Ya’ll, I’m super excited to feature this next artist. Not only is she a beautiful writer, and a wonderful person, but the poetry she sent me is some of the most sensual, melodic, and moving work I’ve read in a while (AND anyone who knows my novels, knows I have a particular longing in my heart for Mainers). Please enjoy and feel free to share!
Our beloved poet, Jennifer Lockwood George comes to us from the coast of Maine, where she teaches writing to college freshmen who live in little Zoom boxes with their names in the corners. She graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine in 2019. Her work has appeared in The Kankakee Daily Journal, Muse, Stonecoast Review, and The Ginger Collect. Her novella was published serially in The Silver Pen’s Youth Imagination online literary magazine. She has also been a guest writer on the Celebrities in Disgrace blog.
And Then Nothing Happened
You pretended your English was terrible. You asked me to stay to sort out your syntax, to smooth your eager consonants and soften the accent that told stories you would never pronounce.
I would not correct the music that came from your lips.
You wanted me to turn grammar into an aria. You leaned closer as I sang each conjugation.
I pretended I wouldn’t give my right arm to hear you play the piano, but I could have spent forever watching you coax desire from ivory and wood.
I wanted to hear you recite Lizst with your eyes closed, tilting your chin upward in rapture tightening your jaw at the climax, rosé wine tinting your cheeks at the final decrescendo.
You taught me scales and finger positions.
We were forbidden liquor; neither of us would drink.
You called my name as I left your studio. My coat was on.
You offered me wine. The notes you poured flowed over the piano keys and onto the floor, flooding the room, rising from my feet, to my ankles, then my knees.
My vision blurred. My coat became a drunkard’s snare, my purse strap a bond I could not escape.
I fought against your concerto, fought not to sway fought not to dive into the flow fought not to ask you to pour more.
I could not reach the door; Music’s brazen kiss had backed me against the wall—
Until your fingers collapsed on themselves and you forgot how the rest of the song went.
I feel like this is a post I’ve probably written before, in one manner or another. But the truth is, that if you’re a writer, actively seeking to publish your work and/or build up your resume (let’s call it a ‘platform’), you’re going to have to deal, at some point in your process, with rejection. Hell, humans in general have to deal with it in all facets of our lives, and as we mature and gain experience we learn (or don’t learn) how to cope with it and move on.
*I should add a disclaimer: I’ve seen it happen, on the rare occasion that someone’s first draft of their first novel gets picked up by a publisher, right away. I’m happy for those few among us, but they are very rare outliers. The exceptions. The kid that blew the curve in class. And since they’re probably not in ‘need’ of writing advice–they can go on with their charmed lives. This post is for the rest of us*
A rejection letter for our artistic work (the meat of our souls if you will) is often harder to take than getting passed over for a promotion or shot down by that guy at the club (or wherever a person tries to pick up someone–I’ve been out of that game for many moons). Writing is, in many cases, a work of heart. And it takes guts and faith, and an ounce of reckless stupidity to throw it out into the world for other people to read (judge, pick apart, mock, etc.) So when we put our (he)art on the line and it’s returned with a swift and almost cutting “thanks but no thanks” it can often feel like we’re getting a red pen mark right through our soul. They didn’t like it. They don’t like me.
So here’s where I tell you the few things I’ve learned. Not just about in dealing with rejection but also how to submit in ways that will expand your confidence and the chances that your work will be seen and appreciated.
I could pound out a bunch of statistics on how many times major publishers rejected some of our favorite and prolific authors. I could tell you that some of those authors when into their thirties and forties (even fifties) without ever finding success in the industry, and I could give you a sunshine-up-your bottom pep talk about not giving in.
But I’m here to help. And I don’t believe in false praise, false hope, or anything false when it comes to finding the system that works for you. What I will tell you is this:
1.) Rejection is important to our growth and the quality of our work.
And there’s a blade thin line artists walk. Where the sting and wound of rejection can, in fact, topple us over and we may never rise again. It happens. All the time. So, when you think about being a writer—I want you to think hard about this one truth—
Your work will be rejected. Your words and ideas, your stories and the depths of your heart on page, will be thrown back at your feet and declared unwanted. But here’s the secret. It does not matter if they believe in your work. It doesn’t matter if they find it worthy. All that matters, is that you believe.
Your work is not you. So your novel was rejected and, if you were lucky (yes—lucky I said) they gave you some scathing or tepid advice about why. I’m willing to bet the editors did not say “You’re shoes are dumb and your breath smells like coffee farts. Oh, and your momma was a Clydesdale.” And if they did—that editor was having a really shitty day and you should send them some flowers—back on point. You are not your work. Rejection of your work is not a measure of your worth as a person or as a writer. Everything in life that we want to get better at, takes practice, and the best practice includes mistakes and their inherent lessons. Your work is not perfect, but it is changeable. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be. Rejection of your work means you are out there, in the business building a better story and standing behind it. Don’t take it personally.
If they do offer you any advice, cutting or kind, PLEASE respond with a heartfelt thank you for their time in helping you become better. Assure them that you’ll consider their input and try again as guidelines allow.
And your mother doesn’t look like a Clydesdale.
2.) Submitting your work gets easier.
I remember the first few poems, short stories, and novels that I submitted, and it felt like sending my babies out into a wild cavern full of hungry wolves. It was heart wrenching to wait and equally devastating to hear that they’d been torn apart and spit out. But, with the aforementioned advice on rejection I’ve learned that a rejection notice isn’t a ticket to give up and stop trying. It’s one opinion, it’s one grade, it’s one lesson. And there are too many more to try to waste the time fretting over the one.
So, keep trying–submit like a goddamn machine. Schedule it, prioritize it, research possible avenues for your work. Put aside time each week to find the right places for your voice. Record where you’ve submitted, when, the cost, the call-back date, and the work (this is especially important if no simultaneous submissions are part of the rules *see #3 below*). The more you submit, the wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to catch something. Don’t keep submitting to the same publisher/agent/journal/paper, with the same story/novel/poem/essay and expect different results.
3.) Read the Damn Guidelines and Follow Them As Though Your Life Depended On It.
Seriously, my pen pals, I cannot stress it enough. It irks the hell out of me to have a beautifully written story in a waste pile because you didn’t take the time to read the requirements, word count, genre, or editor’s rules. Sometimes one of the biggest filters any job/class/test/editor uses is the simple test of if the candidate can follow directions. So don’t be the douche that thinks you’re above jumping all the hoops. Show them respect by following the details. Then wow them with your work.
4.) Take the small wins
I don’t care if your local church newsletter published your tuna casserole recipe (how Minnesotan of you, Sarah!) or you had a haiku featured on a blog, or had a guest editorial in a nationally ran newspaper. Take it! Enjoy it, and pat yourself on the back. These are the small steps that help you understand that your perseverance leads to good things and eventually, bigger things. Don’t go resting on your church cookbook laurels though. Celebrate and get back to work.
5.) Think about your endgame and plan accordingly
There are a lot of readers in the world (Hell, I’m one! I know you’re one!) which means there are eyes and minds out there for every story. Whatever your endgame is for your writing, decide early. Are you doing this to build a platform for future projects? Are you submitting because you love that particular journal? Is it for the love of your story? Or is it for profit or prestige. TO BE CLEAR: NEITHER OF THOSE ARE WRONG. But the path to each will be greatly different. So steer your submitting towards what you want to be when you grow up, whether that’s a world-wide best selling author, a respected indie poet, or someone who’s work affects even just one other person.
Well–That’s all I’ve got this month for advice on submitting. Do it prolifically. Don’t take rejection personally. Stay true to your voice and purpose as a writer and author.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers these movies. I think, they may be partly to blame for my current profession (not the karate instructor—the other one, that pays even less). I loved the quirky, unrealistic way that the original frumpy romance novelist came upon adventure and began living the kinds of stories she only wrote about before. I also loved that by the second film we see her living this exotic and adventurous life and still suffering writers block brought on by lack of romance in her characters.
Because no matter how much adventure, vine-swinging, sheik angering, and Jewel finding you do, if you’re not in love with your novel, no one else will be either.
Bam. Mic drop. Blog finished, I can go take a nap….
*sigh* ok, I’ll elaborate.
Romance isn’t just about what happens between the sheets in a typical Harlequin. Romance is about creating a smolder, a heat, an intrigue between your characters, and between your story and your readers.
When I titled this blog, I worried I would lose those writers who focus on different genres and have little need for ‘romance’. Suck that (respectfully), we all need romance. Humans are born to seek out connection. Now, the phases of it and levels of requirement are different. But the truth remains that if there isn’t chemistry between your characters…be it platonic, hate, or lust…the story will fall flat.
Well, gee whiz, Sarah, what do I do about my Scifi Cowboy Inter-dimensional six book series where no speaking women exist because I’m THAT kind of author.
First of all—ugh, way to cut out 50% of the entire thinking, capable, and amazing population and demote us to some hot object in a skimpy space suit, so 1960’s of you. Secondly, your ‘lone star’ lead has to have some connection to someone or something. A loyal side kick, his long-lost brother, his space ship, or *puke* if you must, even some hot object in a space suit.
Otherwise, he lacks a pathway for your reader to connect to him. Characters that ‘don’t need anybody’ are fine, but you may find that attitude extends to your readers. They won’t need him either. Characters, even the lone wolf, are better if they really do need people and are just too afraid to say something, until somewhere in act three.
“Hurrumph—well, I write non-fiction only. There is no romance. Its fact and common knowledge. I do not deal in fluff.”
Lady, (or mister?) listen. The numbers of readers you will get from a book that is all fact and no heart (i.e. romance) will be disappointing. I can’t think of a single person who goes back to their high school American history book and eats up 100 pages on the American Revolution (I’m sure they exist okay, there’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ informative book). I can, however, name numerous people all salivating over Hamilton tickets. Why? Because THAT story, makes us fall in love with the characters. The writer found romance in the people, situation, and actions of the time. It created a bond by connecting us to common feelings, needs, and emotions. And that’s what romance is really about in writing. Appealing to the human divine in all of us.
So, in this made-up month of love, explore your current work in progress and ask yourself if you are in love with these characters, their story. Ask if your character is hell-bent and heart centered on someone or something three-dimensional to ground themselves to. Is it throwing spice into the reading? Or is the plot fizzling? Where and how can you use romance to draw in and maintain your reader’s attention?
After all, romance is not romance, if it doesn’t have an anchor of reality at its heart.
One of the things I love most about poetry, especially the words you write in the heat or ache of intense emotion, is that even when you’ve healed up and haired over, reading those words makes that moment real and bright once again in your mind.
Hopefully, when those poems and words are the rock-bottom kind, we can look back, feel the gut-sting, and thank our lucky stars that we wrote the words down instead of burying them inside to fester. Because like trials and hardships, joys and celebrations, everything in life is in constant motion. We live in flux, and especially as writers, must catch the moments on their sharpest edge to be reminded, in the dull lulls between, that life is brilliant and biting, and every moment worth being present for.
I hope you all have some dark words out there, and by out there I mean on a page or in a journal and not sitting still inside your chest. I hope you all are walking in brightness now, with a touch of perspective and an appreciation for the battles that made us stronger.
And now, this:
Dawn breaks and the spectre of you lives in my chest ever-claiming, each cell of my useless heart
I wake and you softly stir the creature in my rib-bone cage a wooden spoon against an empty pot you push my blood to move to exist and though I so desperately fight against the notion, I blink
If only you’d leave me in peace I could go stop fighting, stop pushing stop throbbing heart beats against this useless existence and tissue paper flesh.
It goes on in this way from the rise of the sun cresting over head to when it crashes back down over the western sky
Still you stay
fighting to continue determined to survive against ribs that long to be still and lungs aching to be emptied one last time
Night comes like false reprieve bearing sleep, the closest I can come to separating my soul from your memory a little death where I can close my eyes and pretend the uplifting will finally cut the tie the chain of love, I so stubbornly tied.
But dawn breaks And the spectre of you still wakes in my chest.
That’s right! It’s the inaugural episode of The Beautiful Stuff’s Novella Series. Every third week of the month I’ll be running a small piece of one of my light-hearted sci-fi novellas for your mental break and enjoyment. Without further ado, enjoy!
Saturn Rising By Sarah Reichert
“You have not known what you are, you have slumber’d upon yourselves all your life.” W. Whitman
“I’m getting pretty ferking tired of your great ideas, Link!” Laria shouted over the sound of blaster fire. She dodged away from the shrapnel exploding by her head and cursed beneath her breath. “Half-assed, brain-frozen, Royal snot rocket—”
“Hey!” he yelled back from his crouch on the other side of the hallway. “Easy with the ‘Royal’. You’re gonna hurt my feelings!” he smiled the beautiful smile of someone who had an easier upbringing. She scowled back and yelled intelligibly as she emptied her cartridge into the hallway, leveling six of the ten armed men.
“Kronos, Laria—” Link barely had a chance to look through the smoke to see the rain of death she’d served, before she’d reloaded with an angry shake of her head and charged down the hall in the moment of confusion. He didn’t want to be accused of being cowardly on top of her tirade, so like any reluctant partner, he followed, covering her charge with his blaster fire. He winged one, caught another in the neck, and she dispatched the other two with frightening speed and the two moonglass knives tucked into the sleeves of her suit.
The gunfire ceased. The hall turned into a fog-covered graveyard and settled in eerie silence.
“That wasn’t so bad.” Link looked around with a nod and an impressed smile.
“You’re a ferking idiot.” She shoved his shoulder and moved passed him. “We’ll be lucky if that little welcoming party didn’t wake the whole kronodamned ship. ‘In and out, quiet as a couple of space rats!’ That’s what you said!” she swung her head to the left and right as she moved with stealth down the hall way.
“Well, if we’re taking count, when have I ever been right about the ease of things?” he smiled to her back. She felt it, like a warm pocket of laughter trying to caress. She drew her shoulder blades back to ward it off.
“Don’t try being cute, let’s just get the kronosdamned map and get out of here.”
“You’ve got such a lovely mouth.”
“I ferking hate you,” she said and ended the conversation by kicking in the door to the storage bay with the snapping cock of her recharged weapon.
The bay was dark and unguarded. Not something she expected to be sure. Especially with the line of goons that T’Elliot had stationed outside. She opened the shield bag from her utility belt and her eyes swept the room, adjusting to the dark quicker than Link’s.
Royal genetics, she sniffed as he bumbled into a crate beside her; useless in The Ring. Royals liked to shit on the Ring Rats and Gassers, but every Saturnian, from the Titans to the smallest moon outliers knew that the Royals were a dying breed. Remnants of an inbred class system, and not a hard day’s work among them.
“How big is this map?” she whispered, as Link reached for his light and swept it into the far corners of the crated room. A pair of eyes flashed back at them. Dark eyes…nebulous. The firelight inside them burned into Laria’s brain instantaneously. They belonged to a girl, small and buried in a ragged cloak, shaking and frightened and cowering into the corner. Her long, thin arms pulled into her chest as she tried to sink back into the darkness.
“Human sized?” Link said looking back at Laria with that same smile.
“I ferking hate you.”
* * * *
The power in the boosters of their small Titan port ship fired with a thrust ratio not available to most in The Rings. That was thanks to Link, unfortunately. Laria reasoned it was the least he could do, tinkering with her ship to make it faster, as it was always his fault they had to get away quickly.
But this. She clenched her teeth and her jaw popped. She didn’t even want to look over at him, sitting with that smug and stupid smile, arms above his head like he was just taking in the scenery on a space cruise.
He had no right looking like a cat that caught a canary. The phrase her mother had used was still stuck in Laria’s head. Kronos knew where she’d gotten it. Probably from the strange and rare set of books she’d had. Laria didn’t even know what a cat was. Or a canary. But it was probably what the Royal Council would look like if they caught them.
She’d be crucified as a pirate, even though it was the Royals’ practices that kept The Ring on the edge of the law with excessive taxes and ridiculous rules. Regulating the Ring Rats and Gassers to death while they reaped the profits of the planet. Preaching from pulpits that it was their honor, as Saturn’s Children, to be consumed by the planet for the survival of the species.
Link wouldn’t suffer if they were caught. He had Royal blood. Untouched blood. They’d just throw him back into his father’s compound and he would be forced to shape up and stop playing smuggler. Laria snorted; get a real job.
Everything and everyone in The Rings had its place to keep the balance. The rich stayed rich. The poor marched steadily towards death with Rasp Lung, or by Fiersprout when hydrogen leaked from inadequate equipment. Like her mother and countless friends, Saturn’s Children were destined to be consumed by their father.
Laria took a deep sigh; dropped her shoulders away from her ears and loosened her hold on the controls. All that lot; The Royals, the Gassers, Ring Rats, rules, regulations, and operations, wasn’t her fight and she didn’t want any part of it. She just wanted to earn enough to leave this Kronos-forsaken planet, all its jumbled-up masses of moons, and the kronosdamn endless nothing beyond. Where she’d go, she wasn’t sure; but she knew there was something else she was supposed to be moving on to.
She maneuvered passed the rocky streams of the innermost rings, undetectable through the murky atmosphere and untraceable in the orbit of Saturn. Her mother’s last words ran through her mind, sudden and uninvited.
You have to go back, Eularia. You have to lead them back, back to Janus. Listen to Whitman: This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, stand up for the stupid and crazy, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, re-examine all you have been told and dismiss whatever insults your own soul. You don’t belong here; you have to go back.
The words returned her to the dusty yellow light, the small, hovelled quarters of her mother who coughed up blue spittle from Rasp Lung and insisted she was all right even as she gasped between expunges. And the faded copy of verse, barely kept together with tape and glue. “spit and the grace of Kronos” her adopted father, a man named Edmund D’Sol, would say. He would visit on rare occasions and talk about mystical things and far off futures, always instilling his own stories of The Ring and the great Kronos.
Her mother would scoff; “Blaspheme…one god, one planet, many moons…gorseshit.”
“Don’t you believe in Kronos, ma?” Laria had once asked. Her mother spit on the ground, blue and oozing, and pulled the book from the shelf, one in a small mining community that knew nothing of books.
“I believe in Whitman.”
“Shhh! Listen—To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls—” and so she would go on. Expunging on how the desperate and sad, fond and sick, would go towards the best. Towards something great. Her eyes blurred against the endless darkness beyond, and the world that she hoped her daughter would make.
Look where it had ferking got them? Her mother’s stories of Earth were mirror images of Saturn’s plight. Greed and power. Powerless and death. Same ferking story, different planet.
Join me in a few weeks for the next exciting chapter. See you then!
The eve of the New Year feels different this year.
We’re standing on the precipice of a deranged, hurtful, hateful, fearful time of existence, wishing that the turn of the calendar will somehow magically allow us all to step into a new world, free of the worries and trials nipping at our heels. The hope that a new vaccine, a new administration, a new awareness, a new number on the end of the date will lead to a year that won’t be a complete and total shit show is riding on our shoulders and settling into our veins, like a bandage to a too-deep wound.
Picture a six inch gash that needs hundreds of stitches, antibiotics, and physical therapy. We’re talking muscle deep. And the change from the 31st to the 1st is the Curious George band aid you got from the elementary school nurse.
I’m not saying this to be a Debbie Downer.
I’m saying this to be cautious (Cautious Kate?) that a socially constructed but otherwise meaningless mark of ‘time’ doesn’t determine a great paradigm and brink-of-destruction shift.
I’m saying this to tell you—if you need that date to start a different way of doing things, then Hu-fucking-zzah to you and get on it, Girl (or Bro?) but don’t think that the minute shift to a new year is going to change the world itself.
That calendar flip won’t do anything until we change.
Until we start giving a damn about other human beings.
Until we start understanding if our environment dies, so do we.
Until we start to understand that science seeks truth and power corrupts.
Until we stand on our own, think for ourselves, and treat everything we touch (physically, mentally and emotionally) with the same care, empathy, and love as we would our own child (or cat if you’re a fur momma) our world will never improve.
I’ve thought often of ending this blog in the past year. Sometimes it feels like it’s all for nothing. One voice shouting into a vast expanse of darkness. One voice raised against so many overpowering facets of corruption. One voice aching for connection.
But I know I’m not the only one. And as long as our collective lights continue to shine, there will never be complete darkness. So I will stand for another year. For another day. For as long as it takes until love overpowers hate, for as long as it takes for humans to wake up to the gift of their existence.
For as long as I draw breath, I’ll write. I’ll shine.
This next year will bring about more poetry as well as a new request for submissions from readers and poets for a second anthology from The Beautiful Stuff. There will probably be some ranting, some raving, and some venting. I can’t help that—and I’m not going to try or even apologize for it.
I’m also planning on running a ‘dime novel’ series that will include some weekly submissions of short stories (a la novella style) ranging from sci-fi/fantasy, to romance, to speculative fiction.
Stay in touch, and I’ll announce submission dates for not only guest blog pieces, poetry, and anthology submissions, but also for “dime novel” contributions.
Until then…keep shining.
If you must make New Year’s resolutions, don’t think about a smaller pair of pants, but how you can make your voice and your power bigger in this world. Don’t think so much about an organized closet, but an organized movement towards social justice.
Let’s aim our sights on living large of heart in this new year.
It’s that time of year when we are faced with a choice that defines our humanity. The choice to either believe in the light of the season in all the forms it takes and spread our own joy to illuminate the shortened days, or the choice to be a petty and divisive jerk and shit on other people’s beliefs.
Don’t be petty and shitty, not any time, but especially not this time of year.
The world is dark enough as it is.
Be good to each other.
Psst… if you’re looking for a way to be good, especially after you read this tear-jerking post then click on this link and spread some joy:
I hear there have been some questions at school and amongst your friends, about if Santa Claus is real.
There comes a time, in most kids lives, when they are taught to grow up and out of what some adults call “silly, fanciful, daydreams.” And so adults and peers will go about destroying everything that even whiffs of magic, and work hard to wipe away every ounce of stardust from the eyes of children who believe.
To this I say…Shut your mean-hearted pieholes, you wankers. (And anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their existence, called a middle schooler a wanker is probably lying. Let’s face it, middle school is not our finest hour as humans.)
I’m willing to bet that these are the same little judgmentalists that gave you sideways glances for not attending a church (particularly one of a Christian persuasion).
These are the people who will say it’s obviously impossible for a generous old guy to deliver presents to kids one night of the year, while simultaneously cherishing and accepting the “fact” that a deity impregnated a virgin and their child wiped away the entirety of sin in the world…
If they can suspend reality and base their lives around the idea of (albeit a cool),hippy/demigod, is it such a stretch to believe in a jolly old elf that spreads the ideals of generosity and selfless giving for just one day?
I won’t touch your demigod hippy if you don’t touch my fat guy in a red suit.
I refuse to lose my stardust. (As Anne Shirley would say; I refuse to be poisoned by their bitterness.)
You want to know if there is magic? If Santa is real?
Here’s what I know…
Santa is real and magic exists.
How can I be sure?
I’m here aren’t I? You’re here, yes? We’re all here.
We were sprung from the unlikely combination of a chemical lottery and dumb, cosmic luck. We went on to survive hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary death traps.
If that’s not magical, what is?
Here’s what I also know.
There are two types of people in the world.
Those that destroy joy, and those that spread it.
I KNOW that it does no harm to believe in something better, more beautiful, and magical in our lives (Hippy Demigod or Santa Claus).
I KNOW, it does no harm to fill our eyes with wonder and joy in the midst of the darkest day of the year.
I KNOW, it does no harm to hope and anticipate.
I KNOW, it does no harm to walk into these short cold days with elation in our hearts.
And I KNOW this:
what a horrible, dark and sad world it must be for those that seek to take away such light; those who disbelieve and ridicule others who hold magic in their heart.
It does harm to take someone’s joy.
It does harm to smother the fire of giving and generosity.
It does harm when we seek to oppress the light of selflessness in a world so dark.
I KNOW this; each one of us chooses what we believe.
We choose what we fill our hearts with and in a world that can be so gloomy and wretched, why would you want to fill your heart with anything that would make it even more so?
I choose to believe.
I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in magic.
I believe that there is light in the darkest of times. And I believe that the joy that radiates from hearts that hope, and love, and give, is more real than any hot air getting blown around by a bunch of self-conscious, hormonal, dying-to-fit-in middle schoolers.
Now listen: I can’t decide for you what you believe, but neither can they.
So you choose.
Embrace the joy, be the magic, and light up the dark… or reject the lot of it and wipe the stardust from your eyes.
As for me and my heart; I choose joy.
I choose to believe.
REMEMBER! CHECK OUT THIS SITE AND DO SOME GOOD THIS HOLIDAY SEASON:
As we move away from November, closer to the shortest and darkest day of the year, I can feel a collective sigh round the country. This year has been unlike any other, and although some of the turmoil is behind us, a mountain still looms in front of us. We aren’t even out of the proverbial woods on many of the disruptive and soul-shaking happenings of 2020.
COVID is still raging, probably more so because of the holiday season.
Racial Injustice is still scarring and poisoning our society.
The rich are getting richer (glad to see the stock market is so healthy while 1 in 3 American school-age children are suffering from food insecurity—are we still calling that kind of shit a ‘win’ for the economy?) The poorer are falling into depths of poverty they can’t begin to rise from.
The world’s still burning and flooding. Freezing and drying up in ever intensifying waves, destroying entire habitats and species within shortening periods of time.
Did I come here to remind you of the dumpster fire caught in a tornadic shit storm that is our world? No, I did not.
I came here to remind you that you are a vessel of light.
I came here to remind you of your potential to shine even in the face of unsurmountable difficulty and hardship.
I came here to remind you that your attitude, actions, and struggles matter and can make a difference.
Am I preaching to go forth and be a Pollyanna, ray-of-delight-and-positivity, spreading goodness and sunshine to the masses so that they can catch your optimism like gonorrhea on spring break?
No. Jesus Christ, no. Certainly not.
Look, we’re all reeling. We’re all coming up out of the dark of our own prisons. We’re all trying to find balance.
I’m just asking you, in the gloom and confusion of your current state, to get out of your own head for a goddamn minute. Get out of your own misery and extend your hand. Haven’t we been marinading in our own suffering long enough? I’m saying take a break—go marinate in someone else’s—(ew David, that’s gross).
Here—let me try that again—
Do something for someone else. Donate a little more if you can (be it time, money, or resources). Bring your elderly neighbor groceries or offer to put up their holiday lights. Send care packages or thank you notes to your local hospital for the doctors and nurses who are worn thin. Call your mom. Call your best friend. Hell, call your best friend from high school. (Just–don’t call your ex—nobody needs extra shit in an already rampant shit storm). Patronize your local businesses for the holidays and take out.
None of that appealing? Not feeling THAT altruistic? Ok, feed the birds outside, especially on cold days. Spend ten extra minutes playing with your dog (but don’t break your foot—Christ Joe, do I need to pack you in bubble wrap?) or be ignored by your cat, more often…perhaps at a closer distance. Read your kids an extra story. Hug them twice as long as you normally do.
Still not ‘up’ for that challenge?
Then at least wear your goddamn mask, wash your hands, and give people space. Stay home if you’re sick. Respect people’s level of comfort—do not call it unfounded or fearful if they choose to be cautious. Call it a civic duty to keep others safe and to not create more hardship to our front-line workers and medical professionals. Being a good citizen, respecting others, and thinking about the well-being of our fellow humans should never be seen as fearful.
That’s what being a light is about. Thinking about someone other than yourself. And that, my friends is the best gift you can give.
If you can do that…just one or two of those things, I guarantee something amazing will happen. The world won’t just look a little brighter. It will BE brighter. You will feel it in the center of your chest. You’ll start to see the world as a series of choices, opportunities, to glow a little warmer. To spread more joy. And I can’t think of a world more in need of the simple, small acts of kindness. No Pollyanna pigtails and sunshine yellow dress required. (Unless you already have the outfit and bitch you look fine in it—then rock that shit).
Go on now—get out of here and do something with your codger-ly, huff-ly, badger-ly self. Be a reluctant light if you have to. But be one.
This is a little piece I wrote many moons ago for my gig at The Northern Colorado Writers Writing Bug. I’ve elaborated because (well–it’s my blog here and I can write beyond 400 words if I damn well want)
I can’t think of a better day and year to re-run it. My parents are pretty amazing people, and having a third and unexpected mouth to feed didn’t make their life any easier. But I am eternally beholden to them for the sacrifices they made to raise my siblings and me. I’m thankful for the love and laughter they built our home around, and for constantly working towards a better life for all of us through perseverance, patience, and honesty. Even when it meant welcoming their unexpected third (ahem–that’s me) into the world with open arms.
So today, whether you are thankful for your family, your friends, or for the simple fact you have a roof over your head, don’t be afraid to send those feelings of gratitude out into the universe. Thank the health care workers and essential medical personnel who are wearing thin on an every burgeoning front line. Thank your veterans and firefighters, hell–thank your postal worker because–fucking elections right before the craziest season of the year am I right?
Thank the grocery store staff who spend hours and days on their feet with the public in a time of crisis, the countless other souls who’ve made do through insurmountable odds to keep us fed and with power, and educated our kids with a host of new and difficult challenges. Thank your neighbor for raking your leaves or rake theirs as an act of good will. Thank the food bank for taking care of people who, despite working as hard as they can, still need help, by donating your time, your food, or your money.
Though we cannot be together today, (and this goes for thousands of families across all states) our hearts are never far apart.
And for that, I am grateful.
Making Do and Giving Thanks
One of my earliest memories was of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes. I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.
My father is, and always has been, a hard worker. He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes. Their amazing resilience makes me tearful with pride now, as a parent myself.
Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything.
We were always fed. We were always clothed. We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer. We made do. When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do. When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do. When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.
I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books. I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind. Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons. My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes. They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen. They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time. I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything.
Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.
We made more than just meals from small staples. We made worlds out of our love and support of one another. My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us. And we made do.