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Archive for the ‘good day’ Category

This Saturday, I went to the Orange County Christian Writer’s Fellowship Conference. I’d been nearly coming out of my skin for weeks, excited at the prospect of my first-ever real writer’s conference. I told you about submitting the first 20 pages of my manuscript into their contest back in February, and although I’ve managed to contain myself somewhat, I’ve been alternately excited, terrified and like a little kid on Christmas Eve for months. There would be experts! Editors! Agents! Helpful talks! Sweet people! Gobs of inspiration! I couldn’t wait.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only crazy one, since Sam registered with just as much gusto, gamely sent her writing in to be reviewed and contested and met me at her front door in a barely post-dawn sunshine, giggling like no one should before 7 a.m. on a Saturday. Her husband sleepily smiled at our fervor, reminding me of my own husband’s excited grin – the smile of a man who’s not sure why we’re so jazzed at the idea of taking notes all day, but who loves us enough to humor our wild whims. After the obligatory stop at Starbucks, we were off, Venti lattes in hand and jabbering away like two kids on the first day of school. Who would we meet? What should we say? AAAAAAAHHHHHHSOEXCITED. (That could have been the Ventis talking).

We arrived and found our monthly writer’s critique group, a lovable bunch of journalers, poets, writers and bloggers from all walks of life and every generation. After hugs and exclamations we settled in, and one of the veteran conference attendees told us what to be prepared for and how to pick out our consultations – 15 minutes of fame with the agent, editor, or writer of your choice.

I picked an agent and one of the women at our table – a passionate, empathic prophet – said she got a “witness” when I said the agent’s name. I grew up in a church that swung wildly between being slain in the spirit and contending that logic conquers all, so I could only assume this was a good sign. We sat through the first session and ate our mass-produced pastries in silence until one of our number returned from a consultation with tears in her eyes and a potential book deal.

Decorum was long gone and the excitement only bubbled at a more fevered pitch.

The morning wore on and I headed to my consultation. I had started to feel a bit nervous – writers are not always the most joyous bunch – eyeing each other critically from our sensible shoes and making snap judgments from the long practice of being more frequently watchers of people than lovers of them, and I’d started to feel both judged and judge-y myself.  Iwalkedinandsatdownallinarush, spilling out my words with eager enthusiasm. I have a dream and story to tell, see, and I blog and I write and I’ve yearned for this chance and now I’m laying my soul bare, like me, won’t you?

She didn’t.

There are a host of totally legitimate reasons why she wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown author with a harebrained idea, but what I heard was, “Nice try, but you’re not enough.”

I left the consult with a host of solid pep-talks in my head. I’m pummeling my dreams into submission, dammit. One agent doesn’t speak for the whole industry. I write because I must, and that is enough. I walked around the beautiful campus at Mariners Church, soaking up the springtime warmth and allowing hot tears to well up behind my sunglasses, in a moment of freedom. After a brief indulgence, however, I pulled myself together and went back in for another session, finding Sam again as my rock. “How’s it go?” she asked. Well, bummer.

She didn’t have any way of knowing that such a supportive question would send her into a solid hour of therapy for her needy friend, but I am sorry to say that it did. We both pitched ourselves to the sweet editor who taught our class and we both got very kindly shot down. The editor said something to me, however, that particularly stung. “Just write your blog as yourself. If you’re authentic, readers will flock to you.”

It almost got nasty, y’all. WHAT DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN DOING FOR THREE YEARS?!

I shook her hand and said thank you and walked outside with Sam, only to surprise my kind friend with “Maybe I’m done. I’m not enough, my blog is not good enough, and I personally have been rejected as not fun enough to read/hang out with/support. I think I’m not supposed to tell this story, and I think maybe I’m done trying.”

I wouldn’t have blamed Sam if she’d said, “Well, NOW that’s certainly the case, way to go, Sunshine. I’m going to go talk to someone who hasn’t jumped off the Crazy Bridge.”

But she didn’t, sweet friend that she is. She stayed with me as we ate our lukewarm pasta with hundreds of other hopeful writers, and helped me stay afloat in multiple conversations when I would abruptly drop out in order to Not Cry. She and Todd, one of the guys from our critique group, both nodded knowingly as I told my story and encouraged me not to give up, honestly being so kind that it almost made me cry again, because here I am being so lame and needy and everyone is SO FREAKING NICE, how did I deserve this?

I finally rallied enough to help her hone her own consultation pitch, and continued to tell myself to quit being ridiculous already. (Berating myself usually works well. Sarcasm intended.) After lunch, they announced the Memoir Contest winners. As the judge preambled, Sam squeezed my arm and the other sweet people at the table grinned knowingly at me. I shook my head as they did so, snorting a little bit to myself in my self-deprecating wisdom. “It’s not me,” I thought, “because I’ve already been told multiple times (by the experts) that I suck.”

Third place.

Second place.

The people at my table are in a frenzy of winks and smiles and shoulder rubs.  I don’t know why they’re being so nice, it’s obviously NOT ME.

First place.

DANI NICHOLS.

Sam squealed, Todd said, ” I knew it!” and I burst into tears.

I walked up in a daze and collected my prize money, shaking the judge’s hand clammily. I shakily stumbled my way back to our table, hid my face in my hands and tried not to sob uncontrollably. Someone was saying something on the microphone and I have no idea what it was. The unbelievably kind woman who won second place came over and gave me a tissue, and the lady seated behind me handed me her napkin. Our table was in an uproar, giving me winks and smiles and being SO GENEROUS with their congratulations.

Then Simon Tolkien (J.R.R.’s grandson) got up and spoke, and it finished off the surreal sense of the day. The judge of the memoir contest wants to help me polish my book and publish it. The editor who had (in a nice way, but still) shot me down earlier shook my hand and said congratulations. My friends did not begrudge me my victory but wholeheartedly rejoiced with me. Sam’s hugs sent me soaring.

I’m so blessed, you guys. Even though I, once again, foolishly allowed self-doubt and crippling despair to grab my soul, I got an umpteenth chance to persevere and do it right. It seems silly to let another person’s opinion crush or validate my dream, but it just reminded me of how fragile the creative process is, and how jealously I have to guard my hope.

I’m not done. I have tons of work to do, loads of edits, hours of continued doubt and dreams and sweat.

But I WON. And for today, that’s more than enough.

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I’m forcing myself to talk about my right now, since lately it’s felt like a terrifying blend of too big, too scary, too much and too boring all at once. I’m sorry for the vaguery, but the Stuff that is all over my brain is not fit for public consumption. (You really are glad that I have some self-control and am not vomiting my Stuff all over the Internet. Trust me.)

Right now I’m defrosting chicken breasts and planning an evening hike with my hubby. I’m reeling from compliments at this morning’s writer’s group and praying for courage to pursue an unpopular road. I’m craving chocolate and drinking Diet Coke, hoping for sunshine and noting the misty gray skies still lingering, wishing that I had an answer to questions that are pounding at my door, seeping through the cracks in my walls, tugging on my shirt-tails and whispering in my ear.

I’m learning to be gracious and generous. I’m learning to listen to my husband and let him lead. I’m learning to say “thank you” when someone says nice things about me and my work, to brush it off when they don’t agree or get offended. I’m learning to not worry about tomorrow, to be grateful in the moment, to fix my eyes on the Author and Finisher.

Right now is a hard time. Right now is an in-between time. Right now is a beautiful time.

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Every time I get a note to “Mrs Dani” or a cute little flower-pot, my day gets ten times sunnier. Man, I love those horse-crazy kidlets. Best side-gig EVER.

therapeutic horseback ridingThe horsey art and pansies spruce up our patio nicely, too.

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I love mornings. (I REALLY love mornings after about 12 hours of sleep, but…) Even with limited sleep, however, wave a cup of coffee under my nose and give me a minute to think and I’ll be up and singing in the shower within minutes. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of mornings and new days, and the hope that comes with an AM address. I’m a routine-loving girl, and throughout my long and illustrious life I’ve had multiple routines that made mornings special.

  • Opening up the coffee stand in Bonanza, Oregon. I wrote about it here, and I can still smell the coffee, bleach and fresh-country-air smell of those days.
  • College. A shower, a granola bar and my North Face daypack and I was out the door. It was always hotter than I expected, even after four years I was always shocked by t-shirt weather in October. I was the only one in House 9 Abilene who actually PLANNED to have 8 o’clock classes, so I usually walked or drove to campus by myself, meeting up with my roommates later when they were in more charitable moods. (I’m the only morning person of the four of us, so I probably noisy-ed my way onto their morning bad side more than once. Sorry.)
  • Wrangler mornings. Smashing a cowboy hat on my rumpled curls and clomping out the door with Ami, my wrangler buddy, in the grey, misty dawn. It would be 100 degrees by noon, but in the morning, the air was brisk against our cheeks and smelled of wet grass, yesterday’s dust and horses. We’d get ready to bring our herd in, pouring grain, opening tack rooms and hay bales. The day would be long and dusty, but in the morning we were excited, refreshed, talking to our horses like a couple of doting moms and laughing at inside jokes.
  • Summer camp mornings. I worked as a counselor on and off in-between wranglering, and I would wake up much later than wranlger mornings, but STILL be up and get a shower before the kids did. GLORY HALLELUJAH. This was also where I learned how to have a “quiet time” with the Lord, which I try to still have as my morning routine.
  • Early OC days. When I first moved to the OC, I lived with my grandma and went jogging every morning in her neighborhood. Then I went and sat at my desk and ate bagels and candy all day, so I still gained weight, but at least it was a good habit. Right?
  • Dana Point. When I moved to my “bower” in DP, I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn, brewed a pot of coffee in my hobbit-sized coffeemaker, made myself a lunch and commuted up the coast for 40 minutes, occasionally early enough to see the pink morning sun glisten on the water and imagine myself alone on Pacific Coast Highway. I also gained weight at that job, what with the sitting on the butt and the drinking of many lattes. Office life, it does me no favors.
  • Married life. Adam makes coffee. I get spoiled. I hunker down with a Bible and steaming cup and then I get to work – blogging, writing, calling, talking, sounding like a professional. I love that pause, right when I have a fresh brew and a moment to glory in the peace of early morning and the possibilities that come with it – as Anne Shirley said, “Tomorrow’s a new day, with no mistakes in it yet.”

What makes your mornings special?

 

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Freebirds recently opened in Orange County.

In-N-Out is in Dallas.

I’m not sure The Fam will need to travel back and forth much more if this keeps up… All we need now is Angelo’s BBQ and our appetites for Texas-fare might finally be appeased.

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snowshoeing southern oregon

The Crew.

There is nothing better than snowshoeing, dreaming, shooting guns, playing games and laughing heartily to fill the soul. The fella and I just got back from a week in Oregon, and I was feeling a tiny bit melancholy about it, when friends stopped by and ate some grass-fed Oregon beef with us and I remembered how lucky we are, wherever we might live.

Also, on a less sappy note, I am uncoordinated.

On Friday night, Adam and I started dancing in the kitchen, which set off a swing-dancing free-for-all in my parent’s house. (By free-for-all, I mean that Brudda and Sista and the Fella and I were desperately trying to remember cool moves while Mom and Dad smartly and sedately twirled each other about.) After seeing Brudda effortlessly hoist athletic Sista over his back, Adam and I decided that this was a good idea for us to try too.

In theory, it sounds quite wonderful. I can even show you how great it looks. Watch:

Notice at about 1:40, when the tattooed artsy man lifts the pretty coordinated girl over his back and she lands gracefully on her feet? Well. One of my continual downfalls is that I, unlike cats and athletic people, very, very rarely land on my feet. My family knows this. I was the kid who was finally convinced to roll down a small hill on rollerblades only to crash into a tree, the one who finally got up the courage to jump off of a swing and busted my lip, the one who was convinced to be goalie only to have a hockey puck stick my lips to my braces in a very painful and unattractive fashion. This is why I stick to snowshoeing and other slow-moving sports, people. Many bruises have conspired to teach me that I am not built for challenging terrain. At any rate, I still foolishly attempt things like skiing and flipping upside-down whilst dancing, and I was assured by my family that they were looking out for me, so I felt somewhat safe sacrificing my body for the cause of family fun and good dance moves. However, this is an artist’s rendition of what happened, when my non-tattooed artsy man lifted me over his back:

Ow.Except I did not have on a skimpy sequined dress, and I’m fairly certain that my ENTIRE body weight rested on my head. No graceful help from manicured fingers or strong shoulders, here. I hit square on the thinker.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. WHERE ARE MY FEET?! I don’t know, why did I catch a hockey puck with my face? Why don’t we say “thither” any more? Why are Honey Nut Chex so addicting? These are questions that will always haunt me, my friends. You’re welcome.

After the significant crack of cranium on hardwood floor I looked up to see much concern, but not much action happening on the part of my “spotters”.

“Why didn’t you catch her?!” wailed Mom, looking at both Dad and Brudda with the disdain that mediocre spotters receive. They probably gave a reason. I don’t remember much these days.

Anyhoodle, I once again proved to myself that I have a hard head. And that heating pads are gifts from the Lord, Amen.

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The Christmas tree comes down today, an event that always sorrows my sentimental little heart. But in its wake are goals for this next year – plans for fitness and freedom, for growing up and going big, for expanding and reaching and dreaming.

I’ve never been so excited for a new year.

Buckle up, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye.

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