achieve the miracle of feeding thousands with a loaf of Wonder Bread and a can of tuna, when I do well not to burn the casserole. No, I’ll stick with imitating feet-on-the-ground women I admire, whom I can lock into a bear hug of thanks when I successfully mirror one of their achievements.

For example, when I’m faced with a classroom full of bored English comp students, I think, What would Rachel Bragg do? Rachel made literature so incredibly interesting for me that it became my concentration of study. She even coaxed me to study a course on fantasy literature, a subject I thought I hated until I took her excellent course. By mirroring her entertaining, yet no-nonsense approach to engaging and motivating students, my first semester of teaching college was a success.

When I think I can’t find the time to face yet another blank page in one of my works in progress, I ask, “What would Leslie Pietrzyk do?” Leslie teaches in two graduate writing programs, is active in two writing groups, is the editor of a literary magazine, authors a wonderful blog I follow, publishes new essays and short stories seemingly every other week, has authored two novels and is soon to release a third. If she can make time to write with all that’s on her literary plate, so can I.

When friends pop by unexpectedly for an evening (or even a long weekend), I ask myself, “What would Momma do?” I’ve watched my mother joyfully entertain and prepare a spread for a dozen unexpected guests more times than I can count. And, while tiptoeing along the poverty line most of her life, my mother still donates an extraordinary amount of time and energy to charity functions, from hand-stitching quilts for international missionaries, to heading up “The Master’s Basket”, a women’s group that makes and delivers food to sick individuals and bereaved families weekly. She frequently volunteers in her church and community for dozens of different projects as needed. She’ll forever inspire me to give selflessly and generously.

When my writing gets too dark and serious, or my prose falls flat, I think, What would Karin Gillespie do? Karin’s novels, essays, articles, and blog posts never fail to make me laugh, and she finds humor—and writes it so well!—in all of life’s foils and foibles. If you’ve ever chuckled when reading one of my blog posts, it’s because I’ve learned from Karin’s fine example.

So many strong and smart women have inspired and continue to inspire me: my late mom-in-law Georgia White, who was an excellent to-the-penny home-finances manager; many mother/wife/professor/writer friends including Cheryl Russell, Gabrielle Brant Freeman, Kathleen Nalley Moore, and Pam Andrews Hanson (who also writes as Jennifer Drew); my uber-organized editing boss Sandy Tritt; my go-getter real estate broker Enis Qosja and brokerage owner Crystal Anderson . . . I could easily continue naming names and singing praises. You can bet there’s also something about you that I probably admire, prompting me to ask, “What would [insert your name here] do?”

Admittedly, it’s easy for me to get in over my head when I think this way. I often bite off more cud than a four-stomached cow can digest, and I occasionally feel bad when I fall short of the successes my role models have accomplished. Nonetheless, I realize that, while each of these women are phenomenal at one or three things I greatly admire, they may intermittently fail at something I do well. None of us is perfect, yet each of us strives to be successful at whatever it is that we do.

Acknowledging this fact leaves me with one important, pressing question: What would Rhonda do?

I know the answer to this one by heart: she would try very hard.

Extremely hard.

And sometimes she fails, but she cleans up the mess (even if it means sweeping it under the rug until her guests leave), and tomorrow she will try again.

The Enjoli woman should be so fortunate.

The Cost of Romance: Can You Afford It?

Romance

I don’t have to tell you that Valentine’s Day is approaching. From Kmart and Walgreens ads in your newspaper to Neiman Marcus and Louis Vuitton pitches in your inbox, retailers are quick to cash in on this made-for-lovers holiday. But do you really have to spend money to show your significant other that you care? Are you obliged to invest three month’s salary to prove your love? And in this month where all things heart-shaped are celebrated, must romance be measured by a dollar figure on a receipt?

As an experiment, I spent most of last week asking friends, family members, acquaintances, and—I’ll admit—more than one total stranger, “What is the most romantic (non-sexual) thing your significant other can do for you?” The majority of those I polled are long-married couples, though some are newlyweds, some are engaged or in a committed relationship, and a few are still single.

Pleasantly, I learned that the majority of answers had nothing to do with a purchased present. Instead, the masses (four dozen or so counts as “the masses”, right?) expressed more often than not that it’s “the little things” that they find most romantic. So what makes up the little things? Here are a few confessions about romantic actions—actions are the true gifts—that make the recipients’ hearts sing and stomachs flutter:

  • He goes for long walks with me.
  • She/he brings coffee to me in the mornings.
  • He leaves surprise love notes for me to find.
  • She’s an amazing mother to our kids.
  • He’s a wonderful father to our children.
  • She so strongly believes I can do difficult things that I begin to believe it, too.
  • He emails or texts me in the middle of his busy day, just to see how I’m doing.
  • She does my laundry.
  • He picks wildflowers for me.
  • She sometimes plans the weekend for us, so I don’t have to do it.
  • He talks to me—really listens and talks to me.
  • I overheard her telling someone how much she’s still attracted to me after all these years.
  • He dances with me in the kitchen.
  • She holds my hand in public, showing people that she’s proud to be with me.
  • He surprised me by painting the living room for me while I was at work.
  • She hugs me. You can never go wrong with a hug.
  • He holds my face in his hands and kisses my nose.
  • She/he sometimes cooks/bakes [my favorite meal].
  • He/she trusts me with his secrets.
  • She/he volunteers to run errands for me.
  • She gives me a kiss on the cheek to encourage me.

Out of all whom I polled, only three mentioned purchased gifts; one husband planned a honeymoon after a 25-year wedding vow renewal, one husband planted rose bushes for his wife in honor of each of their children; and a third husband took his wife for a Happy Meal as a warm reminder of one of her happiest childhood events—each a sweet, romantic gesture that had significant meaning going far beyond the typical florist delivery or satin jewelry box.

Gifts and surprise presents are wonderful, no doubt, and I’m sure they mean a lot to the recipient. Still, it’s important to recognize how much each of these small moments, these priceless gifts of thought and time, mean to those who received them. Yet in this crazy-busy world, those things seem to cost us more than whipping out the Visa, and that’s exactly why they’re so precious.

While I’m not suggesting you forgo the cards, flowers, candy, or perfume, I am absolutely advocating for a gift from the heart; one that doesn’t cost a dime, but will be treasured more than any trinket money can buy. Can you afford it?

When love is at stake, how can you not?

Please Be Nice

“Be nice to each other. You can make a whole day a different day for everybody.” –Richard Dawson

 

I wonder why it is that so many people find it difficult to be nice. I’m not talking about the Southern gentility of gentlemen opening car doors for ladies, or the young taking the arm of the elderly to assist in crossing the street. Nor am I talking about putting away your cell phone at the table to engage in polite conversation with the person sitting across from you—though these things are indeed nice.

I’m talking about niceness, as in the opposite of rudeness. I’m talking about keeping a civil tone of voice instead of screaming at someone. I’m talking about taking a breath and removing the venom from your voice before answering a simple question.

We all have bad days—I get that. Alarm clock didn’t go off, kid missed the bus, tire was flat, every traffic light turned red, coffee dripped on your suit . . . Murphy’s Laws are ugly laws. The person sitting across from you, however, or the person on the other end of the phone, didn’t cause any of those issues, and they don’t deserve the brunt of your anger. Tomorrow—or even a few hours from now—these things won’t matter. You’ll be on to the next predicament, and then the next, and the next one. What makes each of these challenges easier is to understand that, no matter how bad the moment seems, it will pass, and it’s true that somewhere, someone else is dealing with something much worse than a coffee stain on a new blouse.

But enough with the bromides—except this one: life is tough. Tough for you, tough for me, tough for everyone, but that doesn’t give any of us the right to be mean.

Maybe has to do with my Appalachian upbringing, because where I’m from, we believe it’s our compulsory duty to help our neighbors—even if we don’t particularly like them or agree with their politics, religious choices, or lifestyle. Or maybe it’s because I was raised in a family where I’ve watched my father give the money he needed for his heart medication to a family who lost their home in a fire; or perhaps it’s because I lived most of my life in the South, where hospitality is the norm, and even the meanest comment is often prefaced with “Bless his heart.” Any of these experiences might explain why I’m always stunned, and sometimes even hurt, by rude behavior and meanness.

Recently I completed a simple real estate transaction, and during the very routine process of completing paperwork and legwork, I was screamed at (I’m talking about true, hold-the-phone-away-from-your-ear-to-preserve-your-eardrum screaming) by another Realtor who was angry about something over which I had no control; I was lied to multiple times by a contractor; and I saw a customer reduced to tears because a snappish title-company executive didn’t trust its own title agent (also a notary) to verify a faxed signature he witnessed and notarized. Each one of these upsetting incidents could have been rectified, or at least made easier to accept, with one thing: niceness, a.k.a. honesty and human compassion.

Look, I’m not asking you, or anyone, to jump on the free love, shirt-off-your-back, bow-down-and-kowtow bandwagon. I am, however, asking you to be nice. I’m reminding myself to be nice. NICENESS IS NOT WEAKNESS. Don’t ever mistake it as such. We all know someone in a position of leadership or power whom we can describe as “the nicest person you’ll ever meet”, and we’d never call them weak. Remember that even bad news is better received when it’s delivered respectfully, with kindness and compassion: knowing this puts you in a position of strength and power.

Do you remember the heartwarming, B-rate movie Roadhouse starring the late Patrick Swayze? If so, you’ll recall his lecture to the bar bouncers—the guys who have the job of throwing out knife-wielding, gun-toting drug-smugglers and riffraff—in which Swayze’s character repeats time and again, “Be nice.”

Really, folks, it’s that simple.

You’re going to encounter incidents out of your control today; be nice. You’re going to encounter someone who is arrogant and self-inflated; be nice. You’re going to talk to someone who may be experiencing physical pain, the recent loss of a loved one, a cheating spouse, or financial or emotional bankruptcy; be nice.

If we’re truly lucky, our niceness will be contagious.

be nice

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