Guilt is a good friend, isn’t it?

Guilt is a good friend, isn’t it? It will stand at your back when every other friend has abandoned you, and in the face of all reason it will stay by your side, and even when you tell it, “I am moving on now,” it will say, “I shall never leave you; never.”

If only I could find a lover as faithful as guilt.

from Talyn by Holly Lisle

Well, that puts a new spin on guilt, calling it a faithful friend.

I would never have chosen this book from the shelf. The reviews praise it, but say it is dark and violent. The cover looks as though that is true. It belongs to the fantasy genre. I’m not a big fan of fantasy warrior stories. I get violence overload from the current news. I had to give up being a news junkie because the violence was so incomprehensible that it somehow wounded me through the televised sights and sounds. I would never have chosen this book.   I am grateful that it was chosen for me.

Cruising the boards on the NaNo site, I came across a recommendation for Holly Lisle’s writing course and clicked the link. I clicked several more, intrigued by the honesty, humor, and sense I found there. Holly has thirty-two novels in publication and earns a good living at it. She knows how to explain what she does clearly, easily, entertainingly. And she doesn’t charge a fortune. Much of what she has to offer is free and useful, not just an advertisement for her courses. I signed up for her “How to Revise Your Novel: get the book you want from the book you have” course. I will never regret the few dollars invested.

Still, I was just a bit embarrassed to be taking writing courses from an author whose work I have never read. Truth be told, I had never even heard of Holly Lisle until I saw that NaNo post. But like I said, it isn’t my genre. And I’m only now beginning to read regularly again. After consuming all fifteen volumes of John Jake’s Kent Family Chronicles in fourteen days, I realized that reading was replacing real life. I had to quit. During the past twenty-three years, I have read only about half a dozen books—all of which came to me through someone else’s hand, insisting I “must read this book.”

As I said, I was embarrassed that I’d neither heard of Holly nor read her work. So I asked which of her of books she would write if she could only have written one. Talyn was her choice “without question or hesitation.” I bought a hardcover copy and began to read—not to know the story recreationally, but to know the author who is teaching me so very much. She practices what she preaches. I want to join her choir.

Back to this quote about guilt. It’s true that it refuses to leave against all reason. Guilt the emotion, is not a matter of fact, truth, or reason. It is a feeling. It looks for any chink in our defenses and moves in on us gradually. And we allow it to do so. We embrace it before we realize what we have done. We befriend it, make it part of our lives just the way we draw our friends into our lives. And too often we begin to depend on it. Need it. Cling to it even while we say we don’t want it. But guilt knows our heart, our soul, and hears not our words. We know it will destroy us, yet we cannot turn away even in the midst of our own protest. We become the enabler, the co-dependent.

Like any co-dependent behavior, guilt can be overcome. Guilt is no longer my companion. I learned to send it packing long ago. It didn’t happen overnight and took some practice, but I learned. Yes, I still make mistakes. But I am quick to recognize them and make whatever correction is possible. I mark them up to lessons learned without fixating on my error or letting guilt become a controlling factor in my life. I have learned to embrace, not the guilt of my error–real or imagined, but the growth and maturity gained from the experience. I have issued guilt a restraining order—thus far and no farther.

I have learned to discard destructive friends. And, like other destructive “friends” I have discarded, I will not allow guilt to influence my life, to be my friend, faithful or otherwise, ever again.

Having broken off my relationship with guilt, my life has filled with Joy.


Let the Homework Begin!

I’ve started back to school after a six-month leave. My current class is the capstone of my M.Ed. in Adult Education with a specialty in eLearning Technology and Design. “Capstone” sounds so final. But it isn’t. I still have two more classes to complete after this before I can graduate. A scheduling fluke landed me in the last class two classes early. No matter. It should be an easier class than the two remaining, and I need to ease back into things—get my academic feet back under me before tackling the next challenging class.

The next two classes won’t really be too bad—once I get focused. They are in the Technology and Design specialty, so there will be quite a bit of information that is new to me. I always feel a bit lost in the beginning of such courses. Too much new material all at once, I suppose. But soon enough, things start coming together, and I sail through to the end.

Jones International University doesn’t give exams in its graduate programs. It requires application of course content to real world problems, which is far more challenging and meaningful than responding to a prompt by spewing back the expected information. Education should contribute to a better world, after all.  Explanation and defense of the course project is done in writing–even if the presentation uses multi-media. So I’m thriving academically. I’m in my element: words.

If there are no more scheduling problems, I should graduate end of June this year. I’m ready. It’s been a long haul. If it had just been the classes, it wouldn’t have been quite so difficult. I would have graduated end of October.  But my health issues keep throwing a wrench in the works.

In the past two years, I have spent a total of eight months out of class because of my health. I had hoped that after this last leave I would return to school with a diagnosis and specific treatment/management plan that would reduce or eliminate my risk of having to take more time off. But that was not to be. There are still more tests to be done. So far the tests have ruled out diagnoses, but have not confirmed anything. This process of elimination dictates the next test. Unfortunately, scheduling the diagnostic tests has become a bigger challenge than scheduling classes.

Now we are getting hit by a series of small snowfalls. The highways clear quickly as the traffic follows the plows. Even on sub-freezing days, the snow will melt on the pavement as the sun hits it and traffic warms the pavement. But the dirt road linking my driveway to the pavement can be treacherous days longer than the paved roads. The plows don’t come here. There is no pavement to absorb the heat of the tire friction or the sunlight. There is not enough traffic to warm the ground. When the road does thaw, mud will swallow it.

I don’t have a sidewalk from the house to the unpaved driveway. Snow deeper than 2 ½ inches or deep mud will prevent me from getting my wheelchair to the car. I can be housebound even if the roads are passable.

During such times, we rely on the “information super highway” for banking, shopping for non-food items, visiting with friends and relatives. But the Internet is useless for getting me to my diagnostic tests. The tests have to be rescheduled time and again—just in case I can get there.

Still, this is good weather for going to school online. I don’t have to miss class because of the weather, and I have something meaningful and intellectually challenging to accomplish while I wait for the road to thaw, the muck to dry up, and the test that finally reveals what is wrong with my muscles.

Grand Passion—Part 3

Teaching and learning are wonderful things. There are so many things available to learn about and teach. And the world needs people to learn and teach each of them if it is to keep running. So it is good that people have an innate passion for different things. For some it is cooking, for some singing, for some it is dance, for my oldest brother it was raising pigeons. Some have a passion for unraveling quantum physics, exploring space, or curing cancer.

People with a Grand Passion can listen to others talk about it hours on end, or do the talking themselves. It matters not. They will be equally engaged in listening and talking. And their engagement is contagious.

I would never have learned anything about pigeons if my brother’s knowledge hadn’t spilled out so passionately. That’s the way a Grand Passion works. It overflows joyously and carries other people along with it. Raising pigeons was my brother’s Grand Passion, not mine. Yet I found joy in his engagement of his passion and learned a lot about pigeons as well.

If I could learn and teach anything of my choosing without regard to cost, location, or marketability of the subject, what would it be? What is it that gives me so much joy that I would do it for free or even pay to do it? What is it that is closer to my core than teaching or learning? What is that singular passion that is innately, intrinsically, inseparable from who I am.?

That’s difficult to explain because there are so many facets of the “doing” part. My Grand Passion is, hands down, the learning, exploring, observing, manipulating, speaking, hearing, writing, and generally playing with…words. Maybe all of those can be summed up as “engaging words.”

It isn’t my fault. God started it. “In the beginning, God said…” and so it became. Words. They existed before all of creation and contain the power to create or destroy. What was God thinking when He gave us the power of words, to use them carefully or thoughtlessly?

Words alone have no power, no effect upon the world. Words without intelligent interaction are nothing. No word that exists can communicate anything, change anything, create anything until it is used. Words must be spoken, written, sung, imagined, thought, pictured…otherwise, they are void. Words must be used before they have volition.

Oh, and use them we do. We use words to enlighten us, frighten us, and lighten our load. We use words to tell fabricated stories and great truths. Words can fill us with hope or eternal “nope.” They give us the means to create, debate, and abate. They can lift us out of despair, or put us there. Words can bring people together or push them apart. They can wake us up or put us to sleep. They can cheer us up, bring us down, get us through, show us a way around. Words can define, refine, make us shine. How can I not be fascinated?

One of the wonders of a Grand Passion is that people do not limit it to their own engagement of the passion. I love the ways other people use words. I love to read what other people write. I love to hear other people speak. I love to hear people sing. I celebrate clever and skillful use of words. I love eloquent words and clumsy words, technical words and vague words, rhythmic words and blunt words. I collect malaprops!

Grand Passions, all of them, are infectious and spread their joy to others. And I have infected my children with my love of words. Even though it is not their Grand Passion, they have passed the joy on to my grandchildren. Our gatherings explode with word play and laughter. (There is a family joke that we were too poor to afford toys, so we played with words. It is, of course, hyperbole. We had toys. And words were our favorites.)

I love the way words can be used, now as a noun, next as a gerund to fit the structure of language in wonderful combination. It is the difference between the mundane and the magical. Even when my own words are labored and ill-fitted, I love them for their potential. I love what they can be, even if I cannot make it happen.

Engaging words gives me intrinsic and inexplicable joy that causes me to giggle all the way from my toes, animates all my limbs, and gives me a stupid grin that is impossible to hide. The joy of my Grand Passion is infectious.

What is your Grand Passion, that beloved “doing” that is born in you, that gives you inexplicable joy, that makes you who you are and drives you to become who you are created to be?

Synapse Awakes—Part 2

The appointed time came. October 31st, I sat with others on the same quest waiting for the countdown to begin, bearing witness that none started early, sharing the mystery, the fantasy, the romance, the horror of what we were about to do. At precisely 12 a.m. November 1st, synapses trembling from holding the words back from false starts, the joyful madness began. Each person had to be finished, locked in, and validated before 11:59 p.m. November 30th.

We met on each of the next three Mondays to share stories, suggestions, progress, frustration, laughter, words—always, and most importantly, words. It was on this final Monday that we each toted our own infectious bliss and set it up in the center of each table. We acknowledged the poignancy, the finality, the sadness—laughing all the while. We had begun hesitantly, as strangers do, and within a few weeks had cheered all on to within reach of the goal. It was madness, exuberance, and we were gleefully outrunning time.

In the spaces between Mondays, I had worked alone. Donnie watched me from behind his book, and others followed the count on MySpace and Facebook. Wrimos around the world measured the length and color of my progress as I did theirs. We sent messages to propel each other on.

November 27 at ten minutes to four in the morning, I completed the requirements then spun around in my chair giggling until I was dizzy and breathless. Sunday, the 29th, I tidied up a bit, locked in, and received verification of validation—with thirty hours to spare.

It is official, on permanent record with the Office of Letters and Light. I framed the certificate, bought the t-shirt.

In twenty-eight and one half days I completed my first novel from first word to last—all 51,064 of them. The synapses exhaled delirious exhaustion. National Novel Writing Month is over. My readers want me to publish. But that was never the goal. I have often said I would like to write a novel. I have never said I wanted to publish a novel. I have published enough: poetry, short stories, “how-to”s…. Besides, preparing a manuscript for publication is where the hard work begins. I had been writing for the joy.

My doctor has warned me to avoid stress. So I will seize that as a reason to let my story sit in the drawer where the mice nest and eat paper. I shall let it grow mold for awhile. Perhaps it will survive, and I will visit it one perfect stressless day.

I scratched “write a novel” from my bucket list and now wait for my next class to begin in January.

“And why do we have a bucket list?” my oldest son asked with his head cocked, brows raised, and a tone that made “we” exclude everyone but me.

“It’s essential to our humanity,” I said. “We all begin making the list when we are children and first know our own dreams, saying ‘someday I’m going to _____’.”

“Oh,” he said, trying to remember where he’d mislaid his list.

“So, what else is on your list?” my daughter asked just as the phone rang and she had to answer it.

“Words,” the neural nets giggled to each other.

The awakened synapse smiled with new mischief and began plotting more beginnings.

Synapse Awakes—Part 1

The second week of July last, a slumbering synapse snapped and crackled to life unprovoked—nineteen years and one month after it gave up and opted for self-induced suspended animation. It stretched, waved off the fibro fog, and sent announcements of its awakening to neural nets on both sides of the corpus callosum. I was stunned. And grateful.

The previous eighteen months had been wonderfully challenging as I completed class after class of my masters. My technical and academic writing skills returned to toe the mark and keep me at the leading edge of the curve. Funny, that. My Freshman Comp teachers warned me not to take Technical Writing.

“You’ll hate it,” they said.

“It’ll ruin your writing,” they said.

“It will steal your creativity, make your writing bland and voiceless,” they said. But the new school insisted it had to be done.

Technical Writing did not listen to my old teachers. It was another one of those beginnings that built on the old, broke me of bad habits, infused new life, and left me stronger in its wake. But I digress and must return to my telling.

I’d had to fight off the fog during several classes or sit out a class entirely, waiting for the fog to pass. Now the awakened synapse gathered strength and allies to drive the fog away. For the first time in many years, clarity quit fluctuating and locked securely into place. I didn’t know it locked, so I quickly finished up a course I’d had to extend because of the fog.

Then the synapse unlocked a gate. Out tumbled long forgotten memories of people, times, and places that had given me great joy and growth. They brought with them gifts of forgotten dreams and lost words.

Words. Everything always comes back to words. They have life and power that transcend us, that carry us to places we would never get to on our own. The ones we embrace become our tickets to all sorts of possibilities for good or ill.

It is often the unexpected, spontaneous, offhand word that hangs like a signpost redirecting, shaping, transforming what was going to be into what is. And so it was when, without considering the consequences and quite on the spur of the moment one hot August afternoon, I was asked to “write.” And the newly awakened synapse woke others who snapped and crackled to attention. Words rushed onto my screen like children cooped up too long spilling onto the playground. I gave the asker the words I hoped would make a difference, badly written as they were. (The younger synapses had become confused, you see. They did not know the old games and were resisting the learning, wondering where the fog had gotten off to, and why Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep in the first place and why Rip Van Winkle woke. “Things don’t happen by themselves,” they insisted with growing suspicion.)

The asker read the words I handed over—and smiled.

“I miss your letters,” the asker said after a time, and later “I enjoy reading your letters.” The asker couldn’t have known (I didn’t know myself and was quite content not knowing) that the synapse eavesdropped, filing those words away until it could weave them together with the newly remembered words into an unexpressed mischief—and waited for October. October fourteenth to be exact.

It began innocently enough, reading online subscription forums, looking for specific information. Then the link appeared in the right column, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I clicked, read, giggled, read it aloud.

Donnie said, “When do you start?”

“What makes you think I will? I’m not even sure I can. It’s bigger than anything I’ve done before. And there isn’t much time.”

“You will,” he said through a knowing and satisfied grin then went back to reading his book. The synapse wove those words into its mischief too.

“I always wanted to,” I whispered. But never, until that very moment, did I believe that I actually would. I read the screen again. There it was, an opportunity, a dare, a public announcement that I would screw it up the first time and be welcomed to it. No one, not even the professionals get it right the first time. And if I thought I could do better, I was not allowed to play. Those words were liberating, empowering. The synapse sent a tickle through the neural nets. They only had seventeen days to prepare their mischievous plot. I signed on. Another beginning had begun.

In the Beginning

Nancy January

This is my first post of my first blog.

These last few months have been filled with firsts. Some were not so pleasant and landed me in the hospital. One was frightening and landed Donnie in the hospital. The most recent was amazing. I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote my first draft of my first novel—start to finish—in twenty-nine days.

Okay, the first draft is far from perfect, but it is finished. All my life I have wanted to write a novel. I have. Maybe I will rewrite and edit it to see if it is marketable. Maybe not. I wrote it only for the joy of writing.

I won in 29 days!

Not everything was a first. I have missed the companionship of intelligent women. Some have moved away, some have died, some have just been busy with their own struggles. During these past months, lost friends have been remembered, old friendships have been renewed and celebrated, new friends (both online and local) have been embraced. This feels much like coming home.

If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be “spoiled.” That is not a bad thing. It is an admission that my life is good. I know that it could be otherwise. And I appreciate that it is filled with love, joy, and blessings. My husband of twenty-nine years did not die from his heart attack. Our children are all happily married and have well-behaved, intelligent children. I have few complaints and fewer regrets (everyone should have a few of those).

I am, with the encouragement and support of my family, accomplishing my life goals. I have just written a novel and within a few months will complete my M.Ed. If all goes well, I will go on to get a doctorate. Why? Because it has been something I have wanted for many decades, and because I can. I will be the first of my bloodline to do so and will blaze a trail for my grandchildren. If they see that I can do it, they will not be afraid to try. That alone is reason enough.

I am eager to see what the future holds.