Black Domers – selected as book club selection

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I have great news to share—Black Domers: African-American Students at Notre Dame in Their Own Words, edited by Don Wycliff and David Krashna, was selected by U.S. Catholic Magazine as its January 2019 book club selection. My essay, which describes my experience as a Notre Dame student years ago, is one of many in this anthology.  The book tells how Black students first began to attend Notre Dame, how we made it through, what challenges and opportunities we faced, and what we have to say about our time there and relationship to the University, now that there has been time to reflect. The book starts with the first Black student, Frazier Thompson (class of 1947), and continues to alumni who graduated last year. The stories begin in the 1940s and provide interesting historical context.

Writing the essay was a rewarding experience for me, because it reveals what I love best about the essay form. Not only can a good essay connect us to a more universal story, but it requires the writer to do more than recount what happened. Writing an essay requires that you try to make sense of how the event or person has shaped you, what you took away from it. I learned there is not one typical ND experience, nor did we all respond the same way when confronted with challenges. All of the stories are not upbeat, but they demonstrate the resilience of the students.

I hope you will be able to read some of the stories, and would love to hear from you if you do.

Update: Some have asked where the book can be found. It is available on Amazon and in the Notre Dame bookstore if you happen to be in South Bend, IN. Thank you for your support and interest. I also wanted to add that in lieu of any payment, the authors agreed to support an endowment for scholarships so other students can have their own ND story.

 

 

Walking Away Money

 

Several years ago, I left a job that I mostly enjoyed, planning to take a one-year sabbatical to sort out what my next move would be. I was a development officer, also known as a fundraiser, for a large midwestern university with national name recognition. I believed in the programs for which I fundraised, the visual and performing arts, scholarships, endowments, and I met amazing benefactors, many of whom I still maintain friendships with. But I knew I needed a change, wanted to explore some of the stories that I carried in my head and heart. I had been able to spend time with highly creative people—artists, musicians, sculptors, actors, and writers, while in that position. When we had time, I asked about their processes, how they studied, when they found the time to practice and create. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo – Day 18 Word Count

Reporter working at typewriter.

It is Day 18 of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), my word count is 27,518 and I am not finished writing for the day. It is time to take a break and get some fresh air, run a few errands. I took my time writing today because I had to write a pivotal scene that I have been building towards for weeks (or should I say words?)

Something happened in my novel this week that was not planned. The story took a direction that I had not foreseen, so I followed it down the corridor to see where it was leading me. I also had a glimpse of what another novel could be, based on some of the subplots and characters I might not be able to include in this story. No need to get ahead of myself, I still have lots of work to get to 50,000 words.

Have a good weekend!

NaNoWriMo – Day 4 Word Count

 

Reporter working at typewriter.

Hello and thank you for checking in on me! I have received so many encouraging words – here, face-to-face, and through email. Last week I told you about my commitment to participate in National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. I’ll need to complete 50,000 words by the end of November; this is my weekly update.

Great news – it is Day 4 and I have 12,730 words on my work-in-progress! I set a faster pace for the first week because I know that I have other projects coming up and the holiday, so I wanted to get off to a strong start. I am having a blast, and like the characters that I am writing about. Wish me well, I am going to keep it up!

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

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NaNoWriMo, National November Writing Month, begins next week on November 1. For 30 days, I will join hundreds of thousands of writers around the world, working towards one goal—to complete a novel of 50,000 words during November. This is my first time participating in NaNoWriMo and I am excited.

I usually write shorter pieces, such as essays and profiles, and I have never completed anything this lengthy or large or imposing in my years as a writer. But I have various stories floating around in my imagination, stories that I want to explore, and I decided it would be a good challenge; I want to see what I can create after a month of focused work. I will need to write nearly 1,700 words every day to get to the finish line, but I am certain that some days will have me zipping past that goal, while other days will be a struggle to get down the first few sentences.

On December 1, I do not expect to have what could be truly called a novel, at best, it will be a messy draft, a jumble of words, twisted plots, and characters. Part of me wonders if by rushing through this process, I can develop any real sense of what it means to write a novel. I know that the real work of writing comes in revision, not in the first draft. I did not learn how to swim by putting on a swimsuit, or run by choosing running shoes based on color. After November, I may have to walk away from this work for a while, giving it time to settle in, and go back later and revise it into something that can carry the label “novel.” It doesn’t matter; I am thrilled by the prospect of trying to tell a story that is interesting enough to hold my attention for its first 30 days.

Accountability is a good partner, so I will post my word counts here every Friday during November, which will keep me focused on my progress and let you know how I am doing. If you think you have a good story in you, and want to join me, you can sign up at NaNoWriMo or just start writing on your own.

Reporter working at typewriter.Starting word count: zero, but lots of ideas…

We are All Artists

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It took a while before I felt comfortable calling myself a writer. Saying that you are a writer elicits so many questions. Some are easier to answer, such as, “What do you write?” or “Are you working on a novel?” When I respond to the first question, I explain my love for the essay form and that my favorite genre is creative nonfiction. That term sometimes requires explanation—isn’t all writing creative?— but then I add that I use the tools of the novelist while telling a true story. This seems to help them understand, and I can point them to examples, essays, books, or magazine pieces that fall under this genre.

The second question is a bit trickier, because many people immediately think of novels when you say that you are a writer. I savor novels too, with their characters and plots, evocative descriptions, and scenes. I even made an unfinished attempt at a novel many years ago, but I did not finish it. I didn’t commit the time, the plot began to flounder, and I put it aside.

Then comes the inevitable third question “So have you written a book yet, are you published?” Even though I have been published, I had to learn that being published, the frequency of it or the recognition it can bring, cannot be my sole reason for writing. If I have labored over a work, then it is often my intent to send it out, to share it with others. But first, I had to get over imagining the book cover, the catchy title, book tours and readings. I was left with only one course of action – I had to sit down and put the words on paper. All of those imaginings are great for inspiration and ideation, but until I place the words on the page, wrestle, tease or play with them until they are properly positioned, it’s all make-believe.

Writing forces me to deal with my desire for perfection. Every time I sit down at my desk to begin a new piece, I wonder how it is going to turn out, or if it will be any good. At first. But the best part of writing is that I give myself permission to just let the words come, whether they are in a rush so swift I cannot contain them, or if they come as a measly drip, drip, drip, one tentative word at a time. When I finish the day’s writing, I always am slightly amazed at myself, not because the writing is so incredible, because it is not most of the time, certainly not right away. I am amazed because I sat down with the intention to write and I did it. I kept a commitment to myself, using a gift that I let languish for years because I was busy doing other stuff. I used to want to be like those people who discovered their vocation early in life, wishing that I had started sooner on this writing life. I have made peace with that dream, because I have lived long enough to have rich and varied experiences, and enough years have passed that I have perspective and insight about what I have gone through.

I believe that everyone is an artist of some sort. Creativity has to be nurtured, but it must also be explored. This exploration takes place when we become more aware of the diversity of thought, experience, style, and culture around us. Without this awareness of different perspectives, an adult tells a child that her picture “doesn’t look quite right,” and believes it. A writer tells a story, and because it is so foreign to your worldview, you dismiss it, instead of looking for the kernel of truth or insight, or even humor, that might be present.

I am partial to the written word, but I also have explored sewing, pottery, singing, dancing, and improving my French and Spanish. I go to hear other authors read, visit museums, poke around in small shops, searching for other ways to look at and feel the world. We are all artists of some sort, and to the question, “How do I get paid for it?” my advice is not to wait to figure out how to make money at it, at least not right away. Practice, explore, get better, and then consider if this craft is something you love enough to pursue whether it feeds you or not. I think you will be enriched by the experience of exploring your creativity, whether it becomes your livelihood or not.

Inspiration – James Baldwin and the essay

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An essay is not simpler, though it may seem so. An essay is essentially an argument. The writer’s point of view is always absolutely clear. The writer is trying to to make the readers see something, trying to convince them of something. In a novel or play you’re trying to show them something. The risks, in any case, are exactly the same.

– James Baldwin

Inspiration Quote – Work and Contentment

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“Contentment is work so engrossing that you do not know that you are working.”

I found this quote in poet Donald Hall‘s book, Life Work, and like it because it describes the feeling of being so absorbed in work that you can enjoy it and do not see  it as burdensome. Work often has a bad connotation because it has become too associated with employment, compensation, titles, and performance.

I prefer a simpler definition, where work is purposeful activity that has the goal of making or doing something. It can be physical, mental, creative, or spiritual. Its value is not determined by the presence or size of a paycheck. Even when I needlepoint, which is handwork, I am content and engrossed in what I am doing, and eager to see what the outcome will look like.

How do you define work and what work do you find engrossing?

 

Inspiration Quote for June

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It’s June and it finally feels like summer here in northern Indiana. Summer comes with a chance to relax and delight in being outdoors but I also like to use these three months between now and the end of August to focus on a few projects. I have decided on three – one for writing, one for fitness, and another for fun. Deciding on which projects to choose wasn’t hard; one idea I had been mulling over for months. But getting started, now that can be the hard thing.

Last month I used a quote about beginnings and now that it’s time to begin, I have to admit that I am a little tentative because I don’t have all the answers and I don’t exactly know how this will turn out, especially the writing project. Just in time, I found this quote. It nudges me along, encourages me to press on.

I hope it does the same for the artist in you.

“We often procrastinate on creative tasks that can bring us precariously close to the edge of rawness—that sense of not knowing what will issue forth next— words written on the page, the colors on the canvas, the movement and emotions that arise from losing ourselves in the music. We may not know what to do with the grandeur of being alive in this moment.”

– Arnie Kozak in his book Mindfulness A to Z:108 Insights for Awakening Now