WIPs

My current work in progress (WIP) is a contemporary middle grade novel like my debut.

Main character Maya is a Daddy’s girl, just like me. And in Maya’s world, everything goes like she plans. Except when it doesn’t….

Daddy and me, in the mid 70s!

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAYA

Maya J. Jenkins leaves nothing to chance. Even the daily spins on her handmade Wheel of Fortune land exactly where she puts them. She avoids improvising, preferring to play it safe, and usually plans her way to success with school, friends, and sports.

All of that seemed to change by the end of the school year when almost nothing went her way. Maya vowed to make up for it by having a perfect summer.  She had it all figured out – even down to winning MVP in her soccer camp.  

Just as summer begins, her parents announce a trial separation. In a summer of surprise, Maya learns to take risks, embrace change, and understand that love and family don’t always fit in a neat box. 

About Your Debut

JUST RIGHT JILLIAN

Fifth grader Jillian longs to wear bright colors in a school of neutral tones. To run and flip upside down while everyone else whispers and gossips. But no matter how hard she tries to be herself, shyness keeps her true brilliance hidden away. Even if it means getting the wrong glasses or losing an easy contest, Jillian keeps her mouth shut.

After a bully tells her she can never be a winner, Jillian gets fed up. She determines to prove, not only that she’s smart, but brave, too. Her goal? Win the Mind Bender, the school’s biggest battle of wits.

But breaking out of her shell is easier said than done. Jillian has less than a month to overcome a lifetime of shyness and summon the courage to fight for herself—or lose her only chance to win. 

This contemporary, middle grade #ownvoices story features a Black main character, and representation of chronic illness (Mama has lupus).

It’s about family and friendship and love.

Introducing

Guess what?

I’m a debut author.

I wrote a book, Versify/HMH Kids acquired it, and a year or so from now, it will be out in the world for everyone to see. Just Right Jillian will be my debut – my first traditionally published book!

This is something I’ve wanted to do and be since I was a little girl reading Judy Blume. I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

This is Debut Author Month, and all month long, most of my fellow #the21ders – other middle grade and young adult authors who debut in 2021, will be posting on social media to introduce ourselves and our books.

So introducing me:

  • I’m Nicole.
  • I think and write about healing and imagination and love.  
  • I’m 46 this year, and proud of it. I’ve never called, nor thought of myself as, “old.” I’m actually shocked whenever I hear people my age claiming it.
  • I’m a Nichiren Buddhist and have been practicing for 20 years.
  • I’m a certified/registered Usui Reiki master. I also know and channel other forms of Reiki as well.
  • I love to dance casino style salsa even though I haven’t done it in ages. Salsa one of my favorite things to do in life. Teaching 4th grade is the other. Some days I miss it.
  • I enjoy coaching adults now because it satisfies some of the same highs as teaching kids.
  • I run outdoors three times a week for fitness and beauty seeking. I take pictures of deer, flowers, and whatever is beautiful when I’m outside.
  • I am currently working to get off high blood pressure medication. Running and breathing exercises have been helping me a lot. They will help you, too, if you do them regularly.
  • I love to cook when I have time and the kitchen to myself. My favorites are savory seafood dishes, roasted veggies, homemade veggie broth and yellow grits.
  • I am married to a man I call “Blue” because I think he looks lovely in blue. His real name is Phillip. I married him at 40 and he came as a package deal with two bonus kiddos, now 16 and 20.
  • I love reading middle grade books, and that’s what I write. For now. My debut and my second novel are both middle grade. I have an idea for a young adult novel and a new adult novel, too!
  • I believe I can do anything I set my mind to. I don’t set my mind to everything, so sometimes I don’t do anything. But when I do, watch out!

A New Ritual

The first time it may be uncomfortable. You may find that the timing and the order of things isn’t quite right. The effort is perfect, in that you gave it your all, but perhaps the results are unsatisfactory. It doesn’t quite click. Your energy is too high or too low or…

Your intuition, your inner teacher, tells you it’s definitely the correct practice, but the student inside still has some learning to do.

When that happens, take a moment to reflect on what you did and how you felt. What worked and what didn’t? What might you do differently next time? Your intuition will have some suggestions. Listen, and take note. Prepare differently for the next time.

Photo of a candle in a darkened room. Decoration.
Image by Paulo Nicolello

Try again. Don’t wait until next week, next month, or next year. Get right back to it tomorrow. You will be wiser then, it won’t be your first time any more. It may go better or worse than yesterday. Your next steps are the same. Pause, reflect, and ask yourself questions. Listen, really listen, prepare and try again.

Do this until it’s not simply “a” ritual, but “your” ritual.

And know that in another season of your life, it may be time to begin anew, to create a new ritual.

Your new ritual.

Step

Me taking a step in Sesimbra, Portugal

At times you feel stagnant. That you have not gotten any closer to a goal than you were weeks, months, years ago.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming – there’s so much to do after so much nothing. And how will I ever get there from here?

The truth is, the answer is the same as it always was. The answer is to take one step.

Do not get mired in the inevitable questions: Step where? How big? Which direction? What if I don’t know which kind of step is the best step? What if I take the wrong step? These thoughts become glue, sticking you right where you are.

There is no predetermined right way for you to get from here to there. There is no other you. No other person with your experiences, your insight, your body, your vision, your heart. You are the cartographer, making the map as you go. But the going is the key.

And to get going, you must take a step.

Breathing

Sunrise in a park
(c) nicole d. collier – Views while running.

I’m learning how to breathe. Again.

After years of mindless tension in my body, and holding my own breath, I’m breathing deeper, slower, quieter, ala Andrew Weil. I’ve figured out diaphragmatic breathing and the wonders of taking air in through my nose.

Like everything else, better breathing is a habit. It takes effort and practice. Commitment.

I’ve come back to this – proper breathing – a few times over the years, but in recent weeks I’ve had more motivation to stick with it. More desire to get it right, and positive results from doing so.

I spent years blaming my stuffy nose on everything except my own breathing technique. Turns out, years of breathing through your mouth makes your nose/nose hairs less efficient. Who knew?

So far I’ve discovered more energy during my runs and increased ability to identify, regulate and reduce stress while increasing internal quiet. Taken together, I’m developing a more balanced nervous system with lower blood pressure.

It’s not a miracle cure, in that it doesn’t happen after one or two days of work. But it’s beautiful to help the body remember and work the way it was designed to.

Creating MAGIC in 2020

As I closed out 2019, I created my 2020 theme. I don’t devise one every year, but 2020 promises to be a year of serious goal attainment, and the consistent, steady efforts it takes to reach them.

MAGIC. That’s my word. That’s the thing I’m saying, thinking, and doing. Perhaps a little spellcasting, yes, but really this is about:

  • Mindset
  • Action
  • Gratitude
  • Imagination
  • Courage

Mindset. To create the outcomes I want will take the right state of mind. This is no time to be defeated by negative self-talk or disbelief in my own abilities.

Action. I’ll need to get out of my head. Taking active measures in the real world is the only way to get from A to B. Don’t think about it – be about it.

Gratitude. Don’t take anything for granted, and be thankful for everything that comes my way. The lessons, the opportunities, and the victories.

Imagination. Getting beyond where you are now means quite literally envisioning a reality that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to accept where you are because you see it, hear it, experience it everyday. But getting to the next step, the next level, means picturing something new. Creating a new image and working toward it.

Courage. Without courage, there’s no chance for meaningful action. Picturing new concepts and moving in new directions means breaking free of our comfort zones. That’s scary. Even adopting a positive state of mind and actively working with a spirit of optimism is a courageous act.

That’s my word, my focus, for 2020. I’ve officially begun a project I’ve been noodling, daydreaming and planning for weeks. Now it’s time to create some MAGIC.

Out of Gas

Forgot my pre-workout snack today.

Before I run, especially on “long run” days (5 miles or more), I eat something. Usually a 1/3-1/2 of a banana plus a scoop of peanut butter.

Today, I was a little rushed to get going, yet also focused on making sure I didn’t forget anything important. Garmin, check. Water belt, check. Water bottle, check. Running pouch, check. Towel, check. Hopped in the Jeep and hit the Greenway.

Near the halfway point of today’s 5-miler, I felt great. Cool temps and lots of birds and cicadas out to cheer me on. But by the time I hit 3.5 I hit a wall. I was hungry – out of calories as I call it.

Then I remembered. No snack.

Me on IG stories, trying to explain why I’m hemmed up.

Thankfully, help wasn’t far away. On Saturdays, I plan for 5, but prepare for 6 or more. That means I take a Gu energy gel in case I need an extra push toward the end of the run.

I whipped it out, took a couple of sips of water and was on my way. Looks like I had everything I needed after all.

On Truth and Possibilities

Brown skinned feet with red toenails on green grass.
Me, enjoying a moment of sunshine and introspection.

Just told the truth about something. Risked quiet criticism disguised as questions, but told the truth all the same.

In the past I might’ve eventually gotten there. Perhaps.

It would’ve taken forever to word it the right way, couching it to ward off potential negativity. I might’ve given a partial answer, obscuring the whole truth for an unsatisfying omission. But the truth was the truth. My truth. One I’ve known for a long time, but didn’t have, or create, an opening to share it. And finally here was my chance. I took it.

I mentioned Brené’s work yesterday and I think it’s part of the reason I responded as I did. She encourages you to be courageous, and embrace vulnerability, “the feeling we get when we feel uncertain, at risk, or emotionally exposed.”

As a thoughtful, shy, introverted adult, I think a lot, but I don’t share my thinking much. Only with those who know how to listen. Really listen. And in the past couple of years, I’ve become even less inclined to share for one reason or another. But this practice of silence has resulted in a diminished quality of life – wasting time on things that don’t bring me joy, and don’t create value. Sure, there are times when such work is required, but if a few moments of vulnerability can remove hours of meaningless shit, well isn’t it worth the effort?

Not too long ago, I might’ve said no. Might’ve found that toiling away on nonsense was worth the safety, the security, the silence of certainty. But we live, and hopefully, we evolve, and when the time is right, we make new choices. And when the risky, scary moment ends, possibilities begin.

On Resistance and Work

The message I’ve gotten this week, this month, hell, this whole damn season is, “do your work.” It’s been a steady drumbeat, but because I’ve neglected my personal victory strategies while getting busy with work and life, my inner ear got cloudy and I couldn’t quite make it out. 

Or I could, but I wasn’t really ready or willing to listen. 

But just like any other alarm that goes off long enough, this one alerted me that it was time to get moving. Get back to the things that work. Back to doing my work. 

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield says,

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

I’ve been distracted. I’ve been shoved away. I’ve neglected my work. 

I have reading and thinking and writing to do. Manuscripts to start. Scholarship to undertake. I cannot do anything if I am foiled by Resistance. If I do other things, and, in fact, everything else except my work. 

Toni Morrison died last night. And she left us many things to think about. Her words. Her work. Her admonition on the function of racism as distraction – a clarion call these days. And much as anything else I’ve explored this week (Brené Brown’s Call to Courage, Ann Pendelton-Jullian and John Seely Brown’s Pragmatic Imagination, my own thoughts), her death, or rather remembrance of her life and legacy, have prompted me to get back to it. Back to work.

FILE — The author Toni Morrison in New York on Jan. 9, 2004. Morrison, the 1993 Nobel laureate in Literature, whose work explored black identity in America and in particular the experience of black women, died on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement. She was 88. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.” ~Pressfield

I pushed my work away for a month, a week, yet another day. More often than not, it was dereliction of duty more than anything else.

But not today. Today I overcame Resistance. Today I did my work.