Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review: How I Define Me

In the past year I have moved my family to the UK; began a Creative Writing PhD program; written a radio comedy series; presented for a reading; judged a creative writing contest; acted as a submissions editor for an academic journal; created, developed and hosted a radio series; written short stories; published short stories; blogged; presented as a blogger; taught; learned; grown; shed; mothered; lectured; loved.


A few years ago I created a Wordle of words that defined my career goals. Today, I created one of words that remind me who I am.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Five Years Later: Divorced or Single?

“I’m not seeing my daughter until after the holidays, “she answered, “ but it’s ok, I’m a single lady,” the cashier continued, “I have friends to see all over the country.”

As she rang up and bagged my items she shared her adventures as a “single lady."

“I’m usually out travelling or seeing shows; I go out a lot, you see, because I’m a single lady.”

We talk every time I visit the store but I didn’t realize we had so much in common: I like to travel; I’d like to go out dancing, to meet new people. It took a good five minutes before I remembered: “I’m a single lady too,” I said.

“You are?” She wasn’t convinced.

“I’ve been divorced for five years.” I don’t usually feel the urge to explain myself but the revelation that I too am a single lady took me a bit off guard.

For the past few years I’ve been “divorced.” “Divorced” is a reminder that I know what commitment is and when it isn’t working; I know when to hold on and when to walk away. It tells people a version of my past and though I hadn’t meant for the label to stick, it slipped on and fitted itself on to my shape and stuck. I wore “divorced” as a reminder that my marriage didn’t work out.


Until at least the tenth time she said it, I didn’t realize I don’t have to be “divorced;” I can slip on words that fit and shed words that cling too tightly. If divorced is a reminder of something broken, single is a reminder of opportunities and decisions.

Words don't define me; I do.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Samsung Challenges UK Phone User to do without Smartphone for Two Weeks

Think you can’t do without your Samsung Galaxy SIII Smartphone? Samsung says you can, and you will.

If you’ve recently updated your Samsung Galaxy SIII without any problems then you may be one of the lucky ones. Now that I have attempted the system prompted update, my device doesn’t work. And I’m not alone. Now that my phone only ineptly strobes “Samsung” I’ve searched reviews on the update (Yes, I’ve learned to check reviews before accepting manufacturer updates) and found questions but no solutions. When I called the support number, the technician admitted that his update also destroyed his phone and his phone is out for repair. Why does Samsung know about the problem but still recommend the update? I suppose it’s the same reason they know how to fix it but don’t share the information: Samsung challenges us to stop using Smartphones.

Over the past ten months or so since I’ve had the phone, I have become addicted to checking emails, status and updates. I’ve taken pictures of my family and our move to the UK; snap shots of interesting places and posted blogs. I used my phone for emergencies too: if my children or their schools need to contact me, they call.

My phone kept me connected.

According to Samsung, maybe it kept me a little too connected.

Despite becoming a practical component of my life, my short battery-cycled friend (a condition potentially introduced via the update before this one) is also used for the impractical: gaming, reading, shopping.

So, like it or not,  for the next two weeks, I’m going to participate in Samsung’s ‘Do without your Samsung’ campaign.


Day 1: It begins.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Competitive Dating

I’m a competitive shopper. In the past few weeks I have bid on at least three things that as soon as I became the highest bidder, I didn’t want.
The information was in the listing: there was no false advertising; no revelation of a hidden meaning or twisted phrase. After the competition of bidding was complete and I was sure of winning, I just didn’t want what I thought I did.

To be fair, I was settling.

I was looking for a laptop and bidding on a notebook or looking for a Rockband guitar and bidding on a Guitar hero one; I even bid on an item from someone with more negative comments in the past six months than items I had bid on. I couldn’t seem to help myself. If other people wanted it, I had to have it.

“Please don’t let me win, please don’t let me win,” I prayed after bidding on items. Thankfully, my prayers were answered. I was able to walk away and watch someone else swoop in without feeling a need to win. But they weren’t my competition; I was.

If only I didn’t also do that in relationships.

How many times have you pursued someone you didn’t want in the first place? Against your better judgment, you’ve gotten babysitters, rearranged schedules, and rationalized for someone you didn’t want to be with but wanted to have?

Stop.

There is no such thing as competitive dating. There are no prizes for dating down; no medals for settling and no theme songs for dipping out with the underdog. 


Starting today, go after what you want; walk away from what you don’t.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lessons from Season 1 of the Writing Life

This year I hosted my first radio series, The Writing Life, on Bailrigg FM. The series is an opportunity for me to interview writers, authors, publishers, and any one making a living with their words or endeavoring to. The platform allows me to share information with a larger population and fulfills part of my teaching passion. Largely, it is an opportunity to converse, interact and engage: to do things I love within a medium I adore.

Presenting is not as easy as some professionals make it look. Thanks to networking and connecting, I was able to garner a list of knowledgeable, personable guests who are willing to share information and were available. I interviewed Kevin Duffy of Blue Moose Books; writer, publisher and Fulbright Scholar Coleen Crangle; space planning visionary and author Jo Kipling; author, student; PR guru Simon James; advocate, lecturer and playwright Royal Shiree; award winning novelist Alison MacLeod; and award winning screen and playwright Daragh Carville. All of my guests have been lovely both on and off the air.  They shared information on how they got started; how they stay motivated; how to balance other careers and pursuits with the pursuit of words; and more. They indulged my curiosities and offered advice.

The interviews are engaging because my interviewees are engaged. It’s not just my personality that brings out the best in people but people that bring out the best in people. My ability to research allows me to ask pertinent, relevant questions. My interest in people prompts interesting discussions.

Listeners and I received valuable advice this year and I’m hopeful listeners have put some of the advice and experiences in to practice; I know I did. One of the best pieces of advice came from my mother: “it’s your show; you’re quirky, it’s fine if your show is too.”
I’m looking forward to next year’s season and gathering and sharing more information.

I’ve included the link so you can catch up on Season 1 before Season 2 begins.


Happy Holidays!






















Thursday, November 21, 2013

Write or Eat


I make a living with my words.

My words won’t be pimped out for pennies or scattered around dark pages only visible by flashlight.
I’m going to make a living from my words.

If someone makes a living from writing we don’t ask how much per word; per book; how much living per page pays. Because we don’t talk about it, some people think they can’t do it.

We all define success in our own way. In my vision my words are tumbling out of people’s mouths around the world. My characters are on the screen and on the page in homes, on phones, and on devices wherever there is internet capability.

My words will travel; my characters will come to life.

They will be multi-cultural, multi-dimensional representations of the world in which we live. Not your world or my world but our world. My characters will be different shapes, sizes and hues. They will coexist like we coexist; getting it done; living life; reflecting life in one another’s image.

My characters will reflect life: not my life or your life but Life.

Everyone doesn’t look like you.

Everyone doesn’t look like me.

I don’t dream about a world where everyone, except the best friend, neighbor, victim, or suspect is the same hue.

What do I do to inspire a revolution? I write. I write characters that reflect reality and who can exist in fantasy; I write characters who breathe.

My family will eat my words.

We will eat because I weave words that sell in one way or the other. Words that continue to sustain us; encourage, nurture, nourish, provide, inspire, unite. Whether I write, teach, present, host, or craft a career out of a combination of roles I will make my living with words.

I write for many different reasons, one of them just happens to be so my family can eat.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bad Dream? Write it out!


 Last night I dreamed that to end an argument, I agreed to re-marry my ex-husband. It was the first bad dream I’ve had since childhood. 

Thursday morning my children and I moved from one building on campus to another building less than a city block away. It was a short-distance barely worthy of changing our address but I worried that my children would feel unsettled—we had just moved to the UK nine months ago. Though they weren’t changing schools I worried they would need to readjust.

Months ago when I told them about the move, they seemed un-moved.

“The roof is being replaced on this building,” I explained.

“Ok,” they had all moved on. I don’t think I did.

My youngest son’s ability to organize and compartmentalize eased toys, clothes, pet rocks and baubles into large boxes. My oldest son packed the night before. My daughter had packed months ago when she’d moved to her university campus and boxed up what remained so that we didn’t have to.

It’s challenging not to assess life in terms of accumulation when you’re boxing and labeling your possessions.

When I was growing up we moved every few years. We moved from my grandmother’s house near the ocean to a townhouse in the suburbs and from that to a house in the country. Each move brought new anxieties and with them an assortment of bad dreams.

These last few days I have felt more emotional than ever. I had forgotten to reflect: to plot and to write it out.

To remind me of the necessity of contemplating self, last night, to end an argument with my ex-husband I offered: “I’ll marry you.”

This morning, as I sip coffee, I write.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Emails for Breakfast?

I’ve started consuming emails for breakfast. I don’t know when. One morning I woke up, checked my messages before I had hopped out of bed and the next day, I did the same. It was soon a part of my daily routine.

I like words for breakfast but consuming emails leaves little room for them. By the time it’s time to settle down to actual food; I’m full of sales, notices, requests, and “offers.”There’s room for little else. Hungry, my mood often suffers depending on what I’ve digested.

I seldom get important news via email; and the important news I get tends to go better with a cup of coffee and imported cream.

Like a fresh baked Cinnabon, emails are bad for my thighs; or at least for my stomach.

Today, I’m starting an information diet.

will no longer check email every few minutes; tomorrow I will start the day with music. I will end it with words.

Friday, September 6, 2013

41 Going on 41: Growing Older Gracefully--if I Want To


In less than one month I will be 42.

Getting older doesn’t feel like I thought it would. As a teen I couldn’t wait to turn 21. It seemed everything worth doing started at 21; so I started earlier.  My 20’s and 30’s didn’t swirl down the drain or flash by in a blur of color, lights and names. I had some fun times back then and I have some awesome people in my life to show it. But even if I could go back in time, I wouldn't: I couldn't keep up with the younger me. I don't want to.

The women in my life age gracefully. I expected to and I haven’t been disappointed.
Unlike what TV, magazines, radio and other outlets would have me believe: getting older is amazing. I wouldn’t exchange this point in my life for any other; I don’t need an elixir, a pill, a cream: I love getting older and all it means to me.

So what does getting older mean to me?

There are things in my past that will stay there.  

There are events or people in my past that will remain in my future only as lessons learned: and that’s okay.

I will not take people for granted: I will cherish my family and friends.

I will not hesitate as long to say goodbye: if something isn’t working despite trying to “make it” I will recognize it may not be the right something or someone for me and I will let it go.

I will be more open, more loving and more forgiving: while this may seem to contradict with the previous point, it doesn’t; I can forgive you without being with you.

I’m more likely to choose how I spend my time and less likely to waste it where it is not bearing fruit: I am more likely to waste less time or words where they will not yield results.
I will have conversations I want to have and will continue minimizing those I don’t want to have.

I am more willing to ask for help: struggling alone is no longer a tool I use to measure my strength or character.

I can’t fix someone if they don’t realize they’re broken: I can’t fix someone else—I can only work on myself.

I’m not my ex-husband’s PR person: it’s not my job to make him look good to my children. If he wants to look good to them he needs to do right by them.

No excuses: I don’t make excuses for myself and I won’t make them for other people.

No more apologizing for things that are outside of my control; I realize that there are things outside of my control.

I will listen.

I will laugh.

I will take time for myself.

I will endeavor to love and appreciate myself more each day; that means valuing my body, my space, my time.

I’m fortunate to be able to choose how I grow older and how I feel about growing older.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Open Letter to Absentee Parents



Dear Absentee Parent,

There seems to be a myth that the person who is raising the children should be the person who pays for the children; an idea that if you aren’t there to watch them grow, you don’t share the responsibility. I’d like to unburden you of that lie.

As parents around the globe get ready for the first day of school, I’d like to remind you, your child still has to eat.

Your child does not stop growing the moment you walk out the door. On the contrary, children continue to grow: that means they need new sneakers, shoes, clothes, socks, underclothes; and they probably need them more often than the person who cares for your children tells you they do.

Each day, you eat.

Likewise, your child would like to eat each day. Not only would your child like to eat daily, your child needs to eat several times a day and would like healthy snacks in between meals.
You may not know this: eating is an expensive habit.  It costs money to feed your family, even if you aren’t there; your kids have to eat.

Other reminders: books, paper, crayons, erasers, pens, and other school supplies are not “wish list” items; your child needs these supplies to engage in school.

Buy them.

Instead of asking if the person who cares for your children needs anything; know that they do. Your kids need something every day regardless of whether you are there to see them want or need it. Whether or not you believe they need something does not change the reality that besides love, attention, understanding, nurturing, guidance, opportunities, and all of the other things your children need, they also need tangible items with price tags.

You aren’t getting away with something by not supporting your children. You aren’t punishing the person who left or cheated or hurt you; you aren’t righting a wrong or setting things straight.

You are hurting your children.

Stop.

If no one else tells you this, I’d like to be the one to remind you to take care of your kids; they need you. Don’t ask if they need something: they do. Send them a gift card, cash, store credit: it’s your responsibility.

You may not have “spare change” and no one is asking you for it.

 It costs real money to raise real people. If you can’t contribute financially, contact the person who is taking care of your children and see what you can do—because there is something you can do; a way you can help; a burden you can carry.

Be a parent.

Thanks

.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

When Your Kids Read Your Blog

She sits wrapped in a blanket with her feet propped up on another chair as she cradles her laptop and reads my blog.

“I stalk your blog” She tells me.  

In my mind she is snacking on popcorn as highlights of my life scroll across her view cinematically.  In reality, it is far less dramatic.

I write because I don’t know how not to and I publish my thoughts because, well, what good is good writing if you keep it to yourself? But there may come a point when my children read something I didn’t intend them to find, what then?

My daughter is 18. She’s passed the age of my feeling I would have to pay for her therapy if she reads something that sends her into shock. But I’m not passed the age of writing about what—or who—is on my mind. Will reading about the dissolution of my marriage tell her anything she doesn't know? Will reading my unadulterated, edited thoughts about my divorce be a surprise?

Now that she is ready for me to date, is she ready to read about my dating?

I could journal my thoughts and encrypt them on withered pages of a nonexistent diary but I’ve never been any good at that.


So I will continue to blog what I know—me—and my experiences growing, learning and loving being who I am; but while I do it I will remind myself that my daughter is reading this and this will remind her that I love her unconditionally and I’m not paying for any therapy.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

College Prep: Watching Your Children Grow Up

In just a few weeks my daughter will be leaving for college. In truth, it’s only an hour away but it seems like much further. Like parents around the globe, I am trying to push a lifetime of advice and lessons in to a few weeks as if we will never meet again.

In some ways, we won’t.

When I leave her at her university campus she will be my little girl; when I see her again she will be my little girl but will have had experiences that she can’t have if she lives at home. How does it feel to go food shopping the first time? Or the first time she realizes she has left her wallet or bank card back at her house? What about when she gets on the wrong bus? The first time she loses her key? Or falls in love; or has her first heart break—or her second?


Connections don’t come easily for me. I have to work at them; at relationships. But she’s worth it; we are worth it. And so I will set up reminders to call, text; I will schedule visits and trips. I will download this new app or that one so that when we connect virtually it is engaging in the ways I may not be adept at but then again, connections don’t come easily for me so any format will require getting used to. I won’t allow myself to stand in the way of watching my little girl transform into a confident, prepared adult. 

She’s well on her way; I hope I’m ready.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Campus Life in Lancaster, UK: The Weather

“It may rain,” the weather man announced, “but it may be sunny.”

I’m not the only one maintaining a curious distance from commitment.

I’m told the weather in Lancaster is unpredictable or predictably rainy with unpredictable patches of sunlight. Before moving here I attempted to track the weather to get a sense of what to pack and what to leave behind. Year round the forecast was set to grey. I thought it was a glitch.

When I arrived I was told no, it was not a glitch; the skies are often cloudy to accommodate the moderate doses of rain scattered across the region.

“Don’t expect to see much of the sun,” one cab driver warned.

“If you get two sunny days in a row, that’s summer; don’t waste it” someone suggested.

These past two weeks the days have been delightfully sunny and crispy, hot. On cool evenings breezes skip through the window and race through the house like naughty neighbors. On hot evenings the air is dormant: a dismal houseguest who has overstayed its welcome.

This morning the rumbling started far away growing louder and closer by the second. I rushed to the window. You can’t see thunder. It was my first time hearing thunder since I arrived in the UK and I expected to see a low -flying plane trailing across the sky.
Instead, I saw thunder.

Clouds fat with rain, air thick with promise; it was surely thunder.


A few minutes later sensuous baritones again rippled through the air; how I love a good storm.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Improvising: Student Life on a Budget

I have been looking for substitutes to supplement my natural sweetness when my natural sweetness is not enough to sustain me through the day. I’m sweet in doses: scoops, teaspoons, pinches.  Not naturally—not entirely.

I’ve tried making my own flavored creamer. The cream was a placebo: the right color, little effect. I’m rarely able to trick myself twice.

I tried syrup laced coffee beans with milk and sugar: syrup and mere sugar wear off far too quickly.

Last week I paid 30 for coffee creamer: I had reached a new low. It wasn’t particularly good or rich or sweet.  It was, however, enough to make me reconsider ordering powdered French Vanilla coffee creamer which tastes like flecks of something I really want: rich, thick, French Vanilla non-powdered coffee creamer.

Last night I slipped spoonfuls of Raspberry Pavilo ice cream into a cup of hot coffee.  I stirred and watched the dark coffee devour the thick, pink globs. Out of habit I added a spoon or two of sugar and waited. The concoction turned familiar, creamy beige.

It looks fat.

It probably is.

It was rich, creamy and irrepressibly raspberry. It was quite nearly divine. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Writing Life: Over Reactions: Am I Addicted to Research?

“Let me get this straight,” I began. I was overreacting. I knew it when I felt the tingling of blood rushing into my fingertips as I dialed the number.

“I’m just going to put you on hold and a specialist will be able to help you,” the representative had said.

I admit my lack of coffee and my recent addiction to research have left me closer to the edge than usual. I’m researching reuniting the African American/Black American family after the Emancipation.  The research is often painful—the stories of children being stolen from their parents; of parents divided from babies they would never hold again; and of people stripped of everything except hope—the utter despair between the facts and within each story is painful.

“You’re asking me to hold again although I’ve just told you I was on hold twice for twenty minutes each without any one coming to the phone?”

“Umm…yes, the best way to get the issue resolved is…”

“Is for me to hold in the hopes that this time someone will answer?”

And so I knew when I called to straighten a problem out for my child that I was overreacting.  There was a time when as a black woman I wouldn’t have been able to speak up to protect my child; a time when no matter how someone hurt my child the only protection I could have offered was silence. Perhaps that’s why now I feel so strongly about doing protecting my children that I will protect them from things they don’t need my protection from.


“…No; for me to transfer you to a specialist; they will definitely answer.”
“Do you transfer differently?”
“Pardon?”
“Is the way you transfer different from the way the other two, the representatives who transferred me until no one answered, transferred their calls?”
“No…but…”

She was a customer service agent who came in between my daughter and what she wanted


The research made me do it would not likely stand up in court any more than it stands up off the page.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On Staying Connected in the Wireless Age

            “Don’t you miss your family?”
            “I’ve brought them with me; how can I miss them?”
            “We didn’t bring everybody,” my youngest clarifies.
            He’s right. I’ve managed to bring everyone I’ve given birth to with me to the UK.  Everyone else is everywhere else. If I’m being honest, I’m a pretty good (and modest) mother but I’m not the best daughter, sister, or aunt that I feel like I should be.
            At some point early in development, I went wrong. There’s probably no clear defining point—no day I can declare changed me from warm, nurturing and available to more aloof and distant.  And if there was, could I change it? While I can’t change the events I try to change my behaviors.  I schedule emails, texts and phone calls to family and friends so I don’t lose touch.  I try to make communication appear natural almost effortless.
Yet when I say “I’ll call you back,” most people know I won’t.
A few months ago I began writing letters to my oldest nephew. He has always been special to me but after I moved to Maryland I became farther away both mentally and physically.  After I became a mother, I became too absorbed in my immediate family to reach out to him.  On nights when he needed reassurance that he mattered to other people besides his mother, I was too locked in to the role of trying to be two parents to my children to realize I was also needed elsewhere. I’m trying to make up for that now.
So I write him letters that look far better in my imagination than they do on the page. I still have the notion that letters should be hand written and my handwriting for lack of a kinder word is horrid. It doesn’t take me longer to craft letters than it looks like it does. Whether I try to compose it patiently or in a rush, the words slur on the page in a whirl of peaks and crevices.  My letters are mostly illegible.
“Why don’t you type it?” My daughter suggested after glancing over my shoulder at the page of blots and angles.
Finally I gave in and typed it. I printed the letter, slid it in to an envelope and sent it sailing across the world.  It could not have felt more impersonal.  It doesn’t matter what the letter says; I’m detached from the words because a typed letter doesn’t convey the same attention a handwritten one does and I don’t want my nephew to feel he isn’t worth my fingers cramped and arched over slivers of paper painfully and carefully composing a handwritten letter.

It’s possible I read too much into things.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Night Out: Graduate Fair

At varying times over the past 18 years that I've been a mom, my purses—regardless of size—have  held extra tissues, bottles, diapers, wipes, fruit snacks, Poptarts, candy, apples, soda, apple sauce and crayons.  The older my children get the more space I claim of my own.  My purse now holds lipstick, lip liner, lip gloss, pens, gum, an eye glass case and the occasional Lego.

It’s hard to feel sexy when you have a coconut in your purse.

Yet just this past weekend I slipped an entire coconut into my purse because my 8 year old won a coconut and he couldn’t hold the coconut while playing games at the fair and I couldn’t hold the coconut while eating a strawberry ice cream cone.  Long after we left the fair the coconut lay nestled in my bag beneath napkins and scraps of paper, notes and coins.

After getting my children settled in for the evening I went back to the fair for the adult portion of the event. I drank a carbonated raspberry, apple concoction that I’m pretty sure was sparkling water and sat on a bench in the front row: a prime seat to view a band I wouldn’t have otherwise seen singing songs from the 80s and 90s that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard.

"I'm going back to the grad fair," I told my oldest son.

"Why?"

I didn't have a reason: I just wanted to go. If I'm not with my family I don't really go out a lot. My social life now is a lot different than it was 20 years ago.  I don't miss it. Still, a measure of my sanity involves the realization that I need to do more for myself. My social life cannot consist merely of workshops, conferences and seminars.

"Because she needs a man," my daughter answered.

I wasn't going to the fair with illusions of meeting a guy. I was going so I could spend time with my friends; listen to music and ideally dance.

It wasn't until the morning after when I emptied my purse of slivers of paper, used napkins and empty gum wrappers that I remembered the coconut as I watched it hit the floor with a thud and a roll. I had no idea what to do with it; I can’t open it but I can’t seem to throw it away.

Sweet, milky memories of my first night out in a long time lay trapped within its thick, hairy skin. I hope that’s not a metaphor for my dating life.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Campus Life: Living and studying at Lancaster University (UK)

The bass started at precisely 7 o’clock. The DJ music was good and offered a mix for the older crowd and the younger crowd; neither crowd would arrive for hours after the event started.  Some of the worst bands went on early in the evening: most of the guests missed them. By the time the better sounding bands came on, the bulk of the crowd had arrived—most of them too drunk to appreciate their timing.


Bass vibrated off of closed windows and echoed throughout the quad bouncing off of bricks, buildings and closed doors before wafting up to the fifth floor. With the windows closed it was loud and not yet obnoxious. 

I was appreciating the event from the comfort of my flat above; my windows stayed closed for most of the night and until early morning. 

At 3 o'clock, not 2:59 or 3:01, the music--mid-song it seemed--stopped. The crowd that had moments before been chanting, singing, and yelling almost in unision,  murmured in a whirl of confused, incoherent babbling. Within seconds they organized a chant: "one more song; one more song; one more song."

Even from above I could hear the answer which came in clicks of cases, shuffles of wires, and flicks of switches: No.

Convinced, the crowd dispersed echoing a rendition of John Denver's Country Roads Take Me Home.

By 3:15,save the lone random unanswered call, the morning was silent; until 3:20 when the birds began to sing.

Diary of a Creative Writing PhD Student or the Chronicles of a Single Mom (and PhD student)


When I was a kid I wanted to be a psychologist, a writer and a wealthy adult (from doing I don’t know what).  My first job, picking blueberries, was a far journey from any of my possible career paths but three decades later I can say picking blueberries helped me get where I am today.

Today I am a writer but that’s not all I am. I am a writer, a professor (assistant and adjunct) and I’m launching a new endeavor as a screenwriter.

Over the years I've had many roles including telemarketer for about 6 months and a rapper for about 6 days.  Like most people I've juggled more than one role at a time while working to pay bills and paying bills so I could work. No matter what job I had I was clear about wanting a career: I’m no stranger to dreams.

Still these last few months have unsettled me slightly.

Now that I’m pursuing a PhD and surrounded by possibilities and opportunities, what do I want to do when I’m finished? I want to write.  Over the past six months I've toyed with various careers that would allow me time to write in my “spare” time but would not allow me to write full time: murder mystery bed and breakfast owner, copywriter, TV production company owner; all of them have an allure—the ability to fulfill one or more needs.  The need to leave a business for my children to step in to as well as a business that could allow them to eat is quite alluring but not necessarily rewarding.

Whatever I do I want to do well. If I don't choose wisely, that means potentially investing a lot of time into an endeavor I only partially want.

And so, I choose to write and to teach; some years I will write more than I teach and others will reach equilibrium though I do not seek one. What I write will be fiction, nonfiction, short stories, novels, scriptwriting; I’m not limited by time, opportunity or imagination.

Words can only propel me forward; words won’t hold me back.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Closed Chapters and Deleted Files

Through my graduate studies one of my favorite personal essay topics was myself and since I was separated and going through a divorce, my emotional terrain took up pages and pages of my writing life.

I wrote through it, about it and around it and finally and I’m not quite sure when it happened, I have written over it. I’m over it. I can no longer write about that time of my life with clarity, conviction or emotion because I no longer feel it. Or feel like it.
Writing is truly therapeutic.

Yet I have well-crafted essays with nowhere to go. I can’t submit them for publication because while they represent who I was they no longer represent who I am. Do I revise them for today or keep them consistent with yesterday?

I could do either.

Do I post them on my blog as fresh wounds or scabs? Post them as closed chapters? Posting them at all gives them new life. I could build a bonfire of lost emotion and watch the embers dance, smoldering upon the sky. But to where would they drift?

I will not allow my past to define my writing future.

Do I delete them like excess words that no longer serve the story?

Instead I will file them under a folder labeled “closed chapters” and I will walk away from the well-crafted ramblings of a writer I no longer recognize.  



Friday, June 14, 2013

On the Rocks: Snippets from a scene (fiction)

She slides in to her spot at the end of the bar, knees bent, feet perched gingerly on the iron rungs of the stool. Some nights her purse, usually a bright, orange slim bag barely large enough to hold anything of value, dangles from a thin, golden strap across her shoulder.  Later the purse rests on the bar as if to be whisked away any moment; other times it dangles beneath her feet, far too large to be dainty yet barely noticeable within high heeled sandals, pumps, or shoes. 
The sobbing has subdued, as it does each night an hour or so after it begins.  It’s never clear what sets it off. The weather, the traffic, the high price of gas seem mere distractions; she ignores those who try to engage her in conversation about such mundane topics as life.
Tears drip in to the glass, clinking like ice while watering down the already watery Raspberry Martini.  It doesn’t matter though: the ice or the drink; she doesn’t drink alcohol. No one seems to notice.
“What’s got you so upset, pretty lady?” The voice, flat and surprisingly uncertain, huffs out of the body of a short, portly man.
The view in her peripheral is dismal. Cocky, crinkly and cheap: she sums him up without ever fully glancing at him.  She prefers to appear as if looks don’t matter, randomly dismissing one after another of would-be-knights.  As if everything didn’t matter; as if there was such a thing as random.
She slumps deeper in to her seat, stirs the soupy concoction with a slender finger, and waits for him to look better: it’s going to be a long night.


Ryan likes to make an entrance. With the lazy air of someone used to making people wait, he arrives at the bar thirty minutes late. His friends—one close one, the other barely an acquaintance—have been waiting for three rounds. Taking off his jacket, he scans the room, first in search of admiring glances and then in search of his group.  He pretends not to notice the golden bronze skin; the dark lashes hiding what he imagines will be darker eyes; the mature curves of the beauty at the end of the bar.
He smiles, imagining what she’ll look like when he leaves her.
 “Fate led me to you,” he purrs.
“ Have you ever considered that fate doesn’t like you?”


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Entitled? You bet.


Like most people I think I work harder then I actually do.

            I’m a single mom; a PhD student; a writer; a tutor and an Assistant Professor. I am trying to build a community of writers and to bridge relationships between the campus on which I live and study and the community that surrounds it. I am also, in my spare time, hosting a radio segment featuring writers reading their works and interviews of published writers.

            At times I feel that all I do entitles me to well, to feel entitled. Not entitled to the things I don’t deserve like special parking, green-light passes, or advanced Black Friday deal information; but to rewards, perks, a sleek, shiny black coffee machine that looks good making a cup of coffee: a sexy coffee machine.

            I ordered a sexy one but got a plastic, clumpy one; one that says: “you don’t work nearly as hard as you think you do.”

            I disagreed.

            There are people who deserve respect, health care, free education, peace, serenity, thank yous, free homes, job security and everything else they worked, served and died for other people to have.

            I don’t fight crime, save lives, put out fires; I don’t keep the streets safe, combat drugs, protect.

            I raise artistic, intelligent, loving children who will one day run companies, organizations, businesses; who will be loving, caring, sincere; who will build communities and shatter stereotypes. And I teach. I teach college students the skills to write and communicate on and off the page; I endeavor to instill confidence in information, in research, in individuals; I encourage people to think critically, to question logically, to explore illogically.

            I write words that explore characters, that lay them naked and exposed and whole and present them to people who will never know them off the page and to people who have known them in life and to people who are them—or think they are.

            I deserve a sexy coffee machine.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Snippets from a scene (Fiction from my Attic) Or, My get-a-story-about-a-writer out of my system attempt

He slipped in to the elevator behind me, fairly innocently but a bit too closely, a bit too familiar. There was something intimate about the way he looked at me, as if he thought I should recognize him.  For a minute I thought I did but I shook it off, I would have remembered him he was that fine. 
Out of, I don’t know what, I couldn’t meet his eyes, I wanted to, felt drawn to, but just could not do it.  So I stared at my toes, wondering when I would feel like painting them. Slowly the elevator crept up to the 23rd floor.  When did I notice he hadn’t pushed a button? Probably around 21.  But my office was on sort of a community floor, the price I paid for wanting an office outside of the house before I really needed one.  I was a writer, a freelance one, and I could write any where I wanted so why I chose to do it from time to time in an office I paid too much for was no one’s business but mine. 
Anyway, I felt like he was weighing me and I was a few pounds shy of what he bargained for.  He smiled as he stepped on to my floor and held the door open as I fumbled with my keys. 
“You never remember where you left your keys,” he said chuckling. 
Normally a statement like that would have made me nervous.  I mean what was he watching me or something? But that smile was so enchanting that it made me smile.

Still when he followed me in to my office I felt a bit too comfortable and by the time he sat down in the guest chair closest to my desk, I was closer to stunned.
“Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Alex…Reese.”
If I know anything at all about myself, it is that I am a terrible actress so I am sure my face registered a bit of surprise.
“You haven’t had your coffee,” he apologized, “be right back.” And off he went to get the coffee I needed to process just how one of the characters I was creating ended up sitting next to me in my office.
“Just like you like it, 6 cream, 6 sugars.”
“And how exactly do you know so much about me?”
“What? I know as much about you as you do about me, though probably more. Anyway, I’m here to find out why you haven’t been writing about me, I have some things left to do.”
“You realize, I’m sure, that I write murder mysteries? And most of my victims are men?”
“We’ll have to see what we can do about changing that.”
“And what were you hoping I would write for you?”
“A romance,” he grinned.

“We’ll have to see what we can do about changing that.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

If You Can't Stand the Heat...


There’s something disconcerting and humbling about the third time a fire alarm goes off because of your cooking.

I know I should turn away from my neighbor’s accusing glances.  I should hold my head down as if reflecting on how I have interrupted breakfast, lunch or dinner.

I don’t. At least not for long.

Instead I wonder, like I’m sure they do, if I shouldn’t give up cooking. But, practice makes perfect. Right? Or it makes for more alarms.

My building porters have yet to give up on me.  They recently sent a technician over to fix the fan in the kitchen.  Perhaps a faulty fan allowed the smoke to rise, thicken and choke.

I don’t think so.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Who Says There isn't Enough Time in a Day?




My family and I have been in the UK for two months now and I’m starting to get the swing of things: I know how to get from where I am to where I’m going; I know how to ask directions; I can find the grocery store; shop online and conduct any number of international transactions.  I feel comfortable in my surroundings and am expanding my comfort zone almost daily.

Being a mom, working and being a full-time student still provides more free time than I would have imagined. How am I supposed to fill it?

I’m going to start maneuvering more around my neighborhood and navigating the landscape. I have mental trips planned to Manchester, London, Paris and Italy. Every day I learn something new: my latest lesson is that it takes 7 days to receive a check from an employer in the U.S. and a minimum of 5 to 10 business days for that check to be cashed in to my UK account. I also learned it could take up to 8 weeks but I’m going to keep that lesson in the far recesses of my mind.

Because I teach online and write my schedule is flexible and accommodates being a single mother of 3.  I am able to take my youngest to and from school; I have time for my own studies; time to read and review other books; time to write; and time to mother my older two children. 

No matter how much life I pack in to living I have time for a relationship if I want one.

Do I want one?

I used to think I didn’t have time for someone else in my life; it turns out I didn’t want to make time for any one and now it seems I just don’t know how to make time.

Assuming there is a class, workshop or lecture on making time for someone in your life, would I take it? 

Sooner or later I suppose I would—hopefully by then I will be ready to do it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A brief Murder Mystery Scene (fiction)

He died on a Tuesday.  

Three days later he lays diminished before us in a dark suit, starched handkerchief and Gucci shoes.  He would have hated the shoes.  Those of us who knew him knew he wouldn’t be caught dead in Gucci shoes--well apparently he would be. 

“He looks so peaceful,” they say.

“He’s dead,” I remind them, lest they forget they never watched him live, only watched him die.

She looks appalled, sharp intake of breath, pursed lips, anger, then its gone—and I quickly follow

Friday, March 8, 2013

Things I think about at 2 in the morning

There are some things you know—sort of instinctively.  Like not to get in a car with strangers, not to sleep with someone you just met and not to tell a guy how many other guys you really slept with before him. 


But I tell you what, after over 40 years on God’s green Earth if there’s one thing I know in the marrow of my bones, it’s that I don’t know a damn thing.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

From Point A to Point UK: A Diary of a Creative Writing PhD student


This time last year I just finished applying for a PhD position at Lancaster University. I was being a mom, writing, teaching, living in Maryland. Every once in a while I let the words roll around in my mouth: Dr. Yvonne Battle-Felton; Yvonne Battle-Felton, PhD.  But it was too soon to take the words seriously. I had only pressed send on my application package a few moments—or weeks before.

“I don’t see where to show if I want to study online or in the UK,”  I mentioned as casually as a mother can tell her 16 year-old that she’s considering making a big move—a very big move.

“Really?”

“That could mean spending your last year in high school in another country…”

My daughter’s brown eyes looked hesitant, like me she was gauging reactions.  “That could be fun.”

I smiled. “Yeah, but they also have classes online. I’ll be happy either way.”

I wasn’t sure that was true. I would love to be a full-time college student; to walk along the corridors of a prestigious university; to get lost for hours in a library.

I had tested the waters and they were at least warm.

A few weeks later my acceptance letter came.

I read the email a few times before I told my children.

“Congratulations!”

“So…I don’t see where it says I’m studying in the UK or online. I’d better check.”

My children didn’t seem too worried.

“They said I’ve been accepted to study in the UK. They assumed I’d want to…”

They assumed right.

I wasn’t sure what my family or friends would think.

Was it crazy to move my family around the world to pursue words?

Was it selfish to immerse myself in academia?

Definitely, but my friends and family supported me anyway. It took moving around the world to realize how close we have become.

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