I constantly say the words "Never. Give. Up."
So much in fact that it is my mantra when I actually get my booty out the door and run. "Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." The words punch through my brain and hammer away at the voice that tells me to stop.
I say it so much that I will refuse to quit anything. I'll go back to writing projects that I know aren't working. I'll stay in relationships that haunt me. I'll breathe life into the dead, expecting them to rise. The problem is that when something lacks a heartbeat, there is only coldness left. We all know that if you spend too much time without heat, you'll eventually freeze.
For about nine months after my last relationship ended I had a very rigorous schedule outlined for myself. I would wake up at a certain time every morning. Before I went to sleep every single item on my to do list had to be completed. Lunch had to be packed for the next day. My work out NEEDED to be completed, at least an hour every day. I was breaking my back, day in and day out. I was working two jobs and going to bed at midnight at the earliest. Sleep was put last. I was aiming for perfection and wondering why I still felt so imperfect. Looking back the answer is simple. I wasn't living. I was running away from the memories of someone who didn't deserve my fear.
The first thing I gave up was the perfection. It is so very okay to be frazzled. I embrace my mess now. I thought I did before but my inner voice was still such a bitch. "Why did you eat that? Why did you drink that? Why didn't you do ...." The list goes on.
There's a giant pile of laundry at my house that I'm in love with. It's organized chaos that says, "I have other priorities." I have quit trying to make it go away. My bed is made and the dishes are done. If I do that laundry I won't have time to write this blog post. If I do that laundry I won't have time to watch an episode of my new favorite tv show with my boyfriend later. That laundry is a sign of happiness. I just didn't know that before.
I buy lunch every day this year. I felt so guilty about this. Shouldn't I be making lunch and saving money? Except I like going to the cafe across the street from school. I get to escape the madness of teaching in the inner city for a few minutes. I don't buy my morning cup of coffee anymore and it balances it out. That's the key word. Balance.
I preach about balance but the thing is I suck at it. I suck at being balanced. More often then not the scale is falling in the wrong direction and I'm sprawled across the floor.
The last time I was on the floor was because I fell off my boyfriends bed as he played video games. I was attempting to figure out where I should write for a few minutes. When I hopped back on, I stuck my feet in his face. He laughed at me and gave me a kiss. The laundry isn't done, but I'm loved. The laundry isn't done, but I have a job. The laundry isn't done, but I'm happy.
I have no balance, but as I fumble it becomes more of a dance.
You don't have to be perfect. I promise.
We can quit ... just as long as we don't give up.
Sometimes, we don’t get to win or lose. This is especially true for teachers. After talking to a student today, I realized how much is out of my control. He came to tell me that he knew there wasn’t any point to take his final for my class
Me: “Why are you here then?”
Him: “My box.”
I have been teaching in the city long enough to realize that his box is an ankle monitor and he is court ordered to go to school. He was correct. Even if he took my final he would fail my class. The funny part or the sad part, I guess, is that this child is one of the smartest I have taught. This is his second year in my classroom and all I could do was nod. Agree. I felt helpless to have to agree to his failure, as if I was condoning it in someway.
Me: “So, what’s next?”
Him: “Not being here. I'm moving to the County."
The County is outside of Baltimore City and lots of my kids say they are going to the County, to escape the circumstances they are in, but those same children often come back. He told me that he has a mentor that will take him in.
Me: “How are you going to stay out of trouble? Can you study this summer?”
Him: “I have nothing to study.”
Me: “Reading is studying. Keeping your brain sharp."
Him: "I only like certain types of books. You know, true ones ... I know a man who should publish a book."
I nodded, unsure where the conversation was headed. This man, he said, went to prison but he never gave up on making a positive influence in the world. He wrote the judge 500 times asking for release into society so he could make a difference. According to my student, his request was eventually granted. He opened a construction company that worked with downtrodden individuals and people like himself, who needed a second chance.
Him: “I like those kind of stories, one’s where they get back up.”
My student’s mother is a crack head. He’s been arrested more times than I can count. He lives in a group home. If anyone has fallen down, if anyone needs to get back up, it is him.
Him: “Mom has a little house now and she’s getting her baby back soon.”
I might have said, “That’s good" or shaken my head slightly. It was one of those conversations where we were on two different planets. I grew up in another world. My empathy for my students has allowed me to connect to them and become someone they respect. Having taught them for so long, I often forget what divides us.
Him: “I’m going to college.” He said this as neither a question or a statement.
Me: “I know.”
As I looked at him, I saw every single obstacle standing in the way. All the drugs and the violence and the guns that live next to him, that live in him. I took the stories about his life and I tucked them in the part of me that still has room for that pain.
Me: “Maybe, you’ll be like that man. Maybe you’ll have a story that will inspire people.”
Him: “I can’t write books.” After a few seconds, an amused look crossed his face. He knew what I was going to say. “Or poems.”
Me: “A story doesn’t have to be a book. It can be a person.”
I remember meeting him two years ago and never wanting to see him in my class again. This year, I hoped every day that he would walk through the door. It’s funny how stories change.
He turned to walk away, his statements still clinging to all four walls.
Me: “Make sure you visit next year.”
Part of me hopes that he doesn’t. Part of me hopes that he stays out of the city, until the day he can come back and talk about getting off the ground. He failed my class. I don’t count it as a loss though. If I did, that would mean that I don’t think there’s a chance for him. My hope is a deep root, the determined weed that sinks so low that even a skilled gardener cannot remove its stubbornness.
Later that day I walked downstairs and grabbed an award that was placed in my mailbox. It was superlative that some of the students and teachers got together to make. “Most likely to succeed – Don’t forget us when you conquer the world.”
I thought back to a moment in college when I had nearly flunked out. I got alcohol poisoning and ended up in the back of an ambulance. I definitely didn’t imagine that one day I would be a teacher and an author. I didn’t even know if I would ever graduate college.
Outside the school building, I saw my student walking across the street. Please ... I closed my eyes ... let him conquer the world.
I don’t know if teaching will be something I do forever. The student’s though, their memories will be with me, always.
Fairy Tales are everywhere.
No, Snow-White isn’t going to meet you at the corner restaurant for some apple-brie and Cinderella is not quite ready to let you borrow her glass slippers. What I mean of course is that the popularity of Fairy Tales has grown immensely over the last few years. From television shows to books and movies, the creative industry has been saturated with adaptations and modern retellings of the beloved tales. I say … bring them on. From Cinder to Once Upon a Time, the stories we grew up hearing and reading, have been transformed in the most wonderful of ways.
My novel, Grimm and White, is a tale that takes nuances from the Grimm tales and twists them, blurring the line between adaptation and retelling. When I first started writing the novel, I’m not sure that I knew that Fairy Tales were going to be at the foundation of the world I created. However, once I decided that was the direction that I was taking, the world transitioned from its grainy existence in my brain into a much clearer picture. One second I thought I knew where I was going and the next I was being dragged into the plot by forces out of my control. It was like … magic.
There are hundreds of reasons why people love fairy tales, but below are the top 5 reasons I cannot get enough of them! As a bonus, I matched each reason to a song that I would put on the Grimm and White playlist.
So here they are,
5 Songs and Reasons I Love Fairy Tales:
#5: A Lesson Learned
What I knew yesterday is completely different than what I know today. Every time I wake up, I do so with the understanding that I should go into my day, wanting to fill my brain with all the knowledge that I can. I would like to think that literature and writing are at the center of my journey to understand the world. Fairy tales are more than princes and princesses. They are mirrors into society.
Track #5: Be As You Are – Mike Posner
Let’s talk about the magical and mystical elements of fairy tales. In one story we have a wolf who has swallowed a human being whole and in another, there is a giant. Literally anything can happen! Fairy tales are kind of the best!
Track #4: Dirty Paws – Of Monsters and Men
#3: Dark and “Grim”
The Grimm Stories, as well as many other Fairy Tales, have darkness that coats their edges. When we think of the Little Mermaid, you probably only have Ariel the happy-go-lucky mermaid in your thoughts. If you haven’t read the Hans Christian Anderson version, I would implore you to do so. The Little Mermaid doesn’t just lose her voice. Her tongue gets cut off. Let me tell you, (spoiler alert) she definitely never gets her happily ever after.
Although morose, the dark and grim can lead to some really stellar writing.
Track #3: Follow You Into the Dark – Death Cab For Cutie
The Grimm Brothers weren’t the original creators of many of their tales. They obtained them from oral traditions, which is how stories were once told. There is something comforting in delving into a tale that you are familiar with.
Track #2: Home – Gabrielle Aplin
Even though there was anguish and pain in a lot of the original fairy tales, especially the ones written by the Brother’s Grimm, there was still a silver lining. I’m a sucker for romance.
“The prince said joyfully, "You are with me." He told her what had happened, and then said, "I love you more than anything else in the world. Come with me to my father's castle. You shall become my wife." Snow-White loved him, and she went with him. Their wedding was planned with great splendor and majesty.”
-The Brothers Grimm
Track #1: I Hate You. I Love You– Gnash
**Also posted on:
Andi's Young Adult Books, http://andisyoungadult.blogspot.com
You only have time for the things you make time for.
As the school year winds down, I feel as if my life is being wound up. Luckily, I mean this mostly in a good context. I have been living in Baltimore City for two years next month. I can't begin to explain how much has changed in those two years. Although I have been busy during my time as a high school English teacher, I have also been able to keep up with my writing. By keep up, I mean ... staying awake until ungodly hours with a coffee on one side of my bed and a glass of wine on the other.
When I got out of college in 2014, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and publish YA novels. I applied for Baltimore City Teaching Residency and was accepted. It's been a crazy journey teaching in the city. I love my students but I'm not sure anyone can be ready to devote the time and attention they deserve. Somehow between lesson planning, grading, and drinking away the pain I still was a writer. It's true what they say. Writer's write. I don't talk about being a writer. I just do it. Sometimes when I'm pressed for minutes, they're more like furious scribbles but I still do it and I make time for it because it's a part of who I am.
Here's some of what I've been up to in the writing world the past year:
**I published Grimm and White which was a major accomplishment. I have said it before but I don't know if Ii would self-publish if I had to go back in time. It's a lot of work. You have to hire the cover artist and a formatter. You have to do all of the advertising and make multiple social media pages. In the end, it was worth it. It's almost like paying for your own college education. Amidst the chaos, you are miserable and without sleep. However, in the end that diploma is yours and yours alone. That's how I felt reaching out to grab my degree and that's how I feel when I look at Grimm and White.
**My blog tour starts May 30th with Bewitching Book Tours and I cannot wait!
**I started a dating blog! I go back and forth about whether or not I should remain anonymous when posting. Mostly because of teaching. I really don't think that the blog is going to get big enough that I'll have to worry about it. However, here's the evidence of my concern if one of my 9th graders stumbles on my very honest, very risqué blog.
I don't have the link on here for that very reason. However, If you message me on Facebook I would be more than happy to give it to you.
**More exciting news: Just Breezies magazine contacted me! They want me to be a contributor to the dating/sex section of their magazine. I'm super excited for the opportunity and can't wait to write some fun pieces. http://justbreezies.com
**I had an article featured in the Huffington Post Blog:
I have had a few pieces published in Paragraph Planet which is a great little website that features nano-fiction. It is a personal favorite format of mine.
Go to the authors page and click on my name to see my poem Syndication in Chicago.
I'm working on a novel called Lies of Lizbeth Dresden. It was supposed to be a fun romance novel. Tell me why it has turned into a painstaking project with lots of emotional turns. Yeah, sounds like me. This might be one I put on hold while I finish the sequel to Grimm and White.
I feel so lucky that I'm doing what I love, even if it's between the minutes. I write on napkins at my part time job waitressing. I assign my student's poems and I write with them. I write when I sleep. Seriously, I dream write a lot. One time I handed a cop the copy of my registration in my glove box. I'm sure he was wondering why there were three paragraphs about a girl with no heart on the back.
Writing is not a chore. It is a gift and I choose to tear open my presents whenever I can.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions, concerns.
Recently I read "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert
Actually I listened to it on Audio Tape whenever I cleaned the bathroom, but ultimately I loved the book. Gilbert warns against treating writing like work. I had to do some self reflecting on this concept. Like, sitting in a room staring at a wall, drinking many glasses of wine, REFLECTING.
Writing is solace and beauty and home. Does that mean that it isn't also work?
Writing is the love of my life. IF creativity is the spiritual energy that she speaks of, please don't flitter away from me for saying this ... Writing CAN be hard. It is also my best friend. I spend most of my Saturday and Sunday afternoons holed up in a coffee shop, jotting down ideas and sending out stories. However, that doesn't mean that sometimes the process isn't tiring.
It simply isn't always THE BEST TIME EVER. Constant rejection is never easy to swallow. Writing is putting yourself on the edge - always. You are stepping in front of a battering ram, with the knowledge you will be knocked down, time and time again. Gilbert talks about her wildly successful novel and all the bad press it got. Some people hated her novel. Some people loved her novel, but ultimately she wrote that novel for herself.
When I write, I cut my fingertips open and spread my blood across the page like water color paints. I think Elizabeth Gilbert would abhor that statement. IT is fairly dramatic and Martyr-esque. I can admit that. Yet, sometimes I re-read my own words and they are a knife to the gut. How many break ups have I relived from my own dang stories? Memories fade, but I have captured events from my past and tucked them away, so they can never be forgotten. Why?
Publishing is something that wasn't important to me until about a year ago. I wanted the world to read "Grimm and White" because the idea had struck me so brightly. I wanted people to experience the world in my head with me. I didn't feel right keeping it to myself. I wanted people to know my words, to gulp them down like a pill. Publishing had not always been the goal. It was just something that I did.
I started writing bad poetry because Emily Dickinson had so prominently displayed her words on the page, combined they were a crystal ball into her elusive life. I knew that most of my favorite novelists had been tortured artists and yet, I wanted to write despite this. Sylvia Plath. Edgar Allen Poe. All died with a plume of sadness surrounding them. I don't think any of them were writers for the money. No, I think they wrote because they had to. I was in the third grade when I started writing in a prolific nature. It wasn't because I wanted to be famous or because I wanted to make money. I wrote because I was wringing out the sponge. I was taking the pain and putting it on paper. I was taking my joy and putting it into words.
I think that the best writing is done with good intentions. I wrote "Grimm and White" because the story had stuck to every inch of me and putting the story down on paper was the only way to lessen the weight I was carrying. Then there are the stories that I can tell were never meant to exist. They are the 'ego' stories. The 'look what I can do' stories. The 'look at my degree' works.
I was afraid to write fantasy in college because there was a stigma surrounding the genre. Some people were snooty, plain and simple. Now, looking back, I'm really fucking proud of myself for never censoring my ideas. Even when I knew that other people were judging me, I didn't hold back. There was the style that they were accustomed to. That's fine. I'm so thankful for my college education. I don't believe I would be the writer I am without it. I had to learn when to take people's opinions and when to say ... You are a different kind of writer. I don't need my words to be clean. Sometimes I make mistakes and it isn't out of laziness. I write to show people my soul and my soul isn't always beautiful. It is jagged and confused. It is the reflection on the ground when it rains, both bright and dim. My writing can be cliche because isn't that what life is, ONE BIG CLICHE.
Maybe it doesn't matter why I write. It seems silly to question something that I have done for twenty years. I just have to. Some days it feels like work and other days it feels like oxygen. I just have to do it and so therefore I do.
When I wake up I think about writing. When I go to sleep I think about writing. My words are my heaven. They are my hell. They have helped me get through the worst times of my life. I am not the tortured writer. However, I have grappled with its importance within my everyday routine. Where should I place writing on my list? I think anyone who knows me can tell you that answer. Writing is first. Words are first. I'm going to be late to dinner because I'm writing this blog post.
Now that I am finished reflecting or now that I really have to go because if I don't I will be the kind of late that is extremely frowned upon, I have realized the only answers I found may not really be answers. They are questions disguised in a sentence format. I'm tricky like that.
I've had to much coffee. And I really have to go now. Yet, I don't feel like I have found an end.
Writers, the ones who consider the word a part of their blood, don't have endings.
So this is not "The End ..."
It's a story that will continue in some way, some time, again and again.