Sanity in the Time of Covid

To say these are unsettling times would be an understatement. We’ve watched—are still watching—our country rippling and rolling as if a shaken blanket. Mass unemployment, racial tensions, and the daily fear of contracting a life-threatening disease is just cause for anxiety in the calmest of souls. As we watch the number of positive Covid cases rise (by the time I finish writing this, Florida, where I live, will top 100,000 cases and is pushing toward 4,000 deaths), we may think we’ve glimpsed the Reaper in our periphery.

I’m fortunate to work with a large group of brilliant healthcare providers, including a top infectious disease physician. Even so, the information shared by these knowledgeable doctors and scientists is sometimes contradictory. Our nation’s best are applying all they know and learn toward grasping and containing this slippery virus. How, then, can any of us manage our anxiety and remain emotionally upbeat as we navigate these strange, new roads?

I am not a psychiatrist or behavioral health specialist. Regardless, daily exposure to the facts and fallacies surrounding Covid, my husband’s job loss due to this pandemic, and the recurrent mass demonstrations in my county, has required me to face head-on my own anxiety. Here are some tips that have helped me cope with these fright-inducing events. I hope you’ll find comfort in some of the things that have helped me cope.

Focus on today. You live in the present, not the past or the future. It’s not balderdash to say each day is a gift. The fact that you’re reading this now instead of lying in a hospital on a ventilator is a very good thing, so be grateful for this time. Recognize that you’re in a safe place, you have food in your cupboards, a working phone or computer in front of you, and a day full of possibilities ahead. Remind yourself to remain in the here and now. You can deal with tomorrow when in gets here in the same, present-focused way you are handling today.

Disconnect. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, CNN, Fox, etc., etc. Give yourself a break! It’s okay to turn off your television, or at least turn it to The Golf Channel, Food Network, or The Hallmark Channel. (No one has to know!) Check out Cartoon Network or Comedy Central. Give yourself a full day–or week–away from Twitter and Facebook. Hide or block that person whose political posts cause your blood to boil. Follow instead that hilarious friend who always posts cat comics or inspirational quotes. Read a funny blog post. Listen to upbeat music. Fling open your drapes and dance! (You might make your neighbors smile in the process.)

Hit the beach. Or the mountains. Or the lake. Or your backyard. Get outdoors and breath the air. This kind of freedom is free! It costs you nothing to sit by the water and listen to it flow over rocks or wash in as waves lapping your feet. Hike to a scenic overlook or guide your wheelchair along a path through a local park. Bask in the sunshine or stroll through a light rain, sans umbrella. Reconnect with nature. It’s uplifting and energizing, and couldn’t your battery use that kind of recharging?

Immerse yourself in a task or hobby. Now’s the perfect time to take a course in a subject that interests you. EdX has a long list of free courses from universities like Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Berkley covering everything from Roman architecture to video game coding. Pinterest is full of ideas for craft projects, painting, baking, and home décor. Start a novel, a poem, or personal journal. Now is also a great time to work on your landscaping or clean out your closets and garage. (You can donate what you don’t need to charity, and if that doesn’t make you feel good, what will!)

Pray or meditate—or both. Sometimes a moment of silence is the best thing you can give yourself. Strike a yoga pose like lotus or child’s pose, kneel by your bed, or sit comfortably in your favorite chair. Be still. Let your mind settle and push away any negative thoughts that come to you. Focus on a favorite uplifting quote or verse. Visualize a flitting butterfly or soaring eagle. Let peace settle around you and fill your spirit. Allow yourself to smile.

Phone a friend. If you find yourself wading through deep blues, reach out for help. Call the most upbeat person you know and tell them you need an uplift. Phone a pastor or spiritual advisor. Zoom or Facetime someone who always makes you laugh. Reach out to your doctor or therapist (most healthcare providers now offer phone or telehealth visits without having to leave your home) for a one-on-one counseling session. You have a lifeline. Don’t be afraid to use it!

For a list of free mental health services in your area, check out Healthy Place, here. 

How to Survive Self-Isolation: Seven Tips and an Important Warning!

Most cases of Covid-19 (a strain of coronavirus) have manageable (if uncomfortable) symptoms, similar to influenza or even a bad case of common cold, in people who have otherwise healthy immune symptoms. Covid-19, however, is highly contagious, so if you’re exposed, your doctor will certainly recommend self-isolation. How on earth do you handle that? How will you survive fourteen days trapped inside your home alone or—possibly more concerning—with your family? Here are some suggestions to make your quarantine more manageable and—dare I say it?—possibly pleasant!

First, don’t think of it as isolation. Mindset is everything! Consider this a two-week recuperation from all things hectic: no work frustrations, no crowds, no traffic jams . . . sounds heavenly, doesn’t it! Rest and hydration are two of the most important factors in recovery from this virus, as well as recovery from influenza, common cold, and other viral miseries. Be sure to take whatever meds your doctor prescribes, and eat healthy foods as tolerated, especially those containing vitamin C. Push fluids by keeping a glass of water beside you at all times, and take a sip every time you even glance at it. Wash your hands often, and disinfect hard surfaces in your home. This is especially important if you are quarantined with friends or family, as you don’t want to infect or re-infect one another.

Next, be prepared. No, I’m not talking about stocking up on a year’s supply of toilet paper! Truly, folks, don’t lose your mind here. While this may be a zombie-prepper’s dream, it’s only a break for a couple of weeks, and you’ve long needed that kind of R & R, haven’t you? There’s no need to go crazy here. Shop now for the comfort foods you prefer when you’re home with a cold or flu: chicken broth, soups, oatmeal, oranges, etc. And since you may not feel bad for the duration of your quarantine, purchase ingredients for a couple of recipes you’ve long wanted to try but haven’t had the time to make. That 28-ingredient homemade pasta dish, for example. If not now, when? Helpful hint: canned goods, dried beans and pastas, root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, and fruits like apples and citrus foods have a longer shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about spoilage over your two-week isolation.

toilet paper shortage

Quarantined without warning? No need to panic! Most large-chain grocery stores (Publix, Walmart, Kroger, etc.) offer home delivery. Pay by debit/credit card and ask the driver to ring the doorbell and leave your packages on your porch. (An Isolation – Please leave packages here sign on your front door will suffice. Be kind and tape an envelope containing a tip below your sign.) This is an excellent time to make use of your Amazon Prime account, because they’ll deliver anything you imagine to your door free of charge in a day’s time. And hey, most pizza delivery and Chinese food delivery places offer hot soups, fresh salads, and steamed veggies that’ll help support your immune system while you’re recovering during this mini-vaycay.

Catch up on entertainment. Now’s the perfect time to binge watch all those Netflix series that your friends have been talking about. And that stack of to-be-reads on your nightstand? Curl up with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, and a fur-baby by your side, and you’re in self-care heaven!

Enjoy a spa day at home. Once you’re on the road to recovery, enjoy a steamy bath with a cup of Epsom salts, dried oatmeal, bath oil, or lavender buds. Turn off the lights and burn a scented candle, then follow your relaxing soak with a slathering of rich body cream. Next up? A self-serve mani-pedi, perhaps while watching that chick-flick only you wanted to see.

Do something creative. Now’s the time to drag out that cross stitch kit or art project that’s been hiding out in your spare closet. Write a poem or a story. Send a handwritten letter to a parent or favorite aunt. Organize a drawer or rearrange a shelf. Declutter a closet and start a box for charity. Be sure to limit physical activity to thirty minutes or so at a time. You don’t want to overdo it while you’re recovering.

Reconnect with your family. Isolated with your spouse or kiddos? Once everyone is feeling up to it, break out the Monopoly board or Yahtzee game. Teach your kids some card tricks. Watch a classic movie—you know the one—the one that was your favorite when you were their ages. (Prepare for eyerolls and groans, as well as laughter.) Over a steamy bowl of soup at the dining table, take turns answering “200 (Not Boring) Questions To Ask To Get To Know Someone Better” from this great list from Women’s Health. Ten years from now, you’ll be laughing as you say, “Remember how silly we were that time we were all isolated with coronavirus?”

While no one wants to be kept home sick, with the right attitude toward rest and recovery, you can make the best of your quarantine while avoiding cabin fever. By the time your two-week self-isolation is over, you’ll be recuperated, relaxed, and ready to return to work or school with a self-indulgent smile.

IMPORTANT: If you experience worsening symptoms such as fever of 102 or higher while on fever-reducing medication such at Tylenol or Advil, difficulty breathing, delirium, or chest pain, call or your doctor or 911 immediately. You may be experiencing a true medical emergency.

The Five Most Influential Books When I was a Young Reader (that would work for today’s teens, too)

Guest Post
by
Mary Hastings Fox

Mary Fox

Do today’s teenagers still read books, or has social media replaced print completely? Studies show that, by college, most are reading because they must. When they do read for pleasure, they are more likely to prefer books where kids must fend for themselves or die (The Lord of the  Rings or The Hunger Games.)  I thought it might be fun to think back to my favorite young adult books to see how things have changed.

1. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene ( Mildred A. Wirt)

A first favorite was Nancy Drew, and I stuck with her all through high school. Mildred Wirt, ghostwriter “Carolyn Keene” for 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books, was an independent, resourceful woman herself. She endowed Nancy and many of her other heroines with these same qualities. The message was that any girl could be anything, and this is part of what made her so beloved with young readers. But there was more. The relationship of distant fathers and their determined daughters can always fulfill a young girl’s fantasy about who she will be as a woman. While Nancy is loaded with brains and wit, she is often isolated in a dangerous world, and it’s often not clear that any help will come in time, if ever. In my mind, this is the reason why Nancy Drew is still wildly popular after 75 years – she knows that her choices can be wrong and that she doesn’t know everything she needs to. She is essentially on her own and still, she persists!

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The book’s protagonist, Scout Finch, is a precocious, pre-teen tomboy, trying to understand the nature of bigotry in the 1930’s South.  Her father Atticus is an impossibly good and wise man wise who holds her hand as layers of people’s manners and charm fall away to expose the moral core of bigotry and violence underneath.  There are many of the title’s “mockingbird” characters in this novel–gentle, innocent victims of bigotry and the evil nature of mankind. The real mockingbird is the myth of human goodness. The town is forced to see each other’s racism and stubborn beliefs about class and race.

This book is, ideally, read at a time of the reader’s own coming-of-age. It’s also a time in life when kids are beginning to understand the greater worlds of literature. Atticus is the anchor to integrity and morality that centers his children during violent storms that threaten everything they know. In short, he’s the perfect father.

The message of love and tolerance amidst social pressure is important, but the main hooks for the teen reader are the drama of the story, the author’s fluid prose, and her exquisite characters.

3. Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout

…was rarely read by the girls of my generation. The heroes are two men: Archie Goodwin–earthy, gutsy, gritty, and very masculine–the wise-cracking gumshoe detective and the foil of his boss, Nero Wolfe. Wolfe is an overweight, orchid-loving intellectual and a gourmand. He is also a recluse who hates to work, and who, book in hand, prefers never to move from his chair except for dinner. Most women in the series are merely decorative, as Wolfe, among his other shortcomings, is a misogynist who barely tolerates Archie’s womanizing. So why would a girl read this stuff? Why to fix them, of course. I was alternately Archie and Wolfe in the stories and, being far less lop-sided than they were, I was better than either of them at solving the murders, at understanding everyone’s motives, and at making my life work. What girl could resist?

4. Murder on The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Agatha’s most famous protagonist was Hercule Poirot, and he was my favorite. He constantly referred to his approach to solving mysteries as using his brain’s “little gray cells.” Christie was no slouch in this department. She was an exceptionally smart and gifted writer, deftly combining sharp structure with a psychological spin. Her novels streamed along with unique but believable dialogue, flawless mood-setting, and carefully constructed murder plots that to this day serve as blueprints for modern detective writers. She left a library of work that’s both intelligent and timeless. I can pick up one that I read decades ago, and it feels fresh and timeless. Murder and good writing—a combination that made the “Queen of Crime” one of the best writers in history–and on top of that, she managed it while staying G-rated. I’ve still never met a teenager who didn’t say they loved the book when closing the last page on Poirot.

 5.  Grendel  by John Gardner

This is one of my favorite coming-of-age novels, and, in my opinion, a masterpiece that should be read by anyone who enjoys reading fiction. The way Gardner takes a character that you thought you knew and adds layers upon layers of depth to it is absolutely astounding. This is a fantasy book but it’s not light reading for a teen-ager.

Grendel’s internal conflicts drive the story in one of the best character analyses I’ve ever read.  Grendel is not really a story about a monster, it’s the story of an isolated person trying to make sense of the world as a hated and tortured adolescent. While the hero (Beowulf) still wins in the end, Grendel, the monster, is the protagonist, and it’s his last thoughts that stay with us. “Grendel is dying and so may you all,” he says, which is, after all, is consistent with the nature of a dragon. (Sound like any teen-agers you know?)  At seventeen, I went off to college with a new understanding of the complexity and foreknowledge of what it might be like to be a human.

About Mary . . .

Mary Hastings Fox studied literature and poetry before becoming a psychologist. She is an associate professor of psychology and education at the University of Maryland and has had her own psychology practice for 30 years. In addition to writing other people’s true stories, she published a textbook and numerous journal articles on organizational psychology. Most of her writing is now is deeply rooted in nature. The Last Skipjack is her first novel, with a sequel in progress.

 

And a Note from Rhonda

You’ll find that the hyperlinks above lead you to online shopping at this essay’s featured independent bookstore, Scuppernong Books in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Scuppernong is as warm and welcoming as any bookstore you’ll find. It also features a community bar with hot coffee, cool wine, and craft beer. Check their website regularly for featured author readings (including mine!) and other events! #shopindie

 

Building an Author Platform

Guest Post by Eliot Parker

What is an author platform, and why is it necessary? An author platform is simply the ability to sell books because of who you are, as an author, and the ability to reach readers in a variety of ways.

Why does this matter for authors? The evolution of technology in publishing (through Amazon, Smashwords, and other online publishing platforms) has made it easier for authors to produce work and make it available to readers. However, that also means the publishing medium is more crowded than ever before, with thousands of writers hoping their works get noticed by readers.

In 2016, the Washington Post conducted a nationwide study of book publishing, accounting for all the various books published that year in all platforms and formats. The study found that over 600,000 titles had been produced that year. That means that over 600,000 books had been published in 2016 and were looking to attract readers and interest.

As publishing becomes more accessible to more authors, getting work noticed by readers is becoming more complicated. However, building an author platform is more than just finding readers and selling books. Building a complete author platform also means staying aware and abreast of opportunities for participation in writing workshops, conferences, book festivals, and other events directed towards the growth of the individual writer.

In terms of book sales, here are places many writers should consider:

  1. Gift shops at state parks – Almost every state park with lodging has a gift shop. This can be an excellent place to sell books, especially if you are a native of that state. Often, your book will be one of the few featured, giving it more visibility. Plus, most state parks buy books in large quantities.
  2. Creative arts “stores” – Often, these stories are distributors of items other than books made my local artisans. Some of the distributed items include signs, canned goods, crafts, and other homemade items. Do not be afraid to approach the manager/owner of the store and ask about selling books in the store. Often, the manager/owner has never been approached about selling books as part of their local items, and they are more receptive to the idea.
  3. Craft festivals and fairs – These can be excellent places to sell books. The vendor table fees can be substantial, but the potential to sell books is tremendous. Fairs and festivals feature plenty of people selling food, handmade items like wreaths and yard signs, but few of those events feature authors selling books. Readers attend those events as well, and they will be thrilled to see an author participating. A note of caution: often festivals occur for several days, and the days can be twelve-hours in length or more. Stamina is a requirement to participate in events such as this.

For development opportunities for the individual author, I recommend the following:

  1. Attend one large, national writing conference each year. This is a great way to network with other authors, attending readings, meet agents and publishers, and recharge the creative energy needed to write. Pick a different conference in a different part of the country each year, so you are free to explore more new places with the new friends you will make.
  2. Subscribe to BookBuzz. This website offers paid promotional services. Each month, they will send an email with many free opportunities to sell your works or free webinars and seminars available to authors that focus on the “business” aspects of writing and publishing.
  3. Subscribe to Authors Publish E-Magazine. This magazine comes to your inbox several times a month and features calls by publishers looking for new work as well as literary journals that are currently accepting submissions. The subscription is free and well-worth it.

There are other ways to build an author platform. Having an active social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) is important, but there are other ways as well. Building a platform takes time and consistent effort on the part of the writer. In fact, as a writer, I have a goal of completing two tasks each day that will help me build or enhance my platform. That goal is attainable and does not require copious amounts of time to be taken away from my writing or other tasks.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to talk more about building an author platform.

eliot Parker

Eliot Parker is the author of four novels, most recently A Knife’s Edge, which was an Honorable Mention in Thriller Writing at the London Book Festival, and is the sequel to the award-winning novel Fragile Brilliance. He is a recipient of the West Virginia Literary Merit Award, and Fragile Brilliance was a finalist for the Southern Book Prize in Thriller Writing. He recently received with the Thriller Writing Award by the National Association of Book Editors (NABE) for his novels. Eliot is the host of the podcast program Now, Appalachia, which profiles authors and publishers living and writing in the Appalachian region and is heard on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.

You may purchase Eliot’s award-winning books HERE.

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…

View original post 1,477 more words

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!)

 

 

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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