Easing a Restless (Writing) Heart

I have prided myself in staying with a job or career for a length of time. I’m not one to jump from job to job or change careers on a whim. I worked in retail for eight years, as an office administrator in the dental field for fourteen, and in higher education for eleven. So, when I took the leap into teaching, which proved an erroneous choice, only to return to education and fundraising, I thought I’d made the right choice by returning to a familiar path. Possibly, this is the path I was meant all along, or is it? Suddenly, I am faced with a restlessness unknown to me. Where has all of this come from? Why this insatiable need to discover the right path?

Is this restlessness a symptom of mid-life and all those nagging questions that arise when we are faced with the brevity of our lives? Do we truly need to secure the answer to the question—what is my purpose? Yes. At least for me, that answer is yes. I do believe we all have a purpose and are placed upon our paths for a reason, but it is up to each of us to know our path and be content in its geography. Whether our paths lead us to worldly fame, community celebrity, or a profound contentment within our family or circle of friends, to have a purposeful life is deemed the goal. I do not fear death, but what I do fear is drawing my final breath with the thought of not fulfilling my purpose or questioning if my life was enough. Life is a gift and to treat it as such is the catalyst of my purpose.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t quite understand this sense of purpose. I chalked it up to “what do I want to be when I grow up” and tossed in on a back-burner.  No one has time for purpose when ones only goal is to have fun, be daring, and memorize when and where the two-for-one drink specials are in town. I’m sure I thought my only purpose was to attend as many concerts, have as much fun, and drink as much beer as humanly possible before I turned thirty. If that was my purpose, well I can honestly say I was quite successful.

It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I began to question my path on this earth. Why am I here? What am I supposed to accomplish with this life? Throughout my twenties, I’d rarely written a word let alone a poem or short story. Once a large part of my being, putting pen to paper had all but disappeared except for the stories I created in my mind, counting characters instead of sheep, etching them upon the right hemisphere of my brain until they exploded in word stars above my bed at night. It wasn’t until I began my pursuit of the long-eluded college degree that my writing returned. After my first English class, the graduate teaching assistant asked me if he could use one of my papers as an example of good storytelling, then proceeded to question why I was majoring in health administration. But, it wasn’t until my second and third English professors asked me the same question, followed by “you should be writing.”

One would think that would be enough. To have your passion encouraged and somewhat validated should set you on the path with a vigor and with fire, and it did as I switched my major in the middle of my sophomore year to English. My new career goal became to teach in higher education, but by the time I earned my bachelor’s degree and began the pursuit of my master’s in creative writing, life threw some large and life-changing obstacles in my way. Those hurdles lead to my newfound career in fundraising and eleven experience-gaining and incredible years with Wichita State University. I wasn’t teaching at my alma mater as I had once dreamed, but I was learning, growing, and making my way.

If you’ve been following my mermaid path, you know where it went from there—to secondary education. I’d continued to feel strongly I was meant for the path of teaching, only to discover this was not my purpose. I returned to fundraising and management, but the restlessness did not go away. It intensified, kept me up at night, bore holes in my confidence and left me anxious and feeling as if I’d misplaced something. It was like losing your favorite pen and spending weeks upon weeks sticking your fingers between sofa cushions, turning over laundry bins, and noticing you need to do a better job of vacuuming under the beds while all the time knowing it had to be someplace you were forgetting to look, somewhere right in front of you.

Then, I attended a session as part of college readiness workshop for juniors in high school. I’d been wanting to hear the facilitator speak. The session was “Leading with Purpose” and as part of the session the highly engaging young man brought up a PowerPoint slide with one word on it: Purpose. He asked everyone in the room to close their eyes and think about what their purpose might be and what first comes to mind. I decided to join the students. I closed my eyes and without hesitation, as if spoken aloud—tell and share stories. Tell and share stories. Not teach, not nonprofit fundraising or community engagement, but tell and share stories. Just as I was coming to the realization I’d possibly remembered where I’d last placed my favorite pen, the facilitator had us open our eyes and encouraged a few of the students to share what first came to mind. He forwarded to the next slide: Passion. He had us close our eyes one more time. What is your passion? You can guess what first came to my mind: writing. I had found my favorite pen. It had been where I’d placed it all along, in the drawer of my writing desk for safekeeping.

Now begins another journey, albeit familiar. I’ve accepted a position where I will spend much of my time creating and revising content. I’ll be writing and pushing the right hemisphere of my brain into overdrive, something I’ve not done since my days in graduate school when the writing spilled forth on the page and the stories in my head pulsated and pushed to be born. Plus, I’ve volunteered for a community project gathering the stories and history of an entire neighborhood, which I am hopeful will result in my being able to tell and share a few. We shall see. What I do know is I feel confident, hopeful, and somewhat at peace with myself. I will be telling and sharing stories. I will be writing for a living. The restlessness has subsided.


Day #1: Better Late Than Never

I have arrived. Of course, I was an hour and a half later than I expected, as I missed a turn and drove almost an hour out of my way, but for those who know of my inability to comprehend directions, this should come as no surprise. None.

I barely had time to put away my belongings and arrange my writing desk before I walked over to the main house for the kick-off to Fleur Delicious event. Dairy Hollow hosted a fundraiser complete with French wine, local wine, local cheeses, and French pastries. While enjoyable, I felt a little overwhelmed as everyone knew one another and were engaged in conversations and boisterous laughter. But, everyone was incredibly friendly and I was introduced to guests as one of the “writer’s in residence” which gave me pause. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been introduced as a writer. A very long time.

I left the event early in order to snap photos of the colony and head over to #505, which houses four of the other writer’s suites. Only one other writer was present at dinner, which consisted of a lovely vegetable quiche, fresh salad, and baked potato. A writer of non-fiction, her company was perfect for a quiet dinner. She is also a veteran of the colony so was able to give me a few tips.

Now, I am settled in my suite, which is much more than I expected (photos, tomorrow) and I am waiting for the newness of it all to fade and the reality of undisturbed writing to take hold. I’m nervous about it. What if my characters didn’t make the trip? What if I can’t write. I decided to ease into the evening with this post and to look over one of my older journals. Interestingly, the first thing I read was a post dated April 17, 2009. It was when I took my mother to Kansas City to see Sandra Cisneros, the author of The House on Mango Street. Cisneros is one of my favorite authors and an inspiration. That evening, especially when mom and I met her and had our photo taken with her, was very special.

So special, I’d written in my journal something she’d said at the reading, “We (the Latino community) need to write our stories, tell the stories of our communities. These stories need to be told by the people who love their communities. Because if we don’t, someone from the outside will try, someone from the outside who thinks they’re looking in.”

I believe the muse has arrived, too. Just in time.

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In Search of Tiny Yellow Flowers

On Thursday, April 16, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1982) took leave of this earth. I learned of his passing late in the evening while perusing the day’s news and was immediately saddened by his passing. The first thing I envisioned was Mexico City blanketed in tiny yellow flowers, as in the passage from One Hundred Years of Solitude etched upon my heart the moment I read and reread the last paragraph of what, if numbered, would be chapter seven:

” Then they went into José Arcadia Buendia’s room, shook him as hard as they could, shouted in his ear, put a mirror in front of his nostrils, but they could not awaken him. A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.”

While many offered and still offer their interpretations of those flowers, the imagery of those magical flowers, the weeping of those petals from the skies, drew me nearer to the language of the novel, immersed me fully in the telling of the story of the Buendia family. I fell in love with the imagination of Señor Garcia Marquez. I prayed my own imagination would blossom from his writing.

In this post, I am not interested in the author’s longtime relationship with Fidel Castro, nor whether or not Garcia Marquez was the first true author of magical realism. Garcia Marquez brought a passion to writing I often lacked. Plus, his ability to weave the magic from an ordinary or extraordinary day, the fantastical elements of nature, and the “Surrealism (that) comes from the reality of Latin America” into his novels captured the story telling I’d heard from various aunts and uncles growing up. Whether at small kitchen tables, back porches, or crowded living rooms, the stories shared were embellishments of a youth long past or the brightened coloring of an impoverished household. Children grew like weeds over night, boys ran faster than the train engines crossing 21st street, tortillas melted like butter upon the tongue, women sang like lipsticked nightingales, and men drank gallons of tequila before passing out upon tiny beds made from serape-draped guitars. Gabriel Garcia Marquez could have been one of my uncles drinking beer at the table with my father. The first time I saw a photo of Garcia Marquez, I knew his laugh would surely be the same as my Uncle Marshall or his brother, my Uncle Jimmy.

So, I was surprised this morning when I learned my parents, especially my mother, were unfamiliar with the author’s works. Following Easter Mass, as we ordered breakfast at Red Bean’s Bayou Grill, my mother asked if I could help her download to her Kindle a book or two “by the writer in Mexico City who just died. The news piece said one of his books is the greatest book ever written and has been read all over the world in many languages.” I felt ashamed I had never introduced my mother, the one who walked with me to the local public library, the one who fueled my passion for books, to the one author who’d captured glimpses of those baritone voices in song around our kitchen table. I told her I would not download to her Kindle, but would bring her my books. She was thrilled.

I will now enjoy rereading Garcia Marquez through my mother. I know she will have questions, and I know she will want to see the film Love in the Time of Cholera, as she always likes to view those movies inspired or adapted from novels. And I will wait to see if she glimpses the magic of her own hard-working life or the realities of the community in which she planted her own trees and flowers. And as she reads, I will begin to write, drawing from the idea of Garcia Marquez,  “…there’s a learning process you have to go through again before you rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing.”  For my own arm is cold, but with the great author’s passing, my soul is warm with inspiration and I am hopeful it will spread to my hands and fingers, but more  importantly, my imagination.

An excerpt from Garden (2011)- Olmsted

            “Her grandmother pinched the live flowers from their stalks, catching their vibrant heads that immediately shriveled and dried as they fell into the woven basket on her arm. As her abuela moved through the garden, she never looked at her granddaughter, and Amalia was relieved. But, why was she afraid of what she might see in the face of her grandmother? Would she look into those brown, almost apologetic eyes, the eyes she recognized in the mirror when she gazed upon her own small face? Would she see the freckled, sagging cheeks Amalia used to hold between her tiny hands. Or would she see something she didn’t recognize? Something long dead. Amalia listened as her grandmother began to sing, her words echoing against the side of the house and filling Amalia with a familiar sadness, “In the train of the absent, I go away, my ticket does not have a return…”













2013 and a Pact with the Devil

Okay, maybe not the devil. More like my husband and two good friends, all creative people who let their creativity sit on a shelf most of 2012. Once purposeful and fulfilling, creativity became a forlorn knickknack, one of those pieces you fear to toss because there is so much history behind the piece, an incredible story to be shared when someone new to your home gazes upon it, a feeling of familiarity and strength when you hold it in your hand. Dusty, immobile, useless. Shame on us.

So, the weekend before Christmas, before a roaring fire and with holiday cocktails in hand, we made a pact. Each one of us responsible for saving our talents from the cobwebbed shadows of those shelves and returning to palette and canvas, sketch pads, laptops, journals and notebooks.

I’ve missed it. I’ve longed for it. And yet, I have found excuse after excuse for placing my creativity back on the shelf after a quick dusting. After all, in one year I changed jobs twice and with each change came added responsibilities, major time conflicts, brain overload and exhaustion. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit at my desk or with a laptop and force my tired brain to expand, to fire, to create. I realize now that was my biggest mistake.

While I’ve enjoyed the career change, each position bringing with it incredible experiences and learning opportunities, something has been amiss. I’m not happy. Even though my most recent position is the meshing of both of my worlds, my 14+ years experience working in the dental field and my seven years with the university, a perfect fit. But, I’ve been struggling. I’ve been doubting my decision, rethinking my place with the university. Something is still not right.

Then, mid-December my MFA faculty advisor retired. Dr. Richard Spilman was my fearless leader during the pursuit of my master’s, but more importantly, as he guided me through the creation of my short story collection, he taught me what it means to be a writer. Somehow, I’d forgotten all of his words of wisdom until I sat at the back of the room in the lower level of Ablah Library and listened to him read from his own published works. After the reading, he accepted well-wishes, signed copies of his book, The Estate Sale, and said goodbye. I waited to be one of the last in line. After I congratulated him on his retirement and asked what he planned to do now that he was leaving WSU, he inquired if I was writing. Oh, imagine my embarrassment when I replied, no. He was direct in his response. Write.

Write. This is what is missing from my life, the sharing of stories whether in the creation of a new short story, adding a new chapter to my novel, or blogging about my favorite sports team or why I love Kansas, I need to write. My new career with the university is not who I am, it’s a part of me, but it is not the fabric of who I am, it is merely a thread. Sure, it’s important, but it is not the best of me, the truest of me. It’s time to write.

Thus begins the pact. Each of us will give our creativity a good dusting and place it where it belongs at the center of our lives, the focus of the room, so to speak. Wish us luck.

“It’s a wonderful thing to write. You can reclaim the things you lost.” -Jeremy Page, Sea Change.