I’ll Be Okay

Not long ago, my routine mammogram came back suspicious. I examined myself repeatedly and found nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a certain sensitivity I somehow hadn’t noticed. Was it in my head? I distracted myself with a mantra: I am fearless and therefore powerful.  

Two weeks later, I endured a repeat procedure, a more thorough and painful flattening of my left boob, followed by an ultrasound, performed by a technician, and again by a doctor. The doctor told me to come back for a biopsy the following day. He scrunched his mouth to the side and locked eyes with me. He said, “I’m sorry. We caught this early. It’s tiny.”  

He didn’t say cancer. I reasoned with myself. I’ll be okayI’ll be okay…I’ll be okay…

At home, I told my husband about the biopsy and failed to mention the rest.

Kody drove me to my appointment the next day and waited. In a back room, they took the tissue they needed with a needle and inserted a tiny titanium post to mark the spot of the tiny tumor.

On the way home, I said, “It’s cancer.” There was silence in the pause. “I mean, I don’t want this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I know.” All of this happened on a Thursday.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. I waited for the official word.

On Tuesday, the second day of school, I received a call that went to voicemail. A call from a voice who requested a return call.  

I knew.

It’s cancer, confirmed, tiny, and we caught it early.

At my first appointment for repeat testing and a second opinion, I met a woman, three years cancer-free. Similar diagnosis and situation caught early. She had flown to Houston from South Carolina for a follow-up. I have a quick drive across town.

And I have treatment options. Not all include surgery. One of my doctors, I can’t remember which one, said, “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one.”

So, I feel lucky.

I’m waiting for my next appointment and thinking good thoughts.

I’m thankful every day is a new day, and I’ll be okay.

The Blog Is Five!

I held my chihuahua in my left arm, my phone in my right hand, and snapped photos from the back of a flat-bed city dump truck. Moments later we rolled away from home with sixteen people and seven dogs. This happened five years ago on August 27th. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I wrote about the hurricane and the flood, the rescue and shelter. I planned to have students write about their experiences and share mine.

I had considered blogging before. I think WordPress popped up in my Facebook feed. I investigated. Suddenly I had an account, and I posted That Time When I Met Harvey.

I’m not sure I foresaw five years of blogging, but here I am. And here you are. My posts wouldn’t mean as much without readers, and I’m thankful for you.

Thinking Good Thoughts

Last week started with a recurring thought from Maya Angelou’s mother. She was always…

I want to be like that. Unfazed by whatever happens.

Another thought came from the Book of Proverbs…

I want to be like that. Strong and Dignified. Fearless and Joyful.

Meanwhile, I’ll name it and claim it.

When Saturday rolled around, I mindlessly scrolled Facebook when a book caught my eye:  

The post said, “Found this book in our move. Everyone could use a little more positive in their life! Ready to apply this with my family, friends, and students! If you’ve read this, what was your biggest take away?”

I read the book about five years ago and remembered the part about energy vampires. I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to that chapter. These words jumped off the page: “If you want to be successful you have to be very careful about who is on your bus. After all there are people who increase your energy and there are people who drain your energy…Your job is to do your best to eliminate any negativity on your bus and this includes negative people.” Noted.

Charles Dickens once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What a paradox! Our times can be both the best and the worst. Let’s choose our focus.

Alexandre Dumas once wrote: “Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.” The storms of life happen—bad weather, catastrophes, flat tires, politics, rude people, illness, death—and when storms happen, I protect my energy.

I seek out good. I redirect my thoughts. I choose faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

There’s energetic power in the thoughts we carry. And energy, good or bad, travels. It transfers into our cells and to our loved ones. I don’t know about you, but my molecular make-up, my loved ones, too, could use some good energy. So, today I’m thinking good thoughts—for you and me—strong, dignified, fearless, joyful thoughts. Pass it on.

Every Day Is a New Day

I don’t know how many people have jobs with built-in opportunities for do-overs. I teach school, therefore, this past Monday was a new beginning for me—in so many ways.

On my first day of school, I opted for the stairs vs. the elevator, from the lower level of the parking garage to my fourth-floor classroom. 71 steps from the garage to the second floor, 98 to the third floor, 125 to the fourth floor. But who’s counting?

One thing I’ve noticed about my co-workers who take the stairs—they’re fit. What if the stairs are their not-so-secret secret? Game on, Stairs. Game on.

Students at the performing and visual arts high school started the day in their art areas—theater, dance, instrumental, vocal, creative writing, or visual arts. Academic teachers, like me, joined one of the art areas for crowd control, so I went to the theater department. Theater, however, had everything under control, so I simply stood by in awe.

The senior thespians, thirty or so, stood center stage, one by one, in the Black Box Theater. Each offered their advice to the underclassmen, and their words were sheer power. “Be kind and easy to work with. It will open doors for you.” And so many more I can’t recount, but what I heard set the tone for my day.

And my students—each class period—were quite possibly the loveliest ever in my twenty-two new beginnings. No one complained about sitting in alphabetical order, which is my strategy for memorizing 192 new names. They folded printer paper into thirds like a brochure and wrote their name on one side where I could see and call on them. On the inside, they wrote a goal for themselves before they graduate and one piece of advice for me. Then, they worked together on a poem puzzle, fill-in-the-blank with cut-out pieces of words and phrases. (By the way, not my original idea. I borrowed the lesson from a generous giver found here.)  I had kids who pulled it off. Here’s the key to the puzzle:

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Students annotated the text, and then we discussed the importance of certain words and phrases and clauses. They liked Maggie Smith’s poem and the freedom to say “shithole.”

“Good,” I said. “But what’s this poem about?”  

“It’s about a mother protecting her child from the dark side of life,” they said.

“Yes,” I said, “but what’s it really about?”

“It ends on a note of hope,” they said. “It’s about the duality of life…She believes her child can make the world beautiful—We can all make life more beautiful.”

And like that, my students analyzed poetry on Day One.

“And we all bring our own experiences to our reading,” I said. “Could the speaker be a teacher? Could her children be students? Life is short and half terrible, but we have the power, especially as artists, to make it beautiful.”

At the end of my school day, I read their advice to me. One said, “Just love us. We love you already.” My heart burst a bit, broke a bit, and I breathed a prayer of gratitude. From my classroom, I walked down the hallway to the stairwell, took six flights down to the parking garage, and hopped in my car to drive home—to wait for another brand-new day.

I Am Fearless and Therefore Powerful

I love a good affirmation.

I was home on the couch on a Saturday. While watching Anne with an “E,” I tapped affirmation after affirmation into my phone. The whole series radiates girl power, especially Season 3, Episode 5, “I Am Fearless and Therefore Powerful.”

In this episode, the kids practice for the upcoming barn dance at school. It reminded me of the time in fifth grade when we learned to square dance for a hoe down in the gym with parents invited. I was mortified about touching the boys’ hands and refused to dance. Then, my music teacher sent me to the principal’s office for invoking my right to choose. But wait, I had no rights. Click here for that story. In the same way, while dancing with boys as part of school, the girls in Anne with an “E” are plagued with fears about becoming pregnant via touching the boys. During a secret, moonlit bonfire ceremony, Anne and her friends meet and invoke the Goddess of Beltane (representative of fertility), Sacred Mother, Queen of May, Wild Lady of the Woods, and Guardian of Love and Life. Wearing white nightgowns and floral wreaths atop their heads, the girls dance around the fire, proclaim their affirmations, and release their fears:

“We shall choose whom to love and with whom to share trust.”

“We shall walk upon this earth with grace and respect.”

“We’ll always take pride in our great intellect.”

“We’ll honor our emotions so our spirits may soar!”

“And should any man belittle us, we’ll show him the door!”

“Our spirits are unbreakable, our imaginations free!”

“Walk with us, Goddess, so blessed are we!”

The Netflix series is based on the Anne of Green Gables book series, set on Prince Edward Island in Canada, 1899. I haven’t read the books, but now I’m curious. Did L. M. Montgomery write with this feminist spin? Or is this a modern retelling? Either way, I love how Anne appreciates the little things and lives in the moment. Of course, she is human and feisty and has her bad days. Don’t we all?

More great quotes from the show:

“Grace is perennial like the green, green grass.”

“No one but you is allowed to dictate what you’re worth.”

I am fearless and therefore powerful.

On Sisters, Words, and Writing

Last Friday, my big sister flew to see me. From the airport, we drove thirty-eight miles to the beach, checked into a historic hotel, exchanged our street clothes for swimsuits, dashed out to the pool, and lingered, cool beverages in hand. Freedom persisted. Our feet hit the sand. The tides rolled in with the ocean breeze. Seashells appeared to be found. Fish tacos beckoned, and we answered the call. It was a weekend of sisterhood, a salve for my soul, a respite by the sea, one last hoorah before the inevitable back-to-school.

As I unloaded my deepest, darkest secrets, I heard my speech sprinkled with words like—actually, honestly, literally, ironically, hopefully…. When had I picked up this nasty adverb habit? An overuse of basically unnecessary words? (I meant to do that). When I say honestly, does that mean I’m not being honest the rest of the time? And if something is literally happening, isn’t it happening either way? And who knows if whatever seemed to me ironic was actually ironic? Even my computer (as I typed the last sentence) says: More concise language would be clearer for your reader.

Even at the beach, Steven King’s words echoed across time and place:

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Stephen King

By the way, King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, is a worthwhile read. Apparently, it didn’t break me of my verbal adverb compulsion. But you know what they say—the first step is admitting you have a problem. Obviously, I have teaching on my mind.

A summer ago in my last Creative Writing class, my professor said words that resonate still. I wrote them down:

“Stories are made from words. Your story is only as good as you have command of the language.”

Dr. James Boyleston

I love words, and I love the beach. Where better place to study? These words I found online:

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”

Mark Twain

“Poetry is all nouns and verbs.”

Marianne Moore

Now, I can’t read without seeing how the author uses adjectives. I hope my students will see the same. This year when we read poetry in class, we’ll test Marianne Moore’s theory about the nouns and verbs. Mark Twain, I see your adverb, and I think anything in moderation works fine.

These words I found in a book about writing called, Sin and Syntax:

“A dependence on is and its family screams ‘rough draft.'”

Constance Hale

The key word is dependence. My past students have counted be verbs “am, is, are, was, were, be, been being” in their writing and reduced the number through revisions. Constance Hale suggests an 8:1 ratio of action verbs to be verbs. I think I’ll have my students test this idea with the stories we read.

And these words I found in my all-time favorite book about writing, Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer:

With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. I realize it may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.

Francine Prose

The word-studying English teacher in me notices a few adverbs above, but also the parallelism of the adverb/adjective pairs: “seemingly obvious” and “oddly underappreciated.” I also see a number of those “be” verbs, “is” and its family, and that’s okay. Sometimes an “is” makes our clearest points. Other times our writing advances with action.

And these words I found in a comment on my blog:

We wouldn’t teach piano without having the student listen to Chopin or teach painting without looking at great art. Too often, English teachers give assignments without enough models of the form first.

Evelyn Krieger

I’m betting Evelyn Krieger has read Francine Prose, but as I head back to school, I appreciate her reminder.

My big sister headed home Sunday. Goodbyes are hard. I can’t help thinking my mother conspired from on high to make the trip possible and see her girls together, beachside.

As the days of summer dwindle, part of me is grateful for a new school year beginning, and part of me is sad for the vacation ending. Such is life. For everything there is a season. The waves come and go, the moments come and go, the feelings come and go. Everything is temporary.

A World in a Grain of Sand

Photo by Dmitriy Zub on Pexels.com

This week I took a class, a class for English teachers to teach better, and I learned stuff—a lotta stuff, like the little writing trick I’m sharing today. Part grammar, part analysis, part creativity, the task at hand involved both the left and right sides of my brain along with the beginning of William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence.”

To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Is to hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

I read these four lines for the first time and said to myself, “Huh?” Believe it or not, understanding takes time, even for English teachers. Lucky for me, my teacher gave me a thesis:

In his poem “Auguries of Innocence,” Blake uses analogies to convey his concept of the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the material world and the spiritual world.  

Yeah, I had to think about that, too.

Then she gave me a handout that said, Write an introduction that follows one of the grammatical patterns below:

  1. Begin with a sentence containing three absolute phrases, then follow it with five short sentences, each beginning with a participial phrase. End with the thesis.” (My teacher provided an example).
  2. Begin with a short, blunt statement followed by an elaborate series of balanced sentences or sentences with parallel elements.  End the paragraph with a metaphor that leads into your thesis. (Another example followed).

Then I had time to do my homework, and did I ever need time! I chose number one. I didn’t even look at number two. Directions tend to be abstract, examples concrete. I’m not sure my ideas connected to the micro and macrocosm, but I circled back to the idea of spirituality. I’m quite sure I could tweak the thesis for my own purposes, and I have no doubt I could use these sentence structures in other types of writing for a little variety. Here goes my try:

Gratitude shaped through observation of the little things, a higher power revealed through the earth’s creation, the meaning of life discovered, human fulfillment lies in the noticing and the appreciation. Toiling about our busy days, we fail to savor the wonder of our world. Worrying about the future, we fail to welcome the moment. Dwelling on the past, we fail to move on to the here and now. Yet, by taking time to truly see, we improve the quality of our lives. In his poem “Auguries of Innocence,” Blake uses analogies to convey his concept of the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the material world and the spiritual world.  

Had I ever taught an absolute phrase before? No. But I quite like the effect. The phrase, “gratitude shaped through observation of the little things,” could be a sentence if I added an “is” between “gratitude” and “shaped” (gratitude is shaped through observation…) However, action verbs strengthen our writing, and besides, that sentence includes the passive voice vs. active voice. (Who or what is doing the shaping? Gratitude doesn’t shape itself. Active voice example: Our observations shape our gratitude). Anytime I can eliminate linking verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being), I do. As written, the absolute phrase functions as an adjective describing “human fulfillment.” In my opinion, the first sentence is a bit long, but the structure is malleable. I could lose two of the three phases in the first sentence if I so choose. All of this makes sense in my head, but the teacher-provided example clarifies the concept. We all need examples. We need teachers to explain. In 21 years of teaching, I have never had a concrete way of teaching the skill of writing an introduction. With this example, I have a brand new tool. I suppose I should go ahead and teach a few more years. This week’s teacher has taught for 36. How inspiring!

Next, came the sentences beginning with participial phrases. The assignment asked for five. I stopped at three. The participle looks like a verb but functions like an adjective. Past participles end in -ed. Present participles end in -ing. Add a prepositional phrase, and voila, you have a participial phrase: “Toiling about our busy days…Worrying about the future…Dwelling on the past.” These phrases describe us, or the “we” above. The parallelism lends a rhythm. A facility for language develops style.

I hope you give this grain of sand a try.

Bleh vs. What If?

Bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh,
bleh,
bleh,
bleh.

Bleh and bleh,
worry and fear,
sad and mad,
shame and guilt
and regret.

And yet—

What if?
I have the power
to rewrite my story.

What if?
My words and thoughts
have creative power
to transform.

What if?
I think on noble things:
health, wealth, and love,
faith and gratitude,
peace and hope
and joy.

What if I believe?
Life is good and generous,
and miracles are in motion
beyond my wildest dreams.

What if I say?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Summer Reading

For my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge, I set my goal at thirty books. As of May, this teacher had fallen behind her own self-imposed schedule. So, as my grading wound down for the year and summer approached, I committed to flipping extra pages and finishing the unread books on my shelves. Funny how some of these books have faded already to a distant memory. Here are some snippets:

Considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance and regarded as influential in both African American literature and women’s literature, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God takes place in rural Florida in the early part of the 20th century. After two marriages, Janie finally finds love, her voice, and ultimately herself. A co-worker recommendation. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read this one before now. I gave it 5 of 5 stars on Goodreads and plan to use it in the classroom next year.

“She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.”

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

The winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is the story of a lesser-known novelist turning fifty. Unable to accept the invitation to his former long-term lover’s wedding, Less tours the world in the name of literature and grapples with aging and loneliness, creativity and grief, self-pity and more. It’s a love story, a satire of the American abroad, and a rumination on time, the human heart, and our shared human comedy. This was a re-read for me, the last book of the school year for my students, and 5 stars on Goodreads.

“I’ve got a theory. Now hear me out. It’s that our lives are half comedy and half tragedy. And for some people, it just works out that the first entire half of their lives is tragedy and then the second half is comedy.”

Andrew Sean Greer, Less

The winner for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys follows the life of Elwood Curtis, unjustly arrested through a cruel twist of fate and sentenced to a Florida reform school in the 1960’s. Based on the Dozier School for Boys with a 111-year history of cruelty, abuse, and murder, the novel sheds light on the current reality of the United States. I listened to this one on Audible during my commute and wished that I had read it with my eyes. Still, I gave in 5 stars.

“Even in death the boys were trouble.”

Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed in 1895, shortly before Wilde’s imprisonment for indecency. With mistaken and hidden identities, the flip-flopping of truth and lies, Wilde’s most-beloved play satirizes the superficiality of Victorian England and the snobbery of the aristocracy. Some of the absurd and witty banter might have gone over my head, so I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. However, Wilde made me think about earnestness and duality, so I’ll give this one another chance.

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

The favorite novel of one of my fellow English teachers, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven did not disappoint. Published in 2014, this post-apocalyptic tale takes place before and after the “Georgia Flu” pandemic, which kills most of the population, and follows a troupe of nomadic Shakespearean actors across the Great Lakes region. The weaving of time and plot lines pushed Station Eleven up into the 5 range for me.

“What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.”

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Published in Swedish during 2012 and in English the following year, Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove depicts the story of a grumpy, hopeless 59-year-old man, who grieves the love of his life. Ove annoyed me at times but reminded me that no feeling is final, and I couldn’t seem to put the book down. I gave it 4 stars.

“Love is a strange thing. It takes you by surprise.”

Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ov

I started Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose back in January. Not necessarily a fun read, but not finishing was not an option. I most appreciated Part 3 on the lyricism, melody, and rhythm of writing and rated this book 3 stars on Goodreads.

A dependence on is and its family screams “rough draft.”

Constance Hale
Revised and updated edition. Originally subtitled How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. Now How to Craft Wicked Good Prose. Nice move, Constance!

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave.

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail tells the story of losing her mother, divorcing her husband, and shooting up heroin for a while before setting off on an 1100-mile, solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, ultimately, a journey of self-forgiveness, strength, and redemption. 4 stars.

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to f* every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Another co-worker favorite and a best-known of Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway illustrates a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class woman in post first world war England, with a parallel story of a war veteran, Septimus Smith. I have no doubt I missed some nuance in meaning; however, Woolf’s exquisite stream-of-consciousness prose warrants a 5 and a re-read one day.

It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Inspired by the story of a Belgian woman who assisted downed Allied pilots to escape Nazi territory, Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale portrays the storylines of two French sisters during World War II. A good story of love and survival, less-authentic than other works of historical fiction, 4 stars.

But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.

Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale

Anne Lamott wished her father had written down everything he had learned while alive, so just before her sixty-first birthday, she made a list of her own for her grandson and niece. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is classic Anne Lamott, somewhat repetitive if you’ve read much of her, but quotable nevertheless. And I’m a fan of hope. 3 stars.

John Lennon said, ‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end,’ and as this has always been true before, we can hope it will be again.

Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

Dawn of the Silver Moon (Shawnee Friends Mission #1) by Margaret Mendenhall (my former Sunday school teacher and wedding pianist) depicts the life of a Quaker girl living in Kansas territory in the 1840s. Shawnee Indians abduct Lucy in an act of vengeance toward her father, and she builds a bridge between cultures through her faith. There were times when I told myself, “That’s impossible,” but by the end, I felt that nothing is impossible with God.  4 stars.

I think…I just heard God speak to me…He said, ‘Be not afraid. It is not as it seems. All things will work together for good to those who are called according to my purpose.’

Margaret Mendenhall, Dawn of the Silver Moon

For years I’ve followed the story of Maggie Doyne, a girl from New Jersey who took a gap year after high school. During her travels, the trajectory of her life dramatically alters when she has a surprise encounter with a Nepali girl breaking rocks in a quarry. At age nineteen, Maggie invests her life savings of five thousand dollars to buy a piece of land and open a children’s home and school in Nepal. Maggie Doyne’s memoir Between the Mountain and the Sky: A Mother’s Story of Love, Loss, Healing, and Hope is a coming-of-age story that shows how ordinary people have the power to change the world. An inspirational 5 stars.

No matter where I go, I always seem to end up in places like this one—alleyways, outskirts, trash heaps—the back pockets of a place where less desirable things and people get stuffed away. I’ve been traveling all over he South Pacific and living in India on my gap year, but still, a mix of sadness, fear, and shame hits me under my tongue every time I see these hidden, tucked-away places. Little kids go to work in some places. They’re porters, laborers on construction sites, domestics, agricultural workers. Watching them work is jarring—watching them work with a smile, even more so. The girl pulls herself up, shakes the pebble from her skirt, and sizes up a new hunk of shale.

Maggie Doyne, Between the Mountain and the Sky

I’m always thinking about my next book and still have some waiting on my shelf. Dare I ask what you’ve been reading?

No Feeling Is Final

June has been my least fruitful writing month in years. With bigger priorities, I didn’t care to write about bleh and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for fluff.

Then, a week ago, I attended an online workshop led by my former student Monique Mitchell.

Monique was my student in sophomore English back in 2007. I’m not sure I realized at the time that she had moved from California to Texas to live with her aunt, but I remember her as a gifted writer. We just connected and stayed connected. I never suspected she almost failed her freshman year.  

Three years ago, Monique was living in LA, working for a literary organization, freelancing, and teaching writing workshops. She invited me to lunch at the airport Marriott in Houston, where she was guest speaking at a conference. In the hotel lobby, she oozed good vibes and embraced me with love. In the hotel restaurant, she told me how a job opportunity had presented itself in Ghana. She planned on moving soon. We spoke about our wildest dreams, the power of words, and self-limiting beliefs.

As we parted ways that day, she said, “The world needs your voice,” and she told me she loved me. I said it back. Speaking of powerful words and wildest dreams, I suddenly found myself pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.  

While scrolling Instagram not long ago, I saw that Monique has returned to LA. She had created an online workshop called “Into Existence,” a beginner’s course to speaking your dream life into being. Needing inspiration for my dream life, I signed up.

Within the first six minutes of the course, Monique said so much that resonated. I wrote down these words:

“Life is a reflection of my beliefs. It’s a reflection of my language, and it’s a reflection of my choices.”

Monique Mitchell

This idea isn’t new to me. My dad always said, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” And sometime along the way I discovered Dr. Wayne Dyer’s teaching.

For years, I’ve said, “You can choose hope or choose despair, and who would choose despair?” Then that time after a hurricane flooded my home, I settled on a formula for life:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.

But for the last year or so, after watching several of my loved ones suffer, I’ve felt justified in my anger toward God. Yes, things have gone my way, but I had chosen to wallow in worry and fear and anger and sadness. At the end of the workshop, I realized the need to uproot my toxic thoughts and plant some healthy ones—like a renewed faith and gratitude and peace and hope.  

A week passed and so did my father-in-law. He was the best dad and grandpa, kind and generous, an amazing golfer and a gifted joke-teller. Tommy fought the good fight and finished the race. Cancer sucks, and of course, I’m sad, especially for my family. Still, I’m thankful he no longer suffers. That feeling in my heart, the one that catches in my throat, means I loved him. And love is life, life is love, if we’re lucky.

Anyway, God, I’m sorry about being so angry for so long. Please forgive me and help me with that. And thanks for welcoming Tommy home. ❤️ P. S. Thanks also for your words in Jeremiah 29:11. “‘I have plans to prosper you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I’m open to receiving miracles beyond my wildest imagination.