Two Aprils ago, I blogged about a momma and poppa House Finch who built a nest on my front door wreath. I had the privilege and joy of witnessing the various stages of their nest and babies’ development–from the first few twigs in late March to an empty nest in early May. Awe-inspiring!
A pair of House Finches—I assume the same pair—went through the same process in the same place last spring. Repeat visitors! I guess they were happy with the way things had gone the previous year. I sure was happy to see them and their new sweet brood.
This past March, I was behind schedule. I hadn’t yet put up the spring daffodil wreath. On the door still hung the white flower wreath, the “filler wreath” between the holiday pine wreath and the daffodil one.
When I heard that familiar sound on the other side of the front door—that dainty scratching of twigs against the door during nest building—I knew the birds were back. Yay!
Later that day, I took a peek at the beginnings of the nest.
And I worried. The base of the white flower wreath wasn’t as wide as that of
the daffodil wreath. Would the white wreath provide enough support?
I thought about switching it out with the daffodil wreath, but I didn’t want to throw away the birds’ hard work. So I left up the white wreath. (Yes, this decision would continue to haunt me.)
Over the next week, a beautiful nest appeared. I still worried. Not only was the white wreath not as wide, but the birds had placed the nest somewhat off-center from the top. In addition, the outer layers of the nest didn’t appear as tightly constructed as the two in the past. This nest was lovely in its wispy way, but would it be sturdy enough?
The first egg appeared! I still worried. I asked my handy husband, Rob, to build something to support the nest.
His reaction? “It’s best not to mess with nature.”
I couldn’t bear the thought of the eggs/baby birds falling from the nest. Rob reconsidered and added cardboard and plastic below the nest. It looked comical. I felt better. But I still worried.
Four more eggs joined the first one. Momma bird sat atop the nest, warming and protecting her eggs. Poppa bird watched vigilantly from a nearby tree branch.
The five eggs were replaced by five baby birds! Momma and Poppa tended to them faithfully.
But as the babies grew, the weight turned the wreath a bit counterclockwise. I moved the wreath back to its original place. It was time for more intervention! I taped the wreath to the door (knowing that the tape would pull off the paint, but who cared at that point?). It looked even more comical. I felt better. But I still worried.
Then one day, I pulled into the driveway after work and found this sad sight:
The nest had come undone. I ran to the door. There was no sign of the birds. Except for a trail of poop that increased near the base of a nearby column.
Could it be? Could the babies have scurried underneath the column? Were they hiding there?
If the babies were there, I didn’t want to scare them. So I left and didn’t return.
I felt awful. And I still worried. I regretted not having switched out the white flower wreath with the daffodil wreath. I wondered if I shouldn’t have pressed Rob to build that cardboard and plastic contraption, or if I shouldn’t have taped the wreath to the door. I wished I had laid down soft padding in case of a fall…
But soon, I saw Momma and Poppa hanging around the base of the column! Chattering away. Momma poking her beak underneath the column, presumably delivering food. The babies had to be there!
For a week or so, I saw and heard Momma and Poppa every day. The poop oozed out from underneath the column—a great sign! I don’t think I ever felt so happy to see poop.
Ah, those smart, resilient, devoted birds. They amazed me.
But then one day, Momma and Poppa didn’t return. Rob looked under the column. No sign of the babies, either.
Maybe it was their time to fly away! At the same time, I worried: maybe something horrible had happened to the babies.
I’ll never know if there was a happy ending; there’s a lack of closure. But that’s life: sometimes, it’s messy. On top of all of that, I wonder at once if I made the process worse and if I’m assuming too much blame.
The previous two years, the birds’ journey was downright inspiring to witness. This year, my awe was mixed with stress, because of the family’s bumpy road and the babies’ uncertain “ending.”
And yet, watching the family handle their incredible obstacles was inspiring in a different sort of way: They did their best with what they had.
Another takeaway: I’ll put up that daffodil wreath way earlier next spring. It’ll be waiting for Momma and Poppa. I hope they return! And I sure hope their babies made it safely into the world this spring.
As the old saying goes, you never know when or where inspiration will strike. Earlier this week, it struck me at… PetSmart.
Not inspiration for a book idea. Or inspiration to adopt another cat (although I pretty much feel the urge whenever I see a homeless kitty). It was more like inspiration, along with affirmation, to keep doing what I’m doing.
Vague? It’s because what I took away was a generalized feeling; it wasn’t about doing any one particular thing. Another reason for the vagueness? Well, I hope to keep you reading!
So. I was in the check-out line at PetSmart chatting with the woman in front of me. For the sake of this post, I’ll call her Susan. Susan mentioned having a severely autistic son and we were discussing her frustration with some of his current and prior services. At some point, I mentioned being a teacher.
She said that the very best years of her son’s education were
in elementary school. Susan asked where I taught and when I told her, she
lit up. Big. Time.
Guess which school he had attended? You got it! Her son (and
daughter) went to the same public elementary school where I now teach.
Susan gushed with warm, funny stories about her son’s experiences at the school. Her stories reflected his great sense of comfort and belonging with his peers, the faculty, and the administration.
Although I just joined the faculty this year and had nothing to do
with her son’s experiences, the three adults that Susan mentioned still work at
my school; and it made me even prouder to be their colleague.
More than anything, I felt such joy for Susan’s son. It was clear from what she relayed that his positive elementary school experiences still bolster him (and her!). That’s what I want for all kids — for school to be a source of strength.
If that wasn’t enough for me to get the warm fuzzies, Susan told me about her now college-aged daughter. In an essay for a course, her daughter, who is white, discussed how the high degree of diversity at her former elementary school has benefitted her as a person.
This woman’s takeaway from elementary school means the world to me. I believe deeply that interacting with people from various backgrounds is one of the most valuable things about school; and is one of the most promising ways for us to work toward understanding and peace in our world.
And here’s my general takeaway from my chat with Susan, something I’ve long believed as a teacher, writer, mom, and person: If we go with our gut and trust our process, which can sometimes be difficult to implement, good things come of it – and sometimes we don’t know what those things are until far down the road. Often we never find out (and that’s okay).
I told you — vague! But this “feeling” or way of living has helped guide me. And it was lovely to see it play out, albeit through other people.
I let my three colleagues know about my encounter with Susan. It felt like a rare and deep honor – confirming for them that the seeds they had planted years ago had blossomed in Susan’s children. My colleagues were delighted to hear it.
This is why most teachers teach (and why most children’s writers write). Despite how challenging our work may be at times, we love kids and want to make some kind of positive difference in their lives — today and tomorrow.
Little did I know when I raced into PetSmart to pick up cat food that I’d leave with that happy message to deliver to my colleagues. And with all that inspiration and affirmation for me to keep plugging along.
Hey, next time you head into a store, keep your eyes and
ears open. You never know what else you may pick up along with the items on
your shopping list!
When my girls were younger, they added a magic to our
household during Christmas. Their belief. Their joy. Their innocence.
Now that they’re teenagers, they add a different kind of magic. They carry on our holiday traditions: decorating the tree, baking the homemade cookies, making the holiday cards.
Part of the magic is watching them grow up into thoughtful, capable individuals. The other part is… I get to put my feet up!
A bit. Mostly, their contributions free me up to do other stuff. This year, Christmas passed by before I made photo cards; my older daughter volunteered to make New Year’s cards, as she had last year. Yes, please!
I scrolled through my photos from 2018, searching for ones to text her. I noticed a theme across many of them (not the ones I sent her, but my photos in general): Things Above My Head (literally, not figuratively). I know — it’s an odd theme, but stay with me.
Yes, I’m short, so a lot of things are simply higher up than I am! But I got to thinking… I do tend to look up. Like, I literally look up. Even when I don’t have to.
It had dawned on me a while ago that I look up, often, while walking in my neighborhood. The tall trees and the big sky are a pretty sight. But there’s also something about looking up that fills me with hope and possibility.
And makes me believe. Like a little kid during Christmas. That thing that I’m looking up at — whatever it is, even if it’s a small bird — seems big in spirit. Magical, really.
It wasn’t until my daughter prompted me to look back at my 2018 photos that I noticed my upward gaze. During the first three days of holiday break, I looked up at three different sights — each cheerful in its own way:
Here are a couple of other things that I looked up to in 2018. These still speak volumes to me given the plight of our nation and world:
As for 2019, I’ll just keep looking up. 2018 went by in a flash, and I want to make the most out of this one, too.
Happy New Year! May yours be filled with inspiring sights, no matter which way you look.
Back in 2013 or 2014, a writer friend suggested that I join SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators. I don’t remember exactly what went through my mind, but it probably went something like this: That sounds so established. That’s for real writers, and I’m not sure that I’m enough.
I’m so glad that my friend brought SCBWI to my attention (Thanks, Sue!) and that I joined. As it turns out, members are writers and illustrators on every point of the publishing spectrum, from those who’ve published dozens of books to those who are unpublished. There’s a place for every writer who is passionate about writing and illustrating (and reading) children’s books. And yes, if you write or illustrate, then you are real and you are enough.
One of the things that I most love about SCBWI are the conferences which are skillfully organized by teams of children’s writers and illustrators. I’ve been attending the annual Mid-Atlantic Conference since 2014. Each one has been a different experience, depending on where I am in my writing life, who’s on faculty, and whom I happen to meet. But I always walk away with new knowledge, connections, and inspiration. Always.
Am I sounding like an ad for SCBWI? Really, I don’t enjoy being a saleswoman. I find self-promotion hard. I give away too many copies of my book. And I’m that mom who avoids fundraisers. If I’m enthusiastic about something, it’s only because I believe in it. (Like, I will spread the word when my daughter is selling Girl Scout cookies. Want any come January?)
Conferences are a good fit for me, because I enjoy learning and connecting with people in person. And who doesn’t love inspiration? Besides, I savor the get-away from life and a hotel room all to myself.
When I attended my first Mid-Atlantic Conference in 2014, I was so excited that I could barely sleep the night before. And when day came, I felt that I had met My People. People who understood the deep desire to create books for kids, were working hard to make that happen, and were helping each other along the winding road.
When I attended my fifth Mid-Atlantic Conference a couple of weekends ago, I felt all the more that I was with my people. People who understood what it feels like to have work rejected by editors and agents. People who keep going despite (and maybe even partly because of) the rejections. People who still have the deep desire, who are still working hard, who are still helping each other.
Why, this conference has become so much like a second home that… the morning of the conference, I grabbed my tote bag, stepped out into the hallway, and realized that… I still had my slippers on! Okay, maybe that was just absentmindedness at work, but in any case, this conference has become a writing home-base. I did change out of my slippers, by the way.
Over the course of two days, I met new people and hugged old friends. I filled up my notebook with so many craft ideas and inspirational words from writers, illustrators, editors, and agents who gave speeches, sat on panels, and taught workshops. I will, as I have in the past, turn back the pages to those notes.
The wise and wonderful Pat Cummings gave the keynote address and led a three-hour workshop. Her words, especially, have continued to resonate:
The bottom line is do it. If you love it, put it down on paper. You’re 90% there. Somebody else will love it, too.” – Pat Cummings
If you won the lottery today, would you still be doing it?” – Pat Cummings
How long are you going to be on the planet?” – Pat Cummings
This year’s conference felt extra special to me. Ever since, I’ve tried to put my finger on why. It was likely due to several factors including the very lovely faculty and my own comfort level. More than anything, though, I picked up on an particularly kind, gentle vibe. I wonder if others who attended felt it, too.
Given the divisive state of this country, I appreciated all the more the haven that this conference is. I took solace in connecting with others who believe in the power of books to build bridges between people. During a time when I’m grieving for our country (and our world), it was healing to be in the presence of a people who are trying to birth beautiful books for our greatest hope: children.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference. I hope to see some of you there next October!
When I started this blog one-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t know what I’d write about or how often I’d post. I’ve taken things day by day, and as it’s turned out, I’ve posted once a month about something that has resonated with me that month (save for the planned interviews which have also resonated!). This has worked well for me.
Until now. As September has rolled along, I’ve wished that something would stand up and say, “Blog about ME!” But nothing has spoken. For sure, national news has been very loud and consuming, and I’ve had a hard time hearing much else. Maybe I haven’t been listening carefully enough, because I know there’s got to be inspiration, even there .
In general, though, I’ve not been without inspiration this month. I’ve had plenty for two writing projects (one historical fiction and the other narrative non-fiction) that I hope will ultimately add some positive energy to our world. I wish I could share more than that, but I can’t; that’s the way this business goes. If things pan out, I’ll be more than happy to blog about them down the road.
Maybe next month, blog worthy inspiration will strike. Or maybe, I’ll change my strategy and not wait for inspiration. Or yet again, maybe I’ll change what has become a once-a-month goal. I’ll be thinking on this.
In any case, I wanted to touch base before we turn the calendar to October. Wishing you a wonderful fall — filled with inspiration!
It’s not good story-telling, I know, to give away the ending at the beginning. But I don’t like stressing people out with this sort of thing, so I’ll cut to the chase. I recently had a biopsy done, and it came back negative. Yay!
I’ll also leave out most of the story, the part that led up to the biopsy — what?! — because what I want to share is what I got out of the experience. There is a short story in that, though.
See these branches?
They’re on a tall pine tree outside of my bathroom window. When I called my doctor’s office for the results, I retreated to my master-bedroom bathroom. This way, I’d be out of earshot from my kids who were home on a snow day (which yielded no snow, so the branches looked just like this).
I waited for the office staff to put my call through to the nurse. It took a long time before the nurse picked up. Well, maybe a minute or two, but it felt like a long time.
There wasn’t much to do in the bathroom, so I gazed out of the window at those branches on a beautiful, blue-sky day.
On the one hand, the branches looked vulnerable – sitting way up high, extending far from the trunk, bobbing in the breeze.
On the other hand, they’d weathered many storms over the years. Whipped around by high winds. Pelted by heavy rain. Weighed down by snow and ice.
Those branches had been really good at bending and not breaking. I’d been watching them for sixteen and a half years. A few had broken from extreme stress, but for the most part, they’d remained resilient.
So, as I waited for the nurse, I anchored myself by watching those strong, flexible branches. And I thought about how the nurse on the other end of the phone would give me news, likely either: “It’s negative,” or “The doctor will call you” (which I’ve come to understand often means bad news).
And I thought about how the news, depending on what it was, would take my life in one direction or another.
Would I proceed with my plans for the rest of this school year? Or would a good deal of my time and energy need to go elsewhere?
Whatever the news, I hoped to handle things as those branches do. In that moment, I don’t think I could have laid eyes on a better role model. They keep it simple. They do what they need to do. And they do so with grace.
They seemed to be saying, quietly, “You got this. Whatever it may be.”
As it turns out, I was lucky. Before this, I’d been lucky — and unlucky — in other life situations.
Haven’t we all been in both of those places? Lucky? Unlucky? Be it health or something else? Something little or something big? It’s just part of the human experience.
This makes me think of another very short story. When my younger daughter was three years old, she had an accident while under my care. She required stitches, as had my older daughter a few years prior. I felt awful. Both of them. Under my care! Maybe I could have prevented it, if only I had…
My brother, Pete, who happens to be a family practitioner, told me over the phone, “You’ve probably helped her avoid other accidents. You just don’t know it.”
That was such an eye opener, and I felt so much better. What a compassionate response. And what a novel way of looking at motherhood and at life. I also took it to mean: Luck is all around, even when we don’t know it.
I’m aware of how fleeting and fragile life is. It’s a heavy awareness to live with, yet it’s part of what feeds my gratitude. That awareness makes me feel grateful to wake up each day.
That awareness also makes me avoid drama (which is different from conflict). I have no time and energy for the former. I’d rather be doing something meaningful or having fun. Or eating chocolate.
Those moments, like my phone call with the nurse, feel like reminders from the universe to sharpen that awareness and gratitude and perspective when it may be dulling.
As I’ve moved forward from that phone call, I’ve held on to the image of those branches swaying gracefully. They don’t know what will come their way; they just keep bending.
Those branches remind me to keep bending. They remind me that I’m lucky (even when I don’t know it).
When I registered for a writing workshop with Kathy Erskine in May 2014, I knew I was in for a wonderful writing experience. I had also been hoping to find other children’s writers who might want to form a critique group. Lucky for me, Marc Boston was also in the workshop!
At one point, Kathy asked for volunteers to read aloud manuscripts. Marc volunteered. Based on the smiles and laughter in the room, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was delighted by his rhyming picture book manuscript.
Well, Marc and I formed that critique group (along with other writers). He’s been cranking out the manuscripts and has been a great support to me on my own writing journey.
And that picture book manuscript? Marc ended up self-publishing it as The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff in October 2015.
In June 2017 Marc self-published his second delightful picture book, What About Me?. Like his first book, this one is charmingly illustrated by Annie Wilkinson.
Amy: Hey, Marc! Congratulations on the publication of What About Me? Tell us a bit about it.
Marc: Hey there, Amy! Thank you, and thanks for inviting me to stop by to have this conversation with you. In the story, the nameless main character is vying for the attention of her two older sisters, who seem oblivious to her appeal for recognition. They aren’t being mean; they are just in their own little worlds.
As the story progresses, our lead character must come to understand that with a little creativity and imagination, she can learn to be her own best friend. She learns that she doesn’t need to seek validation outside of herself, and that it is ultimately up to her to make herself happy. This story is an attempt to explore the theme of self-empowerment, which is truly a universal theme that folks of all ages can embrace.
Amy: Will you share your inspiration for your books?
Marc: Many of the stories I’ve written are based on the interactions, antics, and shenanigans I witness my three elementary age daughters engaging in during their everyday lives. I notice their interesting or quirky behaviors such as my middle daughter Delaney’s old habit of needing to carry many of her possessions around the house and whenever we’d leave. This particularly priceless practice of hers sparked the idea for my first book, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff.
I also enjoy listening to the funny things that they say, and I attempt to use that as writing material. I love to remain aware of what they are doing around me because I feel that there are so many treasures that can be mined from their unaffected, authentic way of being. I casually and surreptitiously observe all of this and spin those situations into fun tales. I’m basically a fly on the wall reporting on their day-to-day lives without their permission…hopefully they don’t sue me one day. 🙂
What About Me? is based on my youngest daughter, Journey, and her perceived interactions with her two older sisters. Perceived in that even though the stories are based on them, the stories are told through the lens of my perspective. All three of my girls get along splendidly, however there are those occasions when I notice that the older two are off engaging in some little household adventure, while Journey is off somewhere doing something solo.
Most of the time Journey seems content, but there are those times when I feel like she’s been purposely left behind because she’s just not old enough yet to keep up. After witnessing several of these instances, I began to wonder how she might feel about being treated like a third wheel. Maybe she doesn’t mind it at all, but I thought that this episode in their lives would make a great story. So I sat down and wrote What About Me?
Amy: How was the experience publishing your second picture book?
Marc: I am excited to have recently published my second book. I experienced a much easier time around publishing the new book than my first book, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff. The first book was almost four years in the making. I wrote the story but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, because I didn’t know much about the publishing world in general.
Once I performed a bit of research, I decided that I wished to self-publish the book as opposed to seeking traditional publishing. I set out down the road to self-publish, but I had almost no idea what I was doing at first. I learned through trial and error with the help of some very supportive artists and professionals. This time around I didn’t feel like a rookie; I didn’t have to wonder about whether to self-publish as I had my personal publishing apparatus in place already, so to speak. So this time it felt like a rather painless process.
Amy: Why did you decide to self-publish your first book?
Marc: Probably because I’m a little crazy. 🙂 Mostly it’s because I’m a bit of a rebel. I’ve never fit completely in with many social standards. For example, I was one of the first stay-at-home dads that I’d ever known 11 years ago, and now we are more common place.
I chose to go into self-publishing because first of all, I didn’t want to wait to be picked. I chose to pick myself! I feel like I have something to say through the stories I tell, and I didn’t want to have to wait to tell them. When I was ready to follow my goal of becoming a children’s book writer, I knew it; and I didn’t want to wait any longer. I was ready to just go for it with a sort of against-all-odds attitude.
I worked through my initial fear and attempted to just focus on putting out my best work, allowing the chips to fall where they may. Today’s publishing world is so different than in the past that it afforded me the opportunity to do this. Not to mention, my first book was like my baby and I didn’t want to give her away to the traditional publishing world to raise. That’s the stay-at-home dad coming out in me.
…my first book was like my baby and I didn’t want to give her away to the traditional publishing world to raise. That’s the stay-at-home dad coming out in me.” — Marc Boston
Amy: Do you see yourself continuing to self-publish or do you see pursuing traditional publishing at some point?
Marc: This is a question I’ve wrestled with from the very beginning, before I made the informed decision to self-publish. Which way should I go? I certainly have nothing against pursuing traditional publishing. There is something to be said about having a team of professionals to help a relative newcomer like me with the process. Being new to the game, it would be nice to have an agent or publisher hold my hand as I continue to develop and grow in this industry. And I’m certain that the education I would receive from such a partnership would be invaluable. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with self-publishing has been the marketing, promotion, and distribution. So yes, I am truly open to the idea of receiving some assistance to further the career I’m working to firmly establish.
Amy: There are so many writers looking to publish picture books. What do you feel sets your writing apart?
Marc: There are so many reading choices out there, so what would make someone want to choose one of my stories to read? When a writer is striving to be heard, it’s easy to feel lost in the shuffle. During these times I try to remember that I have something to contribute as well. With my writing, I attempt to entertain, educate, and inspire. These attributes are common in all of my stories. Part of what I hope makes my writing entertaining is my rhyme style. It is definitely what gives my work its flavor. I also don’t shy away from using words that may be above a certain reader’s grade level, and after reading my stories I want you to feel something. I try to write thought-provoking pieces.
Amy: What threads all of your stories together?
Marc: The need to write stories that contain universal themes that all people can relate to. No matter how old or young you happen to be. And the strong desire to present people of color as the lead characters in my books.
Amy: Why is it important to you to send main characters of color out into the world?
Marc: Because there is a whole segment of people out there who feel left out, forgotten, invisible. Diverse books help to remind the world there is more than one story to be told, more than one perspective, more than one culture. And, diversity is normal! You don’t only see one race or one gender when we leave our homes. There are many different types of people, with various positions and points of view. Diversity is a beautiful thing; it should be embraced, and reflected in the books we read.
Diversity is a beautiful thing; it should be embraced, and reflected in the books we read.” — Marc Boston
Amy: What has surprised you about the writer’s life?
Marc: (1) How much better I feel when I’m writing. If I don’t write I don’t feel right. (2) How many other people wish to also write books and articles. I can’t tell you how many people have solicited advice about how to write and how to publish, and have asked if I would critique their work since they found out that I published a couple of books. And I’m thrilled to be of service in that way.
If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.” – Marc Boston
Amy: What has been the most rewarding part about the writer’s life?
Marc: One of the most rewarding things about the writer’s life is being able to write. To start with a blank page and have a story come together the way you wish is great. To publish a book and have it accepted to the VA Festival of the Book is an amazing feeling. To have an article published in a magazine is very rewarding. To have someone actually ask your advice about writing, because they believe that you may be an authority on the subject, is fantastic. For someone to say that they really love your work is worth all the effort.
Amy: What has been the most challenging part about the writer’s life?
Marc: Writing can be a lonely pursuit. Often I wonder if anyone cares about the work I put out. The vulnerable feeling of putting yourself out there to potentially be judged by others can be nerve-racking. Am I good enough to even call myself a writer? Sometimes it’s really hard to produce something you feel is worthy enough to present to the world, and after you do, the insecure feelings over the quality of your work are always there.
Some writers wish to be JK Rawlings or John Grisham or Walter Mosley, and if you aren’t that it feels as if you have to fight off the stigma of this being “just” a hobby. There are certain expectations you put on yourself as a writer and the perceived expectations of others that seem to be ever-present. The only thing I can do about that is to put out the best content I can, and let the work speak for itself. Because it isn’t about me, it’s about the work.
Amy: What other stories are you working on these days?
Marc: The beauty of being in a wonderful writing critique group like ImagineInk is that we usually submit new material to one another for review every three weeks. Without my writing crew, I probably wouldn’t write as much as I do. You all have been holding me accountable for the past three years. So I’m always working on something new. I have a picture book story I’m working on now that touches on childhood poverty, and I just wrapped up an article I wrote for a local magazine that explains how my daughters often provide fodder for my stories.
Amy: What other interests do you have besides writing? What else fills your days?
Marc: When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. I’m an avid reader who loves the Easy Rawlins mysteries by Walter Mosley. I’m very much into spiritual books like those from Marianne Williamson and also Eckhart Tolle. I try to stay fit by running a mile a day, and I have a daily meditation practice. I also enjoy watching old movies, listening to classic hip-hop, taking walks, cooking, and spending time with my family traveling or just being silly with them around the house.
Amy: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Marc: I just want to thank you, Amy, for giving me this opportunity to chat with you. I’d also like to encourage everyone to continue to support diverse books, and to always strive to live as fearlessly and authentically as possible. Peace & Blessings.
Amy: Thanks so much for stopping by, Marc. It’s been fun to learn more about what makes you tick. I look forward to your next writing group submission. See you soon!
If you’re local, Marc and I will both be at the Charlottesville Book Fair on Saturday, November 18 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at CitySpace on the Downtown Mall. Please come say hey to over 40 local authors!
Until this year, my favorite writing place was my 20-year-old sofa, tucked away in my bedroom. It’s comfy and embracing, as if cheering, “You’ve been here before. Many times. You can do this writing thing!”
But it became impractical to keep my piles of books and other writing materials on the bedroom floor. So this past winter, I ventured out to the dining room, a sunny room with an empty tabletop. And a big window that allows me to look out onto grass and trees and sky. It has turned out to be the perfect spot, offering lovely surprises and unexpected lessons along the way.
One blue-sky morning in late March, I was sitting at the table when I heard a gentle rattling at the front door. I looked up to see my cats, Wall-E and Howie, already sitting in the foyer and staring at the backside of the door. I glanced out the window and saw nothing unusual. I resumed work until the rattling and my cats returned.
This cycle continued a few times until I noticed a small brown bird, carrying a leafy twig in its mouth, zip past the window toward the front door. It was the closest thing to a peace dove that I’d probably ever see, and the fleeting sight was magical.
OH! Could the bird be building a nest on the wreath? I hurried out the back door to take a look. When I was about 15 feet from the front door, the bird startled and flew away to the nearest tree, an oak tree in front of the dining room.
The next time I heard the rattling, I peeked out the window. Yay! A nest in the making! This city girl posted the breaking news on Facebook: Momma bird was building a nest! To lay eggs in! And there would be teeny tiny birdies!
I was in awe of momma bird’s brilliant idea to build a nest on a wreath (camouflaged!) under the porch roof (protected!); her expert skills in crafting such a beautiful and sturdy nest; her intense focus and abiding devotion. I was in awe of the miracle of life, with its newness and hope, unfolding at my front door.
How did I live on 2 acres of land for 15 years and reach age 50 without witnessing this? And yet, how lucky I felt to still have so much of life to see.
I went out of town to NYC for a writing conference. When I returned, I found five eggs! Perfect eggs. Gorgeous eggs. My husband Rob and I did research and determined that these were House Finches.
Well, that was it for the front door. No more using it for the whole family. No more visitors at the front door. I posted this sign:
I asked visitors in advance to come to the back door. Whenever an unexpected visitor came to the front door, poor momma bird fled to the oak tree. No doubt she was worried about her eggs, but what else could she do? She had to take care of herself, too. And take good care she did — of herself and her eggs. Before long… Happy Birthday!
The babies thrived. I could tell from all of the poop! It was not a pleasant sight, but poop was part of the package (and seemed to act as an adhesive between the nest and the door). Be forewarned: as the birds grew, so did their poop!
By early May, I noticed that momma bird had a companion in the oak tree. He was brown with red markings; poppa bird, I assumed! They chirped and flitted about in the branches, moving between the tree and the nest where they fussed over their babies.
One morning momma and poppa birds were particularly chirpy and active. I heard what I thought was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Could this be the day for their babies to take flight? It was — for one!
During the next two days, whenever I heard a flurry of activity, I checked the nest.
In the end, what remained was an empty nest and a whole lot of poop. And quiet. Momma and poppa birds had moved out of the oak tree.
In the days following their departure, I missed the cheerful sounds and the sight of the sweet family. I was surprised by how much joy the entire process had brought to me. And equally surprised by how wistful I felt after the birds had left. But then, when something brings you joy, isn’t it natural to feel its absence?
Yes, I was experiencing empty nest syndrome.
As the babies departed, I sent the photos to Rob. In response to one photo, he emailed back:
“Wow! But they’ll never call and never write. Sigh.”
I think this was his way of saying that he’d miss them, too. I shared his email with our 11-year-old daughter Miya who commented, “But they can Tweet.”
Ah, I can always count on these two for a little levity!
Still, why was I so moved by the birds? Other than allowing me to witness their amazing process, the birds also spoke to me as a writer and as a mom.
Building a writing career – building each story – is a process. And raising a child is a process. In the end, after doing the best we can, we send each manuscript and each child out into the world. We hope the world will be kind to them; we hope they’ll have good luck. And this is the case for whatever we invest our hearts into and then have the courage to let go of.
I’m a writer who has just started the process of querying literary agents and sending them manuscripts. It’s exciting, and it’s hard. Realistically, I’ll receive many rejections, and they’ll sting. But as they roll in, I’ll continue to nurture my manuscripts before sending them out again… and again… and again. And, hopefully, one day an agent will think that one of them is ready.
I’m a mom who has two kids wrapping up another school year: 9th grade and 5th grade. Part of me wishes I could keep them in those sweet elementary school years forever. But even if I could I wouldn’t, because moving on means that they’re privileged with life and growth. They’re still in my nest, but the reality is that they’re already leaving it on a daily basis, growing more independent; and one day they’ll leave for good when they’re ready.
Momma and poppa birds had but one month, filled with quick and numerous transitions, to spend with their babies. Their abbreviated cycle of life seems to make each moment that much more important and their process that much more obvious. Here’s what the birds shared with me:
Pick a good spot.
Build a strong foundation.
Focus and work hard.
Take care of others (and yourself).
Embrace the joyful moments and the process.
Maybe the babies were afraid to fly, or maybe not. Maybe their parents were afraid to see them fly, or maybe not. Maybe the babies and their parents miss each other, or maybe not. Whatever the case, they all did what they needed to do. And that to me is beautiful: that they did what they needed to do.
My family and I are back to using the front door. I’ve cleaned up the poop. But I’ll keep the wreath and nest up in case another momma bird (maybe even the same one or one of her grown babies) finds it and makes it home. It would be my privilege.
My move from the old sofa to the dining room was practical. But it’s turned out to be instructive and inspiring, too. I’m glad that I’ve been able to look out the window to see new sights. In a way, the window has also served as a mirror, reflecting back those new sights into deeper insights. Some days I may still choose to sit on my comfy old sofa and write. But for the most part, I think I’ll stay put at the dining room table.
Welcome to my first blog post! How exciting for me! But also…
…kind of nerve-racking. You see, I lead a pretty quiet life. And I don’t tend to seek the spotlight. Frankly, there’s a lot about being online that runs counter to my nature and upbringing.
So. Why. Blog?
Believe me, I asked myself that question repeatedly as my designer and I worked on my site. What, am I crazy? Putting myself out there? For anyone to see? The thought was/is enough to make me want to cuddle up with my cat and ditch the whole plan.
I just joined Facebook last spring, my first step into the social media world. There were lots of reasons why I’d avoided it: time, privacy, trolls. In the end, even though it is a mixed bag, I’m glad to be there. Still, I pause nearly every time before I push the “Post” button.
That’s one side of the coin.
The other side is that I LOVE connecting with people. I live to find common ground. And I’ll talk to just about anyone. Ask my kids who are forced to stand there as I chat with people — familiar and new — at their schools, in stores, at the library, on the street.
I also live to write. I’ve been a diary/journal writer since I was a kid. A blog is, after all, a web log, isn’t it?
What’s the big deal, then? That brings me back to the other side of the coin.
The thing is I have to be real. That’s also part of my deal. By blogging in an open and honest way, I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable which in a face-to-face, back-and-forth conversation feels just fine. More than just fine! I thrive on that type of conversation where each person learns about the other and we share some good laughs.
But being online giving a monologue to who-knows-whom? Well, that just makes me feel naked. (No worries, G rated blog here.)
The nature of writing is solitary (too much so sometimes), but the business is public. Positive connection — bring it on! Constructive criticism — I’m good with that. But trolls — who needs that? Life is hard enough.
But life is also too short. So I’ve decided to implement the principle of non-attachment. You know, hit the “Publish” button and then…
I’ve got stuff to say and share that I think will resonate with some readers. And those are, after all, the readers I’m trying to reach.
If you end up being one of them, I’ll think of it this way: it’s just you and me having a nice little chat at school or in a store or at the library or on the street. Oh heck, while I’m at it, why not on a beach or a mountaintop? I envision tea or coffee. A steaming hot mug of French Roast for me. What do you prefer?
Yeah, I like that. Phew! Now I feel a lot better.
I’d feel even better if I could tell you exactly what the focus of my blog will be. But back to openness and honesty… I don’t know. The best I can offer is that my posts will be connected under the umbrella of things that I love: kids and kids’ books, reading and writing, inclusiveness in stories and in life.
Over time, I may find a more defined focus, a focus that grows organically and finds me. But it will take just that: time. Blogging over time.
If you’re good with this general map and open to seeing what happens, I’d love your company and conversation along the way! I’ll be spending more time writing manuscripts than blog posts, but you can expect to hear from me about once a month (i.e. I won’t be clogging up your inbox).
How do I know that I really want to blog and write and publish more books? Because despite internal and external obstacles, I’m going for it! As the late Randy Pausch said, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
Thanks for listening as I take this additional step into the online world. Many years ago, my high school English teacher, Ms. Stewart, told me, “Take more risks.” Yeah, I think Ms. Stewart would be happy about this one. In any case, I know I am!