Happy New Year’s Eve (a few days early)!

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Have I ever told you how much I love New Year’s Eve? Well, it’s my faaaaaavvvvvvorrrrrite day of the year, and I can’t wait!

Now is the perfect time for making resolutions, looking forward to happier days ahead, celebrating all the people who bring us joy and coming up with fun, festive champagne concoctions!

I like to think of the New Year as a free pass at hitting the restart button. It no longer matters what you didn’t have the opportunity to do, try or achieve this year. It’s a chance to shake off any residual negativity and start anew. Now you have a whole new year! I hope you make the most of it. I know I will.

Personally, I like to make a long list of resolutions. In fact, I just finished obsessing over my list. I like setting and striving for goals. And by having multiple goals, I have a better than average chance of achieving (at least some of) them. If I should happen to miss a few, oh well. I don’t think of it as failing. Besides, between you and me, I have a system that never allows me to fail.

I start by writing a long, rather vague list. People often say “the devil is in the details” and I find that to be especially true with resolutions. And the more the merrier, right? I truly believe that I have a far better shot at success if I don’t put all my eggs in the same resolution basket. So once I have a lengthy, less-than-specific list organized, then I give myself immediate points just for trying and then partial points when I make small strides (like losing 2 pounds, for example) and more points (if and) when I succeed. Oh and it helps to have poor math skills, since my creative addition typically adds up to a perfect score.

This year, I’ve made 12 resolutions (for 2012). Here’s my list:

  1. Take better care of my mind, body and spirit
  2. Make time to play every day
  3. Drink more water
  4. Nourish relationships and build new ones
  5. Ignore negative thoughts and negative people
  6. Find creative ways to be happy
  7. Get more sleep
  8. Take bubble baths every chance I get
  9. Surprise myself
  10. Conquer at least one fear
  11. Decorate
  12. Never stop trying

So as you can see, they’re for the most part pretty vague. And that’s perfect because when I look back at this list, I will be able to see the good in what I set out to do and recognize many ways in which I was able to achieve these goals. See? The New Year hasn’t even started and yet I’m already winning (did that last part make you think of Charlie Sheen?).

Speaking of winning, why not celebrate as though you’ve already won? Whether or not you make an actual list of resolutions or simply take a moment to set a specific goal, make it a point to celebrate moments and milestones along the way. Recognize how awesome you already are and how much more awesome you are becoming!

On New Year’s Eve, I plan to surround myself with people I love and toast our past, present and future achievements throughout the night. That’s a lot of toasts, which is why I’m also trying to come up with some creative champagne concoctions. When I have that list, I’ll be sure to share it with you! And I also plan to stay safe (no driving!) and hydrated by alternating bubbly beverages with water (hey, that’s 2 resolutions right there! See? I’m already winning!).

Whatever you do to ring in the New Year, I hope you have fun doing it. But more than that, I hope you had a wonderful 2011 and I wish you and yours a safe, successful, happy, healthy 2012!

xoxo

11.11.11

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Happy birthday to me!

One of my favorite things to do on my birthday is look up my “Year Ahead” horoscope. Any other year, I’d look up several, compare and contrast. But today, on this most “epic” day, I have a lot planned so I only had time for one. Here it is:

Your Birthday Year Forecast (via www.cafeastrology.com):

A Full Moon in your Solar Return chart marks this as a year of great personal significance, when major new beginnings, endings, and activities occur. This period is the culmination of a stage of personal growth and development. Events occurring this year may bring various developments in your emotional, psychological, or spiritual life over the past several years to a head. Relationships are especially important. There can be increased activity in your professional and public life, causing a conflict with your domestic and personal goals. There is little moderation in your life this year. Connections are made or ended; or your job focus may change as one focus fades to make way for a new direction. The year ahead is certain to be a very busy, dynamic, and significant period in your life.

This is an excellent year in which to advance projects revolving around communications – writing, speaking, selling, and so forth. Your reputation may be enhanced through word of mouth. Making new contacts through learning and mental pursuits figures strongly as well.

Your mind is fertile this year, and you are able to blend practical thinking with imagination. You can talk your way into, or out of, almost anything. You can be successful in an artistic area this year. Your great imagination and ability to understand and formulate artistic ideas are big assets.

At times, however, you could struggle with variable energy and motivation levels. Be aware of a tendency to be attracted to impractical ventures. You may find that is too easy to waste your time and energy, perhaps due to a lack of drive or feeling directionless. You may also experience passive-aggressiveness in others, which impacts your life in frustrating ways. Although you may enjoy an increase in your intuitive capabilities, you may also be too open to influence so that fears or delusions impact your ability to see your life clearly. This could also be a year in which you are more creative.

It’s a strong year for recognizing flaws and errors. As long as you don’t forget the “big picture”, you could find you are motivated to channel your mental energy into tasks that require structured and organized thought, tackling projects that you may have found too mundane or downright boring in other years. It’s a strong year for polishing your skills and formal learning.

Mars trine Jupiter in your Solar Return chart infuses the year with enterprising spirit. This is a strong aspect for professional as well as personal opportunities. Your faith in your ability to produce and to win takes you places perhaps never imagined. The energies of this influence favor negotiations, deals, legal matters, reasonable speculation, and travel. This aspect also favors positive outcomes in competitive activities, including sports and business, for example.

You might enjoy increased influence, faith, and insight this year. The desire for more personal significance can motivate you to more ambitiously pursue personal or professional goals. The ability to sway or persuade can be enhanced. You might solve a problem that has been in existence for some time, or capitalize upon a resource that was previously hidden, and take steps towards self-improvement.

You can find yourself in high demand this year, and increased opportunities are likely for new friendships. Communications and learning are favored. The tendency towards putting your energy into impractical ventures, however, should be watched for. If you can channel your energy and be vigilant with self-discipline, you can get a lot done.

That sounds promising! I hope all of my birthday wishes come true in the year ahead. And I hope it proves to be a good year for everyone.

Happy birthday to me! Happy 11.11.11 to you!

Take the Poem’s Advice

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time inside my head. I’m currently revising two novels and writing a third, while trying to simultaneously work through some real life stuff. There are days when I write and write and other days when I can’t seem to assemble a sentence or write a single word. I know I can do it but there are times when I question even the most obvious things.

Don’t worry. I’m still my optimistic self. But I’m only human.

A friend of mine posted this poem on Facebook. I have no idea who wrote it but I can certainly relate. And today I needed to read it.

I’m reposting it because I thought some of you might need it too.

Don’t Quit:

When things go wrong, as  they sometimes will, When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, When the funds are low and the debts are high, And you want to smile,  but you have to sigh, When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest, if you  must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its  twists and turns, As every one of us sometimes learns, And many a  failure turns about, When he might have won had he stuck it out; Don’t  give up though the pace seems slow– You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer  than, It seems to a faint and faltering man, Often the struggler has  given up, When he might have captured the victor’s cup, And he learned  too late when the night slipped down, How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned  inside out– The silver tint of the clouds of doubt, And you never can  tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems so far, So stick to  the fight when you’re hardest hit– It’s when things seem worst that you  must not quit.

– Author  unknown

(Thank you to Shelley Anderson for posting this today!)

Today

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Today is a significant day in our nation’s history…

But let me begin by telling you that it’s also my mom’s birthday.

Since she is the most amazing woman I know, and that’s saying a lot since I know a lot of pretty amazing women, I’d like to take a moment to honor her.

My mom is the one who taught me how to love by loving me every second of my life. She has given me her undivided, unconditional support every step of the way. She has held my hand through all of life’s challenges. She believes in me and my dreams. She gives me advice when I need it yet never says “I told you so” when I prove time and time again how stubborn I can be. She has been my #1 fan since the day I was born. I couldn’t ask for a better mom or friend.

Ten years ago today, I woke up thinking that the day would be significant simply because it was my mom’s birthday. I hoped I wouldn’t forget to call her.

I was 25-yrs-old, living in the NYC area and working at the National Basketball Association. I was on my way to work when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I saw the smoke from my car. The DJ on the radio said a small plane had crashed. His tone made it sound like no big deal. It seemed more like a nuisance than anything else. Of course he turned out to be wrong.

As I pulled into the NBA’s parking lot, my then-boyfriend called me from the subway platform beneath the World Trade Center. He switched trains there on his way to work nearby. He said there was chaos there, alarms going off and he was stuck underground in a mob of people. He wanted to know if I’d heard anything and if I could tell him what happened. I told him what I thought I knew – that there was an accident, that a small plane had crashed into one of the towers. My tone probably made it seem like no big deal. At the time, I didn’t think it was. Of course I too was wrong.

Moments after we said goodbye, I parked, entered the building and climbed the stairs to my desk just in time to see the second plane strike Tower II.

Like millions of other people, I watched it happen live on TV.

Suddenly it was a very big deal.

I tried to reach my boyfriend but couldn’t. For hours, I tried to get him back on the phone. But cell phones were useless that day. All circuits were busy. No one could get through.

In pure panic, I called my mom. I was in shock when I said, “Happy birthday.” She was in shock too when she thanked me for the flowers I’d sent her. Then she told me that my dad was in New York too and that she hadn’t been able to reach him either. But she put her own worst fear aside to focus on me. Was I OK?

I wasn’t even close to OK. Neither was she. No one was. We were all scared to death that day and rightfully so. What was happening? No one knew for sure. As the details unfolded throughout the day, it only became scarier and more confusing. None of it made any sense. It was all too horrifying to be true.

My mom’s voice was the only thing that comforted me. Even though we were in different states, knowing she was there somehow helped. It gave me hope. And with her there on the phone with me, I wasn’t alone.

People were leaving work to go home to be with their loved ones. Some stayed behind, glued to their desks or huddled around television monitors. Like me, maybe they didn’t know where else to go. Should I have gone home to my empty apartment? I practically lived at work so it made more sense for me to stay there. At a point, that too became too hard to bear.

I could no longer sit there waiting. I needed to go out and physically search for him. I’d heard people were flooding out of Manhattan and many of them were heading for Hoboken. So a coworker/friend drove me there.

I remember how oddly peaceful and eerily beautiful it was outside that day. It felt like the first day of spring. Was it all a bad dream?

My father eventually got out of New York and came home to my mother, giving her a birthday present that blew my 1-800-Flowers out of the water.

My then-boyfriend made it out of the city too. His ordeal was far more traumatic. He’d finally made it to his office after speaking to me that morning and from his window he later told me that he could see the towers burning. His office building was eventually evacuated and he managed to make it on foot to the Hudson River, where he somehow got across and then walked home.

He couldn’t talk about what he saw that day. He gave me blurbs here and there. I tried not to press him for the details I was sure I could already see on his face. I was horrified for him when he eventually told me some of what he’d seen, like people jumping from windows. I could only try to be there for him.

While a day that didn’t make sense continues to not make sense 10 years later, it’s true that the whole world changed that day. I know my life did.

For one, I am obviously no longer with that same person. He broke up with me exactly 2 months later. That’s OK. It simply wasn’t meant to be and it didn’t take me long to figure out what was.

I know how lucky I was that day.

It breaks my heart when I hear stories of people who lost loved ones. Tears fill my eyes and I get the exact same lump in my throat every time I think about it. But in a way, my experience on 9/11/01 helped set me free. I learned a lot about myself that day and in the days and months which followed. I learned to appreciate my life and not to take anyone in it for granted. I learned to follow my heart and to go after my dreams.

You and I live in a post 9-11 world. It’s a world where anything can happen. We can choose to keep on living and trying to achieve great things or we can run and hide in a corner. I don’t know about you but if there’s a chance that it could all end tomorrow, I refuse to waste this moment.

Today is a significant day in our nation’s history. It’s a day to look back and remember something we could never possibly forget, to honor the heroes and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives or loved someone who did. But most of all, it is a day to be thankful for life itself and for the people who love us.

And today is my mom’s birthday.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you. And I thank God for you every day.

CT Fiction Fest

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I flew back east this weekend for a very short trip to attend a writing conference to which I’d previously signed up on a whim. The conference, at the time I signed up long before we knew we’d be moving, would have been a cheap, simple day trip from NY to CT. But since my family and I relocated to Iowa a week ago, suddenly I was faced with having to buy a round trip ticket, rent a car, stay in a hotel (in addition to the one I’m currently living in with my family). It went from a $100 investment to more than we could afford quite quickly. I almost canceled. But I’m so glad I didn’t.
Something was telling me to do it. I can’t explain it, but for some reason I decided to put my body, mind and bank account through the unnecessary torture of planning a last-minute solo weekend trip right in the middle of our crazy move. So just 5 days after driving from New York to Iowa with my husband and our toddler and while still living out of suitcases and duffel bags, I packed another small duffel and traveled solo to Connecticut for the conference not knowing what to expect.
To save money (and to sneak in a few hours with family), I flew into Philadelphia, borrowed my dad’s car (ah, to be 16 again) and drove the 4 hours through NJ, NY and CT to the conference which was being held in North Haven, CT in (of all places) another Holiday Inn (maybe that was a sign!). To save more, I opted to stay at a cheap (and somewhat sleazy) motel 4 miles away, (after checking for bed bugs) slept a total of 4 hours, woke up and consumed enough coffee to caffeinate a volcano and then attended the all day conference.
It was wonderful.
Not only did I get the AMAZING opportunity to pitch 2 of my novels face-to-face with agents and editors (By the way, every single one requested to read my manuscripts!!!!! 3 agents and 1 editor!! I couldn’t believe it myself until it happened to me. Seriously, I’m walking on sunshine – – Whoa-Oh!), but I also met and became friends with dozens of other writers and aspiring novelists. Like me, they know they have found their calling in life and are doing whatever it takes to make their dreams come true. There were also many highly successful published authors in attendance, all willing to chat about their struggles and successes, offer words of wisdom and advice and help in any way possible. At several points during the day, I cried from all the inspiration. It may have also been partially due to the sleep deprivation, but still. I cried real tears of joy and I’m (obviously) not afraid to admit it.
There were breakout sessions and workshops held throughout the day covering too may topics to list here. I learned so much about so many aspects of the publishing industry and the road I’ve chosen to take. The information and wisdom shared was worth far more than the price of admission! I’d highly recommend the conference to anyone.
Above all else, I was reminded time and time again that I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing and that nothing and no one can stop me from achieving this dream. The only person who can stop me is me. And, well, I’m sure as hell not going to get in my way!!! It’s far too important. Of course, we all doubt ourselves. I was going through a period of self-doubt leading into this weekend. I was feeling down and allowing myself to go to that place we should never ever go. You know the place, right? The sad, dark, depressing, spider-ridden, whoa is me place? The one that makes us forget our accomplishments, successes and talents. The one that makes us think our butt looks too big in these jeans and that our hair is too big for this decade?? The one that makes us set aside how far we’ve come and forget all the good stuff. We’ve all been there. That place sucks but somehow we keep going there. Can we all agree to boycott that place from here on out?
One of the speakers at the conference said, “If you came all this way to attend this conference, then you are a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Although she was speaking to everyone and speaking quite literally about each person’s individual travels, I felt her words profoundly and received them more figuratively.
If I came all this way… Wow, I truly have come a long way. Not only had I flown from Iowa and driven from Philly, but I’ve written and rewritten 2 novels endless times over the course of almost 4 years. I have 2 complete manuscripts to show for it, which I’m constantly revising so, in fact, they are never truly complete. But with all the drafts and revisions, if I have 2 novels I have 500. Plus, I have 3 more which I’m working on now. I’ve fully immersed myself in being a writer and becoming a novelist. I’ve grown so much in this passion and as a person. This is not my hobby. This is my life. It is who I am and who I will always be.
If I came all this way… It can be fun and fulfilling to take a moment and briefly look back and acknowledge how far we’ve come. But don’t look back too long. We must stay focused and continue looking and moving forward. Reaching for a dream is a journey. It’s a journey of self discovery, commitment, hard work, perseverance. It’s the struggle to overcome our own fears and self-worth issues, as well as the fears and doubts which others impose on us.
Someone at the conference said, “If you simply write a page a day you will have a novel in a year.” So true. But I say, why stop at one page? If you write 4 pages per day, you’ll have a novel in a season. Then you can spend the other 3 seasons revising and tweaking it and end up in a better place come Christmas.
The writing is the easy part. It’s believing in myself, even when it seems that all hope is lost, that is so much harder. It’s hanging in there – NO MATTER WHAT. It’s saying “Fuck You” to the naysayers because you know what? They talk shit and creep into your head and make you doubt the one thing you were certain about, when in fact they have absolutely no power over you or your ability to accomplish your dreams. They should spend more time concentrating on their own dreams than in trying to sabotage yours. But that’s their problem. Not yours and not mine. So fuck ’em if they want to waste their energy and time trying to rain on your parade instead of marching and twirling a baton in their own.
When I finally made it back home (my home is wherever Jason and Lyla are), I got off the plane and walked faster than I’d ever walked before toward the area of the airport where I knew my family would be standing, waiting for me. My husband Jason had the biggest happy-to-see-me smile on his face and our daughter Lyla ran to me, yelling, “mommy! mommy!” I couldn’t wait to see them, hold, hug and kiss them and tell them all about the conference. It would all have been nothing without them. As I got into the car, my husband told me how proud he was of me without having to say a single word. He said all he needed to say and all I needed to hear by placing one silly little item on the car seat so I’d see it the moment I opened the door. Not flowers. Not a Hallmark card. Nope. It was a black beer can koozie he had made while I was away. In simple white writing, it read “My Wife Is a Novelist.”
I have learned so much about myself throughout this journey. But perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned (so far) is that I can do whatever I put my mind, body and soul to. I already knew that (my mom and dad told me so time and time again growing up). But, suddenly, I know that it’s true. It sometimes takes a while to truly absorb some of the best advice we are given and the truths we are told.
If I came all this way… I wonder, how far I will go?
How far have you come? I bet you have a dream too. What is it and how far are you willing to go to make it come true?
Whatever it says on your beer can koozie, let’s support each other’s dreams. Let’s not let anyone or anything stand in our way. Let’s believe together that we can accomplish anything and everything we set out to do. I believe it’s true. Do you?

All Worked Up

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Why do we insist on getting ourselves all worked up over nothing?

We’re running late! Oh no, we’d better hurry up. And, then we get there and have to wait because everyone else is late. Now, we’re early. How did that happen? Being early is suddenly worse than being late. OK, so let’s freak out over that now, or over all the things we must be missing out on because this happened. Let’s freak out for the sake of freaking out. If nothing else, it will give us something to do, while we wait.

In the summertime, about once a week, I lose a flip-flop and I freak out until I find it. Why? It’s only a flip-flop.

Why are the little things such a big deal? Is it because the bigger, more important, life altering things are typically beyond our control?

Why do we sometimes convince ourselves that others dislike us? Or, that they are mad at us? Is it human nature to desire being thought about, even when those thoughts are negative? Sure, we’d prefer positive, but we’ll take what we can get. Or, is it simply our nature to second guess ourselves to the point that we second guess our loved ones too? We’re good enough, smart enough and gosh darn it people like us… right?? Why is that not enough?

Life is a pressure cooker, so why do we feel the need to self-inflict even more pressure? As if the pressures of adulthood, survival of the fittest and the universe combined weren’t already enough!

Last week, I found myself querying a literary agent, who I’d queried three years ago after completing the first draft of my first novel. She rejected me back then. I can’t say that I blame her. Back then, I swallowed the rejection and moved on. It was my first try at writing a novel and she was my first query. My first try at a cartwheel was just as poorly executed. The difference? I gave up on cartwheels long ago. Writing is my dream. I will not give up. Therefore, I will only get better.

Imagine yourself drunk-dialing an X – – or better yet, an X who dumped you! Yuck, I know! Unless you’re a serious masochist, why would you even consider doing that?? With that same rationale, I wouldn’t normally re-pitch an agent who previously rejected me. But, FaceBook influenced me to try again. Damn you, FaceBook!! The agent, it turns out, is a friend of a friend. Yep, FaceBook Kevin Bacon’d me. It taunted and teased me to actually “friend” her, but how lame would that be? “Um, excuse me. You’re my friend’s friend, so, uh, do you want to be my friend too?” I may be lame, but I’m not that lame…

Instead, I went another route, grew a pair and emailed her directly, pitching my second novel this time (while unfortunately reminding her of my first). Admittedly, I threw in our mutual friend’s name for good measure. Yes, I name dropped. It’s so unlike me to do that. And, even more unlike me? I did it without first telling the mutual friend. I know!!! Then, for the next three days, I freaked out over that. I imagined them sipping wine together, laughing at me and quipping, “Val who?”

After a few days, I decided to email my friend, confess and hope for the best. He wrote me back immediately with the sweetest note. Turns out, he wasn’t upset. He didn’t mind one bit. He even wished me the best and meant it. I felt great knowing I had his support. Why did I get myself so worked up??

The next day I lost a writing contest. Here we go again! Although this wasn’t my first loss/rejection, by a long shot, along this crazy and intense journey toward publishing, I got very upset. Somehow, it hit me harder than usual. Maybe I’d convinced myself that I would win. If you know me, that shouldn’t surprise you. I’m always convinced I’ll win. Why did losing this time make me feel like such a loser? It was, after all, just a contest. 10,000 people entered, not everyone can win.

When I chose to quit my day job and write novels, deep down I knew it would be hard. I knew it would involve endless rejection and that I’d need a tough skin. I knew all of that, and yet I’m only human. It’s hard not to take things personally; I’m a person.

It’s OK to get all worked up. I believe it serves a purpose. It reminds us that we are alive with passion. I’ve always been and always will be a passionate person. When I hope and dream, I hope and dream big! Yes, that’s right. I’ve got high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams, and passion for days (weeks, months, years). But, I’ve never had more passion, drive and commitment than I have right now.

I am a writer. I plan to do this forever. I might not succeed right away, but failing is not an option.

Now, where’s that effin’ flip-flop?? I know it’s around here somewhere.