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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.

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 h…

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…

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 relat…

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 m…

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 …

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 a…

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

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…

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 …

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 …

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 wh…

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 rumb…

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…

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 …

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 nephe…

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 sparklin…

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 …

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…

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 all…

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…

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 every…

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…

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.

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 onli…

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

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.

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…