Write to Change the World

I promised you big things would start happening soon and this weekend, I did so much to set huge possibilities into motion. Because y’all, just so you know, I plan to change the world.

This weekend, I attended a one day writing class geared toward, you guessed it, changing the world through writing and presenting thought leadership into the world. A local political group I am affiliated with joined up with The Op-Ed Project to give a one-day, eight-hour, intensive op-ed writing workshop.

img_4025I had never heard of The Op-Ed Project when I found this opportunity, and wasn’t even sure what an op-ed was, but after a bit of research, I was all in. In a society where the majority of opinion pieces come from white males, the Project’s main focus is to raise the voices of marginalized people, especially those of women, in order to introduce dynamic thought leadership into the world. Of course, all people of all genders, races, and orientations are warmly welcomed to attend any classes.

At this workshop, my peers and I learned how to hone and trust our expertise and find the value in our knowledge of numerous topics. We also explored not only how to fit big ideas and current events into our areas of expertise, but how to build credibility and confidence in our ideas. Most importantly? We were imparted with the idea not only that we mattered, but that we have a civic duty to add our narratives to wider thought cacophonimg_4019y in order to challenge the status quo, arouse change, influence leaders (or even raise ourselves to leadership positions) and ultimately change the world.

The biggest cherry on this sundae of promise is that, am I (or any of the class’s participants) to turn in a viable op-ed to the Project within a month of our class, we will be paired with a writing mentor from a pool of famous essayists, renown editors, Pulitzer prize winners. It’s truly the change of a lifetime. And I am not throwing away my shot.

“If you say something of consequence, there may be consequences – but the alternative is to be inconsequential.”

Of course, it’s scary to put your ideas out into the world, especially when your goal is to challenge ideas, to provoke thought, to inspire change in very powerful people and positions. But, going back to my favorite musical of the moment, which I have found myself doing more and more in this political climate and with my more challenging writing, if you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?

And so, world, you will soon know what I stand for. Because, to be sure, despite my youth, and perhaps because of it, I have big ideas for this nation and this world. And I think, if I can be effective and convince you to give them a chance, they might just work.

Speaking of young woman changing the world (and Lin-Manuel Miranda, at that…), have you seen Diseny’s latest, Moana? As if this blessing of a movie could come into my life at more perfect a moment, I finished watching this beautiful story just this morning and I. am. inspired. I had this song (and its reprises) stuck in my head even before I saw the film and let me tell you… they now have squished their spot in my heart right next to my favorites from Hamilton.

Because now that, when it comes to op-eds and what they can lead to, I know what I know?
There’s just no telling how far I’ll go.

And now, for me, it’s time to write (like I’m running out of time).
Have a good week, y’all!

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Kings of San Francisco

I spent this past weekend in sunny San Francisco.

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Yes, you read that right. Sunny. San Francisco.

But let’s back up a minute.The American Library Association’s Annual Conference is being held in San Francisco this year. No, I did not attend the conference (some day!), but I was there for related festivities.

The American Library Association gives out awards to books at the Midwinter Conference, and holds banquets at the Annual Conference to honor the winners and honorees. Most people are familiar with the Youth Media Awards; the Newbery, the Caldecott, and maybe even the newer Printz may ring a bell.

But there are other, quieter, but perhaps more important, awards, too. Ones that honor writers and illustrators of diverse backgrounds and topics such as the Batchelder, the  Belpré, the Coretta Scott King. To read these books is an eye-opening experience; to attend one of the award banquets held in their honor is otherworldly.

I follow a lot of writers. On Twitter. And Tumblr. And Facebook. One such writer, Kwame Alexander, who wrote this year’s Newbery Award Winning and Coretta Scott King Honor novel in verse, The Crossover, held a contest for a ticket to either the Newbery/Caldecott Award Dinner or the Coretta Scott King Award Breakfast. Write a rule, he asked, that applies to both basketball and life.

It’s not the
size
of the dog in the fight
but
the size of the
fight
in the dog. 

was my winning entry.

What did I win? A ticket to the Coretta Scott King Award Breakfast in San Francisco as Kwame’s guest. The practical part of me wanted to pass the opportunity to a coworker or friend already scheduled to attend the ALA Conference. The budding author and #WeNeedDiverseBooks librarian in me said “LET’S DO THIS!” and a few airline credits and hotel points later, hell-oooo San Francisco!

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This wasn’t my first time flying alone, but I’ve always had someone waiting for me on the end leg of my journey. Not this time. And I must say that for my first solo excursion for business/pleasure, it went as well as it could have:

  • An early check in courtesy of the Mosser Hotel, located right in the thick of the San Fran action.
  • Opting to hoof around to the different must-sees of San Fran in lieu of a tour bus or other means of transport – I wanted to get up close and personal with this awesome city on a perfect, sunny day (so un-San-Fran like! hence my forgetting to pack sunscreen and subsequent sunburn…).
  • Six hours of unadulterated sight-seeing.
  • A dinner meet up with coworkers (in town for ALA) at a local pizza/pasta joint.
  • An early night filled with reading and the sounds of the city.

And that was just the first 13 hours!

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Jason Reynolds, who took a deeper look at the Electric Slide because “like in writing and art, we all have our own flavor, but we’re all going in the same direction”

The next morning, I woke bright and early for the 7am breakfast. Having read all the Coretta Scott King Honorees (sidenote: librarian level up!), I was so excited to hear (and maybe meet!) the authors of the amazing books I read. All of the books were so wonderful and spoke so confidently and realistically about the African American experience of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Given that so many high profile, racially charged events have happened in America in the past year (#BlackLivesMatter) I was so honored to have the chance, the privilege, of seeing these amazing writers accept awards that honored their culture, their history, their present, and their future.

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Frank Morrison, on the importance of challenging stereotypes and breaking the mold

If these authors and illustrators are great writers, they are even better speakers and humans. Every single honoree moved me in some way: some to laughter, some to reflection, some to tears both happy and sad. To see this group of people with a talent for storytelling I so identify with candidly share their triumphs, their joys, their struggles, their tears in their acceptance speeches completely blew me away.

It made me see more clearly. It made me feel more keenly. And although it gave new depth to my very real despair for the future of our world, it also gave me new hope.

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Kwame Alexander, who hushed the crowed with his profound and powerful poetry outlining his young daughter’s fears sprung from current events

These authors and illustrators; their work inspired me in and of itself. And their personalities and realities gave me new life as a librarian and a writer. More than ever before, I feel a real and raw responsibility to go forward and put these important works into the hands of young people, to pass along and create a hopeful narrative for our collective future.

As if the Coretta Scott King Award Breakfast wasn’t enough to restore my hope in humanity, walking down Market Street through the joy of the first Pride Parade since the SCOTUS ruling in favor of Marriage Equality was the rainbow sprinkles on a very, very sweet Sunday.

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Marilyn Nelson, whose works of poetry about growing up in the 1950s outline how far we have come and how far we have yet to go

Today, despite landing in Chicago at 10pm and tossing and turning all last night despite my exhaustion (read: sunburn!), I am filled with energetic adoration for the authors I heard speak, even more for the ones I was able to meet, and am so very excited to see what these brilliant minds do next. Not to mention, I’m kind of ready to get my own voice out there, too!

In the words of Christopher Myers, “I sometimes feel like giving up on the world, but I refuse to give up on the world I have yet to create.”*

Let’s create a good one, guys.

*full and more accurate quote from Myers’ acceptance speech (as well as Jacqueline Woodson’s) will be printed in July/August 2015 edition of Horn Book Magazine, at which point I will update and credit.

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It’s Friday, Get Happy: Unplugged

It’s been ten years since I had my first “piece” of writing published. It was a poem titled “Cleanup on Aisle 11” in my high school’s art magazine, Mosaic.

Does reading it make me think a million awful things about myself and my talent? Certainly. It’s a writer’s natural response to seeing/reading most of her work in the wild, I’ve heard. But doesn’t that same reading, seeing my work in a bound magazine on semi-gloss paper, make me proud and determined to do it again? You bet.

Writing, being published, working toward being published again… that gets me happy.

But that’s not today’s theme. Because I’ve been working on a YA novel here, an essay there, some book reviews and blog posts in between. And I keep coming back and wondering why I haven’t gotten anywhere with any of it yet.

Distractions, that’s why.

Even though writing makes me happy and I spend hours at work or during family gatherings or on my commute or as I’m falling asleep wishing I could be writing instead… I spend so much of the time that I could be writing indulging in distractions. Some of which are necessary evils (cleaning, cooking, and generally being a presentable human), some of which go hand in hand with writing (reading novels or even books on writing), and many of which are onerous diversions that include, but are not limited to:

  • perfecting that witty Tweet before it becomes untimely
  • scrolling through my Tumblr feed, liking, queing, and reblogging posts
  • jotting down ideas for a new blog post or even penning and scheduling a new one
  • taking the perfect picture in the perfect lighting from the perfect angle and applying the perfect filter for Instagram
  • making sure I am up to date on all of my Facebook friends

My name is Brittany, and I am addicted to social media. Especially when this social media follows me around everywhere, courtesy of my iPhone.

I love technology, and I love social media. I’m not ashamed to admit it, even as a book-sniffing, printed-word-worshiping writer and librarian. But, when I find myself at a point where I am so involved in technology that I don’t have time or am too tired to reach my goals?

Oh, hell no!

I’d never unplug completely. Not only is it unfeasible, but it truly wouldn’t do me any good. However, I am making small steps to delete certain apps from my phone, limit myself to x amount of time on certain websites a day, and otherwise freeing myself for some down and dirty writing.

Maybe it’ll go toward my novel’s word count. Maybe it’ll turn into a NYTimes Modern Love essay. Maybe it’ll become a blog post.

I know that writing will make me happy. I see what’s standing in my happiness’s way. And I gotta do what I gotta do to get me the happiest I can be.

So with this, I’m unplugging.

You know, until next time :0)

Have you ever had to step back from technology?

What are your current writing goals? Any other personal/career goals you’re working on?

Writing Away

For the first time in a long time, I have a piece of writing out for review.

Now, one of my 30 by 30 goals is to join a writing group (and participate!). In an effort to do this, I’ve been hawking a couple of writing groups offered by neighboring libraries. One is a group I adore. It is completely modeled after a high school/college writing workshop: we are “assigned” an article to discuss that coincides with that meeting’s theme (such as poetry, editing, young adult, memoir, etc.) and spend the first part of the meeting on that, then we take a break, and then we spend the rest of the meeting workshopping previously submitted pieces by other members. If you know the workshopping experience -the things you learn by workshopping others’ pieces as well as having your own pieces workshopped- you know how valuable I instantly found this group. Count me in!

This, however, is not where I have my piece out. I’ve only been to one meeting and I have to miss the next one for work. I’m not ready yet.

Gaiman's 8 RulesThis other group I found is a writing “class.” Taught by a library staff member who is a published picture book author (cool beans, amirite?), this class was a three part series learning, basically, how to write. Which covered most of the basics- write a lot, read a lot, don’t doubt yourself, editing is key… I learned a lot of really cool tidbits about publishing (particularly in regards to kidlit and picture books- score!). And the last and best part of this class? The chance to have the instructor review/edit a piece of a manuscript.

As you know, I’ve been working on a novel recently. I was really excited in the beginning of the year. I chugged out 500 words a day for the first part of the month… until I puttered out and realized that I really, really needed to work on an outline, character profiles- the meat of my story- before I continued.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, lately. Doing a bit of editing to my original avalanche of words, sometimes writing new pieces, but mostly world building: giving my characters personalities and back stories and paving a path that my story will eventually navigate.

But those 3500 words I managed to get down before the wall rose? Those were my golden opportunity. And so I picked the bit that would fit on 5 pages (our review limit), polished it up and, just last night, I handed it over.

Now, as I am told I will do a lot in my writing career, I wait.

Wait for what? For encouraging words and constructive criticism? For a red-marked page exposing jarring errors in my construction and prose? And invitation to read more?

Only time will tell. And all I can do is wait (and maybe write) in the meantime.

And, as Tom Petty once said, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

Novel Ideas

Right. I’m writing a novel.

Which sounds a whole heck of a lot more impressive than it is.

And I know that’s something every author in the history of ever has said, and I’ve nodded in agreement because I remember how every author in the history of ever has said it. But being here, in the trenches with my characters… it makes a whole lot more sense.

Because these characters, this plot, this story… it’s nothing except for what I make it. And as powerful as that may seem, the whole “writing a novel” situation leaves a whole lot of room for mess, for error, for confusion, for self-doubt. And nothing about that feels glamorous. Or special. Or interesting.

And that’s probably why it’s so strange and awkward to say out loud to anyone, “I’m writing a novel.” Or even, “I’m a writer.” Because, most times, their eyes light up. They ask so many questions that seem unanswerable. “What do you write?” and “When will it be done?” or, worst of all, “Can I read it?”

My knee-jerk reaction in the past is to set these people straight. To say, “No no no. It’s not really that big of a deal. It’s just a novel that I’ll probably work on for a year, edit for two, then I’ll be halfway through another crappy manuscript before I get sick of trying to sell this one and finally lay it to rest.” To tell them that they are intrigued by a glamorized version of novelists that doesn’t exist. Or that I appreciate their feigned interest, but I am more than happy to discuss the weather or Taylor Swift’s latest song and we can revisit the topic of my writing when I’m published and it’s all worth something.

But then, yesterday, I experienced the other side of that conversation for the first time in a long time.

I went to a Writers Group. My first one in years. Writers of all walks of life were in attendance, all bursting with energy and warm welcomes and eagerness to talk to me about my writing.

And I wanted to know about the Vietnam War memoirs one gentleman was writing. I was happy to discuss the surge in sales of Young Adult and Kid Lit and how it would help one lady’s middle-grade mystery series find an audience. I asked the same questions of these writers that I myself brushed off, when asked, as polite or misguided.

My genuine interest in them and their projects made me realize that novel writing is at its core, unglamorous work, but it is also something special and interesting at every stage of the process.

That it’s worth something, even if it’s not for sale.

How about that?

2015: A Strong Resolve

Let’s face it, whether I wanted it to be or not, 2014 was the year of Getting It Done. And to think, it was all because I had graduated from my masters program and was looking to fill time between that and finally getting a full time job.

And now that the job is had? I’m finding I still have a bunch of free time (no longer job searching does this) in which I can continue to Get It Done. Except that was last year’s motto. This year’s is something I think can be applied to every instance of every thing you might ever want to get done: from the laundry to working out to publishing a novel. Which is uncanny, because that’s exactly where I stole got the idea for this new motto: Shannon Hale (of Goose Girl and Princess Academy fame) wrote a short piece with her advice to new novelists (which is something I hope to be soon).

That advice, my friends, is BE HARDCORE.

And sure, I personally had to be hardcore in a lot of ways last year to do the things I did. Getting a full time job in this economy? So hardcore. Training for a marathon when I just got back into running? Totally hardcore.

But, a lot of last year was about the outcome (get a job, finish a marathon, find a house, read so many books, etc.) whereas this year is going to be about the process (do my job well, keep running, start writing, etc.). I’m setting some goals, of course, but I am not going to worry so much about the photo finish.

So here are the ways I resolve to BE HARDCORE in 2015:

WRITING
This dream of mine has taken a seat on the back burner for far too long. If you glance at my history with writing, you’ll see that it’s something I’m passionate about, something I might even be decent at. I’ve written an essay, a short story, and a blog post in my day, but I think that with all the practice I’ve had leading up to this point, it’s time to set my sights to something bigger.

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Saying I want to get published is huge, and it’s not a goal I’m willing to set for myself in any give year because, well, publishing just doesn’t work that way (see the aforementioned advice to new novelists for some insight).

And so, I will write hardcore. This year, I plan to write as wildly and widely as I can- experimenting with form, with genre, with length, with topics. I also plan to attend as many writer’s workshops and groups as I can find (currently, I have three different library groups to check out!), and to use my new SCBWI membership to the full extent that I can. By the end of 2015, I plan to have pages and pages of horrible and wonderful writing, in fiction and free verse, in memoir and blog posts, to show for my efforts. And maybe, just maybe, something bigger will come of it all.

READING
It’s said that to be a good writer, you must be a good reader. And good means reading a vast array of things: the good and the bad both of what you hope to one day write, and outside of what you’re comfortable writing. Last year, I aimed to read 80 chapter books. This year, while I still aim to read a specific number (at least 50), I want to read more widely. Last year, my goal was to become more comfortable in the children’s area of a library- to read the classics, the award-nominees, the popular, and the up-and-coming. And I did that and more.

This year, with a strong base of reading behind me, I will still read in the children’s section (both for my job as a librarian and a reviewer), but I also plan to go outside the box and really read outside of my professional and writing comfort zone. I found a 2015 Reading Challenge from PopSugar and while I don’t mean to check every box (and will probably let one book count for multiple boxes!), I won’t be upset if I do, because this is a really interesting (AND HARDCORE) challenge.

2015 Reading Challenge

RUNNING
Because, of course. I didn’t run that marathon for nothing, and I don’t intend for my hard work to go to waste! I am still waiting to get my weekend work schedule for next year set in stone, but I have signed up for the Soldier Field 10Miler, and have about a dozen races I am jumping on once I know I’m clear. Granted, none of them are quite as grand as a marathon (and even the halfs I’m looking at are really, really tentative…), but I think staying on the running path I tread for myself last year is great, and racing is even better.

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What’s more, there is a running club in the little suburb I’m currently living in, and I’m going to join it. They meet during the week for track nights, they sign up for local races together, and they meet on weekend mornings for long runs. What could be more hardcore than taking this solitary thing I’ve started and making it social? Training with a group when I’ve basically nothing to train for and having real live people to keep me accountable for my weekend long runs… sounds pretty hardcore to me.

Travel
Although it may not have come across this past year, traveling is a huge passion of mine. I’ve been to 39 states and 5 countries so far, and I have no plans on stopping any time soon. Even without a huge travel budget and with a ton of life events getting “in the way,” I was still able to travel to a few modest locations which certainly isn’t anything to sniff at.

Although, when you’ve spent a winter in Istanbul…

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in front of the Hagia Sophia

And the following summer in Greece…

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scaling a mountain to drink from the River Styx

While I don’t see 2015 being as big travel year as 2008 was, I still have my sights on a few places: Las Vegas for John’s birthday (March), re-attempting Boston for mine (September), and perhaps a jaunt to Galena or Champaign or even Chicago when we have a free weekend to shake my travel bug.

Hardcore traveling is not only making the travel thing work for the budget and lifestyle you have, but planning for the future and what you want. And so, along with the destinations 2015 may bring, I am going to be hardcore in saving and planning for what is surely going to take the cake in 2016: a honeymoon (tropical, if John has his way- foreign, if I have mine: compromise is probable!) and Italy for a destination wedding. Both will be trips of a lifetime, and I am going to do everything I can this year to make sure they happen, and make sure they happen big.

Wedding Planning
With last year’s engagement comes this year’s wedding planning. I know this might be a really strange thing to be hardcore about, but I am going to do it. Because, honestly, I’m slightly terrified of wedding planning. I know some ladies who’ve recently gotten engaged and had a nine month turnaround time. And here I am, exactly three months engaged with nary but some lovely pictures to show for it.

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On one hand, I am the typical girl who has been looking forward to her wedding since she first heard of Prince Charming and had several Pinterest boards dedicated to dresses, bouquets, photography ideas, etc. before she was even engaged. On the other hand, I’ve heard horror stories (and have seen Bridezillas) and am seriously contemplating paying someone lots of money to do everything so I can just show up and have fun.

But that attitude is all about the end goal, right? And this year is all about the process. So, to be hardcore, I am not only going to continue to work on my relationship with John (the whole reason for this shebang in the first place!), but I am going to enjoy the planning process to the fullest. I am going to be decisive and prudent, but open to others’ opinions and willing to bend on the things that matter. And maybe even blog about the process…

As for all of my other resolutions, as hardcore as I am with them, I am willing to let all else take a back burner to this experience because, after all, there is always next year…

And that is it. As simple as I hoped to make 2015, in light of my crazy 2014, it looks like I’m in for another wild ride. I hope you’re ready for this next adventure!

What are your goals and resolutions for next year? Or do you prefer not to many any?

Is anyone up for PopSugar’s 2015 Reading Challenge?

Oh Fudge

I’m not sure what I did wrong. I’ve been helping my mom make the holiday fudge since I could stand beside her on a chair and appreciate the “hot!” stovetop flame. This wasn’t even my first crack at the confection solo.

But alas, where last year’s batch was a touch grainy, this year’s was soft. And not in the delectably luscious way fudge should be soft. After waking early to give it ample time to settle, I couldn’t scrape suitable-looking pieces out of the pan and resorted to shoving square-like blobs into tiny paper wrappers while holding back tears.

I know they say you shouldn’t cry over soft fudge, but I just couldn’t help myself.

See, where I am a decent cook, I am an even better baker. Only once or twice has a recipe attempt gone awry and never has a baked good gone inedible under my watch. I rarely burn batches of cookies, I don’t mistake sugar for salt (or vice versa), and I have never yielded too-soft fudge. It felt like a Yuletide joke that my first big flop came hours before my first holiday party with my new family.

But, it was Christmas Eve -without time for a plan B- so upon arriving at my fiancé’s Nana’s house, I handed her a hostess gift and unceremoniously shoved my tin of fudge in the freezer.

After hours of merry making, of eggnog-and-Amaretto drinking, of playing with the baby cousins and playing tricks on the older ones, dessert time arrived. My fiancé dug out my fudge and laid it with the other offerings, and I reached for an Italian almond cookie and made myself scarce.

To my horror, an aunt rounded the corner from the kitchen into the room I was in and declared, “Who made the fudge?!”

I stood, believing I would need to toss the lot right then and there, and she hugged me. “I always knew I liked you,” she said. “But I love your fudge!”

Amidst the ringing laughter, other acclaims came bursting forth: a fist for bumping was presented, a warning of unnamed cousins going in for 8ths was issued, the words “it’s just perfect” were uttered.

I went back to the sweets spread and looked down on the offending fudge, which was ugly as ever. But the piece I lifted from the tin, misshapen as it was, didn’t squish in my grasp. And biting into it yielded the perfect ratio of give-to-firmness that any fudge maker dreams of. With the last taste of chocolate dissolving on my tongue, I resolved that everyone was telling the truth- that my fudge was wonderful after all.

And so whatever your holidays look like this year, whether your tree remained untrimmed, a beloved family member’s place at the dinner table was empty, or your fudge was too soft- it is not in the festive details or gifts where the joy of this season lies. Although things may seem different than you expected, if you give them time to settle, you might fight that they were wonderful all along. Because, to quote The Muppet Christmas Carol, it’s all the places you find love that feel like Christmas.

And I hope that for you and yours, today and every day feels like, well, Christmas.