31 July 2013

A response to a dear friend's blog post

I didn't plan on blogging today. But my friend and heart sister, the incredible writer and all around brilliant woman Dana, wrote a post about atheism and religion that I couldn't ignore.

In the post, Dana explains that atheism came to her gradually. Some of the comments already on the post explain how others came to atheism dramatically. Regardless of how, the points are the same: these people came to realize they had no need for any kind of supernatural deity who set the world in motion and affects events on it.

Dana says:
This universe is so much more immense than any god could be. It doesn't need magic, or a spirit force, or anything other than its blind, unthinking self to be magnificent. And those who think natural processes are worth less than a so-called intelligent designer haven't given any thought to how much more awesome it is to realize that plain ol' physical processes did all of this on their own. Every jaw-dropping thing you see needed no help from a deity. That, my friends, is the true magic.
This idea is the basis of my post today.

Let me tell you a little bit about my religious/spiritual background before I continue. I want my thoughts to be in context.

My father was raised in a conservative, fundamental, independent Baptist family. I'm talkin' King James Bible, three worship services a week, ladies in skirts kind of Baptist family. My mom is more liberal, but still categorizes herself as Christian.

In high school, I was all about the Baptist church. I was in the youth group and even considered a Baptist college. Then, in college, I was dating someone who was Catholic. At the time, the Catholic church answered questions I'd had about the Baptist teachings. And I was fascinated by the ritual/tradition aspects of the services.

After getting married, I found myself searching spiritually. For a while I was very conservatively Catholic, I explored some nature-based traditions, and went back to Catholicism. When I realized that I'm gay, I assumed that the spiritual searching was because of that--I was searching for myself, but it was manifesting in finding the religion that spoke to me.

For the past couple of years I've been attending services at the local UCC church. It's a more liberal denomination, focusing on Christ's "radical love." The church welcomes anyone at any stage of their personal journey with no judgment. And while the teachings of the church are rooted in Christianity, I have found the church--and the people--to be the kind of Christianity I had been searching for. I felt comfortable there.

Over the past few months, though, I found myself struggling to get something from the services like I once had. I was struggling in my personal life with some major decisions. And while the church had once been my touchstone during difficult times, I found myself withdrawing from it instead.

The spiritual struggle I was facing was related to the struggles in my personal life. I was frustrated, feeling like for every step I took forward, I took another step backward (or sideways). I went to church, I prayed daily, and I did whatever I could to live a good life according to my understanding of Christianity. And still, everything was a struggle.

And then I read Dana's post.

In her post, she asks the question "Why God?" In asking the question, her point is asking why people need a divine being to have created the universe. Why can't the awesome power of science and the universe itself be enough? But in reading her post and that question, it was something more to me.

It's not just about needing a creator being, but why do people need divine intervention? Why do they need help getting things done in their lives? When something bad happens, why do they need a supernatural being to "blame" without actually placing blame ("God's will" or "trials and testing")? Why do people need an intelligent being bigger than themselves?

Why do I?

As I read Dana's post, I realized that I've been struggling spiritually because of my upbringing. I can't blame it entirely, but I was raised to believe in God, so it's very strange for me to conceive of an existence that doesn't include a benevolent deity.

But with the way my life has gone the past couple of years, if there is a god, he is, at best, apathetic and, at worst, malevolent. The successes and progress I've had in my life has been a direct result of the work I've done. I've busted ass to get where I am. My setbacks have been my own, and so have my successes. I did that. No one or nothing else.

I realized that I have held tightly to a belief in a god because of how I was raised, and because I didn't want to believe that the struggles I was enduring were for no real reason. But reading more and more about religion and spirituality, I instead see the negativity that comes from belief (particularly blind belief), which far outweighs any benefits that come from it.

People use religion as an excuse for bad behavior. They use it to justify treating people like property, starting war, laying claim to land, and excluding anyone they don't like or understand. People ignore what's right in front of them because it doesn't fit into their perfect little box.

Yes, there are people who are genuinely good people who also happen to be religious/spiritual. Those are the types of people I found at the UCC church, who give me hope for humanity. And I'm glad for those people in my life. They need that type of spirituality. That's fine.

But for myself, I can't participate in a religion/spirituality that is used so often to marginalize, exclude and keep down so many people. I have an analogy I'd like to use, and I hope this doesn't minimize either atheism or veganism.

I am vegan. It's a recent change in my life (after watching a very compelling documentary about veganism and the manufacture of animal-based products). Last night I was talking to my sister (an omnivore) about it. She asked why I can't be "just a vegetarian." I explained to her that, for me, vegetarianism isn't enough. Yes, I could refrain from eating meat and only eat dairy, which impacts those who would kill animals for food. But the animals who provide eggs and milk are treated just as badly as those who are killed for food (worse in some ways because they're kept alive for the products), and by eating animal by-products, I'm saying that their suffering is not as significant as the suffering of animals who are killed, that it's okay to treat these poor animals this way.

I see religion/spirituality the same way. Just as we don't need animal products for nutrition (at least in this part of the world), we don't need religion/spirituality to be good people. So why is it any different for me to practice any kind of religion/spirituality knowing how people are treated at the hands of humans acting under "god's will" than for me to eat eggs and drink cow's milk knowing how those animals are treated "for people's health and nutrition"?

I just can't do it. Not anymore.

This universe is vast and beautiful and terrible all on its own. Why do we have to diminish that by saying it was created by a supernatural being?

I agree with Dana--we can read the stories and folklore and myths that come from religion and take the good from them, in the same way we read Chicken Soup books and take the good from inspiring stories, even make decisions to do and be better. But I don't need the threat of punishment to be a good person. I can do it all on my own.

I've been to the wild fields and tasted strawberries fresh from the vine. So I'm tilling my very own garden.

30 July 2013

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

I like Emily Dickinson's poetry. Quite a lot, actually. And one poem that has resonated with me as a writer is "Tell all the truth (1129)".

Tell all the truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --

I think this poem is particularly applicable to the coffee house book (and the collection as a whole). The basis of the coffee house book is perspective. The reader learns about a particular event through various perspectives to give an overall view of the coffee house and its community.

Each character whose perspective is given in the coffee house book has his or her own truth. That truth fits into the bigger story, and is part of the truth, but it's only part of the truth. And the truth they tell is slanted based on their individual experiences and biases.

That's what happens in any story that uses first-person point of view, isn't it? The narrator tells his or her own version of events, and it's up to the reader to decide whether or not to believe the story. Every story has the potential to have an unreliable narrator, and the reader is the determining factor.

Every story is told slant, isn't it?

28 July 2013

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with being in the moment

My thoughts have been dominated by my upcoming move. I plan to be in my new place a month from today (give or take a couple of days), so I'm organizing and planning and cleaning and packing.

When I'm not working and playing and making sure the munchkins get time with very important people before we move.

I'm trying to keep from being too ambitious in this last month in the Midwest, especially over the next couple of weeks. Because as important as it is for me to stay organized and keep moving things forward, it's equally as important for me to be with Puck and Tink, and to make sure I enjoy the last few weeks I have here. Everything is going to change at the end of August, so I have to be really here while I'm still here.

So today I'm determined to live in the moment, first with the kids, and later at the big family dinner. It will be good for all of us.

How are you going to renew your spirit today?

27 July 2013

Did I mention I hate moving?

I hate moving. Hate it. I hate packing everything up, carting it somewhere else, then having to unpack it all and put it away.

Yeah, it's a good opportunity to get rid of clutter, but I still hate the actual, physical move part of moving. Even if I am moving to a beautiful place.

I used to live in central Florida, and despite being there in a difficult situation, there was a lot I loved about the area. Now that I'm going down under different circumstances, I'm optimistic that it will be a much better situation.

I'm not buying a house right away. It's not the right time for me to do that, especially since I have a very particular vision of what my house will look like, and I'm going to wait until I find it rather than settling for something else just so I can get into a place. I'm happy to rent for now.

So, as part of my efforts to keep my eye on the sunny side, I'm trying to remember all the good things about moving so I don't get frustrated with the actual transition.

It's a fresh start, emotionally and physically.

I'm trying to use the moving process as a chance to get rid of a lot of the clutter I have. There are things that moved from Florida to Illinois that I haven't used, things the kids have outgrown, and things I don't love/use anymore. Anything I don't use, need, or love is not making the trip. This is a new chapter in my life, so I'm making a conscious effort to make a fresh start with my new home, as well.

In addition to the physical fresh start of getting rid of clutter and moving to a new home, I'm looking forward to the emotional/mental fresh start that's coming with moving. I'll be at the beginning of my new career as an independent content journalist (though really, this is what I've been doing almost since I graduated college), in a new community, in a new chapter of my life. A fresh start can do wonders for the spirit.

The climate is perfect for someone like me.

For one thing, I don't like being cold. I struggle through winters in the Midwest because of it. Winter affects my mood (and not positively). The good news is that, usually, the coldest weather in Florida is like fall or early spring in Illinois, so I'll feel much better.

I can wear sandals (and go barefoot) much more of the year, too. I hate wearing shoes (even cute ones), and I absolutely refuse to wear socks (even cute ones). I own exactly three pairs of socks, and two pairs of little sock-lette things to wear with dress shoes. I would love to never wear socks again.

I've also struggled with seasonal allergies since returning to Illinois. That won't be an issue when I move back to Florida. I will be glad to be rid of itchy eyes, a runny nose, and endless sneezing, that's for sure.

My career will allow me to do more.

Since I'm working from home, I have the ability to work from anywhere. That means that the kids and I can take trips more often, and even if the kids are with Monty, I can travel more, too.

Of course, there are big trips I want to take at some point, like going back to Europe, and going to Australia. But I'm talking specifically about shorter trips, like visiting my family in Illinois, or spending a weekend at the beach.

While I really loved the job I had for the past year, what I'm doing now is where my heart is. I love working from home and having a flexible schedule. As a single mom with two young munchkins (Puck is starting pre-K this fall), I love that I'll be able to take the kids to activities, be at all their practices and recitals and games and competitions, and even volunteer at their school if I want to.

I'm going to end the year well. And 2014 is going to be spectacular.

26 July 2013

My first tattoo

This year, I celebrated my second annual 29th birthday. It's been a challenging year (last year was, too), and now that I'm in the second half of this year, things are changing, and for the better.

I told myself quite some time ago that I was going to get my first tattoo this year, and with the good things on the horizon, I feel like a tattoo will be a good way to mark it as a new chapter in my life.

There are multiple tattoos I'd like, but I've narrowed this first one down to two options. Both have significance to me for different reasons, and each speaks to a different, but important part of my life.

One is a symbol that represents a gull. I like gulls because of their connection with the ocean, and the way they seem to float more than fly. I know they're not the most glamorous birds, but I'm drawn to them. Plus, I'm moving to Florida, so I'll see them quite a bit more.

The other tattoo I'm considering is a bracelet of punctuation marks around my wrist. Obviously this would speak to my career as a writer. I came across a picture of a punctuation wrist tattoo, and I loved it.

I'm currently leaning toward the gull tattoo for my first. It has spiritual significance to me, and I think it represents who I am, as well as the changes I'm facing right now.

My brother is an artist, so I'm going to ask him to draw the gull for me. Then when I get up the courage to actually do it, I'll get the tattoo (and share a picture here).

What was your first tattoo? How and why did you pick it?

22 July 2013

A new blog and a change here

As you likely know, I am officially back among the ranks of the full-time freelance writers. I'm excited about the change, and what it means for my career.

Along with other changes in my life to accommodate the new career shift, I've created a brand new, fancy website, along with a blog. The new site is focused on my content development services, and the blog will be geared in that direction.

I originally thought I would move all my blogging to the new site, but I just can't bring myself to stop blogging here. I started this blog way back in 2008 when I started freelancing the first time, and this blog has morphed into something beyond a blog about freelancing.

So instead, my intention is to use the new blog for the day job, while this blog will focus on fictioneering and some elements of my personal life.

I encourage you to check out the new blog for information on content marketing, and I hope you will stick with me here as this blog settles into its new role.

And, of course, if you know anyone who needs some content development or editing done, send them my way, won't you?

16 July 2013

Changes are coming....

The past couple of years of my life have been full of changes, and they just keep coming.

As of this past Monday, I am officially a full-time freelancer again (hooray!), and I will be relocating back to central Florida at the end of August/beginning of September.

There are a lot of reasons I've made this decision. If you feel the need to know details, please email me and I'll share with you that way. I'm not going to go into it here except to say that this is the best decision for my family.

I'm happy to be freelancing again. I loved the job I had for the past year, but I love the freedom that comes with being self-employed, as well as different kinds of opportunities for growth and success. I have some wonderful repeat clients who have gotten back in touch with me, and I've gotten a few new clients.

So as I'm preparing to move back to the Sunshine State, I'm working with some great clients, and working on building a new website for my new career. (I already have a domain name hosted, and my next step is to choose a CMS and get the content added.) As an aside, you'll likely notice some changes to the blog as I get my new site up and running, and I will likely relocate my blog to the new domain.

I'm trying to settle into a new routine, and looking forward at what's to come. I hope you all will join me on this newest adventure.

11 July 2013

Starting a new journal

Journaling is an important part of my life, and has been for quite some time. It provides an outlet for me, allows me to think things through, brainstorm, and organize my thoughts privately. I've journaled off and on (mostly on) for as long as I can remember. There was a while a couple of years ago that I couldn't bring myself to journal because of a specific incident, but I'm happily back to it.

I'm reaching the end of my personal journal. I have the new one ready to go, and I'm looking forward to the fresh emotional and creative start that always occurs when I start a new journal. But I'm still a little sad about putting the filled one away.

The journal I'm finishing has covered the last three months of my life. Reflections, thoughts, frustrations, pictures, Sunday bulletins, poems and articles by others, and lots of other things that have added up to who I have been for the past three months. In some ways, it's hard to let go of so much of who I am like that. In other ways, it's a relief because the past few months have been so difficult for me.

That being said, the coming weeks are a time of change for me. I'm looking forward to a new big, scary adventure in my life, and it's very fitting that I'm starting a new journal with these major changes just ahead of me.

Every once in a while I read back through my journals. It's nice to see where I was and where I am, and know that I'm growing and becoming stronger with every page. I'm looking forward to seeing what memories this new journal will capture.

Do you journal? Why?

07 July 2013

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with Your Mountain

Yesterday I went to a family dinner to celebrate my mom being done with school and having passed her boards. Tomorrow she starts her orientation for her shiny new job as an RN on the hospice ward of a hospital. It's the job she wanted, o frabjous day!

I say this as a prelude to the real intention of this post (and it does relate to the post).

During the family dinner, I had a really great conversation with my brother. Chronologically he is younger than me, but we're close in age, and we've always had a big brother-little sister kind of relationship. We watch out for each other. I know that he's always there for me. And that has never been more apparent than it was last night.

We were talking about some upcoming changes in my life. My brother knows I'm worried about some things that are to come and how it'll all play out.

My brother has had some really rough patches. I won't go into details, but he's had a hard life, and he's fought his way out of it to where he is now. He's got a good job, a beautiful family, and he's on his way to where he wants to be. I'm incredibly proud of how much he's grown and changed.

He told me that one thing that he was able to hold on to every step of the way was that it's going to be okay. Every time he hit bottom, he knew he would be able to pick back out of it, and that, ultimately, it would be okay. He told me he knows that with these changes in my life, it's going to be okay. It's going to be a hard transition, and there will be some rough spots, but it's going to be okay.

He told me that everything that's happened to him has gotten him to where he is. He's gone through the swamps and forests and now he's standing at the bottom of the mountain, ready to climb. This is where he's supposed to be.

He told me that these changes in my life are to put me at the bottom of my mountain, to set me on my path. It's going to be hard, but this is where I'm supposed to go.

Last night was one of those incredibly significant conversations in my life, the kind that I'll remember for a long, long time, and refer back to when I need inner strength or peace or just something to hold on to in order to get me through to the next bright spot.

I have an awesome brother.

04 July 2013

Independence Day

Today is Independence Day. One day in the year during which drunken idiots can set off explosives in their yards and driveways in the name of 'Murica.

All joking aside, I'm proud to be an American. I know there are problems in this country, that not everyone is treated equally in a nation that claims equality and freedom. But I also know that change happens, and that's wonderful.

I went to poetry group on Tuesday, and in honor of Independence Day, one of our group members performed "Paul Revere's Ride," which she'll be performing at a local event this fall.

It was a wonderful performance, and reminded me of the passion of the people of the Revolutionary War for what they believed. They took a stand and didn't back down.

People don't take stands the way they once did. Perhaps that's due in part to more freedoms than we once had--we don't have the same reasons to stand up. That being said, we have a long way to go.

A major advance was made with the Supreme Court's decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 (congratulations, brothers and sisters in California!), but another basic freedom--voting--has been challenged. There is still a chasm between classes in this country. There are homeless, hungry, unemployed people that aren't getting the support they need. There are children who have no families or support. There are elderly who have no proper care.

There's a helluva lot of work to be done.

I hope that as we celebrate the first step toward equality and freedom that came centuries ago we stay this passionate about other issues. That we remember those who fought for what they believed in, and take that heart to make changes in our nation today.

The United States is the people. We are the nation. And if we want things to happen, we have to make them happen. Go be America.

And happy Independence Day.

02 July 2013

My series bible

The collection is not a series. Not really, anyway. The books are connected, the work together, but it's not a series.

Still, because of the way the books are all connected, I'm writing them similarly to the way others write a series. Specifically, I'm creating a series bible.

The idea behind a series bible is to have notes and information all in one place that I can reference as I'm working on the books. That way, when I write about Cameron, who first appears in the coffee house book, in a later book, I have notes about him to keep consistency in his character and story.

The biggest thing in the series bible so far is character biographies. The characters are the driving force in the books, so it's important to have that information handy. That's not all that's going to be in there, though.

I have charts that show relationships between characters as needed for the stories. I have a sheet that shows which books the characters are in, since there is crossover. And I have an overall story arc for each character that spans the whole of the collection.

When you create a world in a series or collection, you have to stay true to it and write within whatever parameters you establish. A series bible helps you do that.

Nathan Bransford has a nice post about creating a series bible, which he used for Jacob Wonderbar. If you need a series bible (and you do if you're writing a series), I encourage you to read his post.

Do you have a series bible? How has it impacted your writing?

01 July 2013

Turning Point

Everyone has turning points in their lives. Sometimes they're small turning points, moments that have impact. Other times, they're bigger turning points that take you in a whole new direction.

This week is one of the big ones for me.

A turning point can be scary, particularly if you don't know what's around the bend. But a turning point can be very much a good thing in your life, too. A new direction, yes, but a better one. One that can open up different paths later on.

I'm sorry I can't offer more details right now, but once things are a little more confirmed, I'll be able to share more. That being said, I'm embracing the change as best I can, and looking forward to the many good things it will bring for my family and my life.