Category Archives: family

My end of 2014 homework

This is the fifth time I’ve wrapped up the year with some homework, originally assigned by Jamey in 2010. This is my chance, as the year winds down, to reflect on the past and plot the future, to remind myself everything that’s happened and everything I’ve achieved. It’s become my favorite new year tradition.

The 14 Struggles and Successes of 2014

1. I re-read. This time last year, the Re-Reading Project was a scribbled note at the back of my journal. After deciding to re-read 12 influential titles (all originally read before the age of 16), I stuck with it and, throughout the year, I re-read 21 books and 10 friends joined me, writing essays about books that are important to them. I didn’t finish my planned book for December, the only title from the original 12 that wasn’t re-read this year. However, I consider the Project a smashing success because of all of the amazing experiences I’ve had re-reading and all of the tremendous guest essays. Plus, as I suspected, re-reading pushed me to read more. Last year, I read 67 books and this year, I’ve read over 100. And it looks like I’m going to continue it next year, with a different handful of titles.

2. I moved for the second time in six months. This time, I moved to a brand new part of town. I’d always said (and thought) that I hated Mid City, because I inevitably got lost around here and I have a great sense of direction. From day one living here, I stopped getting lost and started finding my way in multiple senses. I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City and it’s been an invaluable lesson.

3. I applied for writing residencies and submitted my work like it was a full time job. Because it was, for the first time, my main job. I even got all organized and efficient about it, too.  (I gave up my t.v. in this second move and hardly missed it, I was so busy reading and writing).

4. I ate and cooked healthier. This has been a slow process, several years in the making, but I had a few conversations last year with tango dancers about juicing and hypoglycemia that pretty much pulled everything together for me. I read a few books that blew my mind. And I started eliminating as much sugar and processed food from my diet as I could on a limited budget and without the energy and time to change everything completely. It started with small changes (no sugar in coffee, especially the sugary iced coffees I love) that grew into bigger changes (lots more veggies, mindful of “sugary” fruits, more nuts and grains). I’m now a regular at the closest farmer’s market to my house, I make most of my meals at home and I’ve noticed that cutting down my sugar intake has made me taste and enjoy food so much more. So when I do eat some sugar, it’s a real treat. Sometimes, it’s hard and I really have to make sure I eat small meals/snacks regularly or I crash badly (but this was always true, I just didn’t know how to manage it). The end result is I’m healthier than I’ve maybe ever been and I’m still working to be healthier.

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5. I read the first chapter of my memoir at Peauxdunque’s  second Yeah, You Write, alongside amazing writers.

6. I assisted with the organizing of the New Orleans Tango Festival, which was an exceptional, educational, entertaining experience. I got to meet, dance with and just hang out with so many incredibly talented dancers. Next year’s festival is already gearing up and I am so excited, even though it’s still six months away! Opportunities like this one really helped make me a better dancer this year.

7. I traveled a lot this year. I went twice to D.C. and got to dance at two different milongas. I spent more time in Atlanta and got to take lessons with teachers there. I danced in Philadelphia and in the middle of nowhere on a airfield. I even spent more time in Baton Rouge. While all of the trips weren’t necessarily motivated by tango, I managed to dance wherever I went. All of this travel, while related to the turmoil of this year in many ways, reminded me how much I really love visiting different cities, the openness it brings to my life. I want to make travel a priority in the future. Until D.C., I hadn’t flown in a few years and I haven’t been out of the country since 2007, so I think that’s gotta change soon.

8. I attended an artists residency, Soaring Gardens. I wrote about this quite a bit on the blog, so I’ll keep this one short. Except to say that my month staying at Soaring Gardens with the artist Anne Canfield was everything I needed and utterly transformative.

9. I “lost” NaNoWriMo. This year’s novel was a silly and fun murder mystery that came to me while I was in Pennsylvania. I was excited to write it, but it never came together. I only wrote a few thousand words on that project, but I’ll never consider this NaNoWriMo (or any other) a failure. I always learn something trying to write 50,000 words in a single month. This is why I totally won this year: during November, I started waking up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. to write for a half hour, 40 minutes, an hour, before work. I wrote over 10,000 new words on the memoir. I kicked ass during those early morning writing sessions, getting more done in an hour than I’ve gotten done in whole days set aside to write. What’s even better is that I’m still writing for an hour most mornings.

10. I finally got meditation. Meditation has always been something I understand would be good for me, but it’s been a recipe to fail in the past. I meditated a little, though not formally, while at the residency. Mostly, I journaled like crazy and spent a lot of time in my own head, sitting still outside. In November, while I was *not writing* my murder mystery for NaNoWriMo, I also completed a meditation challenge. It finally clicked for me this go-round and I had a breakthrough about what meditation looks/feels like and how it can help me.

11. I worked on my novel again and while it’s still unfinished (those pesky last 30 pages of the third draft are killer), it’s in very good shape. Meanwhile, I’ve made some great progress with the memoir this year. I blogged more than I have in a long time and published a few reviews and interviews. And, a short essay I wrote will be published in an anthology. I’m looking forward to seeing all of my work in a tangible form that can be shared.

12. I asked for help. I’m not good at this or, I haven’t been in the past. It was very, very hard, but when it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go to the residency, instead of giving up, I launched a GoFundMe campaign. I was utterly blown away by the generosity and support I received. Even when people couldn’t donate anything or much, their notes of encouragement bolstered me. Beyond the fundraising campaign, I’ve received so much help this year (financial, emotional, physical) and after I decided to stop being a basket case about it, I started to accept it as graciously as I could, because everything this year would have been harder or impossible without the help I received.

13. I survived. Historically, I have not managed change well. 2014 was full of transitions, a constantly shifting field. Most of it was positive. Several changes were incredibly sad. Good, bad, positive, sad, it was a lot. I moved for the second time in six months and spent the whole year uncertain how long I’d stay, not just in my apartment, but in New Orleans itself. I fell in love and while the relationship didn’t work out, it changed everything. I wrote my first poem in almost a decade and started journaling hardcore again. I attended two funerals, the first of my life, and I worked hard to support people I cared about through their grief. I freelanced and took on a new role as a salesperson, but I didn’t work on a single movie, though I considered positions on two huge films. My sister’s second son was born, as were the children of friends in the tango community. Three of my friends’ 12 year old sons are now taller than me (no matter how much I grow as a person, I’m just not physically getting any taller). Friends graduated, got married, changed jobs, left town. This year, I struggled to survive all of the changes. Next year, I look forward to thriving. I have ideas and dreams and I’m working on making them plans and realities.

14. I put my writing first. While I’ve never actually given up my writing or stopped completely, I’ve let jobs, relationships, living situations, etc. structure my life and then I fit my writing in between whatever else seemed like a bigger priority at the time. This was the year, for better or for worse, that I decided that my writing, my own goals and plans, had to establish the structure of my life and everything else needs to support my writing. It was really messy and difficult, but I know it was a lesson worth learning. Where I live, who I love and spend time with, what I do to make money, none of this can change who I am: a writer. So all my decisions from now on are going to be made with that in the forefront.

2013 was a rough year and 2014 was, if anything, even rougher. But in the midst of the struggle, as Maurice recently reminded me, is the sublime. I’m ending 2014 stronger than I started it, confident and determined. I’m ready to let go of 2014 and very excited for 2015.

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Filed under Atlanta, Baton Rouge, family, food, freelance work, Friends, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, tango, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel

Soaring Gardens Thank You Notes

So, in my last update from Soaring Gardens, I alluded to another surprise for the contributors of my GoFundMe campaign, as well as a handful of folks who have just generally helped me out lately. On my last two days at the residency, I walked around the house and the grounds, staging photos of thank you notes, which I think you’ll all enjoy seeing. This is my way of saying that y’all were there with me at the residency, that I was thinking of you and appreciative of your financial help, as well as all your support and encouragement over the last many weeks. I accidentally left off one of the contributors, so I’ll add a special surprise for her at the end.

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Amanda, I forgot to stage a thank you note photo for you at the residency, so here’s one from Philadelphia. And, as a bonus, I’m going to email you a photo from Soaring Gardens that I never posted here, something I think you’ll enjoy.

Pumpkin, gourds and corn from the orchard, at Anne's house in Philly.

Pumpkin, gourds and corn from the orchard on our last day together in Laceyville, now at Anne’s house in Philly.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg Two: Atlanta and the road to Soaring Gardens

So, at the end of the Leg One post, I had just arrived in Atlanta and was anticipating my time there, catching up with family, old friends and the ATL tango community. And just as I suspected (and hoped), it was a very full week.

I spent a lot of time with my parents, including the evening of their anniversary. Since I don’t have a t.v. in New Orleans, visiting my folks always includes lots of t.v. watching: my favorites like Falling Skies and So You Think You Can Dance, shows my parents love like Rizzoli and Isles and Who Do You Think You Are?, as well as new shows we checked out, like Legends. It was a lot of t.v., but we also prepped for my journey to Soaring Gardens. It almost felt like they were sending me off to camp, at times. When I was home, I also worked on a freelance story, wrapping that up and a few other tasks, before I left for the residency.

And I read. Fahrenheit 451 for the Re-Reading Project, which scarred me for a few days. It was hard not to look at everything around me through that lens. And when I was done, I picked up an ARC of a fat fantasy novel that doesn’t come out till next April. I thought, because it was such a dense story, that I’d sip at it slowly throughout my residency month. Instead, I gulped it down in about 36 hours, reading the first 100 pages in maybe about 24 hours and 300+ in less than 8 hours. It was so good – look for it in the 3rd Quarter Reading Report next month.

You're free, Rocco!

You’re free, Rocco!

I caught up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for ten years at one of my favorite hometown restaurants. He wanted to know all about the residency and the memoir and it was very cool talking about it with a friend from my young adulthood. I celebrated the 12th birthday of one of my oldest friend’s sons, to whom I’m bit of an auntie or godmother. I spoiled his dinner with ice cream, helped him set his pet turtle free at the neighborhood park, had dinner with his family and took him to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a blast from my own past. It was quite a day.

And I tango’d three nights with the ATL community. When I first arrived, I saw that the *only* milonga during my stay was on my last night, which I’d planned to spend with my parents, so I reached out to folks I knew and got the skinny on classes and a house party, hosted by a friend who used to live in Baton Rouge. So I had the opportunity to take classes with two different sets of ATL instructors (Clint y Shelley on Monday and Angel y April on Wednesday), which was a phenomenal experience. And then I enjoyed a relaxed tango house party on Friday. It’s too bad I missed the milonga on Sunday, but I loved my week of ATL tango.

I set out for the next leg of my trip early in the morning on Labor Day, so early it was pretty much still night. Even so, it took me so long to get to Philadelphia! I had fine weather, but I stopped a lot and drove slowly most of the way, listening to a long audio book as I went. I’ve made this drive before, or at least most of it (I’ve gone as far as D.C., years ago), and it was pretty terrain, wildly different than my usual drives.

No rest stop adventures this time around, but I had a nice stop at a Cracker Barrel in Virginia for a late lunch and a long, good talk with a friend while I ate. And then I arrived at the home of my residency housemate, the artist Anne Canfield. This sweet lady and her husband fed me and put me up for the evening in their gorgeous home. I was swooning over the art and the books and the house itself most of the time I was there (even in my sleep). I could’ve stayed there a month!

The next day, Anne and I ran a few errands and set off for Soaring Gardens, a few hours from Philadelphia. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a super efficient and bizarre (to me) cross between a rest stop and convenience mall right off the highway. Where I had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich for lunch. I’d almost forgotten!

Yum!

Yum!

This last few hours of the journey felt a bit like a roller coaster, what with all the curvaceous, mountainous highway and all the other drivers going 15-20 miles over the speed limit and my super heavy car. It was some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen, so that almost made up for the constant fear of driving off the road down the side of a mountain.

And then we were in farmland, traversing narrow drives through acres of corn and fruit trees and small ponds by the road. Until suddenly, we turned onto a drive and there was Soaring Gardens.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg One: New Orleans to Atlanta

My last night in New OrLast night in Nola 8.23.14leans, I watched the Saints play the Colts at Pelican Bay with a few members of Peauxdunque. It was a great way to say goodbye (for now).

In the morning, I began the first leg of what I’ve decided to call the Residency Road Trip (like my Grandma Road Trip from a few years ago). I haven’t seen my family for more than 6 months, so I decided to head to Atlanta first and IMG_3548spend a few days.

I set off fairly early after filling up the car with everything I might need for the next month+. I’ve made this drive a few times over the years and usually it’s a headlong rush to get there. This time, I felt a lot more leisurely and some pretty cool things happened along the way.

First, in Mississippi, I made a new friend at a rest stop along the way. In the women’s restroom, of all places. Some of you may know that I’m not the biggest fan of birds (I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds waaay too young, plus relatives have had some as pets over the years). This first picture will give you an idea of how the Mississippi Restroom Incident began:

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus...

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus…

A lady had brought her pet bird into her stall, but he followed me around the bathroom. It was exactly like a scene from Jurassic Park, except an unseen lady inside a bathroom stall was reassuring me the bird wouldn’t peck me. I asked her if I could take a picture and she told me she’d take one of me with the bird.

I was thinking, “Um, no thank you…” and yet, this happened:New friend? 

“I’m glad you’re not afraid of birds,” the lady said. “I actually kinda am,” I told her. But you wouldn’t know it from this picture. Maybe this has cured me of my ornithophobia.

 

 

Later, in Alabama, I stopped for lunch at a place called The SThe Shrimp Baskethrimp Basket. I couldn’t resist the advertised “jambalya bites.” I’m usually pretty skeptical of any Louisiana foods ofjambalaya bitesfered elsewhere, but I was too curious to pass it up. I would’ve thought that if it could be deep fried, we’d have it in New Orleans, yet, I’ve never heard of such a thing. The waitress said she doesn’t eat spicy things, so she couldn’t tell me how they were. I didn’t find them terribly spicy, myself.

After lunch, I stopped in and saw Sis and her two boys, which was really good. I spent a few hours with them before getting back on the road to Atlanta. I’m excited to be here – looks like I’ll get to catch up with some old friends and dance tango while I’m here. I’ll let you know in the next Residency Road Trip post.

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: Watchers

On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at five o’clock in the morning. He dressed in sturdy hiking boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved, blue-plaid cotton shirt. He drove his pickup south from his home in Santa Barbara all the way to rural Santiago Canyon on the eastern edge of Orange County, south of Los Angeles. He took only a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-Aid, and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Chief’s Special.

I used to sit in front of my mom’s bookcase, inspecting the books she collected. When my mom gave me permission to read an adult book, I was ready. Watchers was the book I chose.

The 1987 hardback edition.  The cover design was distinctly different from most of the books I’d been allowed to read up to that point—black background, bold letters, and that red footprint.

Watchers

The description on the back cover enticed: “From a top secret government laboratory come two genetically altered life forms. One is a magnificent dog of astonishing intelligence. The other, a hybrid monster of a brutally violent nature. And both are on the loose…

To a 9-year-old girl who wished for Dr. Doolittle-like powers, a highly intelligent dog as a main character was an irresistible draw. And the golden retriever charmed me all those years ago. My favorite authors up to that point included Jim Kjelgaard, Albert Payson Terhune, and Walter Farley. If the book featured an animal, it was probably on my to-read list. I loved Watchers and continued to praise it long after I’d forgotten exactly what made me love it so much. In fact, it remained one of my favorite Dean Koontz novels for many years (my favorite being Oddkins).

I was intrigued with revisiting this book—my doorway out of the children’s section. But the experience of reading Watchers was quite different after more than 20 years. It was difficult for me to care about or even be interested in any of the characters other than Einstein (the dog) and the Outsider (the monster). It was particularly unmoving. Reading a horrific scene in the book, I thought I should be much more repulsed and saddened about what happened. A lack of depth kept me from connecting to the story or the characters and I just couldn’t bring myself to invest them. I neither liked nor hated Travis, Nora (the humans of the story), or any of the other major players. Through their ordeals, I could only wonder how many more pages I had to get through before the end.  Eh, okay, was about the only emotion the book elicited from me.

Amazing what years can do to change your opinion of something. At first, I felt somewhat like I’d been disappointed by a childhood hero. But then I came to appreciate what rereading Watchers showed me—how far I’ve come as a reader and as a person. After reading Watchers as a little girl, I quickly moved on to more Dean Koontz books, as well as all the other offerings on my mom’s bookcase—Erle Stanley Gardner, Tony Hillerman, Rex Stout, Tom Clancy, Chaucer, Robert Louis Stevenson—experiencing all kinds of books. I read almost every genre and enjoyed something from each. Eventually I developed a fondness for classic literature and fantasy novels.

So while Watchers did not stand the test of time for me, I cannot dislike the book. It holds its special place for me, encouraging me into a bigger world of reading. Still, don’t expect to see this title on a recommended reading list from me anytime soon.

***

Aimee Lewis is an editor, working mostly with nonfiction. Her most recent accomplishment was beating her son at a game of Candyland. Finally.

Credit: Jerri Hammonds

Photo Credit: Jerri Hammonds

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Re-Reading in the World: Harriet the Spy in EW

I considered re-reading Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy last month for the Re-Reading Project, but ran out of time (I ended up re-reading twice as many books in January as I’d originally planned). Reading through my Entertainment Weekly yesterday, as I religiously do, I saw a great book essay by Hillary Busis about Harriet the Spy (as well as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) turning 50 this year.

Busis writes about how influential Harriet was for her, growing up 30 years after the book’s 1960s setting:

…I identified so fully with Harriet–her emotions, fear of change, frustration, and loneliness–that she instantly felt like an old friend. Inspired by her, I even started keeping a journal in which I carefully wrote mean things about my friends. During a fateful fifth-grade camping trip, that choice came back to bite me…hard. (P.S. Katy, Julia, Whitney, Kate–I’m still sorry.)

Despite that episode, Harriet wasn’t a bad influence. My bond with her was so strong precisely because her faults and virtues mirrored my own.

It occurs to me that troublesome female characters like Harriet (and Gilly Hopkins and Sammy Keyes) are especially important for young girls, who so often absorb society’s message that their job is to please others, which usually means not pleasing themselves. They’re not supposed to be nosy, or stubborn, or rambunctious, but they often are these things, or feel these things, and they need heroines who show them that it’s okay to be however they are, to ask questions and accept no one’s answers but the ones they find for themselves.

Have no fear, there will be a Re-Reading post for February–I’m working on it now. And I’ll have a guest post from my sister soon (together, she and I were little girls much like Harriet, Gilly and Sammy and we remain partners in crime today). If you’ve been enjoying theses posts, I hope you’ll consider re-reading an influential book and writing about it, like Maurice has done and Aimee is doing.

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The Re-Reading Project: Sixth Grade Secrets

It all started with a hat.

Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar was published in 1987, when I was five years old, and I must’ve read it a dozen times by the time I was actually in sixth grade. I even read it out loud to my older cousin once, at a slumber party – yeah, I was that kind of kid. I remember buying my copy from the Scholastic book sales at school. Selecting books from the book sale catalogue was always the most exciting and agonizing experience, knowing the book sale was coming but that I had to limit my book purchases to whatever amount of money I was allowed to spend. I read Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School too, because we all passed it around at school and I later read Holes, but not until I was twenty-two.

I remember feeling awed and a little scared, as a kid, at the hijinks that sixth graders could get up to. Reading it now as an adult, it strikes me as both utterly ridiculous and completely realistic. That’s how we acted in middle school! Everything was dramatic and one small mistake snowballed into grudges that lasted forever. Or at least till the end of the year, which felt like forever at the time.

Laura, the main character, is so completely stubborn, but she’s also brave. Several times, she double downs when the stakes get high – continuing to sneak into school to write on the board even when it’s likely that she’ll get caught. She’s smart, mostly honest and believes in fairness. She’s complex because she’s both a good kid and a troublemaker.

There are some aspects of the story that are dated all these years later, mostly the technology related to making telephone calls and recording. Today’s kids would probably operate a grudge war very differently and schools have probably changed a lot since I was a kid. But, the emotions and psychology behind their behavior is still very, very true. So I’d say that the most dated thing about the books is the original cover:

6th Grade Secrets…which always makes me feel really nostalgic because Laura’s blue Hawaiian print sweater and pink corduroy pants are totally something we would’ve worn as middle school kids in the 80s and early 90s. And Gabriel’s blue shirt with the red block and white collar? I bet all the boys had one of those in their closet. Look at the newer version of the cover:

sixth-grade-secrets-louis-sachar-hardcover-cover-artIt just shows Laura and Gabriel and while their clothes are more modern, I’d say it’s a bit boring. The original cover shows an active moment from the story and I can imagine many kids picked up the book because they were thinking, “What is going on here?” Plus, on the new one Laura’s Pig City cap is allll wrong. Regardless, from the Amazon reviews, it looks like kids are still reading and enjoying Sixth Grade Secrets, which is really cool.

Re-reading this book in particular has made me glad I’m doing this project. This was one of my favorite books growing up and I can totally see why. Because Laura is a girl very much like the girl I was, but with some traits I wished I’d had more of when I was her age. If Laura was 11 in 1987, she’d be 38 now and well on her way to being the first female American president. Laura was worried some other woman might be the first one and I’d say it’s a little sad that that honor could still be hers. But what a president she’d be!

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The Re-Reading Project: The Boxcar Children

One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.

Originally published by Gertrude Chandler Warner in 1924, The Boxcar Children is 90 years old this year! A significantly edited version of the book, with new illustrations, was re-published in 1942, and this is the version of the book that most people know and that I originally read, probably before I was 10 years old.

My sister Aimee had a copy and I was bored in her room one day and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. I was strong reader from a very early age and the book is known for its simple language and is often used to teach reading and English to young students. Thereafter, I often wanted to incorporate the idea of being independent children creating civilized lives in the wildness as part of our playtime fantasies. The fact that the four children in the book are independent of parents and make their own way is probably a big factor in its continued success.

The version I read now, as an adult in 2014, was a 60th anniversary edition (of the 1942 publication), published in 2002,with a short essay by Mary Ellen Ellsworth, who wrote a biography of Warner, pictures of Warner, and an open letter from Warner to children about what inspired the book.

Boxcar Children

Warner wrote 19 books in the Boxcar Children series. After the first one, they became mysteries, with the four children something like the Scooby Doo gang (they even have a dog named Watch), or younger versions of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. There are more than 150 titles now, the newest ones taking place in more recent years and the children somehow reverting back in age (though Warner wrote the oldest, Henry, going off to college). I don’t think I read any of the later books, just the first one.

It remained large in my imagination, though I don’t think I ever re-read it until now. I think the aspects that I liked about The Boxcar Children were probably very close to what I later liked about The Swiss Family Robinson (I loved the movie and had a Disney compendium with an abridged version, but didn’t read the full version of Swiss Family Robinson till 2004, when I was 22). The book was a quick read, taking only about an hour. While I found it a bit sanctimonious and dated in tone, I still found it charming and appealing. I can see what struck me about it as a young child and why children still read and love the series.

One last note of possible interest – Gertrude Chandler Warner’s sister Frances was also a writer and was on the staff of The Atlantic Monthly. Like Aimee and I, they wrote stories together as girls and later in their lives, they published two joint collections of their essays.

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My end of 2013 homework

It occurred to me yesterday that 2013 has essentially been one long Friday the 13th, full of trials and trouble. However, it was also full of achievements. I’m so glad I’ve taken this opportunity to remember that. Jamey first suggested that I spend some time remembering what I accomplished back in 2010 and this year, she was instrumental in reminding me about most of this list. I’m grateful she did and I’m grateful I have her to make me do this homework every year. 🙂

Thirteen Amazing Things about 2013

1. I bragged on the wonderful, talented, hard-working people in my life, more than ever, and even had trouble keeping up with their achievements, there were so many.

2. I worked on my first t.v. show, which was an incredible education and a lot of fun. It premieres next month. Later in the year, I worked on a live, televised awards show, which was a short, crazy, enormously fun experience. I had the opportunity to work on my friends’ projects, which was very rewarding and inspiring. In the last of the year, I worked on a reality show pilot, another new t.v. experience.

3. I attended the weddings of dear friends, friends from the tango community and friends I’ve known for over a decade. I don’t talk a lot about my personal life on here, but I am so proud of my friends and families for all of the personal milestones they’ve achieved this year.

4. I co-wrote a feature-length script called Ostium, with writer Nick Cardinale, which was a Quarter Finalist in the Creative World Awards.

5. I organized and co-hosted a new tango series, Tango X. We had four installments this year, the last one was part of the incredible New Orleans Tango Weekend.

6. I moved for the first time in 6 years.

7. I was interviewed about my writing for the first time.

8. I performed my award-winning essay, “Tango Face,” for my tango community. It was an inspiring night of musical performances, readings and of course, dancing. Later, at Tango X, I had the opportunity to teach my first tango lesson, together with Casey Mills. And, “Tango Face” was published by the Double Dealer at the end of the year.

Orquesta Fleur Flyer, 2013-10-26 Cafe Instanbul(1)

9. I interviewed Josh Hanagarne in front of an audience and moderated Peauxdunque’s panel on writing groups, both at the Louisiana Book Festival.

10. I didn’t win NaNoWriMo, which ended up being its own awesome education.

11. I read almost as much nonfiction as fiction (27 to 34) this year, which is unusual for me. As I said in my last post, I became a student of the memoir in an effort to write a better one.

12. I took workshops and lessons from amazing professional tango dancers/instructors like: Damian Lobato, Rod Relucio & Jenny Teters, Silvina Valz, Tony Fan & Ilana Rubin, Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt, and Homer & Cristina Ladas. I had the opportunity to study with these fantastic dancers and teachers because of the people in my tango community, who teach me every day. I’m taking all of the experiences and lessons I’ve had into my future in tango, looking forward to studying and dancing more.

David y Jessica Gentry (New Orleans Tango Weekend organizers), Homer Ladas and myself, Ney y Jennifer. Cristina Ladas took this great photo.

David and Jessica Gentry (New Orleans Tango Weekend organizers), Homer Ladas and myself, Ney Melo Jennifer Bratt. Cristina Ladas took this great photo.

13. I found my core. In tango (and dance), your core is what gives you balance and everyone’s is slightly different. It sounds like an easy thing, to find your core, but it isn’t. And even when you’ve found it, you have to continually work to access it, to use it to become a better dancer. I think I might’ve started on the road to finding my personal/emotional core this year, sorting through the junk to find the treasure. Now that I’ve found it, I look forward to working to access it, through my dance, my writing and my relationships.

I’m excited about 2014 and all that it promises to be.

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NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 22-29

Wow, I certainly haven’t updated in a while and NaNoWriMo will be wrapping up tomorrow, so it’s beyond time for me to tell you about the last week.

The last I updated, on Day 21, I was about to drive to GA to see my family, along with my friend, Nanci. Our reason for traveling before the holidays was to attend the last milonga at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, a beautiful venue I had danced at once before while visiting my family. It was a wonderful evening, filled with so many great dances with fabulous tangueros and tangueras. That was Day 22.

On Day 23, Mamma Mia! and I went to see Catching Fire, which we both enjoyed quite a lot. I felt like it was a very good adaptation of the book, faithful to the spirit, which is a hard thing to do, even in two and a half hours. I was immediately filled with impatience at the end, sad that I have to wait another year for the next installment. Time to re-read the books, then. We spent the rest of the day creating a Thanksgiving feast, together with Papa Bear and Nanci. We have our special family traditions and it was nice to see Nanci experience them. Even more, it was a reminder that all holidays are just social constructions. It doesn’t really matter if you celebrate Thanksgiving on the official day, or a week early, or a day late. If you can celebrate Thanksgiving any day, you can also celebrate it every day, which I think is a good goal to strive for. That evening, Nanci and I went to two step/line dance with my childhood friend J., at a cowboy dance hall. It was a fun night, but basically meant I was suffering from a distinct lack of sleep when we woke up early on Sunday to drive home.

Day 24 was spent on the road. Once we were back home, I decided to go to the monthly milonga at Galvez, despite the long drive and the lack of sleep over the previous few days. It was nice dancing with my home community after the time away.

Days 25-27 were a flurry of work and getting back from the trip. Day 28 was Thanksgiving proper and, at Nanci’s suggestion, I spent the morning volunteering at the Sheriff’s Dinner at the Convention Center. It was an experience like I’ve never had, spending a holiday serving dozens of people I might never otherwise encounter. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same and I really hope I won’t, because the feeling of being useful and of cherishing people stuck with me long after I left the Convention Center.

Which brings us to today, Day 29, and you may have noticed that I haven’t talked about words or writing yet in this update. This is what I’ve been doing this week: I’ve been reading my novel. I’ve thought for years that the first section was “done,” and it was the last two sections that needed the most work. Yet. Yet, this NaNoWriMo, all of the work I’ve done has been on that first section. As I was reading the later part of the novel, I was flying through it, instead of getting snagged on all the changes I needed to make. There’s still some work to be done, don’t get me wrong. But perhaps not as much as I thought.

I treasure NaNoWriMo for its spirit of reckless creation, for the feeling of community it instills, when it’s so easy to feel alone in these endeavors. I’m not going to “win” this year, but it’s been a valuable experience in dozens of unquantifiable ways. Plus, I’m a writer all year long and my work won’t be done at midnight tomorrow, just as it didn’t start on November 1st.

What about y’all? Are you going to “win”? Have you won in other ways? I’d love to know.

Expect a new bragging on post soon…

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