On 2020 vision … and terrible puns.

Example of a vision board

I think that at this point, we can all agree that 2020 has been somewhat of a bust. If things went according to plan for me, I’d be in Limerick, Ireland earning my MFA in Creative Writing. I’d have seen My Chemical Romance reunite in all their glory. I’d likely be thinner and I might even be in love.

But here we are.

Rather than despair, I’m looking ahead with a real sense of optimism. I plan on re-applying to the University of Limerick in about a month for the 2021-2022 academic year. I intend on emailing the head of the Creative Writing program first to inquire if studying abroad will be an option. If not, I can earn my MFA much closer to home and just visit Ireland.

My mom – my most honest and reliable Beta reader – read the first half of the revised draft of Moody Blue and said it was “really good.” She gave me some advice which I’m definitely taking. The last time this happened, Her Beautiful Monster was published.

And to this end, to looking forward and being hopeful, I’m starting a vision board. I’d heard of vision boards but always wondered if they were honestly helpful or just some trendy, new age crap basic women made to clutter their workspace. I did a little research and ended up with an article by Brigitt Earley (“a freelance writer and editor based in NJ – (small world!). Her work spans the women’s lifestyle category and has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Real Simple, Health, and Apartment Therapy”) featured in The Oprah Magazine, and that seemed like the right place to end up. The article explains what a vision board really is (“Put simply: a vision board is a visual representation of your goal”) and elaborates on the benefits of creating one. Vision boards are a form of visualization, and “mental practices (like visualization) can increase motivation, confidence, and even motor performance.” A scientific study referenced and cited in the article even found “that, in athletes, visualization was almost as effective as physical practice.” And after expounding upon the benefits of doing so, the article broke down how to craft a vision board.

Step One: Figure out what matters most.

According to the article and media/life coach Zakiya Larry, the first step is determining your goals. “Think about the one or two segments of your life you really want to change and focus on the words those sectors bring to mind. Then, decide if your vision board should represent short-term or long-term change.” Larry recommends using yearly benchmarks as they are “digestable” and their progress is easy to track.

Step Two: Pictures, pictures, pictures.

Cutting pictures from old magazines or printing “images you see on Pinterest and Instagram” will help you find visual representations for your goals. Find a picture of a woman comfortable with her body and display the word “confidence” next to it, for example. My board will include something like that, as well as pictures of Ireland and love and a cozy home as I work to renovate mine.

Step Three: Make sure you can see it.

“Once you’re done, put your vision board in a place that’s within your regular line of sight—your nightstand, your home office, or even by your television—because the key is to look at it as often as possible, says Larry.” This way, the visual representation of your hopes and dreams also serves as a constant reminder to always be striving towards those goals.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE UPDATES!

One of my favorite quotes that I use time and time again comes from Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then; I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” The wonderfully exhausting bit of human existence is that we’re constantly in flux. Some believe people never change, but I would argue it only seems that way because we’re constantly changing and in that, we are consistent.

The materials are arriving this weekend, and I’ll be sure to post pictures. But 2021 will be the year I become a Bohemian babe with a publishing contract in the works and a man blowing up my phone. I’ll have another stamp in my passport and I’ll be earning more and I’ll be a better writer.

I hope to realize these goals in 2021, but I’m starting as soon as possible.

Will you join me?

On good distractions.

I’m always making declarations or proclamations about how I’m taking my life back, how I’m striving to make the best use of my time, and how I’m either breaking or starting habits that will make me into the woman I always dreamed I be. Last week’s blog post was just such a declaration / proclamation, as I boldly swore to the internet that I’d make more time for my writing.

And man … what a liar I turned out to be.

But the distractions were good ones. And believe me, there are such things as good distractions. On Friday, I turned 32. It was a wonderful day and I felt truly blessed. My dad surprised me with a card and Reese’s peanut butter cups (what else could a 32-year-old woman possibly ask for?) and when I left the house in the morning – on time! – I felt beautiful. A colleague taped a birthday card with more candy on the doorknob of my classroom, and others stopped by throughout the day to give me iced coffee, a breakfast sandwich, and birthday wishes.

I had friends come over to my home as soon as work was done and good times were had by all. We ate, we drank, we were merry, and I felt so loved.

Saturday made it all even better. Saturday was I N C R E D I B L E – exactly what I needed! My college roommates and I laughed until we cried and our stomachs hurt. We got drunk on pomegranate sangria. We gorged ourselves on Chinese food. We had delicious cake, inspired by My Chemical Romance, and there were personalized goody bags. We watched three of the “Twilight” films before passing out. There was so much Robert Pattinson, and it was p e r f e c t.

So I didn’t really get a chance to work on Moody Blue or write anything new. Dude, I haven’t even journaled since Sunday. BUT – I will share more of that random scene I started crafting last week. Enjoy – and keep living and laughing and loving, readers xoxo

He shrugged his coat off and slid the stool over to the other side of the canvas. She stood straighter and let her arms drop to her side, just let them hang there expectantly. He climbed in his bare feet to stand on top of the rickety stool. She watched it wobble to one side and then the other. She rushed into the room and yelled, “John, be careful!”

John’s body tensed. He quickly turned his head to her and as he relaxed with recognition, the stool wobbled again and sent him tumbling to the cold concrete floor.

“John!” she called again, rushing over and dropping to her knees beside him. He winced in pain as he rolled onto his back, but when their eyes met, he grinned. “Hey beautiful,” he wheezed, his breathing tight.

“Oh gosh, I am so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to scare you, but you had me so worried standing on that stupid stool.”

He brought himself up so he rested on his elbows. His grin was still there, stretching to a full-blown smile that caused all of his other features to shrink down so his mouth became bigger. “I didn’t know you were coming over,” he said.

Her face fell. “Yes, you did. We’re having dinner tonight with the acquisitions manager. I’ve been talking about nothing else all week.” She smoothed his hair with a gentle hand. “Did you hit your head?”

“That dinner’s tonight?” John squinted at her.

She moved back from him. “You can’t be seriously asking me that.”

As he sat up fully, he winced again but she recognized a cheap play for sympathy when she saw one. She stood up and he reached for her. “Don’t be mad, please don’t be mad.”

“John -“

“I know, I know,” he said, scrambling to kneel before her. He took her hands in his own. “I’m sorry. I’m the worst, and you are so patient, and so forgiving, and beautiful and brilliant -“

“Enough,” she said, pulling her hands free. “Can we please just start getting ready?”

“Do you forgive me?” he asked. His hands were clasped in front of him and his eyes were glistening: the perfect picture of beautiful suffering. That was John all over.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m using your downstairs bathroom,” she said and spun on her heel and left John alone, on his knees, in his art studio.

“breathe me // every time you close your eyes. taste me // every time you cry.”

Placebo

She heard the bathroom door click open while she was in the shower. She noticed the shadows change when the door opened and closed. She let her head hang down beneath the shower head and rubbed the back of her neck. She listened to the water splashing against the tile and to her own breathing, to anything except John getting in the shower with her.

His touch was harder to ignore. His rough, strong hands guided her hips back so their bodies touched. Then he wrapped his arms around her and spoke against her neck. “I didn’t really forget,” he said. “I was just working and lost track of the time.” He planted a short row of soft kisses along her neck until he reached her shoulder. He rested his chin there. “Please don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad, John!” she snapped. His hands fell away and there was a widening gap between them. She turned to him. “I’m sorry, I’m just tired and anxious and I’m taking it out on you.” She watched the water gather around her feet. She couldn’t look at him and admit defeat. She’d caved yet again and apologized just to make him feel better.

He slipped his pointer finger beneath her chin and raised her head. “Tonight’s going to be wonderful,” he said and kissed her. “There’s nothing to worry about.:

She slid her arms around his neck, pulling him flush against her in a tight embrace. Like this, where he couldn’t see her, she could cry. His strong arms circled around her and the tears came then, faster and stronger than she’d anticipated. When her body shook, her rubbed her back and just let her cry.

Later, as she put in her earrings, bending to the mirror on his dresser, John say on the bed behind her. She could see him in the mirror’s reflection. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Totally,” she said. “I was just frustrated. You know I cry when I feel helpless.”

“Look at me.”

Her eyes flicked to his in the mirror.

“No, really me,” he said. She spun around and he moved close, close enough that his breath was warm against her face. He studied her and the scrutiny was heavy. She looked down at the opal ring he had given her. “I love you,” he said.

Her eyes snapped back to his. “You’re not going to accuse me of hiding something or implore me to talk?”

He brushed his lips against her forehead. “I just love you.” He took her hand. “Let’s go. I think the car’s outside.”

“Do I have time for a cigarette?”

“Smoke in the car. It’s fine.”

She nodded and let him lead her outside, only stepping out of rhythm to grab her purse. The night was colder than she’d realized. “Shit, my coat,” she grumbled and went to turn back, but he kept hold of her hand and pulled her back to him.

“Here,” he said as he hung his coat over her shoulders.

“John, this is your absolute favorite item of clothing.”

“I know,” he said, opening her door for her.

“What if I spill something on it?”

“We wash it,” he said, climbing in after her as she slid over to make room.

“Thank you.” She stole a quick kiss and started rummaging through her purse, looking for her black lighter and battered pack of Marlboro Light 100s. The pack was easy enough to find, but the light was hiding, dancing just out of her reach. The search because frantic as she mercilessly slid change and cosmetics and pens around the bottom of her purse. She was about to dump it all out on the seat, but John stopped her.

He raised himself up from the seat so he could slide a book of matches from his back pocket. He pulled one free and lit it against the backside of his pendant. She leaned forward to touch the trembling cigarette in her mouth to the flame. “You really need to relax,” he said.

“Fuck, I know,” she breathed, exhaling smoke.

On trying to prioritize and writing uninhibited.

I missed another Wednesday deadline.

I’m sorry.

Maybe I should just make Thursday the deadline?

Either way, it’s clear I’m not making writing enough of a priority as of late (and the same goes for reading, I’m embarrassed to say). A colleague just posted something this morning – talk about signs from the universe! – about procrastination that really struck home and made me pay more attention to my “schedule.”

This is what my friend posted.

This is it, man; this time is all we get. And I become so frustrated with myself because I wrote so many posts about the passing of time during this pandemic and resulting quarantine, so I should know better. I need to make time for what’s important, and my career is extremely important to me, but so is my writing. I want to make it my career, and as such, I need to pay it the attention it rightfully deserves. So this post is part pledge, part prose.

I have been writing some random, disconnected bits of images that come into my mind just before bed. Hopefully, one such scene will turn into a story as long as I take the time to sit with it and expand it. Here’s one such scene:

He didn’t even know she was in the room. The broad strokes he made with the stick of charcoal were uninterrupted. He stayed on the sool with one leg dangling to the floor. His eyes were wide, trying to simultaneously assess his work so far and decided where to go next. His focus was absolute and her footsteps had fallen on deaf ears. She didn’t mind because she liked watching him work, especially now in the late afternoon when the room burned with the sun’s dying rays pouring in from the westward facing floor to ceiling windows. In another twenty minutes or so, when the radio DJ talked more and played less music for the suckers struggling to get home in rush hour traffic, he’d have to turn on the many lamos of all different shapes and sizes scattered about the studio.

The radio was turned low and she couldn’t exactly make out the melody. He kept it in the far corner and only ever turned it on or off and adjusted the volume. He didn’t go scanning stations. He never really listened anyway. It was all white noise. When he really wanted to hear, he’d use headphones. It was like leaning closer to hear every word in a conversation and he always minimized the distance between himself and whatever it was he wanted to give his undivided attention to.

It was thrilling when it was her.

He toddled off his spindly, wooden stool to survey his sketch, standing tall to take it all in. His long, black jacket hung off his frame, falling past his knees. When he finally turned around to face her, she knew he’d be shirtless. The jacket was his favorite piece of clothing and he treated it more and more like a security blanket. His sterling silver pendant of Saint Catherine of Bologna would hang low around his neck and would catch her eye as it always did. It was the only piece of jewelry he owned.

She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the doorjamb. They could stay just like this, he wouldn’t even have to turn around, and she’d be happy. Her lips parted in a smile and all that joy nearly bubbled into a laugh, so she brought her hand up to cover her mouth and stifle the sound. She wasn’t ready to be discovered just yet.

As I wrote that, a fuller series of scenes began to develop in my mind, like:

  • him lighting a cigarette for her with match on smooth side of his pendant
  • drew his own tattoos
  • draws on her arm while she watches the rain in the morning, talking softly
  • black smudges on her face from charcoal
  • going to dinner with friends, she orders white wine

Maybe this will become something … who knows? All I do know is that I need to keep writing.

On getting back in the swing of things.

I know, I know, I know. I’m a day late – AGAIN. I missed Writer Wednesday – AGAIN. But at least this week I have a valid excuse, or at least what I believe to be a valid excuse.

School started up again and full disclosure: it’s kicking my ass.

My building shut down for students on Friday, March 13, 2020; it was the last normal school day. Staff came in for a half day the following Monday. That means it’s been nearly six months since I was in a classroom with students. And while things are definitely not normal, they are definitely improving. I was absolutely E L A T E D to see about half of my students today! Even former students managed to stop by and say hello and it just felt so good. I had a smile – underneath my mask – that just never went away. And though I’m more exhausted than I thought I would be, I am also happier and more satisfied than I thought I would be. Adding to this simple joy is the fact that I was blessed to have relatively few technological issues, and the few I did have were user error (but I think I fixed my issue and tomorrow should be better). I just had a wonderful day because I was with people, connecting with people, and feeling like life really can and will continue. As bone-tired as I am (and I’m sure this very dreary weather isn’t helping), I’m also rejuvenated because I have hope, and I even feel like I have a purpose. This contentment just validates that I truly b e l o n g in a classroom.

And Bruce Springsteen – the Boss man himself! – announced another album with the E Street Band is due out next month! Could life get any better?

It’s weird how the universe works (or maybe not; maybe that’s the point) because I’ve been thinking about Bruce Springsteen a lot lately, particularly about his song “Human Touch.”

I have to interrupt myself: right now, a woman is walking down my street in the rain and she couldn’t be happier. She spread her arms wide and lifted her face to the sky and she smiled. The woman inside the house she just left opened the door and called to her, offering a ride. But the Walking Woman just shrugged and smiled wider, hopping joyfully onto the sidewalk and giving a final wave from over her shoulder. That’s awesome. That’s my tribe, man.

Anyway, back to Bruce Springsteen and his song, “Human Touch.” While it’s undoubtedly sultry and romantic in nature, I feel it still applies during this pandemic and resulting quarantine, and I will explain why via annotation (man; am I an English teacher or what?!)

You and me we were the pretenders
We let it all slip away
In the end what you don’t surrender
Well the world just strips away


Girl ain’t no kindness in the face of strangers
Ain’t gonna find no miracles here
Well you can wait on your blessings darlin’
But I got a deal for you right here

I ain’t lookin’ for prayers or pity
I ain’t comin’ ’round searchin’ for a crutch
I just want someone to talk to

And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch

Ain’t no mercy on the streets of this town
Ain’t no bread from heavenly skies
Ain’t nobody drawin’ wine from this blood
It’s just you and me tonight

Tell me in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much ?
I just want something to hold on to
And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch

Oh girl that feeling of safety you prize
Well it comes with a hard hard price
You can’t shut off the risk and pain
Without losin’ the love that remains
We’re all riders on this train

So you been broken and you been hurt
Show me somebody who ain’t

Yeah I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain
But hell a little touchup
And a little paint…

You might need somethin’ to hold on to
When all the answers they don’t amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to

And a little of that human touch

Baby in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much?
I just want to feel you in my arms
And share a little of that human touch…

Ok … so the lines I made purple are the most important lines as they pertain to this post and the point I’m making. “In the end what you don’t surrender / Well the world just strips away” – the world is a touch place, and that is not a new nor revelatory idea. But it seems harder and colder in the midst of the current state of affairs, where we’re not allowed to gather and when we do, it seems to be for protests against social injustice more than reasons to celebrate. The sociopolitical climate is extremely divisive and the social and emotional distance between people is ever-widening. I know some of us are smiling and keeping our mouths shut just to get through the day. And I know some of us feel disillusioned and disheartened. And I know a lot of us are angry. Those extreme passions and emotions can strip important parts of our humanity away, like rationality and civility and humility and compassion and forgiveness. This world, even before the pandemic, could leave us wanting to be alone. Be careful what you wish for and all that, I guess.

“I ain’t lookin’ for prayers or pity / I ain’t comin’ ’round searchin’ for a crutch / I just want someone to talk to” For me, these lines eloquently express my new outlook on the challenges that lay ahead in my professional life, but I suppose it could apply just as easily to my personal life, too. I don’t want to complain and be pitied or pacified. I don’t want anyone to fix anything for me. I just want to communicate – to laugh and cry and wax philosophical about all sorts of topics, particularly ones that rock my soul. There’s that awesome saying that’s been circulating for a while now, about how people don’t listen to authentically respond, but just for their turn to speak. And I feel like this is especially true during this pandemic and quarantine because there’s so many filters and screens and barriers, and so much “communication” is done through social media, where the emphasis is more on media that authentic social congregation, where everyone is flouting their own propaganda. It’s harder to be dismissive and indifferent and inauthentic when it’s a real conversation, when it’s face-to-face.

“Oh girl that feeling of safety you prize / Well it comes with a hard hard price / You can’t shut off the risk and pain / Without losin’ the love that remains / We’re all riders on this train” Despite all the naysayers out there, there is a common human experience, which is why “we’re all riders on this train.” To isolate ourselves is to deny ourselves community and the chance at being loved and included. It seems easier to just give up on people and subscribe wholeheartedly to “do you,” but it’s an awful way to live, in my opinion. It’s all about balance; all relationships require us to balance our needs with the needs of our loved ones. Just as giving selflessly can lead to burn out, so can never giving at all.

“So you been broken and you been hurt / Show me somebody who ain’t” The best worst thing about heartbreak is that it is part of the universal human experience; we’ve all been there. And currently, we’re all dealing with different personal and professional issues brought on by these unprecedented times. That’s all the more reason to reach out and find “that human touch” where you can.

“You might need somethin’ to hold on to / When all the answers they don’t amount to much/ Somebody that you can just talk to” We’re fed conflicting information on a daily basis from a variety of different sources, and sometimes that information is not beneficial or pleasing or even useful. So yeah, sometimes the answers “don’t amount to much” and you need “someone to talk to.” I loved teaching today, every single second. I had a mask on and kept my distance from my students and didn’t see as many colleagues as I normally would, but I got to talk to people about their interests and their challenges and we got to connect.

I found a little of that human touch, I guess.



On being happy and being beautiful.

I was unsure what to focus on for this week’s blog post, but I realize it would be remiss not to write about going back to school. Yesterday marked the first day of staff orientation, and it was definitely different. We were isolated and separated, spending the majority of the day alone in our classrooms attending and completing virtual professional development activities. It could have been frustrating an disappointing and overwhelming, and at times, it was all of those things.

But I’ve decided to make a more concerted effort in my professional – and personal – life to be happy. That doesn’t mean I can’t express sorrow or frustration or anger, but it does mean that when the option presents itself, I’m going to choose to be happy. I spent the day with good friends who happen to be colleagues, and celebrated a professional achievement with those same good friends. Most of us were happy to see each and be together, even if the circumstances were not ideal. But the smile and warm reunions and the genuine joy I was able to observe and participate in left me feeling better than I’d felt in months.

This morning, I walked the boardwalk near my home and when people smiled and wished me a “good morning,” I was instantly happier because I felt connected. With the sunlight streaming down and the smell of the sea salt in the air with the constant shushing of the waves, life was beautiful. I felt beautiful in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I thought of the good fortune I’ve had, and the good fortune I was honored to have family and friends and loved ones share with me, and it was all so beautiful.

I want to feel beautiful every day. And yes, shallow though it may seem, that involves makeup and clothing. If I like the reflection in the mirror, it’ll be easier to find other things I love about myself, the real things that matter. I want my insides to match my outsides because feeling beautiful inside and out makes me happy. I would also venture to hypothesize that being happy makes others want to be around me. I had all these admittedly somewhat obvious revelations this morning, and it truly inspired change.

I want to keep that change going when I see my students this year. Some will be coming into the building, and some will not, but the joy I offer should be the same. Love is the most important thing (in my opinion), and the connections that come from love – and there are so many different kinds! – should be preserved always, but especially during these strange times. I want to be a beacon of happiness for my colleagues and for my students. I want to enter the building and have people come and greet me, not shy away with anxiety. I always want to be surrounded my people because, as a quote I found on the internet so blatantly stated, “Love fiercely. Because this all ends.”

I guess I had a kind of a revelation yesterday when a friend whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to really since March was surprised to find I was happy. It made me question how I’d been presenting myself if the idea of me being happy (and grateful) would be so unbelievable, especially to someone who supposedly knows me very well. It’s so easy to give in and be negative, and times we should to give authentic vent to our frustrations and maintain a healthy, emotional balance. But given the choice, I’m going to be happy. I want my students and colleagues to leave my classroom smiling. That’s my goal for this school year. (It should be noted that I want to lose weight, get accepted into the University of Limerick’s Creative Writing MFA Program (again), and finish Moody Blue and find a publisher).