I am a firm believer that everyone should have a creative outlet. It may take some time to find what works for you, but it is so worth it in the end. I discovered writing as my creative outlet at an early age, but then life got in the way, as it always does. I hope this time I can make time for what matters.
As I have spent the last several weeks as a substitute teacher in a 4th grade classroom, I’ve enjoyed seeing just how passionate kids are about their hobbies. I have budding writers, musicians, artists, and athletes in the classroom, not to mention scientists. We had the best discussions about the US space shuttle program, astronauts, and basic animal genetics. They are not afraid to ask great questions. After a science lesson on the effects of long-term exposure to zero gravity on astronauts, one student asked me why we never returned to the moon after the 1969 moon landing. A quick Google search later, we had our answers, which included the facts that politics largely got in the way and that NASA recently announced possible commercialization of space travel, including a possible return to the moon. See article here.
I am left with just one question: What do we do as educators between 4th grade and senior year of high school to suck the creativity out of students? I like to believe things are changing for the better, but I still see way too much “busy,” mindless work being assigned, especially in middle school. STEM programs are on the right track, but I do believe they need to include art, or STEAM, as well. Still, that doesn’t cut it for everyone. What about students who have no idea how to stick with something long enough to enjoy it? How do we recognize and deal with the fact that many students are resistant to the idea that failure can help us learn and grow? We inadvertently teach students that failure is to be avoided at all cost. For better or worse, it is ingrained in our culture. High stakes standardized testing anyone? We need to teach students how to fail effectively: how to move on and learn from our mistakes. They need to know on a gut level that failure is inevitable. We are meant to learn from it.
I am deeply grateful that I found a creative outlet that works for me. I adored art classes as a child, but I have no ability to draw animals or people. I am no painter either. One of my greatest wishes is to have some musical ability. Sadly, as much as I love music, I have none. In searching for my creative outlet, I overlooked the obvious: I am meant to be a writer. Unfortunately, as a child, I always wanted to be more instead of embracing what I love and can reasonably do without embarrassing myself. In fact, that is one of my greatest wishes for any of my students past, present, or future: Find a creative outlet that makes you happy through good times and bad.
Mother’s Day will never not be emotional for me. I am continuously torn between celebrating the wonderful women in my life who made me who I am today – not just Mom, but both my grandmas and Joyce, my childhood neighbor, babysitter, and essentially adopted grandmother – and struggling with my own path to motherhood. All those women helped shape me morally, spiritually, and intellectually.
Mom, of course, continues to do so. I still crave her advice. I am so grateful for her friendship; her example, not only as a mother, but as a teacher, business woman, Christian; and her unconditional love. All of it. Somewhere along the path to adulthood, she also became my best friend.
In the past, I dreaded Mother’s Day. Working retail in my 20s, strangers wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day!” broke my heart and left me feeling empty. They all meant well. That’s the problem: One never knows who is struggling with infertility, pregnancy, strained relationships, loss, etc. For the longest time, I felt the same way at church on Mother’s Day, until I no longer did. A simple acknowledgement that some struggle with a whole variety of issues relating to motherhood made all the difference. Watching others grieve and acknowledge the loss of their own mothers made me realize that I am far from alone.
If I am completely honest with myself, recent events have made me question whether I do want to adopt, my only path to motherhood. In fact, it is part of the reason why I have been so silent here lately. Fortunately, my parents support me no matter what I decide, but what I wouldn’t give to be able to talk to my grandmas and Joyce right now. I could use their advice and wisdom now more than ever. All three would have something to say – all different – and force me to think of something I had overlooked.
If I do decide not to adopt, the hardest part will be having to change my perception of myself. I do not remember just how young I was at the time, but the first thing I remember wanting out of life is to be a mother. Fortunately, that is the beautiful thing about all of this. If I decide not to adopt, in many ways, I am still a mother. I have a great relationship with my nephews and niece. Spending time with my niece the other evening, she randomly told me that she wanted to come spend the night at my house. It didn’t work out that evening, but a sleepover is in the works once school is out. I want to be that aunt. My niblings are finally reaching the ages where I can be that aunt.
As a teacher, I influence children every day. I truly care for all my students, even if I am just their substitute teacher for a day or two. It doesn’t matter. So many students do not have much support at home. As a teacher, I can put my maternal instincts to good use. I can be the teacher that cheers them on at school. I know for a fact that I have already made a difference. I just need to step it up as I truly start my teaching career.
I may yet decide to adopt, but I need to give myself time and space to make that decision. I finally concluded that it isn’t the end of the world if I do not. When and if I do decide to adopt, I can say with certainty that I have thought of all possibilities and outcomes. If it is meant to be, I know that my son or daughter is out there waiting for me.
It is no secret that I am my own worst enemy at times. OK, most of the time. Lately, I’ve been spending time thinking of ways to write more efficiently and better organize my work. I keep coming back to Scrivener. I took the time to learn it a few years ago, and I loved it. The issue became I didn’t keep using it. I’m not exactly sure why I quit, but I did. Well, I am getting back into the habit again. It offers a variety of ways to organize all of my work.
In a recent post, I stated that Scrivener is the closest thing writers have to a digital studio. I firmly believe this. It is so versatile it can accommodate any form of writing and any organizational method. You get to create templates and forms to use for the type of writing you do most. There are preset options that include fiction and non-fiction, as well as a handful of specialty options. It may take me some time, but I am going to relearn Scrivener and start using it on a daily basis again. I owe it to myself. It makes back-end organization that much easier.
Is it worth the initial investment of time and money? For me, the answer is unequivocally yes. I took the time to go through the extensive in-program tutorial: a definite must if you want to make the learning curve a little shorter. Besides, there is humor built in. If you choose not to go through the tutorial, you may miss out on a lot of great features. In fact, I believe that is how people become overwhelmed. Scrivener is truly built for writers by writers. That means that it allows you to slice, dice, organize, and label all materials to your hearts content. Just remember that as a writer, no one is forcing you to use all the features at once. Out of all the writing software I’ve come across over the years, Scrivener continues to stand out. I see no need for anything else.
Then again, there are a lot of fun online platforms out there. At least that is one thing we have going for us as writers: our tools. I love the fact that there are so many great writing tools out there for little or even no cost. In fact, there are so many that it takes time to figure out what works best for the way you work. Only now, after years of trial and error, am I beginning to find a process that works best for me. Hopefully, it will get me where I need to go. It is worth it to take the time to figure out how you work best as a writer. There may be several stops and starts, but each time, it becomes easier than the last. Eventually, your process starts to emerge. No matter what your process may be – or your genre – there is a place for Scrivener.
If you haven’t checked out the Guest Posts page yet, you are missing out. I finally got around to finding a home for my other writing. In the next few weeks, this page will be growing quickly. As I put it together, I realized that I haven’t done a great job of curating my own work.
When I choose to do a guest post, I choose carefully. I want my writing to be at home with other work on the page. You will see that I have work in a variety of places, everything from a local genealogy newsletter to a website highlighting legends and paranormal activity in Michigan. It is important to find the right home for your work.
One of my favorites is Adela’s Once a Little Girl. So far, I’ve only written one piece for her blog, but I will eventually write others. Her blog focuses on childhood from the point of view of a little girl. When I originally submitted my piece on Christmas and Santa, she had to change it slightly because she has young readers. I love her work.
Other work for the Macbeth Academy blog, the Macbeth Post, is already scheduled, as are other pieces for Spartans Helping Spartans. If you haven’t checked out either site yet, do so. There is plenty of great information on both.
Macbeth Academy continues to inspire me. It is a largely online academy dedicated to student writing. Until I connected with Director Kayla Solinsky, I did not realize such online academies exist. Soon I may share my own thoughts and ideas relating to Macbeth Academy itself here. I will eventually do an informational interview with Kayla.
I love where I am going at the moment. I’ve come across so many great resources and opportunities for writers lately that I can’t wait to share them with everyone. If you can dream it, there is a place for it whether online or in print.
“Don’t wish your life away.” Among dozens of quotes I remember from my grandmother, that one sticks with me and forces me to keep going. Lately, I’ve realized I’ve been rushing around so much, trying to do everything all at once to the point I am not as effective as I could be.
I know what I want out of life: why don’t I have it already? I’ve put in the hours and made the sacrifices. It isn’t enough. I am so busy keeping it all from falling to pieces that I’m going too quickly to the next big thing: A squirrel trying to beat a blue jay at its own game at the bird feeder during a February deep freeze. It’s time to slow down and get it right.
So, what does it all mean? It means I am old enough to realize that some things take time to get right. There are times when shortcuts hinder you.
This past fall, I decided to say “yes” to as many things as possible. Even though I haven’t read Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes yet, the concept would not let me go. I took it to the next level in December in an attempt to stave off seasonal depression and recapture all of what I love about Christmas. The results were … mixed.
I loved every minute of each and every thing I did in December. I cherished every minute with my niece and nephews, my siblings and their significant others, my parents, extended family, and friends. But, there comes a time when you question your sanity. Are we doing this because we “should” or are we doing this because we truly want to? It is a legitimate question – and it deserves a full answer.
So, did it work? Yes, I had a ton of fun. Yes, I made a tons of memories with my family. But, I also came to the conclusion that less is more at times. Maybe I don’t need to go to two Christmas teas – although I probably will again next year. In the end, certain events were skipped. None of us can do it all.
Ever since January 1st, I’ve thought long and hard about how I want to approach this experiment going forward. As much as I disliked having so many snow days this year and sitting around being unable to work for a good chunk of January and February, it forced me to slow down. It forced me to rethink how I want to approach things this spring and moving forward.
Now, of course, I have the opposite problem – and probably will each spring the rest of my working life. Everything seems to happen at once. We are in the midst of getting ready for season #60 at the canoe livery, I’m subbing every day, and I will soon start a long-term subbing position that won’t end until early June. In midst of it all, I am ramping up the job search – a teaching position for next school year – and trying to once and for all get writing. I can do this. It is time to get intentional and concentrate on what truly matters. I need to slow down.
Ever since I left MSU’s beautiful campus a few days after my graduation on April 30th, 2004, I’ve longed to give back to my fellow Spartans. My years at Michigan State were among the best of my life, and that is due to the wonderful opportunities I had as an undergrad. Not only did I heavily participate in study abroad and alternative spring break programs, I later worked as a peer advisor in the Office of Study Abroad, now Office of Education Abroad.
Through the umbrella Multicultural Business Programs (MBP) organization, I became an active member of Multicultural Business Students (MBS), eventually serving as publicity chair on the executive board, and the Women in Business Association. In fact, my connections to MBP goes back even further to the summer after my junior year of high school. That summer, I attended the Broad Business Student Camp (BBSC) (created and run by MBP), and I fell in love. I fell in love with Michigan State’s campus and what I envisioned my college life could be.
BBSC wasn’t the only factor in my decision to attend MSU, but it left a powerful impression. A few years later, I served as a camp counselor for BBSC thanks to arrangements made with my employer at the time, IBM. When I arrived on campus in August 1999, eagerly pushing my parents’ out the door, I already had a home on one of the largest college campuses in the United States: MBP. This is just a snippet of some of the opportunities I took advantage of while at MSU. It is now time to give back.
Even though I wanted to give back, I am not in a position to give monetarily at the moment, nor do I think that would be the best way to do so. Fortunately, I happened to stumble across a couple of great opportunities.
The Alumni Wisdom Project
In fall 2017, as an alum of the Eli Broad College of Business, I received an email outlining the Alumni Wisdom Project. In short, the project, a component of a communications course on campus, pairs current MSU business students with Broad alumni. It is meant to be a one-time face-to-face or Skype informational interview focusing on career and experiences at MSU. Students then complete the assignment for class and share what they have written with alumni. I loved my first experience, so I signed up for another. It is exactly the type of experience I was looking for that would allow me to somehow give back to current MSU students.
Spartans Helping Spartans
I only learned of Spartans Helping Spartans a few months ago when I responded to David Isbell’s LinkedIn comment asking if there were MSU alums who were interested in reconnecting with the university. Dave Isbell works in alumni relations at MSU. I met him online several years ago when I first moved back to Michigan.
After my initial interest in reconnecting with MSU, Dave and I spoke on the phone. He described the idea behind his website Spartans Helping Spartans – alumni sharing their experiences with current MSU students in an informal podcast format. I was hooked. In our conversation, he told me that he remembered a little about my background, and I filled him in on what I am currently doing. Next thing I know, he interviewed me for the podcast and my first podcast was born. Check it out below.
There is much more to come. I am currently writing a series of blog posts highlighting study abroad for Spartans Helping Spartans. I will share them once they are on the website. In addition, I have had such positive feedback from this podcast, I am toying with the idea of creating a podcast myself. Stay tuned. All because I said yes.
It isn’t every day that I can say a book fundamentally changed the way I view writing and how I write. Such is the case with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Somehow, I thought I read the book nearly a decade ago. No. No I didn’t. That became clear when I picked it up recently. I wish I read it ten years ago! Better late than never, I suppose.
I finished the book several weeks ago at this point, but I couldn’t quite capture the impression it left. I took my time reading her essays and highlighted (in my Kindle version) what I perceived to be the best writing advice contained in each essay. That is one feature I love about this book. Her advice is all nice and neatly wrapped up in small essays that make you feel as if you know her. So, how did it change the way I write?
Well, here are a few changes that I made as a result of her book:
- I finally got journaling right. Finally.
I may have mentioned this before, but I have had a love/hate relationship with journaling for as long as I can remember. I love the idea of journaling every day. Better yet is starting a new journal. Add online journals into the mix, and the entire thing is one huge mess. I collect journals. I hate actually writing in the more beautiful ones at times. Beautiful journals call for beautiful words. No one gets it right the first time. After a short period of time, I always wanted to start all over again. Repeat.
So, what changed? Well, I started acknowledging there is a need to get the junk out of the way first. That is where 750words comes in. By writing daily in this online journal daily – no frills, just the junk that comes to mind – I tend to become much more focused when I write a blog post or in one of my beautiful traditional journals. I limit what I write in a traditional journal to one short page a day. It is much more focused.
Natalie refers to the “junk” as monkey mind, and that concept deserves its own blog post. The idea is that we all tend to think in circles. We have to write through our wandering thoughts before we can write something meaningful. She discusses this concept throughout several of her essays.
- Find What Works for You.
This seems so cliche, but she suggests experimenting to find what processes work for you. No judgement regarding pen versus typing, morning versus evening, and so on. Writers need to write when and where they can. She provides several wonderful examples of this and how the local atmosphere can seep into writing.
What really made the difference for me was her discussion of what works for her – writing in cheap one subject notebooks until she fills them up. She goes on to say that the tools truly do not matter. While I knew that wouldn’t work for me, it did get me thinking. It finally hit me. A three-ring binder I could decorate with my favorite writing quotes and fill with tab dividers and loose-leaf notebook paper would work well. I could plan, write, and revise blog posts without having to worry about destroying bound notebooks. A binder would allow me to reorganize different pieces as I see fit. So far, I love it. I also included some of my favorite blog posts, lists of topics, and writing prompts – anything to keep me writing.
- Don’t Beat Yourself Up.
I would love to write full-time. The reality is that I substitute teach, spend summers working in the family business, and so much more. I am trying hard to find time to write everyday, but every once in a while, I don’t. I am learning to just pick up the next day. I don’t need to stress about it. It is a little thing, but it helps. Creating a simple writing routine helped simplify everything.
I love the fact that she embraces the fact that everyone writes garbage. We have to work through the garbage to get to the good stuff. Authentic details are everywhere. Even when not writing, we are still hard at work collecting details, situations, characters, stories, ideas, and so much more. In fact, that is one reason why I started blogging: I wanted to experiment with and collect different story ideas – to think out loud.
- Write Everywhere and Anywhere.
Write. Write. Write. Writers spend so much time avoiding writing. Plotting, planning, organizing, and even cleaning are all brilliant distractions from the actual writing itself. This is one reason why I head somewhere else when I actually want to get something done. I can always find something to distract me when I am at home. Natalie goes so far as to offer tips on how to effectively use cafes and coffee shops as places to write. My dream is to have a wonderful coffee shop near my house. It won’t happen any time soon, but a girl can dream.
Writing Down the Bones may mean different things to different writers, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves to write. I think there is something in there for everyone. It is a book I will come back to time and time again. Writing Down the Bones already fundamentally changed the way I write.
Over the last several weeks and months, I have finally recognized how important writing and reading is to my quality of life and my sheer happiness. No joke. If I have a writing project, I am happy. As a student, I loved writing assignments. Even if I didn’t love the subject, the book, or whatever it may be, I could always count on myself to do well.
Some of my earliest and best memories of elementary school are of creating “stories.” As I learned to write, my “stories” became less picture/drawing based and included more writing. I love the fact that writing plays such a prominent role in my earliest educational memories. By the way, I still can’t draw.
What I’ve come to realize over the last week or so is that I didn’t value my early writing much. When I say early writing, I am not talking about childhood or even adolescent writing. Those journals are safely tucked away never to see the light of day. No, I am talking about the writing I did from 2005-2012. During that time frame, I published dozens of throw-away articles for a now-defunct website called Associated Content. As a writer for Associated Content, I wrote articles on all kinds of topics – reviews, how-to, and more – for a small upfront payment and then residuals. Page views mattered! After a couple of years, the site sold out to Yahoo!, which eventually shut it down. Even though I had ample warning and could have saved my hundreds of articles, I didn’t. I didn’t care enough. The content just didn’t interest me enough.
While I don’t regret not putting in the time and effort to save my work with Associated Content, I do regret not saving my JamsBio work. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much notice. JamsBio, a now defunct online magazine, paid writers to discuss their memories as it related to music. I only wrote ten blog posts, but it was the most fun I ever had “working.” Even though I wish I had those articles, the ideas planted by writing those pieces live on. I will eventually write something similar here.
The reason why all of this came to mind lately is due to different projects I am currently working on. I just wrote my first piece for the Macbeth Post and had my first podcast published on Spartans Helping Spartans. In fact, I am in the middle of writing a series of posts on study abroad for Spartans Helping Spartans as we speak. All wonderful stuff that I will share here.
That’s just it. I need to share some of my other work here. There is an infamous piece I wrote on the Witchy Wolves of the Omer Plains for Michigan’s Otherside. It is probably the earliest writing I did online or close to it. I’ve toyed with the idea of a rewrite, but people keep finding it and sharing on Facebook. Then there are a handful of articles I’ve written for the Huron Shores Genealogical Society Genogram. I’ve long meant to share them here permanently. I just haven’t taken the time to do it yet.
As writers, we need to take care of our work and not let it become lost to time. I wish were better at taking care of my own work. On a fun note, I came across an old online journal dating back to 2003. Interesting doesn’t begin to describe it. It brought back memories long since forgotten. It is time for me to take better care of my own work.
I’ve been meaning to write a post about infertility since this past fall – September, in fact. On a perfect September Monday evening the stars aligned, and I had the greatest time catching up with an old friend over dinner. This particular friend and I are almost exactly the same age, and frankly, we are old enough to have been through some serious garbage. Even though she is married and has a wonderful young daughter, she still knows exactly what it is like to struggle with infertility. Over dinner, the conversation naturally turned to foster care, adoption, and infertility. I will never forget what she made me realize that evening.
First, know that I’ve known that there is virtually no way I’ll ever become pregnant since I was 10 years old. I am not going to be one of those women who adopts and then miraculously wakes up pregnant one day. In fact, that is another topic I will discuss shortly. What I failed to realize, and what my friend made clear so eloquently, is that having a biological child doesn’t automatically “heal” infertility or change everything. It made me realize just how many women I know who don’t quite have the families they envisioned. My friend’s daughter is an only child, and that was not the plan. Another good friend has two beautiful little girls and wanted a third child. I could go on.
I once read that no one ever quite gets over infertility. It is a process – and there is no end. One day he or she may be fine, and the next, it all comes flooding back. In fact, you can read my response and the original article here. So true. So very true.
Somewhere along the line, I think society makes this expectation that infertility is somehow “fixed” once a person adopts or becomes a foster parent. “You can always adopt.” I am not exactly sure where that comes from, but it is completely inaccurate. Women who struggle with infertility and have a biological child (or even children) don’t even register. Yet, they struggle just as much as the rest of us for whom biological children won’t happen.
There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t wonder where I went wrong or what I could have done differently. Maybe if I had been more clear with my ex, he would have been more open to adoption – or I would have moved on much earlier. For the record, I told him before we ever really dated (we were friends first), so none of it should have ever come as a surprise. Maybe if I had done x, y, or z, i would have adopted by now. Frankly, I need to stop beating myself up. But I also need to acknowledge that not a day goes by that these thoughts run through my head. They are at the heart of what keeps me going and keeps me fighting for the family that I want so badly.
Unfortunately, our society and even some well-meaning people do not help. I am tired of being told that “it will happen” one day when he or she knows nothing about my medical history. Nosey, but usually well-meaning, people seem to ask the most intimate of questions. As I have said before, not being asked when I will get married and/or have kids is one of the absolute best things about being single. I am tired and frustrated by assumptions that seem to be everywhere. All of us need to be more careful. Unless we know the details, we have no idea what a person is truly going through at the moment.
And then there is religion. For years, my cynical nature made me skeptical of anything having to do with organized religion. By the way, I am completely comfortable separating organized religion from my personal belief in God and Jesus Christ. I am not angry with God; I know He has a plan. I am angry with how insensitively we treat anyone in the church who isn’t a part of a traditional family unit. My views toward organized religion may have changed somewhat, but the church can and should do better. It doesn’t have to be related to infertility, although that is what I will discuss here.
Again, well-meaning Christians may tell those struggling with infertility that he or she is praying or that “miracles happen all the time.” Both are absolutely well-intentioned; however, what if she doesn’t get her miracle? What about cases of infertility that cannot be remedied by current medical science? What about the woman who is alone and plans to adopt on her own? What about the woman who is still struggling after she and her husband do have their miracle baby? What about men who struggle with infertility? I could go on. Instead, we just need to try not to jump to conclusions. Yet, it is so easy to do.
I finally decided to discuss infertility yet again thanks to a jaw-dropping blog post that discusses the clash between infertility and foster care. With the exception of the author’s discussion of her daughter Lil Red, I could have written this article, especially regarding pregnancy. I expect that once I do adopt, I will feel much the same way she does towards her daughter. Her post touched me in a way that I can’t fully explain. You can read it here. I am so glad that I live in a time where women can truly express how they feel towards topics such as infertility, loss, pregnancy, etc. I can’t imagine not being able to express all of this.
I am not other. I am not sick. I am definitely not less-than.