On feeling grateful and giving thanks.

I think there’s another writer in my neighborhood. When I get up to walk in the morning, just after 4 AM, I see her through her front window as I’m finishing my return lap. She has her laptop open and glasses on with a steaming mug beside her. I haven’t seen her typing, only reading, but it’s nice to think there’s a kindred spirit close by.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so it seems more than appropriate that I take some time to be grateful and less self-centered. My coworkers are mostly remarkable; I was talking to one about my new weight loss endeavor and how I was disappointed by how long it takes me to walk a mile. It’s all about baby steps, I know – you have to learn how to crawl before you can walk and all that – but I feel like I can go faster and that doing so would help me make more progress faster (I’ve always been impatient). I didn’t think anything of the conversation and assumed we were both just shooting the shit in front of the mailboxes waiting to either heat up our lunches or use the constantly occupied bathroom.

A couple of days later, the coworker gave me an interval timer. This person was out and about in the world, living life as best any of us can in these strange times, and thought of me. How sweet is that? I was touched and plan on starting to use the thoughtful, surprising gift after Thanksgiving – I like giving myself specific start times for things. Is that anxiety?

Then last week, three of my students in my Creative Writing class surprised me with cupcakes to celebrate the publisher requesting a full manuscript. They had candles and lit them and had me blow them out. How precious is that?

For some of us, nothing really feels okay right now. Nothing feels solid. In times like this, I hold to love. I dig my fingernails in and cling for dear life because love is the reason for everything. Love really and truly is all that matters. If there’s love, everything else will fall into place.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for love.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Spread the love ❤

On good news in trying times.

It’s been said time and time again that 2020 has been an awful year. Lately, I’ve noticed more of my friends and followers on social media posting memes asserting that 2020 should be seen as a year of growth, that we should acknowledge how we’ve survived and proven we can adapt to adverse situations. I like to be positive, and I love that sentiment, so rather than harp on anxieties and rehash a litany of complaints, I thought I’d share some good news.

GenZ Publishing has requested a full manuscript!

GenZ Publishing had liked one of my Instagram posts, which excited me because it meant all the posting seemed to be paying off. I decided to check out their website. I was impressed by the website; it was sleek and professional, and had all the information a reputable publisher, independent though it may be, should have. When I look for publishers, I A L W A Y S check the website for professionalism, information, and S U B M I S S I O N G U I D E L I N E S. I make sure the publisher is accepting submissions and that the publisher is interested in my genre. GenZ Publishing was a match for both of those requirements, so I decided to send a query that fit their specific guidelines and the first two chapters of Moody Blue.

I’ve had success querying in the past. Aside from the publication of my first novel eight years ago, I’ve had multiple full manuscript requests based on queries I’ve sent out for Moody Blue. And when I’ve pitched the novel in face-to-face meetings and conversations with agents, all except two have requested material. I’m telling you all this to let you know I’m very confident in my query letter, and I’m telling you this because I’m going to share it with you, via this video.

Now, GenZ Publishing was particular about that query letter. Typically, my query letters look more like this:

Ms. Caroline Eisenmann
Frances Goldin Literary Agency, Inc.
214 W. 29th Street, Suite 410
New York, NY 10001 —–> even though it’s an electronic query, I still want to be as formal as possible and write out the mailing address for the publisher and/or agent

Good morning Ms. Caroline Eisenmann: —–> I always include a formal greeting with the full name; professionalism is the name of the game!

I hope this message finds both you and yours doing well (it always helps to be polite and friendly). My 70,700-word novel, Moody Blue, is a devastating study of relationships affected by mental instability in the tradition of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins (agents and publishers are both primarily interested in books that sell, so if you can compare your story or even your writing story to an author or specific book that’s selling, do so! Just make sure it’s a timely reference). My novel will appeal to fans of psychological thrillers that withhold information to develop a surprise sociopath character. Novels that offer a refreshingly realistic glance into the turbulent human heart and study the inexplicable elements of human nature have garnered high interest among readers lately, particularly with authors such as those mentioned above and Ruth Ware.  MOODY BLUE is arguably cut from the same cloth, but with more of an edge that would welcome a more inclusive readership.

The novel follows the lives of Adam Petersen, a troubled man trying to reclaim his sanity after suddenly losing his fiancée, and Claudia Taylor, a young woman who embarrassingly admits to being normal.  When the two attend a writers’ workshop for survivors of traumatic events, Adam reveals that he discovered his fiancée dead in their bedroom.  The police categorized the death as a suicide, but Adam is convinced it was homicide, and is desperate for empathy and support. Claudia, young and dumb and afflicted with a flair for the dramatic, readily accepts the role.  She soon discovers that she is woefully unprepared as getting to know Adam becomes more and more dangerous. As their relationship evolves and more is revealed about who they truly are, one moves closer to sanity while the other spirals into an unsettling state of delusion.  The aftermath is devastating and both are left broken, bruised and unsure of what comes next.

This work examines the riotous excursions of the human heart in different ways.  I believe my talent (if I may be so bold) and tenacity will be a perfect fit with your agency. My first novel, Her Beautiful Monster, was published by Martin Sisters Publishing in October of 2012, and has received positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads alike. My short story, “Cover Me,” was published online via the Cynic Online Magazine. I also have attended the Algonkian Writers’ Conference, The Writer’s Hotel, and the Frank McCourt Summer School of Creative Writing.

As per the guidelines, the first ten pages are included with this query, copied and pasted below.

I’m hoping you’ll take a chance on a young writer. I want to sincerely thank you for your patience, your interest, and thank you for your valuable time, and for considering Moody Blue. 

Sincerely, 
Mandi Bean
PO Box 1010
Ocean Gate, NJ 08740
Bean91888@gmail.com

And then once you’ve sent your query letter, it’s a waiting game. BUT NEVER STOP WRITING WHILE YOU WAIT! Some published and agents are fine with simultaneous submissions, so keep sending queries and material to interested parties. I also try to work on the next project when waiting for a response, as some can take up to three months. Sometimes, you’ll get an instantaneous reply back with the response time clarified. GenZ Publishing sent me the following reply:

Hello,

Thank you for contacting GenZ and Zenith Publishing. If this is a query, we will evaluate the work for style, characterization, credibility, marketing, and more and respond within six weeks. At this time, we are unable to offer detailed responses to works we will not be publishing. We will only review one unsolicited work from one author at a time. 

Thank you, and happy writing!

GenZ Publishing

Six weeks; I imagined I’d hear from them around Thanksgiving. I’d been rejected a lot lately so if I’m being honest, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic. But then, just over two weeks later:

Good afternoon, 

Thank you so much for your patience while we reviewed your query. At this time, we ask that you send us a full copy of your manuscript. Please do so by November 15th if you are still interested in potentially working with us. 


Best, 


Emily Oliver

Operations Manager  

And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since – working on tightening up a full copy of my manuscript. I’d like to send it in before the deadline to subtly communicate that I’m eager to work with them and grateful for the opportunity. So we’ll see what happens 🙂

On DIY.

I went to my first writer’s conference in 2017, five years after I published Her Beautiful Monster. I met some truly remarkable and talented writers, many of whom I still keep on touch with via email or the random but incredibly lovely meet-up in Manhattan.

The next year, I attended The Writer’s Hotel in New York City. There I met some of the greatest minds of my generation, spent a whirlwind five days in New York City and commuted every day, and really built some confidence and for the first time, authentically networked. I learned so much.

The following year, I attended the Frank McCourt Summer School of Creative Writing in New York City, which promptly spurred my dream of earning my MA in Ireland. I was enchanted with the Irish culture and the writing life, my dream of being a successful published writer was invigorated, and for a fleeting couple of months, everything seemed p o s s i b l e.

Then 2020 happened. And here we are.

Writing conferences quickly became an important and integral part of my writing life. And it’s not the same attending them virtually; it’s all about the connection and the communication – and I’m talking all-encompassing communication that includes body language and atmosphere and all five of our senses. But with no real end to the restrictions concerning the pandemic in sight, what’s a writing girl to do? How am I supposed to get my writing conference fix?

With a Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat.

While a retreat does not offer the same networking opportunities as a conference, it offers the same if not more opportunities to be productive, which are just as important. After all, you can’t pitch to a publisher or an agent if you have nothing to pitch. And it’s a l w a y s good for the soul to unplug and get away, especially for the creative soul.

My following suggestions are being adapted from an article written by Kristen Pope for The Write Life, which you can read here.

  1. Get the timing right!

    Pope writes, “Respect the time you set aside for your DIY retreat just as you would if you were traveling to a formal, organized retreat.” To aid this endeavor, she strongly suggests picking a time when life is moving slower, when you aren’t bombarded with personal and/or professional responsibilities and obligations. For me, this would be March – there’s no major holidays (other than St. Patrick’s Day, which is one of my favorites), there’s no days off from work, and so there’s no family gatherings or social events I need to plan around. However, let it be known I’d like my retreat to be a long weekend; if that’s not in the cards for you, no problem! Pope also recommends spending “an afternoon at a coffee shop or bring your notebook to the local park to have a quick mini retreat.” Because let’s face it: “If you don’t carve the time out of your life for a DIY retreat, you won’t find it.” That’s true for ALL writing, not just writing retreats – and I know I’ve harped on this idea many, many times before.
  2. Select a location!

    Pope writes, “Make sure you’ll be comfortable and undisturbed and will have easy access to food, exercise, and anything else you need to get the most out of your time.” A couple of years ago, I purchased this book. It breaks down recommended places to stay by region. So if I’m thinking long weekend, I’m looking in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic. From there, inns and bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels are listed with complete contact information and pricing information. It makes selecting a location SUPER EASY! For starters, I might stick with my home state of New Jersey to limit travel time and maximize retreat time, and to save money. Also, being close to home means that if I forgot something, I can dash back quick and work out any kinds more readily than if I were out of state. Looking back on my notes, I chose The Breakers in Spring Lake and wrote down the first weekend in May as a tentative date. I’ll have to do some updated research and see if this venue makes sense in March.
  3. Set a goal!

    Pope writes, “Whatever you’d like to do, decide ahead of time and focus on it.” For me, I’m hoping to be done revising Moody Blue, so I’d likely be sending it out to publishers AND working on my new manuscript (tentatively titled Lightning Strikes) simultaneously. To this end of staying focused and goal-oriented, Pope recommends, “Consider writing your goal on a whiteboard or large piece of paper and having it nearby so you can remind yourself about why you’re doing in this retreat” and “…be sure to gather all your materials. Bring your laptop and charger, a favorite Moleskin and pens. Consider an adult coloring book or yoga mat or another favorite item to fire up your creativity.”

    Andrea Browns offers a more thorough packing list:
    – a good dictionary or thesaurus (can you believe I don’t own either one?!)
    – your notebook computer or pocket PC (I just bought myself a luxurious new laptop – yay!)
    – a printer and plenty of paper (I have a HP Tango wireless, portable printer that I swear by)
    – scratch pads, notebooks, pens, pencils
    – art supplies
    – camera and film (this list is dated, but still … GET OFF THE PHONE!)
    – flashlight
    – alarm clock
    – umbrella
    – comfortable walking shoes
    – credit cards
    – cash (not too much) or travelers’ checks
    – ear plugs
    – medicines
    – sunglasses
    – your favorite snack foods
    – swim suit (for off hours)
    – a good novel (again, for off hours)
    Brown also suggests making a checklist of everything you need to deal with before leaving (to minimize anxiety and maximize creativity) and to pack one bag for work-related items and a separate bag for clothes and personal items.
  4. Plan a schedule and stick to it!

    Pope writes, “Allocate time for brainstorming and creativity exercises along with dedicated time to work on your goal projects.” This will limit time spent sitting and overthinking, which enables the inner editor we all have to convince us that everything we write is shit. My last post was about mental health and creativity, and how important sleep is in that equation. Eating is just as important, too. Pope writes, “Be sure to schedule breaks into your day for meals and chances to recharge. Your brain won’t work as well when your stomach’s empty.” And who doesn’t love trying new restaurants?!
  5. Avoid distraction!

    TURN OFF THE PHONE! DON’T CONNECT TO WIFI! Haven’t we all seen “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix?! Pope writes, “Turn off the Wi-Fi. Turn off your phone. The world won’t end if you take a few hours off.” She recommends only checking messages from family members and to communicate with loved ones that you’ll be on the retreat for a specific purpose: to get some writing done! Pope also makes an important distinction: “Don’t fall into an internet black hole while you’re writing. If you need to look something up for your draft, make a note and look it up later. It’s too easy to look up one little thing and then see an email and check the weather and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour online,” WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM AND TIKTOK AND SNAPCHAT WANT! I’ve been making a concerted effort to limit my screen time anyway, so this makes perfect sense to me.
  6. After the retreat, take time to review (and schedule your next retreat)!

    Pope recommends asking important questions: “Were you able to accomplish your goals? If no, why not? Were you distracted? Did you not have enough time? Did you have a comfortable space? Were you procrastinating?” And stresses: “Then get your next retreat right onto your calendar.” I believe that creativity and writing talent are tools that if not used, are inevitably lost. Keep writing, keep reading, and keep planning out time in creative spaces to help you do so!

Pope’s article is a great companion to this article by Alicia de los Reyes. In her article, de los Reyes offers five excellent reasons to treat yourself to a DIY Writer Retreat:

  1. You want time to write

    I don’t want time to write; I N E E D time to write. I remember reading once that it was impossible to write a novel while being a full-time teacher. Obviously, this isn’t true (Stephen King was a full-time teacher AND working at a laundry mat when he wrote Carrie, but his prolific productivity is NOT normal), but I will say it is incredibly difficult. After a day spent reading and writing and dealing with the fascinating but exhausting intricacies of other people, the LAST thing I want to do is sit down and write. I’d much rather drink, put my feet up, and put my brain to sleep by watching TV. NONE of those activities are conducive to being creative and productive, so a retreat is a good way to avoid those bad habits. I’m considering making a March retreat my reward for finishing the editing of Moody Blue.
  2. You need structure

    De los Reyes writes, “If you schedule your writing retreat ahead of time, down to the hour, you won’t have time to think about what you “should” be doing. You’ll be doing it.” She’s right, and I’ve talked about the importance of schedules time and time again, so I won’t bore you and repeat myself.
  3. You don’t know what to write

    I don’t usually have this problem – thankfully! – but a change of scenery is always good to prompting the muse.

  4. You’ve always wanted to feel like a real writer

    I SWEAR I am more productive when I feel, or have convinced myself, that I’m a real writer. I know there’s plenty of articles about impostor syndrome and combatting it, and that there are plenty of articles that proclaim to be a writer, all you have to do is write. But the reality of it is that it’s never really that simple, especially when you’re dealing with insecurity and unprecedented times. So any little bit of theater we can perform ourselves to help ourselves believe we’re the real deal is more than okay by me.

Planning a retreat? I want to hear all about it! Let’s compare notes!

On sleep and mental health and creativity.

So, let me begin by offering you a poem I wrote in honor of this month:

His eyes are like October skies
Changeful and abrupt
Gray and full like rainclouds ready to erupt
Gray and cloudy and hard to see
But then suddenly
Bright and burning
Luminescent in their yearning
Glorious, blazes in orange and red
Cooling like embers in a dying fire bed
It hurts to stare into such a glare
But his eyes are like October skies
And I can’t look away

Poem, “October Skies,” 10/05/2020

When I walked into the building the other morning, dangerously close to being late, the speakers were playing a tinny-sounding version of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, a song less than a tenth of the current student body knows, which begs the question: WHY. Why that song? I can’t see the school engaging in some dark comedy during this pandemic. It’s just weird.

I only got two hours of sleep the night before, so that day was going to be weird anyway. I haven’t been sleeping well at all lately. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Mayo Clinic tells me I have insomnia and that this could be the result of my depression, which unfortunately means that over-the-counter sleep aids are ineffective. “Mid-sleep awakenings often occur during periods of stress. Over-the-counter sleep aids rarely offer significant or sustained help for this problem.” So what is a girl to do?

Naturally, I took to Google and put in the search engine “how to fall asleep faster and stay asleep.” Perusing the results, I stumbled across this website. It elaborated upon the idea for a bedtime routine for adults. “Studies have shown that insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders. Stress from a busy workday and active personal life can cause sleep anxiety. Creating a bedtime routine puts your body in a relaxed state. By the time you’re finished, your body should feel relaxed and ready for lights out.” The article gives you 11 suggestions for a bedtime routine, which I will break down for you and offer my own perspective as I tried starting my bedtime routine last night.

  1. Set an alarm to signal preparing for bed.
    • I chose 7 PM. I figured I’d be asleep by 8 PM, so I’d get a full eight hours before 4 AM, when I get up to walk (hopefully run).
  2. Eat light and healthy before bed.
    • I actually didn’t eat anything before bed. I had dinner around 6 PM and was satisfied. However, the next time I’m at the grocery store, I plan on buying yogurt and ingredients for oatmeal. Both options double nicely for breakfast, and with the colder weather coming, a hot bowl of oatmeal might really help me feel relaxed and comfortable.
  3. Create a pre-bedtime playlist.
    • Lucky for me, I always listen to music when I sleep. This started after I watched “The Exorcist” and was convinced that if I didn’t have music playing, I would hear demonic spirits calling out to me. It’s pretty expansive (over 100 songs) and I’m proud of it. It includes songs like “Foolish Games” by Jewel, “exile [feat. Bon Iver]” by Taylor Swift, “WALLS” by Kings of Leon, “Could Never Be Heaven” by Brand New, and “Safe With Me” by Soap&Skin.
  4. Lower the lights and thermostat to hibernate.
    • Easily done and highly recommended; I always sleep with a fan on and curling up under a fluffy blanket is truly one of the best feelings in the world.
  5. Wash off stress in the shower or bath.
    • My whole life, all I’ve wanted is a soaking tub. Sometimes, I think about renting a hotel room for the night just so I can lay in hot bubbles and breathe. I don’t have a soaking tub in my home, but I thought I’d give it the old college try. I bought Dr. Teal’s Melatonin Sleep Soak and stayed in the tub for 20 minutes. It was relaxing, but I was missing the bubbles. So today, after school, I bought Dr. Teal’s Soothing&Sleep Foaming Bath. It’s not the recommended pairing, but it was all I could find at Walgreen’s. I ordered the foaming bath with melatonin and it should be delivered Thursday. I’m really looking forward to it. I also mde sure this was the last step in my bedtime routine because the article suggests taking a sleep aid while in the bath, and melatonin (my sleep aid of choice) should be taken 20 minutes before bed.
  6. Turn off electronics 30-45 minutes before bed.
    • OMG, this was so hard! I was unsuccessful but will be better tonight. I really believe this will make a huge difference.
  7. Reduce anxiety with a to-do list.
  8. Jot down your thoughts in a journal.
    • I combined suggestions 7 and 8, and have been doing this before bed for as long as I can remember. It definitely helps me to get it all out of my head and heart and onto paper, and I’m excited to see how helpful it becomes when combined with the other suggestions.
  9. Relax your muscles with a quick foam rolling or yoga session.
    • I didn’t try this suggestion as I was pressed for time. And it didn’t make sense to stress myself out about getting to every single suggestion when the whole point of the exercise was to reduce stress. Maybe I can implement this in the future.
  10. Drink something warm.
    • I drank a cup of Sleepytime Tea. I really, really need healthy, natural sleep.
  11. Use aromatherapy / essential oils.
    • I had a lavender wax melting beside me and I think it was effective. I had trouble staying asleep and I didn’t fall asleep as quickly as I would have liked, but I was also still answering text messages.

But why am I writing about this on a blog dedicated to creative writing? Because a troubled mind is not as productive. It’s a romantic notion, the stereotype of the starving, mentally unstable artist but in reality, it’s horrible. I went to therapy for a solid year about a year ago and at one point, my therapist asked to see me twice a week, worried I might do something to hurt myself. In honor of World Mental Health Day, I thought it’d be beneficial to share my mental health story and to freely admit I’m a work-in-progress. I’m employing healthier coping mechanisms, but everyday is a choice. I work every day at being in control of my emotions. It’s not easy and I slip. I eat my feelings, avoid my friends and loved ones, let my house become a filthy mess, stop taking care of myself, and stop writing. That’s inexcusable. For me, being healthy and being creative are synonymous.

On believing dreams will “come true//impossible not to do.”

I started my vision board:

I remember the instructions said to fill the board with what matters most, and for me, that’s love. I want to be loved. This may be a side effect of listening to Sam Smith’s “To Die For” on repeat, of scrolling through countless sickeningly sweet photos of couples picking various kinds of fall vegetation, and of the weather turning cooler. Truth be told, to be loved in a unique and singular way is the one wish I’ve wished for the hardest and the longest. The older I get, the harder it is to handle being lonely, so I started my vision board with a Google image search for “intimacy,” “romance,” “happy family,” and “full heart.” That’s definitely what matters most.

The second group of images will revolve around Ireland and the University of Limerick … because they agreed to defer my place until next year! I don’t have to reapply next month! I could realize my dream of earning my MA in Creative Writing in Limerick, Ireland! I have to be determined, tenacious, and willing to put in the work:

  • I want to rent my house out starting in February/March, so I’ll have nearly six months before I leave to experience that process and work out any kinks that pop up.
  • I need to figure out my finances. I already filled out a FAFSA and applied to two scholarships today. I’m looking at grants, and will continue to hunt down scholarships. I will also save money.

I figure that if love and marriage isn’t in the cards, then I should pursue other passions, like writing and furthering my education and career. That is going to be my third group of images: writing and being a writer. I’m halfway through the final revision of Moody Blue; I’m just waiting for my beta reader to catch up 😉 I feel confident and talented and optimistic.

I want to look as good as I feel, so my fourth group of images will be all about being a Bohemian Babe: being fit and healthy while bravely expressing a Transcendental, eclectic, bohemian style. I’ve already started buying fundamental pieces for my wardrobe and as luck would have it, it’s a minimalist approach to fashion, which will make packing for Ireland much easier.

Taking my dreams off the board, I have to start moving and exercising and really thinking about what I shovel into my mouth. I can pin a million different pretty pictures of beautiful, slender, graceful, and elegant women to my board, but it doesn’t matter if I refuse to do the work.

So really, 2021 will be full of optimism, definitely, but it was also be filled with holding myself accountable.

I know these last few posts have been repetitive, and I apologize. Next week, I’ll have new material – I promise.

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 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).

On writing a short story (part three).

I found living in self-isolation because of quarantine to be very, very difficult. As it’s seemingly coming to an end in the Garden State, I think I can finally articulate why: the lost time. Time continues to pass no matter the circumstances, so even though life was paused, time kept going and it’s lost forever. The more I think about it, the more upset I get and the more I focus on what I’ve been missing out on.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to use the last month to make up for lost time with my older sister, Missy. Our relationship was strained growing up, which is anything but unusual for sisters. The reasons why we treated each other with animosity while growing up are hard to discern. Three is always a bad number socially as someone is usually left out and growing up, that person was usually me. Despite being a twin, I have all the signs and symptoms of being a middle child. I felt left out and like I didn’t belong, especially when my twin and Missy seemed to be so close. Also, the 5-year age difference was just enough to keep us in different stages in life. She moved out of the family home when I was still in high school (and primarily self-involved) and in no time at all, she had a family of her own and moved out of the state.

But now, we’re closer than ever, and it makes me so happy.

And the proof is self-evident. The other night, we watched “Now and Then,” a favorite film of ours from our childhood. It’s kind of like “Sex and the City” for pre-teens. The four young female protagonists allow for audience members to relate to and identify with parts of each character. Sam, played by Gabby Hoffman as a kid and Demi Moore as an adult, is a brooding, emotionally damaged writer working to reconnect with others. She’s reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw.

Tenny, played by Thora Birch as a kid and Melanie Griffith as an adult, is a neglect, imaginative, over-sexed kid who grows into a fabulous, gorgeous movie star. She’s reminiscent of Samantha Jones. Roberta, played by Christina Ricci as a kid and Rosie O’Donnell as an adult, is a tomboy denying her feminine side until her first love comes along (thank YOU, Devon Sawa) and grows into a nurturing, no-nonsense professional woman, obviously reminiscent of Miranda Hobbs. Finally there’s Chrissy, played by Ashleigh Aston Moore as a kid and Rita Wilson as an adult, who tries to be perfect and proper while dealing with being the “chubby one,” and grows to have a full live with a loving family, which is all she’s ever really wanted, and calls the childhood friends back together when she’s about to have her first child. She’s reminiscent of Charlotte York Goldenblatt.

The movie “Now and Then” was beloved by many girls growing up in the 1990s. Hell, I was so enamored with it, I wrote a play for me and my cousins to perform at my grandparents’ house that was essentially just a rip-off. And much like women did with “Sex and the City,” we all argued over which characters we were more like. I was told I was Chrissy because I was heavier and followed the rules, but I always felt more like Sam – a disconnected, disillusioned writer. The other night though, while watching “Now and Then” with my older sister some 25 years later, she told me I was Sam, and it was a beautiful moment, to be so well understood and simultaneously validated by a sister who I assumed didn’t care enough to try. Not only does she know me, but it turns out, she always has. I guess maybe I couldn’t see past my own bullshit for so long, but now I can in this super special season of growth.

So even though I didn’t work on my short story for this post, I did something even more important: reconnect with a loved one. And, for the record, I did decide to have the group kill Madeleine in a weird, satanic ritual. So there’s THAT to look forward to.

Cast of “Sex and the City”
Cast of “Now and Then”