The thing no one wants to talk about

I walked into the grief counselor’s office and sat down awkwardly on the couch across from her. I stared at her for what felt like five minutes, before she asked me what brought me in. I told her about the loss of my father. She waited for me to say more before she asked me to tell her about my dad. I didn’t get more than a sentence or two out before I started crying. “I didn’t think I was going to cry,” I said as I accepted the Kleenex box from her. I told her about my father’s work ethic and how he taught me to work hard and be nice. I told her about the daily phone calls I’d get from him, about how they were always less than five minutes and about how he just wanted to check in and say he loved me. I told her about summers in the pool, family vacations to the beach, and the endless athletic events he took me to. The more I talked the more I cried.

When I stopped talking she let me collect myself. She smiled softly at me and said, “you’re sad.”

I don’t know why this made me feel better, but it did. Because you know what, I am sad. Sometimes we get so busy with daily commitments and responsibilities, that we don’t allow ourselves to feel what we’re feeling. I am no expert on the topic, but I think it would be helpful if we all talked openly and honestly about how we are doing and didn’t just say “fine” when someone asked. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to not be okay.

In an effort to “practice what I preach,” I wrote this blog post. I started typing this and erased it about 12 times before I let myself finish it. It is hard to talk about loss and it is even harder to talk about addressing it. But you know what? This is real. This isn’t a Instagram portrayal of life, where you see only the highlights. This is messy and honest.

As I got up to leave the appointment, the grief counselor asked me what I wanted to accomplish. She explained that sometimes people come in knowing what they want to accomplish. I told her that I wasn’t sure and I just felt like talking about my dad and what I was feeling. That is how I am approaching this post. I wanted to talk about my experience with grief and how I think we should be more open about it. I am not writing to give advice on what you should do in a similar situation (because let’s be honest, I don’t know what I am doing anymore than anyone else), but if by chance you are going through something similar, I hope  this made you feel a little less alone.

xoxo,

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Field-Trip Tuesday: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

Who says adults can’t go on field trips? Because most of my time is spent traveling in a car for work, I try to make the most of that time. When I drive through towns that have a tourist attraction, local restaurant or museum, I try to make at least one stop.

Recently I visited the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis. And there was something magical about it. Works from the late writer and Indianapolis native were on display, but more than that the library is a cultural and educational resource that helps fight censorship and support language arts.

Those able to visit should do so as the curator gives complimentary tours. For those unable to see it in person, I’ll share some photos I took.

When walking in to the library, I was greeted by the typewriter Vonnegut actually used in the 1970s and the phrase “we are dancing animals.”

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Several of the author’s drawings are also on display around the library.

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After walking around listening to videos about the author and reading some of the rejection letters Vonnegut received, I reached my favorite part of the library.

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Visitors can sit over and type on the same model of typewriter that the author used next to the same style of lamp he used. I sunk down into the chair, typed my own message and sat there for a moment. It’s easy to see why many people enjoy visiting this library, especially this room.

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After that I walked around a little longer, I purchased a collection of his graduation speeches titled “If this isn’t nice, what is,” and then went back to work (so it goes). I highly suggest people visit it if they are able.

The future, as told by my fourth grade self

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Mrs. Langley, my fourth grade teacher, asked the class.

Several hands shot up.

A lawyer. An interior decorator. A dirt bike champion. A space engineer. A teacher.

“What about you?” she asked me.

A story writer.

She asked the class to write a one-page essay about what our future would be and turned it in to a book-which I still have. (see the picture above)

I knew then, at age 10 that was what I wanted to do. I didn’t know the kind of writing I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to write.

I thought it was interesting when looking back that I didn’t write author or simply writer, I specifically wrote story writer.

The more I thought about it, I decided it was fitting to what I want to do 14 years later (now). With writing I want to tell stories, but I don’t just want to tell stories, I want to tell people’s stories. Heck, I want to tell my own stories.

That’s why I went in to journalism. There is something so satisfying about meeting someone, talking and finding out their “thing.” Everyone has a thing and most don’t even know it.

In the past year I have talked with a preacher who decided to start a hot sauce business, a woman who retraced the Trail of Death, the forced removal of Potawatomi Indians from north central Indiana to eastern Kansas in 1838 and a woman who opened a coffee shop that accepts only donations.

I got to find the story behind each person – I was able to learn the man who started the hot sauce business used his mother’s recipe for one of the flavors. His mother has Alzheimer’s, which makes his connection to the sauce an emotional one. I learned the trip for the woman was a “spiritual journey” and is still very much a part of her today. I was able to ask how a business that accepts only donations survives and found out the answer: community.

I was able to get a glimpse of the stories that make up each person and I was given the opportunity to describe that story for others.

That’s what I’m trying to do with this project. I am attempting to update my series, or conversations, on a more consistent basis and it’s a work in progress.

I recently tweaked my name to “Collecting Conversations.” I know, I know, it’s not that different from the former name. I tweaked it to fall in line with this thought of telling other people’s stories. I don’t really feel like I’m “chasing” them, but I do feel like I’m collecting them and in a small way, carrying them with me.

The outtakes (in case you need a laugh):
Just in case you were wondering, in my future essay, my fourth grade self also said I would be married by 25 to a man named Casey, I would have twin girls and we would live in North Carolina. (None of which are true). My personal favorite though (and this is a direct quote from 10-year-old me): “My grandchildren were smart. They were all scientists.”

Stephen King’s “On Writing” (part three)

stephen-king-on-writing-d1d225f2c6e25fcd45dce87de1f77d4d6e695e5f-s6-c30So I took my own advice and read while 10 inches of snow blanketed the area. Today was a true snow day for me as I worked from home because of the road conditions. But, I’m not complaining, I didn’t want to go outside when the wind chill was negative 42 degrees.

Here is a continued list of advice from Stephen King’s memoir, “On Writing”

8.) It’s possible to make a good writer out of a competent one

King doesn’t hold back for fear of hurting reader’s feelings when he says it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer and it’s also impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, but “it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

9.) You must read and write…a lot

King tells readers that if they want to be a writer, they have to do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. Building off of that, King continues and says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

10.) Write one word at a time

In an interview one time King told a radio talk-show he wrote one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like “The Lord of the Rings,” the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

11.) The material is the boss

King talks about being asked why he writes the things that he does. He says that question is asked under the assumption that the writer controls the material instead of the other way around.

12.) Write what you like 

Most people say to write what you know. King says to “write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendships, relationships, sex and work.”

13.) What you know makes you unique

Even though he said to write what you like, he notes that what you know makes you unique in some other way. “Be brave. Map the enemy’s positions, come back, tell us all you know.”

Five things writers need in a snow storm

When the forecast calls for a winter storm, there are several reports about how to handle the severe weather. Stay home if possible. Make sure you have groceries, water and be prepared to lose power. Also keep an eye on space heaters, chimneys, fire places, wood stoves and make sure they have proper ventilation.

If traveling is necessary, keep a fully charged cell phone, full tank of fuel and place warm clothes, blankets, a shovel and an ice scraper in your vehicle. If you have car trouble, call authorities, make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow and stay in your car.

My hometown is right in the middle of the winter storm with the potential to receiving 10 to 12 inches of snow before a drastic drop in temperature at the beginning of the week. Monday  is supposed to reach a high of negative 15 degrees. Wind chill of 40 degrees below zero and 25 mph wind is also expected. Tuesday is supposed to warm up very little with a high of negative 4 degrees.

Let’s just say I’m not looking forward to the arctic air expected. All of the warnings need to be taken seriously during a winter storm, but there are additional items writers need* during a storm.

1.) Coffee

Writing and coffee go together, right? Okay, maybe not for everyone, but I know coffee totally improves 98 % of moods (it’s a scientific fact).

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It helps to live with someone who can make coffee or food on a propane heater in the case power goes out.

2.) Laptop or tablet or notebook or type writer… you get the point 

Whatever you like to write in, If your snowed in, you most likely have that extra time to write. Maybe you’ll even find motivation in the cabin fever setting in.

3.) A book

Like number two, if you’re snowed in, you have lots of extra time. Although this could get boring, take advantage of that time and read a book you’ve been wanting to read but haven’t been able to or finish the book you haven’t been able to finish.

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4.) Four-wheel drive or friends with four-wheel drive   

You can only spend so much time inside. Once snow plows arrive and roads are clear, you can safely travel. However, you’ll still need a good vehicle. After a recent snow storm I tried to go to work and my car got stuck at the end of my driveway. Luckily some nice employees of the county highway department stopped to help me out. (I think they felt bad for me when they saw me attempting to dig out my car).

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                                         This is what being a single twenty something looks 

5.) Games

Yes, I’m talking about board games – Scrabble, Cards, Apples to Apples and whatever else you like to play. Obviously this works a lot better if you have roommates or live with someone. This will help you keep sane when the cold weather is keeping you inside.

Stay safe and warm out there, friends. xoxo

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*need is used loosely here – there are serious items needed with severe weather.

Stephen King’s “On Writing” (part two)

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I hate to admit that I’m still working on Stephen King’s “On Writing.” This speaks nothing of the quality of the memoir. It has something to do with the fact I have been slacking when it comes to reading.

I’m only 100 pages beyond where I was the first time I wrote about the book, but I stand by what I said the first time – it really is full of wisdom/good advice.

Here are some additional pieces of advice that have stuck out as I’ve (slowly) continued reading the memoir:

4.) Life is not a support system for art

King talks a lot about the struggle of writing. He says that a writer should put their desk in the corner of the room and not the middle of the room. He says this should be a reminder that “life isn’t a support system for art – it’s the other way around.”

5.) Take writing seriously

King says that you can approach writing with the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind.He goes further to say that no matter the reason you come to writing “come to it anyway but lightly.”

King says if people are willing to take it seriously, there is room for them to improve the craft.

6.) Use the vocabulary you have

Writers over time have said this in many different ways, but King tells us that a person’s vocabulary should sit on the top shelf of our “toolbox.” In other words writers shouldn’t try to make their writing fancier or longer just because the short words might make you feel ashamed. Use the vocabulary you have and don’t make a conscious effort to improve it, he said.

7.) Writing = magic

King points out that writing is a learned skill, but that skill can “create things far beyond our expectations.”

“We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style…but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

A conversation with a writer

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I’m happy to introduce my first interview of the series Collecting Conversations. First up to the plate is Andrea, a 25-year-old freelance technical writer who writes textbooks on Microsoft Office software. She has a writing degree from the University of Tampa and hopes to be successful at creative writing one day.

The best part of her job is she gets to work from home and doesn’t have to deal with office politics. Also, Andrea’s name can be found on Microsoft Office software textbooks. Cool, right?

After years of writing before, during and after college, Andrea has a lot of knowledge to share on the subject.

Andrea doesn’t remember the exact moment she began writing, but she remembers being young.

“I’ve always been a reader. As a kid I would carry books with me everywhere I went (and I still do),” she said. “I guess one day I decided I wanted to try writing.”

She enjoys both fiction and poetry. Ultimately she wants to write fiction but she loves poetry and doesn’t want to stop writing it.

Her proudest writing accomplishment has been having poems published in an online journal.

“To me having my own work published is a much bigger accomplishment than getting my name on a book I wrote for someone else,” she said. “I will always remember the first time my own words were published.”

She has learned she can survive writing boot camp.

Andrea finds it harder to start writing than keep writing. She recalls her first year of college as a writing major and refers to it as boot camp, saying it was hard to be vulnerable.

“You spend a lot of time writing your deepest most intimate thoughts and then listen to everyone bash it to pieces,” she said. “If you can take that criticism and weed out the crap and let the rest of it help you then I think you’ll have a much easier time to keep writing.”

She doesn’t keep a writing schedule but wishes she did saying, “I’m just not to the point where I can sit down and say ‘I will write now.’ It doesn’t work that way for me.”

She has learned it’s hard to make time for writing.

“Life gets in the way of most things, but I think if you really have a passion for it, you will make the time,” she said.

Her childhood has been her biggest inspiration. She said she remembers random, insignificant moments from being a child and turns those moments into a story or poem.

She learned not to give up.

There comes a point when most people who have dipped their feet in to writing want to give up. Andrea said she almost gives up everyday, but by sticking with it, her writing improves.

“I’m a perfectionist who could spend an entire day rewriting a sentence,” she said. “I stick with it because nothing makes me happier than that moment when I find the right words to express what I’m trying to say.”

We ended the conversation with advice she would tell other writers or aspiring writers.

“I think you can’t be afraid to write in a medium or genre that you don’t like. I never thought I would ever become a technical writer but I actually enjoy it and it helps my other writing,” she said. “I would also say to really get into poetry. So many writers seem to want to write fiction but never get in to poetry. Learning how to write poems help make your fiction stronger, they go hand-in-hand.”

A look at a few of the questions:
What is the best advice you’ve ever received on writing?
I had a professor tell me that words fail and that once you get over that it becomes a lot easier. I didn’t get it at first but now that I do I’ve had a much easier time writing.
and the worst piece of advice you’ve received?
I think most advice is bad when it comes to art. I’ve been told to not write offensive things, which to me is ridiculous. Life is offensive.
What is your favorite book, short story and poem?
My favorite book of all time is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I read it all of the time and each time I find something new to love. My favorite short story is a tie between White Angel by Michael Cunningham and Dance in America by Lorrie Moore. And my favorite poem is This Hour and What Is Dead by Li-Young Lee (honestly I love anything by him).
Best movie you’ve seen lately that was adapted from a book?
Stand by Me is my favorite movie of all time. It was adapted from a Stephen King story. I did just see The Perks of Being a Wallflower and thought it was an amazing adaptation. I love both the book and the movie.

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Collecting conversations

I’m starting a series in my blog. The series will involve once-a-week interviews with some pretty awesome people.

The interviews or “conversations” will be with young writers, students, entrepreneurs, aspiring doctors, travelers, fishermen and more. You name it,  I’ll be interviewing them.

My first interview of the series is A conversation with a writer. I spoke with a 25-year-old technical writer who has a writing degree from the University of Tampa and hopes to one day be successful at creative writing.
I’m excited to share their stories with others. Here’s to collecting conversations.

Editor’s note: if you would like to be interviewed, feel free to leave a comment or ask how you can email me.

Writers write, right?

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The first time I wrote a short story outside of school was when I was 10 years old. It was about a magic key that led to a secret forest by the creek in my backyard (hey, I was an imaginative kid). My love of blending words together on paper grew from there.

The first time I wrote a book I was 18 years old, a senior in high school. Looking back through it years later has made me cringe at some sections because I could see mistakes and unfinished thoughts.

The first time I received direction on my creative writing was in college through workshops. Professors took my writing shook it for a little bit and handed it back to me telling me to delve deeper. After my freshman year of college I decided to make creative writing my minor. Poetry, fiction and non-fiction workshops; I took them all.

I learned the most from an unpopular fiction professor. I say unpopular because he was harsh. I’ve seen people cry because of his class. However, every piece of information I’ve ever heard him give made the writer and story better.

The best advice he ever gave me was “The longer I teach the more I realize that it’s very human to want to get something done right, but that making good art takes time, practice and patience. Workshops can often be discouraging to young writers and sometimes because of workshop they give up. I hope you know that if you really want to continue to write all good things will come to you in time.”

I let my writing slack in the past 11 months and I’m going to try to be better. I’ve realized even though writing was easier in school when I had an allotted time to do it, it will never just be handed to me. I’ll have to work on it.

The first time I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I said a princess. The second time I was asked I said an Olympic swimmer. The third time I said I wanted to be an author. Since I haven’t yet turned into a princess or Olympic swimmer I think I’ll stick to writing. I might even start one of those annoying 7- or 30- day writing challenges and keep track of it on my blog. Forgive me, friends.

Armageddon in Retrospect

I finished reading Armageddon In Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut tonight. The book features a collection of short stories on war along with a letter home from Vonnegut and a speech he wrote but died before he was able to deliver it. 

It also includes an introduction by Mark Vonnegut. In the introduction his son even says he found himself wondering “How on earth does he get away with some of this crap?” And he does. Vonnegut gets away with saying these things.

Some passages I found memorable from the collection of short stories are below: 

“I consider anybody who borrows a book instead of buying it, or lends one, a twerp.” 

(after Vonnegut asked his son what life was all about) 
“We are here to help each other through this thing, whatever it is.” 
“Whatever it is. Not bad. That could be a keeper.” 

And how should we behave during this apocalypse? 
“We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot.”

My advice to writers just starting out? Don’t use semicolons…all they do is suggest you might have gone to college. 

“We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the world’s generations to come. That is how everyone should feel about every city on earth.” -Wailing Shall Be In All Streets

“Don’t never mess with time. Keep now now and then then. And if you ever get lost in thick smoke, child, set still till it clears. Set still till you can see where you are and where you been and where you’re going, child.” -Great Day

“Where do I get my ideas from? You might as well have asked that of Beethoven. He was goofing around in Germany like everybody else and all of a sudden this great stuff came rushing out of him. It was music. I was goofing around like everybody else in Indiana and all of a sudden stuff came gushing out. It was disgust with civilization.” 

Vonnegut ends the speech included in the book in true Vonnegut fashion:

And I thank you for your attention, and I’m out of here.