Claws

I saw you
across the Atlantic,
coated in claws,
And I miss you
so much that it feels like
claws hooked in my chest,
Because to you I am nothing,
but you are still something
to me.
And
–God–
I resent you like hell
because you didn’t keep fighting
when I gave up–
when I was so tired of having my claws out.
Because you didn’t see how confused I was;
You only saw how much I was changing–
not how much I didn’t want to.
I resent you like hell
because you thought
my illness was who I was.
So did I.
But I needed you to tell me different.
To see me different.
So I’d know I was different
than the thoughts inside my head.
But what were you supposed to do?
I can’t resent you at all.

I’m afraid to talk to people.
Did you know that?
I’ve wished you seven silent happy birthdays
and none of my new friends are closer than
“How’s work?”
“Good! How about you?”
“Good!”
“Well! See you next Sunday.”
because I still love you
like I love my childhood home,
like the bannister I curled my fingers around
when I first tried out my feet.
And I’m afraid I’ll hurt everyone
the way that I hurt you;
lose everyone
the way that I left you.
And that they will all think
my illness is who I am
because no one will be sane enough
to tell them any different.

Seven silent happy birthdays,
and my sickness still stalks me like a lost prize.
Maybe one day it will catch me
and mount me upon the wall,
forever with my claws out.
Maybe you’ll see me suspended there,
shake your head and say,
“Yep. There she goes again. Some things never change.”

Pride and Poverty

An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam. According to the World Bank, over 13 percent of Viet Nam’s population, and a quarter of the world population – nearly 2 billion people – live on $1.25 or less a day.  Photo Credit:  Kibae Park/UN Photo
An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam.
According to the World Bank, over 13 percent of Viet Nam’s population, and a quarter of the world population – nearly 2 billion people – live on $1.25 or less a day.
Photo Credit: Kibae Park/UN Photo

I’ve been awed lately by how richly blessed our family is. We always have food, clothing, a roof over our head, water, electricity and–praise God because we live in Louisiana–air conditioning. We are financially independent and consistently have money left over to save, to go on dates, to have family days. We’ve had access to tools that have taught us how to budget, and as long as we stick to that, we have very few financial worries. We are richly blessed, indeed.

It can be easy to forget sometimes that not everyone has been granted the same opportunities that we have. At just a stone’s throw above the US poverty line, our household is actually richer than 99% of the world’s population. While we have running water and air conditioning in our home, there are people walking miles through the heat every day for just the hope of clean water to drink. While we have money left over to save or to have fun with, there are people who don’t know how they’re going to feed their families for the week. And while we’ve learned how to budget every paycheck so we have exactly the right amount going to the right place, there are families living off a daily amount less than the forgotten change in the bottom of my purse. And usually, I’m not even aware of the disparity.

Even more than awed by how fortunate we are, I’m humbled. My perspective is awful sometimes. Pride and selfishness go hand in hand, each concerned with the self above all. At times, I have definitely been concerned with myself above anything else. That goes for finances too. Money often seems like too much when we’re giving it and not enough when we’re receiving it, as though somehow the context of a dollar can change its value. But it’s always a gift. It’s a gift to receive, and it’s a gift to have the ability to help others, even if that means parting with what you have.

Every so often I have revelations like this. But they fade. I get comfortable again and forget about these things until something else brings them up again (thanks, humanity). I forget to be grateful; forget to be humble; forget to think about the needs of others. This time, I don’t want to forget. I hope that no matter what happens with our finances, I could remain cognizant of the situation of those less fortunate, be grateful for the abundance we have, and out of that gratefulness, give. And I know that as I’m sanctified, I will become more like Christ: less prideful, more humble; less selfish, more giving; more and more loving of those around me. He is the source of everything good in me. May he increase as I decrease, until only Christ remains.

Monthly Book Review: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy

Before getting into the review, here’s today’s quote. What do you think? True or False?

Apparently reading begets more reading, because rather than read the one new book I promised this month, I’ve read three: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing, all part of the same trilogy by Libba Bray. Before I get to what I thought about the books, here are a few things I’ve realized since beginning this challenge of mine:

  1. I can definitely make time to read one book a month.
  2. Not only can I make time to read one book a month, but if I set my mind to it I can make time to read three books in a week.
  3. I can also make time during that week for writing, as I wrote more in the days after I read these books than I have in a long while. Reading does in fact inspire writing! Who knew? ;)

Now back to the books themselves. Here’s the synopsis of A Great and Terrible Beauty from www.libbabray.com:

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

First of all, I actually did not realize these were young adult books before I read them. A Great and Terrible Beauty was recommended to me, and I simply procured a copy from the library before doing any research on the content. That being said, though I intended to try to read books geared towards my age range, the genre doesn’t bother me. I may be a 25 year old woman with two kids, but I’ve always enjoyed the YA genre, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. Call me young at heart.

Like any work, this trilogy has its likable side and its unlikable side (at least in my opinion). We’ll start with the latter, just so we can end on a positive note.

The Unlikable:

  • Poor Reliability of Characters. I understand that people don’t work in black and white. Nobody is all good or all bad, but some mixture of the two. I have no problem with this being displayed in writing because it reflects reality. However, I do take issue when the characters are so back and forth that you have no idea who to trust. There was an air of mystery throughout this series, particularly in the second and third books. The identity of certain villains in these two remain unknown until the very end–another element that I didn’t mind. But as I read, I found myself wishing that there was one person–just ONE–that I knew for certain was on the main character’s (MC’s) side. Perhaps this was intentional on the author’s part, but to me, that got old pretty quickly. When reading a book, we should be able to learn which characters to trust, rather than just being told who to trust. Imagine if, in the Harry Potter series, every character had been as difficult to figure out as Severus Snape (to a milder degree if course, because there can be only one Severus Snape). That’s what this trilogy was like.
  • Stagnancy of Supporting Characters. The MC is the most affected by internal change throughout the books. However, while the reader does see changes occur in the other characters, these changes all seem lumped together in the last few chapters of the trilogy. Apart from this, the friends and family of the MC stay largely the same. I would have preferred to have seen a gradual growth process throughout the whole of the trilogy.
  • Unnecessary Sexualization. Get ready; I’m about to reveal what a “prude” I am. These books aren’t even close to being erotica. There are probably 6-8 scenes in the entire trilogy that include sexual ideas and language: mostly little fantasies or visions taking place in the MC’s head. I’ll be 100% honest and say that any type of sex in books usually makes me uncomfortable, so my perspective may be skewed. But the problem that I had here wasn’t that sexual content existed, but rather that it was unnecessary. Typically I see authors use sex as a way to show characters growing closer romantically instead of showing that growth through nonsexual interaction (which is a whole ‘nother issue), but in this case there wasn’t even a lack of closeness apart from sex. The characters’ attraction to one another and their increasing closeness was apparent without any help from the sexual fantasy department. In my opinion, the books themselves benefited very little from the inclusion of these scenes, and the scenes added virtually nothing to the plot, the characters or the reader’s understanding of those characters. If you want to include sexually charged scenes in your books, then feel free to do it. But like any other element, make it have purpose. Make it mean something or affect something. Otherwise, it’s unnecessary.

The Likable:

  • Well-written. In spite of the fact that there were aspects of these books that I didn’t like, they were all well-written. Libba Bray has a unique style that captures the reader’s attention and holds interest. Also, so much of her figurative language was on point. She made comparisons I never would have thought of, but were accurate and beautiful all at once. I give her props for that!
  • Themes of Women’s Rights and Disadvantages. Taking place from the viewpoint of a young woman in the late 1800’s, this trilogy includes several allusions towards suffragettes and issues facing women in that time period, including (low) cultural expectations, lack of basic freedoms, and oppression by a patriarchal system. Many of these issues still resonate in the modern world, making these allusions even more thought-provoking. Libba Bray executed this seamlessly and artfully, driving home the point without seeming like she was trying to preach. She tackled a heavy issue without once standing on a soapbox or turning her writings into political drivel, which I appreciate and applaud.
  • Believable Characters: Yes, as I said earlier, I did not like that the characters seemed unreliable and untrustworthy. That being said, however, I do feel the characters were realistic, even if I wasn’t sure what to make of them. No character was one-note. From the heroine to the villains, every person had good and bad notes, which reflects reality.
  • Unique. I’ve read a lot of books, but I’ve never read one quite like this one. I don’t want to give too much away to people who haven’t read it and may want to. All I’ll say is that I appreciated Bray’s unique take on magic, friendship, and the time period.

The Final Verdict:

All of the above are just my opinions of course, which is why I’ve labeled the sections “The Unlikable” and “The Likable” rather than “Bad” and “Good.” For my conclusion, I look to Oscar Wilde. His assertion in today’s quote is that only a book you’d read over and over again is worth reading at all. Would I read this trilogy again? In all honesty, probably not. But does that mean I felt reading it was a waste of time? No! I enjoyed the books and I’m glad I read them. They spurred me to write and offered inspiration, plus they made me think. Though I wouldn’t say I loved them, I did like them and I appreciated them for what they were. If you enjoy YA and fantasy, I would certainly recommend the Gemma Doyle Trilogy to you. And keep reading! Read books even if you might never read them again. You can almost always learn something. Sorry, Mister Wilde, but I think you’re a bit off on this one.

Today’s Prompt: Write a short story based on a book you’ve read over and over again. Use the same characters and setting, but create your own adventure.

Happy Writing!

A Sprinkling of Adverbs: 5 Appropriate Uses

Kharis Courtney

Adverbs. People hate them. Stephen King hates them. Writing bloggers all across the Internet hate them. Some of my writing professors even hated them. Adverbs are the cockroach of language, apparently.

But what’s the big deal? Why do adverbs have such a bad rap when they have a purpose and place just like any other part of language? Of course, like any other type of word, you don’t want to rely to heavily on adverbs. No “Susie cautiously walked lightly to the poorly lit, haphazardly perched treehouse” type sentences, please. Four adverbs in one sentence is just a bit much. But a story won’t suffer from a sprinkling of adverbs here and there. I’d venture to say a well-used adverb enhances writing rather than takes away. And what makes an adverb well-used?

  1. It clarifies rather than confuses. Some types of adverbs are particularly guilty of contributing to vague language. Examples:…

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A Sprinkling of Adverbs: 5 Appropriate Uses

 Adverbs. People hate them. Stephen King hates them. Writing bloggers all across the Internet hate them. Some of my writing professors even hated them. Adverbs are the cockroach of language, apparently.

But what’s the big deal? Why do adverbs have such a bad rap when they have a purpose and place just like any other part of language? Of course, like any other type of word, you don’t want to rely to heavily on adverbs. No “Susie cautiously walked lightly to the poorly lit, haphazardly perched treehouse” type sentences, please. Four adverbs in one sentence is just a bit much. But a story won’t suffer from a sprinkling of adverbs here and there. I’d venture to say a well-used adverb enhances writing rather than takes away. And what makes an adverb well-used?

  1. It clarifies rather than confuses. Some types of adverbs are particularly guilty of contributing to vague language. Examples: sort of, kind of, somewhat, to some extent. All of these are adverb phrases that don’t do much for a sentence. If you must qualify with an adverb, try one that targets your actual meaning rather than a vague idea. 
  2. It’s necessary. In writing, there are times in which an adverb changes the entire meaning/feeling of a sentence. It may be necessary to use an adverb to show an action the way you want it to be shown. For example, you might say, “Timmy stared at Sally.” But is Timmy staring longingly? Angrily? Hopefully? Sometimes, as we all know, that matters. Of course, there’s always a way to make a sentence adverb-free—”Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear.” or something of the sort— which brings us to the next point.
  3. It’s efficient. There may be a hundred different ways to say the same thing, but the best one to choose is the one that streamlines the readability of your work. Sometimes that involves an adverb. Perhaps you have four adverb-less sentences already, and you need a snappy alternative for sentence number five. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to use an adverb if you need to.
  4. It’s right. Occasionally, as writers, there are things that just sound “right.” We may not be able to explain it, but we know that a sentence or a word is simply meant to be. If an adverb is what’s right, it’s right. Don’t let conventional writing “rules” hold you back.
  5. In dialogue. I implore you: please use adverbs in your dialogue. Forget all the points above and just use them, even if they’re vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Why? Because humans often say things that are vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Hardly anyone speaks like a narrator all the time. For dialogue to be effective, it must be real. And real people say “kind of.” Real people don’t say things like, “Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear.” So please, when your character is having a conversation, use adverbs at will, just as you would in life. Make it believable.

How do you feel about adverbs? Useful tool or Language Cockroach? Let me know what you think!

Today’s Prompt: Write a one to two page story entirely without the use of adverbs. Include at least one conversation in your story.

Happy Writing!

  

Show and Tell (Writing Visually)

 
“Don’t tell; show.” I’ve heard that from just about every source and authority on writing I’ve ever come across. Use language to show the reader what’s going on. This is writing 101. Basic. I’ve given this advice myself, because (despite the musings to come in the next paragraph) I believe it’s the best way to write.

HOWEVER (here come the musings)…

As easy as it might be to say, this rhetoric is not always easy to put into practice. Is it possible that sometimes there’s no better way to say something?  That no matter how hard we might try to show, we end up telling instead? There are no absolute rules of writing, after all. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another. Perhaps there’s someone out there who actually likes being told things instead of shown. Bring me such a person, and I will have a very lengthy and impassioned debate with him/her, but I will still respect that differing opinion (okay—maybe). 

So when is it okay to tell instead of show? What are some instances you’ve come across that required telling rather than creating a visual? Did you find those passages less enjoyable than others or were you able to maintain the quality throughout? I’d like to hear from you!

On the happenings and news side of things, I’m slightly dismayed to announce that (as you might have noticed already), I’m having to step back from posting. My “quotes of the day” now have to become “quotes of the week.” Not only am I a stay at home mom of two busy youngsters, a writer, and a blogger, but I also have a freelance design business. The good news is my design business has started growing. The bad news? It’s eating my time and something’s gotta give. Sorry WordPress, that’s you. In any case, I’m thinking Mondays will be my posting day (yes, I know this is Wednesday and I’m already off schedule, but give a supermom a break).

In other news, my book reading adventure for September will be A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. I plan on getting started tomorrow if you’d like to join!

Today’s Prompt: Write a short story from the first person perspective of someone who has been blind since birth. The setting: a city park on a lovely day.

Happy Writing! 

  

Reading for Writing (A Reading Challenge)


Guilty. Between writing, blogging, graphic design, household duties, raising two kids and the vague hope of a social life, my hands and schedule are decidedly full. Reading tries to climb up the priority list, but usually gets knocked down by the multitude of other responsibilities that require attention. And yet, reading is something I love–something I hate to go without. When I don’t read, the impact on my creativity is tangible. My efficiency as a writer obviously shifts, and I think I know why: There exists a connectedness between we who work in words. It’s as if we’re all sharing our creativity: reading others’ pieces to spark our imaginations, and then in turn producing material that will stir some other writer’s thoughts. We require inspiration to inspire–like we must take in a breath in order to breathe one out. Unfortunately, the business of life often gets in the way and we’re left wanting for air, wheezing out our lines and pages.

I’ve decided to make an initiative for myself and anyone else who needs to take a breath: It may be a small step, but I’ll be reading one new book a month. The emphasis is on “new” because I have a funny habit of reading the same few books repeatedly. Why, I couldn’t say, but my husband teases me mercilessly over this quirk of mine. Hopefully, exposure to some new material will inspire me even more than (or at least as much as) the books I’ve come to know as old friends. If you’re having trouble finding time to read, and especially if you’re also finding your work to be lagging (as I have been), try jumping in on this challenge with me. I’ll let you know what I plan to read before I begin, and it’d be awesome to have a discussion about the book when the month is up. Feel free to join me.

As for the month of September, I’m open to suggestions. What’ve you got?

Today’s Prompt: Write a short story set in a world in which people only communicate through the exchange of written fiction (books, poetry, short stories, etc.)

Happy Writing!

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Bored With Your Own Writing

 Have you ever written a passage—or even a whole chapter—then gone back to read it only to discover that it bored you to death? I’d bet so. After all, even the best writers write poorly sometimes. Usually I find this happens after a particularly difficult bit of writing: anything complex or with a lot of detail. You try so hard to get it out and paint an accurate picture that you end up oversharing and your reader (usually also you) ends up falling asleep between the lines. When this happens, you might be tempted to beat yourself up or even to give up, but don’t! Use that backspace/delete key without mercy. Go back to the point at which you lost interest, and just cut, cut, cut. There’s no shame in starting over, especially when the second try (or third, or fourth)  interests and surprises even the one who wrote it.

Today’s Prompt: Dig up an old story you weren’t happy with or gave up on. Read it, identify the problems, and then start over. Make it great.

Happy Writing!

  

Dear Moms: Sometimes Love Grows, and That’s Okay.

  
Three years ago this morning, I posted this scripture: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3.30)

Little did I know that I would indeed be decreasing that day—by about 20 pounds. My oldest daughter, now affectionately called Biggle in public internet posts, was born that afternoon, filling my life and shrinking my belly.

I’m not going to lie; as wonderful as she is, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her for a while. The two of us got off to a rough start. I loved her, but I found that the happy warnings everyone had given me fell flat on their faces, and that had me confuddled, to say the least. Veteran mothers had assured me:

“As soon as you see her, you’ll realize you never really knew what love was before.” 

“You’ll fall in love with her instantly,”

“You think you love your husband until you have kids. Then you find out what love really is.”

All of these things I had heard countless times during my pregnancy, and yet in the twilight hours, after visitors had gone and we were left alone with our brand new person, I looked over my daughter’s tiny head and swirls of black hair at the man who helped make her. Still, I loved him more than anything on the planet—more even than the baby in my arms. When I looked down at those steely, new-to-the-world eyes, I didn’t find love at first sight. I found a tiny, squalling creature with rolled up fists and a purple Angel’s Kiss splashed across her forehead, but that love? The love that was so great and terrible I never could have understood it before I had kids?  It wasn’t there—or if it was, it wasn’t what I’d been led to believe. She left me in awe. I would have given my life for her in a heartbeat, but at that time, that instinct was biological. It wasn’t emotional. I didn’t even know her. After an early arrival and a surprise C-section that I didn’t want, I barely even felt like she was mine. It was like someone handed me a baby and said, “Here, this is yours.” She didn’t look like me. I’d never met her. I did nothing to physically push her into the world. I didn’t even see her for 15 minutes after she was born. Then almost as soon as I got her, she was taken and passed around to visitors. When they gave her back, they said, “Here, this is yours.”

But I was exhausted. She was so unfamiliar. So even though I smiled and nursed her and did everything I knew I should, and even though I loved her in that strange, biological-imperative kind of way, my heart said back, “Is it? Well, someone prove it.”

On top of that, I wasn’t ready for her yet—we had been working on getting our home livable, but it still wasn’t prepared to move into. We wrapped her up in blankets and took her “home” to someone else’s home. I’m so grateful we had somewhere to go after leaving the hospital, but it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I felt out of place, uncertain,  and shaky. Nothing seemed solid to me. It was as if I was floating, suspended in midair, with no control over anything. How was I supposed to be the solid, unshakeable being I thought a mother should have been? I couldn’t. Beneath the heartbreaking happiness that came with my little girl, there was an undeniable sadness to it all. And I worried that I was an awful person because I loved my husband more than ever and only loved her because I should have.

Just like with any other person I’ve ever known and loved, I grew to love my daughter. Our love wasn’t instant or all-consuming, but steady and real. I had to learn how to love like a mother loves, and what that meant. When my second child was born, I already knew. I knew how to be a mother and I knew what that love felt like. When they put him in my arms, I loved him. Instantly. But Biggle and I, we were in the trenches together, so to speak. We figured out this whole parent-child thing, side by side, together. And because of that I love her in a greater, entirely different way than I possibly could have three years ago when they laid her against my breast.

Today she is three years old, with beautiful brown hair that falls like silk ribbon in curls around her face. She wrinkles her nose when she smiles, can’t stand to wear clothes, and has enough sass to rival even my own, which I’ve dutifully cultivated since birth. Although there’s still a healthy distinction between the love I have for my husband and the love I have for my kids (my relationship with him comes first, always. That’s the best we could do for out children and they thrive because of it), I couldn’t love her more if I tried. I love her more than myself. I love her more than my own life. That love just took a while to grow.

My prayer is the same today. Let there be more of you and less of me, Father. You are the love that I give my children and the rest of the world. Let that love increase.

Happy Birthday Biggle, and cheers to all the mothers out there.

 

What’s Your Reason? 

 
This is just a Fast Friday quote, but my quick two cents is that Elizabeth Hardwick must have had a pretty dismal view of writing. If I had to choose one word to describe my reason for writing, it wouldn’t be “desperation” or “revenge” or anything else so morose. It would be “love.” I write because I love it so much I can’t not write—a vastly better reason than either of the above, I think.

So what’s your reason? If you had to put it into just one word, what would that word be?

Today’s Prompt: Carl is a proud resident of a fancy-shmancy suburban neighborhood. Two weeks ago, his next-door neighbor killed Carl’s prized petunias in order to take the neighborhood’s esteemed “Lawn of the Month” award. It worked, but now Carl is going to have his revenge. Write a short story detailing his master plan and how it turns out.

Happy Writing!