Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part II

21 Oct

This series came to fruition because of a combination of inspirations (you can read Part I here). First of all, I signed up for a writing class at Portland Community College. Generally, I make an effort to take a few writing workshops a year, but usually the inspiration to actually put pen to paper comes and goes as quickly as the 2-hour workshop itself. When I started this blog, I was dedicated to posting every week—and I did, for quite some time! That quickly slowed down because of dates, or dancing, or drama…or all of the above distractions. They always seemed to sidetrack me from my one true passion—writing. Armed with the PCC class, I knew it would be at least 6 solid weeks of writing accountability, and hopefully, consistency.

Also, it’s October. Yay! Do you know what comes after October? That’s right, November! Do you know what November means to an English nerd like me? That’s right! National Novel Writing Month  AND Wordstock! I haven’t dedicated myself to NaNoWriMo in several years, and now is the perfect time to do it. Also, in past years I’ve always been travelling during Wordstock, so I’m anxiously anticipating my first experience with that. Anyway, read on for my thoughts for Part II.

A few months ago I made a conscious decision to ask myself some hard questions.

I looked in the mirror and questioned, why don’t I make as much money as I should?

I had been doing two jobs for the price of one for a while, and if I’m being truthful, I had known I was underpaid long before that. I had always worked hard with an open heart, knowing it was for the good of the team. Then I thought about all the times I was short on funds, working paycheck-to-paycheck, missing trips or events because I didn’t have the extra cash. I wasn’t drowning in debt or anything, but a sneaker wave could come at any time, and if it did, I could be in big trouble. It wasn’t fair!

So why didn’t I make more money when it was obvious that I deserved fair compensation? I had never asked for more than what was offered. I work hard and am loyal to my company, but I also tend not to rock the boat. You know which people never advance? The ones who never question the status quo. In order to stand out, I had to stand up. Through personal examination and talking to many wise friends, I learned to never expect anyone to grab my hand and lead me to higher ground. I needed to figure out my own unique way to escape those rising waters and succeed.

Here’s a little food for thought that inspired me from the Coffee and Pints blog, created by two of my former coworkers.

Communicate with your manager and peers. They were not hired to be mind-readers. If you don’t make your interests known, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will figure it out and be able to help you.

Make a plan and write it down. This is critical when your goal is something bigger and more multifaceted like earning a promotion or finding a new job. Once your plan is written, ask a mentor or someone you respect professionally to review and discuss it with you. You’ll not only get feedback but the act of sharing it will make your goal seem real and less ephemeral.

Have an open attitude. An interesting thing happens when you begin to initiate. As you take action to move in the direction of your goal, others begin to respond, sharing ideas and information. And sometimes, if you’re open, the conversations that ensue lead to new opportunities.

Believe in yourself. You made it this far, of course you can go further. We all have self-doubt. Nobody likes to fail. Push through all of that and initiate—and don’t ever stop.

In the past, I’d get a physical reaction even to the thought of confrontation—and that is exactly how I saw asking for a raise—however well-deserved it was. But I kept telling myself I was worth it. I saw the proof in front of me in the proposal I wrote.

Write your thoughts down. Speak from your heart. If you think that you don’t have the strength to back up what you need to say, practice. Use YOUR voice. You decide what is in your heart—you decide how you want to say it. No matter what the topic, if you speak your truth with 100% conviction, then you have done your best.

Use the Four Agreements in every interaction.

Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity.

Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you.

Don’t make assumptions. We all know what happens when you make ASSumptions…

Always do your best. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

believe-in-yourself-pic-for-blog

If you’d like, please share a time when you used effective communication by being impeccable with your word, and describe how you did it.

November is Awesome!

7 Nov

I know, I know, it’s an unwelcome month when it comes to weather. We in the Pacific Northwest are just now receiving the gifts of our true autumn – i.e., the onset of nine months of rain. Around the world, (well, in our hemisphere anyway) we simultaneously squeal with happiness about the upcoming holidays and groan as we think of the many plights of winter.

But cheer up! There are SO many reasons to love November.

Movember – (and No Shave November) – This is one of the most unique fund raisers I’ve ever seen. Even in Portland, where ironic mustaches abound for miles, the ‘staches come out of the woodwork in support of a cure for prostate cancer. It’s a creative and hilarious way to encourage awareness and raise funds for a serious cause. There are the usual ways to participate, like donating funds and, of course, growing your own ‘stache, but there are also ways for “mo sistas” and those of “Generation Mo” who are unable to grow bewhiskered finery, such as Mo Running events, Mo Parties, and utilizing social media to get the word out. #Movember

Photo provided by us.movember.com

Photo provided by us.movember.com

Blogember – This is a great way to stretch those writing muscles, especially if you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo. You must write every day, whether it is from a list of prompts, or on topics from your very own noggin. Check out the Blogember link above to get some fantastic ideas. Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo – You know I had to give this its own section. I love love LOVE this program. Not only is it fun to write a terribly horribly mad-scramble novel in 30 days, but it is also a great platform for the fundraisers that the Office of Letters and Light put on for the writers of our future generations.

Thanksgiving! Enough said.

GO H.A.R.D. – Hug a Runner Day – (November 20) You all should know by now that I love running…and hugging…and if you didn’t know, here is a picture of my 2013 Halloween costume. Hug Therapist! That makes it official. So go on, hug your runner friends tightly on November 20th and spread the mutha-huggin love.

#HugLife

#HugLife

Speaking of running (I had to save the best for last), my last reason November is awesome is that I’m doing a REGISTRATION GIVEAWAY for the HOT CHOCOLATE RUN! That’s right! Free stuff! Wooo!

What is the Hot Chocolate Run? Well, you should have read my last blog post about it, but if you didn’t, here’s the scoop. You choose a 5k or 15k distance. You choose the city you want to run in. The beneficiary is Ronald McDonald House Charities. The race ends with CHOCOLATE. I’m talking a LOT of it. In fact, don’t take my word for it, read it straight from the website:

The chocolate really begins to flow at the Post Race Party where runners enjoy music, a family friendly kid-zone (complete with bounce houses and games) and a finisher’s mugs filled with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue and tasty dippable treats! 

And did you see the goody bag??

SO AWESOME!!

SO AWESOME!!


But wait! There’s more. If you don’t happen to win the free registration, you can sign up using my promo code CURIOUSMUG and get even more super cool swag! Join me in Seattle in March 2014 or choose from one of 13 other cities (For my Ohio buddies, this includes Columbus – and it’s next week!).

How do you enter this fabulous giveaway? Simply leave a comment on this post telling me why you started running. Let’s see em, people. You have until November 12th to enter. That’s next Tuesday, so get cracking! I will notify the winner next week. Good luck!

You’ve been asking for it!

28 Nov

I’ve decided to post an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel! I’m not going to give any backstory or details. I want you to read it, and if you like it, please tell me so. If you’ve got suggestions for content or development, I’d like to hear those too. I’ve been working hard all month on this, and I’m very proud of what I have so far. There is a lot yet to do, but I think the groundwork is there. So, without further ado, please enjoy an excerpt from [working title] “From Rich Soil:”

[Vanessa, third person]

She knew she had to get back to work. As Vanessa reluctantly lifted her body out of the chair and moved to put on her coat and hat, her mind wandered to a day in the previous summer, when she had asked Nasreen about the spider tattoo peeking out from between her shoulder blades. There were no colors in the art, only shades of black and gray. The two front legs straddled her neck, its eyes bulging. Vanessa said she didn’t look the type to have such a picture on her body. She was too…nice. Nasreen told her it wasn’t about being hard or looking scary. The spider was the African god Anansi.

“What did Anansi do?” She asked.

This time Nasreen spoke more than a few words: “The legend goes that Anansi was the keeper of all the stories. They first belonged to the sky god Nyame. Everyone on earth was very sad because there were no stories. Anansi wanted to obtain and be the keeper of the stories so that he could spin all the great stories about life on earth. The sky god did not give them up easily because he wanted them all to himself. He challenged Anansi to a set of tasks, telling him that if he could complete all the tasks, that he would then be the keeper. Anansi was very smart and clever, and used all of his best tricks to complete the tasks. When he finished, Nyame was true to his word, and gave the stories and the ownership to Anansi. That is why people say ‘I’ll spin a tale for you,’ it’s because Anansi was always spinning the stories in his web.” She had learned that story in the Peace Corps in Ghana. Every time she told the story her cadence got smoother. Many people had asked her, and she patiently told the story each time.

Nasreen felt a kinship with the spider after hearing its tale many times while she was in Africa, so when she got back to the states, she wanted to commemorate it somehow. This way Anansi would always be with her, to inspire and encourage her.

*         *         *         *

[Nasreen]

I left for the Peace Corps almost immediately after college. Like most college graduates at this time, there were few jobs available, and not many opportunities were as adventurous as going to a foreign country to work and live with the natives. The idea appealed to me very much. My father had given his blessing almost immediately. He encouraged me to get as full a view of the world as I possibly could. This was because Firuz had travelled to many countries in his youth. He hadn’t gone to fancy, tourist-filled places, but rather the places where people showed their true colors. He found that this was preferable to going to a place where the hosts tried to make it as much like home as possible. It was only a few weeks after my graduation ceremony, but I was ready to go.

Africa was, quite literally, a different world. I had been to Tehran once when I was a child, but other than that had not travelled internationally. The very first step off the plane in Ghana made me want to run back inside and demand the pilot take me home. The heat was like none other I had ever experienced. It was deafening, like a sound I couldn’t shut my ears to. During the entire four years I was in Ghana, my long black hair pretty much stayed up on the top of my head or in a wrap. I couldn’t stand the sticky feeling of it touching my neck, droplets of water sitting on the ends, waiting until just the right moment to drop down the front of my shirt. My host family was amazing. They did the best they could to keep me comfortable, but there was only so much they could do without air conditioning or a full time cabana boy.

I would have preferred the cabana boy who fanned me all day long, but I made do with Francis. He was a Christian minister who worked directly with the Peace Corps volunteers. He struck me as the type of man who had rotating girlfriends each time a new crop of people came to the village, but he was kind, made me laugh, and never made me feel used, so I left that thought to the wind and just enjoyed myself while I was there. He went so far as to take an HIV test, showing me the results. I trusted him without the test, but I have to be honest and say that it gave me a better night’s sleep to see it in official type. We weren’t allowed the luxury of lounging around, making love whenever we felt like it; most of the time it was whenever we could get his roommates out of the house. I refused to do it in my host parent’s house, feeling it would somehow betray them. They were so very sweet to me and I wanted to be perfect around them.

I was not perfect outside the house. In addition to sinning with a native, I, without a doubt, was terrible at my job for at least the first six months I was there. I talked too much, didn’t listen enough, and got caught up in the drama of sweating and hard labor. It was a hard blow to my ego when my supervisor had to sit me down and talk to me about it. He was a handsome man of about 50 years old. Greg had been supervising Peace Corps volunteers for 10 years. His face was wrinkling from the sun, but his body was hard as a rock from lifting, pushing, and moving constantly almost every day of the year.

“How are you liking it here, Nasreen?” He asked me. My blood instantly ran cold. Those were the words of someone who had a bomb to drop.

I tried to swallow but my throat was dry. “Well, I’m learning a lot, that’s for sure! I never would have touched most of these tools in the states, and I think I’m doing okay at using them…” I trailed off, not knowing what exactly he wanted. I felt like I was being baited into saying something that would give me away as a liar. I got the feeling he was about to send me out to the fields to pick four-leaf clovers twelve hours a day for the rest of my life.

“You are,” he said amiably. “But I’m not sure you’re allowing yourself the full experience here. Do you ever feel like you’re a high-heel shoe in the middle of a bunch of work boots?”

I protested, “I didn’t bring any heels! I think my footwear is perfectly acceptable.”

“Maybe I should have put it another way,” he said. “You’re going through the motions, you’re contributing, but I don’t think you’re in the moment.” He paused. “I’m not here to tell you how to live your experience here in Ghana, but I would consider it a failure if you left this place merely knowing how to shingle a building. There’s so much more to it than that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, perplexed. I could feel the sweat starting to make its way down between my breasts. As if the normal heat wasn’t bad enough, my body heat produced by the nervousness I was feeling gave me the impression I was in a sauna.

“Have you gone to any of the village festivals yet? Have you made any friends outside of the PC volunteers?” He countered. “Do you feel you will leave a part of your heart here when you leave?”

His last question left me a little breathless. “I’ve only been here six—“ I stopped. I hung my head and took a deep breath, and then lifted it to look Greg straight in the eye. “You’re right. I’m not letting Ghana inside. I get it. I really appreciate you looking out for me. I don’t want to miss anything here and I have been in my head so much that I haven’t seen the beauty of it here.” As I said the words, I knew he was right. I tended to be that person who was so caught up in the details that I couldn’t see the big picture.

From that day on I saw everything. I started going to village story-telling nights. I heard all of Anansi’s stories. I met beautiful people, young and old. I learned that their life force was so strong you could almost cut it with a knife. You know that stereotypical picture of a shriveled African man sharing his single bowl of rice with a child who couldn’t fight for a bowl themselves—the one you see in a National Geographic? I met many like him. It all became a reality while I was there. I felt myself changing long before Greg checked back in with me another six months down the road. My soul quieted down, as did my mouth. Before saying a word I would take it all in and meditate just a moment before my reaction left my mouth. Sometimes my body would give it away before I could stop it. I wasn’t all that good at hiding things at first. Slowly I grew up, knowing when to speak and knowing when it was smarter to be still.

NaNoWriMo has begun–write now!

4 Nov

I started the blog this week by creating a pie chart of how my time is divided into a million pieces, how I’m soooo busy, and how I worry that I won’t have enough time for National Novel Writing Month amongst all my other bad-ass extracurriculars. Then I realized that is pushing the nerd envelope, even for me. So I pitched that concept and decided to be honest. I may not write great blogs during November. I may decide to copy and paste some of my novel into WordPress and call it a blog post. What I don’t need to do is worry that you all are judging me for not writing—except that I am writing, in enormous quantities—and do what my heart tells me, which is to live my NaNoWriMo experience and take a breather from This Curious Universe if I need one.

What I will give to you this week is a look inside my brain. My novel is going to emphasize the characters instead a plot. Have you ever seen the movies “Mother and Child” or “Crash?” Those were based on the intertwining of several people’s lives, all of which came together in a dramatic clash of action and emotion at the end. My story is heading in the way of dramatic, for sure. But first I need to get to know these people and figure out how they are going to lead this story.

If you’ve ever started writing, and all of a sudden the story took over and left you typing frantically to get it all out, then you’ll understand my elation when last night one of the main characters finally told me what her purpose was in the story. It was one of those moments where the answer was so obvious, but it had taken me the better part of a day to figure it out. I got over 2,000 words written last night, which was amazing and gave me the ability to meet the November 3rd word quota. I have never met a word quota in my life. I was so excited!

Now that I am a few hundred words ahead, I can stop panicking and really start digging in. These characters are going to tell me what they do and do not like; if they are outgoing or quiet; if they went to school or built their way up from the bottom at a small company; if they secretly snort cocaine. It takes a while to develop them and to get to know their motives and personalities. I’ve got a gay 25-year old man, a playboy ER doctor, a female black activist who is missing her pinky finger, and a grumpy Persian man who is ready to retire, among many others. Those descriptions are just one part of them, and this week I am determined to find out everything about all of my characters. Have an idea? I welcome them! I don’t want to expose too much of my story today, but I can honestly say that any plot twist you throw at me, I could probably work into my story somehow.

If you are a comrade in NaNoWriMo 2011, good luck! If you’re in the Portland area, hit me up for a write-in. I attended my first one on Wednesday with a new friend that I met at the Portland NaNoWriMo kickoff meeting and it was highly successful! Until next week…