They Say (a poem)

It’s so much easier for me to write about the fun parts of fall than it has been to talk about the difficult summer that I’m so glad is behind me. I kept feeling I should write about it–that emotion, our hard times, are the inspiration behind the fruit of our best work. Sometimes, though, life is so hard, you can’t write about it until it’s behind you. You can’t write in the dark…no matter what they say.

They Say
By: Amanda K. Fowler

They say
you can feel bad things coming
in the wind.
But I say
it’s not true.
In the heat
of summer,
I felt nothing at all
when disaster struck
three times in three weeks.
I felt nothing
when three of my loved ones,
pieces of my heart,
fell away from me.
I felt nothing,
till I got one back,
the one I needed the most–
his near-death only near,
thank God–
and then I felt everything.

They say
water is the soother
for us all–
it is how we were born,
after all;
it cradles us,
easing the gravity
of everything.
It cleanses us.
But the waves I felt this summer
were the wrong water:
tears instead of surf.

They say
you can feel it
when summer shifts to fall,
when leaves retire
to the splendor of their finest moment–
and this time,
I agree–
it’s a slow goodbye kiss,
a healing, scabbing cool.
I feel the wind
blowing away the ash,
carrying away
the burns of summer,
finally behind me.

October: A Month to Celebrate and Give Back

October is one of my favorite months–possibly my very favorite–for many reasons. Long-time readers and even casual acquaintances are quite familiar with my passion for Halloween (you’ll see some Halloween posts here as the holiday gets closer–and feel free to search “Halloween” in my blog for previous posts!). Crunchy leaves, crisp (but not cold) air, autumn soups, apple-picking, so many festive opportunities…what’s not to love? As one of my favorite literary heroines famously said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).

Image result for i m so glad i live in a world with octobers

–Pinterest User iBelieve.com

October is also the month for celebrating important awareness occasions, like National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and Breast Cancer Awareness Month–two observations that are a focus for me both at work and personally. While I’ve written about NDEAM for work with Marianjoy in the past, and continue to do so, I’m looking forward to writing about breast cancer awareness, as well, for Northwestern Medicine’s Marketing Team, having had the exciting opportunity to work more closely with them lately. How lucky we are to have top cancer and rehabilitation programs right here in the Midwest! Breast cancer has always hit close to home for me, with several family members and friends as survivors, and more friends who are currently battling the disease.

Besides writing, I decided to take the observation one step further. Financial donations are great to help with breast (and other types of) cancer; without funding, research projects to eradicate the disease wouldn’t be possible–and so I try to donate to cancer charities a couple of times a year (check out Charity Navigator to find one that fits you and has a good stewardship score). There’s another type of donation, too, that most people might not think of right away, one that requires your time, not money: hair.

It wasn’t until my traumatic brain injury in 2005, when part of my head had to be shaved for brain surgery, that I realized how important hair is to identity. For women, it’s inextricably tied in millennia-long trends denoting femininity, fertility, sexuality, youth, conservatism/rebellion, professionalism…the list goes on. For 19-year-old me, it was one of the hardest changes to my appearance I had to get used to, partly because I had no choice in the sudden change–just like cancer patients. It made me very self-conscious–with my eye patch and wheelchair, it was just one more thing broadcasting to the world that I was going through a major medical experience. And what if I wasn’t ready to share that?

Luckily for me, it was only part of my head, and I was able to do quite the comb-over to cover the bald side until my hair grew in. I always joked that Rihanna soon after took my cue and made the style a trend.

(You’re welcome, RiRi)

Fortunately, my hair grew in fairly quickly, and when it reached a point where I could get it cut into layers, I decided to donate the rest to those who were less fortunate. It felt good, the thought of helping others, when so many had been helping me.

I decided to do it again…22 months ago. Unlike my first time donating, the thought popped into my head when all of my hair was short, so I knew I was in for a long road. Over those 22 months, I only got one trim–it helped that I stayed away from heat-treating my hair, so I didn’t have to worry (much) about split ends.

The experience reminded me of the way the religious customs can remind you physically of spiritual meaning (like the practice of giving something up for Lent reminding Catholics of Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice). Although I sometimes enjoy having long hair, there were many times were I couldn’t wait to get it cut again–it felt so unruly to me, but I reminded myself this hair wasn’t for me–it was for someone else. It was a good exercise in patience.

My mom made the growing process more fun with some elaborate hairstyles–some so beautiful I second-guessed cutting the hair:

Thanks, Mom! ❤

I went to my hair stylist a few times to get a length check, and finally, I was ready. I already knew the charity I wanted to donate to: Wigs 4 Kids, an organization in Michigan that provides wigs to kids and young adults for free. It’s important to research where you will donate your hair, because some organizations charge patients for their wigs (it’s a laborious process to make them, so I understand, but I’d prefer the patients to get their wigs for free). It’s also important to know how long you need to grow your hair, if it can be dyed, if it can be gray, etc., before you make the chop–each organization is different. Wigs 4 Kids requires 10″, and after my hair stylist evened it out, I had just over that to donate.

Ready!

Megan, my hair stylist, is very familiar with prepping hair to donate. It’s important to section off and secure the part that will be donated before you cut it, so it doesn’t fly all over the place. She made four braids.

Moment of truth. Even though I wanted the haircut, it’s always initially intimidating to me to part with so much hair all at once!

Done; I loved it! It was hard to believe all that hair was in that silver bag.

I really appreciated Megan’s help in getting my hair ready to go; I was happy she was so familiar with donating. After that, it was just a matter of mailing the braids to the address on the organization’s website.

I never feel better than when I’m helping others and giving back in some way. Ever since my miraculous TBI survival, I’ve felt a mission to help others as I was helped. With time and patience, hair donation is an easy and inexpensive way to help people–I highly recommend doing it, if you can. I’ve mentally committed to doing it again, though I may go for one with a shorter requirement (360 Hair looks like they take 6″ or more–sounds good to me!).

I wish you all a wonderful remainder of your October. I hope you get to enjoy your favorite traditions, and I hope you take a moment to celebrate those other important observances, too.

Happy Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Most Grateful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I hope all of you around the world are having a great day, regardless if you celebrate our American holiday or not.

It’s been a difficult year, but I’m blessed to have so much to give thanks for, anyway. I decided to take a quick break from helping with meal prep (a minor assistant role to my Master Chef mother!) to jot down a list of what I’m most grateful for.

Apple pie from scratch! I try to save most of my stomach space for this and the pumpkin pie. 😉

  1. My family.

    They’ve been there for me since day one. I’m so lucky we get along so well. With them, every day is amazing fun like a party, but every second nurtures and fills my soul. They’ve helped me become the woman I am. They’ve believed in me so strongly I’ve had no choice but to believe in myself, and they’ve built that confidence and drive in me since infancy. I love you, guys. ❤

  2. My friends.

    Like my family, they have helped me to become who I am today. I can’t believe I’ve had the same best friends for 20 years. How lucky am I? We’ve gone from children to adults together, sharing every important moment together and supporting each other when we needed extra strength. I love them more with each day. We have just as much fun now planning weddings and navigating transitions as we did building snowmen and playing Barbies as kids.

  3. Oreo & Chad

    Even though now, they are both our angel babies, I am grateful for their huge impact on my life (and the world at large, of course). Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

  4. My Faith & God

    This grows stronger for me each year, as I witness miracles and kindness, even in the midst of tragedy. He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

  5. My Writing & Speaking

    Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. I always feel like I have more to do; it’s a never-ending quest to listen and speak, through voice or written words. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey.

  6. Books

    Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

  7. My Job & Coworkers

    I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become very dear friends.

  8. Nature

    I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us. I’ve been lucky to have several adventures in forests, mountains, and oceans, over the last year, and I’ve truly learned that every leaf, rock, and sky is uniquely awe-inspiring.
    On a less poetic note–or perhaps, since it’s Greek mythology, it is poetic still–I was even a Dryad for Halloween this year, wrapping my limbs in vines and hair in flowers. I feel my full integration into nature is progressing well.

  9. Love

    Life is funny, and relationships don’t always work out how you plan them. Despite the pain of when they end, I’m still grateful to have had the experiences. They’ve taught me what I need and want out of life, and they’ve helped to shape me in important ways. As a writer and reader who adores love stories, I’ve learned to adore true love, even if I don’t know where it will lead. 🙂

  10. My Health

    Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day (so many days), I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto. I’m looking forward to having it long enough soon to donate. I am blessed and very grateful.

 

Thanks for reading my list of gratitude, readers. What are YOU most grateful for? Have a wonderful holiday season; talk to you soon. I think I smell some pies that are ready for my sampling. ❤

 

 

Novel Publicity Blog Tour: “The Author Mindset”

Good evening, readers! I’m back with a book review today for Novel Publicity by Falcon Storm: The Author Mindset. The version I’m reviewing is the audiobook narrated by Craig Beck. Much as the cover suggests, the book is a guide to writing and marketing fiction.

Because the book is the first of its genre I’m reviewing, it won’t follow my usual review guidelines/format. If you’re up for the adventure that might entail–and I promise, it’s worth it–read on. 😉

[Disclaimer: As with all my book reviews for Novel Publicity Blog Tours, I was provided with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.]

Available NOW on AmazonBarnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, or Audible.

About the Book:

Do you feel as if your life’s purpose is to become an author and share the stories in your head with the rest of the great wide world? Do you long to write the next great American novel? You might already have a couple books under your belt, but want to take your productivity, talent, and marketing efforts to the next level. Maybe you’re just getting started as an author and feel lost in the multitude of tasks awaiting you. Or perhaps you’re stuck at square one, having no idea what to do, where to go, or even if you should be writing at all. In just a few short hours, you’ll learn the essentials required of the professional author. You’ll learn more than how to put words on the page; you’ll learn how to get into the mindset of an author and live there, carving out your niche in the literary world.

Review

The Author Mindset is an excellent introduction to the business of writing and lifestyle of being a writer. It’s short but sweet–the main section is only 66 minutes long, but it comes with extras, too. I was amazed at how much of the training I received in my grad school Writing & Publishing program was encompassed in this book.

The length makes the book necessarily to-the-point, which is wonderful to get writers actually writing, versus stuck in heady theoretical prose. The style is breezy, approachable, and never arrogant, which I appreciated, as it was written by a successful author. The length and voice of the book recommend it to multiple listenings and note-taking.

Speaking of voice, the narrator was an excellent choice. Who doesn’t love a good British accent? 😉 Seriously, I’ve learned the narrator is almost as important as the text in an audiobook. So, well-done, Mr. Storm (and, Mr. Beck–call me).

There were a couple of sections that I found to be a little unnecessary, personally, like how to organize your work space, but–for all I know, a full-time stay-at-home mom/part-time writer might find that info to be very helpful (there are specific mentions of navigating little ones). This book, much like many writing guides, is definitely subjective in how enlightening each person would find it to be. I would say absolutely everyone could get SOMETHING out of it, even if it was review. Although I had heard many of these topics before, given my educational background (but not the same professional experience!), it was quite helpful to hear them again, especially as condensed and digestible as this presentation was. If nothing else, it is a good tool to get anyone into “the author mindset” (keenly titled, Mr. Storm!).

I 100% recommend this book for anyone who hasn’t had some sort of training in writing. I do recommend it to everyone, though, especially those who could use a jump-start in knowing how to begin or how to resume writing . I could see how this would especially be useful as part of a series, which this looks to be. Great idea, Falcon, for making this book available in multiple formats; how great is it that you could listen to this on your commute so you’re all prepped to write when you get home?

My review, based on this as an instructional piece: 9/10.

Changes

*blows dust off of blog*

Hello, dear readers! Oh, how I’ve missed you. I’ve finally screwed up the courage to post here, after months of hemming and hawing over what I should say. It seems so much has changed in so little time, and I’m still catching my balance. Finally, I decided it’s too embarrassing to be a writer who can’t find the words to say what she needs to say, so I’ve decided just to do my best in a usual ramble. 😉

So, in recent history, I turned 29. My sister threw an amazing surprise golden birthday party for me, and it was more than I ever imagined. I told my sister I’d been planning it–like a wedding–since I was a little girl. When I was young, I imagined I’d host a grand party in my mansion or maybe a castle (seriously), wearing a beautiful golden dress, surrounded by husband, children, parents, friends, loved ones, and stacks of my own best-selling novels.

Well…I did find the dress, which I shopped for without having any plans of my own–lacking said mansion, husband, and children–and, most importantly, lacking inspiration for this life-changing moment. I just knew I had to find one, even if it meant sitting at home, wearing it by myself–it was the one part of my vision of turning 29 I could keep. Finding “the dress” had as much tribulation as what “the dress” usually means (wedding!), but I found it, after months of searching, on *clearance* at Bloomingdale’s…the only one of its kind! Gold, hand-beaded, retro design. It was like a dream.

But the dress is the least interesting part of the party! Jennifer really blew me away with all of the thoughtful touches. She invited all of my loved ones, most of whom were able to make it. She served all my favorite foods, right down to pretzel rolls for the sandwiches and fudge-covered caramel apples, which she burned herself making from scratch. ❤ ❤ I felt so surrounded by love and joy; it was overwhelming.

Me, wearing “the dress,” holding some of the gold balloons Jennifer decorated my party with. 🙂 I’m also wearing the Kate Spade necklace our friend Ashley got me–matching the party’s gold Kate Spade theme. ❤

Turning 29 was a momentous occasion for my life–I’d set goals for myself when I was young, a list that had gotten longer over the years. The timing was highly reflective for me: it was also the 9-year anniversary of my brain injury/Miracle DayIt was also the same timing I traveled to Colorado to visit Lindsey, which was a totally new experience for me–with a combination of nature, good friends, and adventure, it provided for a lot of introspection–which travel tends to do for me–that’s probably why my soul needs it so much. 🙂

There’s no easy way to say this: I realized my relationship with Jeremiah wasn’t where or what I wanted or needed it to be. I realized we’d grown in different directions, that things had changed and couldn’t change back. The realization was sudden, but I realized it had been building within me for a long time.
But we’re still friends. I’m so grateful for that. And I’m so grateful for the loved ones helping us both through this transition.

I’ve had to “forgive” myself for being a different 29-year-old than I’d imagined. First drafts aren’t what gets published in the end, right? 😉 I suspect I’ve quoted this favorite before: “We plan, and God laughs.” I am blessed to have the life that I do. Even if I haven’t yet hit the “milestones” I thought I would have, I love the path my life has taken. I am grateful for so many things I never expected to have–my career, my writing, my loved ones, my furry babies, even my health.

It’s been a crazy year of change, of love and loss, of tragedy and joy. Of finding myself in new places. Of taking risks that made a difference.

And I wouldn’t change a single minute. It’s all made me who I am.

I think that’s what I wanted to say, dear readers, in the end. Thanks for bearing with me. I’m backed up on lots of news to share–I just participated in and helped to plan a LITERARY FESTIVAL last weekend, for instance–but I had to say this first.

Oh, and another thing I’m grateful for–you. ❤

Stay tuned for more posts soon. And if you don’t hear from me before then–Happy Valentine’s Day. (Jell-Jell is all decked out for the holiday in my avatar–thanks to Jennifer!) Even if you don’t have a romantic partner, I urge you to go celebrate love with other loved ones. That’s what I’m doing. 🙂 ❤

Reflections: Travel and Fantasy as Lenses for Real Life

Hello, dear readers! So much has happened in the weeks since my last post. In fact, this calls for a list. In the last five weeks:

  • I have been traveling for three of them
    • Six foreign countries for two weeks
    • Northeastern U.S.A. for one week
  • In between that travel–a friend died, suddenly 😦
  • I found out one of my best friends of 20 years, Lindsey, is moving to Colorado a week from Saturday—a possibility I did not want to face
  • I was asked to be in a wedding
  • I’ve been very sick twice
  • I assisted with my sister’s huge Disney-themed surprise birthday party, dressed as a feverish strep-throated Rapunzel
  • I’ve written–a lot

Each of these bullet points deserves at least one post of its own; life has been a whirlwind of good and bad lately. I’m struck by all the extremes and opposites I’ve been experiencing, as if life is off-kilter and trying to correct itself, swinging wildly side to side. I’ve been disoriented, honestly, never quite having enough time to process any one thing before the next occurred. I was thankful to have my fiction and travel to escape into–or so I thought.

It felt like escape, whisking myself away into unknown lands, real or fictional. I wasn’t running away, per se–it was all scheduled, hours-off-earned, wages saved. But it sure did feel nice to leave the stresses of the everyday behind. I am grateful for the life I have, but even the most beautiful lives earn stress–I think it’s automatic when you join with people and activities you care about. 😉

Through it all, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote scores of pages for my novel; I wrote whimsical poetry; I wrote a eulogy. Somehow, writing kept my life stitched together, all these crazy layers that didn’t match.

I had an epiphany today, reflecting on what to write for this blog post, as my blog is part of returning to my normal life. I realized that these “escapes”–travel, fantasy–they are just lenses of the everyday. My memoir teacher, who is also a travel writing teacher, told me that people find themselves when they travel. “That’s bizarre,” I thought–I’ve been traveling all my life, and I’d never noticed that. But now, after more than twenty years of it, I’ve finally experienced what she meant. It crept up on me, flowed through me, like the waves that were a part of all those three weeks away: a certain peace that came from knowing that life was not, in fact, falling apart; that every footstep was new and full of possibility; that the world was much, much bigger than me. It was a relief to walk on millenia-old pathways to find destinations at once ancient and new to me; and in this way, in this ritual of one foot in front of the other, I remembered old paths can be made new again. Even though I treasure words for expression, I find this concept difficult to describe–it is a feeling so deep within me that I can’t unwind it and pull it out. Suffice it to say, I found travel made me stronger, despite–or maybe because of–kayak and hiking blisters and scrapes–stronger in my knowledge of who I am, how I feel, and how I navigate life.

I’m almost done with this abstract post, I promise. 😉 My last point is the other lense: fantasy. I believe I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but to me, fantasy is just reality dressed-up. I think it’s harder for us to stare difficult truths in the face than it is to disguise them in whimsy and impossibilities. (This is part of the fun I have in cosplay–it’s a disguise of truth, emphasizing chosen personality aspects in a visual way.) So–it’s easier for us to understand ourselves when we’re reading about people and places that aren’t ours–we don’t put up defenses, because why would we defend something we don’t know? And in that openness, we learn truths we can apply to our own lives.

Perhaps this is a little dense for the hour–so I shall end the post here, for now. I hope to expound upon some of those bullet points more soon, in future points. And if my tone seemed melancholy, I didn’t mean it–I am feeling more awestruck and full of wonder than anything else. This world, this life is beautiful; we only have one, whatever else we make up in our minds–and this span of time has only reinforced the idea, for me, that we must treasure every day, every love, every adventure, every second, as much as possible.

A Wedding and a Campaign: Andrea & Ben | #LikeAGirl

Good evening, dear readers! It seems the whole Midwest has been pelted with thunderstorms and worse today; I hope everyone is OK! As for me, that puts me in that gothic melodramatic writing mood (it’s all so sweepingly romantic), so I have come here to funnel those energies. My novel characters have been awfully greedy with my time lately, talking to me in every moment. (Writer friends–does this happen to you, too? 🙂 ) I tell them my blog misses me, but they don’t listen…so I put the towel over their cage for the moment, if only briefly, for one of them will surely set it on fire sooner or later (*spoiler alert*). First, I’d like to say congratulations to my writer-friend Andrea, who got married this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding, and Jeremiah and I were so honored to be invited to share the special day. The reception was a blast! Andrea snuck several literary details into her wedding design, which I absolutely loved. I wouldn’t expect any less of this clever lady! 😉

Bridesmaid Meg reads a Shakespeare sonnet during Andrea and Ben’s ceremony

Writing buddies 🙂

Jeremiah and I had so much fun! 🙂 (A special thank-you to Jennifer for wrapping the gifts gorgeously, as well as buying that dress for me without me even there!)

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Secondly, I’d like to share something that’s been going viral on Facebook, which I first saw from my sister. It’s for a campaign the company Always is trying to start: #LikeAGirl. It’s based on the concept–what does the phrase “Like a Girl” mean to you? This video, comparing what little kids think, versus adolescents, is so moving–and it says a lot about our society.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a few friends several months ago (they shall remain anonymous…you’ll see why 😉 ).

They were talking about a time when *someone* had, for some reason, an electric fly-swatter. She wanted to test it on our male friend, because obviously, right? (Haha, I couldn’t, but she can get away with these things. 😉 ) Anyway, the best way to go about such a thing is with shock, so she snuck up behind him and zapped him. Since I was hearing this story for the first time, they courteously reenacted the subsequent scream for me. “He screamed like a girl!” exclaimed another female friend. “That’s an insult!” I retorted. They laughed, but, to his great credit, the male friend laughed hardest of all.

But all of us were playing off of the societal message that “like a girl” is a bad thing, somehow lesser than the average. [Scholarly note: Even the French diminutive “-ette” suffix, borrowed into English is a feminization.] To translate for people less strangely obsessed with language than I, it means that even on a language level, we make “lesser” mean “like a girl.” I love this usage note on dictionary.com (at the bottom), which says that the diminutive forms for females is going out of style and evolving into gender-neutral. Yay!

This also echoes my earlier post about strong female characters–that “strong” has to be said, because it’s not the socially believed standard. I hear “like a girl” all the time, from people I love and respect; I’ve said it many times, myself!

I am all for this #LikeAGirl campaign, and I hope you will be, too. From now on, when someone says I do something “like a girl,” I will say, “Thank you. I take that as a compliment.” (Or, if I just did said activity poorly, I will simply say that it is not my gender, but rather the negative aura of their company that has influenced my performance. Yessss.)

Until next time, my dear readers. I shall try to escape my characters’ demands soon, if only for brief updates or shares. 😉