Love Always Wins
As human beings
We often let
Get the best of us
And filled with regret
How easily we forget
That the Supreme Being
Has created us in His image
Infused with His qualities
His spirit and His grace
And that in the end
No matter what we’re going through
Or what we’ve been through
The light of love
Always finds a way
To shine through
In the end
by Suhaiba Neill
Any children’s author worth their weight knows that three is the magic number. With children, it’s all about the repetition. With adults, it’s more often about being able to sum something up succinctly while still getting your point across. It may also have something to do with memory and attention span – ever tried to remember more than three things you needed from the store successfully without a list?Because so many ideas flow in and out of my head, this will be the start of my “top three” series. Feel free to share your own as well, or pose a question about other favorite things and I’ll do my best to answer.
Top Three Favorite Sounds
- Thunder when I’m safe in my bed
- The “swoosh” of a perfect shot passing through the rim
- The sound of my fingers moving quickly across the keyboard when I’ve found my rhythm
Top Three Pet Peeves
- Know it alls
- Wet towels on the end of the bed
- Having to set my alarm clock on the weekend
Last fall, I was smart enough to attend the SCBWI Eastern Pa Fall Fest, a two-day event focusing solely on writing for children. Day one was filled with keynote speakers (Bryan Collier’s words completely changed my outlook on why I write, but that’s another article for another time) and workshops to help advance us all in the craft of writing for children. Day two was a critique-fest, filled with insight from peers as well as agents, editors, and successful authors. I was placed in a group of authors whose main focus was on picture books. It was an immensely productive day, but also a very exhausting day as well. As day two neared the end and my critique group shared the feedback received from the editors and agents (ok, more like lamented over it), a light bulb went off and something truly uplifting occurred to me (we were all pretty worn out by this point). Instead of thinking about how long it was going to take to break into the business and become a published author, I realized how lucky we all were having chosen a career path with such potential for longevity. Don’t get me wrong, the uphill battle to get started can wear even the most determined of us out, but I’ll never forget what else happened that weekend – Allen Iverson announced his official retirement from basketball – at 37 years old.
My first job out of college was with the Philadelphia 76ers, and I was lucky enough to start the year we made it to the NBA finals against Los Angeles. I spent five fun years with the Sixers at the height of Allen’s career (yes I was there for the whole “you wanna talk about practice?” incident) and loved every minute of it. Growing up in a very athletic family, I always wondered what athletes did once their careers were over, but this particular weekend while at the SCBWI conference, it really hit home. Could you imagine spending your whole life training and practicing to land your dream job, only to reach retirement when the rest of us are just truly launching our careers? I can’t imagine spending two to three decades of my life devoting every minute to the pursuit of a dream, only to find out when you reach 35 (older if you’re lucky) that it’s time to hang up the towel. What next? Without a plan b, you’d probably end up pretty lost I’d imagine.
So here I was, whining a little bit about how an editor suggested I take my story in a direction that I wasn’t crazy about, still very much at the start of my career as a writer, while Allen Iverson (who is the same age as I am) was left with no choice but to hang up his jersey, never to be worn in a NBA game again. That’s when I realized how lucky we truly are to be writers. As long as you don’t lose your marbles, you can easily start your career at 40 and still have three to four decades of writing to look forward to. Poor Allen has the prime of his adult life ahead of him and can no longer do the one thing he loves the most. So, the next time you’re struggling and ready to throw in the towel, remember, while there are down sides to being a writer, there’s a really big upside too. 🙂
My apologies for not sharing the remainder of my 2014 reading list sooner, but I’ve been busy writing. 🙂
Here are my top picks from the second half of last year, and just in time to curl up with on a snowy day along with a nice hot cup of tea. Enjoy!
Discovering Your Soul Signature by Panache Desai – non-fiction and a very insightful book about reconnecting with your true self
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner – fiction and done in true Jennifer Weiner style
The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport – historical fiction set in the late 1800’s
A Long Walk To Water by Linda sue Park – middle grade non-fiction, but a must read for all age groups
Clean by Amy Reed – YA fiction dealing with teenage addition and a very interesting read
Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson – middle grade historical fiction and set in Philadelphia
Julian’s Chapter by R.J. Palacio – middle grade fiction and a must read if you read Wonder
The past few months have brought with them some positive changes in both my personal and professional life, so rather than make a new set of resolutions (which would most likely be a repeat of the past few years anyway), I have decided to continue with my forward momentum into 2015 instead. I will not allow my fear of the unknown to keep me from forging ahead, especially since the future is truly unknown to us all anyway. I will accept “failure” in stride, as long as it is not a failure of courage, for I know that my greatest strength lies in facing my self proclaimed “weaknesses”, and being courageous enough to stare them down is half the battle. And most importantly, I will do my best to stay humble and grateful in the year to come. When things finally start going your way, it’s is only natural to want to shout it from the rooftops, but there is a quiet grace and freedom that comes with humility and surrender, and that I find much more comforting than any outward praise.
For those of you who still choose to set new resolutions, I am truly rooting for you. And if you are on the fence as the final hours of 2014 tick away, maybe finding something positive to carry with you into 2015 will better serve you this time around. So let’s not focus on what we aren’t going to do, but rather what we plan to do much more of in the coming year. Blogging more regularly is at the top of my list, what’s at the top of yours?
Yesterday I was able to sit with my morning cup of tea and watch Super Soul Sunday as it aired (a rare treat). The guest was Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, so I was particularly interested in hearing what a fellow writer had to say about following her calling. It wasn’t very far into the program when she openly admitted that her choice not to pursue writing all those years ago was a “failure of courage.” Instead, she had played it safe, chose a steady and respectable career, and felt that something was missing from her life for years. Fast forward thirty years and now she’s a best selling author who is both fulfilling her calling and living her dream.
“Failure of courage “ – those three little words have been bouncing around in my head since yesterday morning. We all know that failure in and of itself isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it is often helpful in the process of discovery, whether it be in a laboratory, while learning a new skill, or even when trying to discover your true passion. Thomas Edison once said regarding the invention of the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Failure often helps in ensuring our eventual success, but failure of courage is the one type of failure that we should never accept in our lives if we wish to live in our sweet spot. There’s another famous quote that comes to mind (although I can’t remember who to credit for it) – “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” As we count down to a new year, maybe now is a good time to summon our own courage, step out of our comfort zone and finally go for it. Failure may be part of the journey, but no amount of failure will ever outweigh the regret of not doing what you know deep inside you were put here to do. Here’s to finding the courage to take the leap in 2015.
It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the 1st of September, but I guess I can’t really complain. This summer we took two vacations (one with three generations of the Neill clan), spent a few days here and there at the beach with good friends, used our lovely back patio a handful of times (pesky mosquitoes) , and of course, read some great books. And if summer does have to end, at least it’s followed by my favorite season – fall. Bring on the apple picking, pumpkins and slew of birthdays.
All Fall Down – Jennifer Weiner (fiction)
The Pursuit of Lucy Banning – Olivia Newport (historical fiction)
The One and Only – Emily Griffin (fiction)
The Babysitters Club Series, Books 1-7 – Ann Martin (middle grade) – with my daughter every night before bed
Vacationing as a single mom with a solo child is like night and day from the old days with six of us in tow. I am now my daughter’s only companion when we hit the highway. We share a mix cd (yes, my car is that old and thankfully her taste in music has evolved), we share a bed, and we share in all activities and adventures. I’m sure this can often a bit of a bummer for her, and having a friend along would be a bit more fun. As for me, it would be nice to have a grown up around to hang with once she’s off to sleep, but there are always moments that remind me how lucky I am to truly be there as her companion as she continues to grow and expands her horizons.
Today, for instance, she chose horseback riding as our main activity for the day. Having taken riding lessons in the past, she was dressed appropriately (of course) and showed no fear as we approached the stables. She quickly hopped into the saddle with no reservations. I, on the other hand, was less sure about the idea of spending an hour on horseback trekking through the woods with dark clouds looming in the distance.
It also turned out that the other foursome that were scheduled for the ride had canceled, so we ended up with a private tour. With our guide up front, Samantha in the middle, and my horse pulling up the rear (ironically, his name was Sam and he had a mind of his own – slow and stubborn) we were on our way. The first twenty minutes felt like two hours to me, but then I got the hang of things and truly looked up at my daughter in front of me only to find her with perfect posture, totally cool, calm and collected. In that moment, I realized how lucky I am to be her companion on trips like this. To watch her thrive at things she’s confident with (especially when they scare me), and to push her to try new things (although I didn’t have any luck with the alpine slide). As she enters into double digits this fall, I know the days when it’s no longer cool to hang with mom are quickly approaching, so while I do miss the days of true “family vacations”, I also know how lucky I am to spend uninterrupted time with her while I still can. Happy Trails!
This past weekend, my daughter and I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of an old childhood friend. For my daughter, this meant a trip to the mall for a new dress (she doesn’t wear dresses, so I don’t buy them unless absolutely necessary). For me, this meant a trip through the back of my closet (I love getting dressed up, but seeing as I’m single, I don’t get to do it very often). I had a dress in mind when I started rummaging through the various dry cleaning bags and stumbled across a deep pink dress that I had forgotten all about. While my go to dress was navy blue (I try to stay away from black f I can) I was excited at the thought of wearing a much more fun color to a summer wedding.
With my hair in a clip on top of my head and my slip in place, I unzipped the side zipper and slipped the dress over my head. I then proceeded to zip it back up, only to have it stick about halfway. It wasn’t an issue of size (the dress still fits), but rather of the placement of the zipper and the gathering of the fabric just above my waist. I asked my daughter to give it a try, and although her fingers were small enough to grasp the tiny zipper, she wasn’t quite strong enough and didn’t have enough leverage to successfully get it any further than I did.
I struggled with it for a few more minutes before giving in and swapping out for the navy blue dress instead (no zippers on that one). And while I still looked good and was appropriately dressed, I was a bit disappointed that the pink dress was relinquished to the back of my closet.
While most of us single moms have figured out how to manage all on our own, there are small moments like this one that act as reminders for me as to what life was like before, when I could simply ask my husband to “zip me up please.” Sometimes you need the strong yet agile hands of a man to get you all zipped up on special occasions – or unzipped, but that’s another confession for another day…
Being my first confession, I thought I’d also start with the truth. I was married for seven years, gave birth to one amazing daughter who will enter “double digits” this fall, have wonderful stepchildren that I still stay in touch with, and have remained friends with my former husband (I really can’t stand the term “ex”).
Clean break – I’ve heard the phrase several times over the past few weeks. Once in my own head and twice from the mouths of two very respected colleagues, which got me to thinking – is there really such a thing? It is truly possible to make a clean break? After some thought, I’m beginning to believe that the answer is, in fact, no.
Let’s take glass for example. If dropped onto any hard surface it usually shatters to pieces and cannot be fit back together. If you’re lucky and drop it from a shorter distance and onto a softer surface, it may result in a crack, which may still render it useless. And if it survives the fall unscathed, it will continue to function in it’s usual capacity. But what if you want a clean break? You’ll have to have the right tools and the right technique to ensure a clean edge, and even then there’s no guarantee. Heat is usually the best option, but this can be tricky as well, especially in the hands of a novice.
Now let’s take something less delicate like a chocolate bar. Even though Mr. Hershey was nice enough to score the bar into12* even pieces, very rarely will you be able to break them off cleanly. And while heat helps with glass, cold often helps with chocolate. Freezing a Charleston Chew makes for a delicious (and less messy) treat, but still results in tiny little flakes on the counter when you cut yourself a bite-sized piece. Clean breaks when dealing with chocolate are very hard, if not impossible to come by.
So if clean breaks are so hard to come by with tangible items, why on earth would we ever expect them to be possible when dealing with human beings? When there are a million emotions at play, no matter what the situation or circumstance, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from someone or something without any residual effects – which is what a clean break truly is. Someone will always feel betrayed, heartbroken, misunderstood, underappreciated, or they may just not get what the real reasoning behind the break even is. I think in lieu of clean breaks we should coin a new phrase that’s more realistic, so who’s got something catchy in mind?
* There are in fact 12 squares on a traditional Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, although there are now a few less on the one I used to confirm this.