Friday, December 12, 2014

Dancing to Life's Rhythm

Veil I use for belly dance class
- made by Jani K. Fisher
This week my belly dance class reminded me of the importance of dancing to life's rhythm.

I went to dance class after a day that didn't go particularly well. I wasn't in a good mood. Most of my day just hadn't gone to plan and that ended up affecting not only my day but my husband's adding stress to both of our days. I felt guilty for leaving him to clean up my mistake while I went to dance. I also thought I needed to be placing my attention on several other projects that needed work. My day got completely sidetracked by the aforementioned mistake that I tried to fix myself. I ended up almost in tears before asking for my husband's help with it. I was pushing against my life all day long instead of embracing it.

That just created more problems.

I wanted to be "better" than I was being. I wanted to accomplish what I wasn't accomplishing. I wanted my attention on too many things at once...

As I drove to belly dance class, I berated myself for all of the above. I went over a mental list of all the projects that needed my attention. I went over all the things that aren't as far along as I planned them to be at this point in time. I beat myself up for leaving my husband to deal with the mess I'd created. I thought about all the promises I've made that I just haven't quite gotten around to doing yet. I thought about all the things I want to do and need to do and felt overwhelmed. I thought about all the projects for this year that won't get completed by the end of the year. Then I asked myself what right I had to be going to a dance class - something I was doing for fun (well, research, too), but Tuesday night I felt like I didn't deserve to go. There were too many other things that needed my attention...

On top of that, I was running late and had skipped dinner because I had no appetite.

I sighed and shook off these thoughts. I reminded myself it was the last class and that I'd committed to the class. I decided to treat it like I do yoga. For the time I was there, dancing would have my full attention. I would go in, enjoy myself, and not even care if I screwed up the moves.

Class started with moves across the floor to warm up, as usual. I started moving and slowly began to feel my day drain away. Jani K. Fisher, the instructor, exuded strong, vibrant, positive energy. I began to feel it. My smile returned. I closed my eyes a few times and felt the music and the moves instead of watching her and mimicking her. I relaxed into it. My moves weren't perfect. They were far from it. But I had fun. My body responded by releasing my frustration. When I felt like I totally messed up the moves, I closed my eyes, took a breath, and felt the rhythm of the music. I let that guide me. I thought less and felt more.

At one point, when my self-critic began to speak up while we were prepping to transition from warm up moves to veil work and our routine, one of the girls in the class looked at me and said "You look concerned." and flashed me a big smile.

I smiled back and said something about trying to focus on following the moves instead of doing the modified moves I'd needed to do in the previous two classes due to a mild shoulder injury. I didn't want to get into how I was mentally shushing my self-critic...

We laughed through the routine and the mistakes we all made and found our way back again.

As we got into a circle to end class, the same girl who noticed my concerned expression and I noticed we were both kind of moving to the rhythm of the music and started dancing together instigating a "dance off" that had each of freestyle dancing in the circle as everyone else swayed around us and encouraged us.

I left class thinking about how different the class felt than the others had. Much more fluid and relaxed. I wondered how much of that came from my attitude shift and how much from the class itself.

Finding the rhythm, feeling it, and giving myself over to it, felt liberating. I'm not sure how well I danced, but I enjoyed the process and I felt very alive at the end of the class.

It reminded me that when I fight my life, my life fights me. When I find the rhythm in my life, in my day, in the project at hand things progress much better and even challenges don't seem like obstacles. Sometimes, we have to pause in the moment to reacquaint ourselves with the rhythm in order to stop moving against the beat.

When I write something, I often find a rhythm in the process. Right now, I feel a rhythm in my typing. My brain is tapping out a rhythm in the words. My thoughts and emotions are flowing to the rhythm of what I want to express. All of this is important for me to find the words to communicate. When I lose that rhythm, my work suffers. No matter what I'm working on - be it writing, editing, housework, financials, etc.

The rhythm of life invites me to dance every day. I have the option to say yes or no, and then I have to deal with the consequences of my answer. Dancing against the rhythm never gets me very far.

It's a little like focusing so hard on the goal one loses sight of the process. That's why it's a dance. I signed up for the belly dance class with the goal of learning the moves to dance for fun but also to understand the nuances well enough to write about them, but I forgot about the fun part and lost my rhythm. I was so focused on getting the moves perfect and learning I lost the rhythm and in the process lost the dance entirely including the moves I was so focused on learning.

How about you? How's your rhythm? Are you dancing with your life or against it?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Soaring Betrayal - My Latest Book Released!!

My latest book, Soaring Betrayal, details accounts of heart-wrenching betrayal that leaves in its wake broken lives, broken spirits, and futures forever changed. In moments where love goes wrong, hurtful decisions are made, and obsession turns to violence, hope beats in the hearts of men and women who would have good reason to abandon humanity. Inner strength and resolve surface in the harsh realities of deception and loss. The men and women in each of these short stories search for ways to soar above the betrayal that threatens to destroy them.

Click below to download this eBook of short stories!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem - Words in the Hands of Love

Words in the hands of love - what a powerful concept. When I read this was this year's Blogblast for Peace theme, I felt a shiver of joy spread through my body. I'm more than a tiny bit in love with the power of words.

We live in a world where it often seems like words have been stolen by the hands of hate. As the vitriol spreads, so does the chaos. Chaos destroys peace.

When we make the effort to put words in the hands of love, peace blooms into beautiful meadows of wildflowers blowing in the wind.

Mimi Lenox, organizer of Blogblast for Peace, asked people to participate in a 60 Days to Peace Challenge in which participants came up with one thing every day that could lead to peace. As I focused on peace each day for a single action toward peace, my thoughts always returned to one thought. Peace begins within.

To cultivate peace in the world, we must first cultivate peace within our own hearts, minds, and lives. When we live lives immersed in chaos, there is no way to see peace even when it appears right before us. We must inhabit the peace we seek.

So often we look for someone to bring peace to the world, to create the peace we desire, to immerse us in peace. We think peace is too big for us. We think peace requires some extra-ordinary superpower to achieve. We think peace is impossible.

When I look at the world around me, I feel the despair of the chaos created when people spread hate and divisiveness, especially under the guise of morality or cultural differences or differing belief systems. Hate and divisiveness can never bring us to love and unity and therefore cannot cultivate peace.

The more time I spent thinking about peace, the more the power of words settled into my heart. When I focused on peace from a place of love, positive words came easily. When I focused on peace from a place of frustration with the world, negative words drowned out the positive words. Negative words don't feel peaceful even when their aim is to cultivate peace. I soon started to search for positive ways to say what felt negative though I discovered that sometimes a "stop" or an "avoid" or an "don't" have much more impact.

And, the more I focused on peace, the more I came to the conclusion that the only way the world will ever know peace is for the individuals inhabiting our planet to first find peace within and then use that peace to change one's attitude in order to treat other people with respect and dignity.

Personal interactions, art, music, education, creating connections, communing with nature, and communication became common themes in my daily posts over the sixty days. I felt an ache in my heart for there to be more concrete answers to finding peace. I wanted to find a magic panacea that would bring unity, love, and peace to the world. I wanted to find the words that would allow each of us to find peace within our lives and within the world.

While the world certainly needs peace, we aren't going to cultivate it by forcing it on anyone or through behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that divide us. We can each do our part to cultivate peace by starting with ourselves.

We need to place our words in the hands of love and let them shine like the sun shining through the clouds and opening us to the possibility that if we learn to love, truly love, even those with whom we disagree, we can find unity. In unity, we can begin to cultivate peace.

So what about it... Will you join me in putting words in the hands of love?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No one Else Can Play Your/My Part

This week I stumbled across the site To Write Love on Her Arms which was promoting a project called "No One Else Can Play Your Part" designed to bring awareness to World Suicide Prevention Day September 10th. I wanted to participate, but the early part of my week was too full for me to sit down and write a blog post. The challenge was to explain why no one else could play my part.

This concept haunted me all week. Why can no one else play my part?

No one else can play my part because no one else can be me with all my imperfections and perfections.

That's my pat answer. It's the answer that sums it up and yet it somehow feels incomplete. It has taken me years to get to the point where I believe I am enough. I spent much of my life "trying to be..." in order to be lovable, acceptable, respectable. Yet, as I stand here I remember a time when I didn't care who liked or didn't like me, who stayed and who left, who thought well of me and who thought ill of me. I remember that time, and I remember the crushing blow that changed how I saw myself when I looked in the mirror. I remember spiraling into a place of self-destruction and suicidal thoughts. I remember thinking the world would be better off without me in it. I remember thinking I brought nothing but misery to everyone around me. I remember believing with my whole heart that the only way to spare my family the shame of having me as a daughter was to stop existing. I never thought of it as dying, just as no longer existing.

I rarely think about that time in my life and I talk about it even less. It seems so inconsequential to who I am now yet if I hadn't gone through it, I wouldn't be the person I've grown to become. Recently, when I read about Robin Williams suicide, these thoughts came back. Not because I knew him but because I understood how the outside world can see us as happy when we're spiraling into that abyss. I know how hard it is to find the way out of that abyss. If we're lucky someone sees and someone intervenes.

When I spiraled years ago, a friend noticed and told another friend, Emery, because she thought maybe he could reach me when she had failed. At first, apparently, he dismissed her concerns. Then he saw me on campus and saw something in my demeanor that concerned him. He reached out. He did little things. He elicited a promise from me every day that we would talk the next day. He asked if I was eating, sleeping, and otherwise taking care of myself. He inquired about my plans for the day, the week, the month, the summer, the next Fall. He asked me what happened. I told him. He listened. He didn't judge. He simply reminded me of the good in me even when I refused to believe him. He even managed to coax a laugh or two from me. Most importantly he kept eliciting that promise that we'd talk the next day. He, like most people who know me well, knew that I hate to break a promise. I will go to great lengths to keep the promises I make.

Sometimes the little things are the biggest things when it comes to being there for someone.Somehow, without me even being cognizant it was happening, he reminded me there was only one me and that I had much to offer the world.

Eventually, I began to see that the longer I survived, I... well, survived. It took a long time for me to feel like I could do more than survive. Sometimes, we have to accept that survival is enough until we can move to the next level and eventually to thrive.

Today when I look at those around me, I can generally see a million reasons why no one else could play the parts of the people in my life except the people who play them. I still sometimes have to remind myself that no one else can play my part. That's okay because I know, deep in my heart, that I am uniquely me. I am the only me there will ever be just like each person I meet can only be who they are and no one else can be that person.

So the reason no one else can play my part or your part is simply because we are all enough just as we are and we all have much to offer the world just as we are.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

T. L. Cooper Reads at Verse of Ages

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Phenomenal Compassion

I've been participating in the latest 21 Day Meditation Experience by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Today the topic was radiating compassion. I was excited about this meditation because I believe compassion is where we find the courage to see ourselves in those we are often encouraged to refer to as the other. As I meditated, my heart ached with a longing to see and feel more compassion in the world around me. I was reminded of compassionate people I've known and times when I've found compassion easy to express and other times when I found compassion almost impossible to find in my heart.

Part of the meditation experience involves answering questions built around the day's topic. Things got interesting as I delved into my thoughts on compassion. Lately, I've been witnessing such a lack of compassion in the world that I have moments when I can't help but wonder who benefits from pitting us against one another. The more others we create, the more discord we orchestrate. Hate, violence, and discord hurts us all including the perpetrators and the victims.

One of the questions in the writing part of the meditation asked me to think about someone I considered an example of compassion and list three reasons why. The first person to pop in my mind was my Grandma Stamm followed quickly by Dr. Maya Angelou. As I wrote about these two women, I was reminded of the dream I had the night before Dr. Angelou died and the poem I wrote as a result of that dream.

Two Women

Last night I dreamed
Two women sat at a table
One black,one white
Both wise enough to see
They must speak truth
Cups in hand
Platter of biscuits between them
They talked of love
They shared stories of life
Their laughter free
Their smiles genuine
Their insights built from experience
Two lives so different
One world-traveled
One always focused on home
Both reverberating a message
Of acceptance and truth
Of seeing people as they are
Of strength and beauty
These two women
One I called Grandma
One the world called legend
Both marked the world
With indelible ink
To create change within their influence
Both opened my eyes
To see people truly are
More alike than unalike

My thoughts drifted back to that dream and the poem. I felt a sudden insight; my perspective of these two women had much in common. I see them both as accepting, loving, caring women who were strong enough to set boundaries that commanded respect for themselves and demanded it for others. I realized the dream had as much to do with their influence on me as anything else. Much of what I believe about compassion I learned from these two women, and I'm sure they influenced others similarly. To me, they are both phenomenal women who encouraged women to phenomenal women and men to be phenomenal men. They pushed everyone in their circles to embrace their own wonderful selves.

As I examine my life and look for the compassion in it, I see I sometimes fall short, and when I do it is generally because I am fragmented within. It is difficult to offer compassion to others when you feel none for yourself. When you are fragmented within, it is hard to feel compassion for yourself. This is precisely when I discover it is imperative I withdraw and focus on finding compassion for my fragments. As I send compassion to my fragments, they heal and I more easily offer compassion to others, even people I will never meet and who will never know I am feeling compassion for them.

Compassion lifts us above the pettiness of our differences and puts us in touch with our commonalities. Compassion allows us to see where we can connect and where we can learn. Compassion drives us toward unity. Compassion is never wasted.

Compassion provides us all the opportunity to be phenomenal.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

T. L. Cooper Reads at Third Thursday Poets

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Someday... Revisiting Combs Hall, Eastern Kentucky University

So many memories...
 When I learned in February that Eastern Kentucky University planned to demolish Earle Combs Hall, built in 1962 and named for Baseball Hall of Famer, Earle Bryan Combs, at the end of the Spring semester, I felt an influx of myriad emotions. I felt momentarily overwhelmed. Returning to Combs Hall was something I always intended to do someday. Combs offered mixed memories and emotions for me. In the five semesters I lived in Combs Hall, many, many good things happened along with a few bad things. The reason I had avoided returning to my old room had to do with a life-changing event that happened in that room. I'd always felt like I needed to return there for closure, and I'd always found a reason not to go through with it. I didn't want to face what might surface once I stepped inside the room. So someday was always out there somewhere waiting to come. Suddenly, someday might be gone...

I emailed the EKU Alumni Office to ask when the building would be demolished. They responded that dismantling the building would begin in April but couldn't provide a demolition date. For some reason, I got the impression it would likely happen some time in May. I resigned myself to an opportunity lost for closure. So much for someday. Oh, well, I lived this long without it, life would go on. It always does.

When we drove down Lancaster Avenue in early June, and Earle Combs Hall still stood looking as it always had from the outside, I gasped out loud and blinked back a tear. I'm fairly certain I tapped my husband's arm and mumbled something along the lines of. "It's still here. It's still here. I can't believe it's still here.", but I don't remember for sure. I couldn't take my eyes off the building. Then I reminded myself we weren't there for me.Well, we kind of were. That day I was donating copies of my poetry books to the EKU Library, but we were in Richmond for my niece's Summer Orientation. This was about Kaylee, not about me. Still, when she went to housing to see if she had been assigned a room and roommate yet, I asked if it would be possible to get into my old room in Combs not really expecting them to let me.

They did!

Two staff members accompanied us as we entered the building. Many things had changed; some hadn't. Funny after all these years the things one remembers. I immediately remembered my mailbox number when I walked into the lobby. (I wish I'd asked if I could have the mailbox door, but it didn't occur to me at the time. Oh, well.) We headed down the stairs I'd walked so many times.

My room was in the basement. There were only 13 rooms for residents, two of which were half-sized rooms for only one occupant. All the rooms except two faced the parking lot. Our floor also housed the laundry room, for the entire building if I remember correctly, a bathroom and, I think, a janitor's closet.The numbers on the resident rooms were 1-13. None of this floor designation followed by the room number stuff for us! Apparently, at one time the basement had been the rec room. There was still a cable hookup in room 13 that some of the residents managed to make use of. That was before cable was in all rooms. I think it was one of the smallest floors, possibly the smallest, on campus.

Talking to our escorts about
how my room had changed
with my friend, Karen, when
this really was my room.
Note the doors
I walked straight to my room. The door looked wrong, but I wasn't sure why. Later I realized it was because it was gray instead of wood. I looked up. The room number was all wrong. It was 107 instead of 5. I felt a gut resistance to that small change.  I didn't even want to think about how many people have lived in that room since I did. It doesn't really matter. It was my room.

I stepped inside.

Upon initial
Teddy and me...
Note the built-ins and windows
I expected this flood of... something... nostalgia? regret? anxiety? bad memories? panic? vulnerability? bittersweet memories? some kind of emotion? to overwhelm me when I stepped inside the room. After all, the someday I thought was gone had unexpectedly arrived. It felt smaller. It looked so different. The built-ins were gone. A sink had been installed at some point. There were no beds, metal or otherwise. Furniture was stacked willy-nilly. The phone jack was still in the same place. The closets were the same except the doors were gray now instead of wood. The walls were no longer pale yellow. They were more of an off-white. The huge windows had been replaced with a smaller window. I felt a small wave of nostalgia and great relief flood over me. Yet, it wasn't at all what I expected to feel even though I still can't tell you what I expected.

Time had moved on. I had moved on. Even my room had moved on.

Built-ins gone... Sink added.
Window size reduced...
As I posed in the window for photos, I remembered the poem I wrote in February, "Come Knock on My Window", and knew the girl I thought I'd left behind in that room with all those memories survives, lives, thrives in the woman I've become. Sometimes we have to let go of what we were to step into our truth, our strength, our selves.

I think this corner looked much
better like this!!
As I stood in the middle of the room, a thought started to niggle me. I pushed it away, but later that night it became a poem "It's Only a Room" because when I stood there and remembered the past, looked at how the room had changed and how it hadn't, I fully realized numerous people had lived between those four walls since me. They never knew either the joys nor the sorrows I experienced in that room even though I'm sure they experienced their own. Each of us left behind some small part of who we were as we grew into who we became. The pending demise of the room and the building would change nothing about my life.

with 2 of my Combs Hall friends
Terri and Melanie
Note the orange wall.
With my niece, Kaylee, outside
my room in Combs Hall
I walked up and down the hall peeking in the rooms where I'd laughed and cried with friends, spent nights drowning in sad music, celebrated... well, just about anything good because in those days we looked for excuses to celebrate, and made friends I still cherish to this day. The wall between what had been rooms 1 and 2 (one of the half rooms) had been demolished creating what I'm guessing had served as a kitchen and lounge area of some sort. The bathroom looked sadly the same, and I wondered if the most recent residents had organized their showers to use the first shower because it was the "best" of the three showers. One of the first tips Kelly Peck shared with me! The laundry room was just a big, empty space now.

Making memories
I stepped back inside my room for one last look around. Both the room and I had
changed even while holding on to pieces of our selves. I smiled as I turned and walked away without a backward glance, well, okay, maybe one or two backward glances...

As I understand it, the building was demolished on July 31st though I've been unable to confirm that as of this posting. I, however, got my someday. Goodbye, Combs Hall, thank you for the memories and the friendships cultivated between your walls!!

Someday rarely waits for us, so we have to embrace it when we find it.

Did I find the closure I sought? I'm not sure there is really closure for some things. Some events happen in our lives, and they change us at our core. What I do know for sure is that standing in my strength in the middle of that room, I remembered that far more wonderful things than terrible things happened in that room, my room. I knew for certain something I sometimes forget - No single moment defines me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Remembering Lessons from Maya Angelou...

Today, the world lost a voice that often exuded calm strength in the middle of chaos, Dr. Maya Angelou. Thank you Dr. Angelou for inspiring us and for sharing your insights with the world.

I had the great privilege of attending a talk presented by Dr. Maya Angelou in 2010. It was a wonderful evening, and she was a delightful speaker. I wrote about my impressions of her talk the next day.

Here is that blog post. (typos corrected because, well, I just couldn't not, but otherwise it is just as I wrote it on June 4, 2010.)

Lessons from Maya Angelou

Last night I attended a lecture by Maya Angelou.  She spoke at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem, Oregon.  State Senator, Jackie Winters, introduced Dr. Angelou with heartfelt words.

When the curtain rose to reveal Dr. Angelou sitting in a chair on the stage in a long cream colored dress and a beautiful necklace, I was struck by the energy that emanates from her.  She looked frailer than I expected, but at eighty-two she has the right to look a bit frail.  As soon as she began to speak, the strength of her character, her words, and her convictions displaced the initial frailty I noticed.

I’ve long wanted to hear Dr. Angelou speak in person.  I missed her years ago when she was in Boise because I was silly enough to think attending by myself would make me look like I didn’t have any friends.  This time, I guess I’ve matured because I really don’t care about that anymore.  I attended by myself though a friend who also attended met me for dinner before and a coffee after.  Plans we made after we found out we were both attending.

When Maya began to speak - or rather sing ”When it lookd like the sun wasn’t gonna shine anymore, God made a rainbow in the clouds” a tear threatened the corner of my eye.  I blinked it back and concentrated on her words.  After the song, she spoke of her life experience and of accepting others.  She spoke of helping others and loving those unlike what we see in the mirror.  She spoke of the humanness of all of humanity.  She quoted others’ poetry and read/recited her own.  She encouraged the audience to read and memorize poetry that means something to us.  She injected funny moments, comments, and anecdotes at just the right moments to keep my tears from actually falling.  She never forgot her appearance was part of a fundraiser for the 50+ Center in Salem seamlessly working comments about the organization into her talk.  She told an audience full of people they matter in a way that made each individual feel she spoke directly to him/her.  She opened, reiterated, and closed with the idea that we all have the potential to be rainbows in other people’s lives.

I thought about people from my own life.  I thought about moments of acceptance and love I’ve witnessed.  I thought about moments of absolute rudeness and cruelty I’ve witnessed.  I thought about the excuses I’ve heard for people’s racism.  I thought about misconceptions I’ve held that have been disproven.  I thought about people I’ve admired and loved.  I thought about people who’ve influenced me throughout my life.  I listened to her honesty about events in her life and wondered when I’ll be able to be so honest about events from my past.  It’s not that I’m dishonest now, it’s more that I’m not comfortable to talk openly in a public setting about certain events from my life.  I understand those events have helped create the person I am today, but I hesitate to share them with strangers.  Perhaps I still fear judgment or pity though I’m loathe to admit that even to myself, so I fight even writing it as a possibility.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening sitting only a few feet away from the stage as Dr. Angelou spoke.  I walked away inspired to continue writing about issues that are important to me in a way that will both entertain and provoke conversation.  I feel encouraged to continue living the life I’ve chosen for myself - one based on love, understanding, and acceptance.  I am invigorated to tackle projects that require me to delve into that sense of honesty that makes me feel too vulnerable.

Dr. Angelou spoke the words I needed to hear.  Often when we open ourselves to listen we hear exactly what we need to hear even when the same words are spoken to a room full of people who will each come away with their own interpretation of the words based on their own individual needs.

The only thing that would have improved an already perfect evening is if she’d read her poem, Human Family.  It is my favorite poem.  To that end, I’m going to take her advice that poetry belongs to us all and quote the beginning and the end of the poem.  It begins “I note the obvious differences/in the human family./Some of us are serious,/some thrive on comedy” and ends “We are more alike, my friends,/than we are unalike.”

I request you find the poem and read the middle because it really is the best part.

Wishing to hear Human Family live is a selfish conceit after such an uplifting and beautiful talk.  I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to listen to Dr. Angelou speak in person.

And, don’t forget, you can be a rainbow in someone’s life because in the end we really are more alike than unalike.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mentored by Mentoring

"Me? Mentor? Can I mentor someone? Am I qualified?" When Kelsie Manley contacted me via email with a request I mentor her for her Senior Class Project at Calvary Chapel Christian High School (now Watersprings), these thoughts battled in my mind with thoughts that it might be fun and interesting, perhaps I could even make a difference in someone's life.

I thought about it for a little while and looked up the school online. Her request seemed simple enough and the requirements seemed reasonable, so I responded in the affirmative.

I signed the "Mentor Agreement" and emailed it to her teacher. Then Kelsie and I planned how to implement the mentoring long distance. We opted for email and Skype. We set our first meeting for just after Thanksgiving, and she emailed me what she'd written to that point.

I had no idea what to expect. She'd sent me what she'd written and her plans for rest of the story. I immediately realized her story line would overflow from a novella to a book and could likely be turned into a series. Her story idea was solid and interesting and her writing showed promise. Her writing intrigued me.

Our first meeting, we chatted for a few minutes and then dove right into the work. She listened intently and answered my questions. She asked me a few questions. We discussed what she hoped to get out of the experience and how to achieve her goals while staying within the guidelines of her assignment.

She wrote. I read what she wrote. We met and discussed her work as well as her struggles to find time to write. Her deadline loomed in front of me and stressed me as much as her mainly because having experience writing I knew the project would likely take longer than she anticipated, especially if she tried to fit her full idea into the book. At one point, I asked her to email me her daily word count for a week to get her in the habit of scheduling time to write. I encouraged her to try different methods of writing to complete the project. She tried writing without editing, editing as she went, the aforementioned daily word count accountability, etc. I pushed her to explore what worked for her and discussed not only what worked for me but what worked for my writer friends. It's easy for us to think our way is the only way or at least the best way. Sometimes when something didn't work for her, I had to step back, look at it, and think about other options to recommend she try. Everyone is different, and writing is an individual undertaking.

We discussed issues with grammar, typos, timeline, and plot. I pushed her on a couple of plot points to see if she would stand up for her work. She did!

After each meeting, I felt energized, encouraged, and inspired. I often found the advice I gave her applied to something I was working on. For example, a few days after a discussion about the importance of describing her characters, I edited a short story and realized I'd completely forgotten to describe my main characters but had described a minor character! When I confessed this to her during our next meeting, she smiled. Sometimes showing our mistakes is as important as showing our successes.

Mentoring Kelsie reminded me why I write and to embrace the joy I find in writing. It awakened the intoxicating feeling of a new story taking shape as the words move across the page. I've been editing and delving through some of my older work for quite a while. I find sometimes in the process I'm harder on myself than I should be. Encouraging Kelsie reminded me to see the work where it is and move forward rather than getting mired in where it began even as I paid homage to its origins.

I looked forward to each installment of her novella, The Planet Jumper (later Escape), in which a young girl who can travel between planets and the journalist who befriends her try to outrun the government who intends to exploit the girl's ability.

As we neared the end of the time allotted for the project, I edited the first part of Kelsie's manuscript reminiscent of the way a professional editor would. I must admit I felt a bit nervous, and I think it showed, as we went over the pages with my comments that I had emailed her. I know professional writers who don't don't react well to having their work dissected line by line. As we discussed my comments, criticisms, and suggestions, I watched her face closely to see how she reacted. To my surprise, she handled the intense editing like a professional. She listened intently, asked questions, and seemed to actually welcome the feedback. At one point she even reassured me that my feedback was helpful and not too harsh.

When she went into hyper-drive mode to finish the project on time, I encouraged her via email but we didn't meet again during that time.

There were times throughout the process when I wondered if I was doing enough or if I was giving her what she needed. I encouraged her to tell me what she needed from me throughout the process, and I often asked her if there was something more she needed. I thought about what I would've have wanted someone to say to me when I wrote my first novella and used that to inspire what I told her. Often though what I planned to say fell to the wayside as I responded in the moment of our meetings. Eventually, I realized that my role as a mentor was as much about hearing what she was saying as it was about guiding her.

I attended her Senior Class Presentation via Skype. She gave a great presentation. Her teacher and the panel who listened to her presentation asked me to stay for a few minutes after the presentation to answer some questions. I did. We discussed the mentoring process and how I perceived Kelsie's performance and attitude throughout the process. It felt so final.

The rewards of mentoring Kelsie far outweighed the time commitment it involved. I worked with her and often asked her what she needed from me rather than just telling her what she needed to do because I wanted to make sure she was getting what she needed out of the process. I hope she did.

Mentoring is about empowering someone else. When we empower others, we empower ourselves. Give yourself permission to mentor someone, and you just might find the experience mentors you in some unexpected way.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

PAD Challenge - Wrap Up - Lessons in the Journey

Last month I participated in the Writer's Digest 2014 April PAD Challenge in my own way, but still I participated. I used their prompts to write poems and posted several of those poems on my blog - a minimum of one per day. I turned the poetry prompt into my own blog every day for a month challenge, and I did it. The poems for the April PAD Challenge can be found under the label Poem-a-Day Challenge.

I've been writing a poem every day for quite a while. The thing I've discovered about writing a poem a day is that some days it's easier than others. Some days what I write is better than others. After a while, writing a poem a day became a part of my day that gives me joy but that I sometimes take for granted or even feel pressured to fulfill. Yet, I'm always glad when I finish a poem even if it's not perfect or even all that good.

As someone who fights perfectionist tendencies, I have found writing a poem a day a way to let good enough be good enough...

And, oddly, that liberates my other writing in ways I hadn't expected. My life is therefore liberated. My heart becomes liberated. I am liberated.

Life is a discovery of how to live and we learn each day how to live a little better if we allow ourselves, and writers learn to write a little better each day if we allow ourselves.

As someone on a constant journey to be the best me I can be, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the love and joy that fill my heart on a daily basis. I look at things that would have broken me at one time and see a challenge to grow. I look at failures and see a lesson. I look at successes and feel humbled by my truth. I look at people who come into my life or leave it and I see connection. I look at beliefs I once held so rigidly they almost broke me and see them dissipate in front of me as I accept reality. And through it all, I see the words I use to share my experience take form. My words may not be any more perfect than my life, but they are mine, for better or worse, and that is enough...

Writing a poem a day has released something inside of me that makes my journey that much more fulfilling and allows me to see myself a bit more clearly as I also see the world around me a bit more clearly.

How long will I continue a to write a poem a day? The only answer I have for that at this moment is... until I don't...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 30 - Crescent Moon Rising

Today is the last day of the WD 2014 April PAD Challenge, and the prompt is appropriately to write a calling it a day poem. There are lots of ways to look at endings. I'm one of those people who always look for the new beginning waiting behind the ending - well, at least eventually. I thought about endings and clocks and calendars. I thought about the sun and the moon. I thought about life's beginnings and endings - there are many and they often seem never ending as we transition through life. I've come to accept transition in my life as not such a bad thing. It is after all, life itself...

As I approached this poem I thought not only about this being the end of the Writer's Digest, but also the end of my challenge to share my experience with the Writer's Digest PAD Challenge on my blog every day. I actually thought it would be harder than it has been... But, we shall now call the day on this project. I hope you've enjoyed it.

Here is my poem for the calling it a day prompt as we call it a day...

Crescent Moon Rising

I stared at the rising crescent moon
Holding our love in its heart
Asked myself
Is this really the end?
Am I to be forgotten again?
We followed our day
Through many incarnations
From shy exchanges
To bold caresses
From beautiful declarations
To angry accusations
From hesitant kisses
To heartfelt embraces
And always, always, back again
We stood beside one another
When the sun burned our dreams
When the rain washed away our foundation
When the snow blocked our windows
When the wind blew away our doors
Leaving us bare and broken
We picked each other up
Celebrated that we survived
Discovered opportunities to thrive
We celebrated resurrection of dreams
We rejoiced at a new foundation
We opened the windows to fresh air
We said “To hell with doors, who needs them anyway”
We stood beside each other through
The dawn, the day, the evening
And now we face
The crescent moon rising
Is it time to call it day?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 29 - Love for My Love

It's Two for Tuesday over on the WD 2014 April PAD Challenge, so we've got two prompts to inspire our poetic musings for Day 29... The two prompts are to write a realism poem and a magical poem...

An interesting thing happened this morning as I began to think about these two prompts. I got the song I'll Fight For You by Foreigner stuck in my head, which reminded me of the last time I heard that song. It angered me. I used to love this song, but, man, did it strike a nerve the other day... I wanted to shout at it "Don't fight for me, love for me." I've come to believe that if you have to fight for someone to be in your life, you're better off without them. I want people in my life who are willing to love for me - love when things get tough, love when there's news to celebrate, love when we feel like we're drifting apart, love when life is mundane.... If we have to fight to love or if we force someone to fight to love us, we set up an adversarial relationship from the outset. I don't want that in my life...

I've decided to only share one poem because it encompasses both themes, realism and magical...

Love for My Love

I would battle demons for you
I would slay dragons for you
I would destroy the evil queen for you
I would conquer countries for you
I would take you away to an enchanted forest
I would crown you my queen

I would give you the grandest castle
I would defend your honor
I would fight for your love
These words make me cringe
They belong in the fairy tales where they originated
You want to be my knight on a white horse
Riding in to save the day
But I want someone who will
Battle demons beside me
Tame dragons with me
Forgive the evil queen
Spread peace to every country
Travel through the forest beside me
Lay down all crowns and join the crowd hand-in-hand with me
Live simply amidst compassion and acceptance
Understand my honor doesn’t need defending, ever
Love for my love

Monday, April 28, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 28 - Rose Petal Stones

The prompt for WD 2014 April PAD Challenge Day 28 is to write a settled poem. I like to read the prompt early in the morning and then go about my business while I let the prompt settle into my thoughts, find a place to resonate, and then bring forth something I can write. Today, I felt slightly unsettled by this prompt because nothing started churning for awhile. Then it hit me. I wrote a poem, but I wasn't happy with it. I pushed it to the background on my screen and worked on some other projects. Then a power failure occurred, and the poem was lost. I had to start over. The initial thoughts I had about roses and stones was still there, so I went with it. So, in reality, I wrote two poems for this prompt though one of this has disappeared forever...

Here's my settled poem...

Rose Petal Stones

You scattered your love on my heart
Like rose petals on flowing water
Where it settled into the sediment
Like stones skipped across a creek
Your love found residence in the creek bed
Of my overflowing heart
Rose petals turned to stone
Stony garnet rose petals
Sparkling amongst the sediment
Left behind after previous droughts
Where love turned to dust
When I settled for less
Today I cried tears that washed away the debris
Revealing the delicate rose petal love stones
Flowing out of the tributaries of my heart
Floating like rose petals
With the staying power of stones
I’ll settle for nothing less than

Rose petal stones

Sunday, April 27, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 27 - Monsters Meet

For Day 27 of the WD 2014 April PAD Challenge, the prompt is to write a monster poem... I immediately knew I wanted to write about inner monsters, and started thinking about how our inner monsters can destroy what we want in life. I began to think about the havoc any "supernatural" being an wreak given proper motivation but also how sometimes there's a thin line between facing the truth and creating drama... Anyway, here's the result...

Hope you enjoy!

Monsters Meet

Love me
Like my vampire teeth never drained blood from your veins
Like my wendigo jaw never ripped out your heart
Like my werewolf howl never pierced your spirit
Like the ghost of my past never possessed your soul
Like my zombie stupor never infected your mind
Like my demon fire never burned all your dreams for us to ashes
Like my medusa revenge never turned you to stone
Like my mermaid song never seduced your passion
Like my witch divination never revealed your deception
Like my goddess ire never stormed through all your pretenses

Like my inner monster never met your inner monster…

Saturday, April 26, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 26 - Water Safe

Stratton Pond EKU
Richmond, Kentucky
We've reached Day 26 of the WD 2014 April PAD Challenge! Today's prompt was to write a water poem... Confession time: water appears in my poetry often in it's various forms - water, ice, the sea, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls, storms, rain, snow...I love the symbolism water offers and the inspiration of water itself.

So, here's my latest water poem...

Water Safe

Silent water
Still water
Secret water
Safe water
You drank my secrets
Like you were dying of thirst
Absorbing them through your surface
With a gluttony unmatched
While I fed you ever more
Until you contained more of me than I
I stared into your silence
I searched your stillness
I sought your secrecy
I needed your safety
Perhaps the secrets you drank evaporated
To be rained down on some foreign land
To feed souls in need of the nourishment
Cultivated in the secrets you so quietly gulped
For a secret can’t be locked away forever in
Silent, still, secret, safe water

Friday, April 25, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 25 - Last Straw First

It's hard to believe we're already on Day 25 of the WD 2014 April PAD Challenge. When I read this morning's prompt, write a last straw poem, my first thought was "You took the last straw first" which on its face confused me, but the thought stuck with me all day. Finally I decided to just go with it.

Here's the resulting poem...

Last Straw First

You took the last straw first
My heart ached because
Your greed made you jump
To the end
Before we even began
I lamented your decision as you
Chewed the straw trying to release
All the moments that should have come before
You tried to convince me
One straw was same as the next
But the reality is we both know
When you take the last straw first
You cheat yourself out of the joy
Of all the straws leading to the climax
Held within the final straw
So maybe next time you’ll
Leave the last straw until last…

Thursday, April 24, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 24 - Tell It to the Heart

Today's WD 2014 April PAD Challenge poetry prompt, Tell It to the..., intrigued me. Again, there were so many ways I could go with this one, but, to be honest, an idea jelled pretty soon after I read the prompt this morning. It's funny how some days the prompt just takes me for a nice gentle stroll, other days it smacks me down, and some days I pull on its leash while it refuses to take a single step forward until I finally give the leash some slack. This was a gentle stroll day through a meadow kind of day... :-)

Here's my Tell It to the... poem...

Tell It to the Heart

My brain hears your words
But my heart can’t make sense of them
They resonate on a wavelength my heart can’t find
Riding a storm of promise
Through the sunshine of doubt
On a broken branch of logic
Leaving me like a hayfield waving in the wind
I long for your words to be cut and dried
To feed this aching heart the sustenance it desires
Next time you wish to appeal your crime
Tell it to the heart
The brain no longer cares

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 23 - Different Seas

Today's WD 2014 April PAD Challenge prompt was location... And we all know just how important location is...

Here's my location poem.

Different Seas

We tried to convince ourselves
Staring at different seas didn’t matter
The love in our hearts would overcome
The mountains and valleys between us
We spoke words of togetherness
Yet turned away when faced with inconvenience
Promises of reaching out tomorrow
Turned into silence
As you stood in your place and I in mine
Staring at different seas
Dreaming of letting the current connect us
While we refused to make a move
Each tied to a boulder we pulled in opposite directions
Until we both dropped the rope and whispered
“Someday, we’ll find ourselves in the same place at the same time
Until then you’ll remain in my heart…”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 22 - Optimistic Distance and Tried On

Today was a Two for Tuesday on the WD 2014 April PAD Challenge. The prompts were to write an optimistic poem and a pessimistic poem. I thought about tackling my feeling that optimism and pessimism are rarely as cut and dry as seeing a glass as either half-full or half-empty, but in the end I decided to go another direction. I've also decided to share both poems this time rather than just one.

Here is my optimistic poem...

Optimistic Distance

In my fantasies
The distance between us
Enhances the possibility of our love
Seduces me into seeing you through
A mesmerizing lens
Where your future and mine intertwine
 When we meet where we once stood
Under the falling Autumn leaves
As we now stand under distant blooming trees
My dreams coerce optimism into
A heart where doubt resides

Since we walked in different directions

Here is my pessimistic poem...

Tried On

I tried on pessimism once
It never quite fit
The short hemline exposed vulnerability
The tight waistline squeezed out hope
The baggy shirt dropped faith
The uneven heels left behind love
The neckline strangled possibility
The jewels manacled happiness
So I stripped down to nothing
Stood bare before myself
Took a deep breath
And tried on optimism
Ah, a perfect fit

Monday, April 21, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 21 - Chaotic Simplicity

Today's WD 2014 April PAD Challenge prompt was to write a back to basics poem. I rather liked the idea. I've been on a quest to simplify my life for a while now. I've discovered I need much less than I once thought I did not only to survive but to be happy. The boundaries between simple and complex have a tendency to blur...

Here's my back to basics poem...

Chaotic Simplicity

I wanted more
Always more
More wasn’t enough
Filled the empty spaces
Overflowed the filled places
Stuffed more in to the excess
Until chaos ensued
Numbing the voids within
With stuff I forgot I had
Looking for more and more
Buying every opportunity offered
Trying to find something that mattered
Fooled myself into thinking I needed more
Every time I gave away unneeded item after item
Packed up a house full of material things
Purged the unnecessary yet again
Convinced myself I lived simply
Only buying exactly what I needed and nothing more
Throwing away outdated food from the pantry
Giving away boxes of indulgences never opened
Recycling paper galore
Felt like losing an outer dirty skin
Seeking to find an inner peace
I’d surrounded myself with chaos
As I pealed back the layers
I saw a pain no material item could comfort
I felt a disconnect no material item could connect
I understood numbness leads to atrophy
As I began to move
The excess fell away
I saw myself in the chaos
I released my need for material security
Discovered I complicated the simple and
Simplified the complicated
Surrounding myself with material goods
A blanket turned from comforting to suffocating
I sought a simpler lifestyle in the midst of chaos
Perhaps someday I’ll stand firmly in the midst of simplicity

Sunday, April 20, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 20 - Became Family

I had a plethora of reactions when I read today's WD 2014 April PAD Challenge prompt to write a family poem. I've probably written enough family poems to fill a book.

My mind first went to one of favorite poems, Maya Angelou's Human Family where she tells us "We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." - the perfect family poem, in my opinion. Then my mind went to Sister Sledge singing "We are family/I got all my sisters and me."  in their song We Are Family, and, finally, Lisa Marie Presley singing "They are my chosen family." in her song Important. As I thought about why these were my first thoughts, I began to hone in on what I wanted to say about family today.

Family means many different things to people. I've expanded my definition of family over my lifetime, and I'm glad I have because sometimes family chooses us rather than us being born into it...

Here's my family poem...

Became Family

I took your hands in mine
I looked into your eyes
I smiled into your lips
I spoke into your words
You squeezed my hands, unflinching
You looked into my eyes, unblinking
You smiled into my lips, unwavering
You spoke into my words, un-interrupting
We spiraled around life’s axis
We gravitated toward the center of the Earth
We levitated above the clouds
We radiated happiness brighter than sunshine
Cells and nerve endings found electrifying connection
Surprising us both as we stared at an endless future
Our bond unbreakable
Transcending tradition

We became family

Saturday, April 19, 2014

PAD Challenge - Day 19 - Orange

Bet you thought I wasn't going to make it today... Well, I haven't missed a day yet, and I'm not ready to miss one. We might be down to the last few minutes of Day 19, but I'm here with a poem...

Today's WD 2014 April PAD Challenge prompt was to write a color poem. I read the prompt this morning, and, as is typical, had several ideas. My mind became focused on orange for some reason...

So here is my color poem hot off the press, sts...


Magnificent swirls of
Red and yellow make love
Orgasm into shades of orange
Light and dark across the canvas
Showing us how when we combine
We create a whole new essence
Taking us on a journey
From the deepest wells to the shallowest pools
Teasing us from ancient wells of rainbows
Stretching across our lives
Enhancing the beauty entwined in the spectrum
Light bouncing off light to invigorate each
Coupling of color
My eyes follow yellow and red swirls
To the center of orange