This has been a thrilling week for me, as I had the opportunity to meet a writer whose work I’ve admired for the last two decades, and some celebrities whose work I’ve followed since we still had to cross the room to change the channel on the floor model TV!
Many thanks to Michelle Jones, a student in my 8-week Memoir-Writing workshop at Kennesaw State University, who brought her longtime friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., to visit our class on Wednesday.
I have to admit that it took a good 24 hours for my heart to return to its normal pace. Leonard’s columns have inspired so many people over the years; he supports his subjects with facts, making them “airtight and bullet-proof,” which is refreshing for a lifelong member of the media. He was in town to speak at The Carter Center about his new book, “Grant Park,” and he was gracious enough to present me with a signed copy!
When I read his column in the Sunday AJC today, it was as if I was hearing the words in Leonard’s own deep voice. I hope that those who read his columns find the truth in them, and are inspired to bring peace and tolerance to our crazy world.
On Friday, I had the pleasure of volunteering with FoxTale Book Shoppe, as they hosted eight members from the cast of Days of Our Lives, who were in town to meet fans and sign copies of the soap’s 50th Anniversary collectors book.
More than 500 people were in attendance to meet the stars, who graciously spent four hours signing books, greeting fans, and smiling for photos.
When I was a college student at Auburn, I scheduled my classes so I could have lunch at my apartment while Days was on. There were many years after graduation in which I only caught the occasional episode (vacations, maternity leave, etc.). These days, I catch an episode once or twice a month, and I’m glad to see some of my favorite characters make an return appearance now and then.
After the event, Ellen Ward (one of the three Foxes of FoxTale Book Shoppe), and several FoxTale volunteers and “regulars” enjoyed a late dinner at Salt in Woodstock, and had the pleasure of introducing Peter Reckell (“Bo Brady”) and Bryan Dattillo (“Lucas Horton”) to some of Woodstock’s own Reformation Brewery beer.
As I tell the folks in my writing workshops, authors don’t often make a whole lot of money, but the perks are amazing!
It is my firm belief that every creative person, at one time or another, needs a therapist. You see, Creatives (yes, we are our own sub-genre of the human species) tend to second-guess themselves a lot, in part because creative work is considered a “hobby,” rather than a viable profession worthy of pursuit.
Criticism cuts deep, especially when folks criticize the things we consider important.
Creatives tend to be afterwise individuals, those who are brilliant in their chosen discipline, but who sputter when confronted, only to think of the most wonderful response long after the opportunity to deliver it has passed.
It is then that we turn to our therapists, which more often than not turns out to be the very activity others consider trivial. Painters pick up a brush and attack their canvas, musicians release their frustrations on the keyboard or strings, and writers…
Well, writers craft poems or stories (or entire novels, depending upon how deep the criticism cut!), doing some of their best work while their emotions are on overdrive.
For me, my journal is my confidant, my friend, my therapist. It willingly receives my diatribes, absorbs my rants without judgment, repeats everything back to me exactly how I said it, allowing me to see the situation more clearly than when I began.
When my pen slows and the swell of emotions subsides, I can turn the page and focus on the things that bring joy into my life (which are the subjects of so many of my journal entries).
Over the nearly six years in which I have served as a Writing Workshop Facilitator, dozens of students have reported to me that their journals have been among the most transformative experiences, especially for those who resisted daily writing at first.Pick up a pen spend a moment with me; and I’ll help you see things with Clarity. – your Journal (by Beth Hermes)
Last year, my birth symbol rolled around again, but I already knew that 2014 would be the Year of the Horse. You see, in 2012 (the Year of the Water Dragon – a year of extremes) is when I lost Brat, my horse-companion of 32 years. At the time, I thought I would never be able to love another horse. But “never” never really works out that way, and in my 2014 Year of the Horse, I met Bliss, who has claimed the horse-woman part of my heart and helped me heal.
I’m also a writer (maybe that one falls somewhere under my Western Zodiac sign of Cancer – the Crab, whose water element fosters creativity and expression), so this year I’m looking forward to celebrating the Year of the Goat (or Sheep – depending on which calendar you consult).
You see, the Goat/Sheep is the “Symbol of the Arts,” with the forecast for 2015 full of success for those who use their mental abilities.
My goals over the past several years have included doing those things that make me feel happy and fulfilled; to be my most authentic self. With the publication of my fourth novel pending, and facilitating more workshops to help creative people fulfill their dreams to write, my Goat Year will include more opportunities for writing and publishing my work.
While personal satisfaction is one measure of the success of my pursuits, I also hope this year sees me earning an income from writing.
After all, I still need to feed the rapidly growing dream that came true in the Year of the Horse!
Horses are not fair-weather friends. I’ve spent many a day at the barn that is wet, cold, windy, or – on the opposite end of the spectrum – so hot that I felt as if I lost 20 pounds just shoveling a stall.
When I brought my foal home to Georgia at the end of October, we had plenty of fair weather. She and I became acquainted during the balmy days of mid-Autumn, when temperatures could reach the 80s in the afternoon, and dip into the 40s at night, but the sweatshirt I kept in the trunk of the car was all the additional gear necessary to be comfortable when working with my new baby when the sun dipped low in the sky.
November, however, began with the chilling words “Polar Vortex” in the weather report. It didn’t take long for that vortex to reach the South, where we practically invented the concept of “layered” attire.
Frost on the ground at 8 a.m., followed by 70 degrees in the afternoon, then the need for horsey blankets at night as temps fell to the 20s sent me searching for the phone number of the craftsman who did some restoration work at our home earlier this year.
Seven horses live at the farm. Two of them sleep in a barn whose stall doors can be shut – top and bottom – to block the wind and weather. But the other five are in a barn that has a nice, wide entrance with an opening to the hay loft above, and neither with a door to block the wind.
Our barn has hot and cold running water (a luxury I never had with my first mare in all of her 32 years). Our furry, half-ton babies are fed warm bran mash on nights when the forecast calls for freezing temperatures. But when the wind blows, they munch hay all night to keep warm, and huddle beneath their blankets, while dust and leaves whip through the aisle past their stalls.
For Christmas this year, we’re getting barn doors for our babies. And at seven months old, my new filly will be spoiled with both warm water and doors guarding against the bitter cold nights.
No fair weather friend am I!
When I was a kid, pumpkins took their places on the boards at Keibel’s Farm Stand up the street from my house, and Mom and Dad would take us up there in the back of the station wagon to choose the ones we wanted to paint or carve for our front porch.
When we were little, Pumpkin Day was a big deal because we were allowed to use the indelible ink markers – you know the ones: they stink to high Heaven and you float around the room for days after inhaling the fumes! As we got older, we graduated to the Carving Knife to create a true Jack-O-Lantern.
The guts? The seeds? Oh, those were thrown into the compost heap, where the grass clippings had already achieved a lovely shade of “dark.” We weren’t exactly pumpkin eaters. I’d heard of people eating pumpkin pie (one of the aunts made one for Thanksgiving one year, but it sat untouched while we devoured pies of apple, pecan, and chocolate).
Fast-forward thirty some-odd years, and October is officially Pumpkin Month. In fact, following in the tradition of “lead-ins” to celebrations, Pumpkin becomes a blip on the radar sometime in mid-August, when Pumpkin Spice Latte posters pop up in drive-thru windows at the coffee shop.
Perhaps I should have seen it coming. Not one to condone waste, I used to dig the “guts” out of my kids’ Jack-O-Lanterns and roast the seeds, which we’d eat while we watched “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on television. This was in the days before the Internet, so the slimy portions still hit the compost bin; I didn’t have a recipe for fresh pumpkin anything.
While I have not yet jumped on the Pumpkin Latte bandwagon, I’ll have to admit to having a certain affinity for fall… and the color orange. So I may have slipped a couple of Pumpkin Somethings into my cart at Trader Joe’s this morning.
Check out their display. Who could blame me?
Pumpkin Toaster Pastries, Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix (one of my favorites; I mix cream cheese with canned pumpkin for frosting!), even Pumpkin Pancake & Waffle Mix. Tomorrow, I’m going to fix Apple-Pumpkin Pancakes (thank you, Internet Recipes!).
I’ll let you know how that goes.
Last week I celebrated my birthday and, like most people, I enjoy the traditions – cake, cards, phone calls – that surround that day.
For the past five years, my birthday tradition includes waking up around 5 a.m. and making the trek to Atlanta to take part in the Peachtree Road Race. (Yup – I’m a July Fourth baby!)
There is little traffic as I navigate the streets of Cherokee County toward MARTA. This year, I carpooled with four other women who share my kind of crazy by starting the day with a six-mile run downtown, and we took the train for just a short ride from Midtown to Lenox, packed in like sardines among the thousands of runners making their way to the start line.
Usually in the first mile, I wonder what the heck I was thinking, running six miles on my birthday when I could have slept in. But the adrenalin of the other runners rubs off on me, and I feel like a celebrity as the spectators along the sidewalk ring cowbells and blow vuvuzelas, shoot water pistols and shout encouragement, and I remember how much fun it is.
Once inside the park, I collect a bottle of water (not cold), my T-shirt, and one of the wet towels (blessedly cold), then stroll through the sponsor tents for a banana, pretzels, and a bag or two of Grandma’s Cookies (July 4 after the race is the only time I eat them!). I may head over to 10th for an ice pop or a Powerade.
Some years, I head back to the train alone; other times I meet my husband (who watches me run past Colony Square then meets me at the park); this year, I met my carpool buddies. Either way, there’s a sense of accomplishment and excitement, and usually I strike up a conversation with someone I’ve never met before, and we swap stories about the people we saw on the run – firemen in full gear; a collection of Superman, Wonder Woman, and other super heroes; people in tutus or crazy hats. It’s like Mardi Gras in Atlanta!
I may not run the Peachtree forever, but I will always do something challenging to celebrate my birthday. I can’t think of a better way to start the next year of my life!
In my weekly women’s networking group we have more than thirty women, each of whom is skilled at – and generally passionate about – her chosen profession, and I am often struck by a sense of amazement by how well-suited each is to what she does.
Over the course of my membership, I’ve sometimes had people tell me that they could never do what I do, that they “freeze up” when they need to write something, or that what they thought they wanted to say sounds nothing on paper like it did in their head. Several folks have actually told me they hesitate to email me, afraid that I’ll “grade” their writing with my persistent editor’s eye! (Note: I spot errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but I don’t make a habit of sending emails back with corrections).
I’ve been a “word junkie” my entire life, so the patterns and nuances of writing come as naturally to me as a furniture layout does to an interior designer or a recipe does to a chef.
In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell supports the notion that proficiency in any endeavor requires practice; the more one practices, the more likely that person is to achieve greatness in their chosen field. Having read and written since I first opened a book and held a crayon, I have paid my dues with well more than the ten thousand hours Gladwell suggests contribute to the success of those who stand out in their fields: Bill Gates in computer programming, The Beatles in musical prowess, and more.
I would argue further that, when a person has an interest in or fascination with a particular subject, it no longer feels like “work,” and they enjoy putting in the time to perfect their craft.
While I am in no means proficient in home décor, I can figure out that the sofa and chairs belong in the living room, that curtains have a certain appeal over bare windows, and that some artwork looks better in the dining room than the hallway. But if I wanted a real showplace, I would hire a decorator who has an eye for such things and can arrange my furniture in a way that I might never have considered.
The same goes for writing. If we simply write the way we speak, our thoughts are generally clear. It is when we over-think that we get into trouble (“Do I use a comma here, or a semicolon?”; “I before E except after C”; “There’s an s on the end of this word, so I’ll just toss an apostrophe in there…”).
Writing is a basic skill, but sometimes writing inspires awe. That’s the writing I aspire to, while most people I know simply want to sound intelligent in their correspondence.
Every so often I get a wild hair and buy a sketch pad or a canvas and try my hand at painting. The image in my head is amazing; the actual piece… well, let’s just say it isn’t amazing.
If I want to learn to paint better, I’ll take a class and practice, practice, practice. But I don’t think I’m passionate enough about painting to put in the requisite ten thousand hours to become an expert.
So I’ll just stick to writing. Ten thousand hours and counting…
During an economic pinch, marketing positions are usually the first to go, often followed by accounting and payroll, human resources professionals, etc. It doesn’t take long, however, for business owners to realize how valuable the employees – and their positions – were, after they’ve been cut. They still needed their services, but not full-time, or even part-time. Just some-time.
That’s when many savvy professionals – including me – became freelancers.
Working for myself has some great benefits. But on the opposite side of the same coin are drawbacks:
**After years of working long hours – including numerous evenings and weekends – away from my family, missing activities with my kids and spending time away from my husband, I’m a freelance writer. That means working long hours – including numerous evenings and weekends – in close proximity to my family, and having the ability to choose when I can attend an activity, or have a date night.
**Long-term employment opportunities often meant commuting, wear and tear on my car (and myself), grabbing fast-food or pricey restaurant meals, and little time for exercise. With my office just steps from my kitchen, I cook most meals at home, and I have time to attend an exercise class each morning. If I schedule well, I also have time to attend seminars, classes, and an occasional lunch with a friend.
**As a marketing director and event coordinator, I fielded phone calls, and listened to whatever policy or employee about which the caller wanted to trash-talk. Now, most of my clients are referred by trusted colleagues or previous, satisfied clients. Since I have a say in the projects I accept, listen carefully and deliver what I promise, I receive compliments and gratitude instead of complaints.
**As an employee, my salary was determined by the owner of the company. Even when I did more work than expected, compensation was increased only occasionally, and I received my paychecks at pre-set intervals. As a freelancer, I have a different “boss” for every project. Some of them are great about compensating me for my work; others, not so much. (I am admittedly awful at collections, as I tend to trust that people will honor our contract and pay me for the work I’ve done).
The pros outweigh the cons, any day. Since my goal is to do work that I enjoy and share my gift for “wordsmithing” with individuals and businesses who need it, I consider myself a winner.
There are 30 women each week
Given just 60 seconds to speak
Our one-minutes are never
Anything less than clever
And are often quite tongue-in-cheek.
Marian keeps time with her stopwatch
Arlene keeps us from looking like Sasquatch
Sara clears up our spaces
Lin finds people new places
Mary keeps all our rugs looking top-notch.
Heather creates memorable brands
Betty books travel to distant lands
Robin keeps numbers straight
Seema’s websites work great
Jen makes sure our retirement’s planned.
Jeannie works magic on people’s hair
Kathleen’s Tower Gardens are everywhere
Linda’s health plans are groovin’
Alyson’s loans are approvin’
Cheryl’s custom gowns give brides their flair.
Of Laura’s photo books we are all fond
Rhonda’s CABi clothes most of us donned
Sharon covers life’s storms
While Peg shreds all our forms
Susan brings make-up from across the pond.
Carol K. keeps conference calls connected
Carol M. combines tastes unexpected
Carol A. shares Alpharetta
With Carol R. we’re found better
Martha keeps our identities protected.
April’s service is Benefit Mall
Sharon’s boxes move stuff large and small
Erica straightens your spine
Bryan’s renovations are divine
Charlene’s estate sales are simply the best, y’all.
Let us not forget the dedication
Of subs who speak when we’re on vacation
You give us time to rest
So we can be our best
For that you deserve an ovation!
So as the old year comes to an end
With our last weekly meeting to attend
I wish much Success,
Gratitude and Happiness
to all the Women of WSN!