What to ask an author

30 Day Blog Challenge, Writer's Craft

Today, Tayari Jones is interviewing Khaled Hosseini, the author of Kite Runner. She’s been compiling and polishing questions to pose:

First of all, I love Tayari’s approach to life. I really enjoyed meeting her in person during the release of her novel, Silver Sparrow. She was vibrant and full of encouragement. I follow her musings and world traveling via social media, and I always find her updates authentic, thoughtful, or inspiring.

The tweets above are no exception.  She realizes Hosseini may be tired from a long flight, and she concedes the participants may not want to hear the standard questions asked of authors in general, or of this author in particular. I appreciate her open-minded, open-hearted approach to frame this experience for all involved.

I responded to Tayari on Twitter and FB. Here are a few questions I’d want an author to discuss:

  • Talk about your writing journey. Not just professionally, but personally. How/why did you begin writing?
  • You’re best known for {insert topic or genre here}. What other {topic or genre} would you be willing to tackle? Why?
  • What’s the dream project you’d love to write? (But maybe you haven’t b/c of time, expertise, doubt, etc.).
  • Do you ever have to balance writing authentically vs. writing for commercial success? If so, how do you navigate that? In other words, do you find yourself writing for the audience, more than  self?
  • Regarding an author’s favorite piece: What makes this piece your favorite? What do you hope readers will take from this work?
  • Especially of fiction writers: What is the writer’s role in today’s society?
  • Especially for seasoned writers: How has your approach to writing changed as your life circumstances have changed?

That’s my list! If you could pose any question to an author, what would you ask?

Six years ago

30 Day Blog Challenge

Once upon a time, I drafted some ideas for a story. I wrote a few pieces as the characters began introducing themselves to me. I’ve never edited nor even really revisited those pieces in all these years. I simply wrote them and went on with life – which was graduate school at the time. That’s my disclaimer. This is one ’em. *shivers*
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Laysha stands on the damp grass, watching, waiting, eyes trained on Casey. Though the fans gathered are talking and laughing, she hears nothing. She barely feels Yogi’s chin against her shoulder. Yogi’s voice, miles away, registers “Four hundred. Your girl’s up.” ‘Laysha nods, distractedly. “Umm-hmm” she breathes. She thinks to herself, This should be good. See what she’s really made of. Hmmm. They put her in the right place. Slow poke lane way on the outside.

The shot rings out interrupting ‘Laysha from her thoughts. Arms crossed, her eyes follow Casey who quickly gets up to full speed. Casey rounds the first curve looking pretty even with the other girls. Her slight forward lean and wide, quick stride are almost regal. She’s running on her toes the way many sprinters do. It’s obvious she has some skills, but this isn’t your ordinary sprint.

She’s startin’ off kinda fast. Too fast really. I know she can’t keep that pace.

Into the first stretch, Casey is still striding, but losing pace with the faster, more experienced runners.

“Dang,” says Yogi, under her breath. ‘Laysha gently shakes away. Yogi, fully engaged, does not mind the brush off.

Dang is right. The 400 is no joke. She’s trying, gotta give her credit for that.

Casey is still at it, but all grace is gone. Three quarters around the track, she is demolished. Her feet pound the cushioned track as though each slap will somehow keep her going. Her chin in her chest, her eyes in her forehead, her face clouded with determination and pain. Entering the back curve she’s been left behind. Yanking her arms forward and back, her face is a grimace. She desperately gasps for breath, and silently prays for energy. She’s where no runner wants to be, but where every runner ends up sooner or later – nearing the end of the race with the bear on her back.

Engrossed, ‘Laysha thinks she hears Yogi, “Don’t give up Case!” She steals a glance to see Yogi clapping, waving her arms like she’s flagging the last bus of the night.

No longer able to feign disinterest, ‘Laysha leans forward shaking her head, “The bear really sucks,” she whispers. She realizes her heart is racing. She nibbles on her thumb then snatches it away. She might be a trooper Laysha concedes. She sucks in a deep breath, relaxing her shoulders while nibbling again on her thumb. She strolls toward the finish, apparently not caring how the race turns out. The other girls are staring at Casey, cheering her on like good teammates should. ‘Laysha keeps walking, peeking over her shoulder to see the grueling end. Just finish, she thinks. Just finish, her thumbnail starting to splinter under her teeth.

The race is over. Casey, last, out of breath, red from exertion and running in slow motion, finally passes everyone. She leans over the finish, almost toppling forward. She comes to an abrupt halt, clutching the stitch in her side and burying her face in her knees. “No, keep going!” Someone yells. “Jog it out Casey, don’t just stop!” She musters the strength to stand up straight and start moving again. Exhausted yet embarrassed, she is grateful for a reason to move a few feet away.

‘Laysha finds herself in step with Casey, whose arms are now skyward, beckoning air to once again fill her burning lungs. Body cooling from the ordeal, a few drops of sweat start to slide down her temples. Casey suddenly notices ‘Laysha on her left. Too winded to care, she whips her face back forward. Breathing is the only thing that matters right now. Breathing and mourning. Warm tears begin to slide down her damp face.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think.” No hint of the usual sarcasm. No snide remark. “Everyone knows that’s the hardest race. You held your ground. Keep your head up.”

Just as quickly as she appeared, ‘Laysha left Casey’s side, leaving the still breathless runner to consider the race, the team, and most of all the enigma ‘Laysha had just shown herself to be.

Spelman’s Wellness Revolution: Let it roll!

30 Day Blog Challenge

There are quite a few 18-year-olds walking around Spelman College in 40-year-old bodies. This and similar data pointing to a culture of “wellness illiteracy” helped Spelman President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum launch a Wellness Revolution.

Dr. Tatum spoke at the 3rd Annual Black Women’s Life Balance and Wellness Conference on September 14-15, 2013. She opened with the story of a Spelman graduate turned lecturer who died at the age of 34. She was well on her way professionally, but her life came to an untimely end due to obesity related complications. Dr. Tatum then linked this experience of a former student with the lives of her current students.

As entering freshmen enroll, the health center collects medical and wellness statistics so they will be prepared to meet their needs. About half the women in the class of 2016 were found to have chronic diseases such as hypertension and Type II diabetes.

When the class of 2017 enrolled, similar statistics were gathered. These women were also weighed on a scale that computes body age as well as weight and fat. That’s when she discovered that many of the teenagers were living in bodies double their chronological age.

Dr. Tatum considered the purpose and mission of many HBCUs, and the milieu during which they were founded. Black illiteracy was extremely high, and it was the early graduates of many of these institutions, including Spelman, who helped increase the literacy rate among Black Americans in very short order. She felt the problem of wellness could be framed similarly – as an issue of illiteracy about how to design a healthy lifestyle. She reasoned, if she could help influence the health and wellness choices of the 2000 young women on her campus, they could go out into the world and be activists and change agents for wellness.

Using funding previously allotted for NCAA programming, she has enhanced Spelman’s focus on wellness. She felt it was important to focus on sports and fitness avenues career women were likely to undertake. (Shameless plug here: Rashan Ali’s Sporty Girls is a great nonprofit for younger girls in metro Atlanta interested in non traditional sports.)

Dr. Tatum masterminded and actively participates in Spelman Wellness. She encourages 30 minutes of exercise each day, and checks in with students as she sees them on campus. Just as she holds them accountable, they do the same in return. She’s proud to be able to say “Yes!” when the ladies ask her if she’s moved today.  She closed by sharing footage from the first Spelman Founders Day 5k.  Enjoy it, and remember:

Getting back to great

30 Day Blog Challenge, Temple Building

Some runs are just good runs. This morning’s run definitely goes in the books as a good one.  Why?

I found a new route that works well.
Because I’m in a new area, I’m mapping and remapping routes as I run. This morning I found a couple of good stretches without too many turns to memorize. Moreover, today’s route  didn’t take me over too many ginormous hills nor past too many dilapidated houses.

I ran 4 miles. Again.
Although I used to run 4 miles 3-4 times a week, it was all on relatively flat land. I’m building the stamina to run 4 miles on hilly terrain. Although I’ve hit the magic number a couple of times this summer, it’s my first time this year running 4 miles twice in one week. Progress!

I ran hard.
Today’s run was not for punks. I’m no speed demon, but based on my current level of fitness, I really pushed it. I opened up my stride and maintained a nice pace for decent stretches. It felt good to work hard without feeling tired or run down. It’s refreshing to remember what athleticism feels like: VICTORY (that’s my name, by the way).

I welcomed the sun goddess.
Today, during a short breather, I said good morning to the sun (yes, out loud). One of my favorite things about running is the opportunity to be outside and connect with nature. This is especially awesome when I run from first light to sunrise and can see the sky warming as we welcome the morning.  Since I’ve moved away from the Sunshine State, I’ve had to work a little harder to catch the sun’s beauty, but two of my new routes allow just that.

All in all, this morning’s run was fabulous. I’ve been eating more mindfully and resting as much as possible the past couple of days. I’m starting to feel more like myself.  I’m feeling good and getting back to great. Coincidence?

No such thing. o/

Other ways to serve

30 Day Blog Challenge, Politics, News & Notable

Prompt from BlogHer NaBloPoMo:

Would you ever want to run for public office? Why or why not?

No, I don’t have interest in holding public office, much less going through the stress of running. That being said, I am interested in politics and I would consider being more involved in the political process if the opportunity arose. It’s been on my mind a lot lately:

My tweets mention local politics in particular, but I believe smart, progressive women need a voice at all levels.  You can’t get to those larger platforms without standing on smaller stages first, and quite a lot of important decisions are made at the state and local level.

As for my involvement, there are a few things I would consider, albeit behind-the-scenes.  To begin with, I would compile research for key issues, conduct briefings, or write speeches within my areas of expertise.  I also think it’s important to contribute to the broader discourse on complex societal issues. To that end, I would like to work for a think tank, or design and/or conduct research. I want to understand and amplify stories that are often marginalized, and help those who would most benefit from forward thinking, heart-centered policies.

Although I have no intentions of throwing my hat in any rings, I will look for ways I can help create a more loving society.

NaBloPoMo September 2013

Dancing Buddha

30 Day Blog Challenge

I’m a salsera. Specifically, a casinera. I’ve been dancing casino-style salsa off and on for maybe 7 years. In the past couple of years, mostly off, but yesterday, I rejoined my fellow casineros!

Dance, like running, is a great teacher. When I take lessons, I often learn much more than the turns being taught. Yesterday I learned about being swayed by self-doubt.

dancing buddha
Jorge and I getting down!

Casino salsa reminds of square dancing in a circle. There’s a caller, and everyone does the called move in sync. Afterwards, we’re told to switch partners and complete another move.

Sidebar on partner dance: if you’re a good follower, you needn’t know the move by heart, but you should still be able to execute it well, provided a good leader is partnering you. I’m a good follower, but I came to the circle with a healthy amount of humility. It was an advanced class and I hadn’t danced in a while. I assumed I’d be a little rusty while the rhythms awakened in my body.

The first move we did together? Disaster. I wasn’t able to follow what was going on very well, and wondered if I shouldn’t switch to the intermediate class despite the fact I’d been advanced for years. We changed partners. Still disastrous. Embarrassed, I apologized to the leader. Surely this was somehow all my fault – I was throwing them off rhythm, anticipating moves instead of following – something. But as we continued to switch partners and I danced with stronger leaders, I was able to execute the moves with no problems.

The instructor, who switched between following and leading, eventually danced with all of the leaders. He realized, with just a couple of exceptions, they were doing a poor job. “I was lost doing that turn. I didn’t know what came next. I wasn’t sure what to do or when to do it.” That was exactly the way I felt! He retaught the move, being strict about pressure, torque and musicality. It helped a great deal, and I was able to dance much better with better leadership. This continued move after move until the weaker leaders began asking me for feedback on how to improve their leading for a given turn.

Now this doesn’t mean I was perfect. I made my standard mistakes (traveling too far from my partner, for instance). But I realized I was still a good dancer, despite my rustiness. I also realized I had allowed my confidence to be shaken. I thought I had a good attitude coming into the circle, but in truth, it wasn’t humility I brought but self-doubt. Our environment is happy to be our mirror, and each partner mirrored my beliefs in my ability. I felt I couldn’t do it, and my environment allowed me to prove myself right.

As soon as it hit me, I chuckled and relaxed into the dancing. Sure, I have room for improvement, but I can approach it with a smile, rather than doubtful heart.

Halfway…

30 Day Blog Challenge

Today marks the halfway point of my 30 in 30 challenge for September. More importantly, it marks the completion point for one trip around the sun with my love, Blue.

Yeah, we’re those people. Holding hands in the grocery store. Sending cards just because. And why not? Time flies. You’re the pilot.

…but how do you want to feel?

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Productivity, Temple Building, Women's Health

I’m home, after a day of inspiration. And like I’ve been for the past few months, I’m tired. I’m not bone tired or weary, but I’ve just noticed that I’m not as energized as I used to be. There are many very specific reasons for that, but they all boil down to one: change.

One day after work, I did handstands and cartwheels in this grass.
One day after work, I did handstands and cartwheels in this grass.

Over the past several months, I’ve changed a lot and so has my environment. From my zip code to my job responsibilities, to aspects of romantic and platonic relationships.

Personal goals and professional goals have shifted. Exercise habits have changed. Food. The amount of time I spend in the sun or the ways I engage nature. The amount and type of sleep I get. It’s all been one massive ball of change.

Some changes have been on purpose, and others were the result of circumstances. But it still amounts to the same thing: a whole lot is different right now.

It reminds me of the time I was a classroom teacher. At the beginning of every year, I started routines and rituals. I got to know my students, and in some cases new curriculum, new materials, new administrators, and/or new colleagues. All I could do was work my heart out each day and come home and sleep. And sleep.

Sometimes, at the start of school, I’d be asleep well before sunset (not kidding) and I wouldn’t move until daybreak. And that would go on maybe two or three weeks.  Suddenly, I’d get in the swing of things. I’d be on it. Everything would run smoothly at work, and I’d have plenty of energy to plan ahead, or dance, or date, or take classes, or whatever.

But it always took time. And even though it happened every year like clockwork, I had to be gentle with myself, and do what I needed to do to reach a state of equilibrium with my surroundings.

Except for exercise choices, which are primarily seasonal, my recent changes have not been cyclical. They’ve been positive, yet progressive and persistent. One month after another, there’s been a new spin on things. And I haven’t been very good at stopping to reflect. To do the inner work to harmonize fully with all aspects of my life.

Today’s keynote speaker, Akilah Richards, asked us to consider,

…but how do you want to feel?

And I took the time to sit with that this morning. I journaled about it. I sat in the sunshine. I mulled. I want to feel energized and accomplished. Cheerful. Not superficially, or for a few hours in the morning, but I want these feelings to pervade my day and influence my environment.

At the core I want to BE energy and BE productivity and BE good cheer. I’ve felt that way before. I’ve been those things before. I know how to be that person.  I’ll learn how to be those things again, in my new place and under my new conditions.

Clarity is a critical first step.

Mindful action will be the second.

Stay tuned.

When in doubt…

30 Day Blog Challenge

In 2010, I wrote a long letter of encouragement to a friend in faith who was mired in self-doubt at the time. I subsequently shared it with a mutual friend Tia, who graciously reminded me of it today. Perhaps I’ll do some revising and share it more fully. For now, here are a few excerpts:

With regards to cause and effect, you must remember that every single thought, word and action is a cause. All the minutes and seconds you spend in worry and doubt are causes for failure. Every single moment. Whatever is in your heart becomes your prayer and that is what becomes manifest. You must guard your heart and really challenge yourself to stop that negative thinking when it appears. It’s going to appear (you’re human), but how you react when it appears is a function of your faith…

How difficult you find something to be is always in direct proportion to your capacity to respond to it – or in proportion to your thoughts about your ability. So basically, we only think things are hard if we don’t think we are strong enough or smart enough or good enough to tackle them.

No matter what is going on, it always goes back to the fundamental darkness that we are not worthy, or smart enough or good enough. But the truth is, you have everything you need in order to be successful. Your challenge is simply to make use of the tools in your environment.

In love,

Nicole, the LadyBuddha

When more is better

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Temple Building

Distance running didn’t come naturally to me. I’m a sprinter, and have been ever since I outran the neighborhood boys back in grade school. In my 20s, I tried distance running a few times, but it never really stuck. I rarely felt as if I could breathe very well, and my legs always itched. I figured out the solution to both of those things years later – a histamine blocker and pacing.

Yesterday’s run was a good one. This route had manageable hills and after 3 miles, I had energy left, but no time.

It takes me anywhere from a half mile to a mile to get warmed up. During those first 5-10 minutes, I’m looking for a comfortable stride length and finding a good cadence for my breathing. Around mile two I get in a groove. I relax and settle into the run, especially if it’s a familiar route.

The third mile varies. Depending on my level of fitness, I experience fatigue during the first half. I slow down a bit, especially if I was pushing things earlier. Sometimes I start wondering how much longer I have before I arrive at home base.

Unless I’m short on sleep or fuel, I shake it off by the second half of the mile. By then, I’ve gotten my breath back, my legs back, and I’m rocking out. Yet for years, that was the end of the run. Eventually I discovered the magic of mile four.

That fourth mile? That’s the sweet spot. I’m warm. Breaths come and go in energizing rhythms. My stride opens. I’m pushing it until I cross the finish line. The endorphins are in full effect. Life is great.

These days I’m back at 3 because I’m finding new routes and running hilly terrain for the first time. It’s a tough slog, really. Training on hills is more than a notion.  I’m looking forward to developing my fitness, and eventually finding 4 sweet again. After that? We’ll see.