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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Tackling Clutter Problem Areas: Our Whimsical Message Center

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We all have at least one area in our home that is an ongoing problem area. Some parts of our homes, once organized, require only minimal and routine maintenance. But others seem to grow clutter like kudzu. For my husband and me, that area is our mail, receipts, and action items. “Action items” are any papers that require an action to be taken—a doctor’s bill, for example, or a form to be filled out.

The problem grew worse, however, once we moved to the townhouse. I don’t really know why, but suddenly receipts were popping up like weeds in our living room, mail was scattered all over the entertainment center, and one of the pair of storage ottomans in our living room had gone from a place to rest your feet to a pile of “to-do’s.”

A living room is meant to be a room for relaxation. It’s the place where hubby and I sit and chat over coffee or tea, where we lounge and watch our favorite TV shows, where I curl up with a cup of tea and a good book, where I frequently have writing sessions.

In terms of feng shui, our living room encompasses our helpful people/travel area and our creativity area. For me, clutter is like a bucket of cold water dumped on the fire of creativity—and that is not the kind of energy I want in a space.

The most obvious solution was to create an organizational system in our home office, but it’s upstairs on the far end of the house—admittedly, it’s not a large house, but if you’re carrying in mail at the same time as groceries and dog food at the end of the work day, you don’t necessarily take the time to carry receipts and mail upstairs.

Enter our messaging center. It was a simple fix, really. A cheapo, wall-mounted file organizer from Target combined with some fun art—a Harry Potter themed “No post on Sundays” image that I made in Word and printed on some cardstock, and a little bit of magical flair add some visual interest to the space. Envelopes sort receipts into “shred,” “keep for 30 days,” and “file” categories (file would be for large items with warranties—a TV, for example). There’s also an envelope for coupons, and two sections, one for action items, another for incoming mail.

It doesn’t eliminate the need for maintenance, but it does eliminate the stress seeing mail, papers, and receipts strewn about the living room caused me. And really, such items didn’t belong in the living room anyway. Now I can sort through items once a week, and they’re all there waiting for me in one place.

I challenge you to find such an area in your home and brainstorm ways to corral the clutter. Of course, you will need a maintenance routine to keep things from piling up, but understanding which areas are problematic for you can go a long way to helping keep those areas manageable. Papers always have been a problem area for my husband and me, but some hard work at clearing paper clutter, followed by carefully designed storage is helping keep those areas much more manageable.

As for the creative aspect of my life, it seems to be thriving these days. I’m about 15K into the first draft of my novel Wild Tarot, the first in the Wild Fae Trilogy. I’ve been reading up a storm as well, including books on fairy witchcraft, deep point of view, and some lovely magical fiction reads, including Ellen Dugan’s Gypsy Chronicles and Kiss of the Silver Wolf by Sharon Buchbinder.

We’ve been tending hearth and home as well. I did a massive space clearing with some sage and rose incense on last week, after we thoroughly cleaned the house, and I ordered some sweetgrass so we can invite some good, magical spirits and energies into the house. We’re chipping away at clutter and planning out some major home renovation projects as well. The energy in the townhouse feels lovely and peaceful, and settled, which it didn’t for a while. It is becoming the tidy, cozy, whimsical home, a place for creativity and magic and love, that I always knew it could be.

And, of course, stories are unfolding. I hope someday soon to introduce you to Morgana, Rowena, and Sylvie, the three sisters in the Wild Fae trilogy.

Until then, may magic and light be with you!

Please share your comments below! What areas are problematic for you? Have you created a system for addressing these areas?

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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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Is there such a thing as ‘controlled busy?’

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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?

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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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Robins, Daffodils, and ROW80 Round 2 Goals

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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?

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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

dreamstime_xxl_97146117 creative commons photos dreamstime
Creative Commons Photos | Dreamstime.com

“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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