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Christmas Lights and the Gap

December 1, 2016

I’m not sure why my dad always chose the coldest day in December to put up the outside Christmas tree lights, but invariably, he did. First, he’d ramble up to the attic and hand me boxes of green and blue lights, and then we’d spread them in the living room to check if they worked. Instead of going to Wal-Mart and buying a new string, we’d carefully replace each defective bulb until all 8000 lit the room.

The tree outside was enormous. Dad would climb on his tallest ladder and use a rake to get them as high as he could. He swore a few times, and our feet froze, but when he’d flip the switch, and the tree blazed with blue and green lights, magic happened. For me, nothing was more beautiful. I never noticed the gaps, void of light that my dad pointed out, grumbling about his work, wanting perfection.

We don’t do outside tree lights at our house now, but I am in charge of stringing tiny, white bulbs on our inside tree. Really, it’s a thankless job. They tangle; they get stuck on branches; they burst; and they crack. But at the end of the day, the room is lit with magnificent light: until. Until I see what my dad saw—the gaping hole, a spot in the middle of the tree too tall to reach. By the time I’ve noticed, the kids have covered the branches with ornaments and tinsel, and it’s too late to fix. The gap remains.

I’m trying hard to reverse my thoughts about the holes in life.

Too often, an artist desires perfection, unable to see the beauty in the entire piece and instead, focuses on the gap. Writers and painters adjust, repair, and fine-tune their work until it’s done, but often, they continue to see a tiny hole; something that’s not quite right in their eyes. Most writers I know look at their published work and still see holes to fix. Not big ones, not ones that anyone else sees, but the tiny slices that need repairing only to the artist.

As a writer, I’m always editing (just ask my kids). But I’m working on letting go of the perfection. There may always be a gap. That’s the way life works. And if the rest of the world sees beautiful light, so should we.

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Quotes

November 21, 2016

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. -Marcel Proust

 

Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are. – Bernice Johnson Reagon

 

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment. -Hart Crane

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Ellie’s Flowers

October 25, 2016

This was printed in the Summit Daily News. It’s a reminder of the simple, good pieces of life, and because writers get lots of rejection, writing this helped me remember the positive.

Last month, my daughter came home from college for a brief 12 hours; long enough to do four loads of laundry, buy a few groceries, and eat a home-cooked meal. I’d like to say the reason she came was to see all of us, but it wasn’t. Not really. Her main purpose in returning was to show her roommate the Rocky Mountains in all their spectacular golden glory and to summit a peak.

The girls arrived late Saturday afternoon, enough time to do a little shopping and take photos before dinner. On the way to the grocery, we drove by Lake Dillon and showed off yet another Summit County gem. Ellie’s roommate, Becca, hails from the hills of Virginia—beautiful mountains in their own right, but no match for our massive peaks back dropped by a brilliant blue sky.

Becca snapped pictures. Once out of the car, she spun in circles, baffled by which direction to look. “It’s all so incredible,” she said, snapping more photos.

She’s right—we do live in an incredible place. Of course, we have our days: days of drizzle and sleet and snow that make it difficult to drive and too cold to move, but overall, living in Summit County is a privilege. Nature radiates in all directions.

After buying a few supplies for their dorm room, the girls planned to hike and take more photos before dinner. But first, Ellie said, she wanted to see one more thing, show off one more piece of Summit that she had missed while living in Boulder. I wasn’t sure what could be more beautiful than the mountains, the aspens or the sparking lake. But she knew: Frisco Main Street flowers.

During the summer, Ellie was a flower girl, employed by the Town of Frisco to water and weed. She spent eight hours a day working outside, sometimes alone, sometimes with a crew, but always taking care of the flowers.

“They’re still looking good,” she said, filled with obvious pleasure. To her, the boxes of geraniums and baskets of petunias that lined Main Street were pretty, worthy of pointing out. But they also represented something more. The flowers had grown and blossomed under her care. Ellie had nurtured them, and she found pride in their loveliness.

Although I love our mountains and breathtaking views, watching my daughter point out her beloved flowers made me rethink the definition of beauty. There’s no doubt that Summit County has a spectacular landscape, but beauty can be found in small, everyday matters. Taking ownership of one’s job or watching plants grow can provide insight and strength. Splendor found in the simple slices of life reminds us that even on the darkest of days, there is light.

The following morning, Ellie and Becca woke at 3:30 to climb Mt. Bierstadt. They made it to the summit by sunrise. Their pictures were spectacular, but so was their simple, celebratory milkshake at a diner down the road.

It’s hard to beat the brilliance one sees when climbing a mountain at dawn, but there are pieces to life, smaller and less obvious, that are equally lovely. Life’s everyday moments like smelling the flowers or enjoying a milkshake offer the opportunity to find beauty and significance everywhere.

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Character Lessons From an Innkeeper

October 4, 2016

Someone I knew, although not all that well, died recently. In total, I had no more than a dozen conversations with Richard, but his words, his presence, and his energy influenced me. A loss is hard enough when you know someone well, but when you lose someone who plays a small but impactful role in your life, it can be confusing and certainly jarring.

When I heard Richard had died, I was sad; sad for him, his family, and his friends. I was sad for the small hole in my life but also sad for other strangers, who’d known him only marginally, but would miss his presence.

Richard worked at an old mountain inn, which was almost always empty and not at all fancy. I went there to write because the town was quiet, I knew no one, and could get a lot of work done in a short period of time. I had no distractions, except one: Richard.

Sometimes I’d arrive at the hotel last minute, because it wasn’t the kind of place one needed a reservation. Richard would wave his hands in the air, greeting me like a long-lost celebrity. He liked to talk, but I had deadlines and work to get done. Eventually, I learned to plan intentional evening writing breaks to listen to Richard’s stories. I never regretted it.

At first, Richard’s tall tales made me scratch my head. Were they really true? But as I got to know him, I realized they were. Richard lived in the middle of nowhere, but he’d been places. As he poked the logs crackling in the fireplace, he’d tell me about his mother, growing up on a farm, and picking apples. He shared incredible adventures about his time in the military. He told me about quinoa growth in South America and the complicated legalities of water rights. He was a lobbyist with a strong political bent. Richard was not a gossip but knew everyone in town and beyond.

Once, I sat silently as Richard spent an hour arguing with an older man who had opposing political views. They remained civil, agreeing to disagree. Later, I mentioned how it was nice, rare these days, but nice they respected each other’s views. Richard answered in his usual, enthusiastic voice, “Why get angry when someone disagrees with you? If we all thought the same way, life would be big time boring.” He was right, of course. If we all had the same politics, the same religion, and the same interests, life would be ‘big time boring.’

From what I gathered, Richard’s time was anything but boring, but I didn’t realize how significantly his stories made me think about life. Every time I left town, a piece of him found its way into my writing and into my world. Not only did Richard help me realize the importance of taking time to talk and cultivate unforeseen relationships, but he also taught me something about character development; a necessary piece of writing.

As a fiction writer, I use a variety of tools to create believable characters. The enneagram, character sketches, psychology tests, and archetypal profiles all help me build the people in my manuscripts. There are times I want to cheat and make it easier for myself by not doing the needed work to deepen a character. But when I do, the characters fall flat. By living his life fully and deeply, Richard reminded me to make characters complex, rich with detail, and unexpected. A complex character can make or break a story. I think Richard felt that way about life—you make it or break it by the kind of world you build.

I’ll miss Richard, but I don’t regret the time I took to ask a few questions and listen to his stories. He lived a large life. So should we all.

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writing contests

August 11, 2016

For all my followers who write, this post is for you.

I’m skeptical of writing contests, at least the ones that require you to pay to enter. Here’s a good one to check out if you write for young adults:

22nd Free “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest: Contemporary and Literary Young Adult

Here’s a brief write up from their website:

“Welcome to the 22nd (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This is a FREE recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category or two. So if you’re writing contemporary or literary young adult (read below for exactly what this means), then this 22nd contest is for you! The contest is live through end of day, Wednesday, August 24, 2016. The contest is judged by agent Andrea Morrison of Writers House.”

It’s worth and if nothing else, it will get you thinking about your writing!

Good luck!

 

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An Ode to my Kids, and Perhaps to Yours

August 10, 2016

 

Saying goodbye is hard to do. No matter how much you prepare yourself—no one can truly anticipate being so damn sad. Grief flows its own river.

Like many, I’ve had significant loss—in addition to my grandparents; death took my two aunts, my dad, two brothers, and a number of pets. I know how grief works. It grabs you, swallows you, spits you out and repeats until you crash and begin to finally begin again.

This time, my loss is not so permanent; thus not so powerful. That said, good-byes are painful, and change is scary. My oldest child leaves for the University of Colorado this month, altering our family life forever. Ellie will be back, probably with a load of dirty laundry and a need for home cookin’, but she’s gone. Her place at the table will be vacant, her bed empty, and her siblings lonely (okay, maybe not all the time). The happy news? She’s embarking on a grand adventure, starring herself. It won’t be long before my other two leave, too. I’m beyond proud of the people they’ve become, and yet, still sad.

To help me process and understand the tremendous change, I’ve written an ode to my kids; things I hope I’ve taught them. I’m sure I’ve messed up, forgotten things, and have probably failed in some capacity. But that’s parenting. At least I made a list, outlining 25 things I want them to know. Who knows if they’ll heed the advice or grasp the full meaning, I can hope.

  1. I wish you a life of love and know that you are always loved by me
  2. Find good company
  3. Laugh often
  4. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and don’t drink too much alcohol
  5. Call me when you are hurting or happy- I’ll be there
  6. Remember to breathe deeply and that it is enough
  7. Brush your teeth
  8. Be honest- with yourself and with others
  9. Know that life isn’t fair, but it is what you make it
  10. Eat breakfast (more than a Starbucks’ latte, please)
  11. Work hard
  12. Pay your debts (better yet, don’t have any)
  13. Don’t post inappropriate pictures online
  14. Take good risks (don’t jump out a window, but do try a new activity/class)
  15. Read for fun
  16. Know that it is okay to let go
  17. Don’t hold onto anger, guilt, or resentment
  18. See a doctor, an acupuncturist, or a good healer when you are sick
  19. Take your vitamins
  20. Don’t leave a friend alone at a party
  21. Don’t stay alone at a party
  22. Trust your intuition
  23. Be kind
  24. Meet many diverse people
  25. Know this: I am forever grateful for the time we’ve lived together, arguments and all

 

 

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Quotes!

June 29, 2016

 

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Barn with Art Installation at Djerassi

If you have that unconquerable urge to write, nothing will stop you from writing. –Theodore Dreiser

You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. – Ursula K. Le Guin

Writing is physical work. It’s sweaty work. You just can’t will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it. –Will Haygood

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. –Confucius