Zumba?

I clicked into the online class because the title said, “20 Minute ZUMBA Fitness.”

I said to myself, “I can do anything for twenty minutes.”

From the first downbeat, the instructor Ayhan Sulu is high energy. His sleevless shirt says, “EGO IS NOT YOUR AMIGO.” And his smile—well—you might just need to click play to see for yourself. Better yet, stand up wherever you are, set your ego aside, and give it a try.

Let me warn you, at about the seven-minute mark, I nearly cried mercy, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Just when I found myself almost dying, the music switched, and we slowed down. Not for long. The intensity built once more. But if this guy’s energy doesn’t make you smile, then picture me—a 51-one-year-old woman who has never ever Zumba-ed, trying to keep up with his moves. Maybe you had to be there, but I’m still tickled.

Around fourteen minutes, I hit pause and went to pee for the sheer excuse of taking a time out. The workout would be over at 22:17. “I can do anything for eight minutes,” I reminded myself. Just as I hit play, there was another slowdown. And then another speed up. And then somewhere in the nineteen-minute range, we started cooling down. I had made it! Through the class. Through my A-Z blogging challenge. Through my month of action. Miracles do happen. Bring on May.  

Try!

When I started this A-Z Challenge, I didn’t have a plan for over half of the alphabet. I just thought I would stick to a theme of action and try. I even thought I might skip a day if necessary. Somehow, I kept showing up and doing it. That’s what try means to me. You show up. You do it. If you fail, you try again. You keep showing up. You do things differently.

When I returned to school for my masters, I didn’t have the money for tuition. I just thought I would figure it out, and I did. I had probably thought about going back to school for ten years before I committed, and now I’m probably most proud of myself for just doing it.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve absorbed in my life. I grew up with this one—

It’s never too late to absorb the good stuff…and it’s never too late to try…

Quest!

In 2013, I received an opportunity to teach a Creative Writing class at the high school where I also taught English. As a new elective without an established curriculum, I had the freedom to teach it however I wanted. I adopted a two-part philosophy. First, writers must be readers, and I structured classes with time to read for pleasure with an eye toward author’s craft. Next, writers must write—every day. I gave the students daily prompts that they could use or not for their writing. The point was sustained practice.

In the beginning, I felt like a hypocrite, and so the second part of my own philosophy forced me to write—almost every day. I kept a journal and notes in my phone, bits of dialogue and scenes. As I wrote alongside my students, I often stuck to a theme of my son Drew, our new normal with schizophrenia, and our quest for help. Little by little over the next few years, I realized my story might help someone else. Finding help had been hard, especially when my son didn’t see a need for help. Maybe I would write a memoir. I quested ahead with my writing practice. My structure was episodic. My ideas were fragmented. Some of it was pretty good. Some of it was horrific. I didn’t know how to make it all publishable.

For my fiftieth birthday, I gifted myself time for grad school and started a new quest for my MFA. Who knew I could study Creative Writing? As my program winds down, I’m questing toward my degree and the latest draft of my memoir Help in the Time of Schizophrenia. When I submit this work on April 26th, two of my professors and a third contracted reader will read it and provide a final round of feedback. I’m super thankful for the extra perspective.

And soon, I’ll be on a new quest. To be determined.

Quest

Carrie Williams Clifford

My goal out-distances the utmost star, 
Yet is encompassed in my inmost Soul; 
I am my goal—my quest, to know myself. 
To chart and compass this unfathomed sea, 
Myself must plumb the boundless universe. 
My Soul contains all thought, all mystery, 
All wisdom of the Great Infinite Mind: 
This is to discover, I must voyage far, 
At last to find it in my pulsing heart. 

Mom, Will You…

Lauren called late, 10:38, last Sunday night. She said, “Mom, will you come to Dallas?” I felt a tug in my heart. Something in her voice said, I need you, whether she said it or not.

“Of course, I’ll be there tomorrow,” I said. Lauren knew I had planned on making a trip sometime before the end of February. I just needed to wrap my brain around when. Just a month ago, I helped her load her Houston apartment into a U-Haul. She had lived fifteen minutes away. Now four hours. Part of my thirty-day purge required unloading some items from my house at Lauren’s new place. Still, when your child tells you you’re needed, you go. At least I do. If I’m able. And thank God I was. So I drove the road to Dallas beneath overcast gray skies.

Lauren is okay. New place. New job. Some of the same old stresses. How many times did I call my mother, especially in my twenties, with news of how the sky had fallen off my world? Sometimes a girl just needs her mom.

Together we hung a few things on the wall, some of my discards. “Anything you don’t want, we’ll give to Goodwill,” I said. Two small bags of things went back to my car. She let me rearrange some shelves and décor. We ate a few meals out, a few meals in, and each night we curled up on the couch and tried to make it to the end of a movie. We finally finished The Devil Wears Prada and concluded that no one needs to sell their soul for work or things.

And today I’m headed home. I don’t like the thought of leaving my baby girl alone. And so I leave her in God’s hands and trust. What else is a mama to do?

And for a quick post script, this week’s purge included 6 Christmas items, 13 decorative, 23 to Lauren, 5 more for dogs, 8 from one cabinet, and 31 from the garage straight to the trash. That’s 86 things no longer needed, used or loved, now gone from my house. AND, I’m 61 items ahead of schedule going into Week Three, which is awesome since I’ve been out of town. And at Lauren’s I helped her do the same 58 items out of her closet and dresser drawers. I had a trip planned to Goodwill anyway.

N is for the Numbers

On April 1, I stumbled across a blog post that centered on the A-Z blogging challenge. I had just spent the previous two weeks at home vegging on the couch and mindlessly scrolling past all of the corona virus jokes and advice and fearmongering on facebook, and I realized that I needed something productive to occupy my time lest I go cuckoo.

I published my first ever blog post on September 12, 2017 and tapped out 13 posts total in 2017, 30 in 2018, and 35 in 2019. 78 total posts heading into 2020, and this post makes 25 so far for the year. In the beginning I posted at least twice a month and last year more like three times a month. How many times have I tapped that cranberry-colored Publish button (does it change colors? I swear I thought it was blue), and said to myself, I’ll never be able to write anything again. That’s where the challenge came in. I wondered. Could I really write something remotely interesting every day? How much would the blog grow?

Shortly after I committed to the writing challenge, I walked back to my bedroom and stepped on the scale. Yikes! That number scared me worse than Covid-19. I wondered. If I walked at least thirty minutes a day for the next month, how many pounds could I lose? How much would my ass shrink?

So the writing and walking became part of my recent routine. After thirteen posts this month, it should come as no surprise that my viewer numbers on Word Press are at an all-time personal high. If only I could say my weight was at an all-time healthy-adult low. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was my body. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the numbers, but more than anything, the progress is good.

Wildly Improbable Goals

Out of the clear blue, this message popped up on Instagram from Monique, my sophomore student eleven years ago. Eleven years ago I didn’t know that she had failed almost all of her freshman year classes in California, and I didn’t know she would only spend one year in Texas. All I knew was that she had an amazing gift in the written word and that we shared a love of English. Now she works as the Head of Community Relations for Get Lit Words Ignite in Los Angeles and empowers young people to use their authentic voices. Monique is a freelance writer and an agent for social change. She teaches writing workshops globally, speaks at conferences, and leads seminars. Her hustle landed her in Houston to close out the March for Our Lives summit.

Maybe you have heard of March for Our Lives?

In Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the site of one of the worst mass shootings in American history. Seventeen students and teachers were killed and seventeen more were injured. In the aftermath, a group of students channeled their sadness, pain, and rage into action, and created one of the largest youth-led movements in history. Monique would be a guest speaker closing the summit. Her topic— “Dealing with Trauma in Healthy Ways.”

In 2018 Monique spoke to the California senate influencing their decision to pass Senate Bill 933, a $50M arts education bill. As her proud former teacher, I just happen to have a YouTube clip. Meet poetry-in-motion Monique Mitchell, or as I like to call her, the next Maya Angelou.

When I met up with Monique in the lobby of the Houston Airport Marriott at George Bush International, she embraced me with an energy of love and light.

The reason I teach.

We sat down in the hotel restaurant, perused the menu, and ordered a drink. “It’s been so long. Tell me. What’s going on with you?” she asked.

If you happen to have me in an intimate one-on-one setting and ask me how things are, I will tell you without the gloss. It just so happened when Monique said, “Tell me. What’s going on with you?” I laid out my truth—the current shit show of my life, Acts I-V with the grand finale of me quitting my job the week before. (That blog post remains unpublished and password protected).

And you know what? I believe in God’s perfect timing to bring people into your life when you need them. Monique counseled me with her radiant joy and the insight of a licensed professional, and she made me feel like the thousands of students I’ve taught over twenty years stood behind me cheering me on. “What are your Wildly Improbable Goals?” she asked.

Most people my age stop talking about goals, not that I don’t have any. I just keep them to myself, you know, in case I fall on my face. “Well,” I hesitated, “I have been accepted into graduate school. It’s an MFA program in Creative Writing. I have to figure out the money part. I don’t like the idea of student debt at my age, and the university is private.”

“That’s awesome! Don’t let the money stop you. You’ll find a way. So what will you do when you graduate?”

“Well, I hope to publish at least one book.”

“No,” she cut me off, shaking her head back and forth. “Don’t use those limiting words. Instead of ‘at least one,’ you should say ‘the first of many.’” The student had become the teacher. “And where do you see yourself ten years from now?”

 “Well, with my masters, I could teach Creative Writing at the college level. Before we moved to Houston, I taught Creative Writing at my last high school, and those were my favorite classes ever.”

Monique sat for a moment processing all the words that had passed between us. “Tomorrow is the new moon,” she said. “A new moon represents the ending of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. For a while I’ve been writing out my intentions on each new moon. You can google the dates. I had been wanting to move to Africa and spend time writing a book, and I wrote down my goal on a new moon, and a path opened up for employment in Ghana.”

I stared at her halfway disbelieving, simultaneously knowing of her upcoming move and contemplating all of her success stories. “Are you serious? That’s amazing!”

She searched my eyes and found the connection. “When you set your new moon intentions tomorrow, open your journal entry with ‘I now declare all of this or something greater for my highest good and the highest good of all involved.’  Speak in the affirmative like ‘I now receive’ or ‘I am thriving in my master’s program.’”

And through my transformational reunion with Monique, I became acquainted with Martha Beck’s article “Dream Big: Why You Need Wildly Improbable Goals” from the September 2002 issue of O. The Oprah Magazine.

Before we parted ways that July day, Monique hugged me one more time and said, “We are blessed to be here. The world needs your voice. I love you!”

And oh my gosh, I love that girl, too. On 12/12 she heads off on her next most excellent adventure to Ghana, which reminds me of a wildly inspirational memoir I just finished—The Heart of a Woman, by the wildly talented Maya Angelou, who had one wildly improbable goal after another. Her story begins in 1957 Los Angeles, hosting Billie Holiday in her home, and ends in 1962 Accra, Ghana. Coincidence? I’m telling you, Monique Mitchell is the next Maya Angelou.

And as for me, I received a little scholarship, applied for financial aid, and found my way. I’m now officially registered at Houston Baptist University for classes that begin with a retreat to Galveston on January 5, in the new year, the new decade, seven days after my 50th birthday. How wildly improbable!

Speaking of wildly improbable, you’ve reached the end of my 75th post. Thanks so much for reading, supporting me, and sharing in my formula: Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

(If you have another few minutes, I happen to have one more short film produced by Lexus for the holidays starring the wildly talented Monique Mitchell. Grab a box of tissues.)