Inspired By.

Guess what, guys?
It’s my birthday! 
And what a good birthday it’s been. Hubs surprised me with a HUGE book – a complete collection of e.e. cummings. Does he know me well or what? Anyway, I’m going out for dinner with my closest loves tonight [at least my off-line ones, because I really do love all of you a whole lot], and I can hardly wait. But first, I wanted to wish you all a happy weekend, and ask for a wee little birthday present in return. Instead of me giving you a list of love-links today, can you give me a link in the comments to the best article or blog post you’ve read this week? I’ll share my own list of weekly favorites tomorrow, but for today, I’d love to see a few of yours.

Have a wonderful weekend – one full of life, full of color, full of wishes come true.

xo,
B.

Guest Post | Why I Write.

Friends, today’s amazing guest post is brought to you by the lovely Rachel McGowan. Please read, please share, please comment. Please tell me I’m not the only one that cried while reading this. Thanks, Rachel!

~

I sat down to write today in my favorite coffee shop, like I usually do. I was rushed, like I usually am.  I plugged in my headphones, found my favorite writing music, and opened up a blank page. Next to me sat two women, in their mid-thirties. This is not an uncommon sight to see, especially at a coffee shop. We women love our coffee dates with our heart friends.

Because I’m a curious person [and an avid people-watcher], I positioned my computer so that the pair was in my direct line of vision. Their mannerisms were fascinating; their laughter was like a magnet. I knew these women had a special connection, though I couldn’t figure it out.

Then one of the women opened a journal. It was a simple blue spiral bound notebook, probably found on a sale at a grocery store. She began to read.

As soon as I heard the word “addiction”, I turned off my music.

[And yes, I sat with my headphones still in my ear, with no music playing. A good creep learns this trick early on.]

I stopped what I was originally writing, and just listened. I was stunned by what I heard.

The woman sat in the middle of this coffee shop, and read the story of her struggle with an addiction to alcohol. She sat with her friend and simply spoke the cursive words written on those pages of that journal. She read the words that described the pain she felt when her own mother was diagnosed with cancer, and how that pain led her to strong vodka. She described the moment where she was so drunk she missed her mother’s funeral. She said she was “crushed by a self-imposed crisis” and was “so unaware of God’s presence because of the way alcohol made her feel.”

She said she had gotten more DUI’s than she thought possible, and that she never had enough self-control to give up her keys when she was inebriated.

She described the way it felt to be in jail for manslaughter.  She said that you don’t know pain until you know what it’s like to kill the innocent little girl in the other car. When she got to the part about the father of the little girl reading a letter to her in the courtroom, I got chills.

Page by page, she described her nightmare of a life to her friend across the table. There were tears and laughter and an appropriate use of air quotes. Her friend cried with her, laughed with her, and listened to every word she spoke. The pen marks were sharp knives in the air, clawing at every piece of flesh they came into contact with. My heart was shivering.

When she finished, the friend who had been listening the entire time had tears in her eyes. She looked this woman in her eyes, and she said, “Oh girl. You are reading my story exactly.”

And then the friend told this woman about hope.

This friend spoke of truth, of freedom, of sobriety. She sang over this woman the melody of a life un-bound by chains, un-clouded by addiction.

The bond these women shared was based on nothing that could be seen on the surface. It wasn’t that they worked together, or shared the same love for Thai food. They had both drank the poison of substance abuse, and had both seen the ramifications of letting that addiction take over their life. They knew what it felt like to choose alcohol over literally anything else, no matter the cost.

This friend helped the woman take a step out of the darkness. She spoke life.

And I think this is why I write.

Our stories have more power than we will ever be able to understand. It is a level of power that is frightening.

It’s chilling to think of the lives we can affect by writing down our histories and reading them to the world. It is terrifying to share our pasts, to write them out, to bare our souls.

There is so much depth to our imperfect cursive handwriting, or the periods at the ends of sentences, and the world is desperate for that depth.

It is an unexplainably beautiful thing to let down that wall, to expose our insides part by part., and the world is desperate for that beauty.

It is a disservice to humanity if we silence our own stories, even when they are ugly. To speak them is to speak life, and the world is desperate for that life.

To let people see our soul comes with a crippling wave of emotion. Even though it means we might change a life, it is still the scariest thing in the world.

But it is tragically scarier not to.

Photo 219Rachel McGowan is a California-born 20-something writer, reader, dreamer, joke-teller, car-dancer and shower-singer. She loves learning from people and is passionate about the power of story and seeing good come from gross. Rachel works with college students and drinks diet cokes back to back to keep herself sane. She often writes about love, sex, singleness and relationships — and the awkward joys and struggles of them all. 

Poem: Since Feeling is First

Life is funny sometimes. We don’t realize that there are many people, some friends, some perfect strangers, that are living amazing, poignant, beautiful, brave stories… Maybe what I mean to say is that life is funny all of the time, but we’re blind to it.

But for today, open your eyes. Because life is funny, short and sweet, terrible and beautiful. And worth reveling in.

~

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
- the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other; then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis


- e. e. cummings

Favorite Book of All Time.

It’s the beginning of October. It’s a time for cider, bonfires, comfort food, sweaters and boots. And it’s time for The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ve told you before about my obsession with this novel, but here I am. I’m about to pull it off my shelf, crack it open, fall in love with it all over again.

I can’t explain it, but something about fall reminds me of this book and makes me want to read it, so I’ve made a tradition of it. Perhaps it’s because the first time I read it, it was fall. Perhaps it’s because the novel begins with a beautiful October day in Chicago, much like the one I’m enjoying today. Perhaps it’s the symmetry bittersweetness of golden leaves as they fall to the ground and the colorful, heartrending love story of Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire that commands me: stop. read. relish.

So if you haven’t read it, now would be a wonderful time to start.
If you can narrow it down to just one, what is your favorite book? Do you have a book that you read over and over again? Do you reread a certain book at a certain time of year? Am I crazy?

Inspired By.

Guilty pleasure confession: I’ve seen it about a million times now, but I love the first Sex and the City movie. [The second movie was horrible – a floppy storyline that was thrown together as what I hope will be a last ditch effort for another $300,000,000.]
Now go ahead. I know you want to.
Groan and roll your eyes and say, “Bethany, I thought you had better taste than to watch those heathens!” all you want, but I’m a sucker for a writerly heroine, any story line related to relationships and romance, and the fashion and glitz of a thriving metropolis like New York City. So, I watched the movie again last night, and googled “Love Letters of Great Men, Volume I.” Turns out, it was a fake book that Carrie was reading at the beginning of the film, until a Mr. John C. Kirkland realized that women round the world were now dying to get there hands on such a book, and so he compiled it. Genius.
Amidst my googling I found this site, and couldn’t resist sharing this note from the lovely Man in Black, Johnny Cash.
A sheet of lined yellow legal paper isolated on white.
Transcribed:
Hey June, 
 
That’s really nice June. You’ve got a way with words and a way with me as well. 
 
The fire and excitement may be gone now that we don’t go out there and sing them anymore, but the ring of fire still burns around you and I, keeping our love hotter than a pepper sprout. 
 
Love John
The beauty of a handwritten note cannot be denied. There’s just something about it that feels so raw and tangible in a way that digitized communication will never be able to emulate. I know that when I’m feeling stuck and disconnected to my writing self, the best thing I can do is close my laptop and grab a pen and my notebook.
So my plea to you, instead of my usual Friday post of lovelinks, is short and simple and sappy to the core.
Write  a letter. To yourself, to your love, to your friend, to your future, to anyone that might need it. Be poetic and passionate enough to scrawl your thoughts, messy and unhindered.
Leave something to be found when you’re gone.

I’m Not the Story Weaver.

I am a writer. Consequently, my general outlook on life is a series of archetypes, themes, plots, summaries, critiques… there’s a lot of pre-writing and re-writing going on in my head, and there’s no switch to turn it off. All the world is a stage, you know.

But it’s the endings I’m not good at. I’m a total sap when it comes to endings. Mostly, I envision that the story actually comes to an end, a resolution. I often realize much further on in my writing and reading that this is a false assumption.

Lately, I’ve begun to wonder about our fascination with the fairy-tale ending. We began by expecting it, and now we’ve become disillusioned with it, naturally.

But where does the fallacy lie in “happily ever after”?

Is there no such thing as happiness?

Or have we made a bad habit of ending the story at the wrong part?

So the prince and the princess get married… and???  What comes after that? What exactly constitutes the “happily ever after”? A fairy-tale prince or princess would never be unfaithful to one another. The prince would never be a deadbeat dad. The princess would never become a bitter, self-conscious old woman that drives her prince and her children crazy. They would never lose the castle, the talking livestock, and the pumpkin carriage in a faulty investment. They would never bicker or become alcoholics or abuse their kids. They would never die of terminal illnesses.

And yet, here we are. We live in a dichotomy of pure joy and pure tragedy. We find love and we find hate. We can’t get rid of the evil stepsisters and the villains; quite often we are our own worst enemy. We make the best decisions we’ve ever made, and then we screw it up.

Maybe it’s the ambiguity of it, the elusive “happiness” that leaves us confused and frustrated and empty when we try to live in the “ever after.” The brokenness wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did, and we can’t see how it could ever be right again. We have no pre-text for what to do when we screw up, so the “happily ever after” plan is eradicated.

Or maybe it’s that we’ve totally abandoned the possibility of redemption.

I yearn for the easy answer, the redemptive ending. I wish I could tie the strings of all our loose ends together so that our lives would never unravel as they so often do. I keep finding myself trying to weave it all together, tightly, to make it mean something, to make our stories and our selves whole again.

I think it’s better if I just stop trying to rewrite the thing. Life is beautiful and gripping and horrific and triumphant and tragic enough on its own.

I’m not the Story-Weaver. I need to just keep reading.

Inspired By.

Writing my guest post for Ally this week really got me thinking about relationships. Not just marriage, but all relationships – to people, to art, to work, to a habit, to an idea. We commit ourselves to a variety of different things, in word and in deed, on a daily basis. Don’t you think? And if you really think about it, your actions, your schedule, speak volumes about what you care about most. If you’re looking back on this week and thinking, hmm… that’s not what I want to be committed to, then you’re not the only one.

You may be tempted to spend your weekend as a continuation of your work week, scrambling like mad to finish a project.

Don’t. 

You may be tempted to avoid any form of work all together and park yourself in front of your television.

Don’t. 

You may be tempted to cling to the period of your life when things felt so much easier than they do right now, when you were a carefree college kid without any real responsibilities.

Don’t. 

Put down your smart phone.

Step away from your inbox.

Turn off the TV.

Let go of the if-onlys and the I-wish-I-weres.

Read a few of these links and be inspired to commit yourself to something good. A healthy relationship. A life full of adventure. A habit of learning and going and doing.

~

She’s Married to Amazement.

I love this quote from Darrell about seeking direction versus wisdom:

“I can seek direction which is circumstantial, or seek the wisdom that will help direct my actions in all circumstances.”

Possibly the most romantic stay-in date that I’ve heard of in a long time.

Rob asks the question: what’s more important, a happy story or one that evokes strong emotion, even if it’s depressing?

Commit to story. It’s A Matter of Life and Death.

Confession: I’m an NPR addict. [Like you didn’t already know that…] This story, like so many that I hear on a daily basis, had me in tears and reminded me of this post I wrote a few months back.

So what are you committing to this weekend, and what are you letting go of?

Happy Friday, friends. [And happy fall.]

Poem : How Many, How Much.

every thing on itI heard a story on NPR this morning about one of my favorite poets, Shel Silverstein. His family is publishing a new collection of his poems this week called “Every Thing On It,” which I can’t wait to purchase.
Did you read Shel Silverstein growing up? His Where the Sidewalk Ends was one of my favorite books as a kid. This is one of my favorite poems from that book that I still remember word for word nearly 15 years later.
How Many, How Much.
How many slams in an old screen door? 
    Depends how loud you shut it. 
How many slices in a bread? 
    Depends how thin you cut it. 
How much good inside a day? 
    Depends how good you live ‘em. 
How much love inside a friend? 
    Depends how much you give ‘em.
 
I also love this Silverstein poem. Do you have a favorite?

Inspired By.

Today I’m thinking about authenticity. Writers have the ability and responsibility to wield words and create meaning. We can construct whole worlds of fiction and fantasy. We can give artistic flair to the everyday human experience.

And so I think to myself: whatever we do, whatever we say, however we act, should be authentic to who we are. A story, however edited and rewritten, should ring true. So I strive to live a life authentic to what I feel, and what I believe to be true. But, by my nature and because I am human, I succeed marginally at best. I get caught up in constructing authenticity. And then I lose it. I give in to the belief that this is what they’ll want to read from me or this sounds better than the way it really happened or if I told them what I really think, they wouldn’t take me seriously.

Do you ever do that, rearrange your thoughts around what you believe people will respond to?

Do you blog for the bandwagon? Post about things that you believe will initiate comments and page views and tweets, or do you blog about things that really matter to you, the writer?

Do you edit your thoughts and words at the expense of your true voice?

Do you edit others at the expense of the truth in their own words?

On the one hand, you write for your audience. You write to give them a thought, a moment illustrated, a word of encouragement, a benefit from your experience. But we have to strike that balance between sharing our gift with others and exercising our gift simply because it is what we are called to do.

I’m convicted by the thought that when we write, we should not just write about writing, but about our lives.

As a very wise professor I know recently explained,

Art is not about art. It’s about everything else.

My blog is a blog about writing, but it is also a blog for my writing.

We can lose that authenticity and integrity for our work in a variety of ways, whether through writing about writing to avoid writing truth, or editing our thoughts and experiences to garner attention.

Here are a few posts from the interwebs that I appreciate for their authenticity.

The best reflection out of the many that were shared over the past week.

What good is a relationship without confrontation and commitment?

Is it right, or does it just feel right? How my generation deals with morality.

These bloggers are willing to share their true stories. I took the plunge and shared mine yesterday. Share yours. The world needs to witness it.

The Bravest and Most Beautiful Affair. [Heard rave reviews about the author‘s presentation on the importance of poetery at Story Conference today.]

And finally, a friend and I are starting a writer’s group in the Elgin/Chicago Suburbs. Are you interested? Join here.

Have a good weekend, friends.