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Renee Dubeau

Creative Nonfiction & Inspirational Shit

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Where did “You Are Important” come from?

I live in an affluent little bubble in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee. The poverty and hunger here are well hidden, tucked away behind strip malls and subdivisions with cul-de-sacs and swimming pools. But, if you pay attention, you’ll see it. Panhandling is forbidden in suburbia, so you have to look beyond street corners and exit ramps to find our homeless and hungry. Or, sometimes, you don’t have to go looking. Sometimes, they jump right out at you. That’s what happened to me.

I was working for a large health care company as a claims adjuster. I was a single mom with two teenagers at home, and often started my work day before the sun came up. There was a Starbucks on my way to work, where I stopped frequently before my six o’clock shift started. I thought nothing of the five dollar coconut milk latte I enjoyed several days week— a necessary luxury to begin my long day of staring at spreadsheets and medical claims. That’s where I saw him.

I was sitting in the drive-through waiting to order my much needed cup of motivation when I noticed one lonely car in the strip mall parking lot. All of the stores were closed, and would be for hours. Maybe that’s why it looked so strange there, all alone, in the well-lit space between the Starbucks and the Bed Bath and Beyond. It wasn’t the typical car you see in that particular part of town. It was older, and showed more wear.

As I examined the little, red car in the early-morning-empty-lot, I found that the driver of the vehicle was reclined in the front seat, asleep. It was strange. Not something you see every day. But, certainly, he had chosen a safe place to rest. I assumed he was a traveler who had pulled off the nearby interstate for a nap. That is, until the next time I saw him there in the same spot, sleeping in the rain a few days later.

On the third occasion I saw this stranger sleeping in his little red car, he had the driver’s side door propped open, his bare foot extended out onto the ground below him. That was the morning I made an agreement with myself: If I was going to take my privileged ass through that drive through for another latte, I had to bring him breakfast.

I had an appointment one morning, and was driving to the office late when I remembered the stranger. This was the perfect day to make good on my agreement. I drove by to see if he was there, and my heart jumped at the sight of his little red car. I drove across the street to  McDonald’s and ordered a little bit of everything. I had no idea what this man might like for breakfast, or how he took his coffee, or if he drank coffee at all. When I returned with a bag of breakfast foods, coffee and juice he was awake, sitting up in the front seat. I pulled up next to him, gathered the items, and got out of my car.

I was suddenly nervous. I felt my heart speeding up with each step I took toward his driver side door. I quickly noticed that his car was full from floor board to ceiling with clothing, blankets, trash and all kinds of things. He was talking on a cell phone when I knocked on his window.

“Um, just a second,” he said, placing his phone on the pile of items in the passenger seat. He was a young man, maybe in his twenties. He had dark hair, dark features, kind eyes. 

“Good morning! I brought you some breakfast.” I said, extending the bag and cardboard cup holder toward him.

“Thank you so much!” He took the items from my now trembling hands. “You are so kind! I don’t know how to thank you. What made you want to do this today?”

The honest answer to his question was guilt. I felt guilty sitting in that drive through every day waiting for my coffee while he slept in his car. I felt guilty for having the luxury of my latte habit, and the comfort of the bed I had just left to go to my job that afforded me a life that did not necessitate things like sleeping in my car in a well-lit strip mall parking lot. Probably, this stemmed from my deeper guilt of leaving my family behind in rural Michigan to go make a better life for myself, and being mostly absent from their daily struggles. It was like survivor’s guilt. I could’ve been the one sleeping in my car, but by some miracle, I wasn’t. I had more than I needed, and felt compelled to share my good fortune with this young stranger.

When I opened my mouth to speak, guilt was not on the list of things that came out. The words that fell from my lips were as much a surprise to me as they were to him.

“I want you to know that you are important, and your life matters. People care about you— even some you’ve never met. So, you have to take good care of yourself. Ok?”

“I don’t know how to thank you…”

“You don’t need to thank me. Just pay it forward someday.”

“I will. I promise. Thank you so much for breakfast. This is really nice.”

“You’re very welcome. Have a great day,” I said, turning to get back in my car.

I felt the lump in my throat growing. Where did that come from? By the time I closed my car door tears were rolling down my cheeks.

“You are important. Your life matters. People care about you- even some you’ve never met. Take good care of yourself.” I repeated the message.

I was sure that something bigger than me had spoken those words. I was so shaken by it, I forgot one very important thing: I didn’t ask the kind stranger for his name- the one way for me to really acknowledge his existence, his humanity- and I forgot to ask. I made another agreement with myself- next time I would bring him a meal and ask his name.

I looked for my friend in the little red car every time I stopped for coffee after that day, but I never saw him again. I never had the opportunity to ask his name or bring him another hot breakfast, but our relationship was far from over.

On my way to the Starbucks, when I looked for the little red car each morning, I had to drive by a large construction site. At first, I thought it was going to be another strip mall. I watched all the trees vanish from the lot, which made me infinitely sad as I thought about all the little creatures who were pushed out of their homes. When the  building began to take shape it was massive- definitely not a strip mall. Then, a sign went up, advertising a new mega church. If there was anything we needed even less than another stupid strip mall, it was another stupid mega church.

I googled the church and found that it came with a price tag of twenty-two million dollars. Less than two miles away from the twenty-two million dollar mega church was the parking lot where the young man in the red car slept. The juxtaposition of these things infuriated me so much, I had to write about it.

I had been blogging for my own personal entertainment for several years. I had just started a little series on my blog called “Buddha Girl in Jesus Town” where I  talked about my personal spiritual journey, and how strange it was to live in the Bible Belt as someone who does not identify as Christian. I began writing a piece I thought I would add to the series, called, “Why Mega Churches are Mega Bullshit”.

As an existentialist, I am always looking for purpose and meaning. As I wrote about the new twenty-two million dollar mega church, I was filled with indignation. I could not fathom how an organization that was supposed to be based on the teachings of Jesus could justify building an arena to honor him— something he would not have wanted according to the teachings in the new testament— instead of feeding our hungry, and housing our homeless. It was a shining example of the kind of superficial, misguided, self-serving hypocrisy I had come to expect from modern Christianity- and the epitome of everything I hate about organized religion.

In the article, I broke down twenty-two million dollars into the number of meals our local homeless shelter could provide. I truly believe this would have pleased Jesus, who taught on hillsides and in the marketplaces, and did not need a temple to make himself look important. As I finished my little rant, I felt a nudge. It was a gentle, familiar push. I had been flirting  with the idea of sending my work out to actual publications for some time. Before clicking the “publish” button on my WordPress site, I went to Elephant Journal’s homepage to read their submission requirements, again.

The toned-down-a-bit version of my piece, “What Mega Churches are Missing” became my first published article on Elephant Journal. When the editor sent me my published link, she said, “This is great writing. I can’t wait to see more from you. Congratulations!”

I cried tears of joy for about three days after the article went live, as people read it, sent me notes, commented, and shared it all over social media. The article was read over five thousand times, and even people who identified as Christian reached out to tell me how much my words resonated with them.

This opened the door to my writing career.

 Over the next 3 years, I would go on to publish more than one hundred articles. My face was added to the Elephant Journal homepage as a Featured Author, and stayed there until I decided to branch out and send my work to other publications. I self published my first book on Amazon- a collection of short stories from my first little blog, Dysfunction Diaries.

That first article about the man in the red car and the bullshit church changed my life in ways I never imagined. It gave me the opportunity to share my personal story. I wrote about mental illness, sexual abuse, feminism, parenting, relationships, and all kinds of current events. I wrote about all the things you’re supposed to avoid in conversation- religion, politics, sex and death. I wrote little love notes to people I had never met, reminding them how perfectly wonderful they are.

I was amazed at the ripple effect that happened as I shared my story. Strangers reached out to tell me how much my words helped them. People who had carried their painful family secrets their whole lives shared those secrets with me. For the first time, I saw the purpose for my suffering, and how sharing my painful past could help other people. I watched as people I loved began to open and share their own stories, many of them even started blogs, and some began submitting their work to Elephant Journal. I felt incredibly humbled and grateful to be part of each journey that intersected mine.

Sometimes, I wonder if the man in a little red car was an angel, sent here to help me find my voice, purpose and power. Sometimes, I wish I could share with him how my life changed after meeting him. Sometimes, I wonder what became of him, and send love into the universe with wishes for his comfort, peace and prosperity.

That was four years ago, and the words are still with me. I still make bags to keep in my car for our local homeless population with hand warmers, toiletries, snacks and a note card with “YOU ARE IMPORTANT” written in big, bold letters. Sometimes, when handed a bag of treats with this message inside, grown men put a hand to their chest and ask, “Me?” It brings me to tears every time, and I say, “Yes. You.”

I thought I was delivering a gift to someone in need that fateful morning. As it turns out, I was the one receiving a gift. This work is my way of paying forward the incredible inspiration and healing that began that day. 

You Are Important is now the working title for my current work in progress. It’s a book about how to overcome our circumstances and create a life we love. It all begins with realizing that we are perfect just the way we are, and that we deserve to have all the things we might think are outside of our reach. But, it’s more than just a book- it’s a call to action. It’s a little push to get uncomfortable and look at the things we may be avoiding so we can resolve them once and for all. It’s a reminder that we get to choose who we will be in this life, and create our experiences through the things we do every day. It’s my challenge to everyone who’s ready; to live authentically, leave our excuses behind, and become who we were born to be.

Most of all, You Are Important is a message of hope and universal love. Our worth is not determined by our bank accounts, job titles, clothing, zip codes, or any other earthly measure. Our worth is inherient. We don’t need to earn, prove or beg for it. It’s woven into the fabric of who we are. We are important because we exist- all of us. When we begin to look at ourselves as worthy, we open up to new ideas and opportunities. When we recognize that all humans are worthy, we might begin to see people differently- we might even treat them differently.

As I work to complete this project, and seek publishing opportunities, I’ll be sharing some little nuggets here to get us thinking about how to make our lives, and the whole wide world around us, even more amazing. Please, join me.

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How Liz Gilbert Kicked my Ass.

I have a handful of badass lady authors who I absolutely love. I love them for their realness, candor and unbelievable talent. I love them for their examples of what it means to live authentically without apology, to be who you are, do what you love, and fearlessly bare your soul for all to see. On my shortlist of lady author heroes is, of course, Elizabeth Gilbert.

Elizabeth Gilbert is probably most famous for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love. It’s a beautiful story about getting out of our comfort zone to find out what we’re really made of. And, though I’m always fascinated with memoirs and true life stories, my favorite Liz Gilbert book is not her memoir. It’s a book called Big Magic. In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about the creative process, and how to give ourselves permission to be creative and follow our ideas where they lead us. After publishing  Big Magic, she made a podcast called Magic Lessons, where she talked to people about their creative projects and the roadblocks they experienced. She would then bring in a famous friend to help mentor that person and help them overcome their obstacles.

As a baby author, I was incredibly inspired by the stories in Magic Lessons. It was amazing to hear peoples’ stories and all the different ideas and the absolute confidence Gilbert expressed in everyone’s ability to make their dreams come true. With laser precision, she would identify what was holding them back and why. Then, she would give them homework to do until their follow up. I listened to every episode, then I listened to them again, and again.

I had the fortuitous opportunity to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak in Nashville last night. She’s currently touring with her new novel City of Girls. I’m not even going to try to lie, I was fan-girling super hard. I almost cried when she walked in the room, because that meant that I was in the same room as Elizabeth Gilbert, and it’s not every day you can sit in the same room with one of your heroes and listen to them talk about their life and craft. She was just as I imagined her. Beautiful, poised, eloquent, and sassy. She’s an expert public speaker, and seemed totally at home in front of that podium.

She talked about City of Girls, and all the reasons why she wanted to write a book about women and sexuality, and the loose girl who enjoyed her life without ruining it. She read to us for a  little while, then, offered time for a Q&A. I thought this was a very brave thing, as you just never know what someone will ask in a situation like this. But, she’s Liz Gilbert, and she’s fearless, and somehow always knows exactly what to say.

Naturally, I raised my hand when she asked for questions. I had about one hundred questions for her, this hero of mine. When she pointed at me, I stood to speak and chose one that only she could answer. I told her how much I loved her podcast, admitted that I listened to every episode at least three or four times, and asked if she planned to bring it back, or do something else in that format. Then, maybe without even knowing it, Liz Gilbert kicked my ass.

She thanked me for listening, and said how much she enjoyed the experience of making the pod cast to go along with Big Magic. She explained that she stopped recording the pod cast when her partner, Rayya Elias, was diagnosed with cancer. Of course, I knew this, because she’s freaking Liz Gilbert. But, then she said something I didn’t expect. She said that she’s on an “integrity cleanse”, something her friend Martha Beck wrote about, and during such a cleanse, she has to always tell the truth.

The truth she shared with us, was that she got bored with the podcast, because every story was basically the same. It was someone with an idea, a talent, a project they couldn’t seem to finish. She would help them figure out what was holding them back, make suggestions, “write permission slips” as she says, and set them up with someone she thought might also have good advice or expertise in their craft. After two seasons, she felt that she had said all she could about the creative process.

“People have all kinds of excuses, but it all comes down to fear. It’s about feelings of unworthiness, not being good enough, or worrying too much about what other people think.”

She laughed, pushing her hair aside and said, “What I suggest you do, is listen to those episodes three or four more times, because I’m just saying the same thing over and over.” She joked that she was all out of famous friends, and couldn’t make any more episodes anyway. Then, she admitted that by the end of the podcast, she was starting to resent her time in the studio doing podcast stuff, because it was keeping her away from her true love- writing.

So, there I was, in the same room with one of my heroes getting a big ol’ gut check. She was literally speaking directly to me when she said, we have lots of excuses, but it all comes down to fear. So, I had to ask myself, what am I afraid of? In all of my procrastination and distraction, there had to be some fear.

I know what my excuses are:

  • Time – Our schedule is packed, too many commitments, too busy doing all the crap we need to do to do the things I really want to do…
  • Energy- Too tired to be creative at the end of the day, need downtime for relaxing and writing feels like work, my day job is sucking the life out of me…
  •  Inspiration- Waiting for the perfect time, place, situation to write. Feeling like I’ve said it all before and I’m bored with it. Wondering if anyone will ever read this book if I finish it, or is it all for nothing…

My writing partner and I call our excuses “stomping and lamenting”. If we spent as much time actually writing as we do with all of our excuses to not write, we’d both be able to quit our day jobs by now. Instead, we whine and throw little pity parties for ourselves, and honestly, it’s kind of pathetic. We frequently talk about this, and ask ourselves and each other, “why?”. Why do we cling to our excuses and allow them to keep us stuck? Why do we fill up our days with other stuff, at the expense of the things we say we really want to do with our lives? The answer, as Gilbert said, always goes back to fear.

So, what am I afraid of?

  • The unknown- The publishing process/industry is still a great mystery to me, and I have no idea how to navigate that world. I’m a baby author, not a marketing guru, and the numbers games and selling myself are things I just don’t know how to do. There are no guarantees that my book will ever be published, or that I won’t get ripped off my a scammy publisher, or that I will even finish this thing at all.
  • Success- Who will I be if I become the best-selling author and public speaker I imagine I could be? How will my relationships change? How will our family change? Will Liz Gilbert become my new BFF instead of just my lady author idol? (Call me, Liz!) I don’t know what will happen, how I will handle it, or if I’m even cut out for that lifestyle. What if I get all the things I think I want, and realize I don’t really want them after all? Then what? What if it’s more fun to have the dream than it will be to do the work?
  •  Failure- What if I give my whole heart to this dream and it never works out for me? What if my book sucks and everyone hates it? What if nobody hates it because nobody ever even reads it? What if I crash and burn? What if this is a monumental waste of my time and energy?
  •  General insecurities- What if I suck at writing and this is a stupid dream? What if I’m not good enough, smart enough, strong enough to do all the things I think I want to do? What if it’s too much for me? Who am I to tell these stories? Who am I to give advice? Does anyone even care? Have I lost all my momentum? Did I peak with Elephant Journal? Is it too late for me?
  •  Legal issues- If I tell my whole truth will it ruin my life? Will people freak out and try to destroy me? Will I have to wait for everyone to die before I tell the whole story? Can I do it any other way?

So, there’s all of that. Lots of excuses to not be who I want to be, which is perhaps the woman I was born to be. At the end of the day, it’s up to me to choose: either push through the fear and drop all the excuses, or spend the rest of my life wondering what might have been if I had dropped the excuses and pushed through the fear.

Gilbert went on to talk about her own creative process, and how when she’s actively writing a book she has to do it all at once, and with almost complete isolation. “Dogs are fine,” she said, “but no other humans.”

This gave me some validation on my own process, as I also require almost complete isolation, and prefer to just go off and disappear somewhere all alone to do my thing without interruption. When I was single and lived mostly alone, inspiration was with me every day. I had ample alone time, and endless hours with my thoughts, and though my teenagers were in and out, they didn’t need much from me, and were very respectful of my need for quiet time to be creative. Since moving in with my husband and step babies, writing has become much more challenging. I think a large part of that is that I get significantly fewer hours by myself to contemplate life, the universe, and the human condition. Inspiration is fleeting, illusive, and sometimes just plain absent. But, as they say, a writer writes. So, excuses be damned, if I’m going to do this thing and give my heart to it, I have to find a way to move it back to the top of my priority list, and make it work in my new life with my new family.

I guess that brings up another whole set of fears for me. What if everyone thinks I’m a selfish bitch for putting myself first? What if I can’t be everything to everyone while also pursuing my dream? What if I sacrifice family time, and things that are also important, in the name of making this thing happen and I fail anyway? Will I regret the friction that might come from me doing me if it doesn’t work out as planned? Will I embarrass myself and everyone who loves me?

Thankfully, my husband is incredibly supportive. He’s an author, too, so he understands the creative process, and the time it takes to write a book. He is much more accomplished that I am, and has this ability to make writing appear to be effortless and carefree- which is truly maddening! But, also, I think he sincerely loves me and wants me to be happy and successful, which is a lot to take in for someone like me, because I’ve never experienced love like that before. There’s no competition or insecurity with him, no criticism or judgement- just encouragement, and sometimes frustration with my excuses and lack of motivation. But mostly, he gently nudges me back in the direction of the dream when I wander off and get distracted. He always says I’m a better writer than he is, which I completely disagree with, but it’s high praise coming from him, and it makes me feel like maybe I’m not totally insane for thinking I can pull this thing off.

After Gilbert’s talk, we went to dinner together. (My husband and I- I’m guessing Liz had a plane to catch or something, or we surely would have invited her.) We talked about how flawlessly she spoke, how well she knows her craft, and how wise she is about life in general. I asked him if he is ready for his next book tour, and if he would do the terrifyingly unpredictable Q&A at his future speaking engagements. “I think you kind of have to do it!” he said, though admitted that he may not be as articulate as my new friend, Liz. We talked about our excuses, our ridiculous schedule, and how important it is to make sure we both get to bring our dreams to fruition, so we can abandon our day jobs and write on the beach together, forever. That’s when I made a confession.

“I have romantic visions of riding a train cross country all by myself someday, sitting in the little sleeper car all alone, and writing a book while watching the world go by my window.”

“Then, you should take some time off work and do it,” he said. “I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too. But…”

“But?” he laughed.

“But, it would just be for a couple of weeks, and I would come right back home to you.” I smiled.

“If it makes you happy, baby, do it.”

And, I realized that even with all my bullshit excuses, and all the fear, I have something most people just hope and pray for. I have a partner who loves me, who will do anything to help me be my best self. Even if it seems selfish, even if he doesn’t love everything I have to say, even if I fail, or if I succeed and our life changes because of it, I know that he’s here, and he has my back, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for me. I only hope that I can be everything to him that he is to me, and support him as completely as I feel supported.

So, Liz, if you’re reading this, and I just know that you might be, I’m ready. Maybe I just needed you to look me in the eye and tell me that fear is the only thing holding me back. I know that it’s ok to be afraid, but if I don’t push through it, I’m just another person with a half written book and a pile of excuses not to finish it. I don’t want to be another boring episode of a podcast you don’t plan to continue. And, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what might have happened if I was brave enough to drop my excuses and get serious about doing the things I say I want to do.

I guess this is the beginning of my own integrity cleanse, where instead of saying, “I’m too busy to write today,” I will say, “I didn’t make my dreams a priority today.” Instead of “I don’t feel inspired,” I will say, “I didn’t take time to look for inspiration.” Instead of the excuses, I will acknowledge my fears, and take them along with me on this journey. And, maybe someday, I’ll stand at the podium as you did last night, and give people permission to be creative and afraid, to retreat into quiet to bring forth their masterpieces, and to honor the stories that live inside them.

Today, I choose to stop my pathetic stomping and lamenting, to drop my excuses, and acknowledge that big dreams are scary things to have. I choose to make my writing a priority again, to move it back to the top of my list, and to make sure I have the quiet time I need to create. I choose to push through my fears, so I can find out once and for all how my life will change when I step into the future I imagine for myself. And, when I make it someday, and some journalist asks me what my secret to success was, I will tell them that I had a story to tell, a husband who loved and encouraged me, and Liz Gilbert kicked my ass one night when she was in Nashville.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve grown restless.

An indescribable sensation consumes my days. It’s something like being trapped between duty and desire. The demands of logic and prudence shouting over the pretty whisper of my gypsy heart.

I’ve become conflicted. Completely certain, and also utterly unclear what it means to be alive, what it is to live. Dissonance rings between utility and divine purpose. It is a crisis of identity. A crisis of will. A crisis that threatens the very breath from my soul.

I’ve grown restless. Held in the mire of responsibility while longing for the frivolity of my dreams. Playing house in a tiny corner of the territory of my citizenship. My greatest fear, that my caged wings will perish before I am permitted to fly.

I’m breaking open. Pulled apart by the opposite forces that rule me. Of heart of head I can choose neither. Love or money may call to me, but my ears await the voice of freedom. I belong to no man, no country. I was born of the sky.

 

Photo: Wiki Commons

I Remember what I Wanted to be when I Grow up.

I believe it was in the third grade. My teacher passed out paper and crayons to the whole class and gave us one simple assignment. We were to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. It was likely an exercise we did at the beginning of every new school year.

It’s such a huge decision at 8 years old. There were so many possibilities- some I didn’t even know existed yet. At the bottom of the paper was the phrase, “When I grow up, I want to be a ___________.” I didn’t have to carve it in stone, I just had to choose something to write on that line.

I agonized over the decision until finally, I drew a lady behind a desk in a suit. On the line below, I wrote “journalist”. Back then, I thought a journalist was the lady who read the news on the TV, or maybe wrote a column in the news paper like Dear Abby.

This decision is memorable today for two reasons. First, because almost all the girls in my class filled in their line with the word, “cheerleader,” and most of the boys said, “football player”.

There was one little boy who drew a dinosaur skeleton. He said he wanted to be a scientist. I liked that boy. His dinosaur took up two sheets of paper. I could tell he was different, like me.

In a room full of cheerleaders, I was the only girl who chose journalism. It was basically the story of my life. I wasn’t athletic or popular in high school. I was a band geek, a literature nerd, and a social activist. I loved to read, write and create. I was passionate about the environment and animal rights.

Life took many twists and turns for me. I chose the wrong career for a season, and the wrong marriage. In my years as a bored housewife, I started writing again. I started a silly blog to share stories about my family. I never guessed in those early days of Dysfunction Diaries that I would actually become an author.

I recently remembered that drawing from third grade. Somehow my soul knew even then what its purpose is.

I’ve intentionally avoided writing about politics in the past. For some reason, I didn’t feel qualified to speak on such topics. I didn’t want the drama that could come with expressing my unpopular ideas. But, I dipped my toe into that world just before the election. Then, Trump won, and it seemed all I could do it write about it.

This gift that even my 8 year old soul could see. This voice I have been given- I will use it for good. I will channel that feisty teenager who spent her evenings banging out letters to companies about their environmental practices on an old typewriter. Together, we will rise up in the name of every single person who needs a voice right now.

Finally, thirty years later, I remember what I wanted to be when I grow up. Truly, it was the only thing I ever could be.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Pixabay

 

 

How NaNoWriMo helped me get my $hit Together

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. A global event, in which writers compete against their toughest opponents. I’m not talking about other writers, either. I mean our real opponents- like procrastination, resistance, time management, writer’s block, self doubt, fear and distractions of the two legged, four legged, electronic, and imaginary varieties.

I first learned about this hard core writing event from a friend. Her husband participated in November 2015. He began a fiction piece, and abandoned it midway when he got bored with his characters. I was certain that it wasn’t humanly possible to write that many words in a month anyway. He was crazy for even trying, right? Who does that?

His story stayed with me. As November approached, I wondered if I was crazy enough to give it a try. I’ve been trying to write a book for about four years. Of course, I wasn’t going to write that book for my first NaNo. No, you’re supposed to write a new book. So, I started bouncing around different ideas. I have lots of ideas, and lots of books inside me. The challenge isn’t coming up with the idea. The challenge is staying focused enough on one of those ideas to write the damn book and not give up when it feels too hard.

I was discussing one of my book ideas with my boo on the phone one night, when I went to the NaNoWriMo website to take a peek. As we were talking, I decided to go for it. I signed up and made a profile. I didn’t announce my novel, because I didn’t know which one I would be writing. I just made a page for myself to hold space there. I used my little bio and headshots from Elephant Journal. It was a small step, but a step toward throwing myself into a huge goal with a fast deadline. And, why not? Why not write my first book during my first NaNoWriMo? I just needed to make a decision and start planning.

I had almost settled on an idea, when my boo changed the game for me. We were talking through my memoir- the cathartic, heartbreaking, soul liberating piece that I’ve been writing for four years. In four years, I’ve torn it apart and started over three times. In four years, I’ve put it on the shelf and walked away from it more times than I can count. In four years, I couldn’t do what he did for me in one evening.

I started telling him the story, piece by piece, scene by scene. Finally he stopped me and said, “Babe. You’ve got three books here. You’ve got to spread it out and give yourself space to tell the whole story. It’s too big for one book. It’s a trilogy.”

I was floored. It seemed so obvious after he said it. Why didn’t I think of that? It was brilliant, and exactly the shift I needed to get refocused.

With my idea all nailed down for the first book, and my big, scary, fast deadline in sight, it was time to start planning. Except, that’s not really my thing. Usually, I spend a bunch of time outlining, storyboarding, brainstorming, and so on. Then, I start writing in a totally different direction and throw all of it out. I decided not to spend too much time on all the organizing stuff, and instead just start thinking about it.

I did other prep work, like scheduling some time off at my day job, scheduling writing dates with friends,  and stocking the kitchen with wine, coffee, and snacks. I bought a shiny new notebook, rainbow index cars, and kickass pens. Priorities- check.

I joined my local NaNo message boards and started getting connected with other writers. They have writing events all over the city during the month. At my very first one, I met a woman who was writing a screen play. We started talking, and she told me about Scrivener. There was a free trial on the NaNoWriMo website. I downloaded it and started playing with it that night. I’ve never used the words “life changing” to describe a software product until now. Holy $hit. I’ve never been so organized. Seriously, hands down, the most helpful writing tool I’ve ever seen.

Writing real life stuff can be tricky, especially if your story isn’t particularly happy. Usually, I feel like I have to be in the right headspace to tackle certain topics. Or, I wait for inspiration to find me before I start working on something. NaNo showed me that resistance is my way of avoiding the yucky things I don’t want to think about. Having that big word goal and fast deadline forced me to push through, even on the days I didn’t want to, when it made me cry, when my heart hurt, when I felt like this wounds might never heal. I had no choice but to keep writing. And, as long as I kept writing, inspiration kept showing up.

NaNo breaks down your 50k words into daily goals of 1666 words. Naturally, I didn’t do this consistently day by day. I wrote huge chunks of stuff in the beginning and got ahead of my target. Then, the election happened, life happened, work happened, and my vampire hours started catching up with me. There was a brief moment when I didn’t think I would finish. I was behind, and avoiding like crazy all the chaos I didn’t want to look at. But, I had made a commitment to myself. And, I had so many people cheering me on. Failure was not an option. I pushed through all my blocks, and kept writing my little heart out.

I finished my word goal around one o’clock in the morning on November 30th. With twenty-three hours to spare, I did it. I wrote over 50,000 words. My first novel was almost complete. I cried my face off. And, I kept writing.

NaNo was exactly what I needed to push past the fear that was holding me back. It gave me a reason to move my dream of becoming a published author to the top of my to-do list, and not let anything keep me from it. It gave me the opportunity to connect with other writers, try new tools, and come up with new ways to stay focused and keep writing when it gets hard.

Most of all, NaNoWriMo helped me prove to myself that nothing is impossible. Those big scary goals are attainable if we just keep working toward them a little bit every day. Each time we accomplish the next thing that we once believed we couldn’t, we realize our potential in a new way. We let go of the limitations we have imagined for ourselves, and begin to see how truly limitless we are.

With each victory, we become more prepared for the next big challenge, and we believe more completely in our ability to achieve that next impossible goal. When we step into our power this way, nothing can keep us from making our dreams our reality. Nothing can keep us from our dharma, our destiny, or the true desire of our hearts.

Namaste xo

Nee

 

 

 

 

Going back to my Roots…

I’m spending the day clicking down memory lane. It’s time for me to gather my little stories and give them to the world in book form. I’m just amazed looking back on Dysfunction Diaries. I had no idea where it would take me when I started writing all those years ago.

Reading these stories, I can clearly see my growth. I can almost pinpoint the exact moment in time when I realized that I am a writer. This blog was more than just a silly hobby. It was the first step in my writing career. It gave me a voice at a time in my life when I didn’t know I had one.

Dysfunction Diaries helped me gain creative confidence. Through the feedback of so many wonderful people, I began to see the talent I have been given for storytelling.

Dysfunction Diaries helped me grow a thick skin. I’ve learned to accept criticism. I’ve learned to speak my truth and honor my story- even when people don’t like it.

Most of all, Dysfunction Diaries opened me up, helped me see myself, my family, my experiences in a new way. I realized that my story was more than just humorous. If told honestly- it’s actually kind of awesome and inspiring.

I’m excited to go back to my roots for a little while and compile these stories- and also write some new ones! I can’t wait to hold my first, published, paper book in my hands!

Namaste xo

Nee

Photo: Preus Museum

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