The Secret to Writing

I spoke about writing from the heart this weekend in Galveston at the Blog Elevated Conference. Yes I actually did it, despite being knocked silly and unable to turn my head after the car accident. And despite my being a deer in the headlights, the crowd laughed, and cried, and they were right there with me. And the genuine “thank you’s” afterward shook me to the core and made it all completely worth it because there is always that doubt: why would anyone want to come and hear what I have to say about writing?  I have no certified expertise.  I never did well in English and literature classes when I was in school.  I thought I’d share a few things that I shared with those that attended my session because it’s all so very close to my heart right now. This is what I know today:

1. A writer actually has to WRITE.

This is a work in progress for me. I’m always thinking about writing, but not always actually WRITING.  The book Page by Page by Amy Sellers is one that I love to read over and over, and never in order:

The secret to writing, books on writing

 

2. A writer has to disconnect every once in a while. 

I am the QUEEN of excuses when it comes to writing: I’m too busy. The phone is ringing. It’s too hot . It’s too cold. I have to organize my space first.

I have to find a quiet place to really write. Maybe it’s for an hour a day, maybe for an entire weekend.  Since we have such a small living space right now, I cleared out a section of my daughter’s room that I can use as an area for writing each day when she is at school. It isn’t glamorous but it’s all I need. It’s quiet, and without distractions.  Stephen King used to write in his laundry room.  It was a place where he could shut the door and show the world he meant business.

Sometimes I go to the library. Sometimes I just sit in my car in the library parking lot. Sometimes I ride the train by myself.

anne lamott quote, on writing

 

 3. A writer needs input. 

Just like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit….”need input”….who consumed books: I think a writer needs to consume books. I took this photo over the summer of Carl Sandburg’s house in Hendersonville, NC:

carlsandburg

It was like walking into a time capsule.  Incredible. Every square inch of his house is covered in bookshelves, to house the 14,000 books that he stored there.  He had twice that but he donated half to a university. And in each book were tiny pieces of paper where he had marked things to come back to.  He devoured anything he could get his hands on. When he died they found his jacket pockets full of newspaper clippings and phrases.

I am never without a book. I sleep with books. Books stack up next to my bedside. Magazines. Wikipedia. I live in bookstores. The more good stuff I put in, the more good stuff that comes out.

Also, input isn’t just about books. Dayna Steele who was the keynote speaker at the conference gave some great advice:

Never stop learning. Google everything. Google everyone. Look at the morning news. Know what’s going on around you. Continue to learn about things you know nothing about. Teach yourself stuff. Get out and meet people. Talk to people you don’t know. 

I love to wander because I never know where it’s going to take me. It also give me a chance to observe and write about what I would never notice otherwise:
quote by maya angelou

I think to write from the heart you have to live from the heart.  They are undoubtably linked.

Live to write, not the other way around, right?

 

A few books that I recommend:

Page by Page by Heather Sellers

“Writing a book is exactly like love. You don’t hold back. You give it everything you have. If it doesn’t work out, you’re heartbroken, but you move forward and start again anyway. You have to. You don’t hold some of yourself in reserve. It’s all or nothing. There are no guarantees.” 

page-by-page

 

 

On Writing: Memoir of a Craft by Stephen King

“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

on-writing

 

 

Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” 

bird-by-bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Will all End Well

I had a dream that I was in a crash 2 nights ago. I assumed it was a plane.  As I was hoping on a plane to Houston yesterday I literally even texted my friend Jay before traveling so that someone would know:

planecrash

I gave up my seat on the earlier flight thinking it was kind of like Russian Roulette.  And on the second flight, I think I realized early on that I probably gave up the safer seat. (I have a deeply warped imagination….) As we neared the approach to Houston I wrote in my journal to document the passing time, just in case….I guess assuming my journal would survive impact:

The plane always gets eerily quiet as it starts to descend. Like this dampened hush.
Ears pop. Hush gone.

I have to pee. It would be nice to die without having to pee. 
Ever notice how the clouds always move by quicker than the ground does?
Houston looks like little collages of circuit boards.
Except for the pretty aqua cesspools.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been cleared to land.”
[Insert long, boring spiel about tray tables.]
Good grief. That was a really steep turn.
Something just doesn’t sound right. No one else seems to care.
What if we just dropped out of the sky? I’d pee. That’s what would happen.
There goes the landing gear. I choose hope.
The cars look like little ant cars down there. Where are all those people headed?
Aww…little ant-sized school buses park all in a row in their little ant-sized parking lot.
Horse farm.
Runway.
Landed.
Awesome.
Not my time to go.
Thank you God.

 

So…the plane didn’t crash.

But my rental car did.

It’s totaled.

I snuck out right before lunch today to pick up a few gifts for the directors of the conference I am at, and to get some books to hand out for the breakout session I am speaking at tomorrow.

I’ve never been in a car wreck before, and it was exactly like it is in the movies. It took a few seconds to realize what was happening. All I saw was a white hood coming straight towards me. Time slowed down to a halt. And I vividly remember thinking: This is not going to end well.

And then: I don’t want to die in Galveston.

(no offense Galveston)

And: You are wearing your conference name tag for easy identification.

Then the car slammed into the right side passenger door. Then everything was in slow motion: airbags deploying, car spinning uncontrollably, diet coke moving in a slow wave across the floorboard…

Then silence. What seemed like a silent forever.  Zero sound.

And then suddenly I was being sucked in reverse back through the black hole.

And then there were people yelling. I looked up and my car was inching forward slowly, my foot wasn’t on the brake.  My eyes hurt from the powder of the airbags. And there were feathers flying around like I’d had a pillow case fight.

Did I hit a chicken?

People yelling through the window: Are you okay? Stay put. We called 911. No, leave the car. Leaking fluids everywhere.

I got out and made my way to the curb.

I don’t remember seeing any cars when I made the turn. It must have been a blind spot. The lights at eye level in the intersection were covered by trash bags. Tattered trash bags flapping in the breeze and enough to pull your attention away for a brief moment.

One of the officers said that he wasn’t surprised….that it was the most dangerous intersection in Galveston.  He said there used to be a “no left turn” sign but businesses complained and the sign eventually came down. The accidents still happen.  That kind of makes me a little mad.

One of the police officers offered to take me back to the hotel.  He had a ride along. Nothing like getting dropped off at a blogging conference from the back seat of a police car. Only a few hours earlier and woman who had a murder warrant out was sitting in my same seat. It will probably be in the local paper.  Thanks Officer McNeill. It’s awesome riding in the back of a police car when you aren’t in any kind of trouble.

Life can shift so quickly:

10:00 am

selfie

 

1:00 pm

police car

 

I can tell my right arm is jacked, maybe I tried to brace against the impact.

My ears are still ringing.

I can feel my whole body stiffening as the adrenaline leaves.

But I walked away.

I always have a deep gut instinct about things. My mom and grandmother too.

Like the premonition about trying to outrun a tornado. …and then that happened:

kansas4

Premonitions are supposed to be warnings.

Although I never really seem to heed them.

Because, if I DID heed them:

I’d never leave the house.

I am speaking tomorrow morning at the Blog Elevated Conference here in Galveston, TX about blogging with heart.

I might not be able to turn my head, but my heart still works.

It will all end well.

Praise God.

 

 

 

Small Town USA

I really do live in Mayberry. i.e. Bryson City

This is Buford’s Barbershop. He waved at me each time I walked by today.

Barber Shop in Bryson City, NC - Buford's Barbershop  - just like Mayberry

 

A store that sells guns and ice cream:

donsicecream

 

The view from Main Street and Everett Street:

Visiting Bryson City, NC

Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering, or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.

-Maya Angelou

A Wedding in the North Carolina Mountains

NC Mountain Wedding at Hemlock Inn in Bryson City #wedding #rusticwedding

The innkeeper’s son was married a few weeks ago.  It was a beautiful wedding with a theme of gray and yellow:

mason jar wedding invitations and programs

 

JT and Alli:

DIY wedding decor ideas

 

I took some photos behind the scenes:

setting up wedding

 

Behind the scenes of the florist, Tony Whitlock of Acorn Home and Garden (Marietta, GA):

yellow flower theme for wedding

yellow and sherbet color flowers for wedding

Behind the scenes of the photographer: Love the yellow shoes. Ancelet Photography at work in the photo.

weddingedits22web copy
Behind the scenes of the decor:

Rustic wedding decor ideas DIY painted
The ceremony was beautiful:

mountain wedding bryson city Hemlock Inn

September mountain wedding bryson city Hemlock Inn

 

After the ceremony, the Hemlock lawn needed to be switched out for dinner.  A popcorn bar kept the guests busy: [Read more…]

Tell Me What You are For, Not What You Are Against

A few weeks ago we went to the Hendersonville Apple Festival. In the middle of the apples, funnel cakes, and art, were men holding bibles, yelling at the top of their lungs about sin.  Boo’s only question:

Why are they so angry?

A few weeks ago our pastor Jeff, at the Grove, said something that I’ve kept with me…even writing it down in the front of my journal:

 Tell me what you are for. Not what you are against. 

I am for love. 

And I try not to complicate it.

Life is too complicated as it is.

Tell me what you are for, not what you are against.  #love

This group of students singing Oh How He Loves to a preacher gave me goosebumps. (found via Huffington Post).

 It makes me think of this quote I read in Torn:

Love the sinner. Hate your own sin. 

 

Brett said this last week in our small group at church:

My relationship with the church growing up was like one with the dentist.  I was afraid to go in… because I hadn’t been in so long.  I felt condemned before I even walked in the door. 

That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

 

Our world needs to know that the rumors of grace are true. There is a God who loves us in the midst of our rebellion, brokenness, and sin. He invites us to come freely to his throne to receive his grace and be transformed. God doesn’t expect us to resurrect ourselves and restore our lives; it’s a free gift he offers, and he is waiting to do it with joy.
-Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson, Rumors of God

 

 

 

Where the Breadcrumbs Lead

I woke up early this morning and watched the sun come up. Brett has been out of town with his grandmother this week so I dropped Boo off at school and came home and took a cat nap. I watched Sense and Sensibility. And read a magazine. Then I watched a documentary about people that live in Siberia.*

Later I made some tea, sat on the step of the screen porch. The acorns were falling on the tin roof of the cottage. I watched Diesel walk around the stepping stones. So much to learn from a dog…he is so easily pleased. His short time outdoors is always unhurried and full of curiosity. I love how he sniffs the air and closes his eyes against the sun. I copied him.

It felt good, until there was that anxiousness and the voice in my head: you should be accomplishing something.  That voice that has been there all my life: you should be…. you should be…. This feeling still rears its ugly head on occasion and sometimes a brief panic sets in saying: Your husband left his job. You closed a successful business. Where will you go from here? By the world’s standards of success I should have stayed on the course I was on.  It’s hard to explain this new life to people without getting the third degree.

The highlights of my week last week were:

Sweeping the sidewalk at the used bookstore. Dusting and straightening the bookshelves.
Catching up with the cooks at the inn.
Learning the old man’s name that I pass in the park each week.
Buying a venus fly trap and fresh salsa from the farmer’s market.

Sitting by the river and writing it all down.

Such simple things. But yet…every once in a while I get sidetracked with new ideas, things that I think will impress the world. Business. Venture. Make the world happy. Those things are not really what I want to be doing. I know myself….and I would work myself into a shriveled shell of a me if I pursued those new ideas. And that’s when I pray really hard for God to thin my world out again, to take away what he doesn’t want for me…and to leave breadcrumbs going forward.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it. -The Alchemist

The magazine I picked up today had an interview with Paulo Coehlo in it. Breadcrumb. 

I do believe that we know our reason to be here. We don’t know if we are taking the exact right steps toward it. But if you are honest enough, God will guide you. Even if you take some wrong steps along the way, God will recognize that you have a pure heart and put you back on track. -Paulo Coehlo, O Magazine, Oct 2014

I remember when I first picked up a copy of the Alchemist years ago…at a yard sale. I didn’t read it right away. Quick overview if you haven’t read it:  A boy sells his flock to pursue a dream.

A recent conversation:

Person: What do you do?

Me: Well….mostly….I write.

Person: My friend is a writer. She’s published like 10 books. Have you written anything I would know?

Me: Probably not. 

Person: And you are writing a book?

Me: I think so.

Person: How far along are you?

Me: Depends on the day.

Person: What is it about?

Me: It’s a memoir.

Person: You are too young to write a memoir.

Quick aside: My friend Donno is opening up a tattoo parlor in downtown Bryson City this month. It’s part art gallery…for outsider art. Outsider art: a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outside of the established art scene, such as insane-asylum inmates and children. -wikipedia

Quick epiphany (and breadcrumb): I am an outsider writer!

 

Person: Too young…to write a memoir.

Me: Then I guess I’m writing an episode.

Person: How long have you been writing it?

Me: My whole life? 

Memoir. Non-fiction. Episode. True story. What does it matter?  The dream is: to write. But it’s more than just writing.  To write things down so I can make sense of it all. To be truly interested in the world around me. To tell a story. And maybe someday it will be meaningful to someone else. That’s what the breadcrumbs lead me to. And they guide me away from things I thought might be opportunities, allowing me to say no without fear or regret.

Sitting here today I looked out the window at the mountains.  They are like sleeping giants to me, some lying on the side and curled up. Others are laying on their backs so you can see their distinct profiles. Sleeping giants covered with a blanket of trees and brush, and I see elbows and knees and foreheads and noses. Nobby clavicles and shoulder blades poke through a thick blanket millions of years in the making. Growth, decay, and growth. The mountains are living and breathing but barely stirring, in a state of hibernation, and they laugh at us with our tiny concerns. They laugh at me when I think my 37 years of life has been hard or easy or nothing or something.

Mountain: An episode? Ha ha ha ha. That’s 100,000 years.

Me: Exactly.

Mountain: Listen.

Me: To what?

Mountain: Your heart. 

Me: You are a talking mountain. 

 

The Alchemist Quote #quote

Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity. -The Alchemist

I listen. I have to train myself to listen.  And tune everything else out.  Like the boy I sold my “flock” too. I know what my assignment is: To wander. And read. And write. And create. Lather, lather, rinse, repeat.  The more I do this, the less I think about what might have been or should have been.  I find my own voice. I let myself watch movies and read and just sit in solitude for a while.  I meet new people and actually hold conversations with them.  These things are not lucrative…they will not put me on the cover of Fast Company or get me promoted….but they are food for my soul.  I cannot have it all, but I don’t want it all. This is the ultimate promotion.

And not everyone will understand. The questions are endless. Health insurance? Life insurance? Insurance? How will you make a living? What is a living? These are all the rules. I’ve been reading Intimations of Mortality by Violet Weingarten….a journal she wrote during her battle with cancer. My copy is old and obviously from a library with the clear plastic cover and dewey decimal code: 616.994:

I live in a world, my world, with people who haven’t even glimpsed the door, however close they may be to me. Remember you have to see it with your own eyes. Borrowing someone else’s glasses won’t do it. So even if I wanted to change my life, the people I care about aren’t going to change theirs. If I want to toss it all away and scuba-dive off the Great Barrier Reef, I’d have to do it on my own, and that I don’t want to do. Because I know that the step from the iceberg leads back to an ice floe, and on that floe I’ll float, like everyone else, sometimes alone, sometimes along-side, sometimes making small talk, sometimes holding hands, sometimes sad, sometimes happy, always at the whim of the current. Human. Wherever I may be. 

Always at the whim of the current. An outsider.

For some reason that just made me think of the movie Rumble Fish.

I’m too tired to even read through this post again.

I just ate half a bag of Muddy Buddies.

Really all I wanted to say was: today was a good day.  

I wish good days for you too.

And don’t disturb the mountains.  They are all resting.

 

*Happy People, A Year in the Taiga (*  <—— virtual breadcrumb)

 

Fall Table Decor: Mason Jar Firefly Lanterns

Easy Fall Table Decor: Mason Jar Lantern Lights using LEDs #wedding #fall #entertaining #masonjar

 

This month’s theme for Michaels Makers is fall decor.  Fall is always hard for me because I rarely buy anything orange, yellow or red…all classic fall colors. But…I love acorns and barn wood and moss….so I made these cute little “firefly” inspired lanterns using mason jars and Michaels’ LED string lights (found in the floral section of the store):

diy firefly mason jar lanterns

I also made the barn wood tray and the small rustic twig balls but I’ll follow up with a tutorial on those. The acorns were collected on the Hemlock Inn driveway tonight:

fall table decor ideas and wedding table decor #wedding #falltabledecor #entertaining

To make the lanterns I used a mason jar and a battery operated set of LED string lights from Michaels.  Each set of lights takes 3 batteries and the pack can be tucked nicely into the back of the jar.  I used dried moss to give the inside of the jar an earthy rustic look. The great thing about the lights is that you can leave them on “timer” and they will come on at the same time each night.

diy mason jar lanterns using LED string lights #diy #masonjar #wedding

 

An easy way to decorate a table for fall entertaining:

fall entertaining decor ideas using mason jars #masonjar #fall

 

[Read more…]

Mini Smoky Mountains

I first picked up these little model railroad figures at a thrift store…and I now I keep a look out for them wherever I go.  Each is about 1/2″ tall and it’s fun to play with the scale of them. That’s all I can think to write about this subject right now….

tiny figures photography - smoky mountain black bears

 

miniature figure photography - acorn in cones #miniature

 

miniature figure photography - acorn lounge chair #miniature

 

miniature figure photography - banjo and grape fanta #miniature

 

 

miniature figure photography - window #miniature

 

The Language of Frogs

Midday it started raining and I just sat in my truck on the bridge to kill time before I was supposed to show up at the used book store. I sat on the passenger side and people probably thought I was waiting on someone but really I was just letting 45 minutes pass. I pulled a book out from under the seat to read a while and thought it was a weird coincidence that the book was Extremely Loud and incredibly Close, a book about September 11. Downtown Bryson City I’ve read that book over and over again but from all different starting points.  Never in order. And parts like the elephant crying get to me because I see things like stonehenge in a plate of potato quarters and I like walking the cemetery at night but get sidetracked trying to piece together broken headstones: Bryson City Cemetery

I took the world into me, rearranged it, and sent it back out as a question: “Do you like me? -Jonathan Safran Foer

Recently I saw a ghost at the cemetery but that’s a story for another day, so back to sitting there reading in the truck: I saw at least four people I knew walk by.  Small town USA. Then I saw a man with a hunting rifle walk by but he’d just come out of the guns and ice cream shop. Totally normal. As I sat there I realized that I could tell when a truck was coming over the bridge, not by the sound it made but by how much the concrete would shake. A freight truck and a beer truck crossed simultaneously and the bridge pretty much went all earthquakey. The speed limit on the bridge is 20 mph but people are always going much faster.

When it’s not raining I like to walk along the shops and the river.  Here it seems like they used to build old buildings against old buildings so when a building comes down sometimes the inside of the building is left on the exterior of the one next door. In other words: if you build the first building you have to build 4 walls…but if you build the 2nd or 3rd etc you only have to build 3 walls.  The wall on the side of the building near the river says PRO with tan, orange and brown racing stripes all the way down the side…it reminds me of a bowling alley, but I don’t think it was. Buford’s Barbershop is on the corner of the bridge across from the “bowling alley”. Everyone swears it’s structurally sound but I’m worried Buford is going to fall in the river one day. Every few days I visually measure the crack between Buford’s place and the flower shop next door to make sure it’s not getting any wider. I’ve only seen Buford cutting hair once or twice. I think he’s only open when he feels like being open. He’s got a TV with rabbit ears and so I look forward to meeting Buford one day…but maybe outside of the barbershop.

At the bookstore I decided to sweep outside and get some of the cobwebs down. While sweeping I ran into a man I’d met at the coffee shop a few weeks ago. He’d been talking about Kerouac and I oddly enough had brought a book of Kerouac’s journals with me (Windblown World). I gave it to him and told him to just drop it back off at the coffee shop when he was done with it. I didn’t even know his name. But then running into him at the grocery store I recognized him and we said hey and he thanked me for the book. And after talking about Kerouac for a few minutes he told me this haiku he’d written. I can’t remember it word for word so I’m butchering it and it probably isn’t even a haiku anymore since I didn’t even think to count the syllables or phrases or whatever a haiku consists of:

Credit or Debit. The girl at the grocery store speaks to me in frog.

Flipping through the old books in the used book store I end up looking for handwriting. I found this little mouse drawn in a book dated 1898. I could tell it was written with a fountain pen: mouse On the next page was this handwritten poem:

Love is painful it is true, but not to love is painful too, But oh! it gives the greatest pain to love and not be loved again.

bookI sold a few books today and bought even more.  They were books I was looking for so I figure that I technically saved money. One of the new employees at the inn stopped by to say hi and I sold him a magazine. Tonight my friends gave me directions to their house and the directions consisted mostly of: turn left at the gas station and right at the huge rock and when you see the chickens you’ve found us.    Walking down to our cottage tonight I dodged a few frogs but spoke to them: credit or debit. credit or debit. Perhaps that’s what they’ve been saying all along.  Accounting 101.

We could imagine all sorts of universes unlike this one, but this is the one that happened. -Jonathan Safran Foer

The Sky is Falling

Today I tried a new table down by the river and I checked underneath like I always do before climbing on top….and there was the largest spider I’d ever seen.  She was upside down on the table, her egg sac carefully wrapped up in her web, and hundreds of little babies were swarming about. Charlotte is very ill. She only has a short time to live. Instead of chasing her away I found my usual table.

The sweat bee came back from a few days ago and brought all of her friends. Swarming they began to take over my personal space and eventually I moved to the bright red picnic table under the walnut tree.  Butternuts were falling like bombs around me.  I was a sitting duck. One of these would have probably knocked me out:

walnut

A man approached me and asked if my truck was for sale.  I told him no. He told me he lived on the Cherokee reservation nearby, and then he told me his life story. Which I thought was awesome….I didn’t even have to ask any questions for once.  His brother and his dog sat near his truck and waited for him to finish talking and eventually I mentioned that to him. He told me his brother was scared of him.  As he left I told him to please be nice to his brother…and he hung his head a little as if he felt guilty all the sudden.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon working in the used book store…and the most important thing I learned is that it is not:

Used Bookstore

but

Used Book Store

Details, shmetails. Until it clicked and I realized we weren’t selling used bookstores.  Obviously in my last post about the book store I didn’t know this difference. I never did that well in English.  After that very important lesson, I spent my time going through 8 boxes of books brought in by the same elderly man. You can tell a lot about someone by the books they read. I think this man must have been a professor once, of history or philosophy….or anthropology.

I saw this rainbow as I drove home last night driving home from the bookstore:

rainbow

 

It doesn’t even look real. When I took it I thought: no one will believe this is real.

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