Monday, October 24, 2016

Say It

I love when my pair of crazies sleep at the same time. Today I used the first half hour of the nap productively: clearing things from lunch, folding laundry, and putting clean dishes away. Then it was time for Mamma to sit down. I flipped on Gilmore Girls and opened up Pinterest. My feet up and a pillow under my head, I was ready to relax for however long my children would allow.

A few thumb scrolls down the screen, I pinned a writing tip that looked useful: "100 Ways to Say 'Great.'" One of many similar resources I've found to help a writer avoid using an overused, mediocre word. I scrolled on, perusing recipes and fashion ideas, but the title of that pin kept returning to my mind.

100 ways to say "great." Admirable. Impressive. Spectacular. Lovely. Engaging. Miraculous. With this many superb (another on the list) words available to us, why is it so difficult to tell someone they are great?

We need to say it more. We need to hear it more. We need to stop keeping it to ourselves. When someone makes you laugh or smile extra wide, or someone offers a hug when you need that human touch. The favor-doer, the kind word speaker, the generous server. They all deserve to hear it.

It takes courage to do it. There is a vulnerability in saying kind things but I can't really explain why. This makes me think it is mainly rooted in our fragile pride, which in turn makes me think it is all the more worthwhile to overcome.

So pick your word. Look up the list on Pinterest or dig out that old Thesaurus and find your word. Then, say it. Say it often and say it genuinely to anyone who is great in your life.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Hell of a Way to Die

Writing Prompt: It was a hell of a way to die.
Writing Time: 30 minutes (Longer than usual! We'll see where this takes us.)

Canoe. River. Rocks. Cougars.

It was a hell of a way to die. At least it would make an interesting story. I curled myself deeper into the crevice of the cliff and imagined the teenagers that would hike out here a year from now.

"This is where that girl got mauled by a pair of cougars."

"Yeah, they found her canoe half a mile down the river, all torn up."

They'd stand on the ledge eight feet above where I crouched now, enjoying the horror of it all.

I normally turn around before reaching this section of the river. Today, I wanted to keep going. It's those damn leaves and the way Autumn makes me feel. Oranges, reds, yellows, and those stalwart evergreens living up to their name; I simply had to paddle farther.

A regrettable whim.

When I hit the rocks, the wood of the canoe split beside my left foot. Split is a gentler word than what really happened. Those rocks were not the rounded boulders smoothed by the current that I have encountered before. They were dagger sharp offshoots of the cliff, typically not immersed but the river is high this week.

The water invading the canoe took away any control I still had, tossing the boat into the next set of rocks then flipping me out of my seat. My forearm was sliced by an edge of one rock but my real concern was the undercurrent. A river this high, I knew that undercurrent was stronger than any resistance I'd be able to muster after more than a few minutes of struggle. I wrapped myself around one of those blades of stone like my dearest possession rather than the source of my demise.

From there it was a slippery, bruising scramble toward the cliff. I found enough footholds to reach this crevice, a cave of sorts, and rested. The sun can't reach me here; the brisk October chill, so lovely as I paddled, had me shaking as I watched the rivulets of water running from my boots and clothing over the side of the cliff. My arm was throbbing but not bleeding much.

When I thought I could manage it, I set my mind on making it to the top of the cliff. It was mid morning; at least eight hours til sunset so light wasn't a worry. Surely I'd find my way to a road or a house before then. All I had to do was make it up there and start moving. Move to keep warm. Move to find my way out.

I stuck my head out from under the ledge. Eight feet or so; doable. The stone face was dry up here, which was helpful. I felt around for a place to grip, pulled my body out of the cave, and gritted my teeth as I used my injured arm to continue the movement. One step at a time, carefully, determinedly, I ascended to the top. Such relief when one hand then the other landed on dry grass and cold dirt! Every muscle in my upper body strained to lift. When my face was met with open air instead of the gray striations of stone, I exhaled in a giddy shout.

That's when I saw the cougars.

They both were crouched, chests to the ground, wide jaws suspended above the grass. One was still, glaring, eyes locked on mine. The other was moving toward me by inches at a time. My shout became a split second scream then silent. I could hear them breathing that throaty purr of big cats. I climbed back down to my cave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Don't Stop Being That Girl

There was a girl dancing in her driveway on my way to work this morning. Backpack on the ground; jeans and sneakers, pink hooded sweatshirt and brown hair in a swinging ponytail. She didn't care that a stranger was.driving by. As I passed, she glanced my way without missing a step. It looked like a particular dance routine, something she'd been practicing.

As she disappeared from my rear view, still dancing the length of her driveway, I flashed back to years ago when I was probably about her age. My sister and I were briefly obsessed with the Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman soundtracks. We made up a dance routine for one of the tracks; I can't for the life of me remember which one. It might have been just the two of us or it might have been with our two best friends. Exactly the sort of scheme the four of us would have undertaken with solemn, sleepover dedication.

I wanted to turn around and hurry back. I wanted to jump out of the car and shout, "Don't stop being that girl!" Don't stop being the girl who doesn't care that a stranger sees her dancing. That girl who imagines, creates, and does what she sets her mind to do. The one who laughs at her mistakes then sets her mind on succeeding the next time around. Don't stop being that girl who smiles like she has a sweet secret and dances like no one's watching because she doesn't care if anyone is watching.

"Don't stop being that girl," I whispered to myself and kept driving.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


You know that tremendous weight of something being nearly finished but not quite? It is not a burden, this weight. It is thick with anticipation and heavy with significance. The matter paces the circuit of your brain, refusing to step off your mental homestead even while you focus elsewhere. It is always there, always present in the shadows, biding its time. It waits for that break in the day when you'll pull it back into the light. It looks forward to those end of the evening hours when, despite the tiredness, you can't bring yourself to be so cruel as to make it wait until tomorrow. It knows you'll come for it if it simply holds its ground.

The book proposals are almost finished.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: If a Little Flower Could Speak

Tonight I burnt my thumb. It hurts like the dickens. Every time I take it out of the cup of ice water it makes me want to cry. So, we're going to keep this brief.

Saturday was the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, nicknamed the Little Flower. She's one of my favorite ladies. Therese is an incredible combination of strength and sweetness, of wisdom and youthfulness, and of humility and beauty. If there is one single spiritual work I could recommend due to how it affected me it is Fr. Jean d'Elbee's "I Believe in Love," which is a retreat in book form based on the spirituality of St. Therese.

As we do in this series on the blog, we will focus on a single quote from today's saint of choice:
"If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case."
We are the little flowers, dear reader. Creations of beauty. That's us. Crafted by God and adorned by His gifts. Stop pretending you're not. Don't shake your head or scoff at my words. We are the little flowers and we can speak! Acting as if we are less than what God created us to be, thinking less of ourselves, leading others to think less of us: none of this gives God glory.

Recognize the good, realize its divine source, and proclaim it by your life. We are always proclaiming something, by our words, obviously, but also by basically every other aspect of daily living. Be a conscious, deliberate proclaimer.

Speak well, little flower.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Week I Took Over the Internet

I type this tucked into a high back lounge chair. My feet are up on a leather ottoman, laptop on my legs. The room is wonderfully quiet as most of the 200 conference attendees dutifully returned to the conference center for tonight's keynote address. I, on the other hand, lingered here.

One of the pieces of advice offered at newbie orientation today was to step away when you needed a break from the group sessions. If you feel a compelling need to sit or walk alone, mulling over what you heard, or praying, or writing, do it. That's where I found myself after the last presentation before dinner. My head is full of the information and advice from the experts I've listened to this afternoon. It is both thrilling and overwhelming. My internal reaction is approximately 71% energized and motivated to move forward, 22% discouragement that my manuscript will never ever be as good as necessary to find a publisher, and 7% desperate need to simply write without worrying about where the words will or won't take me.

I've only been here six hours and already there has been an immeasurable amount to learn. I have briefly met publishers and editors and agents. I have shared conversations with other writers, full of dreams and drive. I have both questioned whether my goals are foolish, and reaffirmed that I cannot fathom life without writing. What a day.

This past week (and many other days in the last few months) was filled with focused preparation for this conference: one sheet, sample chapters, amateur headshot photo (thank you, honey), book proposal, researching the publishers and agents I'd have the opportunity to meet, and so on. If I'm being honest, it was all stressful. It's been a while since anything has brought me that level of anxiety. I was suddenly tackling the nitty gritty of this endeavor and I grew scared.

Have you pursued a dream? Not merely imagined pursuing it but really, seriously pursued it. If so, you know what I mean. The closer you get to that dream being fulfilled, the more frightening the possibility that it will stay out of reach. There are no guarantees and that can be terrifying.

One piece of the preparation was setting up author pages on Facebook and Twitter. I'll say it right now, self-promotion is uncomfortable! Even sharing the links on Facebook for my blog posts leaves me a bit embarrassed. It works though, so I do it. These online platforms are among the most useful for promoting your writing and making yourself available for discovery by potential readers. Publishers and agents are keen to know how you'll help promote your work and having these already established can help your pitch.

Attempting to take over the internet this week (yeah, I now have a Twitter page, a personal Facebook page, an author Facebook page, and this blog), was exactly what I needed to prepare for this conference precisely because of how it made me feel. It was the perfect amount of sacrificing my comfort level for the sake of the goal to set me up to do more of the same now that I'm here. It helped me believe a little more that I can manage to network with strangers, that I can speak boldly about my unpublished manuscript to editors and agents, and that I will never stop writing, whatever might come.

Oh, and if you haven't yet, you can follow me on Twitter @carrieinwriting and keep up with me at I'll try to make it an enjoyable experience.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Writing Prompt:
"I want to go home."
"And I want to go to the moon. It ain't happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that."
Writing Time: 15 minutes

"What are you moping about now?" I rolled my eyes at Ginny. No small part of me wanted to slap that pout off her pink lips with my wash rag.

Ginny sank down in the next booth, the one she was supposed to be bussing, as if my question gave her permission to do so.

"I want to go home." She heaved a loud sigh and plopped her chin in her hand. Her sparkly purple nail polish was chipping badly.

"And I want to go to the moon. It ain't happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that."

I finished wiping down the booths surrounding her, hoping she'd get the hint that she was holding me up. She didn't.

"Do you really want to go to the moon?"

"Ha!" I couldn't help but laugh. "No, girl, it's just an expression. I've never wanted to go to the moon."

"Where do you want to go?" Ginny stared at me intently, her bright green eyes fixed on my flushed face.

I could have rattled off a dozen places without even a moment's consideration. Instead  I tightened my ponytail and shook my head. "No use thinking about that, kiddo."

She scowled at me. She hated when I called her that. Ginny was 19 and I was 41. I was old enough to be her mother. In fact, she was the same age as my daughter would have been. Something about this girl, homesick whenever she was tired at the end of a shift but earnestly, optimistically independent the rest of the time, something about her wouldn't let me forget that fact.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


On the occasions I venture onto Pinterest, I tend to seek out four sorts of pins: fashionable outfit ideas, dinner and dessert recipes, workout guides, and writing prompts. I virtually pin each one on the assigned virtual board then continue on the virtual quest for more. I make use of the workout guides regularly. I try out the recipes here and there. I sometimes pick out a few fashionable ensembles to inspire me when I go clothes shopping. Rarely do I take time to use the writing prompts.

So, why not employ this blog to prompt me to use my prompts! Stay tuned as I begin a commitment to use every single writing prompt I have at some point felt compelled to save for later. Silly, strange, vague, specific, fun, and dark - the gamut shall be covered! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It's Okay to Love Your Country

For months now, thoughts about my homeland have been crossing my mind. The events that take over the daily headlines have me contemplating America in what she used to be and what she has become. With these thoughts, mixed feelings are felt and levels of hope and despair fluctuate.

On Sunday, I watched a lot of football. Three times I stood in my living room as dozens of individuals stretched out a flag covering the entire square footage of the playing field. Three times I listened through a moment of silence for the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks followed by a performance of our national anthem. Three times I got choked up.

Only two times I felt embarrassed. When the feelings of silliness began to rise during the third occasion, they were sent packing with one simple thought: it's okay to love my country.

I've noticed a tendency toward extremes in people's statements on America lately. So much of it goes all the way back to our collective reaction to September 11th. That attack felt intensely personal even to those of us who did not know individuals lost that day. I remember the sensation of protectiveness, of "how dare you hurt what is mine!" A new era of patriotism was ushered in, justifiably and beneficially so at the time. The experience awakened in many of our hearts a hibernating bear of attachment to our country.

As is perhaps bound to happen though, the fierce plunge into patriotism was taken to an extreme by some. A refusal to hear a word against America and its culture; a disdain for most other nations and nationalities; a fear of anything that appeared outside the realm of what we now held so dear about our homeland. Then the last 10 years or so saw a whiplash reaction; a violent swing to the other end of the spectrum where a high regard for our nation is ridiculed as blind and foolish.

The extremes frustrate me. I see patriotism as a genuine love of home and country. Genuine love is unconditional but it is not naive. Maybe the extremes are rooted in a misunderstanding of unconditional love. To love someone unconditionally is to love them through anything and everything. Highs and lows, achievements and mistakes, rights and wrongs; love them through it all. Unconditional love is not dependent on the other person earning the love. It is dependent on the giver of love choosing to offer it no matter what. However - and this is an important 'however' - unconditional love is not a refusal to recognize flaws. It is not turning a blind eye to what needs to change in the beloved. It is loving them despite the existence of those flaws and seeking productive ways to help them make changes in their best interest.

The extremes aren't authentic love. One is claiming that because you love your country, anyone who has anything to say against her be damned. The other is a refusal to love her so blindly but then just as blindly treating her as wholly unlovable. Neither are true patriotism.

It's okay to be moved by the sight of soldiers, firemen, policemen, and athletes all holding a football field sized flag. It's also okay to look at the political system with a critical eye. It's okay to oppose a federal law that contradicts what you know to be morally good. It's also okay to teach your children to be proud to be American.

It's okay to love your country.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Willow Tree 4.0: In the End

When I got a good look at William after his return, I could see that the boy I knew was gone. There was no youth left in his face. He was still William though. A little sadder, perhaps, a little more tired, but still him. Tommy took to his father immediately. No fear or reserve. Carly had seen to it that the boy already loved William with all his innocent heart.

The wooden swing was used until it broke. By then Tommy was much taller and he pried the split piece of wood from its ropes and began to use those ropes to still swing as high as he could.

When Tommy was the perfect image of William when he first brought Carly to my field, Tommy brought a girl, too. A sweet, quiet girl with corkscrew curls and a wide eyed way about her. They visited me all summer long and I was content to watch it all happening again. In the last stretch of heat that summer, after the pair laid in each other's arms on the dewy grass, talking, kissing, and dreaming, Tommy strode over to my trunk with a purpose in his step. He took something from his pocket; unfolded, it was a small knife, and he used it to carve something into my bark. It stung a little but I am a large, strong tree and he only cut a tiny piece of me. His girl came up beside him and lifted her face for another kiss when he finished.

The next spring, Tommy returned and used that same knife to scrape away the carving he so carefully made. That hurt a little more, but no more than the sight of the tears he brushed away furiously while working at it. I saw him less and less after that, and I have so often wondered where his road took him.

William and Carly grew old beneath my boughs. He built a bench on which they sat through
countless sunsets. Year after year, they returned; peace on their faces and light in their eyes. They began to walk more slowly. I would see their approach at the far corner of the field and by the time they reached me and sat on their bench, the sun would have shifted to another side of me.

It is spring again now. I expected them to come several sunsets ago, but they have not. There's been no sign of my dear friends

Instead, there are machines. Not like the ones in another time that used to churn up the field in spring or harvest its grains in the autumn. These are different; rougher and louder. They have cleared and flattened the field. Trees that stood for all or most my life are gone from the other side of the meadow. New machines are coming each day now with loads of wood and other materials unknown to me. I am afraid. Their movements get closer and closer and I can only wonder if I will be in their way in the end.

This is why I am gladder than I can say to have told even a few of my stories. I needed to share them and I knew this might be my last opportunity. Thank you ever so much for listening.