The Song of the Accompanist

 

What pleasure it is to not be number 1.

No one is watching me, but everyone would feel the loss if I were absent.

My role is vital yet no one gives me a second thought.

Like air or water.

I have to be watchful and observant. Even though I am following, in my own way I lead.

The confidence in my notes brings confidence in their voices, and when I am unsure, they falter.

It gives me a sense of power.

Humble power, if there is such a thing.

 

 

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Writing Without Regret

Today is the release day of my second book, and according to all marketing logic, this is the day I should be posting some big announcement about how awesome my book is and how you need to buy it because it will forever change your life. I should be smothering you with photos of me opening up my newly minted novels, saying things like “here is my sixth baby!” while I lift up the book, pose, and give it a kiss for the cameras.

But today I am going to break all rules of book promotion and tell you that as great as I think my book is, it is not why I breathe. It  does not hold my hand, it does not sing silly songs, nor make me cry, nor make me laugh. It does not crawl in bed with me early in the morning and commandeer the sweet spot between me and my spouse. Besides, I have always been uncomfortable when people kiss inanimate objects like trophies, medals and books, because I don’t kiss things. I kiss people.

A person in the United States can expect to live about 80 years. Raising a child takes 18 of those years. But they are really only a “child” for 12 years, and they are only a young child for five years. So out of the 80 years I will be alive, I have only five years to mother this young child. Five years out of 80 does not seem like much time.

Here is another way to look at it:

It is always tragic when a child dies, but in a way, all children die. They die every year, at every age. I adored Naomi as a three-year-old. She was so spunky and fun and quirky. She and I would dance to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue until I would collapse on the couch and she would tug at my arm to get me to stand up and dance again. (Rhapsody in Blue is a long song.) But the other day Naomi (now age 9) and I were in the car when we heard Rhapsody in Blue come over the radio. I asked her if she recognized the song. She said no. I reminded her that it was the song we used to dance to over and over. And over. She smiled but she could not remember. My three-year-old Naomi had vanished.

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But now I have a 9-year-old Naomi, and she bounces around the house singing jingles. Anytime anyone says anything she makes up a jingle on the spot. When she finishes she says “Woot!Woot!”, makes two kissing sounds, and then strikes a pose. In her spare time she goes out to the garden and belts out Broadway songs to the tomatoes to help them grow. She doesn’t even eat tomatoes. I’m pretty sure she won’t be doing these things when she’s 13. How sad will that be!

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But when she is 13 she will be doing something else interesting . . . and on and on. So there is loss, but there is also such great discovery! How wonderful children are! Yet how fleeting!

It was always the great dream of my heart to have a family. But hearts do have room for more than one dream, and when I got the idea for my first book I knew that it had to be written down, and I had to be the one to do it.

So I started writing, and right away my imagination took me to places that were far more interesting and exciting than laundry, sweeping, diapers, repeat. My mind was electrified with ideas–ideas that turned doing the dishes into brainstorming sessions and vacuuming into opportunities to solve plot dilemmas. Everything around me was punctuated with meaning and symbolism, from the feathers of a bird to the perfect swirl of hair at the back of my baby’s head. I certainly knew my life had “meaning” as a mother, but now I had a dazzling new purpose. I had become an idea volcano. If someone had hooked up a brain scanner to my head during those first few years of writing I’m sure the machine would have exploded.

Mothers need kids. But mothers also need something to keep their minds from petrifying. My antidote was writing, and wow, was it effective. I could easily sit in my room and write for hours a day, oblivious to the world, and I would be as happy as bear at a boy scout jamboree. It was my husband who stepped in and made me realize that my writing had become my drug. He reminded me that the real stories are happening outside my bedroom door. And if I am sitting in here typing away while they are out there, I will not be in their stories.

Scccrreeeach, went the brakes.

After that I restructured my writing schedule. I did everything I could to not write when my kids were around. I wrote early in the morning, while they were at school, and while they watched tv. I sacrificed my free time, not theirs, and I never wrote on Sunday.

What this means is, my progress was very, very slow.

But that was okay, because I was consistent. And ultimately it all worked in my favor. You see, I always got interrupted before I could conclude my writing sessions, so during dull moments (folding clothes, driving, loading the dishwasher) I would re-work the scene in my mind, and in the meantime my kids were constantly giving me new ideas to spice it up. It was the perfect writing environment: I was surrounded by inspiration yet I was kept away from my computer. Then, when I was finally able to get back on my computer the ideas poured from my fingers like Niagara Falls.

And now I have two books and five kids and I don’t have regrets about the time I spent because I did everything I could to put my kids first. I didn’t let writing bewitch me into slicing away time from my kids. I was part of their stories, just as they were part of mine. Plus, they had a mom who was energized and happy because she was in the midst of creating something extraordinary. And when Mom has a skip in her step and a sparkle in her eye, the kids are the first beneficiaries.

I went to LDStorymakers conference last spring. It was bigger than I expected. There were 700 writers there! Who knew that many Mormons liked to write? The conference chairperson was Jenny Proctor, author of several books and mother of six kids.  I was not acquainted with her and wanted to introduce myself (since we are both from North Carolina), so after the opening ceremonies, as people drained from the room to go to their classes, I followed her, waiting for my chance.  As she was finishing up her conversation with the conference photographer, I couldn’t help overhearing what she was saying.

“I want you to take a picture of me when I am up at the podium. Only, I want you to take a photo of me from behind so that you can see me and the audience. I really want to my kids to see what I do. I want them to see how big this is.”

She didn’t say “I want to post this on Facebook so people will see what I do and how big this is,” or “I want to post this on my blog so people can see what I do and how big this is” but she wanted to show her kids. Because kids trump everything.

My favorite characters are not the ones who live in my head, but the ones who live in my home, and my favorite stories are the stories they are making for themselves. They constantly surprise me with their plot twists and cliff-hanger endings, their unpredictable, entertaining, laugh-out-loud fun. I want to keep turning the pages of their stories for as long as I live. They are books I never get sick of (though they DO make me tired) and books I want to keep reading over and over again.

When you have the opportunity to choose between your child or your muse, always choose the child.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Buy my book if you want. It really is good, and it gave me a lot of joy to write it. But if I accomplish anything of importance in my life it will not be writing novels. That is why you will never see me kiss my books, and you will never hear me call my book “my sixth baby” because my baby are sacred words, reserved only for the choicest people I know, with whom I have the privilege of sharing my home, my life and all my stories.

 

 

 

 

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Arthur Ashe & Me

When I was a teenager I came across a quote that made a profound impression on me. It came at a moment in my life that, when I read it, it leaped out at me and landed right in my heart.

At the time I was competing in several local and statewide scholarship programs, and this quote got me through many shaky moments. I would think of it before I went out on stage, I would think of it before I had an interview, I would even think of it before I entered a new social situation. I probably repeated it hundreds of times in my head, and it always helped me stay poised and level my nerves. In a way you could say that this short little quote gave me the confidence to successfully earn enough scholarship money to pay for almost all of my college tuition. After 20 years I can still repeat it:

Regardless of how you feel inside, always try and look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of confidence and control can give you the mental edge that results in victory.

This was said by Arthur Ashe. But even inspiring words like these mean little until you know the background of the person who said it.

Arthur Ashe was the first African American man to be ranked the number 1 tennis player in the world, the first (and still only) African American to win the USOpen. He became a devoted civil-rights advocate. Tragically, he became HIV positive after receiving a blood transfusion. He died of AIDS when he was 49. Arthur Ashe was a man who is remembered for his dignity and courage in a time of fear and injustice.

I still use his quote all the time. It is a great mantra for motherhood. For instance when all of your children are crying or yelling at the same time (which my children never do), instead of throwing them out the window or putting them up for adoption, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and repeat, “Regardless of how you feel inside . . . ”

Because if Arthur Ashe can have grace under pressure with big challenges, we can have it with small ones.

Last week my twin daughters auditioned for an orchestra. One daughter was feeling particularly inadequate, so I introduced her to Arthur Ashe. “Regardless of how you feel inside…” As she listened to the words I saw a change in her features. A light, a spark. I don’t know how that quote made her feel on the inside, but it seemed to do the trick. She was successful in her audition and she made the orchestra.

And so Arthur’s words inspire yet another generation.

As it happened I married a tennis player. One of the perks of marrying into a tennis family is that every now and then we get to go to amazing places like this. This week I got another once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the US Open.

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In the center of the complex, right as you walk in there is a statue of a man poised, mid-serve. Around the statue, carved in stone, they have this quote from Arthur Ashe:

From what we get we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.

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You don’t have to play tennis to have your life changed by Arthur Ashe.

You just have to be human.

If you have an Arthur Ashe story or quote I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.   –Arthur Ashe

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Looking for God

This afternoon I was sitting on my porch watching the prelude of an August storm bend the tree trunks in my front yard. The wind tossed the leaves and snapped the American flag hanging from the eaves so hard that my dog tucked his tail between his legs and pawed the front door. Thunder rumbled overhead and I leaned back in my rocker and soaked it in. This is my favorite weather. The only air that feels better than the air right before the storm is the air that comes right after. New air. Swift air. Air that rushes in, shakes everything up and makes the world clean again.

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As I was savoring the drop in barometric pressure I remembered that my friend told me that thunder is God’s Testimony. Could there be a more wonderful way to think of thunder?

God: I LIVE.

The more I watch the people around me the more I am convinced that you cannot find the answers to spiritual questions on the internet. The only thing you will find are the musings of others.

But when I am outside, my thoughts become my thoughts again. Ever since I was a child I have felt God’s presence when I am outside. But we don’t go outside as often anymore. (At least not in August, in the South.) We stay inside with all of our man-made stuff looking into our man-made screens, and we start to believe the lie that the things our brains have made are the most sophisticated things in the world, and that we can learn anything the internet.

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But, of course they aren’t and we can’t, because people are just people after all. So when I get these moments outside, especially on gusty, stormy afternoons like this, I am reminded of His presence again. I can hear His testimony. And His testimony isn’t just in the thunder. It is in a leaf. It is in a bumblebee. It is in everything. Like any great carpenter he left his signature all around us, reminding us that not only He created this world, but that he lives, and that someday he’ll come back.

If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words. But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.   Alma 30:44

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The Last Messenger: FAQs

It is one month until my book The Last Messenger of Zitol will be released. I’ve been getting questions from people about the book so I thought it was time to make sure everyone knew what was up. Here is are my best answers to the most frequently asked questions:

I ordered the book a month ago, why hasn’t it come?

Because you are an early bird! The official release date is September 13th. You will probably get the book earlier than that if you pre-ordered it, but probably not until at least Aug 30. (And you can still pre-order! If you order today you will get a 19% discount!)

On Goodreads I see that some people have already read the book and posted reviews. How can that be if the book hasn’t been released yet?

During the editing process I sent out some Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to a limited number of people to give it an early review. Some of these people I knew, and some were complete strangers. These copies were not proofread yet, and not ready to be seen by a wide audience, but they helped give me an idea of what the response will be to the book. You can check out their reviews on Goodreads here.

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Can I order it now?

Yes! click here. It will be delivered around the release date, Sept 13.

What is your target audience?

Anyone who enjoys reading Young Adult fiction. People who will particularly enjoy it are: teenage girls, teenage boys, anyone who has ever been in love, anyone who has looked up at the stars, anyone who has paddled a canoe in the ocean, and anyone who loves chocolate. I would definitely recommend this book for mother/daughter book clubs.

Is this book a sequel to your first book The Cenote?

Nope. But, like The Cenote, this book was inspired by the Aztec and Maya cultures of ancient Mexico. The setting for The Cenote was a small village, but The Last Messenger takes place in a dazzling ancient American city at the pinnacle of its prosperity.

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Is this book an allegorical novel like The Cenote?

Yes and no. The main message of this book is a little more obvious than the more covert message of The Cenote, but I love books that take some deciphering, so I included plenty of allegories, metaphors and symbolism for you to savor and mull over.

Tell me what the book is about in one sentence.

This book is a young adult romance/adventure/coming-of-age-story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken away to a faraway city to be sacrificed to the gods.

What point of view is the story told in? 

The story is told in 1st person, from the perspective of a selfish prince.

Will there be a party? 

Yes! There will be a party/book-signing in September here in Hillsborough, NC. More info TBA.

That is all I can think of for now. Did you have a question I didn’t answer? Ask it in the comments and I will get back with you asap!

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Rowing Off Into the Sunset

So there once was a mom who was jealous of her kids.

She was jealous because they got to have piano lessons and violin lessons and swimming lessons and soccer and tennis and etcetera.  The mom watched them learning all of these wonderful things and she wanted to learn something, too. So she decided to sign up for lessons of her own.

IMG_9127She had had her eye on rowing for a long time, and finally a friend told her about a nearby masters crew club that had lessons for novices. The only requirements were that you have to be fit, know how to swim (no one wears life jackets), and you have to be able to lift 40 pounds over your head and walk 75 yards. (The team carries the very long and heavy boat from the boathouse to the water.)

She had the first two requirements down, but she was a little nervous about the last one. (Have you seen the size of her arms? They are like broomsticks!) IMG_9105

Fortunately for her, she was not as tall as the other rowers and once they had the boat over their heads she couldn’t even reach it. A lucky break!IMG_9111

The coach was a fountain of rowing knowledge, and most of the other women were experienced rowers so there was nothing to fear. (Except catching a crab, which she did on the third day of practice. Yikes!)

There were lots new things to learn. Anyone even casually familiar with boats knows that when facing the bow the right side is starboard and the left side is port. But in a row boat you are all facing backwards. So your left side is starboard and your right side is port. It took some getting used to.

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The coach was careful to teach by degrees . . . Sometimes only two rowers would row while the other rowers kept the boat set with their oars. Then the coach increased it to four, and the six. When it wasn’t her turn to row the star of our story would close her eyes and pretend like she was Cleopatra going down the Nile.

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I am in seat number 5, right in the middle with the white hat.

It wasn’t until the third practice that the coach allowed all eight rowers to row and she could now understand why her coach had added rowers by degrees. Eight people rowing with no one to set the boat was quite exciting! And a little chaotic, at first. But eventually she got the hang of it.

IMG_9113The whole experience was a little dream come true and definitely one to repeat in the future. But now it is back to taking the kids to lessons, and watching them grow and learn. Which is not so bad, especially when you have a view like this:

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Book Review: The Sacred Gift of Childbirth

I was asked to review this book for a very good friend. First I will give my review, and then, if you want to read on, I will tell you a birth story of my own and why this book really made an impression on me.

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Every woman who delivers her child naturally gets to the point in her labor where she believes she can’t do it anymore. As miserable as that sounds, this is a wonderful event because soon thereafter she will prove herself wrong.  –Marie-Ange Bigelow

Written by an experienced doula, The Sacred Gift of Childbirth by Marie-Ange Bigelow is an empowering tool to help any mother prepare herself emotionally and spiritually for the event of childbirth. Although the intended audience is LDS women, I think any woman expecting a child can learn valuable insights from this book.

Many women, including myself, go into childbirth with the mindset that as long as everyone is alive and healthy in the end it is has been a successful experience. But this author suggests that modern women are missing a major part of the joy of the birth experience when they decide to use pain medication, and that unnecessary medical intervention can dull or even eclipse what she calls the natural “birth high.” She reminds us that giving birth is the most intuitive thing our bodies can do, and that most women need little if any medical intervention. The pain from the birth experience is a divinely designed process to endow a new mother with an overwhelming and powerful love for her child from the very beginning.

I have five children, and I had an epidural with each one. I don’t feel that any of my kids’ births was a negative experience; they were all exciting and joyous, and epidurals are exquisite. But as I read this book I couldn’t help thinking that even my wonderful births could have been even more meaningful if I had been more willing to accept that I have an innate ability to bear children without pain medication. I appreciated that the author never made me feel guilty for having pain medication, instead she left me with the inspiration that with the right support I could have done it with flying colors.

I also appreciated the fact that the author had a section for new fathers. She says, “For the majority of men, supporting a woman though a birth goes against their nature. Men are fixers, yet a husband cannot step in and “fix” a birth.” With this in mind, she gives a list of very helpful ways the father can be involved in the birthing process as a support and protector. I think any man does better when he is given a task or a role in the process. Otherwise he has little to do but sleep, pace, or—like my husband—pass out.

I wish I had had this book 13 years ago when I first started having kids. It comes a little late for me now (I am 38 years old and 95% sure that I am finished having kids, but you never know) but it is not too late for many other soon-to-be moms out there.

You can purchase Marie’s book here, and here is a link to her beautiful website.

My story 

I had planned from the beginning to bear children the natural, old fashioned way. But that idea was thrown out the window the moment I discovered I was going to have TWINS. After that the desire for an epidural became a no-brainer. I didn’t even consider natural childbirth, even though my next three births, were pretty much textbook, low-risk deliveries. I went into each subsequent birth depending on the arrival of the anesthesiologist, having pretty much no faith in my own strength and stamina.

Because of this, when my fifth child was about to be born and the anesthesiologist was stuck in the OR, I felt real fear. I was not prepared to have a baby on my own and I remember thinking: This is my fifth child, how can I be so scared when this is something I’ve already done so many times? By this time I had conditioned myself to need pain medication. The contractions were coming more frequently and they were worse than I ever remembered. It was so painful that I felt that the birth must be imminent, even though my midwife said I wasn’t ready. Then, about the time of my worst contractions, my husband feinted in the bathroom and had to be revived. At least five people arrived to help him recover, but still no anesthesiologist for me!

Looking back, I believe I was very close to having the baby, and I am confident in retrospect that I could have done it with out medication. What I needed was someone to be there to tell me that I could do it. If the midwife had looked into my eyes and said, “Anesthesiologist, schmanethesiologist. You have born twins and two other children. Your body knows how to do this, even if you don’t. I know you have what it takes to do this and I’m going to be here every step of the way to make sure you can.” Instead she said, “Sorry, hon, I don’t know what is taking that anesthesiologist so long! I called him two hours ago!”

Eventually the anesthesiologist arrived. “Sorry I’m late!” he said. “I’ll give you the big dose.” And let me tell you, it was big and it was dreamy. . . and the contractions came to a screeching halt. Then my husband went to sleep, the midwife disappeared, and I was left in the dark for 6 hours until they gave me pitocin in the morning and I had the baby. It was wonderful to have Levi here, and in the end I was perfectly satisfied with everything about my birth. We all lived, right?

But then came the headache . . .

The next day I developed the most painful headache I have ever had. Every time I sat up it was as if someone had replaced the back of my skull with a red hot sheet of metal. The pressure was searing. Only when I was laying down did I feel a small measure of relief.

Turns out I had a spinal headache, a complication that happens to a small percentage of mothers who get epidurals. I could not sit up for more than a minute without intense pain. They released me from the hospital and Scott drove me home with my seat reclined all the way. I didn’t get out of bed or off the couch for three days because it was impossible for my head to be in an upright position, and I nursed laying down. Scott did everything else. Luckily the headache wore off on the fourth day and I didn’t have to get a blood patch, but even now I still wake up in the morning sometimes feeling the pressure in the back of my head. And it makes me wonder, how would it have been different if I had had someone there to tell me that I could get through the pain on my own like the millions and millions of women who have done it for thousands of years?

As usual, we can always do more than we think we can. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves the opportunity.

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