Thursday, July 31, 2014

One Thing That's Ruining My Life

To say that the next few weeks are going to be crazy is the biggest understatement I could make right now. I’m going to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this weekend, which is going to be packed with all kinds of classes like ‘Creating Suspense: 13 Techniques for Making Your Readers Sweat’ and ‘Getting into the Act: Turn Your Readers into Your Marketers’. There’s even a class on advanced metadata! Whatever that is.

At the conference, I registered for a pitch slam — which is basically like speed dating for writers and agents. I’ll have 90 seconds to pitch my book, and the agent has 90 seconds to respond/give feedback. I was excited when I first signed up for the pitch slam, but now I’m just terrified because my novel is NOT where I thought it would be at this point.

The following weekend we’ll be going to the wedding of one of my best friends, Danielle. I’m the matron of honor (which makes me sound so old, doesn’t it?!) which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

The weekend after Danielle’s wedding, we are moving into our new apartment.

Then, we go to Lake Tahoe for another wedding.

Oh, and did I mention that we have a new puppy and I haven’t slept through the night for almost a week now?

Needless to say, I’m a little worried. And by ‘a little’, I mean, ‘A LOT’. I’m worried about the pitch slam, I’m worried about flying by myself, I’m worried about meeting new people, I’m worried about Danielle’s wedding and the bachelorette party and the MOH speech which has been written in my head while I lay in bed in an insomnia-driven stupor and I’m worried about the moving and the furniture and how it will fit in the house and the puppy and the…

You get the point.

But the worry is just ruining my life. And my sleep. So I’m determined to not be so worried, but that’s a lot easier than it sounds. Here’s what I’m doing to help with the worry and you guys will have to tell me what you do when you’re worried.

1. Pray. And then pray some more. And then, when that doesn’t work, I keep praying. I really believe prayer is a supernatural thing — every time I pray about something, I do feel better about it. For about five minutes. Then, I have to pray again.

2. Go for walks/exercise. Blowing off some steam outside or in the gym seems to make a big difference. It releases endorphins, serotonin and can even normalize sleep ( And, apparently exercise can help curb depression.

3. Talk with people I trust. I don’t think it’s a great idea to just dump all of my problems on my friends ALL of the time, but there’s definitely a time and a place for it. Like now. This week, as I’ve been sharing my worries with people, it’s genuinely helpful to: 
  1. Be listened to, and
  2. Hear people’s advice and anecdotes

I told my hairdresser about my wedding-planning woes and she told me a horrific story about a wedding she was in that made me feel a lot better about my situation. Sometimes, when we share with others what’s going on in our lives, it makes it seem more manageable than it is in our heads.

4. Try to relax. Emphasis on the try. For me, this means watching America’s Next Top Model (I’m not sure why this show has become my guilty pleasure, but I love it) and take a bath. I probably need to spend a little more time doing this.

What about you? What have you been worrying about lately and what are you doing to worry less?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Text Messages From Emily

In Loving Memory of Emily Aultman

I met Emily in Anatomy class, Spring 2013, 7:20am.

Her red hair was as bright as her personality; her smile, infectious. Despite the ungodly hour of the class, Emily was always cheerful. Throughout the semester, we built a friendship. We exchanged Anatomy notes, encouraged each other before tests and talked about our relationships with God. I’ll never forget when she surprised me with my favorite Starbucks coffee — a gesture that meant far more than just an early-morning caffeine jolt.

After the semester, Tyler and I moved away from Gainesville and I never saw Emily again, but she kept in touch with me. In the short time that I knew her, Emily was always giving to other people. Last summer, she text messaged me asking for prayers for some of her Young Life girls who were struggling in their relationships with God. It was evident in her texts that she cared deeply for these girls; she couldn’t help but pray for them and ask for me to pray for them.

Today, I found out that Emily passed away in a car accident. I was shocked and saddened by the fact that this beautiful soul will no longer reside on this earth. After I heard the news, I went through my phone to read her text messages to me and reminisced about this God-loving redhead. In reading our texts, I remembered that at the end of the semester, Emily had dropped the Anatomy course that we took together. I remembered that it was a time of frustration for her, and that she felt weighed down by her decision.

As I was praying about Emily this morning, I realized how little that Anatomy class matters now. Her soul is no longer earth-bound, the worries of this world mean very little to her now. I know with certainty that Emily, in her eternal state, will not think about that Anatomy class one bit. If anything, she is thinking about us — the people who knew her and love her. She truly had a heart for people and for God, and that is what matters in this life.

Emily will not be remembered by whether or not she passed a class. She will not be remembered for her major, or the fact that she went to the University of Florida. She will not be remembered by these “earthly” things. What she will be remembered by is her incredible love for people, her love for God and her vivacious spirit.

The last text that Emily sent to me, she expressed that she was mourning the loss of a friend that had passed away last year. She said:

 “I’m in a place trying to trust God and praying that I don’t continue to feel the need to know why or the purpose behind her death but that I’ll trust and believe that He does all things well, even in the midst of my hurting heart.” 

Her words ring so true today as I ask God these same questions, and struggle with the same things she struggled with only weeks ago. The encouraging part of all of this for me is that her struggle is over. I don’t know how eternity will work, but I’d like to believe that Emily is with God, and with her friend right now. I think that Emily would recognize that in this life we battle through losses and hardships, but if we are faithful to God, we will come out of it eternally strong.

When I think of Emily, I think of someone who struggled just like all of us do, yet she didn’t give in — she was courageous and spirited. She was an adventuress who trusted God. I hope that I can be that way. And I hope that I will be able to have an eternal perspective about this life — the Anatomy classes of the world will not matter in the long run, so why should I worry about it now?

I ask that all of you join me as I try to focus on the things that really matter in this life: God and the relationships he’s given me. In honor of Emily’s short yet poignant life, and the love that God has given me, I will throw off the worries of this world and live life to the fullest — because that is what we were made for. I hope that you will do the same.

Here’s to you, Emily.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why the Hard Things are Usually the Best Things

Some days, writing is easy. My fingers glide over the keyboard, the words flowing from my heart onto the page and I can just keep going for hours without taking a break.

Today is not one of those days.

Yesterday wasn’t either.

So, what gives? Did I suddenly lose my word-flowing power? Am I destined to be a literary failure? Am I really a writer, or is that a term that I use simply because I don’t know how else to label myself?

All of these thoughts were racing through my head when I saw this quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and I realized that this is exactly what needs to be happening right now. Sometimes, even your dream job has to be hard, or else, is it really worth it?

Most things that are truly rewarding are difficult to achieve. For example:

  • Relationships: usually, the best relationships are the ones that had the most work put into them. It’s easy to look at a healthy marriage from a distance and think that they have it all together and it’s just-so-beautiful, but usually those people with the healthiest marriages have battled through their fair share of ugliness to get to the beauty that we’re admiring now. 
  • Working out: There are rare days when it’s fun to work out. But for the most part, it’s painful. Being healthy, exercising, eating right, etc. can be mentally, emotionally and physically draining. But the results are ALWAYS worth it. And usually, it becomes easier the longer you're committed to the training.
  • School: One of the hardest classes in my entire academic career was Russian. I had to study every single day, sometimes for hours a day, for it to be meaningful at all. But, I LOVED it. The most challenging subjects are usually the ones that are the most gratifying in the end.

I think these same principles apply to most aspects of life, and hopefully they will apply to my book. I’m going to be honest with you guys: I’m tired. I want this book to be done. Yet here I am, doing a total re-write of the book I JUST FINISHED because this is important to me and I want it to be the very best that it can possibly be.

So, right now it’s really hard. But I’m hoping that at some point, it will get easy. And, even if it doesn’t, something tells me that the end result will be satisfying.

Are you going through anything right now that is proving to be more difficult than you thought? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I'll leave you guys with one last quote from Goethe:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Why My Brother Should Be Dead

Most of you know that for the past 10 days, I've been in the "residency" portion of my MFA degree. While in workshop one day, one of the exercises we had to do was to free-write a story that began with the line: "This is a true story." So I wanted to share this one with you guys (and it is, in fact, a true story!)

This is a true story. We were living in this old brick house with creaking wooden floors in Hialeah. My mom was showing the house to a couple that was interested in buying it. When she came to my brothers’ room, she noticed that the window was open and two little hands, white-knuckled, were gripping the bottom of the window frame. She, of course, screamed and rushed to the window to find my blonde-haired brother beaming up at her, his body dangling on the outside of the red brick house. 

This should not have surprised her. Just before our house went up for sale, we had a permanent fixture at the bottom of our staircase: a queen-sized mattress. The sole purpose of this mattress was to catch my brother whenever he went flying off of the banister of our expansive wooden staircase. The antique chandelier that overlooked the first floor had several crystals and light bulbs missing from the times that Daniel jumped off of the staircase with an umbrella, perhaps in an attempt to fly like Mary Poppins or maybe he simply wanted to see if he could swing off of the chandelier. 

Prior to the mattress, my parents had tried putting up one of those child safety gates at the bottom of the staircase to prevent access. When that didn’t work, they put a net on the outside of the staircase to try to keep him from going through the slots in the banister. A week after the safety gate and the net were in place, my mother found Daniel laying unconscious on the first floor of our house, his blue gray eyes staring up at her. She, of course, screamed and rushed to his side, but after approximately 30 seconds, he jumped up with a grin on his face and ran back to the staircase. After this incident, she scrapped the safety gate and the net and put a mattress down as a last effort to try to keep him alive. This sort of thing became the norm in our house. 

When we moved to our new house in Broward, my parents bought us a large trampoline with a bright orange safety net around it. My dad would pull the trampoline over to the large oak tree in our yard and Daniel would climb to the highest limb, balancing precariously as the branch swayed beneath him. He would then jump from the tree onto the waiting trampoline, which bounced him almost as high as the safety net that surrounded the trampoline. Safety nets were not particularly effective in our household. 

Daniel on the slopes of Steamboat Springs, CO
One time, on vacation in my grandfather’s condo in the Keys, a concerned neighbor pounded on our door to tell us that Daniel was skateboarding off of the top of the two-story parking garage. My mom, of course, ran out of the condo — not to stop my brother, but to record him.

The first question that my professor asked when I finished reading the piece was, "Is your brother still alive??" I'm very happy to say that Daniel is, in fact, still alive. And I hope he stays that way for a very long time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Does "Lights Out" Mean for Me?

All morning, I’ve been struggling with this question: what’s the literary equivalent of an athlete playing “lights out”? (For those who don’t know what “lights out” means, please Google ‘Kawhi Leonard, Heat v. Spurs game 3’.)

As some of you might know, I penned (or, rather, typed) the final pages of the first draft of my novel this last week (hurrah!) Probably for the rest of my life, I’ll be editing and rewriting said novel. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

But, the fact that I have a first draft gets me thinking about the next stage of this beautiful and horrific process. In order to get published by a traditional publisher (that’s the dream), I’ll need to find an agent. Apparently, that’s the hard part. So this summer is going to be spent going to workshops and conferences, networking with people and doing my “lights out” best to find an agent and get published.

This weekend, I’ll be at the Southeastern Writer’s Workshop in St. Simon Island, GA. It’s a small setting, which will hopefully be great for me to meet people and network.

The following week, I’ll be in the June Residency for my Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Tampa. It’s a 10-day intensive program where we’re basically eating, drinking and regurgitating all things book-related.

In early August, I’ll be going to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC and will be participating in a “Pitch Slam”, which is like speed-dating for writers and agents. They put you in a room with 50 agents and you have 90 seconds to pitch your book to any agent in the room. The agent will then have 90 seconds to respond to you, and potentially request a manuscript from you, and then you move on to the next agent. It’s a great opportunity to meet agents, get feedback, and maybe, hopefully, prayerfully, God-willing….find an agent. It’s a long shot (please see this article), but a girl can hope, right?

To play "lights out" means to leave everything on the court, to hold nothing back, and to do your absolute best. So, here's what I've decided to do this summer in order to be the "lights out" writer/connector/networker that I want to be:

1. I can't be afraid to take risks

I read an article recently that encouraged writers to take risks every day. With this in mind, I'm choosing to "leave everything on the court" with my writing, every single day. I am fighting to stay true to myself as a writer and to be vulnerable in every aspect of my writing. I know I won't ever fulfill this perfectly, but I sure am trying.

2. I can’t be afraid to talk to people and ask questions

According to an article I read this week from Fast Company, 70% of people claim that they’re shy. So, that means that pretty much everyone around me is also afraid to talk to people. So at these conferences, hopefully it’ll be a relief when I speak up (regardless of how awkwardly I do it)!

Also, if you’ve ever taught a class before and had a Q&A session afterward, you know how terrifying it is to stand up there and wait for someone, anyone (pretty please) to raise their hand and ask a question. Any question. Doesn’t matter if you don’t even know the answer or if it wasn’t even related to what you were talking about. So I’m making it my goal to craft a question for the speaker/lecturer for every single class that I attend this summer.

3. I HAVE to talk about my book

So, a few years ago I decided that I was going to learn Russian. I took a class at UF and LOVED it. And, I was actually quite good. However, I refused to speak to native speakers in Russian simply because I was embarrassed and afraid. Needless to say, I didn’t grow that much as a Russian speaker.

In some ways, I can feel similarly with my book. It’s vulnerable to talk about something that is so dear to me, and I’m so afraid of someone scoffing or mocking me or simply thinking not-so-good thoughts about me, that I don’t talk about it.

I’m grateful for my wonderful husband, who ALWAYS brings up my book to people and practically forces me to tell others about it. But now I need to be able to do that on my own. Confidently. With poise. And clarity.

We’ll see how it goes.

4. No matter what, I have to keep hoping, praying and persevering

Let’s say I get through this summer, and the stars did not align, and I didn’t find an agent (which, again, is very likely), I am resolving now that I will not give up. Please remind me of this fact later on.

As I continue in my journey, your prayers and supplications are requested and much needed. Thank you in advance! :)

How about you? Have you set any goals for yourself for this summer? Feel free to share in the comments :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

4 Reasons Why I'm Obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars

(And Why You Should Be Too)

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the book-turned-movie phenomenon The Fault in Our Stars. I read the book a few weeks ago and saw the movie on opening night with my sister-in-law, Amanda. I’m not normally a “fangirl”, but I gotta tell you guys, I’m obsessed. And here’s why:

1. John Green

The only reason I even picked up this book is because I saw a YouTube video of John Green when he was on his way to TIME Magazine’s dinner to honor the “Top 100 Most Influential People” (of which he was named one of them). In the video, Green is downright hilarious (almost without meaning to be) while also portraying a humility that I don’t think is contrived. He is witty, fast-talking and the kind of person you want to be friends with. As soon as I saw this video, I knew I needed to read TFIOS.

2. It’s a book about teenagers who are dying and yet, somehow, it’s hilarious

I’m not really sure how Green pulled that off, but I was very literally laughing the entire first half of the book (and then, alternately, crying the second half…but we’ll get to that). The witty yet raw inner-workings of Hazel Grace Lancaster connected me to the character almost immediately.

Perhaps the funniest (and yet somehow poignant) scene is when Hazel is discussing her support group that her parents force her to go to. Here’s an excerpt:

To be fair to Patrick (the moderator of the group), he let us talk about dying, too. But most of them weren’t dying. Most would live into adulthood, as Patrick had.

(Which meant there was quite a lot of competitiveness about it, with everybody wanting to beat not only cancer itself, but also the other people in the room. Like, I realize this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent chance of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that’s one in five…so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these bastards.)

The fact that Hazel/Green is voicing this almost-absurd idea (emphasis on almost) that it’s a “competition” to outlast the other cancer kids is simultaneously heartbreaking and also, at the chance of sounding callous, pretty funny. And that’s how Green approaches the whole thing: he tells the truth, doesn’t sugar coat it and adds in a healthy dose of wit and humor so that you don’t just curl up into a ball and cry your eyes out the whole time.

3. It’s real

Like I said before, Green doesn’t sugar coat anything. He’s straight-forward and raw, which is refreshing. This isn’t a feel-good book about overcoming obstacles or miraculous hearings. This is a book about two teenagers with life-ending diseases who fall in love — it’s not sentimental, it’s not overly romantic, and (spoiler alert) it doesn’t have this spectacular happily-ever-after ending. But the authenticity of it all draws you in and wins you over.

This book also connected me to a world that I have not been in before and gave me a small vision of what it would be like to live with cancer. After Green’s honest examination of Hazel’s life and love, I feel like I’m able to empathize a little more with people who have life-ending diseases. And any book that can open up your world and broaden your horizons is a good one.

The fact that it’s all so real also connects you to the characters, which makes it so incredibly heart-rending as the story proceeds. You feel their struggle, their small triumphs, their grief and their hope. This isn’t an “extraordinary” story, nothing supernatural happens, there are no epic gunfights and no one changes the world. And yet, somehow it is still extraordinary, supernatural and even epic.

4. John Green

He’s brilliant.

In one of his videos, Green remarks about the first screening of TFIOS and how during the last 15 minutes, he got to sit in the back of the theatre. He said:

So, dear friends, if you are going to watch the movie or read the book, bring tissues.

That’s all.

Have you read TFIOS yet or watched the movie? What did you think?

Other articles you might enjoy:

Even After Death: Wedding Day Recollections 

Why I Don't Want You to Read My Book

3 Reasons Why Disney's "Frozen" Resonates with Us

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Does the End Justify the Means?

I just reached the 60,000 word mark on my book (61,975 to be exact)!! I’m currently writing the ending of my book and there are a few things that I’ve been thinking about a lot and would love for you to weigh in on them.

The first is the definition of freedom. I’ve been contemplating what “freedom” means to different people (in a political sense). For one political group, freedom/liberty might mean the ability to do whatever you want within a set of moral principles. For another group, this same freedom might mean the eradication of ownership. Another group might think that freedom is the lack of government.

What does freedom mean to you? Is anarchy somehow synonymous with freedom? Or should freedom have some sort of boundaries (or is that oxymoronic?!)?

The second is this: does the end justify the means? In some of my research I stumbled across this quote from Leon Trotsky:

“The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” - Their Morals and Ours

But this got me thinking…is there ever a good reason to kill? Do soldiers have the “right” to kill because that is their job or because someone poses a threat? If your family is in danger, and you kill someone to defend them, does the end (your family’s safety) justify the means (you killing someone)?

I’m forming my own opinions about these things but am interested in what other people think about these issues. Feel free to share in the comments.