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Archive for the ‘friendship’ 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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Today was awfully awful. It started bad and got worse, and I really needed a pick-me-up or 20.

Hence, today’s list of things that have slowly made life worth living again:

  • Melodrama. (See above). What’s a bad day without a few tears and a bit of ol’ fashioned bosom-clasping?
  • Bosom. Because I just used it and it is a fabulous word. It’s also in the lyrics of this song, which might be the best blustery-day-driving-music on record.
  • Sweet lunchtime phone call from the Hubs, “just to chat”.
  • An hour with Hot D. It’s all sunshine and shoes and olda boys with that one.
  • Facebook. Facebook can be really awful. It can make you lonely and jealous and forlorn. It can also recreate inside jokes, give you a job and an outlet, to which people respond when you tell the online universe that you are down and out. Oh, the double-edged sword of social media.
  • Living by the ocean. It just keeps rolling, reminding me that my problems are not so huge.
  • Signs of spring.
  • Strawberry and pineapple Golden Spoon with gummy bears, brought home to me by Mr. Handsome, as a “feel-better” treat.

I guess it’s not so awful after all.

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I’m jumping aboard Gitz’s wagon train (or was it train band? train wagon? Something about a band and a train and some oxen and 1848 and everybody’s doing it. Whatever, whether I get the saying right or not, it makes no sense) and blogging for five straight minutes about what makes me feel loved.

BONUS, this will also be a list post. Because you care an awful lot about me accomplishing my blogging goals, I know.

  • Hugs at church. It’s easy to walk into to church and blend in with everybody else who are trying to look like they’re comfortable and totally know people, just not right HERE, in this corner, I mean, nevermind, let’s just leave as soon as it’s over, this is weird. It’s harder to actually make friends and feel safe and honest and get hugs. I’m so glad that we have the latter.
  • Adam makes coffee for me in the morning, and I make him a lunch. The simplicity of this quiet routine is a picture of the love in our marriage. Serve and be served. Lead and submit. Give and take. (Oh, and he’s still a great kisser, beyond all that deep, meaningful stuff.)
  • “DaniLin”  – my roommates, Katie Leigh and my mother-in-law still call me DaniLin occasionally, and it makes me feel known and loved.
  • Cards, notes, Facebook posts, blog comments, tweets. I’m a communicator. Talking and writing is how I feel loved, and there is nothing more exciting for me than meaningful words.
  • Respect. I was told this week that I “came highly recommended”. My heart went pitter-patter.
  • Family. My family talks about politics and theology and Big World Things at regular intervals, with passion and much gesticulation. My brother references our childhood and makes me laugh. My mom cooks a lot. These things are all wonderful.
  • Good gifts. I am a rockin’ awesome gift giver. Sorry to brag, but it’s really true. I LOVE shopping, and I LOVE finding the perfect thing for people. (Hence the shopping posts and the way too much fun that I am having in that department.) I also like presents, especially ones that show the depth of someone’s knowledge and care for my tastes over their own. Gifts are such powerful messages – the “gift” love language seems shallow at first glance, but I think it’s really powerful.
  • Time. There is nothing more wonderful than casual, relaxed, unorganized time. I love long walks with a good girlfriend, an afternoon spent antiquing and talking about everything and nothing, quiet camaraderie at the end of a long day, holding hands while driving, long lunches and spilled souls, reality TV and good company, long nights around a campfire and the purity of shared experience, relished inside jokes, and deep conversations easily merged into easy laughter.

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Prompt: Soul food. What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

Food is about people. I love to cook, but I very rarely make anything too delicious for just me – it’s simply not as fun. But this year I cooked some really splendid things and got to watch other people enjoy them:

  • Boeuf Bourguignon. This is the most complicated one-pot meal you will EVER attempt. However, I had a bottle of red wine and some beef laying around and could not be dissuaded, so I spent a day making it and an evening enjoying as Adam and I rapturously ate it. It was really divine. Next time you have a bottle of red wine, a hunk of beef and a day to fritter away, you should make it.
  • Tandoori Butter Chicken. A good friend of ours was put on bedrest and I thought she probably wanted some heartburn to go with it, so I made Indian food for her and her hubby. It really was yummy, and she is made of strong stuff so I thankfully didn’t make her more miserable with my poor menu choices. We took it over and ate with them and watched football and felt very neighborly and cozy.
  • Dinner at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern in Williamsburg. (OK, so this one I didn’t make, but it was too epic to leave out). Lit candles, troubadours, the best seafood ever and a handsome fella across the table. What a great night.
  • Grilling out. This summer we grilled out a lot, using everything from chicken breasts to wild salmon to hunks of meat from the Great Oregonian Beef Steal of 2010. It was restful and delicious and gave us excuses to invite people over to sit outside and sip cocktails. (Not that we need excuses…)

What were your great culinary moments this year?

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(Note from Dani – Katie is one of my dear friends from ACU, and she is a talented writer with an old soul, a sweet spirit and a an almost obsessive love of tea. Enjoy her meditation on new places today as I wander through a new place myself. 🙂 )

So I’m totally jealous of Dani’s rad vacation this week – I love, love, love D.C. and all its amazing sights, and Williamsburg is a swoon-worthy destination for sure. But while part of me sighs with envy, another part is content to be just where I am. For the past two months, my hubs and I have been settling into our new home in Boston. As a couple of Texans who’d only visited Boston once before moving here, we had – and have – a LOT to discover. Just after Jeremiah got the job offer in June, we traveled to Houston for a wedding, and stayed with Jon, my best friend from high school and a voice of wisdom in my life for about 15 years now.

We were weighing the pros and cons of a move, and agonizing over whether to leave Abilene – where we’d met, gone to college, put down deep roots and formed a solid, loving community. Where we’d lived for eight years, where our finances were secure, where we had family. And Jon said something I’ll never forget.

Okay, so I can’t remember the exact wording. But the gist of it was something like this. When weighing major life decisions, he asks himself: Will this decision help me expand the cast of characters in my life? Don’t I want to discover new places and people to add to my story? Is my life complete, just the way it is now? Or will this change (whatever it might be) open up new scenes for me, stretch me and challenge me, and introduce me to people who need to be part of my story – and whose stories I need to be part of?

Something clicked for me as Jon talked about characters and stories, and I knew: Boston was the next exciting chapter in my (and our) story. I loved our life in Abilene, but the truth was, we’d been idling for several months. We felt restless, like it was time to move on – we just didn’t know where yet. We’d had several false starts, but they all came to nothing, and frankly, none of them felt right. Nothing felt right until Boston – and it felt, and feels, like our next great adventure. I’m loving all the things you might expect me to love about Boston: rich history, delicious clam chowder, tons of cultural opportunities, the excitement of exploring a big city.

But I’m also loving getting to know the cast of characters in this chapter of my story. They range from our sweet landlords, an Italian couple in their seventies who live downstairs, to our good friends Abigail and Nate, who moved up here from Abilene just before we did. They include people from half a dozen nations, born-and-raised New Englanders, and transplants like us. And they’re all a part of my story. And now, since I live here, I’m a part of theirs. Vacations are fascinating, it’s true, and even short trips can change your life (one week in London when I was sixteen led to a semester in Oxford and then an entire master’s degree there, for example).

But living in a new place is an entirely different breadth and depth of adventure. I’m thrilled to be writing this chapter of my story in Boston, and I can’t wait to see what – and who – happens next.

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So, I’ve mentioned my blog-crush on Annie Blogs. So when I saw “Annie Blogs” show up on my email, it was like a celebrity sighting for my little email account. wranglerdani (at) gmail.com was flabbergasted and really wanted to squeal, but I restrained her from doing anything too fangirly and embarrassing. Except for shriek off and tell Val, who responded as kindly as is possible when your best friend is irrationally freaking over a blog comment.

Anyhoodle, the comment that got me all a-twitter was on Annie’s fantastic post about how to have community, after which I commented a silly story about Awkward Girl, my alter-ego. I’ve learned many things from my dear Holli, but one of the best tips she’s ever given me was how to laugh at myself when I feel out-of-place (which is often). To do this, she invented an alter ego named Awkward Girl.  Awkward Girl carries her otherness around like a cape and joyfully traipses around, aware of her awkwardness but not allowing it to hold her back. She rolls off of exercise balls, squeals at shadows and gregariously introduces herself without worrying about the potentially painful consequences.

Despite my natural shyness, Awkward Girl was one of many forces who finally gave me the courage to be awkward, to step out past my safe bubble of friends and shake hands with somebody new.

Because I can’t really get away from it, anyway, right? Life is awkward isn’t it?

Community is awkward. People are awkward. I am especially awkward. (The word “awkward” is awkward. Just writing it over and over is making me want to play with it. AwkWord. Awwwwkward. Awkwarrrd. What a weird word. What? Anyways.)

I’m excited about introducing myself now, about new friends and new faces and community that cherishes and loves despite our awkward tendencies. Thanks, old friends, for putting up with Awkward Girl. Hi, new friends… you’re in for an offbeat treat.

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(*Well, I couldn’t very well call you all “babes”, now could I?)

In no particular order, some powerful words that have made my recent days:

“That was badass.” – Joey, regarding my comment, here.

“You are such a man.” – Valerie, about my extreme desire to see The Expendables. (This isn’t actually true, just funny.)

“Are you serious right now?! Holy cow. Dani. You are WAY over-thinking this!” – Mandy, because I was stupidly freaking out as I often stupidly do, and this was exactly the smack across the face that I needed to CALM DOWN, already.

“Giddy up.”  – Sam, our pastor’s wife, telling me to get my hiney in gear in the most wrangler-friendly way possible.

“Maybe you should just kiss me and it’ll all be OK.”  – My Hubs. (Which, by the way, totally worked.)

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