As life unfolds at an accelerated pace, I’m asking myself this question. Things have been racing along lately—home projects unfolding, decluttering efforts gaining momentum in the spring. Different parts of my life are opening up and blossoming now that I’ve made space for them.
Writing is progressing steadily, with the latest draft of my novel Spellfire’s Kiss finished and off to my critique partner, a kind and thoughtful no-thanks-for-now from an editor, whose suggestions I am mulling over as a couple beta readers mull over the manuscript, and a new(ish) novel just begun. I’ve always toyed with the idea of setting a series of novels in Foster Springs, Virginia, where The Beltane Kiss and The Faerie Key, my two novelettes, are set, and this idea came to me, demanding to be told. It’s about a tarot reader and a strange faerie man who comes seeking a tarot reading. There are three sisters, and I’m enjoying their dynamic so far. I’ve also joined an online chapter of RWA and attended my first meeting of a local writers group too!
And teaching English as a second language is expanding as well. I’ve moved from one class a week to two, and we’re even expanding to include some computer literacy training for the students.
On the home front, hubby and I have about a zillion projects to finish, and there are other life things that we’re doing as well. Now that the weather is warm, hikes and long walks in the woods are once more high priorities, and we took a weekend trip to Pennsylvania to visit family and attend the PA Fairie Festival. I’m also getting back into a yoga routine after a hip injury sidelined me for a while.
So, yes, it’s a lot. It reminds me of the Chariot card in tarot. Whenever I draw this card, the phrase that pops into my head is “life unfolding at an accelerated pace, but maintaining one’s stride.” (I believe that’s how Anne-Marie Ferguson, creator of the Llewellyn Tarot, puts it.) Or, as Biddy Tarot describes this card…
You will be successful at pursuing your goals, so long as you maintain focus, determination and confidence in your abilities. You need to focus completely on the task at hand, get in the race and win it. … You must cultivate the ability to withstand the rigours of what is required. In fact, striving towards your goal can be as satisfying as attaining it. This is a time to be strong and in control. You must also draw upon your willpower and self-discipline.
It’s a wild ride. I’m trying to just enjoy it. The rejection stung, but it was also beautiful, in part because the editor was so encouraging and made it clear that she saw a lot of potential in my story, and in part because it showed that I had the courage to put my work out there.
I’m trying to take it one thing at a time, and to build downtime into my schedule. Morning coffee is reflection time, and I aim for a cup of tea and some chill time in the evening. Reading tarot cards helps me find my center and reflect, distilling those little what-if questions into something tangible. Best of all, each of my endeavors is something I’ve consciously chosen. Writing books filled with magic and romance. Teaching the English language to a group of dedicated students. Creating a tidy, whimsical home I love. Adventures with my husband and our animals. Time with family and friends.
Sometimes it is indeed the chariot. It’s wild; it’s a rush. It’s busy and beautiful and blessed.
What about you? What do you do when you’re swept up in the busy-ness of life? How do you create the right level of busy-ness—not so much that you’re stressed, not so little that you’re bored? How do you build downtime into your day?
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?
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?
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?
Isn’t spring the very essence of simplicity? The daffodils speak of simple happiness, and the breeze carries the merry tunes of birds. We’re called outdoors once more. One of my favorite aspects of living in a rather outdoorsy college town is how the entire town comes out of hibernation, as though winter were a spell that’s broken by the magic of spring.
Thursday it was in the mid-seventies, and I swept leaves from the patio and put out the chair cushions and pillows for our outdoor furniture. Leo and I went for a walk in the nearby park, and people were just chilling in hammocks, soaking in the sun. Everywhere, children played, people jogged or walked their dogs, and there was a beautiful aliveness in the air.
Such pleasures take no money, only time, only the ability to be present and open to each moment. And that is simple living. Being present, being mindful, knowing that each moment is a gift.
March was admittedly a crazy month, and I apologize to those of you who visited the blog and left comments. Our washer went out, which seems a simple enough fix, except that our setup required the entire laundry area to be revamped and both a new washer and dryer purchased. Then the big, name-brand store was unable to remove the old machines, so we are now waiting for a local place to complete the job. But the big dilemma was that my newish laptop died, and the fix, while not expensive, was complicated, and my hubby was too busy doing home renovations to address the laptop issue (he has a master’s in IT, so no way he would let me take it to Geek Squad—that’s just not frugal, and he’s so not into unnecessary expenses).
Anyway, thank the gods, the laptop is working again, and hopefully I can now respond to blog comments and visit fellow writers’ and bookworms’ blogs again. Whew!
On to ROW80, Round 2 of 2018. The big goal for this round is Spellfire’s Kiss. I’ve revised chapters 1 through 6. It’s currently 14 chapters but will likely be more like 15 or 16 once I add a few scenes and break up some unnecessarily long chapters. That is Goal No. 1 for Round 2. I’m trying to be flexible with other writing goals, but I would like to work on the next draft of Rose Petals and Dragons Scales (formerly A Prince in Patience Point). That story is finally telling me the shape it wants to take, and I’m doing my best to listen.
In addition, I want to blog at least once a week, comment on three blogs per day, and respond as promptly as possible to blog comments.
On the hearth and home front, in addition to the laundry renovation, I have a number of other projects in progress or that I’d like to work on. I’m redecorating the living room (which I started before the washing machine fiasco). I’d like to finish that, create a message center in our hallway (more on that later), and generally declutter. My husband’s office needs a thorough decluttering, and our bedroom could use some tidying. The bathroom is in desperate need of a facelift (cracked pink tile, believe it or not), and the kitchen needs a refresh as well.
The goal is a fresh, tidy home with touches of whimsy, a place that sparkles with magic. Expect more blog posts on that as well.
I am sooo glad to be blogging again after the laptop woes. And I am ready for spring birdsong, thunderstorms, and afternoons on the patio. Such are the things of the simple life, the joys that inspire my writing.
If you’re looking for a writing challenge that knows you have a life, join us at A Round of Words in 80 Days! We write, we blog, we cheer, we encourage!
Now, tell me about you! What have I missed? Any big news in your lives? What are your goals for spring?
Self-doubt is a part of most people’s lives, but those of us walking a creative path are particularly susceptible. Self-doubt has the potential to stop us in our tracks, to paralyze us. It is, without a doubt, the number one cause of writer’s block.
So, is there anything we can do?
I am no stranger to the doubt monster, that creature that rises out from the corner and looms over me, trying to scare me off my writing path. I spent a year where I made little progress on my larger projects, but through grit and faith, I managed to finish a few smaller projects that helped me to grow as a writer. One of these is a short story that has just been accepted for publication.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m not you, and what works for me won’t always work for you. But here are the things that helped me weather the Doubt Storm and come out the other side.
If doubt stops you cold in your writing tracks, find ways to continue to grow as a writer.
During the Doubt Storm, I found myself unable to work on my larger projects. But I wrote short stories and poetry. I read blog posts and books about writing and, more importantly, creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic was especially helpful, but books such as those by Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and Julie Cameron (The Artist’s Way) are also beneficial. Or you could try books like Wild Creative by Tami Lynn Kent or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
The point is to try to keep growing despite the doubt. If you’re not able to work on your Big Project, work on something else. Pen a few haikus. Try flash fiction. Find a writing prompt online and write something silly. Write a blog post. Read books about writing and creativity. The period of crippling doubt will pass. Have faith in that.
Fill the creative well.
What this means is different for all of us. For me, scrapbooking has proved a wonderful creative outlet. Time in nature or meditation helps me to feel connected and grounded. Find another creative outlet that rejuvenates you. For you, this might be cooking or photography or drawing. Read books that inspire you, and don’t be afraid to look for inspiration in unlikely places. If you write and read in the fantasy genre, pick up a good mystery or thriller. Reading books in varying genres also helps to fill the well. The point is to do things that help you grow creatively.
Understand that you are not a writing machine. Writing is less like a one-person factory and more like a garden. In other words, you are not a robot. You are a farmer.
There will be fallow periods, and they are vital to your creative process and growth. Ever wonder what happens to a field that isn’t allowed to lie fallow?
According to Vocabulary.com
Fallow comes from the old English word for plowing, and refers to the practice of leaving fields unplowed in rotation––when a field lies fallow, the soil regains nutrients that are sucked up by over-planting.
Ah. Sound familiar? That period in which I didn’t work on my stories proved sooo beneficial to my writing. I studied, I reflected, and yes, without realizing it, I grew. I emerged with a sense of clarity and purpose that I’d lost in the whole slog of word-count goals and obsession with finishing drafts.
Today, I’ve embraced a slow but steady approach. Instead of rushing through drafts, I write consistently but slowly. Most importantly, I learned so much during that fallow period, and it has infused my writing with a sense of purpose that wasn’t there before. So, consider that a slow period or dry spell might very well be a vital part of your creative process.
This goes for life in general, but be grateful. This means celebrating what you’ve already achieved. That story that you wrote that you’re proud of, celebrate it and be thankful it chose you as its teller. Make a list of three things every day that you’re grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a practice of thankfulness and gratitude, and you’re readying yourself for the day when words begin to flow again.
Stop the comparisons.
There are people who never seem to experience doubt or dry spells. Don’t compare yourself if you do. There are people who are full of pithy sayings that do nothing but make you feel worse. And then, there will be wonderful writers whose fingers seem to be flying madly against the keys while you are stuck and starting to panic.
That’s okay. There’s no need to be angry at those people, although feelings of envy and despair might fill you. Just acknowledge they’re in a different place, and honor where you are. Accept that fallow periods might be necessary. Find ways you can grow without comparing your growth to someone else’s.
I can’t claim to have all the answers. Sometimes my own Doubt Monsters have threatened to eat me, and only through faith have I persisted. There are times when I’ve faltered, but I have managed to pick myself back up.
If you get a few words on the page, celebrate it. Don’t be afraid to celebrate the small things.
After all, what is a novel but a collection of small, connected moments?
What about you? How do you cope with self-doubt as a writer? Have you weathered a creative dry spell? What helped you make it through? Are you in one now?
This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog hop. If you’re looking for a supportive community of writers, visit the group here.
It’s been an amazing, wonderful, joy-filled week and a half. I spent six days in beautiful Daytona Beach, Florida, at this year’s Coastal Magic Con. I made a few friends, including the lovely Gina Briganti, whose book, The Dreaming, I can’t wait to read, and Nancy Holland, who just published Thalgor’s Witch, the book of her heart. I also met too many wonderful authors to name, folks like Wendy Owens, Alethea Kontis, and Leanna Renee Hieber, who seem like such sweet, creative souls! I left with more books than I could ever possibly read, and a spirit filled with inspiration and buoyed by the energy of so many writers, readers, and bloggers gathered together in one place.
I’ve now returned to the mountains of Virginia, curling up with a cup of tea and trying to get out of vacation mode and back into writing mode. I have a novel critique to finish by Friday, and some lessons plans to do for Friday’s ESL class. And, of course, I have more WIPs than I can manage, all jostling and clamoring for attention. A Prince in Patience Point has a new opening and a fresh direction, and I’ve realized I really need to work out Neal’s character arc before I dig into the next draft. I’m also looking for Regency-inspired fantasy stories as research for that story, so if you know of any, please leave your recommendations in the comments! And revisions to Spellfire’s Kiss are under way as well.
It’s been a big week writing-wise too. I had a short story accepted for publication in a magazine (Squee!!!), and received a request for a full manuscript from an editor at a publishing house. Like I said, a big, full week.
My mind is overflowing with new information and endless possibilities. The trick in the coming days will be to focus my energy and get some words on the page.
The trick, I think, is to do some grounding. Journaling helps me to get all of the ideas and information out of my head and onto the page, and meditation helps me to center and ground myself. I have some grounding stones I can use—maybe some black tourmaline or shungite?
My energy cycles seem to be closely tied to the cycles of the earth, and as the daffodils and crocuses bloom and the temperatures warm, I find myself reenergized, waking like the sleeping earth. Of course, for most of us, energy ebbs and flows, and that’s natural, but I look forward to long afternoon walks and mornings sitting outside listening to birdsong and writing on the patio.
Is spring returning where you are? Have you ever attended a convention or writing conference? I’d love to hear from you!
A clear February night. I gaze up at the stars. I don’t know many constellations, but I can pick out Orion and his belt, bright pinpricks of light staring down at me.
A summer afternoon. I sit out on my patio, curled up in a chair, a notebook in my lap. The dog sits in the grass, perhaps gnawing on a stick. Birds chirp in the trees. I bring out my Tarot deck, whisper questions to the goddess and god, seek answers in the form of the beautifully illustrated cards.
An autumn day. A leaf breaks free of a branch, caught in the wind, spirals down toward the earth. I’m reminded of a childhood superstition–that if you could catch a freshly falling leaf before it touches the ground, your wish would be granted. I still believe. In faeries. In wishes. In the power of belief.
A creative life is a magical one. Stories whisper from the ether. Brushstrokes reveal hidden worlds. Songs draw emotions out of us. Plays and films and TV shows and books transport us to other worlds.
I am learning that one of the most important things we can do with our lives is to embrace and celebrate the magic. We don’t even have to call it magic. Call it any other name. Beauty. Wonder. Joy. Spirit.
Let’s make space for it to speak.
TENDING THE CREATIVE FLAME
This week was a hodgepodge of writing tasks. I made some changes to my author website, finished revisions on chapter two of Spellfire’s Kiss, and wrote 1,375 words in Spun Gold. I also got a revise and resubmit for a short story, so I switched gears and dug deeper into the story. I feel like it’s much stronger, but I need to do a read-through and polish it before I send it back to the editor.
TENDING THE HEARTH FLAME
In hearth and home, I’m redecorating our living room with some unique art I found on Etsy. We’re really wanting to revamp this space, so we’re taking it one element at a time until it’s where we want it to be.
TENDING THE SACRED FLAME
I want to find a way to incorporate my magical practice into my everyday life. So far, lots of walks in nature and pausing to enjoy the beauty around me. Sunset walks with Leo have yielded some majestic views, and the cardinals have been flitting merrily through the yet bare trees. I’d like to bring some daily meditations into my life, along with getting back to work on my book of shadows.
What about you? How do you celebrate the magic of the everyday?
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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.
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?
Funny thing. I never stopped believing in magic. That desire to taste mystery never left me. It lived inside me when, as a young child, I reenacted Little Red Riding Hood over and over in front of the fireplace in our living room, before a captive audience of parents who must’ve been very tired of the tale. It lived inside of me when, as a tween, I wandered the forests of home, dreaming up stories and sowing soul-seeds that would one day grow into the stories I write today. And when, as a teenager, most throw such things away, I found myself beginning the pages of novels I would never finish, tales that blended fantasy and happily-ever-afters.
In college, I wrote poetry, because genre fiction was forbidden, and I couldn’t stop penning lines about magic. But as a poet, they let me write about magic, because in poetry everything is imagery and metaphor and so I could once again taste the way those sweet words burst again my tongue—like wild strawberries fresh from the vine, those words.
And then came decision time. I chose graduate school. And not just any graduate school. I chose the children’s literature M.F.A. program at Hollins University. And there, I spread my wings and wrote the fantasy stories I’d longed to write.
After graduate school, I found myself strongly drawn to adult and new-adult paranormal and fantasy romance and have since shifted toward those genres, combining my two great loves: fantasy and romance. I fell hard for the magic and the swoony kisses. I’m fascinated by faeries and beings who are larger than life—dark elves, fierce warriors, witches who worship the wild earth.
I write what I love, and what I love is a blend of fantasy and romance. Sometimes I lean more into the romance. Sometimes I lean into the fantasy side of things, and the romance is a golden thread woven into that tapestry of magic. I explore the magic of the earth, of gemstones, of plants, of the moon, of the forests, of the cottage garden, but most of all, I explore the magic that sleeps inside each of us, waiting to be reawakened.
Many of us have forgotten that magic. But I have clung to mine. Through the ups and downs of my life, it has sustained me. It has called me out of the darkness, a candle burning in the window of an inn on a long and winding road on a night when the rain falls in sheets and the wind howls like a banshee.
Magic is the heart of each of my stories because magic is my heart.
What about you? What genre do you write in, and why?
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