There is a meditation one of my teachers taught me in which I sit, with one hand over my chest and breath deep into my lungs, imagining my heart as a flame. I focus on that flame and watch it grow brighter with each inhale. Brighter. Still brighter. I spend time with the flame of my heart and learn its rhythm, listen to its soundless aliveness.
This meditation is hard for me. My attention wanders off. But I have learned to noticed when that flame feels refreshed. This past weekend I attended the March for our Lives in Asheville, and listening to the teens speak, I felt the heat and the strength of their hearts light up and ignite the fire of my own.
Today I have to run an emergency drill at school. The last few weeks I've spent many hours of daylight and some very dark hours in the night sitting with the reality of the danger that our children face. And I feel bowed down by the responsibility for caring for those children. I feel embarrassed that I'm not more knowledgeable about security and guns and chain of command. I find myself feeling that I shouldn't have to know about these things. And then correct myself to stop thinking from a place of should. What is is what is real. I am in this moment, and the world is what it is.
One of my favorite mantras: there is no way out, only through. These are the times we live in. My children live through the news cycle. They live through the many reversals of legal protections and environmental legislation that my parents and the parents of my parents fought to put in place. They live through having no health care. They live through crushing student loan debt. They and I live through these moments that seem to come so fast that there is no way I can keep the flame of my heart alive through all of it.
Then I am confronted by those who have been through so much more. The many black brothers and sisters who have carried the burden of making it through over the last several hundred years. And I show up to my own pain and uncertainty with a renewed commitment. I breath into the fire of my heart and I breathe out hoping to make it brighter. I breathe through and into the pain I feel that the world is such a painful, unjust place. And I sit for a few minutes, letting my heart break, using the kindling to build hotter flames.
Then I get out there and do.
characters who craft something beautiful and redemptive from their love, however imperfect, in such a way that it feeds not just the individual but a whole community of people. That tension is not resolved by the finish of the book, so much as encapsulated for the reader to inspect and ultimately make her own decisions about the truth.
I finished this book at 3 am after not being able to release myself from its clutches! Now I am driven to deconstruct it as a writer to better understand it, but for all you spectators out there, Night Circus is a performance not to be missed!
I was driving home from a very magical New Year's Eve celebration yesterday. Highway unraveling before us, after two and half hours the car was full of long legs and stale farts. My five-year old kept screaming to turn the music up, while my husband and I tried to finish at least one conversation, and I suddenly remembered New Year's resolutions. I had brought out my journal that morning but gotten distracted amidst packing and forgotten to focus my intentions for the year.
So I asked Hubby if he was going to make resolutions, and he seemed disinclined. I started thinking out loud about my list, and finally after getting down to about the fourth or fifth one (I LOVE an opportunity to make a good list), I asked him if he would write them down for me. And he did. And he emailed them back to me before we had to pull the car over for the littlest boy to puke (He has a sensitive stomach, poor guy, so nothing new there.)
This little excerpt just goes to show: Writing is a solitary task, but it doesn't happen alone.
Every success takes a team of people working to create it, every mile parker, every goal post passed. Every list created. As I step into 2018, I am reminded to be thankful for all those folks who make me a better writer: Hubby who tirelessly reads and discusses everything I create, my beta-readers, family, agents, and friends, all who participate in the creative work of my life.
When I grew up, the archetype of the starving artist or the troubled artist really didn't speak to me. You know the story: brilliant (usually) man who fails his family and is self-medicating with a variety of substances who also somehow managed to produce an incredible piece of art in his sixty plus years. It's no wonder that I still have a hard time calling myself an artist. I still prefer the term a friend of mine coined--creative worker.
But the older I get, the more I mine the other side of creativity's story. Tilling the soil of my soul nourishes not just me but those around me, and I reminded again that thankfulness and teamwork is at the heart of it all. And what a beautiful garden I live in, amid all the heartache and struggle and injustice. So to all of you writers out there. Keep working on it. Keep connecting. And make something new and beautiful with which you and others can fall in love.
Happy, happy New Year all!
This year has been tough, people. But when I really start to write them down, I realize I have so many things for which I am grateful. Here are a few:
kale salad w/ too much lemon juice
singing around a fire
a bottle of red wine
Beatrice & Cordelia
the way Eruch guards the flame of our family
keeping track of water bottles
finally knowing when to quit (sometimes)
a little yoga every day
inching toward the black
trust in myself
consent in romance novels
my mother's wisdom
my father's wit
outlining a new novel
fig tea cake & mushroom hot chocolate
It's about writing a book people won't put down. It's about being committed to the product AND the process.
Now get back to work!
Normally, I am not a fan of turning a noun into an adjective.
But in this case, I can't help myself. I love Scrivener! And I wanted to offer a quick shout-out to the delightful folks who introduced this program to me (Hubby--forever I thank you). If you are a writer, try it. It cost a measly $40, which is an incredibly low cost for such an incredible program. In writing my most recent novel, I found it so easy to navigate. Here's a link to buy the program.
I organize by scene within each individual chapter, and especially in these last couple of months of editing, it's been so great to review the way my chapters are working and make quick on the fly changes that don't take hours. I also love switching between the more visually appealing index card view and the linear, text document view. I've learned a lot about how my brain organizes information and what works best for me.
And as I'm plotting my next novel, I'm learning all over again why I love it. So thank you to programming gods who created this incredible tool.
Writers, write on!
I've been thinking about sex again. As a woman and a feminist and an educator, I've been struggling with what to do about the sexy stuff in my own writing.
Have I mentioned I love romance novels? It's a guilty pleasure--and one most folks don't expect me to have. More than once, I've been accused of creating that snooty I only read literary fiction kind of atmosphere. But it's not true. It's not me. My favorite novels of all time are:
1. Dune, by Frank Herbert
2. A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold
3. Fool's Fate (the 6th book in the Assassin/Fool series), by Robin Hobb
ALL genre fiction.
I remind myself: I am an educator, and over the years, I have seen so many teenagers who are having sex, some happily, some un-. In most cases, I believe it wasn't the best choice for them, boys and girls. And it is a choice--one I recognize high school students have the opportunity and time to make.
In my workplace, we create a sex positive culture intentionally--in policy. We offer an incredible Sex Ed course from 4-12th grade (each year more developmentally appropriate than the last). We offer time to talk about individual choices and situations in Gender and Ungendered Mysteries Council, and we puzzle together about how much we don't understand about sexuaility, both teenagers and adults alike. And I still often counsel students to wait, to focus on their own growth and put off sexual exploring until they are older.
So I decided to cut the sex scenes from my YA novel. Not because I believe that ignorance and abstinence are best for our teens. I decided that my protagonist needed to focus most heavily on the other pieces of her story. Her romance with the hot lead guitarist is just one part of her story--and not the most important part.
But other authors are doing teen sex scenes and doing it right. Rainbow Rowell is undoubtedly one. Another is John Green.
I'm curious. As parents, as writers, how much sex do you want to see in genre fiction you or your teen is reading? And why?
Odyssey Community School and my Co-Director Megan Martell partnered with racial justice educator Justina Prenatt and Clover Heart Concepts for this four part series. The first seminar was a basic introduction to the concepts of Racism and Racial Justice, among them the Invisible Backpack and White Fragility. The seminar format follows an initial hour of engaged lecturing and the remaining time for workshop.
Next week's presentation focuses on what teachers and parents can do. I'm looking forward to it. I've heard we will spend part of the time choosing a class where we can experience a developmentally appropriate lesson from a skilled educator. I excited to see what teachers are creating in the classroom.
Other great resources in Asheville and beyond: the Building Bridges series offered by Building Bridges of Asheville. Among educators, this seminar has set the standard for racial justice work in Asheville. Odyssey staff and faculty, including me, are on the docket to attend the next seminar, and I'm so excited!
About Race: Our National Conversation about Conversations about Race - this now canceled podcast may be uncomfortable to listen to in moments. And that's okay.
And for writers (my people!): Here's a great tumblr blog about writing characters of color.
Miller's prose is incredibly plain. Her language is unadorned and direct, but like an arrow it strikes at the reader's heart. I especially love her presentation of Chiron, Odysseus, and yes, even Achilles--a character on the first read of the Illiad that I found pompous and annoying.
Her choice of a protagonist is her first and best step toward creating an unforgettable book. I love novels that are told from the "outsider" perspective, and Miller has managed to take a story we all know and turn it on its head. This alone could make me love her novel, but what could be a parlor trick becomes more and more relevant as our anti-hero takes his journey to Troy's gates.
Her female characters and her portrayal of women in general feels terrifyingly accurate. Miller is a classical scholar, so I know that she has years of research and education rattling around as she wrote this book. And yet, when I read the text, that sense of knowing goes beyond reason and begins to fall into the realm of sense and emotion. It's this "felt sense" that moved me and the teenage girls in Literature Club to screaming excitement at how good this book really is!
Read it. And then recommend it to two other people and fanatically convince them to read it. *Notable for its ability to bring discussions of gender, power, and sexuality into any room. My husband and I ended up talking about it for at least an hour after I convinced him to pick it up for a quick read.
The last three weeks have been some of the politically hardest of my adult life. I feel challenged, as a writer and a teacher, to show up and participate in the current political realities of our country. And I find myself wanting to shut my computer, turn off the radio, and turn away from the suffering that is increasing on every front in my country.
I'm busy and tired by the end of every single day. I run a private school (not the more politically correct public) centered on Integral, mindful education; I'm finishing a novel and raising two boys who both need reminders that the world is a loving, giving place--a place where they will be able to find their own way in the coming years--which is a promise that world is increasingly unable to keep.
I have more education and more responsibility than my parents did, but less income and benefits. I have no pension or retirement and have worked only in the small business community. I have an auto-immune condition, which kept me from having healthcare until the Affordable Care Act passed, and I was forced to go bankrupt during the last recession after an employee embezzled over 90k from the business at which I worked. I've been a die-hard Southern Democrat since birth, although not a Blue Democrat. And I've grown increasingly Progressive as I've watched my generation (Generation X) fail to thrive in the modern marketplace.
After Bernie Sander's run came to an end, I voted for Hillary because I was excited to have a woman in the White House, and I appreciated, as only a female executive can, what it's like to bide one's time and wait for the big, well-earned opportunity. But the day after Trump was elected, I woke up to a new reality. I could no longer stand back, vote once a year, and watch the political landscape unfold as I struggled to pay bills and provide quality food and opportunities for myself and my children. If I had a good job, and this daily, weekly, monthly struggle was my reality, I was forced to ask myself: what was the reality for those who were working minimum wage jobs or worse, the migrants, mentally ill, poor, and homeless in our communities?
And the answer was: for many Americans, their reality was much worse than my own. And Trump's America endangers more of us every day: immigrants, children enrolled in public education, those in the scientific community, black communities, Jewish, Muslim, to name a few. I could no longer afford to hang onto the story that I was telling myself and my children: that America was a loving, just place; that they would have opportunities I did not; that racism, discrimination, and inequity was a thing of the past. Suddenly, my citizenship required much more of me. Suddenly, I needed to be engaged. And I'm answering the call.
In this Brave New World, I'm learning how to show up.
I invite you to do the same.
Coranna Adams is a writer, filmmaker, and educator from Asheville, North Carolina.