In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.
Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.
Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.
At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.
This April here on the blog, I’ve stuck to an alphabetized theme of action. Allow me to update you.
Updates are good—especially in job situations and within families and with friends. Updates keep your people in the loop and strengthen your connections. This week I phoned my sister, and my bestie called me. We updated each other. Those are my favorite updates.
However, I have a little problem with today’s blog update. If you’ve been reading recently, you know that most of my posts for the last twenty-three days or so have been updates of sorts. I’m starting to bore myself with the topic of me. If you’ve been reading, and you’re back again today, God Bless You! You could be doing anything right now, and I’m not loving this post. Hopefully, some of the others have been better. If you’ve missed any, I’ve linked them in the update below.
Starting on April 1st, I chose to abstain from alcohol. Today is my twenty-fourth day. This action freed me to accomplish more in a month than I have probably ever. Weirdly, I haven’t missed my nightly drinking much. I can’t say I’m quitting forever, but I am totally rethinking my relationship with my booze habit. Oh, the extra calories!
This month I’ve taken three ballet classes and turned a few cartwheels. I’ve continued reading my devotional book almost every day, or at least I catch up when I fall behind. Hopefully along the way, I’ve encouraged someone somehow. One of my reader-friends said my post on forgiveness was her favorite.
While thinking about actions from A-Z this month, I’ve noticed myself Googling throughout most of my days. One day I read about the benefits of headstands, so I’ve been practicing. I held one for about thirty seconds the other night. This challenge has taught me to innovate. One day I wrote about not jogging, but since that post, I pushed myself to try it again. Mostly I’ve been trying to Keep It Stupid Simple and listen to God and good advice and people who matter and the birds in the trees.
I’m not sure what makes me more proud this month, completing 1245 situps and pushups and 1320 squats or revising 215 pages of my memoir for my thesis due date on Monday (I still have 30 pages and a final inspection to go) or the 3 interviews I had this week (that’s a post for another time). One thing I know for certain is that none of it would’ve been possible without believing I could do it and giving it a 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…
A couple of weeks ago, I read The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, and I’m one chapter short of finishing her 1995 bestselling memoir The Liars’ Club now. As the Peck Professor of Literature and Memoir at Syracuse University, she offers expert tips and provides an appendix of must-read memoirs. The list is so worth the purchase for those interested in studying the genre.
In Chapter 19, “Old School Technologies for the Stalled Novice,” Karr encourages intellectual enterprises to keep you studying the craft of writing. Here are some of the tools she uses to learn from mentor texts. Some of these include writing longhand. She says it will slow you down as typing can’t.
Keep a notebook, where you copy beloved poems or hunks of prose. Nothing will teach you of great writers’ choices better. Plus, you can carry your inspiration around in compact form.
Write reviews or criticism for an online blog or a magazine. It will discipline you to find evidence for your opinions and make you a crisper thinker.
Augment a daily journal with a reading journal. Compose a one-page review with quotes. Make yourself back up opinions.
Write out longhand on 3×5” index cards quotes you come across, writer’s name on the left, source and page on the right. Karr has thousands of these from which she cobbles up lectures.
Memorize poems when you’re stuck.
Write longhand letters to your complicated characters or even to the dead. You’ll learn more about voice by writing letters, how you arrange yourself different ways for each audience, than in a year of classes.
Number Five spoke loudest to me. Funny how I can still remember chunks of verse from days gone by. I memorized the “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost in the eighth grade for my English class. Anytime I take another look at that poem, the words come flooding back. When I taught sophomores, I memorized Mark Antony’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” funeral oration from Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. And when I taught juniors, I memorized Macbeth’s “Out, out, brief candle” soliloquy. Because the students had been tasked to memorize, I wanted to prove I could do it. I loved to show them a three-year-old’s ability to memorize, too. Here’s a toddler’s version of “Litany” by Billy Collins.
Here’s one I’m working on, at Mary Karr’s suggestion and just because I love it:
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
by e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
The day before yesterday while out grocery shopping, I racked my brain for letter G options for today’s A-Z challenge post. I felt grateful for the food soon to be on my table, but I was stumped as far as posts go.
I had searched for the definition of Anosognosia for my memoir in progress, and Google took me to the Treatment Advocacy Center website, the tab still opened. Also called “lack of insight,” Anosognosia is a symptom of severe mental illness caused by physical damage to the brain that impairs a person’s ability to understand and perceive his or her illness. It is the single largest reason why 40-50% of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder refuse medications or do not seek treatment.
A little over three and a half years ago I Googled WordPress, signed up for an account, and started publishing myself for others to Google. I feel like this post could go on and on. Isn’t it amazing the resources at our fingertips?
Thanks for reading my A-Z Challenge ramble today. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action: mental, physical, and spiritual, things I might already do or haven’t attempted in years or maybe never. You know what else I’m doing this month? Click here to see: Abstain, Ballet, Cartwheel, Devote, Encourage, Forgive.
Around nine o’clock on a Sunday morning in March, I rocked in a swivel chair on the covered deck out back. I took a deep breath, looked around, and listened to the day. The doves cooed from the tops of nearby trees. A neighborhood rooster crowed about a block away. The sun shone gold in the grass, and the good earth called my name. I remembered once hearing that the soles of your feet can absorb the earth’s energy. There were more benefits I couldn’t quite remember.
I slipped off my house shoes and stepped barefoot into the grass. I wonder if a fifty-one-year-old woman could do a perfect cartwheel—I said to myself. I turned one just to see. It was imperfect. My groin pulled—I probably should have stretched—but it was a cartwheel. My legs made it into the air. I can only guess they were nearly perpendicular to the ground and that my toes were not pointed. No one videoed or saw. I landed on my feet. I can only imagine that was the ugly part. My legs didn’t quite make the circle. Instead, they fell forward at an angle, and I settled into some sort of squat. I decided perfect cartwheels needed practice and that one cartwheel a day would be enough practice for now lest I hurt myself.
On the following day, Monday, I decided to give the cartwheel another try. This was close to ten o’clock after my morning walk. Another attempt at perfection. This time I stretched out a bit in the living room on the area rug in front of the television and read a few pages of book I hadn’t been able finish, The Confessions of St. Augustine. I closed my book, rose to my feet, and to speed along the process, left my tennis shoes on. I walked out my back door and around to the side of my house where I was sure my neighbor who raked leaves in his back yard couldn’t see me. I raised my hands in the air and pointed my right toe. My form had already improved. I have no idea how bad this cartwheel looked. Thank God my husband missed the spectacle through the window. This time I came crashing down. Somehow, I ended in a somersault of sorts on the soft green grass. I was fine all the way down to my groin, and I sat there in the grass and giggled.
On the third day, I stretched once more and then didn’t have the energy to try one lousy cartwheel. What’s the point? I thought to myself. What does it matter if a fifty-one-year-old woman can do a perfect cartwheel? I did ten pushups from my knees. And twenty squats instead. Surely that’s greater than a cartwheel, I reasoned.
Feeling sure that the grass held a mysterious power, I took my shoes off once more on the fourth day. A cartwheel a day keeps the doctor away, I said to myself, or is it apples? Maybe I should add more apples into my regimen. For some reason, I had some fear, but I tried again. I want to say this one was better than the other two. Still, I decided if the grass holds power, it isn’t strong enough to perfect a cartwheel in three attempts for this fifty-one-year-old woman. At this point, I’m asking myself, how important is a cartwheel at this stage in my life? And here’s my own answer: If the cartwheel gives me joy, even the joy of telling this story, then I suppose, it’s worth a try.
I appreciate you for reading my A-Z Challenge post today. That means a lot to me. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action, mental and physical, things I might already do or haven’t attempted in years or maybe never. You might not want to try this at home. Then again, maybe you do. Let me suggest some stretching for whatever you choose.
I danced from age three at Ada B. Coons, School of Dance, and then with a series of teachers until my first year as a modern dance major at the University of Oklahoma. All of that seems eons ago. These days I sometimes dance in my living room. Before the lockdown last March, I thought about finding a class for adults. Just recently, the idea of virtual classes occurred to me. My point (no pun intended)—ballet might not be your thing, but the world wide web has so many things. Carpe diem.
When I decided to take some extra action this April, I Googled—ballet lessons youtube. I looked no further than the video from the Royal Academy for Dance at Home. Just over seventeen minutes, this lesson sounded perfect for a fifty-one-year-old woman, who hadn’t done a single plié in years. Instructor Sarah Platt coached me through a warm-up and shared tips on posture and pliés before a cooldown complete with eyelash batting practice. Now I have eight more classes to try. By the way, these classes are targeted at the 55+ crowd. Lesson number two includes tendus and battements glisse. Lesson three—ronde de jambs and port de bras. Lessons four through nine—new sequences.
Thanks so much for reading today. For this April’s A-Z Challenge, I hope to stick to a theme of action—I’m thinking both mental and physical, continued current activities, those of days gone by, and possibly a few never attempted. You might not want to try this at home. Then again, maybe you do.
People like to make New Year’s resolutions. I like to make New Month’s resolutions. Anything is doable a month at a time, and the first of the month seems like a good time for a new beginning. For April, I’m abstaining from alcohol. By the way, I realize the irony of the announcement on April Fools, but I do not jest.
As far as the A-to-Z challenge goes, I’m choosing a theme of action. My actions of the past year have largely involved sitting on my butt and typing words and reading books. Speaking of large and butts—something must change. And so this month instead of imbibing daily, I will attempt to take more action. I have a celebration planned in May that includes sun and a swimsuit and a beach. So let’s see what sort of headway I can make concerning my beach body, and let’s see if I can take twenty-five more actions to distract me from my alcohol habit. My action plan is somewhat sketchy, but I suppose I will figure it out, like I always do. One day at a time.
My friend asked the question, “If you could tell your younger self anything, what would you say?” And so here goes:
Dear Little Crystal,
Be true to yourself and live your God-given purpose. Be honest and courageous, proud, confident, and unapologetic. Keep your body, mind, and spirit strong. Love wholly and forgive fully. Don’t let anyone shut you up or down. Maintain boundaries for bullshit and remember you can do hard things.
Your Bigger, Wiser Self
And as a follow-up, “If you could encourage yourself in any way today, what would you say?”
Be kind to yourself, progress is progress, and don’t ever forget your own best advice. I love you!
P. S. Today I’m celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality. For more information go to InternationalWomensDay.org.