Waiting …

waiting…

waiting…

waiting…

to be old enough to go to school
tall enough to ride the roller coaster
pretty enough to have a date

waiting…

waiting …

waiting…

to be mature enough to play adult
save enough to buy a house
stable enough to have a child

waiting …

waiting …

waiting …

for the child to grow
for college acceptances and mortgages payments
and weddings and reunions and funerals

waiting …

waiting …

waiting …

for awards and acceptances
acclaim and jealousy
for the career-ending gold watch

waiting …

waiting …

waiting …

for my hair to thin
my bones to grow brittle
my body to betray me, but still

waiting …

waiting …

waiting …

to have my voice heard
to be seen as I am
to be accepted as worth the trouble

waiting …

for permission to be –

waiting …

for permission to love –

waiting …

for permission to accept –

myself.

Why I Cried at Beauty And The Beast

emma belleMy son had turned one when Disney released its original Beauty And The Beast in 1991. I was enthralled with the fact that Belle – the main character in a mainstream animated movie – was intelligent. In fact, it was her primary characteristic! It gave me hope that my son would grow up in a different world than mine. in my world, my first boyfriend dumped me because my grades were higher than his, the biggest hope my parents had for their head-in-the-clouds daughter was to marry someone to take care of me, and bonuses and raises I earned through hard work and being smart in my former legal career were allocated to my male counterparts. In the world I had lived in, being intelligent, as a woman, had no value.

Andrew is now twenty-six and, unfortunately, incidents like those and a thousand others still frequently occur. Yet, it isn’t the same world as the one I birthed him into. In that world, we remained silent to avoid being driven out of our careers, marriages, and social connections. It was a man’s world and women were to be grateful for mere existence. That has changed. Now, women and men can speak of the unfairness, the injustice, and the counterproductiveness of treating women as lesser than men. And for those who remain voiceless, others have stepped up to speak for them – people like Emma Watson and her HeforShe campaign advancing gender equality.

So why did I cry as I watched Ms. Watson reprise the role of Belle? Because this Belle wasn’t simply an echo of the animation. Both by script and Ms. Watson’s portrayal, Belle has more depth: she is fearless and in control. Her father respects who she is and does not suggest she marry Gaston as did the animated Maurice. The story, of course, remains a romance, but this Belle’s adventures do not end with finding her prince. This Belle will seek out challenges in the “great wide somewhere” and now has an ally to cheer her on. Thank you, Disney, for the updated Belle.

Yet modern Belle, alone, didn’t bring me to tears. It’s just fiction, after all. It isn’t real. Yet I sat in a theater and watched this character brought to life by someone who has fearlessly used her intelligence and leveraged her status to speak for those who are not heard and advance the causes of social justice. That moved me more than my tear ducts could handle. Animated Belle revealed a potential for the world to be different, more accepting, less petty. Now fearless Belle and the actor who played her say nothing can stop that world from becoming a reality. Thank you, Ms. Watson.

And so I cried as I watched the new Beauty and the Beast. Of course, I loved the movie, just as I loved its animated precursor. Then again, “I want so much more than they’ve got planned” has been the refrain for my life. But that’s another story …

Make a Difference

We enter this season of thankfulness for all that we have, in the midst of cries of “Not in my back yard.” No matter where you stand on accepting Syrian refugees into your area, they desperately need your help. This is a link to a list of vetted charities assisting Syrians in need. Some organizations provide resources for families to stay in Syria. Others provide assistance in the places where they flee, having nothing left behind them.

Words of concern and outrage are cheap. It is time to put your money where your mouth is. This holiday season, I will be making donations on behalf of my children to the organizations of their choosing. I ask that you consider doing the same.

We CAN make a difference.

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http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1523#.Vk5LXfmrTIV

The Talent Myth in Creative Writing

When I was practicing law, no law student said to me, “I’m going to get listed in Best Lawyers of America.” It takes seven years of higher education to become a lawyer, months of intensive studying to pass the bar exam, then more years of unrelenting work to build the kind of reputation and satisfied client base that gets you noticed. Most non-lawyers are impressed when they hear I’m listed in Best Lawyers.

On the other hand, when a group of people finds out I’m a published author, someone usually pipes up, “I’m going to write a novel. I’ll be joining you on those bestseller lists.”

Although lawyers are not held in the highest esteem in this country, there is a profound respect for the time and effort it takes to become one. For authors, it is exactly the opposite. We adore authors. We follow them on Facebook, we show up at conventions to get signed copies of their books, and we sit in rapt attention listening to them read. But at the same time, there is little appreciation for the time, effort, sacrifice, and sometimes brute force it takes to write a novel. As a society, we believe that writing is a matter of talent and if you have it, the words flow out all at once, with little practice or preparation, and in perfect form and order.

For far too long, I believed this talent myth, and given how much effort I put into my novels, I thought the bucket I’d dipped from the talent pool was drier than the Sahara Desert. But talent is mostly a myth. Sure, you need an innate sense of when your words flow together and a touch of imagination but, otherwise, writing – like any other skill or expertise – is about long, time-consuming, hard work. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours to achieve complete mastery in any field.

I didn’t make it into Best Lawyers in America until well after I had 10,000 hours of practice under my belt. Writing fiction set that clock back to zero, but I’m nearing 10,000 hour mark of studying writing and actually writing. I’m more comfortable with my skills and understanding of what works and what doesn’t than I was when I started. The talent myth doesn’t play games with my head anymore. I’m too busy writing to let it.

But the next time you read a novel where the words flow effortlessly off the page and you find yourself marveling at the author’s talent, stop for a moment and appreciate the hours of sheer determination that went into it.

Gang-based societies and immigrant children

In my research for the novel, Choices, I became familiar with the horrors of gang-based societies – of the atmosphere of constant murder, rape, and torture of and by those we consider children, of parents extorted out of their meager resources so their daughters will not be taken, of mothers sacrificing one child to protect the others. While the details of the society in my novel are extrapolations of actual facts, they are, if anything, softened to suit our comfortable, safe sensibilities. The reality in some areas is far worse and spurs the flood of children illegally entering this country.

I read posts that we, as a country, should not be assisting the children who were sent to violate the law by entering the United States. I see people posting that we, as a country, should not be providing aid to any other country as long as people here in need – even if it is need for relief from taxes so they can afford to send their children to college. I can understand that position as well.

But put yourself in the place of a mother or father – being demanded to turn over a child to be raped and killed. What would you do to save your children? Would you break the law? Of course, you would. If a child came to your door, hungry, exhausted, having escaped certain rape, torture, and death, would you turn them away? Or would you handle it in a way that you, as a parent, would want your child treated? That is the question all of us face but often choose to ignore.

I know from my research that the dangers and horrors they are trying to escape are real. I cannot unsee the child on my doorstep. I cannot simply close the door. I know whatever I do as an individual won’t solve the problem but, just perhaps, it will make a difference in one person’s life.

Day 120 of Gratitude – Being Different

Many people surround themselves with those who are substantially similar in race and cultural attitudes. I have never had that option. At the moment, I can’t think of a half-Caucasian, half-Asian person I know other than four I’m related to. Nor do I know of anyone, other than my brother, raised in an amalgamation of midwest, white middle-class and Japanese-American cultures. I’ve never had the option of surrounding myself with people who look like I do, have the same notions of what is polite and what is forbidden, or share my deeply ingrained beliefs about how I, as an individual, fit into society.

I see people cling to what is familiar and say that people who don’t look, think, or act like them are abnormal, weird, or sometimes even evil. They don’t attempt to understand anything else – they have no reason to. And I am glad that was never an option available to me. I enjoy the perspectives of others – Scottish, Somalian, Chinese, Croatian, Nigerian, Italian, Vietnamese, Russian, Irish – you name it. Their family customs are rich and, more often than not, have some core values at the heart of them that reinforce my own beliefs or at least allow me to understand them better.

I’m not sure why I thought about this today, but being different – growing up around people who were not like me – has been a blessing for which I am grateful.

 

Day 100 of Gratitude – a Spring Evening

The sunshine played with the ends of my hair and the spring breeze cooled my cheeks. And I walked. I walked silently along sidewalks and cut through lumpy grass mounds the newly green lawns. The crystal blue sky above me was calming. Birds flutter past and called from distant trees. Children squealed on the school playground while others readied their bikes for a new season. Other walkers smiled generously and nodded as they went their way. My husband’s hand folded around mine as I walked, surrounding not just my hand but all of me with warmth and comfort. And we kept walking, noticing each moment and the joys of spring it held.

Days of Gratitude 88, 89, 90 – Tent City, Attraction, and Roommates

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I spent the weekend at Hanover College’s annual Geek-A-Thon. I really enjoy any place where I can talk to readers and about writing, but this was AWESOME. Not only did I do what I went there to do, I learned to play a new game called “Attraction” – kind of like marbles but with irregularly shaped magnets. I slept in a tent city set up in a small library. I hung out with Michael Williams, a brilliant author. I watched people run around after Woody Harrelson (he and Taylor, my daughter, hung out for awhile playing Legos). And best of all, I got to catch up with one of my college roommates and her husband.

Andrew and CeciliaSo, I had a great weekend, for which I am very grateful. But now I am tired and at home, which is good as well!Taylor and Woody Harrelson

Day 79 of Gratitude – Celebrations

I used to think only big occasions were worthy of celebration. Milestone birthday or anniversaries. Major career advancements. But I’ve since realized that its the seemingly little events in life that deserve recognition.

This evening, I joined with some friends to toast the completion of an act in my new novel and the strength of another, newly single woman who stood strong against a cheating ex-husband who came groveling back, saying he was the only one who would make her happy. Maybe those aren’t grand occasions, but they are difficulties we face in life and must overcome. And when we do, we should be grateful and celebrate our success.

Day 77 of Gratitude – a Dog in the Mulch

My life has a comfortable flow to it, a pace and familiarity. But lately, I’ve been wrapped up in unusual events – Andrew coming home, car shopping, being badgered about being mean and self-centered, attending a book fair in Indiana, and meeting Taylor’s new boyfriend. Exciting stuff, but not my typical days.

This morning I awoke to the sound of my husband scolding the dog for lying in the mulch and dragging it inside the house. It happens almost every morning – the dog in the mulch, the mulch on the floor, the scolding. It is comfortable and reassuring. And listening to it, I knew that I was home and all was in its place.