Finding Your Fire: How One Little Thing Can Change Everything

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Tonight I lit my first fire in my second rental house since my divorce four years ago (looks good, yes?). Not a big thing on the surface. But it’s my first house with a fireplace in 11 years. I was married then. I grew up with a fireplace. In both homes, either my dad or my then husband always lit the fire. My dad did it because, well, I was a kid. My ex did it because…that’s the way it was. (Yeah, yeah, I know – that’s for another blog post.)

I’ve been ready to light this fire since I moved in last June. One of the first things I did was get the fireplace inspected. Safety first! When fall came, I went to Home Depot and got the fireplace tools, a screen, built the tool rack with that stupid little gadget thing they always give you in DIY kits. I picked up a bundle of wood. I was READY. And then…

Christmas came and went. No fire. 

I kept telling my kids, “Hey! Maybe we should light a fire tonight!” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I told myself it was because I was afraid of looking like an idiot in front of them if I couldn’t get it going (our first campfire fiascos and my ineptitude with cooking over a fire are still fresh in my memory – suffice to say the hamburgers melted through the tripod grill thingy and we ended up eating potatoes for dinner.)

Except there is a YouTube video for everything these days, as I realized when my radiator went out on the road last summer, and duh, DuraFlame. So…why am I waiting to light my first fire on Easter? April Fool’s Day, no less? But it is 32 degrees in Chicago tonight…and then it hit me:

This is another first. 

I thought I was done with those, but I am coming to learn that those never end. They just Continue reading “Finding Your Fire: How One Little Thing Can Change Everything”

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Finding Your Voice in a World of #MeToo

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me and my girl one fall day

The other day, my *almost* sixteen-year-old daughter read to me out loud her response to one of the questions on an assignment in her advanced English class. The question was:

“Who or what has had the biggest impact on the development of your voice?”

Me [best attempt at no expression]: “Ooh!!!  Good question.”

Me [inside]: ME!! PLEASE SAY ME!! But it might not be me. Shit, I don’t have a poker face, Christy, get it together here!! If it’s not you, you don’t want to make her feel bad. Whatever she says is fine, whoever it is. OH PLEASE LET IT BE ME!!

Spoiler alert: It was me. 🙂 !!!

I want to share this with you because as a writer, a mom and a human being trying to do Continue reading “Finding Your Voice in a World of #MeToo”

feeling lost? think back to when you were 9

When I was nine years old, I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up. After exploring options like veterinarian, teacher and librarian, I finally settled on one thought: I want to write things that make people think.

Flash forward…a lot of years. I am now helping really smart people build compelling stories about very complex products. A big part of my job involves being a good listener. I listen to engineers talk about the fantastic, creative products they have dreamt up, designed and built, then created with the help of a team of other really smart people. I extract what I know will make a great story and help them build it with the tools and techniques I have honed through…a lot of years of studying the works of great writers and building stories for many companies.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than helping someone tell their story – whether it is a biography, a product messaging platform focused on the customer’s needs, or a white paper on the benefits of 40G or Class 4 antennas. Recently, I helped a team hone the strategic message for a new product launch. The product is cool, innovative and complex. At the end of a two-day messaging session with a team of eight, the leader of the team delivered a pitch based on the foundation we had just built that was clear, concise, and truly compelling. It truly confirmed that I am doing exactly what I set out to do: write things that make people think.

Continue reading “feeling lost? think back to when you were 9”

the power of doing nothing

As a creative professional, I’m constantly faced with new challenges and decisions: what’s the best way to tell this brand story? What will resonate most with the audience? What will make them laugh, cry, comment on Facebook or order the product I am helping to market? What’s the best way to get all the different people on the project engaged and aligned? But the toughest challenge by far for any project I work on is this: where do I start?

This is where the power of doing nothing is absolutely critical. Everyone has a process that they use to get things done. I’m no exception. Doing nothing is a big part of my process, especially when I am faced with what seems to be an overwhelming task. I find that this has been helpful in even in my regular life. When I am most overwhelmed and uncertain where to begin, I start by doing…nothing.

I sit in my screened-in porch. I take in the swaying oak trees taller and older than I will ever be. I let the whoosh of the wind in the leaves wash over me. I watch the flash of the red cardinal darting in and out of the bushes. I listen for squirrels’ feet padding along the top of my neighbor’s falling-down wooden fence in desperate need of paint, then watch them chase each other in circles around my yard and up a tree. I watch my dopey 110-pound dog try to catch them, climbing damn near two feet up the tree with her huge claws dug into the bark as she strains every muscle in her neck to reach the squirrel chattering, taunting her from a branch one dog nostril out of her reach. I listen to music that moves me and baptizes my brain of everything but the rhythm and the pattern of the harmonies. As the lyrics wash over me, I feel the worry and the fear – Will I be able to do this? Will I find the right words? Will I ever find my way in to this story? Maybe I don’t have it anymore. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe this is too much. Maybe I should give up. – all of that recedes as my brain powers down, forgets, feels, senses its way to…

…the answer I have been toiling to reach for hours or days to reach. It is murky and mysterious at first, I can’t make out what it is. So I make a grilled cheese sandwich, go sit down in the family room and stare out the bay window at the trees trying to see it until I smell something burning and remember I was making a grilled cheese sandwich. I toss it in the trash and walk the dopey dog around the pond. As I watch the ducks take flight from the water, tiny droplets falling from their webbed feet as they rise into the air in perfect unison, I feel the idea growing in me as sure as I felt my first-born flutter in my belly for the first time as I sat in a poetry reading 12 years ago. (He was stirred by the words, of this I am certain.) The idea is there. But it’s not ready yet. I’m not ready yet.

At six o’clock I make dinner and as I stir a pot of rice, my idea simmers as I wait for the water to boil. I sit at the dinner table and listen to tales of best friend sacrileges, Minecraft dramas, and remind everyone to keep their elbows off the table and put their napkins in their laps. I make sure homework is done, permission slips are signed, teeth are brushed, allergy medicine is consumed, and everyone is tucked in happy with all technology devices powered off and out of reach.

At midnight when the house is quiet and dark and no one needs me anymore, I drive to the grocery store and buy a case of Stella for me and a carton of Oreo Cookie Ice Cream for the kids and as I’m paying, the old, bored cashier with her spiky hairdo and bubblegum-pink lipstick and more gold bracelets than any human should be allowed to wear at one time surveys me in my sweats, t-shirt and converse sneakers with my beer and ice cream purchase and I know what she is thinking. This girl has just been dumped by the love of her life and is now off to drown and eat her sorrows away. I grin and shrug my shoulders in a sheepish “sorry no, these are my writing clothes” kind of way that writers learn to master over the years. And as I swipe my credit card – then dutifully swipe it again because I did it upside down the first time, the flicker of the idea flaps its tiny wings, becoming more clear, more recognizable as it slowly takes shape and floats to the surface, creating ripples of recognition.

I am ready to start. Ready to write. Ready to tackle that overwhelming challenge. I have found my way in.

I once attended a reading by David Sedaris, humorist, essayist, NPR speaker and one of my favorite authors (“Me Talk Pretty One Day,” among others). Afterwards, my friend and I waited in line for him to sign our books. After he scribbled a lewd drawing on my friend’s book for her twelve-year-old son and made a wisecrack I can’t repeat, I handed him my book and asked him what the toughest part was about writing funny. He told me about having to write a Thanksgiving dinner story for the New Yorker and how many times and ways he tried to start it. People behind me were impatient and muttering, but he took his time telling his story. I hung on every word. Finally he said, “The hardest part? Finding my way in.”

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, unsure of where to start, try doing nothing. I hope you find your way in. Let me know how it goes.