Last weekend I finished editing the fourth draft of my novel. Which means two things. One, I don’t want to look at it anymore. And two, that’s good because it needs to cook for a while. I need at least a month between drafts to let the yeast rise—or fall, depending on how badly the revision went.
In between drafts of the novel I usually focus on my picture books. This week I re-read some of the manuscripts I’ve been working on this year. A few months ago I thought they were great. I read them again a few days ago and became transfixed with my own mediocrity. I thought the sudden wave of self-loathing would zap me of all creative ambition, but the opposite happened. I became possessed.
Perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out This is Not My Hat. I wanted to read something by someone who actually had talent and knew what they were doing.
Again, if removed from this situation and asked to bet on my reaction, I would have bet that reading Jon Klassen in my current state would have sent me into a pity spiral, knowing I’d never be able to write anything as good, funny, or original. But no, I opened my computer and vomited two new picture books onto the screen. Then I revised an older one. Then the next day I wrote one more. I think they’re pretty good. Don’t worry, in a month or two I’ll think they’re total spit wads. They probably are; I don’t know.
It’s mid-September now, which means I’ve been in Halloween mode for two weeks already. I can never get enough. Bring on the pumpkins. Bring on the scary movies. Bring on the chill in the air. The decorations. The costumes. Monster Mash and Thriller on repeat. Bring. It. On.
What I’ve really always wanted to write was a Halloween book, but an idea eludes me. Let me preface that by saying that I don’t normally have blocks on ideas for picture books. Perhaps that well will run dry one day, knock on wood, but I currently have a list at least twenty ideas long that I haven’t even touched. Not a spooky one in the bunch.
I think I want it too much. I love it too much, maybe? I don’t get it. This morning I sat down and simply started to write down the things I loved about Halloween. That has turned into a decent poem, which could be a rhyming picture book. Who knows, maybe it will one day see the light of day, but my intention was to write something in prose. Something with a beginning, middle, and end. That, I still can’t do.
I have cherished memories of reading “scary” books in my childhood. I devoured everything from The Berenstain Bears (well, it was Berenstein in my universe), to Goosebumps, to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations still haunt me in the absolute best way.
I could actually draw a direct line from my current love of writing back to my childhood love of reading scary books. I would have thought I was destined to write kids horror, but I just can’t get it out of me. It feels stuck. Like I can actually feel it, in my stomach, a big stuck thing.
What do you do when you have a creative block? How do you get unstuck?
I really do love making lists. Lately I’ve been so tickled to share picture book recommendations with friends that I got the idea to compile a list of my all-time favorites. This list could go on forever, so let’s see if I can limit the number to fifty—for now. It should be noted that I haven’t included any Dr. Seuss books here, as the Doc really deserves his own list. Also not listed here is Winnie-the-Pooh, which falls somewhere in between picture books, chapter books, and middle grade, but just know that no matter what, Winnie-the-Pooh is always on the top of my list.
I do so deeply love picture books, and not just because I write them. I love them because they introduce human minds to the concept of reading. How weighty is that? I love them because they are a perfect marriage of the written word and visual art. We don’t get that enough in the “adult” world. Much of the art you’ll find in picture books is daring and experimental. I love them because when you condense storytelling into such short form, you often can’t help but end up with myth and fable. To read a brilliant new picture book is to witness a fairy tale being born. It’s exciting.
If you’re wondering about my taste, okay I’ll tell you. I like books that pull on specific strings in the old heart. I like books that make me cry hard, laugh hard, or feel weird inside. It’s like I’ve got these book-shaped holes in my heart and my favorite books are the ones that were meant to fill those holes. I’m not one for lukewarm books. That sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be. There are plenty of books in the world that are solid from beginning to end and I read them and I didn’t necessarily cry or laugh or question much, but I liked it a whole lot. Knuffle Bunny comes to mind. It’s a great book. It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s solid. You should read it. I just wouldn’t put it on my fifty list.
Here they are, in some particular order but certainly not in any sort of scientific ranking. My favorite picture books:
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood illus. Don Wood
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard illus. James Marshall
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Clement Hurd
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick illus. Sophie Blackall
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers
Penguin Problems by Jory John illus. Lane Smith
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman illus. Adam Rex
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Christian Robinson
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka illus. Lane Smith
Waiting by Kevin Henkes
Egg by Kevin Henkes
Tough Boris by Mem Fox illus. Kathryn Brown
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt illus. Oliver Jeffers
Flotsam by David Wiesner
The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh illus. Chuck Groenik
A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex
Otis by Loren Long
Lon Po Po by Ed Young
This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary illus. Julie Morstad
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett illus. Christian Robinson
The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin illus. David Shannon
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson illus. Diane Dillon
The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell illus. Charles Santoso
Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming illus. G. Brian Karas
Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds illus. Peter Brown
Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds illus. Matt Davies
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto illus. Ed Martinez
Old Bear by Kevin Henkes
Tea Rex by Molly Idle
The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch illus. Michael Martchenko
Aberdeen by Stacy Previn
President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett illus. Chris Van Dusen
Journey, Quest, and Return (Journey Trilogy) by Aaron Becker
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum illus. Keika Yamaguchi
Guess Again! by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex
Oh goodness there are many more, but I promised to stop at fifty. There are lots of books that I love for specific reasons, e.g. how they address a certain issue, but for this list I tried to stick to my general favorites. What do you think? Any big ones that I missed? What picture books would you add to the list?
top illustration from A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers
I look into my tea leaves and what I choose to see is the life of a writer. A quiet house by the sea or in the country, a child playing in the living room, a husband editing in the study or rehearsing for an audition, and me in a nook with a computer diving deep into other worlds. In Maui we dove down to 120 feet at Molokini Crater—the deepest we’ve ever gone. I swam at the bottom of the sea with eagle rays and octopus, but writing feels deeper. In a marathon writing session the real world melts away and suddenly I am through the sea, on an adventure with Niguel, Iris, and Gus, trying to escape the vengeful Callum before he gets to Iris’ father, Peter Applegate.
You have no idea what I’m talking about, I know. These are characters in my book. They’ve become close friends of mine, and I know they feel neglected.
The neglect is making my wings hurt. I feel them pushing hard against the chrysalis that has protected them for 32 years, and if they don’t make it out soon the bones will break. I know this to be true, so why am I making it so hard to break free?
In writing the first draft of my novel, several challenges emerged, one of which was knowing when to finish a chapter. Often, it was clear. The chapter finished itself and I sailed on into the next. Sometimes, though, sometimes, I’d want to stay in a chapter for reasons that were perhaps unclear, but what was clear is that I knew it was going on too long. The third chapter of my novel was such a one. I kept writing and writing, knowing that nothing about the chapter was helping to move the story along. I loved the characters in the chapter. I found the action of the chapter humorous and charming (if I do say so myself), even though I knew it was irrelevant to the ultimate motor of the book. In my heart I knew I should end it, perhaps even cut out the whole thing, but I liked it too much. It was comfortable. It was clever (if I do say so myself) and it had the desired effect of distracting me from making the book truly great.
I wonder if I’m a bit stuck now, in my life, spending precious time in a chapter that is comfortable and full of clever characters. It’s hard to know when to move on.
That’s not true, I suppose. Knowing is the easy part. It’s the moving on that is hard.
Growing up makes moving from chapter to chapter effortless in a sense, because the pages were turned for me. I was born. I started school. I twirled baton. I survived middle school. I went to high school. I got into college. I studied in London. I graduated from college. I moved to L.A. The outline was all there, and then—suddenly—the outline stopped. Suddenly it was up to me to structure the chapters. I’ve done pretty well so far. Chapter 10: Rebecca gets a job. Chapter 11: Rebecca joins a theatre company. Chapter 12: Rebecca gets married. Chapter 13: Rebecca works at jobs and produces plays and spends a lot of time on Facebook and watching Netflix.
In revising the third draft of my book, I got wise and removed the chapter that was gumming up the action, but I didn’t delete it. I moved it to my “Some other time” folder. I’ll bet the characters and the very humorous dialogue (if I do say so myself) will appear in a future book, but they will only find their right place and time if I let go of them for now.
My wings hurt. Soon, very soon, I need to decide how important it is for me to fly because wings can break and wilt. Of course I know how I feel. Flying is the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do. If there is a heaven, I know it involves flying.
It’s time to write the next chapter. Like a mystery shape on the horizon, I’m not sure yet if it’s a ship, a whale, a lighthouse, an island? Time to grab Brad’s hand (Brad is in every chapter you see), and swim out there to find out. Time to let go of this chapter that I’m in—turn the page. Come back perhaps “Some other time.”
I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.
We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?
Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.
He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.
In the land of eternal summer I long for things I can’t have. Things like red fall leaves and the sound of brown ones crunching under my feet on a crisp autumn day. I see glimmers but let’s be honest, the mercury hit 70 at the beach last weekend. Fall is mostly a fleeting hallucination here in L.A.
I feel the need for change so acutely and can’t help wonder if my yearning for a change in weather is a misplaced yearning for a change in my life, one that I’m too afraid to face so I keep complaining about the heat and lack of rain. It’s possible.
This post is going to be intentionally vague, sorry. Until I suss things out I don’t want to be too specific. To clear one thing up, no this change has nothing to do with my personal life. I’m still a madly in love newlywed and couldn’t adore my husband, home, kitties more. This isn’t about my hearth and home. If anything the solidity of my personal life has afforded me the freedom to muse of change elsewhere. I know my husband is there to catch me if I make a bold move.
It’s true that certain things come into your life for a moment, a season, a lifetime, and always for a reason. We know this. The hard part is determining what’s what. Let me rephrase that. The hard part is accepting what’s what. My heart knows when to let something go but my brain gets in the way. “Maybe if you just hold out a little longer things will turn around.” “Maybe you’re over-thinking/over-reacting/over-obsessing.” “Maybe by letting go you’re going to miss out on a huge opportunity.” Fear-based thoughts. The truth is I have a feeling that opportunities are in fact being missed by not letting go of patterns that distract me from what I’m capable of accomplishing. My potential is anesthetized by fear.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of change. Fear of regret. Not new concepts, and so very human. No doubt if trees had feelings they’d be terrified of spending half the year dry and naked, wondering if the birds and sunshine would ever return. Tree wouldn’t shed a single leaf. But it does. Every year. It’s a good thing trees don’t have feelings or we’d never see the spring.
Then there are the trees of Los Angeles. I’m onto you trees. You’ve reflected our collective fears. We look around and see your hoarded green leaves weighing down your branches and we hold on ourselves, because it must be best. It’s what we see.
My land that never changes, Los Angeles, you mystify. I love you but your sunny perpetuity has tricked me into thinking I’ve nowhere to go. You slippery city you. I’m going places. I’m going to force change if not in you then in me, and I’m going to terrify you with my falling leaves. Don’t let the sun fool you into complacency. It’s a trick. An illusion. We must make way for the spring.
But wait, new thought.
Perhaps this constancy in my environment is a gift. Yes, trees, I get it! You give me no swirling changing world to distract me from a swirling change within. I think that’s it. My gaze outward for change fails and fails, so what then? The gaze turns inward. Isn’t that what’s happening right now in writing through this? No harsh winters to freeze my thoughts, no scorching summers to melt my concentration (people of the Valley, I hear you, you scorch), no romantic autumns to lift me off to dreamland where nothing happens but nostalgia and swoons. No. I’ve called you the land of eternal summer but Los Angeles by the sea you’re something more like spring, a time when life is born and the world is new. Is that what you’ve been trying to tell me, trees? Eternal spring? That’s much nicer. You give me a constant fertile playground for my own creations, my own forms of change. I can accept that. I can paint on your springlike blank slate all my new ideas and dreams. I’ll still long for sparkling white snow and the smell of fresh rain. Maybe someday when we’re through with changing, we’ll retire to a sleepy little town and let nature do the work. Let the world change around us as we sit there and just watch. For now, no more time for waiting and watching. Time for changing. Time to sprout.
Whenever I talk to my husband about something I need to do, the conversation usually veers towards me finding a way to procrastinate. “Oh I’ll do it tomorrow,” “I’ll call them tonight,” “We’ll deal with it later.” This came up time and again throughout the wedding planning process. We’d talk about a vendor we needed to contact and I would say, “Ok we’ll call them tomorrow” and Brad would reply “How about right now?” He would almost always follow this up with the quip “No time like the pressure.”
Isn’t that so true? Obviously we’ve seen ‘No Time Like the Present’ plastered across multiple self-help platforms, but I love Brad’s little adjustment. Because the present is very beautiful, there’s nothing like it, I appreciate it, but the present is in fact accompanied by pressure where dreams are concerned. The present is lovely, but pressure is active. Do things right now.
This morning I ran 5 miles along the Venice Boardwalk; a route that takes me past my dream house. My ABSOLUTE DREAM HOUSE! I love it so much. It is everything that I am. It’s a two story craftsmen right along the beach, accented with a sort of Indiana Jones adventure vibe. Jungle flora fills the yard (there’s a yard!) complete with yeti-like footprints through the grass. Tiki torches and palm trees line the house. But it’s classy. It’s beach, mountain, adventure all wrapped up into one house. It is MY house. Today as we ran past we noticed the house had a For Sale sign out front. You’ve gotta be kidding me. It’s for sale! Damn! It is actually possible to purchase this house… if only I were someone else. After all it’s only 10 million dollars. Now, the point of this story is not that my life’s goal is to obtain a ton of money and a big house. Sometimes I wish that was my life’s goal because it would probably be easier, but it’s not. This house represents something and today that For Sale sign brought everything into focus. The house is a dream. I’ve run, walked, or biked past it repeatedly throughout the years and every time would dream to myself “one day…” with a sigh. “One day” is so safe. Kind of like saying “we’ll call them tomorrow.” This morning the universe gave me a gut check. It said, here you go, and I wasn’t ready. You have no idea when opportunity will present itself to you but one thing is for sure, you can be ready.
The truth is I will most likely never live in that house. No matter what I do I will most likely never be financially successful enough to justify the purchase of a two-story double-plot dream house along the sand in Venice Beach. So that will probably always be a dream, and that’s ok because I don’t actually believe that things like dream houses would make me happy. BUT, as far as metaphors go, message received loud and clear. Thanks universe. There’s a lot of other stuff I dream about that I’m realizing I’m not ready for. Real stuff that I could actually have.
I think I want babies. I’m not positive but I’m pretty positive. When you get married it’s funny that you do start to think about things like that in a more realistic way. At least I do. I fantasize about a growing family. No matter whether we end up childless (save two furry faced kitties), Brad will always be my family. I love our little family of four (the kitties of course), but I won’t deny that I dream about reading to my kids before bed, and trips to Disneyland with offspring, and Halloween costumes, and seeing Brad teach our kids how to snorkel, and rubbing the backs of babes with upset tummies, and bake sales, and soccer games, and all that jazz. It sounds appealing to me as a dream. Like a house I can’t afford. Just like my bank account prohibits me from purchasing that house, my emotional account is not ready for an extended family. I don’t know what’s going to happen to our finances. I hope they improve but who knows. However, if I feel like I’m really living the life I was meant to live, if I’m telling MY story, then I think I could be ready to help a little one into the world to tell his too. But I have to get my story ready first.
The past couple of years I’ve had a realigning of my personal priorities. If you’ve been reading my blog then you know I’ve become rather disillusioned with the industry of acting. Although I still do it, and I still love it, I don’t feel compelled to throw my heart and soul into “making it.” It would be nice if it was just, y’know, handed to me. That’s not how life works for most people. You have to work for your dreams and if they are the right dreams the work will pay off. Not sure acting is the right dream. I still struggle with this, and my split focus has me a bit paralyzed and discombobulated. What do I throw myself into? Whimsy Do? Acting? Writing? Or should I work my way up the ladder of non-profit administration? It’s important to have many interests but dangerous to attempt pursuit of them all at once. Success requires focus, so what should I focus on? I try to listen to the little God voice in my head about this and still she whispers to me about writing. She doesn’t seem to denounce the others, but writing sings a little louder in my heart.
So today I finished a story. It’s one I’ve been working on since my friend Scott McKinley passed away and although I have dozens of story ideas and rough sketches for manuscripts, this is the first one that feels really incredibly close to finished.
So there you have it. I wrote. And I feel a little bit more ready to buy that dream house, metaphorically speaking.
I leave you with this article I read on Huffington Post this morning. It’s a good-bye letter from a woman who died two days ago. She asked that the article be published posthumously. How odd to read the words of a ghost.
It basically broke my heart and lit my fire. There really is no time like the pressure you guys. Between my dream house being on the market and the words of this dearly departed writer, the message is clear. Let’s love each other, love life, “Take it by both hands, grab it, shake it and believe in every second of it.” Go get that house.
I got married. Brad and I married each other. After 6 1/2 years together, 5 years dating, 1.5 years affianced, we are now officially husband and wife. I need words words words. I’m desperately trying to find the words to paint all of this in an accurate light, but so much of being engaged, planning a wedding, and getting married just… feels. Feelings are elusive, but even butterflies can be caught. I truly want to document our wedding week so that I have it for always and ever. More than just a beautiful portrait (and our pictures truly are amazing, I’m obsessed with our photographer), I want to write our story. So I’ll try. Step by step, and feeling by feeling.
If I were to document the entirety of our engagement I would end up with at least a two, maybe three volume series. Perhaps someday I’ll write that book, but for now I just want to focus on our wedding. There’s the story of what happened. “This” happened then this and that. Then there are the colors of what happened. How do I capture both? At the same time I suppose. Let me try.
In the 1.5 years that Brad and I were engaged I felt just about every emotion on the spectrum. I never jump into the pool all at once. I’m a one-toe-at-a-time kind of gal. I must carefully feel and analyze every emotion present in major life events before moving on to the next phase. I admire those who jump in with both feet and sort things out later, and for a long time I felt that I should be that. Trying to be the type of person who rushes into things with abandon, despite how unnatural it feels to my essence, has been the source of much anxiety throughout my life. In my engagement and in planning a wedding I learned to stop trying to be something I’m not. To allow myself to feel whatever it is I feel, and to honor those feelings because they are the stories of me. I came out of the womb cautiously analyzing my surroundings, ask my mother, she’ll attest, so why should I change now? Certain things are just part of our blueprint. We spend a lot of time growing up trying to sort through who we want to be, only to come full circle and realize we are who we’ve always been. I’m not discrediting personal growth. What I’m describing actually has been a huge period of growth for me. The irony of this growth, however, is that the answer was me all along. I am who I am. Isn’t that why the Wizard of Oz ultimately has the mythological power that it does? The quest for adventure, truth, ourselves, will be fraught with lessons that ultimately lead us back to the beginning. To our “home” where we discover that “You had the power all along, my dear.”
So that’s me. That is the framework with which I approached this wedding. I wanted to allow myself to feel whatever it is that I would feel. Knowing that I loved Brad with my whole heart, knowing how good we are together, and knowing that he regards and treats me as his beloved and I likewise, whatever feelings that arose as I approached the wedding were not an indicator or a reason not to marry. All signs and instincts pointed to “I do” as far as that was concerned. For 6.5 years my heart has swelled with love and gratitude for the man. I knew I wanted to be his wife. Any difficult emotions that arose were a result of the pain of transformation. I knew from past life experience and from the period of our engagement that I could be met with some dark emotions on this journey. I accepted that as a possibility for my wedding day. I accepted the presence of fear, anxiety, even grief. To marry is to move out of one phase of life and grow into the next. To mourn the loss of a single life, to find footing in the new normal of coupledom. It is to transform. Transformation is met with growing pains, almost certainly, no matter how joyous the occasion. Knowing that the only way out of darkness is through it, and knowing that repression leads to festering and rot, I had to accept these growing pains. Accepting allowed me the space to let in the light (pun intended). I would not let my fear of darkness cloud the radiance and joy that would also be making its way into my life as I approached this sacred event. I knew that both could and probably would exist, and in giving over to those emotions, in letting go of the need to insure this would be “the happiest day of my life” I can gladly report that July 21, 2014 was filled with more beauty and love than I could have ever dreamed.
How did I do this? The answer to that I can honestly say that I learned from acting. For whatever reason, perhaps it’s emotional availability or simply something to do with my own personal myth, I am often cast in roles that grieve, that hurt, that mourn. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to these roles, so I’m not complaining. I’m drawn to characters with big dreams whose lives have not turned out as planned. I love their stories; but it’s not easy to go there. I don’t want this post to turn into an acting lesson, but I will abbreviate ALL of my BFA Acting training from Boston University into one simple word: presence. The only way I could dive into the darkness of Mary Warren, or embrace the pain of Wanda in The Baby Dance was to start at the beginning and surrender to the journey. If as an actor you’ve created the right map during rehearsal you will find where you need to go every night; but if you start the journey thinking about where you need to end up you will be lost from the beginning. It’s an interesting paradox, or perhaps I’d even call it a trick. Knowing where you need to end up emotionally and yet also knowing that the only way you’ll get there is by surrendering to the reality that you cannot in fact control, anticipate, or predict how you will feel when you get there. All I know is that as an actor embracing that chaos, that unknown, works for me every time. Turns out the same was true with how I approached our wedding ceremony. Acting! It’s useful!
Of course I knew how I wanted to feel. Every bride, I would imagine, wants to feel a combination of happy, beautiful, elated, blissed out, and filled with joy as she walks down the aisle. Of course. But I couldn’t try to feel that way. I either would or I wouldn’t, simple as that. All I could do was focus on the map Brad and I had created and live presently within it. We brought our families and people that we loved together. We created a sacred space to stand together and proclaim our love. We wrote vows. We exchanged rings. These tangible physical acts created a framework. Like objectives and actions for the actor, I could rely on these things. I could hold them and do them. I could control them. And also like an actor I could not control what emotions accompanied, but I could surrender to them nonetheless and refocus on the actions.
So what DID I feel then? Everything. I kept checking in with myself the entire week before our wedding. I took my emotional temperature promising not to judge whatever I was feeling but just let it exist, let it be. One day I felt overwhelming anxiety when I thought about both of our families converging. The next day I felt pure joy and excitement to see all of the very same friends and family together. Of course I would never have had room for the joy to make its way in had I been clinging on to the anxiety in fear and resistance. The day before our wedding I felt relaxed and joyful as a cross-section of our wedding guests all embarked on a whitewater rafting trip on the Arkansas. Many people might think I was crazy to go whitewater rafting just a few hours before our rehearsal dinner but I would not trade that morning for the entire world. It was The. Best. Ever.
At our rehearsal I felt immense nerves. Everything was becoming very real. In 24 hours I would be someone’s wife. As I walked toward the meadow with a huge nervous knot in my stomach I spotted my best friend and Maid of Honor, Dana. I’m so grateful for what she did next. In fact, I’m pretty sure that what happened next allowed the entire rest of the wedding process to develop as organically as it did. She started crying. In that moment everything became real for her too, and the 16+ journey of our friendship was culminating. Not ending, but inevitably changing. I had been holding something back as I approached this rehearsal, trying to control my feelings, (hence the nervous ball in my gut), and seeing Dana’s emotions allowed me to release. I saw her, we hugged, and we both just cried there together. The knot in my stomach loosened and suddenly I felt more joy make its way in where fear was previously taking up all occupancy. I doubt Dana knows how profound that moment was for me, and how grateful I am for it. (Dana, now you know 🙂 )
The emotional channels were back open and the rest of the rehearsal carried on with more tears, laughs, nerves, and fun.
The dinner following rehearsal was filled with gratitude. Standing on Main Street in Buena Vista, witnessing our friends and family that had made this journey to be with us, I was so full (and I hadn’t even eaten yet). After dinner we of course got ice cream before making our way back to the venue to begin setting up. Ice cream. It’s always an important detail.
Gratitude is the word that describes the rest of the evening. My Aunt Diane and Uncle Larrie were already at the reception hall to begin set-up once we arrived. My relationship with my Aunt and Uncle can be defined by good times. The best holidays, the best birthdays, the best “Becky Bake Days,” and the most beautiful mountain vacations in Oregon. Spending this time with them setting up my wedding could only be described as, the best. In addition to the quality time with my family, seeing all of these little elements I had been working on for months and months come together was truly magical. I couldn’t believe it actually. Those crepe paper flowers looked pretty good. It was ALL looking pretty good! Seeing everyone, Mom Dennis Brother Aunt Uncle Cousin Dana Russell Uncle, seeing all of them come together with us and make this possible. Well, that feeling truly did approach bliss.
As we finished setting up it was time for Brad to head back to his parents’ house. We wouldn’t see each other again until I walked down the aisle to become his wife. We stood there in the reception hall on the eve of our wedding, holding each other and looking into each other’s eyes. Without words other than “I love you” we acknowledged that something tonight was ending, but something beautiful was about to begin. We held each other with anticipation, joy, and again, gratitude. A kiss, an embrace, and he drove home to his parents’ mountain house. I stood there knowing that that was it. I would never again have a boyfriend, or a fiance. This train was barreling forward, layers continuing to be shed, new shades and colors being drawn into these new parts of ourselves.
And now a night of fun. I would be spending the night in Mom and Dennis’ cabin with Dana and my brother. We desperately wanted a celebratory nightcap but here’s a tip for anyone planning an event in the middle of the mountains, plan ahead for that kind of thing. Festivities end pretty early in the middle of nowhere as it turns out. The bar closed at 11:00, the General Store even earlier, and a drive into town to the liquor store (which we were pretty sure was also closed anyway), was fraught with risk as we didn’t know if we had enough gas to make the trip. And the gas station was closed. We weren’t getting a drink that night. We accepted our night of celebratory sobriety and settled in for a cozy evening and a movie on cable. So what movie, you may ask, did I end up watching on the night before I got married? Well I’ll tell you. It was none other than, Child’s Play. Yep, we had a night with Chucky. The randomness of it, the ridiculousness, it was kind of perfect. There IS actually a good metaphor at play here as well. You see, Chucky is a figure that Dana had always been pretty spooked by (a demonic doll is pretty terrifying), but she had never actually seen the movie. Well, actually sitting down and watching the movie, realizing how terrible, cheesy, and ridiculous it was pretty much evaporated or at least assuaged all of Dana’s fears. So facing something head on, turning on the light, does in fact release your fears. Perfect metaphor for approaching marriage, right? It works for me.
In the months leading up to this day, this night, this moment, I anticipated not being able to sleep a wink the night before my wedding. I wondered if I would be paralyzed with fear, or giddy with excitement. Everything about this wedding had me wondering how I would feel in various moments, but again, I knew that I could wonder and wonder but I could not control it. Like a present, you wonder what is inside and you hope for certain things, but ultimately you cannot control what you open up and discover. So there I am. I’ve arrived at the night before my wedding. Perhaps it was waking up at 6:30 to go whitewater rafting. Perhaps it was an incredibly full day. Perhaps it was the release of emotions I allowed myself during the rehearsal. Perhaps it was Chucky. I’m not sure; but as I went to bed that night I felt… tired. And I felt peaceful. And I felt happy. I slept like a baby the night before my wedding.
The day has arrived. My wedding day. I think I shall save the account of this day for a follow-up post as this one is getting rather long and I don’t want to abbreviate anything about the actual day. But I’m glad I did this. I don’t know who is reading, but this particular post has probably been more for me than for anyone else. I apologize that my tenses are all over the place, my syntax is pretty messy, and I don’t have enough fingers to count my grammatical errors. I generally try to take more care with my writing but this post required a bit more of an abstract approach with words. Thank you for reading. Stay tuned in the next few days if you want to hear what it’s like to feel every emotion all at once, i.e. get married. I’ll give one little preview metaphor. You know how the presence of every color is not actually black, but white? The presence of every emotion is similar.You may think it would be chaos, but it’s actually a kind of peace.
Hi there! If you haven’t heard, I’ve given up Facebook for Lent. This means I’m going to have a lot more time and focus devoted to my writing. I’m so excited! While I compile all of my new though currently scattered thoughts and plans for future posts, I want to share with you the latest from the greatest Brad Light, my one and only. While I document the written account, Brad has the visual component covered of our journey to Tahiti. The latest offering is a video recap of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon which we ran in January of this year (2014). Judging from this awesome video, you’d never know I was completely and utterly exhausted! Well, you kind of get an inkling that I’m hurting from the brief and blunt interview at the end. Just speaking my mind 🙂
And no, Brad is not dressed as a dinosaur or an alien shark. He’s the Crocodile people! Tick Tock!
Did you run the Tink Half this year? How did it go?
I have a lot to be thankful for this year. When you get right down to it, the vast majority of us in the world have a WHOLE lot to be thankful for, and with the world as whacked out as it is, I think it’s important to vocalize our thanks. Focus on the good. Be… excellent… to each other. ‘Tis the season.
This year I want to participate in the 30 days of thanks challenge. Is it a challenge? I’m not sure. I may have made that up. 30 days of thanks… extravaganza? Or maybe it’s just 30 Days of Thanks. That sounds more like it. Either way, I want to do that thing where you vocalize, literally or electronically, something you are thankful for each day.
Most people do this through a Facebook post or a tweet, but being the long-winded writer that I am I’m anticipating wanting to elaborate a bit more so I’ll use the ol’ blog to get the word out. This will also give me a true challenge, to write every day for 30 days.
Join me on a 30 day journey of reflection and deep-hearted thanks. I encourage you to join in the extravaganza!
(I’m a few days behind, so I’m going to spitfire Days 1-4 and get on track with one post per day starting tomorrow).
Brad Light. I don’t know what I did to find him. Whatever celestial magic that brought him my way, to “you” I say thank you. I am thankful for his spirit, his silliness, his sense of humor, his tenderness, his gentleness, his handsomeness, his goodness, his curly brown hair, his horned-rim glasses, his love of the sea, his quest for adventure, his love of his family, his love of cats, his delicious stir-frys, his understanding, and more than anything I’m thankful that he loves me. Again, celestial magic. It’s a thing. I love you to the moon and back Brad.
These squishy fluffy faces:
It is an excellent idea to live with cuddly animals. They teach you about unconditional love. They challenge you to take care of something precious other than yourself. They encourage you to embrace empathy for non-human creatures, which then translates to empathy for human creatures too. These are truths for me. I am so grateful for my two kitties, Sharky and Mr. Wizard. Now if only they loved each other as much as we love them. Maybe next year.
My running route:
Last night Brad and I finished a glorious 10 mile run along the beach. Around mile 4 the sun was setting over the Pacific and Brad says to me “if anyone told me when I was a kid that one day I’d get to run along the beach next to my fiance as the sun sets over the ocean, I’d have been able to suffer through a lot more pain with a smile on my face knowing where I’d eventually end up.” Isn’t that the lesson we all need. First of all, when life sucks, as it often does, you are never without the tiny kernel of knowledge that somehow it will get better. It just will. And that maybe all of the hard times are necessary, as they are leading to something more wonderful than you could imagine. So today I am grateful for where those hard times and wrong turns have landed us. In a little apartment on the Pacific with the most glorious running path two runners could ask for.
I am grateful for the fall.
Today I woke up and I knew it would feel like fall (as much as it CAN feel like fall in Los Angeles). Brisk autumn days are something I miss so terribly living in L.A. Some people get bummed out by a lack of sunshine. I get bummed out by too much. I like the seasons to obey the seasons and Southern California is the land of eternal summer. Bummer. Today I have a scarf around my neck, and I wore a jacket to work. I noticed some leaves falling off trees, and the shadows are extra long. Today, it feels like California fall and it may only last until about 3:00 pm, but I’ll take it. I’ll savor it.
Sometimes I worry that acknowledging all that I’m grateful for will jinx me, and it will all fall apart. This comes from the part of my brain that is convinced I don’t deserve to be happy. Hogwash. We all deserve to be happy. But we gotta thank the universe once in a while. She won’t bite.
The buzz and excitement continues for the upcoming Disneyland Half Marathon. I’ve been following all of the tweets and Facebook Group posts about it and at this point it’s pretty much all I can think about! Such is always the case a month or so before race weekend. I turn into a giddy little child counting down to Christmas. Today I can’t help but feel nostalgic. The reason I’m so giddy year after year (and so willing to fork over the dough for registration fees) is because my first year at the Disneyland Half Marathon was so special. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? Just a short one. I promise. I know you all have runs to get in 😉
The year was 2010. I really can’t remember the month but let’s say it was March. This was back in the old days before runDisney. I know, hard to believe there was a time before runDisney, but it’s true! This was in the time when each park, the Land or the World, organized racing events on their own. Sometime in the early part of the year (we decided on March, yes?) I came across a pamphlet in a coffee shop for the Disneyland Half Marathon. (This was also back in the days when the races didn’t sell out in 48 hours and you learned about local events from pamphlets in coffee shops). I really couldn’t believe my eyes. How did I not know about this? Running at Disneyland? That sounded like the coolest thing ever. Turned out it was 🙂
I had never run more than 9 miles but I figured, what’s 4 more? I can do it! I decided I wanted to raise money for a good cause while training and that’s exactly how I got into blogging. I launched The Happiest Runner on Earth to reach out to donors and share my training progress. The Disneyland Half Marathon is responsible for many things. It’s responsible for getting me back in shape, getting me running consistently again, and getting my writing out there. Although first-person narrative non-fiction isn’t my writing career target, it gets me writing, and it keeps me connected with all of the other thousands of running freaks and Disney nerds out there. Raise your hands people.
That first race was magical. Running through the parks early in the morning with Paradise Bay all lit up, the fog still sitting low on the ground, and the surprise of cheerful characters around every corner; it was a perfect run. The surprise of how many runners were in attendance (I would’ve never dreamed to see 14,000!), and the joyful gratitude I held for each and every volunteer there to either hand out water, or simply hold up a sign to cheer on strangers crazy enough to run 13.1 miles; it was a perfect run. The experience of running a RACE for the first time ever, getting a little bit competitive with that other girl with Tinker Bell wings who I haven’t managed to pass for the past 4 miles, hitting the wall at mile 11 and figuring out how to dig up true willpower to finish, crossing a finish line for the first time: it was a perfect run. I’ve written before about how you can never quite recapture the magic of the first time, and how there’s something inherently sad about that, but every year that I run this race I get a glimmer of the first year’s excitement; and no it’s not quite the same, but it’s worth it. And it’s worth it for all of the NEW memories we create every single year. Like falling down the rabbit hole at mile 9, or discovering the magic of gummy bears. Every race holds some new lesson buried within it. In running the race you dig up the lesson and you move on to the next exciting event wiser, faster, stronger. It’s a pleasant addiction.
Your first day at school, first trip to Disneyland, first time seeing the Grand Canyon, first love, first kiss. Firsts are just plain awesome. You only get them once for a fleeting moment yet they leave a lifelong impact. You really never forget your first time. Thankfully my first half marathon was at Disneyland, and I’ll honor that joyful memory by running it every year until my legs (or my pocketbook) give out.
Here are the videos of our first Disneyland Half Marathon to complete the stroll down memory lane. Ahh, memories 🙂