One of the World’s Finest

Few can captivate a crowd of eighth graders with a speech.  Or have the gift to talk and somehow make each word ring with meaning.  In middle school I met a woman who did this effortlessly. I was attending a lecture at the University of Virginia, and I hardly understood the awesomeness of this guest speaker. Honestly, in eighth grade anything that will get you out of class and homework will do and is happily welcomed. So, I couldn’t wait to plop my bottom down in one of those uncomfortable wooden lecture chairs and listen to crickets if that was the presentation.

As soon as this woman opened her mouth to speak, the audience went silent.  I can’t remember all the topics she touched on but I remember the way I felt as she shared them: inspired, moved, curious, (like she was telling bits of a secret).

Afterward I went up to her to introduce myself. She was calm not frazzled like you’d think someone would be with a crowd of kids coming at them. She had a gentle confidence that was easy and approachable.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

She made me feel important and proud. Which is a big deal for an insecure twelve-year-old girl. 🙂

And after that day, I made sure to follow-up on her work. Listen to her interviews. Quote her wisdom. She became an influential person in my life without even knowing it. As a writer I think we all hope for that kind of impact on people. Today, it’s important to celebrate her life, all that she accomplished. I’m grateful to have met one of the world’s finest human beings.

And Dr. Angelou you’re right. I’ll never forget the way you made me feel. You will be missed. Her words will live on in all the hearts she touched. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from her:

"Be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud." M.A.

“Be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” M.A.

 

Photo credit: victorianinnouray.com

 

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The Pursuit

Happinessmoon

I get the impression that my students think happiness is a divine right. That if they are not happy, it’s someone else’s fault . It sure seems like happiness is a right, seeing how it’s listed in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; ..

Although happiness in the form of the American Dream isn’t attainable for all, it’s important to believe that true happiness extends past our possession, our reputation, our talents and our looks. For me, happiness extends past anything I can actually do.

My earliest memory of feeling ‘happy’ involves a parachute. During playtime in daycare, we’d have this activity. It was a simple game of throwing the parachute in the air and running underneath while it fell to the earth. All the silky, bright colors floating towards me, wind getting caught in my sun-dress and friends racing around, left me elated. The level of fun almost too overwhelming for a four-year-old, I’d laugh until my stomach hurt.

Nowadays, people ask me all the time why I smile, especially since I’ve seen a lot of death and hardship. Sometimes I’m just nervous and smiling calms me. However, we know real happiness is much deeper than smiling. There’s much more to it, indeed!

deandanceDo a happy-dance I’m about to reveal the secrets to being….HAPPY!

Be happy for others: Celebrating with others is a sure way to feel better about life. A new baby, engagements, dreams coming true—sharing these events with others will recharge you.

Embrace vulnerability: We feel a lot—not just women—men too. Honesty about those feelings with the right people releases bad stuff that we store in our hearts. A few days ago I had to tell a friend that something they did hurt me. Sure, I could have vented to my husband about my issues, but it was much better discussing the matter with the person.

Focus on “I can”: The talent and competition these days is high. Feeling inadequate becomes a state of being if we allow it to control our thoughts. Everything around us is a constant reminder of what we don’t have, what we need, what we can’t do—it is discouraging.

A friend of mine said, “There will always be someone more talented, prettier, and smarter than me. And I will always be more talented, prettier, and smarter than someone else. That’s ok, because we’re both just as valuable.” When I started believing this it was extremely freeing. Now I focus on what I can do and don’t allow myself to feel insecure or threatened by others more talented.

Find a Reason to laugh: Even in the saddest situations, laughing strengthens the heart. I’ve attended funerals in which laughter seeps into a conversation. My husband had a brain tumor and on the way to appointments and such, we found reasons to laugh. Laughter is healing. We all should do more. Oh and by the way my husband is fine. Don’t want to freak anyone out with a cliffhanger.

Meet a need: I volunteer at an elementary school. My reward always feels greater than the service I offer. Helping people helps our spirit. It gets us to leave our world for a while to engage in someone else’s. Sometimes we spend too much time trying to solve our own problems when the answer is found as we help others.

Make sure to be awkward you: I took one of the silly quizzes to see which character I’d be in the movie Frozen. I got Olaf and couldn’t be prouder. I’m a complete goof at heart and make sure to have those Napoleon Dynamite moments often. If I’m shopping in the store and a groovy song comes on, I have no problem dancing in public. Or when I auditioned for drum major in high school, I practiced my conducting moves as I walked home. Sure, my neighbors probably thought I crazy, but I felt happy being awkward me.

Surround yourself with good energy: Everything has energy. You know that feeling when that co-worker comes around, and the energy drains out of you the closer they get or the more they talk. That’s real–it’s not a delusion. There are people who are true, seasoned energy-zappers. Take them in small doses but surround yourself around others that fill your tank. I have a friend that anytime I’m around her, I feel like I can win an Olympic event.

Let it go: Forgiveness is more for you than the other person. Carrying around hurt and resentment or hate, will kill any inkling of happiness.

Love without expectation: Ok, this is hard, but give to others without expecting anything in return. I’m not saying we should be doormats or sounding boards for those who want to hurt us, but I’m saying extending  kindness to those  around us, even those who don’t deserve it. Because the truth is, I receive wonderful things and opportunities all the time but I can’t say I deserved them. I use to get really upset with a family member of mine, thinking they should do X, Y, Z for me, you know, I wanted them to act like someone else. Once I let go of my ridiculous expectations I was able to just love and accept them.

Live for something greater than your happiness: Purpose. As you start living out your purpose, happiness will come. This is the greatest pursuit and the search takes patience.

Choose ‘Happy’: I may not always have the power to change my circumstances or control my life, but I can choose how I will respond. Many days, despite my momentary troubles, I choose happiness.

Good food: Eating quality foods will change your mental state. There are certain foods that can put you in a better mood too–one being blueberries. Who knew? Anyway, eating foods that are healthy for the body helps the mind.

So, there we have it! And don’t get me wrong, I’m not running around on a mountain top each day singing how happy I am. Like any thing that’s worth our time, pursing happiness takes work. But true happiness is there for us all!

Enchanted happyclap

And yes, my friend, this is the best news EVER!

 

Gif credit: puppetlabs.comgiphy.com

NeVer ForgeT

Seven years ago today….

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I sat in my office on a Monday, sorting through an inbox full of emails. I had gotten to work early to get a jump on administrative stuff (my least favorite activity).

The morning was going along nicely. Nothing significant happening inside, but outside the unseasonably cold day was gorgeous. You know that kind of day when the air feels clean and the sun is blazing by 7 am. The bluest sky was visiting, and campus life hadn’t quite awakened from the weekend.

Simply the perfect way for an introvert to start her week.

I was in the lobby chatting it up with a student, when my supervisor approached. He face said nothing in particular. But he stopped by to let me know that two students had been shot at my school.

I remember frowning because I thought that was strange. Probably some accident, I assumed. Working and living on a college campus, few situations shocked me. I continued on with my day as normal. An hour or so passed and students crowded the lobby. They whispered to each other, looking concerned. And that’s when I felt the energy around me change.

After that, honestly, I can’t recall the exact order of events. I knew it was a shooting, but when reports started coming in about fatalities, I couldn’t process that information.

How could that be? Virginia Tech was the safest university ever. My Alma Mater was the safest school, tucked away in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

I had just graduated the previous year and the Hokie  community was family. Literally my family was there, my brother-in-law, cousins, RAs, colleagues, and dear friends. Watching CNN that day, I knew all of them were affected, but I wasn’t sure if they were all still alive.

And here I was at work, on a college campus nearby. I wanted to leave and be with my Tech family. But I needed to stay. The crisis was starting to unfold among the students around me.

VT is the largest university in Virginia and most of my students had friends there. Students in front of me, behind me cried, but I couldn’t. Not yet.

The world changed that day. The sun seemed different. Food didn’t taste the same. My job felt different. Truth is I was different. That day my worldview changed.

A week later I was able to talk with a colleague at VT, and something she said never left me.

I couldn’t fathom what that day was like for her and other Residence life staff there. The first shooting occurred in a dorm I lived in the previous year. Wrapping my mind around such a tragedy was hard enough, being there when as it happened, I couldn’t imagine.

But I wondered how did they handle it? What did the RAs do knowing they had lost a fellow RA and residents?

She paused and said, “We were working. We worked.”

Now, that to me was shocking. But once I let the words sink in, I was inspired. That, in the middle of the biggest tragedy to ever happen on any college campus, RAs and professional staff worked. It was powerful. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the way they pulled together.

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Residence Life staff members across the country face several types of issues living the halls. The work they do is irreplaceable and invaluable. Universities need them more than I can explain. I just wanted to write a story to capture the RA experience—the Residence Life experience. And I did.  Because they work when no one is watching, they are always working.

I’ll never forget that day, the heart always remembers. To my dear friends I lost that day, we live for you!

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry,

and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

~Nikki Giovanni

www.thriftywebsites.us photo credit

Get In The Club–No, This Kind Of Club

I lived in Dallas—shout-out to all my Texas writers! I miss Texas.

My writing life flourished there because my support team kept me focused and motivated. I even attended a weekly critique group. I’m still building that writerly support where I live now. It takes time. I’ve only been in DC for a little over a year.

But I’ve found a group, one that helps my writing more than they know.

How I joined was a bit of a coincidence, a friend of a friend sort of invitation. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I read books like most people watch TV, keeping up with several novels at a time, but sitting around talking about them in a casual sense…um, well… I was the blank slate when it came to this sort of thing.

I’m talking about joining a book club. A writer in a book club—how perfect?!

Each time we meet and dissect discuss a book, I get an education. Mostly on how the novel failed miserably or why it’s loved. I mean unable-to-put-novel-down kind of love.

For a writer it’s all pretty enlightening. Especially since their perspective is fresh, unbiased, simple-honest. None of them are writers—just readers. Hungry readers.

download.gifcatreading

And I love hungry readers.

Their advice is so helpful as I apply it to my writing. So here it is: Book Club Happiness and Helpful Tips for Writers.

  1. Question. Readers like books that keep them turning the pages. Sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the true art. How does one write to keep them reading? I noted all the books that we finished quickly. Each book had a big, intriguing question. The author would write around this topic, not really answering the question until way later. And the question has to be compelling enough that you cannot leave the story alone until it’s answered.
  1. Friends. Books are enjoyed best with friends. Obviously books have become just, if not, more social than the authors that wrote them. I can’t count the number of books I’ve read because they had a following. I only read the Hunger Games because all of my campus students were going completely nuts about it. I just wanted to see what had them so excited.Often times it’s the reader’s curiosity and wanting to belong, that makes them pick up a book. In this book club, word-of-mouth is the number one way we select books. Usually it’s a visit to Goodreads, selecting what’s popular (I’m the exception, I always select books by indie authors that none of them have heard of). So, new authors have to find the right group to build their audience. There’s an audience for every book, but finding them–that’s the real work.
  1. Escapism. I’m not sure if it’s the constant drama in the (bad) news, but we are constantly looking for an escape. Something to keep our mind off the world. Our world at times. So it’s not a surprise that we get excited about summer blockbusters, television shows, and book releases. All present opportunities to escape. Even if it’s just for a few hours, from our to-do-list, homework, or life’s problems, these breaks are so necessary. Readers want to get lost in your novel, to completely forget that they were cooking dinner or waiting for the bus. This goes along with knowing your audience and what’s an ‘escape’ for them. Personally, I’ve known too many friends crushed by cancer that reading, The Fault In Our Stars, is a no-go. I have no doubt it’s amazing but it wouldn’t be much of an escape for me. Thank you—but no thanks, John Green. 😉

If you’re working on a novel or enjoying writing, I highly recommend joining a book club. Remember, everything we do as writers is useful research–yep, even a Book Club. Happy Friday!! 🙂

 

Gif Credit: http://cheezburger.com/5206018048

The Most Important Work of A Writer

I volunteer at my son’s elementary school.  Eighty-five percent of his classmates are learning English, along with this rigorous Kindergarten curriculum. And yes, it is actually a hard workload for a five-year-old: book reports, addition and substation, spelling tests.

I’m not sure about you, but my first schooling experience pretty much consisted of naps, magical story-times, and snacks.

Helping these kids with English, led me to think deeper about my writing. I wondered if my writing would translate—the way I intended it—in other languages.  Although hundreds of books are translated, thinking about my novel in a different language never crossed my mind. I imagine an author would need a ton of guidance to make sure the translation is as close to the original as possible.

writing

As writers, we can tend to spend an exhausting amount of time looking for the perfect word to capture a scene or emotion. But how important is this to the story? Especially if it has potential to reach worldwide status.  I’m sure the writing style changes a bit during the translation process. But there is one thing that never changes.

Many writers ask, “What’s more important, the writing or the story?” I ran across a statement on Tumblr that gets us closer to the answer. A student sat in a presentation given by  Brian Doyle and here’s what they posted:

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing author, and an even better man named Brian Doyle. There are a few authors named Brian Doyle, but this one is the author from New York who wrote “Mink River” and “The Plover.” He talked about his own life and how he writes and what his process is, and it was all very standard for an author visiting a group of college students, but then he said something that really caught my attention. He said this:

“I don’t call myself a writer or an author. I call myself a story catcher. I don’t come up with stories, I live them and I take them and I keep them in my pocket until I need to tell them. I do this because stories are important. They are what we all live for. Stories are all anyone can know about anyone else. And so I challenge you to find the story that matters. Because behind everything there is a deeper story. When 9/11 happened everyone wrote about the brave firemen who rushed back into the buildings even though there was no chance that they could save everyone. Everyone wanted to write the story about the terror and the fear and the loss of an icon. But behind all the fire and tire and white ash is a more important story. Everyone tells the big story. No one tells the story about the family that sets four places at the dinner table, and has to put one plate back. I challenge you to find the important story. Find the story that really matters.”

The Story wins! 

Sky, fog, and clouds on a textured vintage paper background with grunge stains.

It’s been proven for centuries that stories are all we have, they confess the human experience. From The Great Gatsby, The Kite Runner,  Alice in Wonderland, all translated in several languages. But why? Because these stories captured a generation and continue to do so today.

I don’t know any teenagers reading original Shakespearian language for fun, but most enjoy stories from that era. We love them—like Disney, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, MacBeth, are here to stay.

So, the most important work of a writer is this: write in a way to help readers listen to the real story. It’s the story–even over time—that doesn’t change, but can change the world. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

 

Sources:

blog.writeathome.com 

http://modern-major-cannibal.tumblr.com/tagged/Brian-Doyle

letswritetogether.wikispaces.com

A Story to Tell

I’ve busy lately, and trying not drown in the mid-semester burnout ocean. I know,  I’m not even taking classes. However, I have two little boys so that counts as 24 credit hours at least.  And I work with students and there’s a ton going on with campus life this month and next.

The campus years are such a special time for students. As I’ve mentioned before major life decisions happen in college. During this time, one of the biggest things that students need is validation, knowing that their contributions matter and more importantly that they matter.  Without constant support it’s easy for them to indulge in self-deprecating thoughts.  And who can blame them?  Every day we are all faced with, and fighting the feelings of being less than—not enough.  I enjoy reminding young adults that they are enough, that they matter, and that their contributions are valuable.

One of the ways that has helped students see their value, (or at least the ones I’ve worked with) is by creative writing. A literary agent twitted, “Everyone has a story to tell but not everyone has the innate ability to write it.” Well, I think everyone has a story to tell and has the ability to write it the right way.

With all my business, I was able to catch a movie, Saving Mr. Banks, with a friend.  It’s the story behind the well-loved Disney classic, Mary Poppins. It’s an incredible, must see movie, for sure. Personally, I was surprised that each character in Mary Poppins represented someone in the authors’ family or something from her past. And let me say, these connections were very deep and at times sad, but beautiful. It confirmed the power of stories and how our lives and experiences tend to shape a story.  At one point in the film, Walt Disney says, “We all have our sad story. Imagine the past–how it should have been, and write it.” (not the exact quote, hopefully I didn’t butcher it too much) Because of this, I’m convinced that we all need to write more! Even the I’m-too-overwhelmed-by-classes college student should write. There’s nothing like writing what’s in our heart and seeing the proof that we are valuable as the words spill out. Because our experiences, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs matter.

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photo credit : http://allthecoloursofmylife.tumblr.com/

So, this is what happens…

tumblr_mvra4qwrYt1qcm0m3o1_500.gif ron

When classes are cancelled and the university shuts down, guess who’s babysitting? Yep, Ron Swanson! Well, not really but close. This scene is the best representation of  how Reslifers feel during inclement weather. There’s this little dot on the job description that says, “duties as assigned,” which means “wearer of many hats” for residence life staff members.

My experience includes walking around during a Nor’easter trying to get my students to stop playing football in flooded areas. Without the structure of classes students go a little crazy, especially if they’re stuck in a dorm.  To be honest, I was not happy that day. I just wanted to sleep– you know, take a day off. However, looking back on all those adventures I don’t regret a single moment. Because our experiences are the foundation for great stories.

I just wanted to share as it’s rumored we are getting another snowmageddon in the D.C. area.  Much love to my local Reslifers this week! When the snow starts falling, keep your sanity by encouraging students to watch movies, play board games, and of course read a great book! 🙂

Image Source: A Passionate Mind and whatshouldwecallstudentaffairs