Finding Simplicity and Slowness Amid Change

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The past few months have brought a great deal of change into my life. Where do I even start?

Townhouse renovations. Job hunting. Getting a job offer. Starting an awesome new job at a local library, which I am loving so far.

Dealing with a mystery illness for which doctors have yet to determine a cause, despite numerous appointments and tests. Battling joint pain, headaches, and sheer exhaustion.

Revising my novel Spellfire’s Kiss. I feel like this story is so close, and I’m getting ready to send it a fellow author who’s going to do some editing for me. The goal is to send the polished manuscript to her by October 1. The next goal is to start submitting it early next year, depending on the extent of changes based on her suggestions.

Where do simplicity and slowness fit into this? In the past few weeks, I’ve found a great deal of satisfaction in my new work environment, and continued making slow but steady progress on my writing, even with the frequent downtime and rest breaks required by whatever illness has got its hooks in me. Physically, I often feel worn down, and I’ve burned out before, so I’m trying to make time for myself.

So, how have I been keeping things simple and slow?

One: I try to wake up early enough before work (even though I am not a morning person) that I give myself time to sit with a cup of tea or coffee and just relax before I plunge into my day.

Two: Naps are my friend. If I come home from work and I need to rest, I give myself that time. Health is number one.

Three: I’m allowing myself time to adjust to this new schedule. Slowing down and cutting myself slack in other areas, thus allowing me to focus on my health and on adapting to my new life of library work and writing. And making time for all of those other things: playtime and snuggles with my animals. Quality time with my hubby. Spending time with friends. Reading and writing. Other things, such as trying new recipes and long walks in the woods, have fallen away since I’ve been sick, but I am hopeful that I can slowly add those things back into my routine soon.

I am trying to lead a slow, simple, purposeful life in the midst of a busy world. I believe things come into our lives when we’re ready for them. We have to work for them, of course, but we also can’t force things.

In my quest for simplicity, I’d like to add a few minutes of meditation into my daily routine. In search of simplicity, I am letting go of a quest for perfection. The house might be a little messy. Not every room is perfectly decluttered. Not every meal is homecooked from scratch.

Ultimately, I am learning that true simplicity lies not in living some picturesque life in which I rise early, bake bread, cook every meal from local ingredients, and live in a Pinterest-ready minimalist home. True simplicity is sipping tea and reading a good book. Keeping my possessions at a level that’s adequate without becoming overwhelming, and working, a little each day, toward my goals. Spinning and sharing stories that bring people joy and inspiration. Working toward a small, simple house filled with love, creativity, and whimsy. Maintaining my health. Staying close to my values and purpose.

I ask myself on a regular basis if something is in line with those values and that purpose. Writing books? Definitely. Working at a library? Solid yes. Saving up for a little cottage with a yard? Absolutely. Decluttering bit by bit? Yes.

But sometimes I fail. Eating take-out when I should be making a simple meal at home. Letting things slide until they become an overwhelming mess. Forgetting to let myself rest. Not doing yoga as regularly as I should.

When that happens, I’ve learned not to beat myself up. I simply regroup and make small course corrections. That’s the key. Tiny changes. Ten minutes of yoga or stretching. A little bit of money added to a savings account. Rising thirty minutes earlier to sip tea and be alone with my thoughts. Adding a new, healthy, easy recipe to my repertoire.

I have entered a season of change. But aren’t most seasons? Aren’t the seasons themselves a reminder of life’s constant state of change?

The key, I’m finding, is to find our true north. Call it purpose, principles, values, mission. The key is self-knowledge, and readjusting a little each day so we keep it always in our sights.

What about you? Have you had periods of intense change in your life? How did you stay grounded and focused on your values?

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The Importance of the Pause: Failure, Patience, and Persistence in the Writer’s Journey

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If the first half of 2018 had a theme for me, it would be deepening. I have embarked on a journey toward simplicity and intentional living. This goes beyond the act of physical decluttering to include thinking carefully about what I devote my time and energy to.

You may have noticed that I’m blogging less frequently, and that’s because I want to create more thoughtful posts instead of just saying, “Well, I haven’t posted on the blog this week” and feeling obligated to whip something up.

I’ve heard we’re supposed to blog as many as three times a week, and I just can’t do that. My energy level and the maintenance involved in several chronic medical conditions don’t mix well with maintaining that schedule—not if I want to devote myself to writing fiction and deepening my craft.

And just as I’ve been deepening other aspects of my life, I’ve embarked on the same journey with my fiction. I have several WIPs that are close, but I really need to deepen the emotions, to help readers connect with what the characters are feeling. In support of that, I’m taking a course on deep POV and reading books on that aspect of the craft.

I have slowed down. I’ve let go of word-count goals and am trying to allow each project to unfold in its own time. To do otherwise felt like trying to force the leaves to unfurl in the spring. Unnatural and troublesome to say the least.

And what this deepening has taught me most of all is a hidden patience I didn’t know I possessed. I’ve always been goal-driven, a go-go-go sort of person. And I’m still goal-driven, but I’m also allowing things to happen naturally, in their own time.

Truthfully, I still sometimes find myself glaring at my stories, shaking my fist and mentally shouting, “Why aren’t you working?”

But now I step back. I pour myself a glass of cold-brew coffee or brew some tea and I practice the art of staring. I ask the characters to whisper to me. One thing that emerged from the workshop on deep POV, for example, is that one of my WIPs lacks a sense of urgency. What’s the “so-what” of the story?

How have I spent five years working on the story and not seen that flaw? Because that’s half a decade spent with this story, off and on, and I love these characters, and my love for them means that them getting their favorite flavor of ice cream is a big enough so-what. That might be enough for the author, but it’s not enough for readers.

My husband suggested making it an epic fantasy—you know, baddy wants to take over the world or destroy it. Initially, I decided to run with that idea. But the more I thought about it, that didn’t fit in with the main theme of the story or the heroine’s character arc.

I sat. I waited. I sipped. And then the MC whispered. Eureka!

That is the power of patience. That is the power of persistence. That is the power of allowing life and art to unfold naturally.

When we slow down, we create space for the magic to happen.

Take, for example, another WIP, a novel in which I was racing toward the midpoint. And then something felt off. I could’ve pushed through, shoved my characters into a storyline that didn’t quite feel right.

Instead I stopped. I listened. I realized that, one, the storyline had veered off in the wrong direction. And, two, that I needed the hero’s POV as well as the heroine’s to ground the reader.

I’ve been reading Anne R. Allen’s blog, and she has written some lovely posts about the subject of slow writing, slow blogging, etc.

Our society wants fast. We’re trained to want everything now. No, not now. Yesterday.

And I’m just saying, it’s okay to take our time. I’m no longer racing through my goals, crossing WIPs off some master list like a one-woman story factory. My process is slower.

The day I threw away my busy badge, I became free. The day I gave myself permission to fail, I learned to fly. The day I released arbitrary, meaningless goals, I made space for real goals that are in line with my values.

And so, as the second round of ROW80 in 2018 draws to a close, what have I accomplished?

I’ve discovered Wild Tarot, the first in a trilogy about three women learning to embrace a magical destiny, and written 25K in my first attempt at that story.

I’m enrolled in a workshop on deep POV and completing assignments associated with that course. I’m also doing an intensive study of deep POV on my own and trying to master this aspect of the craft.

I’ve worked out some plot problems with two other WIPs as well and am preparing to revise those in round three.

What about you? Are there areas of your life in which you’ve slowed down? How have you learned to slow down and be patient yet persistent?

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Feeling “Scattered”: The Tricky Balancing Act of, Well, Balance

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Those of you who practice yoga are likely familiar with tree pose. In it, you stand on one foot and slide your other foot up the inside of the opposing leg until it reaches your inner thigh. And here, you stand, rooted as firmly in your stance as an oak sinking its roots deep into the rich, dark earth.

Seasoned yogis make it look effortless. Their practiced focus never seems to waver, their stance as calm as the mighty oak itself.

And the rest of us? We waver. We falter. We lose our balance, arms windmilling as we try not to tumble sideways. And why do we falter? Not usually because of our bodies. We falter because we lose focus.

That’s life. One minute you’re writing the next great American novel, and the next you’re watching baby goats on YouTube. True story.

And, in real life, we’re not standing in a yoga studio filled with tealights glistening in Himalayan salt candle holders. Life outside our yoga practice is more like trying to do tree pose while a screaming toddler throws Little People at your head.

And no, I don’t have kids, but sometimes life itself feels like a screaming toddler. I want a cookie! Let’s go out for frozen yogurt! Why are you writing a novel? Didn’t you hear about the yogurt idea? Where are we at on that cookie?

Or it’s the rule-loving side of us that’s screaming. Pay the electric bill! What will the neighbors think if you don’t weed the flowerbeds?!

And sometimes it’s not our inner id or super ego that’s giving us the problems. Sometimes there are intense emotions that make balance seem elusive. Things like grief, sadness, uncertainty, fear, insecurity. And if you’re living with a mood disorder, not knowing what your misfiring synapses are going to throw at you next? Will it be the terror of a panic attack, the painful waves of despair, or the siren’s song of hypomania?

Whew.

Sometimes modern life feels like one crisis after another. This year, for example, I literally spent part of New Year’s Day in the urgent care because of chest pains, that, thankfully, turned out to be a bad bout of esophagitis. My migraines have come back with a vengeance after years of being fairly well-managed, and in trying to improve my physical health, I injured my hip and spent weeks in physical therapy. On the homefront, our house seems to be falling apart. The washer went. The roof leaked, which broke the washer again. On and on. Nothing earth-shattering. Other people are dealing with far worse.

But each little thing chips away at our balance. So, what can we do?

First, we find our focus.

In balancing poses in yoga, when we lose our focus, we lose our balance. Practicing meditation and yoga are great for this because they train our mental focus muscles. And these skills require exercise, like any other. If you don’t run that mile, you lose the ability. Same with focus. If we don’t practice focus, we become scattered and focus becomes elusive.

It helps to have a list of values that guide us in life. For me, those are spirituality and magic, creativity and storytelling, and relationships and community. Refocusing on these core values allows me to let the little things slide right over me—given time. Sure, the roof is leaking, and that’s a big deal, but I still need to create a space to focus on creating art, living a magical life, and maintaining my relationships. So, I call my brother and chat for a while. I whip up a protection spell for the house. I write a chapter in my latest WIP. Anything to refocus on the bigger picture.

We have to remember that balance comes and goes. It’s not a destination.

Sometimes, we will be scattered. We can’t be this perfectly poised, grounded, centered person every moment of every day. Yes, that space exists inside of us even at our most frantic, but we will become disoriented from time to time. When we do, a simple centering exercise can help us reconnect.

Life has seasons—seasons of stillness, seasons of growth.

Growth can feel overwhelming, scary, and chaotic. Whether we’re growing our family or our business, we’re adding a lot more to our plates, and that’s overwhelming at times.

For example, I’ve entered a period where I really want to grow in several areas of my life. I’m studying aromatherapy, as I’m attempting to incorporate my own homemade essential-oil based goods into my life. Nature and magic infuse my life and my writing, and this is another outlet for my creativity. My life is awash in new ideas, new information, and new beginnings. Will I be any good at it? Can I create something useful? Can I master this new skill?

I am trying to go slowly, but also challenge myself. And writing remains my focus. I’m trying to master deep POV and get OAK-BOUND and SPELLFIRE’S KISS ready for submission later this summer or early fall, all while penning a first draft of WILD TAROT.

And as for my ROW80 goals, they are shifting in the midst of this quest for balance. I’m about 21K into WILD TAROT, and I’ve just sent OAK-BOUND off to a professional editor for her feedback. I’m also taking a monthlong workshop in deep POV to further strengthen this skill.

I’m tiptoeing into aromatherapy, taking two courses on Udemy as a starting point. I’m experimenting with perfume blends–Boho Soul turned out well, but the first attempt at Kitchen Witch was a bust. Now in the works: Awaken, a citrusy scent meant to help uplift the mood and focus mental energies. I don’t know if these will ever go anywhere outside of my own use or for family and friends, but it’s still a fun experiment.

Much progress has been made in terms of tending hearth and home, and the house is feeling much homier and more settled these days. I still have the attic and a couple closets to declutter and organize, but overall, we’ve drastically reduced the amount of stuff we own and everything has a place.

That’s balance. It comes and goes. As long as we know our core values, what we truly want our lives to look like, we can be assured that balance will return. In the midst of the mess and the magic that is life, balance, like all things, ebbs and flows.

What about you? How do you achieve balance in your life? Does it ever feel elusive? Do you have any practices for rebalancing?

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The Joy of a Grateful Heart

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This afternoon, I drove home from my last session of physical therapy in the pouring rain, thunder rumbling overhead. Though I still have to keep up with my exercises and stretches to ensure the pain doesn’t return, I feel stronger than before, more grounded in my body. I am often too cerebral, and physical therapy has taught me to listen to my body and appreciate it.

I raced into the house amid the rain, my animals greeting me. My dog, Leo, thinks walks in the rain are perfectly acceptable, and while I usually agree, I draw the line at storms that involve thunder and lightning. So, I sipped my afternoon coffee, busied myself with a few chores and some decorating touches, all interspersed with rounds of tug of war and fetch with my lovely, lively lab mix.

Finally, the rain passed, and we ventured outside. Thankfully, the storms were fairly mild, and we were spared any truly severe weather. Storms can be beautiful, but I am all too often humbled by their power.

On our walk, there was a calm stillness in the air. Birdsong punctuated the quiet as Leo and I walked along. We strolled through the park, where the air held the scent of damp earth and wild forest. Back home, my rose bush was in full bloom, no doubt grateful for the burst of rainfall.

There is gratitude in this, in a quiet walk on a cool spring evening, and gratitude is the fertile soil in which joy grows. I don’t believe we can lead a joyful life without gratitude. We can seek pleasure or experience bursts of happiness, but joy has deeper roots and lasts longer. Joy has become my neutral, the place to which I return and find center after the storms of life.

Tonight, my animals sleep soundly as I type away at the keys. I’m nearly done with the first act of Wild Tarot, the first book in my Wild Fae trilogy. It’s set in the town of Foster Springs, Virginia, where the Faerie Forest stories also take place, but these are longer, novel-length works. These are books all about magic, both the human and the faerie variety, and I’m excited to be working on this new series. I’m also doing a readthrough of Oak-Bound and trying to fine tune that work for resubmission. Spellfire’s Kiss is finished and off with my critique partner.

On the home front, we’re chipping away at the excess, peeling away the layers defined as clutter to give our house that tidy but cozy vibe we’re after. I don’t want stripped-down minimalist, but rather a simple sort of whimsy, a feel that speaks of the magic that fills my spirit and my life. We’re working on a number of projects to continue with our home improvement efforts. Up next on the list is new countertops for the kitchen since the old ones are stained and a little warped.

But a part of the day was just this: a quiet walk under a cloudy sky, a walk with my lovely dog, a walk full of birdsong and calm. It was peace and wonder and joy all rolled into one, and there was a simple kind of magic in that moment.

May we all find such moments. They’re often hiding under our clutter—jam-packed schedules, overflowing closets, unending to-do lists. But every day, those moments await. In the space of a few breaths, we can find them.

What about you? What have you been up to lately? Any new projects? Are you undertaking spring cleaning?

Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and sound, and that you were spared the worst of the storms. Stay safe!

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How to get—and stay—organized when you don’t have a fairy godmother

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Wouldn’t it be nice if, at the end of the day, after all of the messes and chaos, our fairy godmother would show up, wave her magic wand, and, in a sea of sparkles, things would magically put themselves back in place?

Or, if we could but cast a spell, and everything would look nice and tidy like a picture from a magazine or a shining social media post?

Yeah, right. Enter real life.

The average American home doesn’t just house people and pets. It’s also home to more than 300,000 items!

That’s right. That’s 300,000 objects each household has to find a home for.

And we wonder why all of those clever storage solutions aren’t working.

Minimalism is a great alternative, but not all of us are cut out to be minimalists. So, if we’re not willing to live solely with the number of possessions that fit into a backpack, how do we get organized?

I will confess. Sometimes my home is messy. I have problem areas. But I am conquering clutter one area at a time—and here’s a guide to organization for the rest of us. Rather than waiting for our fairy godmother to bippity-boppity-boo away our chaos, let’s tackle it—one area at a time.

First, here are the definite don’ts of organization:

  • Don’t try to do it all at once. Seriously. If you’re average, there are 300,000 objects in your home. At one-minute decision time per item, that’s 5,000 hours—or more than 208 days nonstop! If we attempt to declutter and organize our entire house, we’ll end up overwhelmed and stressed. If you’re fairly far into the decluttering process, you can take it one room at a time. But I highly recommend you break a room into parts and take it one drawer, one closet, one box, etc. at a time. Don’t attempt to declutter and organize the entire living room. Aim for the bookshelf, the coffee table, the kids’ toys, etc. Trust me. This works soooo much better, and you’ll hold on to your sanity.
  • Don’t think of organization as a destination. It’s a process, and it must be maintained. That’s the primary reason storage solutions fail. We buy them, but we fail to maintain the organizational method we implemented. If you’re going to get and stay organized, go slowly and remember that it is an ongoing process. If you see it as a destination, you’ll only quit once clutter again starts accumulating. We’ll take a few big passes in the beginning, and then, as time goes on, it will get easier. It will take less and less effort, but it will still be a process.
  • Don’t buy storage solutions before you sort things out. Too often, we try to “buy” our way out of our mess. I get the inclination, and trust me, I have definitely been there. But you have to organize before you buy that pretty little organizational solution, or it won’t work. Declutter first. Know exactly what you have and how much you’re keeping.
  • Don’t think organization is only for the chosen few. You don’t have to be a minimalist to be organized. This mentality frustrates me—because many people simply don’t want to be minimalists. You can live a clutter-free life without only owning 100 items. Trust me. My mother-in-law owns a lot of stuff, but man, she knows where everything is. “Oh, it’s in the blue bin on the top shelf in the garage, and it’s labeled…” I am generally a fan of owning less, and I think decluttering is the first step, but don’t think you have to own next to nothing in order to be organized.

 

Okay, so we’ve talked about the “don’ts” of getting organized. So, now where do we start?

 

  • Step No. 1: Identify the area you want to organize. Take everything out.

I mean everything. Every single item. See why I suggested starting with one area at a time? It could be a drawer, a shelf, etc., but choose one area. And yes, we have to take everything out. Don’t try to cheat on this one. Everything needs to come out.

  • Step No. 2: Hold each item in your hands, and place it in one of three piles: Donate, Trash, Keep.

And yes, I mean every single item. Take, for example, a kitchen drawer. You might have a drawer of miscellaneous utensils. Hold every item in your hands and ask whether you’re using it. Does it serve a purpose? I, for example, had a melon baller. Do you know how many times I’ve balled melon? Uh, zero. Gone. That one was easy. Some objects will be difficult. That vase given to you by your late grandmother? Do you keep it? Ask yourself whether you like it, whether it serves a purpose. Just because something was a gift doesn’t mean we have to keep it. Items that you’re actively using (note: “might use” doesn’t count in my book), go in the keep pile. Items that are in good condition but you don’t have a use for go in the donate pile. And items in disrepair go in the trash pile.

In this stage, it helps to examine our attachment to objects. Why keep something if we’re not using it, beyond obvious sentimental items such as photographs, old letters, etc.? Sometimes we imbue belongings with power we shouldn’t. They represent our aspirational selves (that’s why I kept my art easel for so long). They represent who we used to be (clothes three sizes too small). They represent times we want to hold onto (uh, yeah, I kept my college books for years after I graduated). But here’s the thing. Objects don’t make us the best version of ourselves—we do that, with our own personal power. And we don’t need to cling to objects to remember our past. Those college creative writing and literature courses? They’re in who I am now. Every word I write, every book I read. They’re a part of my journey. They live on inside of me. And the person I used to be led me to who I am today. I don’t need to keep that skirt, however lovely, that doesn’t fit my new, curvy body. Sometimes, before we let go, we have to examine why we’re holding on. Only you can determine whether the emotional resonance of an object outweighs the mental weight of keeping it, and that’s the balance that determines what’s clutter versus what’s worth keeping.

  • Step No. 3: Carefully examine your keep pile and determine the best way to store it.

And make sure to give yourself room to grow. If we’re talking about books, for example, make sure there’s spare room on your bookcase—because, trust me, you’re going to buy more books. If it’s clothes, do we have room for a few extra articles of clothing? If we’re talking papers, is there room in the file cabinet for future tax returns, etc.? If you’re sure the objects you’re keeping are definitely keepers—and you might need to take a few more passes before you get that step right—then figure out how to store them. I find placing limits on certain categories helps. I have one drawer for office supplies, for example, and another for crafting supplies. If that bin gets full, I’m out of space. That’s it. No more office or crafting supplies until I use up what’s in the bin.

And now is the time when you buy into those storage solutions. I am a big fan of plastic drawers for storage of many items—office supplies, crafting materials, cables/cords/surge protectors, etc. I even have one drawer for my witchy/altar supplies. And a label maker is our friend here. It helps to label a bin or drawer—and nothing that’s not under that category ever goes into that drawer.

  • Step No. 4: Create systems for maintenance.

This might include transitional areas. I have a file organizer that I use for sorting receipts, mail, and action items such as bills to be paid or forms to be filled out. This is not long-term storage but a place for things that are temporary in nature. You might identify a few such trouble spots in your home and create systems for maintaining items that cycle in and out. Limits, again, are helpful here, as are bins for items that are to be donated, so that once we’re through with them we can send them on their merry way. The key is to maintain areas, with rules (if I haven’t used/worn it without a year, it’s time to donate it), temporary storage areas (such as the file organizer for mail, or a bin for donations), and regular clean-up sessions (once we get organized, maybe going through a particular area once every six months to reevaluate/clean up as necessary).

 

Again, we can’t expect to get it right on the first try, and we can’t expect it to always be Pinterest-perfect. The more passes you take—and I speak from experience—the less stressed you’ll feel by your stuff, the less overwhelmed by clutter, and the more quickly your regular maintenance sessions will go.

What about you? What are your problem areas, organization-wise? What systems have you put in place to control clutter? What works—or doesn’t work—for you?

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Living in the Deep: What it means to live a slow, passionate, creative life

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In the past few years, I have been trying to strike a careful balance between opening myself up to the world, fully living in it, and living slowly. There have been missteps along the way. Taking a part-time job quickly turned into an energy suck. But letting go of it made space for the opportunity to teach English as a second language, which quickly unlocked a passion for working with underserved communities. I almost made the mistake of joining every writing group I could, but I’m trying to choose those that best serve where I’m at now in my writing career.

We can’t be everything to everybody. We have to choose a few things and do those really well. And we all have varying levels of energy. Some people can function in a high-energy state of overdrive with very little downtime. I, personally, suffer from several chronic medical conditions that are in and of themselves part-time jobs. They require management, attention, and downtime.

When I was in undergraduate, my journalism professor told me, when it came to opportunities, “You’re the belle of the ball. Dance with everyone.” And that was fantastic advice for a twenty-year-old. I went to grad school, interned at a daily city newspaper, had lots of awesome experiences.

But then I entered adulthood, post-college, and kept doing it. I was working three jobs and volunteering. I experienced a level of burnout that took a lot of recovery. I was exhausted and sick and no one could figure out why. “Maybe try doing less,” my doctor suggested when all the tests turned up nothing.

So, I did. I started focusing exclusively on writing. And then, later, I added in teaching ESL. I’d like to start fostering for the animal shelter again, if my husband is up for it.

I make time for slowness in my life. Some of the best parts of my day are those sunny afternoons when the animals and I just chill in the backyard. It’s actually very little sitting. It’s mostly herding cats and stopping the dog from digging, but it is so wonderful. It’s my happy place. Well, one of them, anyway.

I make time for moments that involve nothing but me, a comfy spot to sit, a warm blanket, and a cup of tea. I turn thoughts over like a hound turns over leaves searching for rabbit scents. I open myself up the goddess and god and wait for their guidance. I seek the part of myself that is calmness and light in a stormy sea of chaos.

I am often overwhelmed, with too many to-do items waiting in the wings. I read in a simple living book that we’re better served choosing three items to accomplish each day rather than crafting a rambling to-do list, and I’ve tried to work from that. Three is manageable. Anymore and I feel like I’m failing. Three forces me to prioritize. Three allows me to make time for stillness and self-care and all of my other responsibilities, from walking the dog to doing dishes, and space for relationships—cuddle time with my husband, phone chats with my siblings, coffee dates with friends.

I am learning. I am imperfect. I am a work in progress.

This week was an example of that. Overwhelmed by all the things I’ve taken on, I managed to revise one chapter. Not as many as I’d like, but I feel like this book is deepening, opening up to a level it hadn’t been at before, and I am so proud of what I wrote this week. I finished my word-cloud and sent it off to a blogging expert who’s helping me hone this aspect of my writing. I started off strong with visiting others’ blogs, but fell off toward the end, so there’s room for improvement there.

In terms of tending the hearth fire, the new washer and dryer are in! Finally. It was quite an ordeal, but we have a new washer and dryer. We’re still in the midst of the living room redecorating, and creating a message center in our hallway to organize incoming mail, action items like bills and whatnot, and receipts, which are all problem areas for us organization-wise. We have some major projects are on the horizon, but I think we both want to focus on some smaller ones before we tackle anything large like this again.

And so, I head into next week looking for some time to recharge. It snowed today, believe it or not, but the weatherman assures us warmer days are on the horizon, and I trust in the promise of spring.

I have always craved stillness and depth and purpose and magic. I have tried to fill my life with those things. There are, of course, the mundane things—the bills to be paid, the errands to run.

But in the midst of these things, there is magic.

Washing the dishes, the slightly citrusy scent of the dish soap filling my nostrils, Celtic tunes playing in the background, I am reminded that in the midst of the everyday, magic glitters.

We just have to be paying attention.

What about you? How did your week progress? How do you seek out calm and stillness in the midst of everyday chaos?

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Embracing Our Inner Hobbit: Life lessons from Tolkien

Tolkien quotes, Denise D. Young, fantasy, simple living, author

I love hobbits, and I love the Shire. There’s something very hobbit-like about my version of the writer’s life. I curl up with a cup of tea, maybe something yummy to eat (croissants from the bakery down the street are a favorite), and I set to writing. I sip Earl Grey while I get lost in a book I’m reading. My husband and I laugh and share stories about our days. I walk the dog in the park, enjoying the beauty of nature right outside my door. Friends visit. No wizards, yet, but I’m still hoping.

Of course, I have, on occasion, gone on strange and wonderful adventures. The world’s oddest tea room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the proprietor, upon seeing us eyeing the menu, asked, “You want food?” A stay in a little red cabin in Germany, where chickens awoke us and friends awaited with food and conversation.

I stumbled across this quote from Tolkien, and I wanted to share it because too often we get caught up in destinations. I do this all the time. I think, “Someday we’ll buy our house in the country”—forgetting that our little townhouse, with all its quirks, is a perfectly delightful home. I forget the rose bush I planted last year, with its brilliant magenta blooms, or the little amethyst room where I can curl up and write, or the vibrant blue walls in our living room, or the dining room table, not even second-hand, but probably third-hand, which has seen so many wonderful conversations had and meals served. Yes, the kitchen faucet leaks, but it works. Yes, the bathroom tile is hideous pink, but the space still functions.

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Food. Cheer. Song.

And stories, of course.

We need stories—the ones we write, if we’re writers, and, all of us, the stories of our lives, the little, everyday ones. Like my memory of the night we brought puppy Leo home, and how everything in the house startled him. Like the memory of curling up on a cold night in an unheated cabin in Germany, my husband’s warm body pressed against mine. And waking in the morning and sipping French-pressed coffee with a beloved friend. Like the time we bought solar eclipse glasses and glimpsed the event from our front yard, and how we shared them with our neighbors so everyone could take a peek, and got to know people just a little better.

This is life. These small moments. A dinner with friends. A croissant and a cup of coffee while an author takes us down a wending path of adventure and magic.

We talk about the process. We talk about the goal.

Let’s not forget the journey. Let’s not forget the small, sweet moments that unfurl every day.

Let’s not forget to turn our eyes to the wheeling stars, gaze at the watercolor panorama of the sunset, watch the dog play with one of his canine friends, listen to our children or significant other tell us a story about their day, sing in the kitchen while we do the dishes.

In the midst of doing, let’s not forget to be.

In the midst of making a living, let’s not forget to live.

So far this week, I’ve focused on revamping the website and taking a blogging workshop over at WANA International. I also revised chapter two of Spellfire’s Kiss. No work on my novelette Spun Gold yet this week. I’m also in the process of redecorating the living room. I found a couple of gorgeous art prints on Etsy to add some color, and bought a new lamp and mirrors from Target to improve the lighting. Not much else to report!

Are you a Tolkien fan? What life lessons have you taken from his work?

Blessed be.

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Authenticity: The Right Blend of Imagination and Action

_Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined._

Thoreau goes on to say, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

I’ve talked a lot about simple living on this blog. I’ve talked about my decluttering efforts, my desire to live with less, and also the practices of slowness and stillness and being present.

But I still don’t think I’ve dug deep into the “why” of my simple living journey.

When I began, I was—and, to some extent, still am—simply overwhelmed with stuff. I’d just moved, and I couldn’t believe how much stuff my husband and I had accumulated during our eight years in our apartment. All of that stuff felt like it was weighing on me. And still, every time we take a few things to Goodwill or drop off a box of books at the library, I feel lighter, as though a weight has been lifted.

We have a long way to go. This is very much a journey, a process.

But today, I want to talk about another why. Why do I want to live more simply? I could talk about the extravagances of consumerism or the burden of stuff, but I want to talk about something less philosophical.

I want to talk about the fact that I’m simplifying my life so I can focus more on the things I really want out of it. And that, the unique way each of us lives our lives—how we spend our time, what we think about and how we think about it—is authenticity.

If we’re present, we’re authentic. One cannot exist without the other. If we’re leading a truly simple life, we’re authentic. We can’t help but be, because we’ve (mostly, usually) let go of the trappings of a life that isn’t the one we want to be living—the time-sucks, the aspirational ownership (you know, the stuff we own because we think we should, not because we use or love it). The way I kept my art easel long after I’d realized I wasn’t going to pursue painting (and, also, I’m fairly awful at it). The books we keep because, hey, they remind us of the person we were/want to be/want people to think we are. The French cookbook we’ve never cracked because we prefer making enchiladas over beef bourguignon (nothing against either, by the way). The exercise equipment from failed New Year’s resolutions. All the things we said yes to when our hearts were saying no.

When we simplify, we create both space and time in our lives. We free up time for true passions. We free up space—physical, mental, emotional—for joyful, purposeful, creative lives.

And this is the connection between simplicity and authenticity. Simplicity can guide us to a place where we are authentic, if we truly simplify, if we truly listen.

I realized that I had gotten so caught up in freeing up space and time that I had lost sight of a bigger why. So, this week, I sat down with my yellow legal pad and a pencil (I do my best brainstorming with these tools—always have and I don’t know why), and I tried to identify what I truly wanted out of my simple living journey. Here’s what I jotted down:

  • simple house in the country
  • publish three books/stories per year
  • travel/adventure/fun/romance

Simple living has given me space to think about and pursue these things. My husband and I have talked about going to stay at a lodge a couple hours from here once the weather warms up a little. It’s a place on a lake surrounded by beautiful hiking trails. We’ve talked about going camping and attending a couple faerie festivals this year. I want to get back into a regular writing routine this year, which seems to be coming more naturally now that my life isn’t cluttered up with other people’s “shoulds.” We’re trying to own less and save more, so if/when we do decide to move to the country, we can live in a smaller home. And I’m actively submitting my stories to publishers and other outlets.

I have a clear vision of the life I want, and my husband and I have talked about the common goals we share for our life together, creating a shared vision. Having finished his master’s, my husband is dedicating his spare time to game development, a passion of his. We’re creating side by side—my stories, his code. (Who knows? Maybe one day, a joint venture where the two meet?)

Thoreau’s quote is one of my all-time favorites. At one point, it was written on a white board on my fridge. I think of it often. Envision the life you want and then move toward it.

Imagination. And then, action. These are the ingredients in Thoreau’s famous quote, and they, together, make up authenticity. Moving toward the life we envision for ourselves.

Simplicity is just one tool we can use as we strive for an authentic, meaningful life.

So, what action steps did I take this week?

CREATIVE LIVING

Wrote 3,501 words in Spun Gold, a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Revised the first chapter and part of the second chapter of Spellfire’s Kiss. Submitted a short story to an e-zine. I’d like to keep moving forward with writing 3,000 words per week in Spun Gold and revising two chapters per week in Spellfire’s Kiss. I’ve never worked on two projects at once like this before, but it’s an experiment.

SIMPLE LIVING

Not much progress on this. I’m largely waiting on hubby to recover from the flu so we can start taking boxes/furniture to Goodwill, and for spring to arrive so I can start more projects.

HEALTHY LIVING

Not as much exercise as I’d like, but I’ve cut way back on sugar. Still skipping meals, though, and want to improve in that department.

What about you? How do you embrace authenticity? How are you combining imagination and action in your day-to-day life?

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The Practice of Stillness

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“The Page of Cups is sentimental. She is a true romantic at heart, and in a world that is filled with so much noise and bustle, she longs for the time and space to simply breathe and to truly take in the pleasures that abound. She listens to the still voice from deep inside that speaks with understanding and intuition, and she longs to believe in the impossible.”—Stephanie Pui-Man Law and Barbara Moore, Shadowscapes Companion

The other night I was reading Tarot with my beloved Shadowscapes deck, and I stumbled across this beautifully written description of the Page of Cups. It resonated with me on so many levels, but most importantly because it’s a great description of the life I am striving to cultivate. A life in which stillness is appreciated, revered, and celebrated. A life where intuition is listened to as a trusted guide, its voice never silenced. A life where creativity emerges naturally because it is given the space to do so. A life where beauty is celebrated for its own sake.

I think the first step to a journey toward a simpler, more purposeful, more creative life is to cultivate stillness. It doesn’t have to be a monthlong vow of silence, or an hour-long practice per day. Even five minutes of stillness can go a long way toward creating a space for a new way of life to emerge.

This week was a perfect example. Tuesday night, I honored the super blue blood moon (you heard that right—lots of power wrapped up in that name) by drumming and meditating. It was a space to connect with spirit; a space to honor the earth, moon, and stars; a space for reflection, pause, magic, and connection.

Stillness, in the right quantities, doesn’t create disconnect or foster loneliness. The right amount of stillness, especially for introverts and highly sensitive persons, cultivates warmth, compassion, gratitude, and creativity.

When we are still, we are open to ideas that will take our creative practice to new heights. When we practice stillness, we create a small space inside of us that is filled with calm and connected to our intuition. We can then call on that calm and intuition during the more frantic, busy, chaotic moments of our day.

This week, in a quiet house, since my husband was away on business for most of the week, I connected to stillness. I worked magic. I listened—to my heart, to spirit, to my intuition, which are all perhaps one and the same.

I find myself recharged, reenergized, ready to get back to the business of making art, ready and energized in a way that I haven’t been for a while.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. It doesn’t even have to be every day. Look up. At the full moon, the stars, the patterns of the clouds, a flock of geese, a hawk soaring high above.

Once we’re still, and we’re looking, we can then begin to listen.

I’d like to end with a brief ROW80 check-in. Again, I’ve divided my goals into three categories: creative living, simple living, and healthy living.

CREATIVE LIVING

The big news for the week is that Oak-Bound is finished and out on submission!

I also wrote a new opening scene for my novel Spellfire’s Kiss, the first in a series. I did a ton of brainstorming for that series. I realized one of the key ingredients that was missing was a strong sense of setting. My theory is that if you could pick up the characters and plot and plop them down in another place, if they lift right out of the setting, there’s something off. And I wanted a town where magic, while not necessarily openly acknowledged, could coexist with our world. Enter Gladewood, Virginia, bordered by Emerald Creek. Thus, the new series name is Emerald Creek Magic, and a new fictional place is born. Now that Oak-Bound is submitted, I’d like to revise a chapter a day, but that might be pushing it with all the changes I want to make. Some chapters might take two days.

SIMPLE LIVING

Some meditation, and making a point to be present, to savor the moment, and to practice slowness and stillness this week. As I do so, I feel my creativity opening up like a flower to the sun, and I’m reminded of how closely linked simplicity and creativity are.

On the decluttering front, I used to have a tote bag crammed full of stuff sitting beside the sofa—in addition to a small, round storage ottoman full of stuff. I dumped everything out on the floor and sorted through it. Now, the tote bag is empty and tucked away upstairs to be used for trips to the beach, and the storage ottoman is organized, with a few essential items neatly tucked inside.

Saturday, I took a few things up to the attic for temporary storage. I have developed a system where I label the box with the date I packed it, and if I don’t need anything in that box within six months, I’ll take it to the thrift store. This is mostly to appease my husband, who has more trouble parting with things than I do. I boxed up another box of stuff from the kitchen and that is heading to the attic as well.

HEALTHY LIVING

I did a lot of walking with Leo this week, so I definitely got some good exercise. I didn’t eat a lot of sugar or fatty foods, but I need to get better about making sure I don’t skip meals during the day. Often, I get so caught up in tasks that I forget to stop and eat something healthy, and then by the time I’m hungry, I just grab the first thing I see, which isn’t always the healthiest thing to eat.

(A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge for ordinary folks who want to set their own manageable goals and find a supportive community to cheer them on in their journey. Click here to join us.)

What about you? How do you make room for stillness in your life? How did you practice living simply, creatively, and healthfully this week?

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Digging Deeper, in Life and Art

Mountains and Clouds in January

One of the most magical years of my life was spent living on a farm in rural Southwest Virginia. I’d rise in the morning and, before it was too hot, work in the large garden I tended. Afterward I’d sit on the porch, read poetry, work on my master’s thesis, write poetry—I even tried my hand at making jewelry.

It was a creative time in my life, one full of possibilities. Surrounded by mountains and forest, with the New River just down the hill, I was connected to nature and spirit in a way I hadn’t been in a very long time.

Though life has since moved me into town, I still strive to remain close to nature. The photo above is from Monday’s afternoon walk with my dog Leo. Though I live in a townhouse, I’m blessed to have a park filled with walking trails just steps from my backdoor, and we walk there daily.

During Monday’s walk, Leo and I were walking the hills. I paused to admire the way the clouds hung close to the brow of the mountains. I breathed in cool air, aware that cold air was soon to follow, perhaps bringing with it a dusting of snow.

This is digging deep. It’s savoring these precious everyday moments. It’s listening to the flow of things and being present. It is only when we’re connected to the flow that we can live both simply and creatively.

I returned home, where I curled up with a cup of tea and my laptop and put the finishing touches on my novella. It is officially query-ready. I’m still waiting for some feedback on my synopsis, and once that’s revised, I will be sending Oak-Bound off to editors, in hopes of finding a home for a story that began whispering to me five years ago. I wasn’t ready to tell it then, but last summer, I realized it was time.

I’ve done several drafts, each time listening intently to my characters and their reactions. Each time letting my world unfold on the page, helping the story to shine.

This is the creative process. This is why revision is so vital. Too often I’ve dreaded revision, but when I think of it not as the dreaded chore of revising but instead as the magic of digging deeper, it becomes less of a chore and more of an adventure.

With any luck, 2018 will be a year of digging deeper into my life and my art. On the home front, I’m paring away the excess, parting with objects that no longer serve me to create the sort of home I’ve always wanted: cozy, soothing, tidy—with a touch whimsy and a hint of magic. On the writing front, I’m listening intently to my stories, allowing them to unfold in their own way, not forcing them into prescribed criteria but instead letting them happen organically.

I’m a firm believer that we must envision the life we want and then find ways, slowly but surely, to bring that vision into being. What’s that saying? That goals are dreams with deadlines? Sure, maybe sometimes. But I think, perhaps, that goals are dreams made tangible. It’s not so much that we need a deadline (although sometimes, for us writers, that helps) as it is that we need a way to help dreams take root and find form.

Digging deeper allows us to pare away the excess to find the authenticity that lies beneath. Too often, our lives are buried under the stuff we own, the trappings we carry that no longer serve us. To dig deeper in our lives, we must work toward a vision of what we truly want to make of our “one wild and precious life.” To dig deeper in our storytelling, we must listen to our characters, make them and their worlds come to life.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my newly completed novella, Oak-Bound.

He landed hard against cold, damp earth. The smells of rich, fertile soil mixed with moss and mushrooms tickled his nose.

The light was diffused gray here—wherever here was. Tendrils of silvery-white mist snaked along the ground as though they were living, sentient things. One began to crawl up his leg, wrapping him like a boa constrictor. Nick took a few quick steps back.

What are you? The mist seemed to whisper in a thick, raspy voice.

He is not from here, another, higher voice hissed.

Human? The first voice.

“Yes,” Nick answered, the single word laced with uncertainty.

Ah. Welcome to The Crossroads.

“The Crossroads?” He furrowed his brow. “The place between life and death?”

High-pitched laughter met his ear.

This place is so much more. Here the roots of every tree, every plant, the energy of every living thing weave together to create a tapestry of life. The dead pass through here on occasion, but this place is not death, young one. Not at all.

Something inside Nick relaxed, a coil of fear inside his belly easing slightly. Not for himself, but for Cassie. He still had time.

What about you? How are you digging deeper into life and creativity? I’d love to hear from you!

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