Eating Neon Yogurt

One woman trying to have it all... or at least as much of it as possible

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Scars

What’s wrong with your face?

I looked up to find an older woman studying me. She pressed a package of pink pills in my hand.

This will help. It’s Benadryl. She walked away.

I stopped and examined the pills. My face was blistering with the desert heat. Some days were better than others but summers in the dry New Mexican landscape made things worse. As a teenager, I saw a dermatologist who told me to apply Vaseline to my face each day. It didn’t help. I tried different brands of soap. I tried different types of make up. Nothing helped.

In 1996, Bill Clinton visited the campus. As I shook his hand, I saw his face was also a beet red and I recognized it as my own.  I still didn’t know why. I became withdrawn and defensive. Someone would offer a cure and I’d force a smile and gratitude and walk away.

My college years were unkind to my skin.

15 years later, during a visit with my primary care doctor, I mentioned my discomfort and the consistent burning on my face.  She gave it a name. I had Rosacea. She prescribed an antibiotic and 2 weeks later, I stopped wearing makeup. My skin was clearer than it had even been. I still had some scarring along my jawline and my cheeks but the redness dissipated.

My next appointment with an eye doctor, I listed Rosacea on the list of health issues. The doctor took some extra time and then announced that I also had Ocular Rosacea. I was instructed to wash my eyelids with baby shampoo, avoid contact lenses and use eye drops to help with dryness. My eyelids were so impacted that the glands have become blocked preventing normal tearing. I spent my evenings with warm wet washcloths pressed against my eyes. My eyes slowly improved and I forgot all about it until yesterday.

Honey, can we please turn off the fan? Its really bothering me. I looked towards the ceiling and then tried to look as pitiful as possible.

Sure. It’s bothering you? My husband seemed confused. It’s really hot in here and I’m not ready to turn on the AC. He did comply.

In my car, I also realized the AC was hitting my face and my eyes burned and I remembered. I have Ocular Rosacea and I can’t remember the last time I scrubbed my eyelids.

As it turns out, the Rosacea in my eyes have caused more daily issues than the Rosacea on my face. I can no longer tolerate wind. My eyes hurt too much. I can no longer tolerate air conditioning. The breeze feels like sand paper in my eyes. I wear glasses normally and they do help shield my eyes some. I fear I may be in for more medication.

The redness I saw in Clinton’s face was Rosacea.  Now I understand why his complexion seemed so familiar to me. I wonder if he recognized himself in my complexion.

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Author’s Interview: Mike Tapscott - Homeless Heros: Understanding the Soul of Home

Here is my long awaited interview with author Mike Tapscott. I thought it important to add a disclaimer: Mike is my cousin and childhood friend. We come from good stock. This is the first time we have ever really talked about writing as a purpose… maybe even a calling. 

Tell us about your book?

Homeless Hero evolved out of seemingly innocuous question - what is homelessness? Three years ago

I realized I couldn’t adequately answer this question beyond stating it was the condition of a person without a home, which to me seemed akin to saying a sick person is a person without health - not very informative.

The book is my search to understand the true meaning of homelessness. To do this I went to one of largest homeless service campuses in the world and interviewed both homeless individuals and those

who helped them. I spoke with homeless veterans, homeless mothers, social workers, police officers, a chaplain, a priest, and many others. I attempted to go beyond an intellectual understanding of homelessness by peering into the souls of those I met - going beyond the mere details of their stories, to understand how they viewed society, life, and themselves.

Because of this approach, the people being interviewed, in many ways wrote the book and created a mosaic that reveals many surprising themes and yet leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions about those themes.

Who is Bowtie Bob and how did he inspire this book?

Bowtie Bob is my Father. He’s an absolutely wonderful man who is both incredible and plain at the same time, and I couldn’t love or admire him more. When he retired he started working at a homeless shelter and the people there called him Bowtie Bob because he always wears bowties.

When I say the book was inspired by the need to answer the question, what is homelessness, that’s true, but Bowtie Bob inspired the question. I just couldn’t figure out why he would comfortably retire and work for free at a homeless shelter, especially when he told me that he didn’t think he made much of a difference there. This mystery is also addressed in the book.

Tell us your thoughts about homelessness before you started this project?

Besides not having many thoughts at all, only knowing I didn’t know; it scared me. I think it scares a lot of people. That was one of the few things I was sure of at the beginning of the book, that it would appeal to others because homelessness is scary. It’s overwhelming. How do we help that person on the corner? We know it’s wrong that they are there. If it was a 4 year-old-child we would not tolerate it. But it’s an adult, so we rationalize it away – that they choose to be there. But then we have to ask, who would really choose to be homeless? We just can’t wrap it up in a nice safe little package. Further, I think many, if not most of us struggle with feelings of loneliness that homelessness reminds us of.

Even if you are surrounded by people, life is a very lonely experience. It’s so personal that it’s downright alienating at times.

How did those thoughts evolve while you researched these stories?

My thoughts evolved in ways that are too numerous to mention. I’m not trying to promote the reading of the book, but the book is the answer to this question.

I will say, one of the things that surprised me the most was a realization that they, the homeless were helping me more than I was helping them. It caused me to question the entire premise of helping others. And this ties into the very personal nature of life. I think in some ways we are fooling ourselves if we think we are selflessly helping others. Everything is about you whether you like it or not.

But the miracle is when I took this approach, then I was able to help others. (I call this the magical paradox of Ubuntu.)

How did you earn the trust of these people so that you could learn the stories behind homelessness?

Time, enthusiasm, and non-judgment.

Relationships just take time. And many people misunderstand the type of time they need. Often they just need time spent in the same space. They don’t need these amazing moments that corporations constantly try to create with team building activities. They just need people getting used to one another.

To do this I spent a lot of time at the homeless shelter, just hanging out, making small talk, smiling, laughing, crying….

Then there’s enthusiasm. I really love people. I mean I think everyone I meet is fascinating and they know it. They can feel it. People love to talk about themselves when someone really wants to know. And homeless people feel marginalized to the point of invisibility, so they are very open to sharing if they don’t think they will be judged.

Which leads me to non-judgment. I do not judge people and they can tell – they can sense it. I have done so many stupid things in my life that I have no excuse for, that I can’t blame anyone else for the things they do. In fact, I have a great deal of compassion for our frailty both in intellect and morality.

The truth is I had an idyllic childhood with practically perfect parents and I still almost managed to derail my life, so who am I to judge someone else who didn’t have the sort of foundation I had. And the one constant with homeless individuals is family dysfunction.

How did you change as a writer while exploring these issues and people?

This is my third book, although it’s the first one I got published. The first two were great ideas but poorly executed, because they were forced. I learned a lot from the writing of this book. I learned that there has to be a sense of trust in your writing. I learned that you need to become immersed, maybe codependent with your subject. There has to be a sense of insanity to it.

I also learned that writing is a team process. This book was written by the people I interviewed. It was further enhanced by, not only one, but two editors who each had their own specialties. And finally it was written by the support of people like my parents – you are only as good as your environment.

What, if anything, is changing about homelessness and responses to homelessness?

That’s an exciting question! A lot is changing. For the first time since the inception of our country we are starting to think that we can eliminate homelessness. And it’s really the mentality that it’s a tolerable condition that has prevented us from doing so thus far.

Now, two things are starting to happen. One, people are starting to say it’s intolerable that someone sleeps on the streets in one of the riches countries in the world. It’s becoming unacceptable. We are realizing that it’s just plain wrong.

(Rant coming here.) We spend more on our military than ALL of Asia and Europe does on theirs. Think about that. There are children, a lot of children in our country without health insurance and adequate food, not to mention everything else and we spend more on our ability to kill than to help. We, spend 50% more on corporate welfare (assistance) than on food stamps and housing assistance. By the way we spend about 600 billion more on “defense” spending. And I say we because we vote for these sorts of policies. We nickel and dime small programs that help be poor because they might be free loading and keep buying into the fear that we need more military spending. In conclusion, I think people are starting to wake up to that.

Secondly, places like Columbus, Ohio are doing it. They are showing the nation that it can be done. They are eliminating homelessness through radical programs like Housing First where we just put homeless people into houses and then wrap support services around them. Happily and sadly, this approach is actually cheaper than doing nothing. It actually costs more to ignore people on the streets because they end up in our emergency rooms and jails more often, than it is to just house them. Yes, it’s cheaper to house “free loaders” than ignore them. Sorry, I’m not a good person, but I have no tolerance for spending more  of my money to do the inhuman thing.

What comes next for you?

I’m working on two different projects right now. They have nothing to do with homelessness. I get bored with projects and like to change it up a bit. Writing is my passion, but it is also very boring at times.

I’d frankly rather do a poor job on a very different type of project than fine tune the same thing over and over again. I’m not a details person and I am prone to laziness. I have to keep it fresh. I can’t say much about the two projects because things change a lot during the entire process, but one will be an historical fiction in partnership with my father and the other is a raw, fresh look at human sexuality. Like I said, I like to change it up.

What is your writing process like?

Oh god. I’m too new at this to know. I am very metaphysical about the whole thing. I think the process is aided when I let go of control, and instead trust, play, and display a lot of patience.

I have found that I can’t write more than about two hours a day. I get antsy and the creative juices run out.

I need lots of time thinking, drifting, and day-dreaming to refill those juices.

I’ve also found I don’t need to spend more than two-hours a day writing to get the job done. It will get done when it gets done. I often only get to write on weekends, so I may only write two-hours a week and it still gets done.

I don’t edit as I go. I keep the flow going, write too much, and cut later. I cut (well my first editor did) 50,000 words from Homeless Hero. That’s almost another book.

And finally you have to write for the love of writing, seeing your finished manuscript, and not if anyone else thinks it’s good. Pleasing the public is about timing and luck. Write a lot of books and one is bound to be a hit.

You and I are alike in that we don’t have degrees in writing. We write because we have to. How did (or do) you develop your skills for writing and getting a book to a publisher and promote your work?

I do not have any formal training in writing. In fact I flunked out of college, twice. I get better at writing by reading and writing. Read a lot. Write a lot. And to be honest I’m not that good a writer. I trust my subject to carry the book. I do think I have good ideas. So, like a great chief lets the food shine through, I try to do the same with my subject. I try to get out of the way. Now many great writers don’t need to do this because they are so good at their craft. I read many books that I almost read for the pure pleasure of how well the writer writes. That, alas, is not me.

As for my editor…. That’s where the magical approach comes in. I couldn’t afford an editor for Homeless Hero, so I just trusted that, like the rest of the book, it would take care of itself. Then one day I was giving a tour of the homeless shelter where the book is set at and the woman on the tour said, “This place is great. Someone should write a book about it.” And I said, “Well I have, but I need an editor.”

She turned to me, told me she was an editor, and then told me she would take a look at my work. She called me a couple of weeks later and told me she liked the book so much and thought the subject was so important that she would edit it for free.

Now the publishing part is tricky. We self-published. I still think it’s worth the search for an agent and mainstream publisher if you think they might pick up your project. And that is just a matter of sending out lots of inquiries (200 for the books I didn’t publish) to see if anyone will pick it up (no one did). The nice thing about self-publishing is that if your book does well, it still might be picked up by a mainstream publisher and you retain all rights. I’ll let you know when Penguin calls.

Bonus question:

What else do you want other writers to know about the writing process, your work or changing the world?

Take risks. No one wants to read something that’s been done before anyway.

Don’t learn the rules too well. They were written by the people who have already done the thing you are not supposed to be repeating.

Change yourself. You are the world.

And have fun. Please have fun!

Homeless Heros: Understanding the Soul of Home is available at Amazon.com  and Barnes and Noble

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It Runs in the Family - Part 1

I come from a family of over achievers. We are a competitive group of thinkers and academics. We are a family of critical thinkers who value ideas. In the most current adult generations, we have university professors, teachers, writers, and analysts. We are not only competitive with our peers but with one another.  

Today, I introduce my cousin, Mike Tapscott. Mike is exactly 2 years and 2 days my senior and an amazing writer who shares explores the stories behind homelessness in his new book Homeless Hero: Understanding the Soul of Home. 

I will have an author interview soon but I couldn’t wait.

Homeless Hero: Understanding the Soul of Home

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The Slaves Have Names: An Interview with Andi Cumbo-Floyd

I have a treat for all of us! My friend, teacher and writer, Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s long awaited book is out in e-Book and in print. The Slaves Have Names introduces readers to the men, women and children who built her childhood home and cared for generations of children during and after the slave years. I am deeply honored to be featuring this interview with Andi.

Tell us about The Slaves Have Names
The Slaves Have Names is a book about the enslaved community on the plantation where I was raised and my journey to get to know them.  When I was living on this plantation as a teenager, I didn’t hear much talk at all of the slaves who cleared the land and built the buildings that form the place I think of as home.  We had a slave cemetery, but that was just about all I heard about this group of people. So this book is my quest to find out more about Primus, Lucy, Nelson, and the 243 other people enslaved there. 

Before you started this project, what expectations did you have for the project?
Honestly, when I started, I was pretty arrogant. I was seeing myself as a great crusader, someone trying to right a wrong.  I also used that  phrase “voice of the voiceless,” which now makes my skin crawl because everyone - including these people - has a voice. Sometimes, though, people silence that voice or ignore it.  So when I began, I thought I’d be doing justice. 

Looking back at it, what did you take away from it?
Now, I see myself greatly blessed by what these people taught me about strength and courage and power. They showed me that the human spirit is powerful, and they taught me - more powerfully than anyone or anything ever has - how the lingering legacy of slavery has infected my country … and how it has infected me.  I’m grateful to them for these lessons, for my home, and for the way they inspire me daily.  I’m also grateful because their perseverance and survival means I have amazing friends who are their descendants. 

How was this project different form other nonfiction projects you’ve written?
In the past, I have written essays - more idea-led or emotion-based essays. This book is steeped in research: hours and hours of time in a special collections’ library looking at archival documents, days on the road doing research in Alabama, and conversations with descendants and other historians to find out exactly what the reality of life in antebellum Virginia would have been like for enslaved people.  So this book is a work of my head as well as my heart. 

What is your writing process like? How did it morph with this book?
Typically, I write 1,000 words a day on my projects that come from my mind.  I may start with a prompt from a line of poetry - like the work of my teacher Eloise Klein Healy - and I’ll let that line lead me back to my work in progress.  

But for The Slaves Have Names, I had to do a lot of research first.  So I spent a few months getting the materials together - copying archival documents, doing research trips, reading deeply into the history of slavery in the U.S.. Then, I just had to start writing.  I wrote 1,000 words a day, and then I also did a lot of research.  Sometimes, I had to go back and rewrite because of new information, but mostly, I just kept moving forward.  It was - as writing always is - a hard and wonderful experience. 

When did you realize you were a writer?
I’ve always been a reader - a vociferous one - so I went to college and graduate school to become a literature professor.  But in a graduate creative writing class with Ted Gup, I found this love of writing.  When Professor Gup suggested that maybe I should get an MFA in Creative Writing, rather than the PhD in literature I planned. Something about his suggestion sounded amazing, right, good, true in a way teaching literature just didn’t (although I still love to teach lit.) So I went for it … got a second Masters in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles, and I’ve never looked back.   

What’s your next project?
I’ve begun work on two new projects - one is another book of creative nonfiction that is exploring the genealogical history of my family here in the United States beginning with my father’s first American ancestor, a freed “Angolan” slave named Emmanuel Cambow and continuing through the generations to Plymouth where, it seems, other ancestors arrived, up to the generation of my dad’s side that became identified as white and on to my mother’s side of Italian and British immigrants.  Sort of an American story, I guess. 

The other project - the one I’m focusing on most at the moment - is one I’m holding close for now.  I’m not talking about it much yet.  But it’s different for me, and I’m loving it. 

Tell us about Andi Cumbo-Floyd.
I’ve lived all over the U.S. - Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California - and I’ve loved everywhere I’ve lived, but the South is my home.  I’m married to an amazing man who supports my writing with a fervor rarely seen from someone who doesn’t also create art on a daily business.  I spend my days writing, editing, and reading, and my evenings crocheting or cross-stitching … at least in the winter months.  

I adore music - especially music by singer-songwriters like John Francis and Patty Griffin.  I also like really unusual socks. 

What is God’s Whisper Farm?
God’s Whisper Farm is the 10-acre farmette that my husband and I own. For the last year and a half, we have been cleaning up the place - making trails, fixing up the 100-year-old farmhouse, getting a garden established.  Now, we’re building - a coop for chickens, fencing for goats, and a huge barn that will serve as a place for animals and equipment but also a venue for concerts and readings.  

Our dream is to turn this farm into a retreat for artists - writers and musicians especially - where they can come and work, or come and rest, or come and pick carrots.  We hope to break ground on the barn this spring. 
  
What is one question you wish writers would ask you? What’s the answer to it?
Wow, that’s a tough question itself.  I think I wish writers would ask me, “Why do you write?”  I’d find that question so refreshing in contrast to all the impossible questions about “how to.”  There is now “how” for everyone… we figure that out on our own. But the “why” - that’s where the life is. 

So I write because it keeps me alive. It is the place where I work out what I think and feel (to paraphrase Joan Didion). When I write, I feel healthy and alive. I feel like I’ve tapped a place that is the most genuine and honest, the place in all of us that shines bright when it’s not hidden by fear and scars.  I write because it is the truest act I know. 

The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors of My Home is available in print and e-book form. 

Follow Andi’s work at andilit.com. She also has an amazing Etsy shop!

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Dying Embers: An Interview with Adrian J. Smith

Today I am welcoming a fellow writer and friend, Adrian Smith. Adrian’s book, Dying Embers is out December 1st. 

I recently, sat down with Adrian and asked her to discuss her trilogy and the writing process.

Tell us about James Matthews and her trilogy, without spoilers of course!

Without spoilers? Can’t I just say what happens in every single book so that no one has to read it?

Umm…James Matthews is a firefighter who has started to become a bit disillusioned with the job. It’s not what she expected or wanted it to be. Instead of going to fires, she mostly goes to medical calls.

However, James has been to one house fire where she saved a two-year-old girl, Lily. Two years later (where we come into the story), James keeps having recurring nightmares about Lily and the fire.

I should probably mention that James is a woman at this point just to make that completely clear. It is not just a typo. James also has a super-secret lover who probably has more secrets than James does.

The first in the series, Forever Burn, follows James through her nightmares and her struggling relationship. Of course a few more things happen, but that would mean spoilers, so I’ll just shush now.

The second book, Dying Embers, is actually a prequel to Forever Burn. Dying Embers focuses on the start of James’ relationship with her super-secret lover and how all that went down. It’s quite amusing and funny in certain places, but I’m a bit biased.

The third novel in the trilogy is called Ashes Fall (TBR Sept 1, 2014) and takes places eleven years after Forever Burn. I’ve just completed writing that one and am in the editing process. Ashes Fall focusses on James and her furthering relationship with Lily and said super-secret lover. I’m sure that if you read the first book, you’ll be wondering how this happens, so you’ll just have to read this one too. Lily is struggling throughout this book with everything that has happened in her past, as is James. So the third book is far darker than the first one, and the tension is ramped up.

I know that I put James through so much that if she were real she might punch me, or hand me over to

her super-secret lover’s ex-fiancé. (Yeah, wrap your mind around that one, I dare you.)

If there is one character from this trilogy you would really like people to meet, who would it be?

If I had to pick one character from this trilogy to meet, it would probably be Addison or Rob. I don’t know what it is about both of them, but they have a special place in my heart. Addison tends to keep a cool head in the sight of some serious tragedy and she trusts her gut, which is important. Rob, however, is the gayest straight man I have ever known. He can talk and talk and talk and never shut up. I had originally only intended for him to be in a chapter or two of Forever Burn, but he ended up having quite a role in each novel.

Focusing more on Dying Embers, the second book and prequel of the trilogy, how long did it take you to write it and what inspired you?

I think this novel took me 13 days to write. I took a bunch of time (before I had two other part-time jobs) in November of 2012 and typed my little heart away. I’d had the idea for what I wanted to happen in this novel well before I wrote it, so as soon as I was able to sit down and type, it all came out.

The inspiration for this series mainly comes from my time of working security. I worked in tandem with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Central Pierce Fire and Rescue. I saw them at least twice during one shift (more if it was a Friday or Saturday night). I wanted to represent a job that has changed drastically over the years, and one that is often misunderstood.

Firefighters are always heros. I don’t think that I’ve ever encountered someone who thinks that they’re not (unlike cops who can have good and bad reputations). But firefighters rarely go to fires anymore unless they are working in a large enough city to have enough medical personnel. They are often required to train as paramedics or first responders while also being trained in firefighting. It’s just the reality of the situation, and this is represented in James herself.

The emergency responders that I worked with on a regular basis are the ones that inspired the characters behind this story and the situations that the characters go to. I do want to say, none of these characters are actually based on real people, just the situations and jobs themselves

What is your writing process?

I write every day. Okay, well, I try to write every day. If I’m not writing; I’m editing. If I’m not editing; I’m writing. I might not be working on novels; I might be working on shorts, or papers if my instructors decide to have an assignment due. In the world of no classes and no school, I wake up in the morning and edit until noon or one. I always finish the piece or part I’m editing. Sometimes it is one piece, sometimes two. Sometimes my own work, and sometimes it’s for a friend. After editing, I write. I write for hours. When I want to get through a chapter or a certain part before bed, I’ll turn all electronics possible off. No twitter. No television. No Facebook. I’ll turn my music up as loud as is appropriate (my playlist ranges from Ice-T to movie scores to gospel to country). I type as fast as possible. Editing can and will always happen later.

My motto is two-fold: I cannot edit what has not been written, and I cannot improve without continuing and practicing. 

Tell us a bit about the publishing and marketing process.

I will say that it’s been rough and it’s been amazing all at the same time. My publisher is a small press, independent publisher, meaning I don’t sell thousands of books in the first second of release. I love working with the company and the people that my publisher chooses because I do have a lot of say in what happens with my novel.

We generally decide on a book cover after I send in a full manuscript. So the cover process and the editing processes are going on at the same time. While all that is going on, I’m doing marketing for the book and planning out swag and the likes. Once everything has been edited and formatted, the cover is done and the book itself is being printed and sent to the sellers, I ramp up my marketing.

I do most of my marketing through my social media sucks. I’m only every going to claim that I am less than partially good at this marketing thing. I use twitter a lot and Facebook, but I also post a lot of excerpts and writing goods (grammar rules included) on my blog and website. I don’t know if there’s any vast success in this, but it seems to be working for the moment.

What about being published and the book industry in general has most surprised you?

Surprised me? My senior project in high school was on the publishing industry and the different kinds of publishing, so I wasn’t ever shocked by anything in regards to that.

I would probably have to say is the authority people give me solely for the fact that I have a book out.

It’s like suddenly I became a real writer, not just one that piddles around in the dark of night with a computer. People want my advice, they want to hear how I did it, they want to replicate that—and I’m sitting here going, get your own story because mine’s not all that cool!

I do also think that a bit more of that authority comes because I do have a publisher to back me. While my publisher is small press and I can guarantee most people probably haven’t heard of the company or the other authors there, it still lends to that authority I was talking about. People ask me about query letters and sending their work into publishers and agents because they assume I’ve been through the same process and can share in the experience. That, however, is not necessarily true.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a new series called Spirit of Grace. The first novel, For by Grace, will be released with Supposed Crimes, LLC in June of 2014. I’m in the process of writing the sequel to that book called Fallen from Grace. I’m also writing a book that is yet to be titled. This one has an almost two-hundred year old witch and a seventy-year old one-quarter vampire—they both tend to get in a lot of trouble.

I’m also co-writing another novel (because I’m insane) that’s about werewolves in an entirely dystopian world.

I’m also editing about three novels (at least I think it’s three). Ashes Fall, the third and final in the James Matthews trilogy is being edited—it’ll be released September 1, 2014. I’m editing For by Grace which will be released June 1, 2014 (it has one more round before it’s done!) I also co-wrote a novel this year that is coming out sometime next year. We’re in the process of editing that as well.

In the plans, I think I have to more novels in the Spirit of Grace series. An infinite number of novels with the witch and vampire serial. And I’m sure that my co-writer and I will continue our partnership. It’s just way too much fun not to!

What is your non-writing life like?

My non-writing life? Is there such a thing? I read for classes. I write papers (wait, that’s writing).

Crocheting to relax, piano when I’m angry, and singing when the moment strikes. I often am found at my favorite bar: The Gingerman. At least two times a week, I show up and have myself a wheat beer. I am an animal lover. I have three cats (Elliot, Seeley, and Rusty—Elliot is on loan to my mother), and I recently just adopted a dog with my significant other. We named her Caprica, and she’s a pitbull puppy.

Other than that I work a total of three part-time jobs. Luckily writing is one of those. I’m also a freelance copy-editor, so I take on at least one novel a month when school is in session. I’m a part-time minister, who loves my job. I’m also a full-time graduate student hopefully graduating in May. So I really don’t have a lot of that little thing called time.

Tell us two random things about yourself that might shock or surprise us.

Well I don’t know how much it’ll surprise some people, but two things. I’m absolutely in love with pumpkins—year round any time I can get ahold of them, I keep them. Secondly, I have a Muppet phobia that plagues me more often than it should.

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Adrian’s new book will be available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, BooksAMillion, and Kobo.

You can follow her onTwitter @AdrianAJSmith and Facebook: Adrian J. Smith. She is also on Goodreads Adrian J. Smith

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Thoughts on All Saints and Loss

Today I marked my 10th Reformation Sunday… maybe my 11th. I have lost track of the exact year I joined Bethany Lutheran Church. This year, it means something different. This is merely the week before All Saint’s. I feel the need to have a ritual. This is more than a desire. It’s more like a primal nagging to ritualize the loss I feel. Other than coffee at all times, Lutherans don’t seem to have many of these rituals. As a Catholic, I would have lit candles for my dad. As a Jew, perhaps I would have had said Kaddish. I have read about those overcome by grief who tear at their clothing and cover mirrors. I admire this. However, I am Lutheran and we seem to be somewhat lacking in this type of demonstrative emotion. We are a stoic people. My paternal side seems to have passed that stoic gene down many generations. It appears to be part of my DNA. I don’t see the need to complain about much. This feeling, however, seems more in line with a passionate completive nature.

This is proving to be a rough season.

All Saints next Sunday and we will remember those we welcome and those we lost. Then comes Thanksgiving. Since I was around 9 years old, we celebrate most holidays with Dad’s sisters and brothers and my cousins.  Not including birthdays and Father’s Day, this will be the first major holiday without my dad. Almost. My parents’ 45th Wedding Anniversary is a few days before Thanksgiving.  I planned to mark the grief with a tattoo 2 days before we leave for Colorado. I am a poor planner and haven’t actually been quoted a price or even seen a design. I may need to postpone this particular ritual. 

Almost nightly, I ask for a sign. I’ve received them before in earlier times of change.  When I turned 30 and decided I was mature enough to join a worship community, I took my grandmother’s Bible from my fireplace mantle and opened the cracked black leather cover. I opened it to a passage that welcomed me back to God:

My father’s house has many rooms.

I knew I was welcome to come home. I would be safe and my room had been prepared for me. I was Lutheran and home.

There have been times when God led me and I followed in doubt. Somewhere along the path, I began to see God’s hand painting the canvas. I was home.

Now, I ask for a sign about my calling and word that Dad is home and I haven’t heard or seen it. My eyes may not be focused. Perhaps, my ears are plugged up.  I hear other things, though. I see words meant as encouragement from kind loving friends and yet, I try to block them out because I’m uncomfortable receiving this type of attention. I do not write in order to receive pity. I write for other reasons: I need the words and the structure to process my grief; I want to show my world to others in the hopes that something touches someone. 

Somewhere deep within, I wonder if my words are my calling.

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In Memory Of…

originally published on 05/31/2012

Cancer…. there, i said it.
I’ll say it louder… CANCER.

I hate it. Cancer introduced me to a type of suffering I should never have seen. Not at 13, not at 14 and not at 15.

I was 13 when i first saw her. I was curious but afraid. She was so different and she had a reputation for being difficult and very intelligent. I was afraid of her. I couldn’t understand why she was so pale and so short and how her fine hair was so orange. Up until then, I had always been the smallest in my class. While I stood 4 ft 9, Julie was, at most 4 feet tall. Her skin was translucent. I avoided any eye contact. Then next year, I found myself in 2 of the same AP classes with this other… strange child. That first day, Julie came in to our English class and quietly approached me. “Can I sit here?” She nearly whispered. “Sure.” I watched her sit. That year, we developed a kind of acceptance for one another. Julie would sit next to me in the classes we shared. She wasn’t allows around though and before long her absences became more frequent. Once, Julie was gone for nearly 3 weeks. When she returned,she sat in her regular seat and I saw a clear tube running from her nose down her cheek and slipping into her shirt. Julie’s iridescent lime green eyes met my stare.

"I have a feeding tube," She explained.

I nodded.

"I have stomach cancer." Julie continued.

I nodded.

"What did I miss?" we reviewed where she had left off and where the class was now. This was our thing. We’d slowly walk to class if I saw her in the hallway. I’d get her assignments when her illness became too much for her to attend class. One day, in the middle of a lecture in English, I looked up to find Julie staring off - not responding to anything or anyone.

"Hey, are you ok?" I poked at her. "Julie?"

An eternity later, she turned to face me and shh slowly shook her head no. I asked to escort my friend to the school nurse. The walk to the office took much longer than it should have. Julie shuffled silently. I slowly walked along side of her. We go to the nurse’s office and a receptionist met us. “I’l take over from here. Thank you for bringing Julie.” She took my friend by the arm. “Please return class.” I watched them disappear in to the office and turned around. I walked back to class and sat down
unable to focus on the assignment. This became my new responsibility. I was allowed to take Julie to the nurse when it was necessary. By the end of winter break, things had changed. Julie took me aside. “We’ve decided that I’m becoming too sick for school.” she stated it so matter a factually. “I might be able to come back but it’ll be awhile. Can you still get my assignments?” I agreed. With in a few weeks, it was clear that Julie wasn’t coming back.

One evening, the phone rang. My dad handed me the receiver. I’ll never be able to forget that conversation.

"Hi. Its Julie."

"Oh! Hi!" I was very surprised.

"I am calling because I have to talk to you and tell you something." her voice was so calm.

"I’m done. I won’t be back to school. Thank you for helping me . I don’t want to have any more treatments for my cancer." I just listened with out saying anything. "I have had over 200 operations in my life. I was diagnosed at the age of 2. In the past 3 months, I have had 20 operations. I am done. I just don’t want to do it anymore." Julie seemed to be asking me and not telling me.

"Ok. You don’t have to do it anymore." I knew this was ok. "you’ve done enough."

"No one else at school wanted to be around me." she explained. "I haven’t always been nice."

"What?" I didn’t quite grasp that concept. "You’ve suffered a lot. You’ve been nice to me."

"I guess so. Thank you for being my friend." and then she hung up. Just like that. It was over.

About a month later, I was walking to class and there was this rumble of voices. People seemed to be looking at me. I can’t remember who told me but Julie was gone. She had passed away at home with her family near by. Her funeral was just a day or so away. I can’t remember the
conversation but I know her mom told me that I was Julie’s friend and that she was always talking about me at home. i was very surprised. I really didn’t feel like I knew her as well as I should have. I went to her funeral and saw her in the open casket. She was blue and her hair was even more shocking orange.

I kept her obituary clipping & i still have it today. I know exactly where it is. For a while, I tried to do little things in remembrance of her but I didn’t feel like I had the right to.

That was a bad year for me. I lost an uncle that same year to cancer.

Flash forward to 2012. I am nearly 41 now and I’ve been contemplating shaving my head to benefit St Baldrick’s Foundation. God works in very strange ways. A few months after I first saw a news story about St Baldricks, a friend suggested I take an online writing class. I did
and met Andi Cumbo. who is planning to shave her head next month to show solidarity with those who are fighting the fight. Now I find I am haunted by my friend’s memory.

I’ve never been one to sit in silence when something needs to be done. So, I am doing.

On June 30, 2012, I am shaving my head to show my support for children with cancer and to raise  money for pediatric cancer research. Please click on my link below to learn more and to donate.

http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/participantid/570069

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Carrying St. Christopher

originally posted on 05/18/2012

I find the contents of my purse an obsession. This week it is even more so.

I have:

  • A size 4 pull up
  • A small package of wipes
  • my wallet
  • advertisements for gluten fee cakes and other products
  • a sample of very expensive gluten free salad dressing
  • a book of stamps
  • a toddlers hair brush
  • A dried corn necklace
  • a baggie of crayons
  • an asthma inhaler
  • pain pills
  • tummy meds
  • a post office receipt from sending Flat Stanley back to Colorado
  • and…. this is what has created my drama….a medium size piece of Communion Bread from services yesterday.

How did the Body of Christ end up in my purse? Good question, I could
make the case that my parents named me after St Christopher- the
Bearer of Christ - St Christopher who carried Christ upon hs
shoulders. Somehow I doubt that my parents intended for me to carry
the Body of Christ in my handbag next to my 2 yr old’s extra diaper.
The short of it is that last week, I started not eating gluten. My
theory is that gluten has been eating away at my digestive system and
has been the cause for the pain that comes when I least expect it.
This change in eating habits has gone relatively smoothly but it is
much more complicated than I anticipated. Gluten is found everywhere.
Not only in breads, but also in certain brands of canned tomatoes,
soups, and rubs for meats. Gluten is literally everywhere. And then
there is the delemia found myself in yesterday- my 1st Sunday gluten
free. We went to church and then I realized that our Communion Bread
is not gluten free. I like Communion. So, up I went with my husband
and young daughter. The Pastor came by and gave me “the Body of
Christ”. I looked at it for a moment and realized I couldn’t eat it.
Now what? I didn’t have time to think because here was the Communion
wine. I drank it and palmed the small piece of bread in my hand. I
walked back to my seat and did the only thing I could think of: I
placed the bread in my purse. All evening and most of last night I
couldn’t stop thinking about the Body of Christ in my handbag. I
couldn’t just throw it away. That would be sacrilege. Right? I
couldn’t eat it because it had gluten in it. I couldn’t give it to my
husbad to eat and it didn’t seem appropriate to give to my 2 year old.
So there it is yet today. I have become like St. Christopher my
patron. I have this duty to be respectful of Christ. I wish I knew what
that was though. Eventually, the Body is going to get smushed up and I
want to avoid that. I’m considering a ziplock. I wish I had thought to
properly store this piece of Bread but I didn’t. I just couldn’t get
past the fact that I may have committed a mortal sin or at least a
venereal sin- if I were still Catholic. I haven’t considered myself
Catholic in at least a decade but old habits are hard to break and I
find myself worried about my soul. I am thankful for a loving God who
must certainly understand my hesitancy in causing myself more pain
and how torn I feel storing a piece of the Lord as I have. Thank
goodness, I’m Lutheran.

I did manage to email a contact at my church to ask about a gluten
free Communion option but neglected to explain why I was still helping
St Christopher. Perhaps this is some kind of test and know I wonder
what I can learn form this. I could use the bread to nourish the birds
and other God created life. I would just need to find the most
respectful means to feed the animals. My garden might be just the
place with the new early spring life blossoming.

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originally posted on 05/23/2011

On our honeymoon to Puerto Vallarta, I remember telling my husband, Scott, that I thought we should travel every year to celebrate our anniversary. Here’s how it has gone so far:

Year 1- We had been living on one income (mine) for 4 months and trying not to dip into our savings. We drove to New Mexico for a week. The first night, Scott’s mom gave us her frequent guest rewards and we were able to stay in a roomy suite for free. Then we drove down to Albuquerque where my aunt and uncle put us up for the remaining nights. Scott spent a few hours a day job hunting.

Year 2- I had just started a new job and had a few medical issues pop up which ate up the little bit of vacation time I had accumulated.

Year 3- I was 4 months pregnant and battling extreme fatigue as a result of anemia. My beloved was starting a new job.

Year 4- I had no vacation time left due to FMLA / maternity leave. (see year 3) We opted for dinner out while my inlaws watched our 9 month old. That year we decided enough was enough. We would travel in celebration of Year 5. So, we started planning a week long child free road trip down the Mississippi ending in New Orleans. We had maps, and we were loving the concept of introducing our toddler to overnights with Grandma and Grandpa. Due to unforseen issues and a toddler with seperation anxiety, we decided to cancel the trip and build a deck.

Our home features a beautiful backyard along side of a farm. In the summer, we have an amazing view of rows and rows of cornfield. This is unless our neighbor decides to plant soy beans. Then we have an equally amazing view of soy beans plants. We love our view and spend most summer evenings having relaxing cookouts. Our backyard is our oasis.

We broke ground this week. Pieces of my concrete patio are in the empty lot next door along with what used to be the steps from my back door. We haven’t abandoned our rubbish. We just didn’t want to ruin our lawn and garden. We plan to recycle and reuse most, if not all, our disgarded material. Where the patio used to be lays a camoflague tarp with puddles from a recent downpour. It is my understanding that a man will be here Monday to dig some holes and my husband and father-in-law will be mixing cement next week. I’m sure there is more to this week’s activities. I try not to ask too many new deck related questions. I just keep focusing on our honeymoon mornings in Puerto Vallerta sitting on our hotel deck drinking coffee and mimsosas. It was perfect and our new oasis will be as well. I’ll be sure post photos once the work is complete.