Shine

For years I knew I wanted to be a writer. I took all the advanced English classes I could in high school. I was rarely seen without a book or journal in my bag, frequently both. I was the girl who would get called out for reading a book not for class in the middle of class because it was just that good.

I majored in English in college and took numerous creative writing classes with some really awesome professors. I was an editor for the school news paper. My class notes were half bits of poems or stories half notes.

Somewhere between junior year and graduation, I became disenchanted. I thought “I’m not cut out for this.” The stresses of Chris’s military career getting kicked off and all of the changes our family was facing got to me and rather than write through it all, I abandoned what I had once loved so much. I lost my dedication. Somewhere in there I lost my faith in myself to be able to do anything other than to play my role of wife and mom and figure myself out later.

Later, later, later.

The past six months have been about “later.” First it was “when we get to Virginia.” Then, “Once Sophie remembers how to nap again.” Then, “Once we get settled in Germany.”

Now became changing diapers, going for walks and dreaming about this “later” that seemed would never come. This “later” that just kept getting pushed, you guessed it, later and later. Now became sad. Now became feeling like everything I did was for everyone else. It felt like any time I was given to myself was wasted because I wasn’t working toward anything. I wasn’t concerned with a career or a financial contribution, just something. Something that would make me a better person, a better mom, a better wife and make my soul shine. Something that could make me feel like I accomplished something.

Motherhood is demanding and oh so rewarding, but it’s often impossible to see the effects of your love and nurturing when your child is refusing to nap, pulling your hair and eating the dog’s food AGAIN. I can’t see how Sophie is better because I built a block tower she got to knock over or that I submitted to another hour of being the “mama gym.”

I needed something for myself that wouldn’t interfere with my important job of full time mommy. It took me a while to be okay with that. It took me a while to be okay with the fact that I’m not the type of mother who can be all diapers and bottles and sensory play activities all the time. I’m not super mom. I’m not a picture perfect stay at home mom, no matter what my social media accounts will lead you to believe.

ThatΒ was never anything that I thought I expected of myself. I always said I wouldn’t be that, that I wasn’t cut out for it the way some women are. I always said that I was OK with that, but deep down I don’t think I was. I think I wanted to be the kind of mom who only needs her kids, but there’s been this energy stirring inside of me that I’ve felt like I need to get out.

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So I started writing again.

By started writing again, I mean I started a new journal on the 2nd, it is now the 13th Β and that journal is almost full.

By started writing again, I mean that I put some hard revising work into some old poems to the point that I felt like they were worthy of being submitted to the Asheville Poetry Review for their William Matthews Poetry Prize. The first contest I’ve ever entered, despite the fact that I have filled many a page of an old journal with contest deadlines and goals I wanted to meet. The pages yellowed and the journals got boxed up. The deadlines came and went.

I never saw myself as worthy. I was so petrified of failing that I didn’t even try. I didn’t think I could take the inevitable rejection letter.

It’s not that I somehow think I’m such a better writer than I was a year or two ago, although I’d like to think I’ve improved with time. It’s not that I’m so sure I’m going to win that failure it isn’t even a thought that occupies any space in my mind.

I probably won’t win. I’ll probably lose, but I’m not afraid of that anymore. If I get a rejection letter or an email, I’m gonna go out and buy a frame for it. Maybe I’ll hang it on the fridge with a gold star sticker. I’ll wear it like a badge of honor because it isn’t about the poems. It isn’t about being the best or winning a contest. I still don’t know if writing is what I want to do for a career, or if I’d ever be successful enough to call myself a writer or make a career out of it.

It isn’t about any of those things.

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For me, the image of that priority envelope I carefully placed my poems in means that I tried. That I took a chance on myself. That I beat self doubt and believed in myself. That I finally see myself as worthy.

Sure, it’s just one contest of surely many more to come (I hope). But for me, it’s bigger than that. You might think me silly, but this is my first step. This is my step toward healing, toward building something for myself. To believing in my words and my craft and believing that I have something to say that someone might want to hear. That might spark something in someone the way that so many other people’s words and art have sparked something in me.

After I sent my poems off, I headed to Books a Million to pick up the new copy of Poets and Writers. They always have a great list of upcoming contest deadlines, and I wanted more options. I was honestly on some sort of euphoria, halfway between tears and grinning so hard my face could’ve split open. Anyways, I was reading the editor’s letter and he said something that I loved.

Whether thousands, hundreds or dozens of people might read what we’ve written, or even if we reach just one single soul, we are being given an opportunity to create something bright in all this darkness. Shine.

So if you are reading this, thank you. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, thank you. If you’re my grandma, thank you. You may not get your novel, but you might get a book of poems, I hope that will suffice.

I’m choosing to shine. I’m choosing to do something for myself because I finally, finally think I’m worthy.

I hope you do the same. I hope you, beautiful reader, decide to shine.

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Review: “The Guest Room” by Chris Bohjalian

In New York Times’ best seller Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel,Β Richard Chapman is, much to his reluctance, throwing his little brother a bachelor party. He expects a keg, some guac and the inevitable stripper to infiltrate the brick and mortar haven that is the suburban home he shares with his wife and their nine-year-old daughter. What he doesn’t expect, is to be drug head first into a world of gangsters and sex trafficking.

When the novel opens, readers immediately know that Bohjalian isn’t going to waste any time setting up the story –he dives right into the heavy, nitty gritty action that makes the story so riveting.

From the first pages, Bohjalian has readers tinkering from the end of their seats as he explores how brief moral lapses and bouts of violence can have astronomical effects on normal lives. In this well-paced novel, Bohjalian opens readers’ eyes to the horrors that are present and possible in our own back yards. He shows that human trafficking is not just “something that happens in Bangkok.”

Sex trafficking is not a pretty topic. In fact, the subjects of Bohjalian’s novels rarely are. In a recent interview with The San Diego Tribune, Bohjalian says “All of my books are about what I dread the most…So The Guest Room is just one more of those things I worry about.”Β Yet somehow, he tells his stories in a way that no matter how horrific or difficult to swallow, we keep turning the pages, hungry for more, hoping for a happy ending.

Bohjalian may not deliver on the happy ending, but he does give the story a satisfying ending. He tells the story that is there to tell, not concerned with easing our minds with neatly tied up and resolved conflicts. His stories are deeply rooted in reality which makes them simultaneously terrifying and just so good.

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Part of the beauty of Bohjalian’s story telling is that he doesn’t skimp out on the minor details, like a tub of Barbies collecting dust in the corner of a nine-year-0ld girl’s room. He gives everything in his stories meaning, nothing is there by accident or to fill up space.

It has been said that characters make a story. Without good characters, books would hardly be worth reading. Bohjalian takes that idea to the next level. Even his minor characters who show up but for a scene are clearly well thought out and planned. They are people with their own stories, not just supporting roles for this story.

He narrates from a few different perspectives, and all have a distinct voice.

Alexandra’s, one of the strippers from the party’s, back story is intricately interwoven with present events and gives readers more perspective. He includes even the details we would prefer to gloss over, showing how carefully he researched his topic. Yet the prose comes out effortless. A mark of a true master.

As an avid reader of Bohjalian’s work, I am always blown away by his ability to get into the head of characters so vastly different from himself such as Alexandra. In this novel, he does that twice when he explores how Melissa, Chapman’s daughter, copes with the events that occurred at her home while she was away. Her innocence shines through, yet we can see it being slowly whittled away as she learns more about the reality of the situation she has found herself in.

While the book speaks to the greater issue of human trafficking, what Bohjalian has done here is create a thrilling, modern story that will change the way we talk about marriage and sexuality. At its core, it’s about the frailty of marriage and some remarkable, strong young women.

The Guest Room is a novel that will surely keep readers furiously flipping pages all night. Bohjalian again proves himself to be a fearless master of his craft.

Review: “Room” by Emma Donoghue

Imagine the world is 11 x 11 foot square. You have four walls, a door that you aren’t allowed to open. You have your ma, a man you call Old Nick brings you food and everything we all know to be true, you only watch on TV.

Most days are the same, with little variation. You sleep in Bed, climb on Table, play PE on the track on the floor. Nothing else exists, until it does.

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I’d been hearing a lot about this book due to the movie coming out late last year. I finally got my hands on a copy and was instantly hooked. The plot is fairly straight forward: a woman is kidnapped, impregnated and left to raise her son in the a fore mentioned 11 x 11 Room. However, the story is told from the perspective of “Ma”‘s five-year-old son Jack.

For me, this narration choice was a game changer. Instead of being brought into this cold, dungeon-like space, we are brought into Jack’s home, the only home he’s ever known. He’s naive, but curious and readers are able to see the effect of the world being built in such a specific way on his growing mind.

Although the plot points in this story are horrific, there is still a sense of innocence present. Having Jack narrate it completely change the tone of the entire book. At first, you almost don’t know to be afraid. At first, when Ma begins explaining things, you are second guessing what she is saying, too. There is a sense of something coming, but you realize right along side Jack that you are already in it. That he doesn’t call everything “Table” or “Chair” with capital T and C because he’s a child learning the names of things. He is led to believe that they are the only Table and Chair that exist, that “Outside” is another world and outside the unopenable door lies outer space.

As they attempt a great escape, you see Jack’s curiosity grow until Ma cannot contain it anymore. Donoghue writes some of the most beautiful, heart wrenching lines, “But is Room still there when we aren’t in it?” She perfectly captures the child like attachment to familiarity. I think she is one of few authors who can successfully enter the mind of a child and tell a convincing story from that stand point.

This narration allows her to create some interesting metaphors about Ma’s psychological state. She is able to show how resilient, even if quite reliant, Jack is and how broken Ma is while staying true to her narrator.

In some ways, there are things left to be desired when it comes to Ma’s personal growth and suffering in the story. However, I think it was genius to show how something like this appears to a child. I can only imagine Donoghue’s challenge with being able to include some of the more troubling details yet in a way a child would understand. She tackles this feat with grace.

Donoghue challenges what it means to be a mother and displays what lengths a mother will go to to keep her children safe among such horrors. She uses dialogue to explain to us some of which Jack cannot. One of my favorite lines that truly shows Ma’s love for her son is “You don’t think I would have given Jack a different color of play doh every day if I could have?”

Utterly gripping, Donoghue takes readers captive much like Jack and Ma with her well-crafted tale. The difference is, you won’t want to escape.