Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reflections on Nostalgia and Progress: A December Special

I was perusing Facebook this morning in between editing articles, and I saw a "Throwback Thursday" that my old alma mater, Coastal Carolina University, posted: a photo of the oldest building on campus -- the Singleton Building, as it stood in the 1960s. I saw the Singleton building myself just about a month ago during a fairly routine visit to campus, and I was shocked to find the building had been totally gutted. The shiny, completely renovated Singleton building will reopen in 2016. It made me a little sad. Thus, I posted this on the Throwback Thursday photograph:

This is a cool photo. I was sad to see it completely gutted when I visited Coastal a month or so ago. Yes, the Singleton building smelled weird and needed to be updated, but I clearly remember walking through it between 1998-2002 and loving it just as it was. Progress and nostalgia are always at odds, I suppose.

Today is my mom's birthday (Happy birthday, mom!), and if you don't know my mom, she's one of the finest examples of poetic nostalgia I've ever known. Part of it comes from her outstanding memory, and part of it is her sincere fascination with how things became the way they are. I spent my childhood relishing tales of her childhood, from the people to the buildings around Florence. Even if they had long since disappeared, my mom could still point out where they were.

That said, I suppose it's fitting that today I would find myself reflecting on progress and nostalgia. After all, this is the time of year when people get caught in between longing for the past and anticipating the future. I know I'm one of them -- I find myself feeling excited about what might happen in 2016 (New freelancing opportunities! Road trips!) but also missing people I haven't seen in decades -- wanting to trade stories and hold on as much as possible.

I doubt very many people, if any at all, would agree with me that the Singleton Building was fine the way it was. People complained about how dingy it was, how funny it smelled, how dark the hallways were, and everything else. But to me, it was just another part of the campus, and the campus has felt like home since my college days. Luckily, it still does, despite the renovations. I think that's the secret, when it comes to balancing progress and nostalgia: making sure you still feel at home, despite change.

When I go home next week for the holidays, things in Florence will be different, as they usually are, and people will be shifting. They'll be getting married, having children, growing older, selling their old sofas, downsizing their homes, retiring, shopping for new cars and whatever else they do to keep up the progress in their lives and move forward. But I'll still feel at home there thanks to nostalgia, which my mom passed down to me.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, y'all!

Me, my mom and my sister Marie, circa 2008 or so. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Be Thankful or Else."

I know it's hard to believe, but every now and then, I complain about my career.

Sometimes I whine that my writing voice is apparently only good for catchy ad copy and not heart-wrenching literature. Sometimes I complain that editors don't reply to my (brilliant) pitches. And sometimes I wonder if I'll ever get my big break, whatever that might be.

But this is a week about being thankful, so let me take a moment to reprimand myself for not being thankful constantly for my ever-interesting, ever-evolving career as a writer. A career that not many people get to have. A career that takes me to cozy bed-and-breakfasts where I get a free night's stay to learn more about a southern town. A career that introduces me to fascinating and talented people and pushes my limits. Sure, it's not 100% perfect and it's not always the exact thing I had in mind, but I make my living off of what I love doing most -- manipulating language.

Lately, the Great Universe is showing me that other opportunities are on the horizon. For example, I have a couple of articles coming out in regional magazines early next year, and an essay that I'm rather proud of is slated to appear on a website I admire. Plus, old and new contacts have been reaching out. My networking skills are being sharpened. And the crap that I don't need to deal with - the stuff that's wasting my time, dragging my spirits down and not helping me excel - is disappearing, whether I like it or not.

On November 1st, I flipped the page of our sales tally at the Mount Pleasant Magazine office - the sheet where we keep track of that month's advertising triumphs. I usually like to draw a little picture that represents the time of year: a tree for April, a pumpkin for October, that sort of thing. This time, I drew a turkey. And this cartoon turkey is saying "Be Thankful or Else!" which I considered funny at the time (it was a jab at to how hard it can be to make ends meet in an artistic field) but now, I'm realizing it's a useful lesson.

The more grateful, secure and happy I feel with my progress as a writer, the more good things I encounter to help me on the journey. So, starting this week, I'm going to just take a deep breath and realize that in the grand literary scheme of things, I'm still quite young. And I have a lot of stories left inside me.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

The original artwork. Hey, I'm a writer, not an illustrator. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Party of One!

Howdy, blog fans!

I just got back from a long weekend in the mountains of North Carolina. I'd been to Asheville once before with an ex-boyfriend, but this time I went by myself. I rented a car (I love the Saturn but she's getting to be an elder) and drove the handful of hours to stay alone in a stranger's house that I booked on Air BnB. It was exhilarating.

I got a lot of questioning surrounding this trip, regarding why I choose to go places by myself. Every trip I've been on in the last two years (the ones out of state) has been a solo trip. Nashville, Auburn, St. Petersburg, Little Switzerland, Asheville -- all of them consisted of me, myself and I. I met up with acquaintances or friends for meals on a couple of the ventures, and I made friends too, but each time it was just me hitting the open road (or boarding the airplane).

I've found I really like it that way. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and it helps with my panic and anxiety issues. After all, if I'm busy checking my GPS while driving around a new town in search of coffee and book stores, I don't have time to panic.

It isn't like I don't get scared, driving up the side of a mountain in the middle of the night or wandering around a new place with no best friends at my side. But my bravery pays off in the end, and I come home to Charleston feeling like I can do just about anything.

I guess there's some truth about getting outside of one's comfort zone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Feline Fosters.

As a child, my favorite toy was a stuffed cat (actually I think it was a "Furever Friend," one of those cats from the 1980s with long, removable tails). My sister and I constantly tried to talk our grandmother into keeping one of the stray cats that wandered through the yard -- though none of them ever stayed. As an adult, I've lived with and loved a few cats -- shout outs to Zoe, Spanky and Buttercup.

Now, I've got a family of cats I'm taking care of. It's my first real experience caring for cats on my own since I never had a pet. I got inspired after I met some awesome people from the Charleston Animal Society during the production of Mount Pleasant Magazine's pet issue for July/August. I learned I could foster pets through the society, and I figured it would be fun. And it is, for the most part -- although I spend a good amount of time cleaning up after them and making sure the kittens aren't getting into trouble. I've had them for a week now, and the adventures never end!

Mama Cat (or "MC" as I've been calling her) and her two babies enjoy books, cuddles on the sofa, toys, catnip and long scratches behind their ears. They seem to like me, too. I think that's lucky, because all of my cat-loving friends say that the cat chooses the person, not the other way around.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

For Those Who Believe in Magic....

I have the unfortunate habit of losing my sunglasses in the Atlantic Ocean. I've done it a few more times than I'd like to admit over the last several years. And they're never the old, lopsided sunglasses that I leave in my car console in case of an emergency. Nope, the lost glasses are always my most favorite pair, swiped from the top of my head by an irreverent wave and carried out to the distant sea faster than I can wipe the salt from my bleary eyes.

That said, when I lost my last favorite pair a couple of months ago, around mid-June when I was in Litchfield, i never thought I'd see them again. Not that I didn't hopefully check out the shoreline after I noticed they were gone. But in all my years of being a sun worshipper, I'd never had sunglasses swallowed by the ocean do anything except disappear for eternity.

Til now, that is.

The Sunday before Labor Day, I went to lunch with my Daniel Island gang after church and they told me they had a "gift" back at the house for me.

"A gift?" I was thoroughly bemused. "What is it?"

"Remember those glasses you lost in Litchfield? Well....We found them when we went crabbing yesterday."

I blinked. "Huh?"

"Yep. We cleaned them off and they look amazing."

I know what y'all are thinking, blog readers. Because I've already heard it from the other people I've shared this amazing story with:

They bought you another pair at the store. They're pulling your leg. 

Another woman with your same glasses lost hers on Daniel Island. 

That's not likely, for a pair of glasses to float from Litchfield Beach to Daniel Island and TO END UP BY YOUR TUTEE'S HOUSE. 

Yes, I've heard it all. And you know what? I've decided I don't care! I got my magic glasses (as I'm now calling them) back last night when I took Rachel home from shopping, and they look the exact same. Maybe just a little bit beat up. A little bit of sand and salt in the crevices. It gives 'em character.

And given the fact that they made their way back to me, I think I'll be a little more careful with them this time.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Straining to Hear That Cha-CHING.

I've never been awesome at saving money.

You know what I've been awesome at instead? Shopping for clothes, shoes, makeup and fascinating works of literature. Drinking fancy lattes at 2 pm. Bringing a bottle of bubbly over to my friends' houses. Eating lunch and dinner at awesome restaurants and springing for a cocktail or two.

But since I've entered the decade of the thirties, which is when most people realize they'll get old one day, I've heard through the grapevine that I should be saving. So, in the last few weeks or so (don't laugh - I had to start somewhere) I've begun taking my money habits more seriously.

First, I opened a Roth IRA and there's already a little bit of money in it. YAY! Thanks to my Uncle Phil's speech in Litchfield back around Memorial Day, I set up the account without difficulty and I'm depositing money as often as possible. I feel so accomplished!

The other things I've done haven't been quite as fun.

I'm eating way more meals at home, for one thing. And yes, my cooking skills have improved. In the last week I've made tons of fruit smoothies, salads, new desserts (y'all read that post, right?), inventive pasta dishes ...and today I actually drove home from work and made coffee, eggs, toast and sliced tomatoes in my kitchen instead of going to Bagel Nation. Crazy, right? And I'm having hot tea at my desk now, made with some tea my thrifty best friend Mandie gave me.

It gets crazier.

I announced to my roomie John, after rinsing my dishes, that I was going to Barnes & Noble and buying a CD that I wanted because, well, who buys CDs anymore? I was in a funk earlier today and in need of a retro adventure, like opening some new music and unfolding a lyric sheet. Then I halted. CDs are like $18 bucks -- that's my whole day's allowance blown before dinner! So you know what I did instead?


I'm finally living within my means, I thought to myself, thumbing through Fleetwood Mac and Radiohead in the "Pop/Rock" section of the Mount Pleasant Branch.

But it's not always as bleak as I'm making it sound. Yesterday, I joined my sis at the Pickled Palate and had a yummy sandwich and salad for about $12. And the other day, I had a beer and shrimp tacos at happy hour for about $10. I've been tracking myself and sticking to this $20 a day thing. Most days, I don't spend the whole $20. I'm feeling ...probably the way most people feel when they start a new diet.

Is this forever? 

But it won't always feel like that, of course. Soon, this new leaf I'm turning over will become a habit. I'll waste less money and sock more of it away. And I'll become a better cook. And I'll develop a new appreciation for restaurants, libraries, vacations and treating myself.

Those all sound like good things in the long run, right?

My smoothie, pre-blend. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sweet Tooth: The Next Generation.

I didn't grow up in a household with tons of snacks. I had to venture to my friends' houses if I wanted soda, Fruit-by-the-Foot or Star Crunches. My grandmother has always had an honest sweet tooth -- she just preferred to satisfy it with real desserts, not packaged kiddie treats. Thus, even though there weren't Twinkies and Kool Aid in my childhood home, there was almost always fresh pound cake. She loved making desserts herself. Even now, twenty years later, my grandmother still loves to come home from the grocery store on a Sunday and indulge in a new recipe. It's usually something sweet, because that's what she loves.

For the last couple of years, I've noticed my own sweet tooth -- which I've had since childhood, thus taking after her -- inspiring me in the same fashion. Once in a while I'll make a real meal, but I particularly love making sweets. Last week, I made what I called "peaches in a blanket" (rolled up peaches with cinnamon, butter and honey and baked inside dough) and tonight, I made frozen hot chocolate for the first time. I couldn't help but think about my grandmother. Sure, I've gotten the last two of my recipes off a Pinterest page and she gets hers from real magazines or cookbooks. And sure, she can still turn a Bundt cake right side up without a problem, whereas mine broke apart the last time I tried. Nevertheless, I think this is a trait that I can proudly say I got from my grandmother, sugar highs at 9 p.m. and all. 

During deadline, it can't be a bad thing to feel awake anyhow. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Breaking Up With Love.

My goodness, it's been absolutely forever. I've had a busy summer, hanging with my friends, their kids and soaking up rays either at my house in Litchfield or right here at the beaches of Charleston. And I've noticed that the saying rings true, about happiness being a butterfly that will sit on your shoulder when you aren't chasing it.

I've been doing some thinking about my ridiculous romantic track record. I've been single for three and some change years now -- not just unmarried or lacking a live-in boyfriend but SINGLE. No flings, no plus-ones to call up for a movie night -- nothing. Yes, I tried Tinder for a bit and it didn't work. Yes, I tried to fan a few acquaintances into a flame; that didn't work either.

For a while, it saddened me. After all, I've been obsessed with love since I first took notice of it appearing in works of literature, classrooms and family sitcoms. I realized it wasn't the kind of love that lasted forever, but it was a taste -- enough of a taste to make me want it.

Though I didn't date as a teenager (I was entirely too awkward) I daydreamed about love constantly, even wrote entire screenplays about my crush during World History class. And, once I got to college and did start dating, I found myself engrossed in a series of relationships basically lasting from approximately age 20 until age 32. Sure, not all of those guys were serious boyfriends, but I always had an object of affection. I always had a goal pertaining to love.

Now, I don't. There's nobody I'm crushing on, nobody I'm engaged to, nobody I'm sleeping with, nobody I'm casually dating in hopes to watch it go further. I've reached the age when everyone has someone, usually a spouse, yet I'm the most alone I've been since adolescence. It's pretty ironic I guess. Here's the exciting thing though: I've finally accepted it.

It sort of happened like this. I was walking a bag of garbage to the dumpster at my condo complex recently (Don't you love symbolism?) and realized I've finally broken up with love as an idea. It took me a good few years. I'd been depressed, I realized, when I ended my last relationship at age 32. After more than a decade of having some dude at my side, it was jarring for me. Now, not only have I gotten used to no ball-and-chain, I've discovered I prefer it!

There are a few contributing factors to this. One: I watch other people in relationships and marriages and they seem sorta annoyed with their partners a good chunk of the time. No offense. Two: I'm a social butterfly and I'm selfish. How did I not realize it sooner? Three: I can redevelop my own idea of love now, because I've let the old one go.

I'm well aware that this might mean I stay alone for even longer; it could take time to rewrite the idea of love from scratch. But I think it'll be worth it, because the old idea I had was not working. Plus, I have other kinds of love that aren't the romantic kind. Sure, sometimes I still feel lonely. But just like other mood swings I'm prone to, it's unrelated to reality.

Breaking up with my original idea about love was hard, no doubt about it. But I feel so much happier than I did a year ago. Sometimes the baggage that holds us down isn't material or relational -- it's ideological.

Good thing it's in the dumpster now.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Give Peace a Chance.

I woke up this morning, reached for my smart phone as usual and took it off of airplane mode. My best friend Alice recently told me to keep it on airplane mode at night because I told her I was having trouble quieting my mind.

But I soon found out that the entire Lowcountry couldn't quiet itself last night -- nine people lost their lives in a horrific shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church on the peninsula of Charleston, right in the heart of everything we know and love about the city - our libraries, our art venues, our homes.

Like most of you, I'm forced to digest a good bit of horrible news in this world and find a way to move on. I'm regularly faced with awful stories about humans performing evil acts out of ignorance and desperation -- and I go about my day a little sadder because of it.

I have to say, though, that I've rarely seen the kind of reaction from people -- friends, family and the Charleston community as a whole -- that this shooting has brought about. I've been faced with a lot of mixed emotions from everyone, and I'm trying to say the right thing, but there's one phrase in particular that keeps repeating in my head. It's a phrase my mom repeated to me throughout my childhood and teenage years whenever someone hurt me and she saw my eyes light up in vengeful fury.

Two wrongs don't make a right. 

I'm sure if you're reading this, you know that Dylann Storm Roof was captured in North Carolina earlier today. And I'm not sure how you feel about it; I can't speak for you. But during lunch with my photographer, Jenn, we made the simple observation (while talking about work, but it translates to EVERYTHING ON EARTH) that positivity brings about positivity, while negativity brings about negativity.

That's why I'm urging all of you to find it inside yourselves to take this horrible event and turn it around the right way and spread love. Instead of telling your neighbors that you'd like to see Dylann harmed to the fullest extent of the law, offer your help or a shoulder to cry on. It sounds corny, I'll admit. But I think it's the only way.

When I was a child, I had trouble fitting in with my classmates. I went to a small private school. So I sought refuge with a few kindhearted kids in other grades. They were outcasts like me, either because of the way they looked, the way they behaved or their aptitude inside the classroom. But you know what I remember most about this?

When we were together, we were no longer outcasts. We were a group of friends who protected one another despite our differences. And with that miracle, the bitterness we held toward people who didn't understand us or things we couldn't grasp began to disappear. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Vintage or Bust.

So, I've developed this obsession with vintage books. As of recently, I'll only deal with vintage copies for anything I'm reading ...unless it's a new release, of course.

I prefer stuff from the 1950s and early 1960s -- more specifically, Bantams and Signets. They tend to have a few things going for them: They smell amazing, they have delightfully campy covers and the "about the author" pages are top-notch.

But I think what I love the most about these editions is that I was first exposed to them during my childhood, thanks to the shelves at my grandmother's house where I grew up. Those shelves are lined with books that my uncles and mother obtained during their childhoods, books that fascinated and engrossed me as a kid.

For example, the latest book I'm reading is John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men -- which I've never read before, if you can believe it. I've spent literally a day and half searching for an old copy. What's funny is when I call the used bookstores and ask for the oldest copy they have available, it often ends up being something from, like 1993. Which I don't want, of course. I mean, I was alive in 1993. I was 13 and fully conscious. What's special about that?!

So I called everyone in town, from Mr. K's Used Books to Sullivan's Trade-a-Book to even Dream-a-Lot Books in Goose Creek in search of a respectably old edition of the novel. No dice. They either had no copy whatsoever, or they had a nice, shiny copy produced during my years on this planet. Bleh.

Undeterred, I finally ordered a 1955 copy online this morning, which should get to me in a few days. Until then, I'm begrudgingly reading my library copy so I don't get behind, but I can hardly wait til my oldie arrives in my mailbox. Here's what it looks like. Pretty cool.

Also, I had an idea. What do y'all think about a phone app for vintage book scouters like myself? The app could let us know what copies of a book are nearby and what the edition is. It's food for thought, anyway.

I don't plan to stop buying vintage books anytime soon, even on the days that it proves a difficult sport.  As long as I'm reading the classics (which I always will be) I think I should have classic copies. 

And you can call me a book snob. I won't mind.

Napping with my Signet Classic edition of Great Expectations on my face. Ha. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Planting Gardenias.

Y'all, I'm growing my first gardenia plants ever. See below.

It's already blooming! I'm trying not to eat it. Just kidding -- I'm way too proud to eat the fruits of my gardening labor!

Mountain Jam.

Sunday night I got back from an important solo trip to the mountains of North Carolina, where I spent a long weekend at a writing conference hosted by The Sun, one of my favorite magazines that Anna introduced me to. It was an epic experience.

The workshops I took on poetry and nonfiction opened my eyes to some things I needed to know about myself as a writer. My writing isn't emotional enough! Who knew, right? But hear this: I was sitting in the workshops, feeling all proud and junk of what I'd written (and it was good; don't get me wrong) but I realized that my fellow writers and my instructors were moving each other with their words, even shocking each other, in a way that I wasn't. Their stuff was raw; mine was magazine ready. 

I'm not saying that my job has everything to do with it, either. I think I've put up a wall around myself  and my writing when it comes to emotional intimacy for a long time. I can be real in my tiny purse journal or my regular journal at home, but I knew I was getting ready to read the fruits of our workshop prompts to everyone in those conference rooms. Thus, I'd groomed my stuff for consumption. There was even a point when I realized I'd written in the 3rd person while everyone else wrote in the 1st! The prompt was to talk about a moment in my life that hurt me deeply -- clearly I was protecting myself from it. 

Anyhoo, despite learning that my writing has a long way to go, this trip empowered me. I drove down the dark, scary, winding mountain roads and stayed on the side of a cliff all by myself. I mingled with strangers and navigated through Maggie Valley, Little Switzerland and Black Mountain without friends. Every time I go on one of my little adventures with just me, myself and I, I get a little more used to the fact that I might be alone forever. And it might be all right. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Business in the Front?

Yesterday I got a keratin treatment on my hair, which consisted of three hours in a salon chair so my expert hairdresser could slather my frizzy, unruly mane with keratin protein, sit me beneath a scorching dryer and flat iron each strand. It took a while. During that time I read a chapter or so of Great Expectations, took really awkward selfies of myself in my salon cape (and deleted them) and thought about how people were going to react to my hair -- and how I was going to hate it.

My whole life -- well, since puberty -- I have had naturally curly, frizzy, ridiculous hair. Since my personality is ridiculous, it always made sense in a way. I got ridiculed relentlessly in middle school and high school; now I'm repeatedly asked why I don't straighten it as an adult.

But here's the thing: I don't even like my hair straight. I've worn it straight numerous times, even bought a flat iron, but each time I do it, I feel let down. I do like my hair after I hot roll it, which is why I did the keratin treatment. My stylist promised me more manageable locks.

The keratin treatment from yesterday will not keep my hair poker straight for the coming months. On Sunday I'll be able to wash it and retain my natural texture -- just tamer and less frizzy. But meanwhile I have to deal with the compliments. I admit I deserve this because I put up a photo of myself with stick straight locks yesterday. Now, i have about 70 likes on the picture, about 30 comments, plus text messages telling me "i look great." Not to mention the people who see me in person. One person even called me on the phone.

Here's a short list of the things I've heard:

You should keep it that way! 

You look SO pretty! Your smile really pops now! 

Wow! Looks fabulous! 

Woah!!!!! Looks great! 

So pretty! 

You look like a different person! 

Please understand that if you recognize your remark on this list, I'm not complaining about your compliment. It's just that, well, a girl has to be somewhat courageous to wear her hair naturally curly in this world. She has to understand that most people don't like unruly, uncontrolled hair. Just look at the media, where everyone has well-crafted waves.

Knowing all this, it's still a tough pill to swallow after your flattened hair gets rave reviews and you realize people think you look like a disheveled hippie on a regular basis. And it makes me question why my identity is so closely related to my hair. Not just because y'all think it is, but even because I make it that way.

After all, i'm still the same dorky Denise with these shiny, smooth tresses. I still wear my heart on my sleeve to an absurd extent. I still take photographs of moths outside the office, then catch them on my hand.

I'm still a weirdo, whether my hair is normal or not. So y'all don't get too excited.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Little Notebook.

After my post last time about more solitary media, I went out and bought a little notebook. And I'm thoroughly thrilled to report that it has become my go-to for whenever I have an idea now. (Err, except for the stuff that I put here, on the blog!)

In fact, the little notebook is already a fourth of the way filled with snippets of poetry, funny sayings that DIDN'T end up on Twitter, musings over my lunch and happy hour and even an entire rough draft of an essay for a magazine. See the photo below -- I sent the same one to my tutee a few days ago over text message, triumphantly declaring that I "had written a whole essay in mini handwriting in my little notebook" or something like that.

"Cool," he replied, in 15-year-old fashion. 

But it is cool. I've been reaching for the notebook more often than my phone, and that makes me happy. I'd forgotten how much more legit it feels to pull out real paper and a pen, rather than my smart phone like everyone else. 

Yay for being a writer and rediscovering the parts of it that I love!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Social Media Overload, Solitary Media Underload....

First, a list of the different applications and social media whatnots on my phone:


Next, a list of the times I've written something personal, something for myself this week:


This is a problem. I'm spending too much time talking to other people and not enough talking to myself. It would be great if I could compose a diary entry, at least, or edit a poem in complete silence (on a piece of paper with a red pen or something, not on the laptop where someone can IM me).

And to top it off, I've been bitching and moaning about being uninspired and not writing enough.


It's not just me though. (Not that y'all thought it was.) I mean, when I ask a certain teenager whose name shall be unmentioned to write one of the poems for his poetry booklets on a sheet of real paper, I get a reaction like, What? Real paper? Retype it later? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? 

And, as usual, I have trouble arguing my point of view. That there is nothing to distract you from your own ideas with a sheet of paper and a simple writing utensil. And when I (or you) feel less distracted from our own ideas, perhaps we feel less competitive and more peaceful.

I love ideas more than anything in the world, and I love the ideas of others. But I get so freaking bogged down by all the ideas at my fingertips these days, it almost paralyzes me.

If that writer said that beautiful sentence, what will I say? 

Well, the answer is my own beautiful sentence. And who gives a crap if anyone but me reads it? Good gravy, I remember being an adolescent and not even wanting to share my work with anyone. Now, I'm an adult, and it's like if i don't get approval from the masses then i might as well die.

I don't think this attitude is helping me get better.

It's not that I never put down my devices -- i do it every night, right before bed, when i read an actual book or magazine (not on an e reader) before drifting off. But I'm going to have to do better than that.

I'm going to have to start capturing the world in a tiny notebook that I keep in my purse again, just like I did before I became a slave to something outside of myself.

That's all for now.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Spiritual Two-Timing: Yay or Nay?

It's a Sunday, and I sit by myself at a church I started gong to after my friends recommended it. Ironically, I just saw my friends from across the sanctuary -- and normally i sit with them -- but it's too late. Here I am, alone in my chair. It makes me honestly take a harder look at why I am here. I mean, I was raised Catholic. And in some ways I still practice Catholicism -- I go to Mass whenever I feel moved to; I honor my background; I say Catholic prayers and I take pictures of cathedrals then sneak inside of them to douse my forehead in holy water while I'm on vacation in other cities.

Whenever I go to a church, the priest, pastor or whomever talks about becoming "a member." But I haven't become a member of any church as a grown person. Sometimes I attend places, and sometimes I even put a couple of bucks in the basket when it comes around, But I haven't declared my official commitment with any place --  not a cathedral, nor a contemporary mega-church, as they are sometimes called.

Sitting here in the mega-church now, I'm enjoying, as usual, the charismatic pastor. He's funny and says things that are useful and relatable. But there are other parts of this place I don't like so much -- the bland decor, the cheesy music, the lack of a liturgical calendar. In short, this church's weaknesses are a Catholic church's strengths. And vice versa. (Anyone who's listened to a priest say a homily lately has probably gotten bored!)

Still, because I grew up Catholic and was baptized Catholic, I never feel phony standing before a Catholic altar. Yet, here i feel like a fraud at times, even though I enjoy the message, and even though it's obviously my choice to be here.

So, I'm posing this question: Is it possible to need more than one church, even more than one style of worship, to be spiritually fulfilled? We require choices in other aspects of life, right? Just as I get my frozen pizzas from Harris Teeter and my wine from Trader Joe's, I feel like I should be able to get my songs from Mass and my speech from right here. I like both.

St. Peter's Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, WV

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Accelerates My Heart.

So, it's Lent again. And as usual, I've given up something that seems like no big whoop until I have to actually deal with not having it. This year, it's "coffee drinks." Everyone cocks their brow in confusion at that term, so let me explain. No, I have not given up all coffee -- I need caffeine to survive.

But until Easter Sunday, all I'm allowed to have is black coffee. No Starbucks vanilla latte, no honey latte from the yummy local cafe -- not even MILK IN THE MORNING.

All black coffee, all the time.

I've learned a couple things while drinking nothing but bitter, dark cups of Joe. Here goes:

1. All black coffee tastes the same. Thus, i don't care to go for my used-to-be-usual afternoon cup from either Starbucks or whatever's convenient at the time. I had a feeling that my black-coffee-only rule would cause me to cut back on caffeine. But I didn't know how right I'd be. Coffee isn't fun if it's plain.

Coworker: Want to make a Starbucks run, Denise?!
Me: Ehhh...and order a scalding cup of bitter sludge? Nah. I'll stick with water. But thanks. 

2. I keep burning my dang tongue. Without that splash of milk, Irish liqueur or half n' half, the stuff is hotter than you'd expect. In fact, I don't think I've had all my taste buds in good working order since Ash Wednesday.

3. Not many people drink black coffee. In fact, I can name only two right off the top of my head -- Brian and my friend Sarah. Other than that, everyone looks at me like I've lost my mind when I say I'm only drinking it black til Easter. Which brings me to my next point ....

4. I used to think that I liked the taste of actual coffee more than most of my friends and colleagues. When I lived with Genessa, she would put so much creamer and crap inside her cup of morning brew that it ended up just tasting like coffee Kool Aid. And I'd make fun of her. I also made fun of people who always get the mocha milkshake crap with whipped cream on top. But now that I'm drinking coffee in the buff, I'm realizing I don't love it either!! I mean, i can STOMACH it for the purpose of having my morning jolt, but I'm not really happy about it.

All of that said, my mama drinks her morning coffee just like I do: milk only, no sugar. Sharing a cup with her is one of my favorite parts of going home, which makes looking forward to spring that much sweeter. So, until then, I guess I can stick to the dark stuff.

I just need to remember to let it cool on the counter first.

Saturday's cup in the elephant mug. So bare bones. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

This Post Could Get Steamy.

While everyone else has been complaining about freezing their butts off this week, I've been doing what I always do when the mercury dips this low -- manipulating my crazy 'fro. (Y'all like that rhyme or what?)

Anyhoo, so, I've been downright obsessed with my set of hot rollers this winter. Like, super-obsessed, to the point where I want to wear my locks in big, poufy curls every day and channel my inner 1940s goddess or whatever. But to be on the safe side, I've also got a flat iron and a curling iron in my cabinet o' tricks, ready to bust out whenever I need them.

This week, I'm amused to report that I've not only used most every tool I own, I've also come up with innovative new tools ...or should they be called techniques? make my hair do what I want it to do.

Take yesterday morning, for example, I started with a messy mob of clean hair (I'd washed it and slept on it wet the night before) and turned on the hot rollers while I made my coffee so they'd be nice and hot when the time came. But I decided that first, I would flat iron my hair completely, in order to make the hot roller curls ultra-behaved, rather than mixed up with funny, frizzy corkscrews left over from those natural pieces that refuse to be bossed around.

Well, that didn't exactly work. I mean, once my hair was straight, it wanted to STAY straight. (EGADS, right?!) I took out the rollers and my locks had barely bent themselves!! My hair didn't look like a '40s siren -- it looked like a bad flat iron experiment!

I questioned what to do. Get in the shower and start over? Nah -- then my hair would go back to totally natural and that wasn't what I wanted either. What I WANTED was a little more body and wave. Then a genius idea struck me. I turned on BOTH of my showers all the way to scalding hot (I have two of them -- a tub shower and a stand up shower!), shut the bathroom door and let the bathroom fill with steam so thick, I couldn't see my triumphant grin in the mirror.

Take THAT, hair! I thought to myself, watching my tresses start to rise to the occasion. Once I had a little more "oomph" in the 'do, I turned off the showers, exhaled the steam and rolled my hair again. This time it worked! HELLO CURLS!

So, yeah, winter has its good points. I can't say that I've loved wearing so many clothes this week, but I've definitely had a good time with my beauty routine. And as any woman knows, a breakthrough in a beauty routine is certainly worth blogging about.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Shepherding my Word Sheep.

Well, it's been a while. I've been busy working my face off (and celebrating my birthday -- woo!) since I just officially became full time at the magazine. (I know...y'all thought I already worked full time ...).

There are things to get accustomed to now that I'm a regular. A not-so-great example would be getting to the office at the same hour every morning, no matter how my hair looks or what awesome article got tweeted at me about the literary genius that lies within. Sigh. Time management isn't always my favorite thing, especially in the morning when my ideas are flowing like honey.

Nevertheless, there are other awesome aspects. One that I feel compelled to write about is how there's more of an opportunity to gently edit the writing of others and help them compose stuff that readers AND clients are going to like.

Case in point: One of my newbie writers, Miranda, is learning the ropes of marketing content. So this week I've gone over a couple of her articles with her, showing her how to make them not only good for the advertisers but also good for our readers. Naturally, this process is helping me become a better editor as well. I even called Brian on the phone and cheerfully announced that I kinda felt like him this morning when I put Miranda's original copy of a story, along with my edits, side by side on her desk.

Also, I had a super fun opportunity last week when my friend June's 12-year-old daughter, Julia, plus her friend, Ashley, shadowed me at work for the morning. I printed out a story going into the magazine and let the girls help me edit it -- we came up with a snazzy new headline, polished some phrases and generally made it flow. The girls had a blast using their creativity, and I had fun as well.

And though it's not quite as easy --  due to the fact that while I know exactly what Mount Pleasant Magazine's pages are yearning for content-wise, I have less of an idea regarding what teachers at Bishop England want --  I like editing my tutee's stuff too. Yesterday during our lesson, for example, I steered him in a slightly different direction for his research paper's introduction paragraph.

Speaking of paragraphs, it's funny. my tutee always asks for a sentence count regarding how long each paragraph should be, and I always gripe that it should be "as long as it takes to get his idea across," hoping he won't wimp out and make things too short. But when I broke Miranda's story from this morning into a few different paragraphs, they ended up only being a few sentences or so -- still, each contained its own idea. Interesting, how no two pieces of writing follow the same rule. They're all as unique as the people who composed them.

That said, I've always talked about how hard it is to teach someone how to be a better writer. As with other art forms, it's easy to assume good writing is "innate" and give up on helping someone with their craft. But I'm finding that helping other writers is helping me at the same time. What a happy result, right?!

Julia, Ashley and me! 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Different Kind of Business Profile.

At Mount Pleasant Magazine we do a great many business profiles for East Cooper companies -- and as managing editor, I strive for profiles that are well done and interesting -- even when it's a topic that doesn't strike a chord within me personally.

Other times, something does strike a chord, yet I have to keep the business profile Not so on my blog, however! So, in the spirit of letting y'all know how I really feel about a particular business here in Mount P, I decided to post about Celadon, one of our advertisers in the spring issue.

Once upon a time, my best friend Anna had me over for dinner at her house on a weekly basis. She had this really great shrimp pasta, with cheese sprinkled on top, that she would make on Sunday afternoons, and she served it in these elegant bowls that were higher on one side than the other.

We'd talk about our lives, and I'd look around her apartment, admiring her ever-elegant taste. She had a sofa that I downright coveted. Though she'd generously given me her former sofa, a hand-me-down i accepted gracefully, I couldn't stop myself from lusting after the new sofa in its soft teal hue.

We'd sit in the living room after dinner, and she'd light a couple of fancy candles with matches that she retrieved from a long box embossed with birds unfurling their lavender wings. I know -- at this point you're thinking it all sounds frivolous. And perhaps it was. But it was beautiful to me; the trinkets that Anna shared inside her home seemed to go so well with our conversations about love, our careers, our destinies as poets and our goals for the future.

Celadon happened to be one of Anna's favorite places in Mount Pleasant to find everything, from her furniture to her dish towels. There were a couple of occasions when she'd drag me inside the store to look at something -- until I realized I didn't need to be dragged; I wanted to shop there. But, unlike Anna, I couldn't afford much.

After Anna passed away a few years ago, I found myself venturing into Celadon from time to time. I found myself looking at things that I know Anna would have liked and thinking back to her apartment: about the bookshelves, stacked with volumes of poetry, and the coffee table, spread with papers to grade, half-written drafts and nubby candles that smelled of hyacinth.

It's interesting how mere things cannot possess any meaning unless we assign meaning to them. When we do, they become almost like living things, despite being objects.

One day, I bought myself a long box of those matches. I don't remember what I paid for them. I loved them so dearly, I kept them in the room with me all the time. And whenever I'd light something with their flames, I'd think of Anna.

Anna, reading a poem at a coffee shop.