Friday, February 1, 2019

Creative Confidence - Creative Living

I am a confident writer.

I love writing and it's one of the few things I do that I feel really good about. I know how to write well. I can recognize my strengths and weaknesses. I can generally tell when something is working and when it's not. I can pull out the good constructive crit from the bad. I can revamp a scene that isn't working right. Give me a prompt and I can generally write anything from it.

But,

I am not a confident artist.

This year I'm trying to make some serious attempts to improve my drawing skills. I'm deliberately drawing something every day, trying to work through my strengths and weaknesses. And it is paying off.

Here was my drawing on the first day of January.


I didn't use a model and it shows. The nose has issues, he hair, neck, everything about it really. People have said in the past that my art is stiff, and this is a prime example of that.

Here's my drawing (of me) at the end of the month.


A definite improvement, especially since I was using a model here. I did stop shading for the last several drawings though, so I could focus on the form and shape rather than the shading. I'll go back and shade those others ones later.

A big part of my drawing journey is unlearning all the bad techniques I was taught in various classes by not-great teachers and relearning the right ones, which takes a lot of time, research, and deliberate practice.

And it's hard. It's demoralizing at times. As I learn more about drawing and techniques, I recognize more of my flaws and any bit of improvement is harder to see. My mind is too focused on the bad rather than seeing the good.

And I'm not really happy with the style. I want to create a style that fits who I am. Something a little less "realistic" than what I'm currently doing.

Something like some of my artist heroes have. (All art used with the permission of the artists)

Umbrony has a fantastic, gorgeous style.


The way they do hair is ESPECIALLY fantastic and the colors are powerful and vibrant.

Gorillaprutt has such a beautiful variety of styles, and he does animating too! I have some of his art on my computer as a sticker currently.


Lady Red also has a powerful and distinct style, even when doing different styles of art.




These are the kind of artists I admire. They have a command of the medium and a distinct style that identifies their brand. And it's flat out gorgeous art.

It was artist like these that inspired me to try and get back into art and get strong with it again.

But admittedly, I hate sucking.

I know one of the reasons why this is so hard to stomach. It's because of the fact that I'm a confident writer. Writing comes easy for me. It's effortless in a lot of ways.

Drawing takes effort. It takes patience. It means developing a thick skin, being vulnerable, continuing to push, and refusing to give in.

I'm not used to that. I don't remember the times when I had to do this with my writing. I don't remember being vulnerable, pushing hard, refusing to give in, practicing deliberately, taking advice, and growing.

I don't remember when I struggled with writing, even though I know I must have. I just know that I'm confident in it.

And really, it's unfair to compare the two. Writing and drawing, while both creative, are drastically different skills. Developing them uses different techniques. But it's hard to remember that when I'm drawing a mediocre face one minute and writing an effortless flash fiction piece the next.

Also, comparing where I've come with my drawing and where I've come with my writing isn't very fair either.

For one, I've been writing a lot longer working on the same skills.


This was the first printed draft of my first novel (Later called The Stolen Guardian).

I wrote this while in college, early 2000s. It went through nearly 20 drafts, five full rewrites from scratch, beta readers, writing groups, a professional editor, six years, and I STILL published it when it wasn't that great. It has since been taken down and I'm rewriting it AGAIN.

Book two of this series was written in about eight months, went through a rough and tough writing group, and I still love reading every single page, whereas I can't stand reading the published draft of my first book. In the rewritten copy of the first book, the first chapter is better than the whole rest of the old novel!

But it took PRACTICE to get to this point. It took YEARS. It took DEDICATION. It only became effortless after I PUT IN THE EFFORT. And I often forget this.


This is where my art is so far. Considering it's only seventeen pictures over the course of a month, that's pretty significant change. But I have a hard time seeing it because I'm comparing a literal lifetime of writing practice to one month of drawing practice. 

And it's not like I haven't improved from my ORIGINAL drawings. 

Blat. My first picture of Izzy. And I went from this. . . 


To this. . . 


In about the same time I went from my original draft of my book to what I'm working on now.

But drawing humans, something I have NEVER done before with any form of regularity, is a whole different ballgame and it requires a lot of unlearning. So it feels like starting over. It feels like regressing.

But this is what growing is. It's pushing through even with all the doubts. This is what I need to do in order to succeed.

Lesson learned. Don't compare your struggles to your successes. Instead, struggle through it and eventually they will become your successes.

Here's to a whole year of tons of art!

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Rush of Limelight - Professor Life

So a student asked me the last time I wrote an essay... and I realized that the last time was when I finished my Master's thesis like. . . six years ago. So I thought, "Can I actually write an essay? Can I really expect my students to write essays when I haven't done so myself in ages?"

So.... I wrote an essay. Blam.

Enjoy this deep literary analysis of Limelight by Rush.

~~~~~


Rachel Meenan
The Class
The Date
The Professor
The Rush of the Limelight
It has been said that music is a universal language. It speaks to everyone who hears it, regardless of age, language, gender, religion, or culture. The best music speaks universal truths while still being pleasing to listen to. Many rock bands in the 60s, 70s, and 80s found this magical middle ground, grabbing listener’s attentions with pounding guitars and rhythmic drums, while making commentary on the crumbling world around them. The band Rush, formed in 1968, was especially good at consistently creating songs that fit this criteria. No song did this better than their 1981 hit “Limelight.” Rush’s “Limelight” is a powerful song that uses symbolism and language, literary references, and musical techniques to subtly comment on the hidden psychological hardships of the life of a celebrity.
Rush has always been known for its brilliant use of language, and Limelight is no exception. In the first verse, the song speaks of the “gilded cage” that celebrities often find themselves in. The cage is both a device to put the celebrity on display, like a bird or other exotic pet, and a trap, keeping the trapped person in the public eye, unable to escape. The bars are gilded in gold, blinding the viewers from recognizing that the person they are idolizing are indeed trapped. The next verse then references barriers that the singer must put up to protect themselves from literally falling apart. Both the bars of the gilded cage and the barriers put up to protect oneself are interchangeable, making the cage both trap and sanctuary. The bars of the gilded cage are both frightful and necessary for the singer to stay sane in a world that puts them on display.
Limelight also uses brilliant phrasing to point out the difficulties of public life. In a later verse, the song says “Living in a fish-eye lens/Caught in the camera’s eye/I have no heart to lie/I can’t pretend the stranger/Is a long awaited friend.” Because of the nature of public life, public figures are always in the spotlight and their every word and movement is under intense scrutiny. The wrong word or gesture can be devastating for one’s career. At the same time, celebrities are expected to be affable and friendly with every fan they meet. In the modern world of social media, where every small independent band is expected to have a Twitter account, this is even more true, and fans expect even more personal connection with their favorite celebrities. But as the song suggests, expecting a celebrity to greet a fan as a “long-awaited friend” when they are, in every sense of the word, a stranger, is grating on the psyche. To some public figures, such as Dan Avidan from the comedy band Ninja Sex Party, it is oddly isolating. He says in an interview with Mel Magazine “There’s some kind of strange loneliness that only comes from having a hundred interactions where people are just like, ‘I love you. I love and worship you,’ and then going to your hotel room and lying in bed alone for hours” (Avidan qtd in Raviv). The lyrics of Limelight perfectly illustrate this, and the singer even mentioned this odd disconnect on the band’s Under the Covers II album where they covered the song. Limelight perfectly encapsulates the many ways celebrities are seen less as people and more as objects of desire.
In the same sense that Limelight uses symbolism and language, the song also references literature by one of the greatest verse writers in history. In a late verse, the song says “All the world’s indeed a stage/And we are merely players” referencing a famous scene from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” The original literature, a monologue spoken by Jaques, a lord that has been removed from his place of power and forced to hide in the Forest of Arden, declares that all men and women have many parts to play in the world of human interaction, from the moment of birth to the moment of death. His speech comes after the Duke notes that there are people out there with worse fortunes than their own, though it is widely ignored by the company he keeps, suggesting that the speech was more for the audience watching the play than it was for the characters surrounding the speaker. The poem is often referenced out of context as one of Shakespeare’s greatest poems, and is recognizable even by those unfamiliar with most of Shakespeare’s work.
While the original attempts to show that the roles humans play in their lives are all very similar, Limelight twists the original meaning and instead calls all people “Performers and portrayers/each another’s audience/outside the gilded cage.” The specific reference to the gilded cage, previously referenced as the barrier trapping, shrouding, and protecting the celebrity, separates the “average” person from the public person, as the people who are “each another’s audience” are “outside the gilded cage.” At the same time, by saying that they are “each another’s audience” the singer is also suggesting that the celebrity recognizes the “performances” put on by fans who idolize the celebrities they meet. Seeing the fans as putting on their own performances helps separate the celebrity from the isolated world of a public person and encourages protection of the psyche. By referencing this famous speech, the song draws attention to the literary quality of its lyrics while also setting a specific tone as they explore the rest of the symbolism. The musical quality of the song should not be overlooked however.
The key a song is sung in, either minor, major, or a mix of the two, is crucial in setting the tone for the song’s message. Typically darker tone songs are set in minor key, which evokes the feeling of sadness and drama. Limelight though, for its dark commentary on the world of celebrities, is sung in fast paced major key. This musical choice is an overlying reference to the performance expected of celebrities. Even when discussing a dark part of their lives and looking at a hardship, they are expected to be happy and excited as the major key song suggests. Additionally, this also masks the dark theme of the song, so if a casual listener was just listening for the music and not paying close attention to the lyrics, the message behind the song is lost. This reflects how often the difficulties of celebrity life is lost on the average person. It is a common belief that money and fame brings happiness and that those who have it have no reason to be sad or depressed, when in fact, fame and money are often the causes of loneliness and depression. But because of this common belief, celebrities are often looked down on for expressing a need to exercise self care or seek therapy for depression or mental illness. They are expected to put on a brave face and be positive even if they are suffering, and the musical tone of this song reflects that physically. This plays with the literature, symbolism, language, and other references to make a complete song that touches deeply on the difficulties faced by celebrities.
Rush’s Limelight is a beautifully written song that uses symbolism and language to subtly but powerfully reference the problems modern celebrities face when put on display for fans. The connection to Shakespeare’s speech from “As You Like It” adds a special depth to the lyrics and message of the song. The musical qualities, both with the major key and with the use of guitar and rock is able to show, physically, how celebrities must wear masks to protect themselves from the destructive power of a public life. Overall Rush successfully creates a song that speaks both for and to celebrities who are trying to keep themselves together while still maintaining a career and enjoying the life they built for themselves.
~~~~~


Anyone who steals this to try and use in their will die a PLAGIARISM DEATH. Blam.

Friday, March 2, 2018

New Zyearth Short Story - Golden Guardian - Author Life

Hey everyone! Guess what! I published a new short story!

This is Izzy's introduction short story, called Golden Guardian.


Izzy Gildspine is a member of the Defender Army, hoping to someday earn the title of Golden Guardian. But before she can do that, she must earn her Gem’s specialty magic... and time is running out. So when the Master Guardian himself approaches Izzy and fellow Defender Roscoe Wendigo with a means to activate her Gem, Izzy immediately takes him up on it. But Izzy quickly discovers that forcing a Gem’s activation is no walk in the park - and now her life is at stake, as well as Roscoe’s. Izzy must find the courage and strength to pass this trial and earn her place as a Golden Guardian... before the trial takes her life.

You can buy this story on Amazon here, or get the short story free here, for Kindle or Epub.

Not sure if you should check out this story? Let me give you a preview. Here's the first chapter of Golden Guardian! 

-----

No one truly knows how difficult the life of a soldier is until they choose to become one. The training, the knowledge, the battles, even the social structure. . . no form of media ever successfully paints that life. It’s impossible to understand until you’re in it.
Many people simply can’t handle it. I can’t say I blame them. I chose this life, and there are still times I want to leave it. The pressure to succeed consistently wages war with the feeling of inadequacy. And it’s very easy to feel inadequate in this job. Especially when expectations are high, and you aren’t meeting them.
Problem was, I wasn’t meeting expectations.
And I had to. I was training to be a Golden Guardian. Third highest ranked soldier in the Defender military. I had to meet expectations. There was no other option. Only I didn’t know how.
The Master Guardian did, however. And he was determined to ensure I met expectations.
Nothing could have prepared me for his plan to make that a reality.
The day he took action started out fairly normal. I had taken up residence at a long gray table in the Defender Academy’s main cafeteria, trying to force down a plate of pasta and fruit. The sun glared at me, burning through the golden-brown quills on my head and heating my fur, reflecting its hateful rays at my white Defender uniform.
White. The color for someone who hasn’t yet gotten their Gem specialty. Someone who hasn’t activated their magic yet.
Someone who isn’t meeting expectations.
As I poked at my lunch, the room filled with other Defender students and soldiers. Many still wore the plain black uniforms of a Defender in training, though most of the rookies were still in boot this time of year. Most others wore colors fitting their Gem’s specialty. Teal accents for the elemental users. Navy blue for shielders. White accents for healers.
I glanced over at the healers. They were mainly support, dropped into packs to bolster shielders, elementals, and cloakers, aka “the real soldiers.” Healers were absolutely necessary to make the Defenders work, but they weren’t well respected. No one really thought of them as real soldiers.
I was glad I wasn’t going to be a healer. I was supposed to be an elemental, according to my family’s long pattern of Gem specialties. I couldn’t be a proper Guardian as a healer.
I chewed my lip, turning back to my food. Well. Perhaps that wasn’t entirely true. My father had been a healer and a Guardian. One of the best around in both categories. But he was a fantastic soldier. Strong in mind and body. Sure, I passed the necessary physical tests to be a soldier, but I was no body builder. I needed an element.
I couldn’t be a healer.
But I was taking too long to get my element. I was the only one in the whole room wearing pure white. It was so hard to ignore the stares the others gave me. Me, a future Golden Guardian, still without power.
“Hey, Izzy!”
I turned, perking my catlike ears up, and caught a glimpse of my adoptive brother and partner, Matt Azure. His white, blue-tipped quills and catlike ears bounced on his head as he crossed the room, and his teal accented Defender uniform was hard to ignore. He lightly tossed a tray full of food on the table and pulled up a chair across from me. He grinned. “Mind if I join you?”
I stared at him. Matt had earned his Gem specialty in high school nearly thirty-five years ago, at an age before most people were even bound to their Gems. One of the few benefits of being Black Bound, though Matt would likely argue that it was the only benefit. Far as we were concerned, being Black Bound only came with ridicule and fear from average Zyearthlings and impossible expectations from Defenders. Black Bound individuals were rare, and the benefits and drawbacks of being one were not well understood.
It did mean we had to learn Gem responsibility early. Most Zyearthlings got their Gems at age twenty. Matt had miraculously bound both of us when he was six and I was four after an event in my childhood I’d rather not explore.
Imagine explaining to a four-year-old how to take care of something as precious as a Gem. The magical object their life was now permanently bound to. The whole reason why I could be fifty-five years old and still look twenty, and why I’d live close to four hundred years.
The exact problem keeping me from meeting expectations.
Matt waved a furry white hand in front of my face. “Yoo-hoo. Zyearth to Izzy. You’re spacing out here.”
I shook my head. “Am I? Sorry.”
“What’s got you so broody?” Matt asked, sneaking a bite of pie off his plate. “That’s not like you.”
I shrugged. “You should know.”
Matt swallowed. “Thinking about your powers again.”
I poked at my pasta, but didn’t say anything.
Matt shifted in his chair, his ears turning a soft pink. I couldn’t tell if he was embarrassed or just sorry for me. “You’ll get there, Iz. Just give it time.”
“I’m sick to death of giving it time,” I said, flipping my ears back and crossing my arms. “I’m the only one of my year still wearing white. It’s ridiculous.”
“Well,” Matt said. “Not the only one.” He pointed to the cafeteria’s entrance.
A tall, gray stag with bronze antlers and copper-colored hooves walked into the room and glanced around a moment before heading for the lunch line. Roscoe Wendigo. Just as Matt said, he wore white.
My face grew hot and I turned away, pulling my ears down. “Oh, Draso. He’s not looking at me, is he? Tell me he’s not looking at me.”
Matt grinned and waved at him. I snuck a peek and caught him waving back.
I glared. “You idiot.”
“I think he likes you,” Matt said, leaning his head down.
“Shut up,” I said, though the blush grew from my cheeks to my ears.
“And I mean likes you likes you.”
“Shut up, Matt.”
Matt picked an apple from his tray and bit into it. “I’ll refrain from commenting on my observations about whether or not his feelings are reciprocated.”
“You better or. . . or you’ll regret it,” I snapped at him.
Matt’s grin increased. “Niiiice comeback.”
“Do you have to be such an ass?”
“Ooo, language!” Matt said, waving a finger and tsk, tsk-ing with an exaggerated snobbish look. He lowered his gaze. “Seriously, Iz. Why are you so nervous around him? You’ve known him since high school. We used to hang out all the time.”
“That was. . . before.”
Matt smirked. “Before you realized what a handsome young male he was?”
“Before he became a Captain,” I shot back. “He’s brilliant in everything he does. I’m sure he’ll end up the leader of some top pack once he gets his Gem powers. He’s got clout here.”
“And you’re going to be a Golden Guardian,” Matt replied.
I leaned down, bending one ear back. “Not if my powers never kick in.”
Matt frowned. “Izzy. . .”
“This seat taken?”
I sat straight up and looked to my left.
Roscoe stood there with a tray in his hands, smiling at me. Gosh, that handsome snout. Those big, shining eyes. Those soft, felted ears. That gorgeous voice. . . I clutched my fingers tight against my palm and forced what I hope was a decent smile.
Matt leaned back on his hands. “Not at all! Have a seat, Roscoe.”
I shot Matt a glare.
“Thanks.” He took a seat. I prayed he wouldn’t notice my blushing. “Seems like everyone’s intimidated to sit next to the Golden Guardians, huh?”
“Future Golden Guardians,” I mumbled.
Roscoe shrugged. “All the same to me.” He took a bite of salad. “So, no luck on your powers yet either, huh?”
I frowned. “No. Not for my lack of trying.”
“What power do you want?”
I shook my head. “If only I got to choose.”
“Your family history kind of chose for you already anyway,” Matt said. He turned to Roscoe. “Traditionally Gildspines have been either healers or elementals, and it always skips a generation. Izzy’s up for elemental if history stays true. She even has her dad’s Gem.”
“Nice,” Roscoe said, grinning. “You guys will match well.”
“I dunno,” I said. “Matt’s wind powers allow for so many excellent fart jokes. I doubt mine will do the same.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “Funny.”
Roscoe laughed. “She makes a good point.” He picked a little at his salad. “Though I do wish our powers would come through. Sometimes I feel so useless.”
I frowned. You’re not alone, Roscoe.
“Master Guardian, sir!” someone shouted from the front of the room. “Defenders, attention!”
As one, everyone in the room stood and saluted, a quick sweeping fist across the chest, heels snapped together. We all turned toward the front door.
Master Guardian Lance Tox entered the room. The leader of the Defender military and our country of Zedric. A rare white wolf, sporting ice manipulation and combat skills to match, Lance was probably the greatest Master Guardian ever to walk the halls of the Defender Academy.
For Matt and me, he was part terrifying boss, part doting uncle. We grew up in the Defender Academy, doing pretty much whatever we pleased. Lance had indulged all kinds of behavior that most Defenders probably found scandalous.
Matt secretly told me one time that he thought Lance did that because he wanted us to enjoy our childhoods before we joined the Defenders. The life of a Golden Guardian was extremely difficult.
I think he felt guilty for our parents’ deaths and was trying to make up for them.
All that stopped when we officially entered the Academy though. He was still the doting uncle, but he also made it very clear that he was our boss. Our leader. There was no room for shenanigans anymore.
Lance crossed his arms behind his back and glanced out over the cafeteria through the small glasses resting on his long snout. As he scanned the room, he caught my eye.
I took a deep breath, but said nothing.
“As you were,” Lance said, his voice calming, but commanding. He stepped into the room. Everyone went cautiously back to their previous activities.
And Lance kept his eye on me.
“Oh, hell,” I muttered. “He’s coming this way.”
“Defenders,” Lance said, walking up to our group.
All of us leapt to our feet again in a smart salute and a sharp “Sir!”
Lance nodded. “At ease. Roscoe, Izzy, I was hoping I could have a word with the two of you.”
I exchanged a glance with Roscoe. “Uh, certainly, sir. What about?”
“Let’s take it in my office. If you’ll both follow me.” Lance turned to the door.
Matt perked both ears. “Sir?”
“I’m afraid this is a private matter, Matt,” Lance said. “Give us a moment.”
Matt frowned and glanced at me. “Um. Sure. Yes, sir.”
I offered him a small shrug.
“Thank you for understanding,” Lance said, then led us toward the door. A short walk later and we entered his office.
Small, plush, and old, the office sported comfortable wing-backed chairs, a heavy oak desk and walls lined with bookcases filled to the brim with books, memorabilia, and a handful of small statuary, including a foot-tall figure of our dragon god, Draso. His desk held a wire Gem holder, which he dropped his pure white Gem on, and an assortment of papers and computer tablets. All very neat and tidy. All perfectly organized.
It’s a good thing Lance never saw my room. He’d be scandalized.
Lance took a seat behind the desk as Roscoe and I sat in the dark red chairs.
“I know the two of you are worried that you’re falling behind without having your Gem specialties.”
I took a deep breath.
Lance let a little smile cross his black lips. “How would you like to accelerate your training and get them?”
A shot of adrenaline burst through my spine and made my fur stand on end. I had heard rumors about this before. Purposefully forcing a Gem to activate its powers. I didn’t know much about the idea, but what I did know was. . . dark. It was hard. Grueling. Dangerous. And often those that did it ended up in intense psychological therapy after the fact.
But those were just rumors. Right? Lance wouldn’t actually do that. Not my doting uncle. And how could I pass up the chance to finally get my powers? Even if it was hard, it’d be worth it. I needed them. It was the only way to be a Guardian.
“Um. Yes, sir. Absolutely. I’d love to.”
“As would I,” Roscoe said. “Sir.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” Lance said. His smile faded. “This will not be easy. You know this.”
I nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“But we’re up for the challenge,” Roscoe said for us both.
“Good,” Lance said. “Meet me on Lower Beach tonight at midnight and we’ll get started.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. Roscoe nodded and the two of us turned back toward the door.
“One more thing, Defenders,” Lance said, and we turned toward him. He lowered his gaze. “Please don’t tell anyone. Consider this top secret, okay? I’ll explain more tonight.”
That was ominous. Was I making the right decision? “Um. Of course. Sir.”
“See you both tonight.”
We left the room and a shiver ran up my spine.
Roscoe rested a hand on my shoulder, doubling the buzzing feeling in my body. As if the ominous adrenaline spike wasn’t bad enough. I looked up at him.
He frowned. “You okay?”
I rubbed my arms. “Nervous.”
He squeezed my shoulder. “Same. But we’ll be doing it together. We’ll be fine. And we’ll finally get our powers tonight.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Hopefully.”
He gave me one more smile, then walked off, leaving me in the long hall. I watched him leave, still feeling slightly hot under my fur.
I tilted my head for one more cautious gaze at the door to Lance’s office.
Lance wouldn’t hurt us. I didn’t care how dangerous things might seem. Lance would never put his people in danger. Especially not his future Golden Guardian.
             But the buzzing in my bones wouldn’t stop. 
-----
Get the full story today! 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy 2018 - Meenanful Life

Hey guys!

HAPPY 2018!

May it be a bazillion times better than 2017, because heaven knows 2017 was a massive downer. Ugh.

The worst we experienced was a miscarriage early this year.

The best we experienced was feeling the baby move in my current pregnancy. I'm 23 weeks now, and things are going much more smoothly.

Last year, like pretty much ALL years, I had some outrageous New Year's Resolutions.

This year I have just one resolution.

Love. 

Love myself. Love my husband.


Love my friends and family.


Love the wonderful people I've recently found online through some awesome communities.


Love my projects, my writing, my artwork, and the improvement I make in all of them.


Love the marginalized.

Love the people who are hated, feared, and put down for being different. Love those that society has shunned for unreasonable reasons. Love those who feel unloved. Love the people God has brought into my life and learn why He brought those people to me. Because there is always a reason.


Love my enemies.

This is always the hardest one. For one, society tells you not to love your enemies. But society believes that saying you love someone means you condone their actions.

I don't. There are a lot of people out there (and I mean A LOT) who have done bad things... things in the name of religion, their God, their jobs, their business, their stakes, their selfishness... greed, hate, misunderstanding, following-the-crowd thinking, whatever.

It hurts watching them do these things. But I can choose to love them without condoning them. Because being filled with hate is not the way to fix things. Hate only begets more hate.

But Love Wins.

It's going to be a tough year. My husband and I are making the difficult decision to move back home, for the sake of the new baby and because of some severe money issues. We're going to be raising a child for the first time, and in a world that often seems on the brink of breaking. All because of the choice to hate. The choice to hurt others to protect yourself. Too many people in power are making these decisions and there's very little we can do about it.

Except love.

So my resolution is to love. It will not be easy and I will mess up a lot. But I'm going to do it anyway.

Good things are worth fighting for. <3

Love to all of you in the new year.

Balancing Joy with Heartbreak - Meenanful Life

Today is a fantastic day. Today I get to share my joy at the news that husband and I are pregnant. Over twenty weeks! We've been trying for a while, so it's great to finally be able to announce it to the world.



Today is also a heartbreaking day. Because this isn't our first pregnancy.

Earlier this year, we had discovered we were pregnant. We were ecstatic, especially since we've been trying for so long. It was kind of a surprise too, which made it even better.

We were planning to announce the pregnancy on my husband's birthday, right around week 13.

But March 5, when we hit week 12, I had a violent and catastrophic miscarriage.

The day started off normal, though I had been having mild cramping all morning. By 2PM I was having violent cramping and knew I needed to get to the hospital. By 2:30 or so, I had one last violent cramp, pushed something out, and then everything stopped.

Everything. Stopped.

The pregnancy symptoms, the extreme pain, the cramping (which turned out later to be minor labor pains) and everything that suggested I had a healthy baby.

I'm thankful that, while cleaning up in the ER, I didn't actually see any evidence of baby. By that time, we had already heard the heartbeat. Already saw baby's limbs moving in the ultrasound. Had already attached ourselves mentally and emotionally to this growing child.

No one tells you what the emotional response of a miscarriage is like. No one. No books, no people, no pregnancy blog, no one.

It's hell.

The doctor had given me a week off of work. I was kind of surprised by it since I felt physically fine. Honestly, I had felt better than I had in weeks. I had pretty horrible morning sickness. It had been like a long, grueling flu that I had just recovered from.

There was guilt there. I knew I shouldn't, but I felt relieved to finally be out of that flu like state. It was... conflicting.

But the doctor didn't give me a week off for physical reasons. It was for emotional reasons.

I fell into a deep depression. I've never felt that before and while I could understand why people did, I never really empathized with them since I had sincerely never felt it.

This time, I felt it.

If I sat for more than a minute or two without something to talk about or to distract me, I started crying. If I saw someone with a young baby, I cried. If I saw a pregnant woman, I cried.

For my husband and me, it wasn't the "big things" that we'd be missing out on. It was the little things. I would never hear the baby's laugh. Their cry. I would never see them smile. Never feel the grip of their tiny hands. Never hold them in my arms while they slept. I wouldn't know their first word or their first crush. I'd never hang an art piece on the fridge or listen while they told me a story about the monster in the closet.

Those opportunities were gone. Completely.

It was true and utter despair.

I tried everything that week to feel "normal" again. I got a haircut. Ate a big meal. Drank coffee for the first time in months. Cleaned the house that had become a tornado zone during the worst of my morning sickness. Graded essays that had been long neglected.

Packed up the few baby things we already had. Baby's first book (Goodnight Moon). Baby's first outfit (knitted pirate costume). Baby's first stuffed toys (Hubby's cleaned stuffed rabbit).

The baby journal was the hardest.

I'm a writer. I kept a journal about my pregnancy experiences. My husband wrote in it too. We went on little trips and pasted pictures in with hilarious commentary about why we're weirdos. We talked about the struggles of being married, along with the successes. We talked about the names we were hoping to give our children.

But writing that last letter.... the letter reflecting on baby's death.... was heart wrenching.

As much as it hurt, I'm glad it happened when it did. Before we knew a gender and a name. Maybe I can feel confident enough to still use one of the names we had picked.

We were intending to give the journal to baby when they were ready for college. Another thing we'll never get to do.

The one thing we didn't pack away was this.


As part of our birth announcement, we were going to post a picture of our growing family. I commissioned a friend to make this lovely watercolor. It's now framed and hanging on our wall among plushies and other art pieces.

It's a memorial now.

It took quite some time to get back to "normal." Even now I still have minor episodes, and I suspect I'll always have a minor episode on the day of the miscarriage and the day the baby was supposed to be born.

But in all actuality, it wasn't all bad.

I have the greatest support network. Friends stuck by me in ways I never even expected. My mother and my mother-in-law were my solid rocks during this time. The secretaries at my work BOTH prayed for me, both at the Christian school and the public school I work at. They worked hard to get me classes for the fall too, when I had been planning to take it off to raise the baby for the first couple of months.

Hubby's work was especially amazing. Joe works for a car dealership. Car dealerships seriously have the worst reputation ever. People think they don't care about their employees or their customers.

Not so with Hendrick group.

When Joe's boss got wind of the fact that I was in ER for the miscarriage, he not only gave Joe permission to go to me, but practically demanded that he do. Joe was obviously very upset, so his boss even offered to have someone from the dealership drive Joe to the hospital. They gave Joe three days off to help recover from the whole thing and the next time I visited the dealership, his boss gave me a huge hug and asked if I was doing okay. He even prayed for us.

Joe seriously works at the best place ever.

The miscarriage was hard. I'd never pretend it wasn't. But it was wonderful to see, truly see, how much we are loved.

Despite the pain, we decided to try again. To keep trying. That in itself has been an emotional roller coaster, and even now, every little cramp, pain, and minor misstep I feel with this pregnancy has me on edge. We are many more weeks than we were during the first miscarriage. But things can still go wrong and I'm nervous.

But it's nice to know that no matter what happens, we can get through it.

One of the ways I've been able to heal through this difficult time is by writing a miscarriage/infertility story with my characters.

Sami Girsougan

It hurts to write and even to read, but it also gives me an outlet. And since I know others out there have struggled with miscarriage and infertility, I hope that this story will help them to heal as well, as we watch Sami go through the emotional roller coaster of this news.

Sami, like me, has a support network. That is so crucial to getting through difficult times.

I'm very glad I have mine.

-----

One thing I noticed when I had my miscarriage is that almost everyone I've told about it has a miscarriage story, from a woman in my mother-in-law's church choir to the nurse who did my last IV. It's a whole lot more common than pregnancy books or doctors tell you.

If you can and if it will help you, share your miscarriage stories below, and talk about your support network.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

I Teach to Change - Teacher Life

I teach to change the world.

My students come to me saying "Nothing influences me."

And I show them their parents.
Their teachers.
Their peers.
Their siblings.
Their bosses.
Their friends.
Their entertainment.

And I say "Everything influences you."

And their eyes open.


My students come to me saying "My way of thinking is always valid."

And I show them their thoughts.
Their overgeneralization.
Their ego and ethnocentrism.
Their "mine is better" thinking.
Their stereotyping.
Their either/or thinking.
Their assumptions.
Their mindless conformity.
Their bias for or against change.
Their confirmation bias.
Their double standards.
Their logical fallacies.

And I say "Everyone has bad ways of thinking."

And I show them mine.

And I show them how I work to fix it.

And they work to fix their own.

And their eyes open.


My students come to me saying "I'm not prejudiced."

And I show them their prejudice.
Their hate for other races.
Their disgust for other religions.
Their ignorance on other genders.
Their accepting of prejudice thoughts.

And I say "Everyone is prejudiced."

And we recognize the prejudice.

And we fight the prejudice.

And their eyes open.


My students come to me saying "The world is broken."

And I show them love.
Respect.
Beauty.
Words.
Music.
Friendship.
Determination.
Faith.
Hope.
Comfort.
Life.

And I say "You are the ones who will fix it."

And they stare at me.

And they recognize their responsibility.

And their eyes open.


Also--


My students come to me saying "I can't do it."

And I show them their work.
Their improvement.
Their growth.
Their determination.
Their goals.
Their reasons.
Their love.
Their justice.
Their hope.
Their future.

And I say "Yes, you can."

And they do it.

And their eyes open.


And the world is changed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Nightmare Tooth Project - Meenanful Life, Author Life

My greatest fear involves teeth.



Ever since I was a child, I have had this irrational fear that one day, one of my teeth would fall randomly out of my head and I'd be in excruciating pain for the rest of my life.

This is a frequent nightmare for me. Just the other day I dreamed that three of my teeth became horribly loose and I was forced to pull them out, one by one, in pieces, leaving behind their exposed roots, black and rotting in my mouth....

-shudders-

Even just looking at pictures of teeth makes me anxious and disturbed. It has not been fun searching for pictures for this blog entry.

You'd think this would make me obsessed with oral hygiene, but it's had rather the opposite effect.


I do brush my teeth like any normal person, but I definitely fall short at flossing. I'm worried that I'll somehow loosen a crown (this has happened) or a filling (ditto) or that I'll discover some new tooth pain (ditto again).

I pay for this bad habit too, since my dentist visits usually end up dealing with tiny cavities between my teeth. Something that could be fixed with FLOSSING.


But the worst tooth experience of my life was the day I had to get a root canal.

Everyone knows what a root canal is, and everyone has some horror story to share. And I heard every single one of them from work the day before I got mine.

"Oh, you're getting a root canal? My nephew screamed the whole time they did his."

"The only time I hurt worse was when I gave birth."

"It's TORTURE with DRILLS."

As you can expect, I entered my dentist's office in near tears the next day.

Now don't get me wrong. Going to the dentist doesn't bother me. For one, I have the best dentist in the world. She's friendly and kind and interested in me as a person, always asking how my family and work is. She's gentle too and refuses to compromise quality. When we did my veneers on my front teeth, she sent the veneer back THREE TIMES because they weren't absolutely PERFECT. Especially since she knew I had a wedding coming up. <3

Perfect teeth for our big day. <3
But thinking about the pain everyone promised, I couldn't concentrate on that. 

My dentist noticed. 

"Feeling nervous, Rachel?" she asked with her slight accent and big grin.

Staring at the drills, the big lights, the creepy dentist chair (I swear dentist chairs evolved from medieval torture devices) and smelling everything LATEX... I admitted to some nervousness. 

The dentist put down her tools and nodded to her assistant, who nodded back and left the room for a moment. 

"You've been coming to me for several years now, haven't you?" she said. 

"Yeah," I said. "I was nervous the first time too, but you made me feel right at home." 

"And you know that my policy is no pain," she continued. "We don't tolerate that here." 

"But isn't a root canal different?" I asked. 

She shook her head. "Everyone thinks it is. And for some dentists, it is different. It's a long process and not one that every doctor is good at. But a good doctor will keep that pain to a minimum, or eliminate it completely. Now tell me," she smiled. "Have you ever felt pain in my office before?"

I didn't think the tiny pinpricks during the numbing process counted so I shook my head.

"Not even with the extractions?" 

I had had two teeth pulled from my head previously by the doctor's brother, an oral surgeon. It was part of the process of fixing my top row of teeth for the wedding. Both extractions were done at once and the only thing I had felt that day was mild pressure on my gums. They even let me hold the teeth afterwords (there's nothing quite like holding a piece of your own head in your hand.)

But there was no pain. I shook my head again. 

"And do you remember that particularly bad cavity that needed to be really deep?"

I did. It was as close to a root canal as I had ever gotten before. But again, no pain. 

"I know this is a new experience," the doctor said. "But I'm going to ask you to trust me, as you have all these years. Can you do that for me?" 

It was hard to say yes, even knowing all that. My fears dictated my reactions. But I said yes. The doctor smiled at me, brought her assistant back in, and got to work. 


Two hours later, someone shook me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes to my doctor hovering over me. She removed her gloves.

"All done!"

I blinked at her. "What?"

"We're finished," she said. "Your husband must appreciate the fact that you don't snore in your sleep."

That's right. I had fallen asleep. I probed the area of the root canal with my tongue and felt no pain, despite the fact that the numbness was wearing off.

"We'll get the permanent crown in next week, once we get the impressions to them," the doctor said. "You did great. Thanks for trusting me."

And I'm glad I did.

Trust is such a crucial theme in my books. Especially trust in difficult times.

In The Stolen Guardian, Ouranos has to put trust in Matt, someone he's believed to be his enemy, when they face a common enemy together.


In both White Assassin and Tanned Hide, Trecheon and Neil have to put trust in each other to get through the calamities they've created for themselves, even when neither quite knows how.


And in my current work in progress, Brother at Arms, trust is absolutely crucial to getting through the events of this story alive.

Most people say that trust is something that's earned. But that's not always true. Sometimes trust is the only thing keeping you going. It's the only way to survive.

And while putting trust in my dentist wasn't a life or death situation (no matter how much I fear my teeth) it was a good reminder that trust is what gets us going throughout the day.

Yes, sometimes you will put trust in someone and they'll let you down. It's a fact of life and a common occurrence.

But the very act of trusting someone, of choosing to put some aspect of your life in their hands, is good. It's an act of faith. And while it's hard and can be painful, it is what ties us together as a species.

Have you ever had to put trust in a situation that made you uncomfortable? How did you react? Share in the comments below!