The Sea Smoke Rolls

Carrie Does Poems
Carrie Does Poems
The Sea Smoke Rolls
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Hi! This year (2023), I’m continuing my quest to share a poem on my blog and podcast and read it aloud. It’s all a part of my quest to be brave and apparently the things that I’m scared about still include:

  1. My spoken voice
  2. My raw poems.

Thanks for being here with me and cheering me on, and I hope that you can become braver this year, too!


Hey, thanks for listening to Carrie Does Poems.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Eric Van der Westen and the track is called “A Feather” and off the album The Crown Lobster Trilogy.

Elements of Pacing Your Novel

There are a lot of components to pacing in your novel. You can think of it as:

  • The big picture, how fast and slow your whole novel goes. How scenes link together.
  • The scene, how fast and slow the individual scene moves
  • The page, how sentences and white space and even punctuation influence how quickly or slowly the reader moves through the story. This is the pacing of each line.

It’s linked to your novel’s structure in those individual scenes and how those scenes cycle through your story (some more active and others not so much). It’s also linked to your style and tone (your sentence length, word use, paragraph length). It also is linked to genre expectations.

When we settle in to Outlander or Game of Thrones, we’re expecting a slower pace than if we’re opening up a Tess Gerritsen novel.

So, it’s a lot, right?

It’s up to us writers to know the expectations (potentially even subverting them) and then slowing the speed up or down.

Typically, the story is the fastest paced at these moments:

1.     In the opening

2.     In the middle

3.     In the climax.

The story tends to go faster when:

1.     There’s action happening. So, an action scene. Most authors try to avoid long sentences full of clauses and detailed description and transitions here.

2.     Dialogue without a lot of setting details, transitions or other things involved.

3.     When there’s a cliff hanger. That’s basically just when the reader is compelled to turn the page to find out what happens next in the story.

4.     Scene changes.

5.     Scene changes in rapid succession.

6.     Shorter chapters.

7.     Shorter scenes.

8.     Your words are simple and concrete and your sentences are short.

9.     Your words are harsh. What do I mean here. Just when they have hard sounds. Like Gs and Cs and Ks.

The story tends to go more slowly when:

1.     There’s no action happening. So exposition or setting or a pondering scene.

2.     There are a lot of setting details, internal monologue (in paragraph form), backstory and exposition.

3.     Longer chapters.

4.     Longer scenes.

5.     Your words are complex and abstract and your sentences are long and full of colons or semicolons and clauses.

6.     Your words are softer. There aren’t those hard consonants and they make you think of more mellow things, so passive language.

Wow. I went very list-focused for this post. I hope you don’t mind. If you ever want me to explain anything more (in this post or any other), just let me know in the comments, okay?

The Vulnerable Gnome

Be Brave Friday

Yesterday, there was a package.

And the package was addressed to me.

Inside that package wasn’t actually a present I ordered for someone else, which is what I was expecting. Inside that package was the unexpected; it was a present for me.

Not just any present. A handmade present.

Not just any handmade present. A gnome.

I love gnomes almost as much as manatees. That’s a big love. And here was this brown, adorable gnome that had travelled in a dark box surrounded by packaging, taking this journey where he didn’t know his reception, didn’t know his outcome, didn’t know if he’d get there, didn’t know if he’d be loved when he did.

Jumping up and down, I hugged the gnome to me and started tearing up, because I am so lucky and I know what it’s like to feel like that gnome: boxed in, afraid, not really knowing where I’m headed and getting bumped around a bit in the transit.

Maybe you feel a bit like that sometimes, too?

the most excellent gnome

But in the package was also a handmade card about being brave that I truly needed this week. It was like getting the best, biggest, unexpected hug (if you’re a person who likes hugs).

When you write books or a news blog, when you share your art, when you share your thoughts, you put yourself out there and that is vulnerable. I’ve been feeling pretty vulnerable these past two weeks.

This vulnerability is especially when you aren’t perfect. Believe me, I am SO far from perfect. And my ego wants me to never make a mistake. Ever. But my heart is so lucky and blessed when people let me know that I have. I am often shocked by how kind and gentle people are with me when I misspell their names.

Despite that, the other night I went to bed thinking about the news blog and the ways I earn money (not the news blog, I put out all that content for free because I want people who can’t afford the news to have at least some news), and I had such a crisis of faith because of a small error.  

“I can’t keep doing this. Why am I doing this?”

I whined. A lot. Luckily, the dogs didn’t mind.

And the next morning, I woke up feeling the same way, which never happens. In the shower, I thought, “I need a sign from the universe about whether to keep doing this.”

The first email I saw was from a journalist subscribing to my news blog and thanking me for the straightforward reporting. And then I received another kind email about the same thing. And then I realized what I dork I am.

It is sometimes so hard to believe in yourself. It is sometimes so hard to forgive yourself when you aren’t perfectly perfect. And then—whoosh—in sweeps the universe on the backs of kind humans who go out of their way to say something kind.

How amazing is that?

I’m very lucky. Not only do I get gnomes in the mail. I get kindness and correction with kindness. How cool is that? I know so many people in local government who get the exact opposite every day.

I hope they get kindness and I hope that you get that too, and I hope that you can be brave enough and vulnerable enough to go out there and learn new things, run for political office despite people spitting venom at you, support your causes, create words and art and story and friendships. Because sometimes it all can seem so overwhelming.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown writes that the biggest myth about vulnerability is that it is weakness.

She also says, “Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.”

I am so lucky that I have the gift of knowing so many of you and for knowing Susie via the dynamic duo of Art and Liz. I hope you all get to have a lot of Susies in your lives. And gnomes. I hope you all get a lot of gnomes.

How To Get Moody In Your Story

So, I’ve been talking a lot about creating the atmosphere or mood in a story because it’s really super important. Two weeks ago, I talked a bit about creating mood or atmosphere in your story, and last week, I shared some cool ideas from other humans.

This week we’re going to summarize and expand a little bit. So, let’s get moody together.

SETTING

Talking about the world outside your character really helps people get the mood of the story.

But to do that effectively you need . . .

MOODY WORDS

Seriously. Word choice is key when creating atmosphere and mood.

I walked to the bar. I ordered a drink. I sipped it.

Pretty dull, right? Kind of reads like bad stage directions. But look what happens when we start trying to show the character’s mood and the atmosphere of the setting.

I sashayed to the bar’s disco-ball lit corner.

“One super hot and sexy turtleneck sweater with extra cuddles,” I announced to the super hot and sexy bartender. He took my credit card with five quick fingers and a wink.

Two seconds later, the warm mug was in my hand, the smell of mint and rum wafting into my nose.

Let’s try another mood.

My feet stuck to the beer-soaked, beer-dried, beer-imbued wooden floor as I pushed past the giant football players that formed a wall between me and the most disgusting, germ-filled objective in my recent future: the make-shift, plywood dorm room bar that Bill and Ted set up in the edge of their quad.

“Dude? You want some?” Bill surfer drawled when I got past the barrio of testosterone and Axe body spray. He held out the keg’s hose. Something brown crusted near the nozzle. Something brown that was definitely not beer.

Swallowing hard, I managed to stay upright as someone pushed behind me. My palm struck the plywood. A splinter tore into the flesh and stuck there.“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.”

The difference here is the details and the words, right? In both bits someone wants a drink and goes to the bar to get there but they are very different moods.

A walk is not a sashay is not a tiptoe is not a gallop is not a slog. Whenever you can use verbs, nouns, adjectives and details that convey how your character feels.

To become a magistrate of words, you can check out a thesaurus. It feels like cheating, but it’s super helpful.

Those little word choices are subconscious hints to the reader that tells them things. They think, “Oh, sashaying, how happy they must be, how confident.”

Dialogue

When our characters talk to other people and they are the thrilling or overbearing or confusing or just plain quirky or mean, it helps create the mood that’s happening in the story.

If your characters have to whisper that can change the mood. The same goes for yelling, screeching, singing, preaching.

Sentence Structure and White Space

Readers subconsciously pick up on a lot of things that us writers put out and one of those things is sentence structure and white space (the part of the page where no words are).

The shorter the sentences, the higher the tension and faster the pace the reader goes over that page. That can make things feel more tense, more agitated, more suspenseful.

The longer the sentence and bigger the paragraph creates a more languid feel and slower mood that the reader has.

DO NOT TELL THE READER THINGS.

In my example of the bar earlier, one of the main differences is I didn’t do a ton of telling what they were doing. But I did in that first example where there was no mood:

I walked to the bar. I ordered a drink. I sipped it. I felt happy because I was going to get a drink and was looking forward to that Shirley Temple.

The details that us writers choose are meant to show the reader things rather than constantly telling the reader things.

I pretty much sashayed over to the bar, hand up, credit card out. “Hey, girlie!” My voice skipped over to Donna of Shirley Temple mixing fame. “I am so ready for my daily fix!”

Different right? I never say that she’s happy, but we can feel that she’s happy. And that’s what atmosphere and mood is really all about. We want to make the reader feel things.


You Don’t Have To Be Brave

Living Happy and Stuff

Photo: Me

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “What the what?” Or maybe you’ve put some expletives in there. I’ve been posting about being brave week after week after week as I push against my social anxiety and post paintings.

Here is the thing: I grew up in a family full of fear. My older sister was allegedly afraid of grass when she was little. Grass! My mother was afraid of a litany of things: birds, closed-in spaces, wide-open spaces, high spaces, water over her head, bridges in a storm. My brother inherited the bird fear, or maybe he learned it. So did my sister.

my adorable mom

And I grew up thinking that I didn’t want to be anything like that. No offense to my mom because she was wonderful, but she changed the channel if Donald Duck was on and he’s a cartoon. She wouldn’t go to parks with seagulls. She wouldn’t go near a feather pillow.

I grew up chanting “You have to face your fears” when my television turned on at night all by itself or when I had to take an algebra test or when I convinced twelve girls at a fourth grade birthday party to all hold hands and confront whatever the heck was making that groaning noise in the kitchen. Spoiler: it was the fridge and a snoring dog.

I faced my fears one after another. My voice? Check, make a podcast. Not scary enough. Make a live podcast. Art? Check, do some art. Post it online. People constantly telling me I made a mistake? Check, make a news blog without an editor.

A Friend’s Words

One night last month, a friend took me aside at a gathering and whispered, “You know, you don’t always have to be brave.”

She had a beer in her hand and a determined glow in her eye.

I gawped at her.

She nodded and twirled away back to the gathering. And I was left with her words.

You don’t always have to be brave.

It was shocking. It was the opposite of my mantra. I think our society (or a lot of us in it) believe that you always have to be brave. But life isn’t about always facing your fear, is it? If you’re afraid of sky diving, do you really have to sky dive? If you’re afraid of going bankrupt, do you really have to lose all your money? If you’re afraid of having a concussion, do you have to give yourself a concussion?

Facing all my fears has definitely expanded my world, but it’s okay for me to enjoy the world I’m in just as I’m in it, too. There can be balance.

You Don’t Always Have To Be Brave.

That’s the thing. There is sometimes a power to not pushing yourself into doing things that are really scary for you — like downhill skiing when you have no depth perception. Cough. Yes, cough. That is me.

It’s okay to sometimes hunker down, build up your reserves, and just be. That’s right. Just be. It’s okay to be who you are right in that moment. And that might not be the same who you are that you are in the very next moment. Humans get to change, to discover, to grow, to decide when and if they should be brave or not.

If you want to, you can come hang out with me at Living Happy. I’m much better about posting there. 🙂 No pressure though!

Let’s set the mood, part two: getting atmosphere in your story

WRITING TIPS ARE GOOD THINGS!

Last week, we talked a bit about creating mood or atmosphere in your story, and this week, I’m going to share some cool ideas from other humans.

What? I do not know everything? Gasp!!!!

boy wearing gray vest and pink dress shirt holding book
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Sadly, I do not. For instance today I wrote that Acadia National Park has a million visitors. It has four million. Did I know this? Yes. Did I write it? No.

Did someone tell me immediately?

Yep.

Thanks to that person for letting me fix my mistake.

dog biting Thank You mail paper
Photo by Howie R on Unsplash

The thing is I am really human and that means I try to juggle a lot of things and sometimes I make errors. I try to tell myself that this is okay. That in a billion years (or 100) nobody will remember me or my errors. Usually that works. But not today.

But all of this just means:

1.     I don’t trust myself today.

2.     You get to read curated advice from cooler people instead. That’s a win!

Here, this first is from MasterClass. It’s kind of beautiful and pretty concise like art that you get off Ballard Designs.

white pillar candle on white table
Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

3 Tips for Creating Mood for Your Story via MasterClass (these three tips are all a direct quote):

  1. Use a holistic approach to mood. Since mood is made up of a combination of setting, tone, word choice, and theme, it’s important that you as a writer think about all four while you work. If you try to use only one of these tools, you’re severely limiting your ability to create a believable and pervasive mood for your story. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least three of these tools to establish your mood.
  2. Brainstorm mood words. If you’re drawing a blank when it comes to how to create a particular mood, it can help to brainstorm a list of mood words. For instance, if you know you want your story to have a creepy mood, then try making a list of different words that feel creepy to you, like these: gloomy, creak, tiptoe, moonlight, skittering, shadow, rattling. Once you’ve got a good list, pick a few of your favorites and include them in the scene.
  3. Subvert expectations. While it’s easy to go with the “expected” mood for your stories (for instance, that a story about a wedding will have a lighthearted, celebratory mood), remember that it’s not always the best choice. When you push yourself to subvert readers’ expectations, you can come up with creative and exciting combinations—for example, a wedding story with a foreboding mood, or a ghost story with a funny mood. Innovating with mood can help you create memorable, lasting writing.”

Let’s dive a tiny bit deeper into that first tip. Do I trust myself enough for that? Um, not really. Here goes anyway.

Setting is where the story is located or “set.” Set = setting, so clever a language English is.

Tone isn’t about the reader. Mood is. Tone is about the narrator and the attitude they are putting down about the events.

Word choice is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the words that you the author put on the page. Short words can make things staccato. Long words can make things mellifluous. Swear words can make things tense, emphatic or even humorous.

Theme. That’s what the story is about and what it’s trying to convey. A story that true love exists and that it will save the world and all the cavorting hamsters within it? That’s going to be part of the mood and atmosphere of the story.

So, when MasterClass is talking about how these elements work (in tip #1), the MasterClass staff authors of that blog post is just saying to weave it all together and make it create that atmosphere.


LINK TO LEARN MORE:

Welcome To 2023, Writers

Let’s kick some butt (in a chill, non aggressive way)

Photo by Johnny Briggs on Unsplash

Hey! Thanks so much for being kind about me not posting during the holidays. It really helped be think about what and how to be helpful. I appreciate it a lot and you can expect some new things this year from me. Fingers crossed. I’m going to try to be braver about sharing advice and information and thoughts.

So . . .

Recently, a really popular YouTube author gave out some editing advice. She’s cool. She’s pretty. She’s sarcastic and fun. She’s promoting her own book.

But she also is a little bit wrong this go around because she says the first step in a professional edit is the developmental edit.

It isn’t. Not always.

The first step is often an editorial assessment. Then you revise. Then if you have a butt-ton of money because your daddy is rich and your mother’s good looking, you can hush like a little baby, don’t cry, and get a developmental edit.

Or . . .

You can realize that the first step in a developmental edit is an editorial assessment.

What are these two shiny bits of editing bling?

What is this developmental edit? An editorial assessment?

Let’s use Reedsy’s definitions, okay? Reedsy is a massive platform that connects authors to editors and other freelance professionals and makes sure that those freelancing professionals don’t suck. Full disclosure: I was recruited for Reedsy a couple of years ago and I make money there.

Here’s what that platform (that includes 1 million authors and 2,500 freelancers like me) says about those two styles:

“Editorial Assessment. This is a popular and cost-effective first step for authors, ideal for those at an early stage of their rewrites. Editors offering an editorial assessment will usually:

  • Read and analyze your manuscript;
  • Provide an evaluation in the format of a report, covering all aspects of the story, structure, and commercial viability;
  • Offer suggestions to guide your rewrites.”

And then . . .

“Developmental Editing. A nose-to-tail structural edit of your manuscript for authors who have taken their book as far as they can by themselves. A developmental edit often includes everything in an editorial assessment, plus:

  • Detailed recommendations to improve “big picture” concerns like characterization, plot, pacing, setting, etc.;
  • Specific guidance on elements of writing craft;
  • In-line suggestions and edits in the manuscript.”

So, you could go with a YouTuber’s definition or a platform’s. Totally up to you. But that’s the thing: a lot of people get a lot of money creating edicts for those of us who don’t know better.

They say:

  • These are the best ways to write.
  • These are the worst ways to write.
  • These are the best ways to start your story.
  • These are the worst ways to start your story.

And it’s all absolutes.

Here’s the thing (and I’m going to sound absolute here):

Art and writing aren’t about absolutes. There is diversity of thought and culture and literature and perception. It shouldn’t all be ‘my way or the highway.’ Your psychographics, your family, your culture, your education, your location, your gender identity, race, religion, all create who you are and your story.

Don’t Lose Yourself

When you’re trying to get published or trying to get a ton of readers, you can sometimes lose yourself and your story in the process of listening to those edicts. Stay true, okay? Learn and grow, but don’t accept absolutely everything that an influencer says as gospel. The world and you and your story is bigger than that.

Here is a photo of my cat, Koko,judging me for losing myself in the past.

WRITING PROMPTS

Because I was just talking about Reedsy, I’m going to take one from there. Thanks, Reedsy!

Your character always makes the same promise; to change. Will they finally make it happen this time?

Write a story about someone scrambling on New Year’s Eve to fulfil their resolutions for the entire year before the clock strikes twelve.

You can submit your stories at those links as well. And enter a weekly contest.

SUBMISSION POSSIBILITY FOR THIS WEEK

SALT HILL PUBLISHES POETRY, FICTION, TRANSLATIONS, ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS, AND VISUAL ART. Oh my.

“We have two submission periods for fiction and poetry:

December through January

August through September

“We accept nonfiction and art submissions year-round.

“Salt Hill accepts only online submissions via Submittable for poetry, fiction, nonfiction and reviews. For visual art submissions, see below. Most, if not all, of our published work is selected from unsolicited submissions.

“We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you alert us as soon as possible if your work is placed elsewhere by either adding a note to your submission through Submittable or withdrawing the full submission.

“We ask that you submit only once per genre per reading period.

“Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond individually to submission status queries. We aim to respond to submissions within three to six months.

“Unfortunately, we are not in the position to offer payment to our writers.

“Curious about what we like? Grab one of our issues, or take a dip through our online archive.

POETRY:

“Please submit no more than five poems at a time, in one document.”

FICTION:

“Please do not submit works of more than 30 pages. We accept multiple flash pieces, so long as their combined length does not exceed 30 pages. Please double space, unless the nature of your work requires special formatting.”

NONFICTION:

“The nonfiction we are interested in pushes the boundaries of the genre, making use of the techniques of fiction and poetry to tell a true story. We want memories, arguments, meditations, revelations, philosophical rants. Salt Hill is a literary journal, so please don’t send us articles or reports. We will consider nonfiction for both our print journal and our website.”

There you go! Let’s go kick some butt in 2023 or make some beautiful music or just really craft our stories the best way we can: piece by piece, word by word, hope by hope.

We’ve got this.

This content and other writing tips, etc. is over here, too.

Writing

Writing Life

Writing Tips

Fiction Writing

Weird Junk Finds and Key Take-aways from spending time with Spiritual Leaders

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Weird Junk Finds and Key Take-aways from spending time with Spiritual Leaders
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This week we talk about the take-aways from spending time with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, plus weird junk finds. Because why not?

Filmmaker Peggy Callahan spent a lot of time listening to spiritual leaders while working with author Doug Abrams who co-authored The Book of Joy.

She wrote for the Today Show, “Their message is needed now more than ever. We’re heading into the “most wonderful time of the year” and yet so many people are struggling. We’re wrestling with how to bring “joy to the world” when life is wrought with stress and challenges.”

They also created  “Mission: JOY — Finding Happiness in Troubled Times,”a documentary.


DOG TIP FOR LIFE!

There’s nothing wrong with loving your stuff. – Pogie the puppy.

SHOUT OUT!

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.

WE HAVE EXTRA CONTENT ALL ABOUT LIVING HAPPY OVER HERE! It’s pretty awesome.

AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.

Carrie is reading one of her raw poems every other week on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!

LINKS WE REFERENCE

https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/it-s-back-1-800-got-junk-s-list-of-weird-junk-finds-in-2022-1031969251

https://www.today.com/life/essay-life/dalai-lama-archbishop-tutu-joy-rcna60757

https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/washington-company-discovers-famous-shipwreck-150-years-later/281-cc813e7f-2fa1-487e-a721-55f81296a3c7

GHOSTING – BE BRAVE FRIDAY

I took the first part of a painting class and as everyone was putting up their paintings, I ghosted out. Seriously, I snatched my painting off the easel and ran out, while these other people who had time and talent to take two hours out of their afternoon made friends and connections as they looked at each other’s works in progress.

Brave?

Not one bit.

Apparently, I have a lot of work left to do.

At first I pretended to myself that the reason I rushed off was because the painting was such a mess—chaotic colors—dry brushes—clashes and strokes that made no sense—and then I admitted about one mile onto the Crooked Road that it was because I was such a clashing, chaotic mess. Not the painting. Me.

I was such a mess that I called Shaun and told him what I’d done.

“Are you going to go back next Tuesday?” he asked.

“Of course not. I ghosted out.” My hands tightened around the steering wheel. “I told them how my sweet mom said I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body and I wanted to prove her wrong. I was so vulnerable. Nobody else was so vulnerable. They were real artists. Rocky Mann was there!”

“He’s a potter.”

“He’s real.”

“You’re also real.”

“An art teacher was there! And another potter and—”

And then because the wireless coverage on our island sucks, I lost the connection.

When I got home and dealt with all my own editing and writing deadlines and family (dogs and cats and human) needs, and wrote stories for my local news blog, and went to a meeting, I let myself look at the painting again.

It was still an unholy mess. And I broke all the rules. It was supposed to be about color and light and looking at plants through that. My plant became some sort of geyser. A bird head in rough form snuck in. A woman, small with hands lifted to the sky stood at the bottom center.

I don’t know how she got there.

And I don’t know how I got here either. But I’m going to try to channel a little more fierce next week. Maybe go back. Maybe not turn myself into a ghost or other transparent things.

Anyway, I hope that you get where you want to be this week or next. I hope you turn yourself solid. No more ghosts.

Here is that work in progress. Or possibly “work that’s about to be painted over.” 🙂

Agh.

Be Brave Friday – Spanx Are Not Meant to Be Worn Backward

BE BRAVE FRIDAY

I was going to write about so many people being brave in our high school’s lockdown this week, but I’m not ready for that yet, and this came out instead.

It’s long (I write novels), but I hope you’ll give it a look anyway.

I was talking to a man at the Chamber of Commerce dinner this week and I hadn’t seen him in a while.

Okay, let’s face it. I haven’t seen anyone in a while unless you count Halloween and picking up the farm share and going to the farmer’s market.

And I told him how terrified I was about going up to get an award for being someone that the Chamber president thought did good things for the community or that they admired or something like that.

“We’ll be rooting for you, Carrie,” he said. “You’ll be great.”

“God love you for a liar,” I said.

“No! No, you will.”

Two minutes before I got the award, I went to the bathroom and realized that I put the Spanx underwear I’d bought on backward and the lacy parts were not on my front, but on my butt, making my already non-existent butt even less existent.

“No,” I half yelled.

A woman in the next stall made a shocked noise.

I was not alone. I was with someone who made shocked noises.

Here’s the thing: I could have done one of two things. I could have taken my underwear off, turned it around, and have her see in that space below the stall me trying to yank up my underwear over my big, knee-high boots that are supposed to make me feel like Wonder Woman.

There in the bathroom stall of the Atlantic Oceanside, I did not feel like Wonder Woman. My boots were highly recognizable. She’d totally figure out that it was me who yanked her underwear off and did a switch-around in the stall.

I imagined going up on the little stage and having her stand up and shout, “THIS WOMAN JUST TOOK OFF HER UNDERWEAR AND SWITCHED IT AROUND! SHE CANNOT EVEN PUT HER UNDERWEAR ON CORRECTLY! DO NOT GIVE HER AN AWARD!”

I did not have that kind of courage right then, and I yanked those stupid underwear right back up backward and flushed the toilet and opened the stall. I washed my hands, but I couldn’t even look in the mirror.

“Coward,” I whispered. Not very self-love, I know.

A tiny bit later, Nina Barfuldi St. Germain said a bunch of super lovely things about me and my news blog and I heard none of it. She said my name. I stared. A million years passed. Well, they did in my head.

Alf Anderson, the director gave me a sympathetic look and for a second, I thought he knew about my Spanx, but no. He knew about my stage fright, which happens before I speak, but especially happens in front of people I know locally. The smaller the crowd, the worse I am. Shove me in a school, put me in another state? Put me in front of 1,000 strangers. I rock it. But my own community? With backward Spanx?

I stood up. I walked over. I got on stage somehow, hugged Nina and thought, “Her shoulders are so tiny, how does she do so much, how does she hold so many things together?” And then I thought, “I bet she isn’t wearing her Spanx backward.”
But I looked at Alf and Nina and the lovely man from the beginning of the meeting and Shaun, and they gave me safety.

The award was supposed to be about me, but I knew it wasn’t. The award was about community and people loving you and you loving them even when your Spanx are on wrong and everything might seem backward.

While up there, I told this story about how my daughter and I were once stuck in a flash flood in Charleston and how we hunkered under an awning, watching water spew, filling up the road, thundering down around us, and a kid looked at me and said, “ ‘Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced,’ Soren Kierkegaard.”

And I was sort of flabbergasted because here I was in a flash flood in Charleston and a pre-teen, barely teen, guy was quoting Kierkegaard at me. I wasn’t flabbergasted that he knew the old philosopher because I know teens are smart and amazing. I was flabbergasted that he gave me that quote like an offering. It was a special offering because in one of the book that I had coming out, the teen protagonist is a big Kierkegaard fan.

And my own little quote came to me, “Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.”

I gave that to him and he smiled. He said, “You either brave it or you don’t. But I will root for you.”

And that’s what it’s all about. It’s about rooting for each other and sometimes our own selves. It’s about giving offerings like Nina of the strong but tiny shoulders did. It was about all those people in that room, working hard, being brave, supporting each other and the kids and the employees, and places like the library, and making community.

Helping others is an act of bravery because it’s an act of hope.

Caring about others is an act of bravery because it’s an act of empathy.

Rooting for others is too because sometimes they might not be wearing their underwear correctly.

I promise that I will root for you through all the forces, hidden and unhidden, and I truly hope that we can all root for each other—in good times and bad—and maybe especially bad. I will root for you. And sometimes that’s a little brave.

*These paintings are some of the first I did and they are on bookshelves because I thought only ‘real’ painters used canvas. And I’m sharing them here because for me they are about hope and becoming. And they remind me of all the people I’m rooting for.

My art shop is here. 🙂 My news blog is here.

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