Slapped Style-less in Seattle

You can imagine, I was looking forward to my trip to Seattle, using airports as my personal social petri-dish. Excited for the first in many planned opportunities to gain creative perspective.

Only the perspective I glimpsed wasn’t flattering. It smacked me in the face hard, laughed, and walked away.

Let me start by telling you, this is not an issue of vanity. Consider it instead an issue of maybe self-value, definitely self-awareness. Really it’s about being all of me and not merely one of my life roles …

I never considered myself frumpy (dare I make an Ugly Betty reference here), but I wasn’t haute couture either. I wasn’t a fashionista or a trendsetter but I would have called myself stylish.

I liked what I liked and stayed in tune with the what’s-hot-what’s-not type of lists, you can find in magazines like Glamour and IN Style, to avoid embarrassing myself much.

People who knew me in my formative years, could probably pick things out and say, “This is something Gail would wear.” I had my favorites within every trend. My style was definitive.

Post kids I said, I wouldn’t be one of “those” women who “let herself go” because their role in life evolved and they added a new title to their resume: mom.

SMACK!

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

The truth is I’m a little less Gail-tastic and a lot more Ugly Betty (this is the best place for this reference). I did the very thing I said I wouldn’t do. I became one of “those” women.

While I still frequent the salon for my hair and nails, leave the house wearing makeup and give off the air of being put together, my wardrobe is lacking.

Here’s what happened in Seattle … I walked through a high-end department store watching my colleague shop and thinking: “I don’t get these trends,” and “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that.”

SLAP!

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

As I touched various items: dresses and skirts, shorts and shoes, scarves and necklaces, I realized I have NO style. Style-less in Seattle.

Strolling through the women’s department, with a dismissive attitude, I systematically wrote off every option. I mean we’re back to parachute pants?

Okay, I found a few things I liked: grey cardigan, kelly-green scarf with bright yellow polka dots, and a hot pink D&G trench coat (not an ensemble people, individual items to weave into my wardrobe). All of which were left adorning their chrome racks.

I was too shocked to impulse buy and sensible enough to forego the buyer’s remorse.

My closet can be divided into two categories: work and not work; nothing in between, neither of which is inspired or gives the sense of “who is Gail Hanson?” and if it does I’m afraid of what story it’s telling.

SMACK!

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

When did this migration from bright creative frippery to functional clothing happen?

Even my shoe lust waned. I started looking for comfortable shoes rather than the type of shoes that aren’t for walking but for showcasing with crossed legs or ankles?

I guess partly, in a world open toed shoes, which I can no longer wear, it’s hard to find a cute closed toe high heel. Shoe shopping is less fun when your options are limited to a quarter of the available selection. But I digress.

Maybe the migration can be attributed to the yo-yo 20 pounds I drop and gain annually. Regardless, my style revelation mortified me.

DOUBLE SMACK!

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

I need an intervention. I am that mom.

Why did What Not To Wear have to choose 2013 as the year to call it quits. I need Stacy and Clinton’s help, desperately. What are their style rules again?

  • Fit the body you have now.
  • Shine, texture, pattern, color.

Dramatic, but I was freaked out to recognize my wardrobe is “safe”. Where were the iconic colors and silhouettes of a daring, zealous woman with wildly imaginative streak?

I said this wasn’t about vanity and it’s not, please understand … There was a time when appearance was priority and I measured all aspects of life by outer beauty, the objects I could put on to mask the virtues I lacked.

In my teens, I wanted to be with the “pretty people”, perfectly coiffed, polished and poised, wearing the latest and greatest, so that everyone would know I was somebody.

A poor measure but often in our teens we want to fit in and to be popular. We don’t want to be laughed at or mocked, our self-esteem wrapped up in the way we look. Appearance gave us a false sense of control.

Shallow and ignorant. I didn’t just want to be with the “pretty people”, I wanted to be one. Sad, I know, judging a book by the cover (I had to have a bookish reference). I was in my twenties when I learned that true beauty comes from the inside out; that the dust cover is a mirror image of what’s inside.

BACK-HANDED SLAP!

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Yet, I’m real enough to know that our culture, our world values beauty. It’s an extension of high school that I didn’t anticipate. I acknowledge that to be relevant my style matters.

Although I’ve come back from Seattle a little bruised and battered, I also come back aware. Aware that my style needs an upgrade but it can be unique and trend breaking and appealing.

I need a revival. My style should be reflective of the artsy, bolder, wiser, and sassier self.

*HAND TO FOREHEAD, AH-HA MOMENT*

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Best Beginnings

“There is no beginning too small.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Currently on my nightstand  ... some on loan from friends. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Currently on my nightstand … some on loan from friends.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My best beginning is steeped in words and was the best beginning twice: once as a little girl and once as a parent.

My reading journey began with trepidation … halting steps.

Picture an awkward first grader, uncomfortable in her skin early in life, already different because of the color of her skin and body type. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be “normal”.

The youngest child in my family who was replaced as such by a surprise baby sister, school was the environment where I could be myself and where I was most alive.

One challenge … academically I struggled. Often I was in the lowest levels of each subject: math, writing, reading. I didn’t care much about math but reading made an impression.

Life in the late 70s and early 80s wasn’t like today. Few people sent their kids to school knowing how to count to one hundred or read by sight. Back in those days reading went hand in hand with phonics.

It’s no wonder that I was “behind”.

There were lots of books in my home but they were mostly adult reads. Both my parents were insatiable readers but I don’t have memories of mom and dad reading to me, although they talk about doing so.

I was frustrated watching my friends and mortal enemies (as if that exists at 7) dive into more complex books than See Spot Run or Dick and Jane. They were growing their skills and vocabulary, sounding out words and counting syllables with fists striking tabletops. All my words were short single beats.

Devastated to find out I wasn’t equal, that I work to do, that I didn’t fit in, it was a heartbreaking time.

You’re wondering how this could possibly be the best beginning?

Well, it forced me to fight for written words. Envy drove me to become the best reader in my peer group instead of the worst. And in the process I fell in love with language, with literature.

Now I experience the world in words similar to conversation bubbles in comics and cartoons. (There’s a book, A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, that I am dying to read because the description of how Felicity views the world feels like how I see it.)

Words and stories and books are how I fit in.

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Round one of in my two part best beginning saga put me on the path of a life long love affair with great stories. Round two is less “hero’s journey” and more practical but no less tied for best.

Looking back at the initial trauma I lived through made me determined that my dudes would have a better tale to tell.

Their reading journey is my second trip to unlocking the wonder of words. It’s a personal mission. Even though it shares the title of best there is something sweeter about walking through it with my boys.

From board books to picture books and from comic books to chapter books and even eBooks to audio books, my boys have fallen in love with the power of stories. And it’s the only gift I felt qualified to give them.

What a rewarding opportunity to observe:

  • Stillness because they’re lost in another world.
  • Peels of laughter that is private joke between them and the pages.
  • Vocabulary beyond their ages and catches me off guard.
  • Expressions of sadness or anger that result in books being thrown down.
  • Conversations that start with “Mom you have to read this because…” Followed by a plot summary or character analysis (and they don’t know that’s what they’re doing).

At ages nine and seven, they own more books than I did when I was old enough to work full time and buy my own. Plus we take advantage of the local library and visit our local bookstores. Another joy is borrowing and loaning books to friends. This summer I hope to facilitate a “book club” experience for them and our small group buddies.

Readers surround them. They believe that readers are leaders.

How wonderful it is to have their reading origins shape their interests. My nine year old is planning a future as a comic book writer and illustrator. His seven-year-old little brother is a fledgling filmmaker.

I pray that this reading life is worthy of best beginning in their estimation. May storytelling stay in their blood. May they bring to words to life for others. May they continue the legacy of reading being the best beginning, twice.

What about you? What are your thoughts on beginnings? What is your BEST beginning?

 NOTE: This was a reflective journal exercise for me. Thanks to Lisa Sonora for sharing her 30-Day ROOT Journal Project with the world. And thank you to Stephanie at Visible and Real for writing the post that led me to Lisa.

World of Words: My Experience at Festival of Faith and Writing

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

I had the privilege of attending the Festival of Faith and Writing or #FFWGR on twitter hosted by Calvin College every two years. It’s THE literary event and it floods our city with artists, creative, wordsmiths, and readers.

Maybe I’ve mentioned before the power of community to inspire, motivate, and engage people. Well the #FFWGR community is a testament to that power. They are my people. What a sense of kindred spirit.

However, I have a confession and a regret. I’ve considered myself “well read” but even as a voracious reader I found that I had not read anything by any of the numerous speakers.

In the months leading up to the Festival I checked out the speakers and facilitators. Looking at their books and descriptions on Amazon. Visiting their author pages and websites. Hitting their social media sites. All to find, I knew a handful of names and their reputation in the writing world.

Despite having read zero of the represented presenters, I have to say what an awesome event. It was filled with great tips and advice; motivation and humility; and an energetic group of vibrant characters. Did I mention they are my peeps?

Mostly the Festival provoked in me a challenge and a desire to do what I love; to write. I learned that swimming in words surrounded by others who love words as much, is the place I am at my best.

At the end of each of the three days I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from all the interaction and knowledge. I am after all an introvert which means I get zapped by the social parts of life. And still, my mood was high. I didn’t yell at my kids like I do when I get home from working. I responded differently. They experienced a kinder, gentler mom.

Calvin Campus © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Calvin Campus
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Writing is many things. Speakers referred to writing as:

  • Higher calling
  • Stewardship
  • Self-Examination
  • Silence
  • Worship
  • Mirrors and Windows

For me, writing is all of that plus it is who I am. My sanity is tied to my writing. It relaxes me in the midst of hectic life. Writing helps me express what I feel, what I want to see in the world, and how I want to be remembered.

No matter how many times I quit, coming back to a world of words is like coming home. Every speaker and contributor, every participant, and every moment of the Festival was the jumpstart I desperately needed.

My favor quotes and the most tweet-able statements (please keep in mind that the speaker may have been quoting someone else and I didn’t do a good job of capturing that):

The cynics among you have a lot of blah, blah, blah to lay at your feet. Skepticism is good. Cynicism is the killer of dreams. ~James McBride

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.

~Hugh Cook

We give language to longings that have yet to be articulated. ~Sharon Garlough Brown

If you will extract the precious from the worthless, you will be my spokesman. ~Tracy Groot adapted from Jeremiah 15:19

When we choose the right word, it’s worth a thousand pictures.

~Richard Foster

I gave up pontificating for Lent. ~

Silence is writing. If you want to be a better writer, if you want to have things to say, you need to spend time in silence. ~Nathan Foster

Failure is an integral part of success … recognition is earned not bestowed … If I’ve never failed at anything in life, I am setting my goals to low. ~Pam Munoz Ryan

True objectivity is fiction. We all write from a specific social location. ~Valerie Weaver Zercher

What I know about anything applies to everything. ~Anne Lamott

You are so loved and preapproved. ~Anne Lamott

The sacrament of puttering … Laughter is carbonated holiness. ~Anne Lamott

It’s the business of the writer to tell what haunts us. ~Valerie Sayers

Talent is a God-given gift often squandered. ~Valerie Sayers

Writing fiction is like being in your underwear in front of the world.

~Suzanne Woods Fisher

I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing. ~Suzanne Woods Fisher adapted from 2 Samuel 24:24

All fantasy has a happy ending or at least a hopeful ending. ~G. Willow Wilson

Any belief system worth anything should tell an ethical message to all people. ~G. Willow Wilson

As writers of faith, we don’t have to operate with the scarcity principle because we serve at the pleasure of a generous Master.

~Rachel Held Evans

This is not a competition, it’s worship. ~Rachel Held Evans

Sitting in the sanctuary of his words. ~Rachel Held Evans

Amazing right? How can I not face writer’s block and rejection after hearing such statements of faith and writing? Bulletproof comes to mind.

I am still processing all of it. Ruminating.

I’ll tell you what though … since all of you are my peeps too, mark your calendars for the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing.

I hope to see you there!

Wanderlust and Writing

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .’

Confession: I’ve yet to read Charles Dickens’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities. It’s on my ‘to read’ list.

The famous first line, a run on sentence of contradictions, best describes my writing life in 2013.

Living in the gaps between the best and the worst … the wise and the foolish … etc. Never quite staying in one extreme or the other.

As I reflected on my creative process and writing specifically, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d hit such a wall. Why was I blocked to the point of paralysis? What caused me to go off the rails?

Lack of inspiration. Lack of desire to chug along with my novel. Inability to craft weekly blog posts. Where had all the words gone?

I thought I’d nailed down all the reasons. I thought I’d reached understanding, named the big evil. I blamed it on:

  • Writer’s block
  • Capability / not good enough
  • Characters stopped talking to me
  • New characters were calling
  • Story wasn’t going where I wanted
  • Lack of time

Take your pick!

I blamed everything short of labeling myself a hack. Well, okay maybe I did that too.

But now I see one of the big issue that I didn’t notice before. You’re wondering what could be missing from this list?

TRAVEL.

My job requires that I travel 6-10 times per year. I typically go to the same corners of the continental U.S. Last year I only went on two trips; both within the first quarter. Shortly thereafter my writing slowed.

How does travel affect my creative journey? What are the benefits of traveling as a writer, even if it’s to Small Town America?

Change in venue
New places means new opportunities. A change that allows me to employ writing exercises where I can practice describing people, places, and things to which I wouldn’t usually be exposed. New perspective.

Different interruptions
This, for me, means no kids or hubby needs. My interruptions include clients and coworkers. But mostly it means a greater level of control over my time and energy. When I say “do not disturb”, guess what? No one disturbs me. Novelty.

New experiences
Airports are filled with diversity. It’s one of the best places I’ve found to develop characters: people watching, eavesdropping on conversations for dialogue, and assessing physical attributes, ticks and wardrobe. Amazing. I constantly think: if that person were in my story how would I “show” them. Great fun.

I now have an acute case of wanderlust; a desire to be somewhere else, new or familiar, just not here in my personal normal.

I want to hit the road and get outside of myself. Rack up miles and earn points. Buy postcards and key chains and t-shirts as souvenirs. I want the words to return from their journey as I embark on mine.

Can you relate?

Travel makes life interesting.

Would I prefer some place exotic: Australia, New Zealand, China, Greece, Japan, Spain, or Italy? Sure!

But for now I am thankful for six work related trips on the books already for 2014. All in the U.S. with some locations I haven’t been before. The first trip is at the end of this month.

Six scheduled attempts at jumpstarting my writing and digging out of my rut.

In addition to my work travel, we have some big family trips planned this summer and some day trips with new adventures built in. I am scheduled for a few writing events where other writers can rub off on me; their enthusiasm and expertise can influence me.

As much as I love to live vicariously through social media, it’s not enough. There’s something to be said for living life that revitalizes. I’ll experience these places for myself.

And, as much as writers may write about the solitary nature of writing, there’s something to be said for community, engaging people and being involved in the world outside of our heads that builds captivating stories.

To the writers among us … wander … live … roam … exist … tell great tales.