Or no time BUT the present? I live in a constant state of frantic hurry, chasing moving targets, burning myself out. I take pictures so I can look back, forgetting to look around in the moment. I nearly did that today, even after my son counseled me last night to slow down.
Take deep breaths. Clean out the clutter in my mind.
Time to Celebrate!
I published the final episode of Summer, According to Sam today. The book was finished years ago, accepted for publication, and run through the entire editing process. So I could just shrug and not make a thing of this.
But it is a thing. A thing that made me weep with joy today … and I nearly didn’t tell anyone. I nearly didn’t write about it. If you’ve read the story, especially the final episode, the reason for this post will be obvious to you.
I’ve been doing some thinking, the same way Sam did.
Time to Make Amends
It’s easy to forget that people love me and that it hurts them to watch me struggling. I’ve made no secret of my fight to find joy again, to even want to be here at all. I’m not sorry for that, because I believe people need to know they’re not alone. I believe in being truthful. The part I regret is how rarely I share my good days. Days like this one.
Writing is therapy to me, so naturally, I do it more when I’m low. Even now, I’d rather get up and do something else. The house is half-decorated for Christmas, there are dishes in the sink, and I still have two stories to update on Vella.
But here I pause. And I say thank you. Thank you to my readers, to my family, to my herd, to my Father. Thank you for good days and second and third and fourth chances.
Sometimes I can’t even find the words. There’s an app for it, and I can’t answer the question.
Existential crisis comes the closest.
I’m so tired of being put in boxes. So many of them I built myself. But others have been assigned to me. Small, female, weak, less than. Tempered with apologetic “this is God’s design” lies. And sugar-coated by descriptions of what “good leadership” should be like. Demeaning me further by explaining what I don’t need explained.
I know who and what I’m supposed to be better than anyone can and should tell me. Or I did. But now I find that I keep skipping song after song after song in my playlist, looking for this one. Because it sounds like my soul.
I didn’t even have to look for it today. I opened the app, and there it was. Like it was supposed to be my theme for the day.
I’ve been considering quitting. Or at least taking a break to see if I even miss what I think I love. But the other side of my soul answers with a different message. The very next song that came on.
So I’m staying here. Staying me. Unapologetically.
Or more appropriately, about the inspiration for him. Summer, According to Sam is almost complete on Vella, and in celebration of publishing episode 43, I promised some pictures that inspired one of the scenes.
First, I have to share this post from my old blog, showing a book Gabe and I made together. I’m not sure where the images are stored, so it’s easier to link it.
The costume mentioned in author notes:
The jungle, just because:
He was under the trampoline with the water hose running on it, creating a jungle for his toys.
And my older son, Noah:
This photo was taken when he was twelve. I used a different one from the same session and changed his eyes in it to use it for the cover. He didn’t like having his picture made and was at his limit when I took this final shot.
Together, Noah and Gabe inspired Sam. They’re 25 and 19 now and still two of my favorite three people in the world.
As promised to my readers at Kindle Vella, here are some pictures from my recent visit to the location that inspired the book.
Before reaching Sam’s neighborhood, you pass what used to be a peanut field.
No crops today, and part of it has now been sectioned off with little flags, which makes me think housing may be going in. That’s mind-blowing to me. I doubt the residents are pleased, based on the “get out” vibes I picked up farther inside.
On my childhood visits, I could tell we were nearing Granny’s house when it suddenly got dark in the car. In book two of Sam’s story, this shadowy entry to Sam’s neighborhood is called The Tunnel.
It’s been about 20 years since my last visit, so I should have expected changes. But they still shocked me. Access to the lake has been mostly blocked, there’s hardly any open space, and there’s nowhere to park unless you live there.
But the biggest shock was seeing Curly’s house.
And to be clear, this is the house, not the shack. In reality, there was no shack.
While I was taking these pictures, a man came from the house next door to talk to me. He might have been planning to run me off, but once I told him of my childhood fondness for Curly, we ended up having a good chat. Turns out I’m even related to him by marriage.
Meeting him made the rest of the trip possible, as he allowed us to park in Curly’s yard and walk down to the lake.
The girls would have gathered right here to study the map when they were about to enter the trail.
The Spiders Arachnids
I remembered (incorrectly, though vividly) the creepy crawlies we upset on the path when we were kids … as spiders. But this trip revealed that they were actually arachnids.
Daddy longlegs, to be specific, also known as harvestmen. I can’t decide which name is scarier.
While we were walking the trails last week, I pointed out “the plant” to my family, telling them I figured the spider encounter was probably exaggerated in my memory, and therefore, in the book as well.
Then I touched the plant, and several of these critters skittered out.
Definitely creepy. And definitely daddy longlegs. I do think they’re what we upset when we were kids, but these were bigger and fewer than I recall.
Most of my childhood visits were earlier in the year, during summer break, like Millie’s visit in the book. This probably explains the difference in the number and size of the creatures.
Maybe the ones from my youth had recently hatched and were huddling together under the leaves? I would have recognized the full-grown version of them, but seeing a busted nest of baby ones could easily have confused me.
Not Sam, of course. The book will get an edit now. But me? Um, yes. I was running, and not an expert on eight-legged beings.
Exaggerated or not, it’s unsettling to watch them emerge.
I don’t know what the plant is, but it was much taller than I recalled, another possible result of the different time of year. Not to mention the decades that have passed. I remember their leaves overlapping, covering the ground between the trees. It’s also possible this isn’t the correct plant, but where I could see the shorter growth, it looked the way I remembered it.
The lake, though the water level was pretty low, looked about how I remembered it. In the book, it’s where the kids went to “wade” and ended up taking an unauthorized swim. Another scene inspired by actual events.
I can’t say much about this next shot, because I’m not finished publishing the story. But it’s here for later. And it’s just a hint. Farther down the beach, that soil looks a bit different.
The next shot doesn’t really display anything from the book, but when you see a bird catch a fish while you’re carrying a long lens, you take a picture.
I loved this tree, but more than that, I loved walking behind my son, one of the two inspirations for Sam, and my little brother, the inspiration for Kevin.
And this final image shows where the gang carried the canoe down to the lake.
That’s it for this visit. I’m planning to make another trip, and if so, I’ll try to get some shots of Granny’s and Sam’s houses. Tell me in the comments here or on the actual Vella if there’s something you were hoping to see.
Remember when I said I was an enneagram 1? You probably don’t, so here it is. If you don’t want to look back at it, I’ll sum it up by telling you that I was frustrated by a situation at re:generation, and I was convinced that my “oneness” made it a particularly cruel hurdle.
Well … turns out I’m not a 1. In fact, I’m so not a 1that when I start acting like a 1, it’s a red flag, warning me that I’m not healthy.
Danger! Funk Ahead!
So what’s my real number?
My real number kinda blew my mind. The enneagram seven is nicknamed the enthusiast. The one is the reformer, and it’s where I go when I’m unhappy. So basically, this means that when I’m not healthy, I go from loving everything to trying to fix everything.
I go from sprinkling glitter everywhere to vacuuming that messy crap up. I go from Phoebe to Monica. And speaking of Monica …
She pretty much sums up how I feel about my new number. I don’t want to make everything perfect. I want to make everything beautiful. But when I’m low — and I’ve been really low for a long time — I Monica my Phoebe. Hence, the confusion.
I tested as a 1 because I was just that unhappy.
Don’t get me wrong. Healthy ones are amazing. One of my best friends is a one, and I adore her. But a seven acting like a one is a miserable creature.
The New Me
I’m getting in touch with my enthusiasm. There are days when the words are flowing, and I dance through the house in celebration of a well-written episode. But holding on to that is difficult. Sometimes I still try to put my 7 characteristics in a cage. The chaos of my creative heart terrifies me.
I worry that I’m too much and too little at the same time. Can I really write fantasy novels and enjoy myself for a living? Isn’t that too self-indulgent? Shouldn’t I be the queen of clean?
Do I dare to allow myself to get used to feeling joyful?
I’m currently on step 7 in re:generation. I didn’t plan to wait and share my real number on this step. But it works out great, because step 7 is to follow. It’s time to put the things I’m learning into action. No more going in my cave, no more seeking out the comfort of loneliness. I need to move forward, to be brave, and do new things.
And it’s really hard to move forward when you don’t know who you are. I’ve been trying for so long to be what I thought I had to be, that I don’t know how to let myself breathe. I feel guilty for my good days. That doesn’t sound very enthusiastic, does it?
There’s joy in the juggle, if I will allow myself to be the scattered, creative person God made me to be.
Last week was rough. I feel less like I’m on a roller coaster now and more like I’m on a seesaw. Still up and down, but not nearly as exciting.
Re:generation is hard. Inventory is hard. I thought I had knocked it out. On the first week of inventory, I got a hotel room and plowed through it. I even wrote insightful little summaries about each category. Then I found out I had skipped an important step. I had to face some hard stuff–stuff I didn’t even want to think about, let alone share with my group.
I hadn’t knocked it out. It had knocked me out.
Back to Start
Inventory again. Not where I wanted to be. Instead of getting another hotel room, I visited my childhood church, intending to approach my new problem using an old, trusted method.
There used to be these huge cement tables behind the building. Once when I was young, I spent hours lying on my back on one of those tables, asking God for help. I had nowhere to live and no idea what I was going to do. I think back to that day when I’m at my lowest, and I remember feeling like God met me there. So it seemed a great place to visit.
After packing up all my re:gen stuff, I drove to Providence, Texas. I needed a date with God, lying flat on my back. I brought a plastic table cloth, because the last time I had seen the tables, they were covered in weird fungi and droppings from the trees. Nothing was going to stop me climbing up there.
And this is where the tables used to be.
Now I’d driven more than an hour to lie on a table that didn’t exist anymore. I stood there and cried about it for a minute, feeling rejected. The same way I felt the last time I was there. I showed up for my date, but where was God?
Not knowing what else to do, I went around the building, searching for a place to sit that might mean something to me. But I’m allergic to wasps, and they seemed to be in all the cozy places. Alone, no EpiPen, hardly a signal on my phone, I wasn’t risking getting stung.
I took a few pictures as I wandered.
I love taking pictures, but it wasn’t what I came for. So I kept walking, eventually into the cemetery. Providence is a small community, so I knew a lot of the names on the headstones. It was nice, and a little sad, to think of them. I loved this broken headstone that used to say GONE HOME.
Reading Into Things
I wondered if God was telling me to go home. I couldn’t do what I came for. I wasn’t really trying to accomplish anything specific anymore. Just reminiscing, trying to make some use of what felt like a pointless trip.
And then I came across this, and it brought me to my knees. I knew Carolyn and Buddy were there, because I had been to their funerals. But this was the first time I saw their headstone.
They were the answer to that prayer I prayed the day I was on the table. Carolyn came and got me and took me home with her.
A New Perspective
Maybe not completely new. I’ve come to the conclusion many times that my story isn’t one of abandonment, but one of rescue. It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re listing every horrible thing that ever happened to you.
This was the reminder I needed. I’m not doing this alone. I can’t see the full plan yet, but there is one. God showed up for our date, just not where I thought He would. His plan was better than mine, as usual.
I wasn’t supposed to lie on a crusty table, focusing on feeling lost and alone. He wanted me to remember that when I’m flat on my back, I should be on my knees. Still looking up, but also forward, because there’s something good on the way.
I made a little wildflower bouquet for Carolyn and Buddy, and then I spent some time right there, thanking them both for what they did for me. And I’m still processing why I also felt like I needed to apologize to them. I’ll be working on feeling like a burden for a while yet, I’m afraid. But at least I know I need to work on it.
Leaving it Behind
The last picture I took is a reminder to myself to put the past where it belongs. I have to dig some stuff up in my recovery process, but I don’t have to dwell on it. I certainly don’t have to relive it. It’s time to let it go.
I’ve always been a pencil person. I have a power sharpener by my desk, and I zip a pencil in it every time I so much as jot down an item on my grocery list. Then back into the pencil cup it goes, tip upward, one yellow beast in a bouquet of wrist stabbers.
Mistakes get erased. No dull-tipped pencils, and certainly no pens, ever cross my desk. My eraser dies before I run out of graphite, so I keep a pack of extra erasers handy. Because what good is a pencil if you can’t erase mistakes? What good is any writing utensil if it betrays you by revealing your imperfections?
This is, of course, why I have 15 novels sitting here unpublished. When I was in therapy, I told my therapist what I felt my headstone should say.
Here lies Rachel.
She nearly did so many things.
On Valentine’s Day, my friend gave me a gift. A journal and a pack of glitter gel pens. I’ve had some of these babies before. I doodled with them, admiring the slick way they lay down ink, turning the page to watch the sparkles. But I’ve never really written anything with them. Especially not in a wonderful new journal! It’s even my favorite color!
So what was I to do? Every pretty pen I’ve ever owned has dried out, wasted, owned by the wrong girl. A pencil person, unable to shine. Girls like me don’t deserve shimmery ink. Do we?
Trying Something New
Deep breath. It’s just a pen and a journal. The pages can be torn out. I worried that I would have bad penmanship or get behind trying to record a scripture while the pastor was talking. I worried that the ink would bleed through the page. I hate that. I might misspell a word. The horror.
But, wielding a glitter pen, I committed words to the page. And I made a mistake. I knew it! No eraser. I needed to start over, maybe tear it out and rewrite all my notes later. Then it occurred to me that I could take notes in an ugly notebook, in pencil of course, and then transcribe carefully, slowly, into the journal. That’s when I realized that my perfectionism was rearing its ugly head, not only making me feel horrible, but causing me to miss the sermon.
So I stopped. And I wrote this verse, because it was from my re:generation book, and it had hit me just right.
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
I wrote it in green glitter and then added some red, which made it look like a bad attempt at making it 3D. But I didn’t care. I’m free. Flawed, but loved. I went back to my sermon notes and scribbled out my error, and it made a nice little glittery blob on the page. Man, you could really see the sparkles in a blob! Beauty from ashes.
Glitter Pen Girl
I’m officially a glitter pen girl now. I still try to turn my mistakes into perfect round spots, or even better, hearts or flowers. But I’m not so worried about erasing everything now.
The re:gen book asked for my first impression of the inventory process. Usually, I find narrowing down my response difficult. I can write thousands of words in minutes, but summaries slay me. Today, not so much. In a word:
In a few more words:
NO NO NO NO NO
I don’t want to leave it there. Someday, some unsuspecting person might fall onto my blog. Maybe they’ll find it because they’re starting re:gen and want to get an idea what it’s like. Maybe they’ll find me when the group starts whispering about inventory. And I don’t want to scare anyone away. Heck, I’ll probably be the one who sent them here. Having survived, I’ll look back at this post and chuckle wisely. So let me clarify.
Just kidding. But seriously, I’m not looking forward to this. And to make matters worse, a storm came through last night and caused us to shut down the church on the very evening we were supposed to be trained to do inventory. Trained and encouraged, which I NEEDED.
If you’re an enneagram person, let me explain by giving you my number.
If you’re not an enneagram person, let me explain what it means to be a one. I need order. I need to know how to do a thing correctly before I can do the thing. I’m driven by a need to make things better. Straighter. Cleaner. PERFECT. Hence, the re:gen journey. I’m doing re:gen to work on perfectionism. And now I’m supposed to start the one part of the experience that kept me from signing up long ago … without training?
I’ve never felt so connected to Bill Murray in my life.
If you haven’t seen Groundhog Day, I judge you. Don’t worry, I’ll beat myself up for it in my inventory.
I’m working on my need to be seen. In today’s Bible Recap I read Psalm 104. The author is unknown, which I’m realizing even as I write this, helps me to make my point. Tara-Leigh mentioned in the audio portion that this Psalm, all about creation, makes her think of creatures on the bottom of the ocean that we won’t ever see. Creatures God made for His own enjoyment.
They may never be discovered and appreciated by humans.
I experience so much joy when someone reads my work and engages with me about it. I was afraid for a long time that if I ever released my books, I would be disappointed by the lack of interest and interaction they brought me. It kept me from sharing. You can’t be disappointed by an outcome if you never let it come out!
But now I think I’d be okay with remaining as obscure as a tiny, glowing snail on the bottom of the ocean. No one has to find me as long as God enjoys me.