My Heart’s in Charlottesville

When I was preparing for a book event in Charlottesville last year, my mom said, “Your hometown!” It’s not where I was born or raised, and it’s not where I live, but it’s the home of my heart. I spent four wonderful years there while attending UVA, and go back every chance I get. It’s a special place in my life

So hearing about the violence and hate this weekend deeply hurt me. I was sickened to see white supremacists and Nazis waving torches on the steps of the Rotunda, to see the hate in their faces, and, worst of all, to see that people died and many others were injured as a result of this hatred.

Charlottesville isn’t a perfect place, but it’s the home of my heart. Right now, I’m feeling similar to how I felt after the Boston Marathon bombing–it’s an attack in a place I love, on values I hold dear.

My heart is with those who live in Charlottesville and saw their city shaken by bigotry, and the UVA students who will return to Grounds in this climate. I have faith that you all will stand firm on the side of love and justice and inclusion. Hate and violence have no place in the places we love, and it’s up to us to stand up for what’s right.

Writing While Anxious

In my session on writing about mental health at NESCBWI 17, I talked about some tropes/stereotypes I particularly disliked. One of them: that medication makes you an emotional zombie. This, and the idea that creative people with mental illness will lose their creativity through therapy/medication, get me super rage-y. If you have a mental health issue, medication can be a huge help, and the right medication/dosage won’t rob you of your creativity.

Which is why I was so happy to see this article about creativity, mental health, and medication in the New York Times.

Julia Fierro describes her experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression, and eventually finding medication and resources that work for her. But all of this care came after years of stress, and of going on and off medication, and how this has been a long journey to caring for herself as a person and as an artist.

One part in particular that stands out for me:

“Many of my favorite authors had suffered from anxiety or depression — Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Plath, Woolf and Emily Dickinson…Surely, I told myself, their anguish was linked to their greatness. Instead of fleeing anxiety and depression (although many did douse their emotional instability with alcohol), they dived in and used their misery as inspiration for their creative work. I was convinced that killing the mad part of me with medication would also kill that which made me unique. I memorized a line by Proust: “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.””

I feel like this is a pretty common assessment people make when it comes to creativity and mental health. For some reason we assume that if you want your brain to be firing on all creative cylinders, you need to embrace the parts of your brain that are bringing you down with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. That creative people have to be mentally ill in order to be creative.

Which is total crap.

Like Fierro, I can’t write if I’m not taking care of my mental health. If I’m experiencing a bad bout of anxiety, I can’t focus on anything, much less muster the kind of focus that a draft requires. I can’t let myself spend time with my characters and their worlds, because I’m too busy worrying about what the publishing market is like, or if I should give up writing entirely because I’m the worst. When I’m anxious, I’m both way too hyped up and way too exhausted to be a creative person.

Thanks to therapy and medication, I can mostly write when I need and want to. (Getting myself off Twitter is another issue.) For me, creativity happens when my brain doesn’t have to deal with its own bad stuff. Maybe some artists don’t work well with medication, but that’s super not me, and that’s not what I know from most artistic friends who have mental health issues.

Fierro begins and ends her article by talking about how she shared the truth about her mental health struggles and successes with an audience at a reading. Fierro connected with her audience members by being honest, because some of them have been dealing with the same kinds of issues. At NESCBWI, I was so grateful that people in my session also opened up and talked about their own struggles and concerns. Because the more we talk about mental health and art, the more real we can be–and the more we know we’re not alone.

Kidlit for Cancer Research

This time next week, I’ll be running the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber team. I ran with Dana-Farner last year, too, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

But for charity team runners like me, fundraising for a great cause is even more important than the race itself. On the Dana-Farber team, we raise money for innovative cancer research at the Claudia Adams Barr Program, where scientists use this seed money to fund creative and dynamic projects that could make major lifesaving changes for patients and families. I know way too many people whose lives have been affected by cancer in some way, and I’m so honored to be part of these efforts to support science and fight cancer.

Right now, you can help support science and fight cancer AND win some awesome writerly items. What more could you want? Check out Kidlit for Cancer Research, in which some fantastic writers and agents have donated signed books and query/first page critiques! There’s some seriously awesome stuff like:

The auction closes tonight, so get your bids in now! 100% of funds raised go to groundbreaking research at the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Going to the Dogs: a Lesson from Olly and the Crufts Dog Show

Recently, a friend and I were talking about the phrase “going to the dogs.” Humans’ relationship with dogs have changed in the last few centuries, and how we think of dogs as great companions. How can something “going to the dogs” still be a bad thing?

And if anyone can teach us about how to deal with the bad things, it’s dogs. Example: Olly the Terrier.

Olly didn’t have a great showing at the recent Crufts dog show–major fail right away, face plant right into the ground.

But Olly didn’t care.

He was “all over the place” after that and ran the wrong way through one of the challenges, but, as the announcer said, he was “having a ball.”

Olly knows a thing or two about how to handle failure.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes we don’t have the show we wanted. But that doesn’t mean getting upset or mad at ourselves or quitting. Instead, maybe that means we should find the joy in what we’re doing and go after that. Maybe we’re not going to win the dog show this year, but we’re going to have some fun while we’re there.

Failure is hard. Disappointment is hard. But no one can take that Olly-ish joy away from you when you’re doing something you love.

From now on, if something’s “going to the dogs,” respond like Olly the dog. Find your enthusiasm, find your confidence, and keep at it.

Quote of the Day

Photo by Marjory Collins, Jan. 1943

For election day, from “Ghazal: America the Beautiful” by Alicia Ostriker:

Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America

Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America

It’s been a hard election cycle, but seeing so many friends talk about voting with hope and love gives me a lot of hope for tomorrow.

If you need a little more poetry today, also check out “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes and “Election Day, November, 1884” by Walt Whitman. And rock that vote!

Hugs and Hamilton and Unicorns: My 2016 Boston Marathon Recap

13015143_10106432024647863_1428968118740005225_nIf you ask me what my favorite day of the year is, it’s gotta be Marathon Monday. This year, after lots of training and fundraising and obsessively checking the weather forecast, I got to anticipate in Marathon Monday in the best way possible–by running the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team.

I’m still kind of baffled that it all actually happened, and more about how my experience as a runner relates to my life as a runner to come, but for now here’s a look at what the whole weekend was like for a newbie marathoner like me.

Marathon Weekend

I’m used to seeing runners come into town for the marathon, but this was the first time I got to go to the B.A.A. Expo and pick up a number of my very own. (Sightings of Meb Keflezighi and Kathrine Switzer were pretty cool, too.) On my way over to check in with the DFMC team, I stopped by the Barnes & Noble (because how do you pass a bookstore without going inside) and saw the shiny new paperback of Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs, one of my favorite YA authors and a fellow runner. I took this as a good sign for Monday.

On Saturday, I took it easy, painted my nails, tried not to check the weather forecast every 10 minutes.

IMG_3380On Sunday, the DFMC staff organized a pasta dinner for the team and loved ones. Our team raises money for cancer research, and even before I joined the team I knew that was a worth cause. Over the training season, I’d heard so many stories from teammates and volunteers who had lost loved ones–parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, children–far too early. At the pasta party, we heard stories from cancer survivors, from people who had lost loved ones. We heard about how the money we’re raising goes directly to research that will save lives and improve quality of life for patients. It was a great reminder that, no matter how the race went, we had already helped make a difference for someone’s loved ones.

Marathon Monday
: wake up time. I slept better than I expected to the night before, including a dream about being part of a caper with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, which I took as another good sign.

Walt, supportive guy that he is, woke up with me and drove me out to Hopkinton so I could catch the runner shuttle to the Athletes’ Village. DFMC rents out a church for team members, so I got to wait there until start time, drinking water and stretching and getting advice from veteran marathoners. The two biggest pieces of advice–go slower than you think you need to when you start, and enjoy the day.

10:45am: time to line up. Most of the DFMC team was in Wave 4, Corral 3, so we shuffled out to the start line, along with a ton of other charity runners. It was already hot out, and I was kind of worried about how I’d do in this weather. (I’m basically a vampire, so sun/heat does not work for me.) But even with that and worrying about all 26.2 miles ahead, I was so excited to be there and ready to run.

IMG_338111:15am: start gun blasts, and we were off!

11:52am: first 5k. I tried to keep the advice of my teammates in mind and keep to my pace, but it was so hard when everyone was passing me and it felt like I was going way slower than I was. Ended up doing about an 11:30 pace, about 30 seconds faster than I planned.

Fortunately, at the 3 mile water station, I got to see my friend and crit partner and Marathon Monday volunteer, Katie Slivensky. Getting a hug and cheering from a good friend made a huge difference at the beginning of the race.

1:20pm: 15k down (about 10 miles) and into Natick, I was looking for my mom 13006709_10102662009588256_6085196724015519346_nand a good family friend, who told me they’d be in front of a big church. I passed one and thought I missed them, but found them a couple of blocks later in front of another big church. I got more hugs, plus some water and gatorade and fuel and sunscreen.

2:00pm: half of the marathon down, and still a long way to go. Things started to cool down, and a headwind picked up, so heat was less of an issue, but I made sure to keep taking Gatorade and water at stops. Going by the Wellesley ‘scream tunnel’ was a big boost to get me into Wellesley Square and onto familiar turf.

3:52pm: 35k (almost 22 miles) done. Around mile 19, Walt and friends Emily and Billy, plus their adorable baby, were cheering for me and waving the best sign ever. They were standing where we’d all been a couple years ago, and it was so cool to be on the runner side of things this year. I got more fuel, hugs, and baby high-fives, and took off for the hardest part of the course–Heartbreak Hill.

Our team did long runs over Heartbreak a few times, so the sight wasn’t new, but running it after 20 miles was. But I’d been refueled and had been pacing myself well and, even though I saw a lot of people walking it, I wanted to run the whole way. I wasn’t much faster than the walkers, but I powered up and over and felt like a total badass.

461459_226329053_Medium4:30pm: 25 miles in, and I’d  passed through my old neighborhood of Brookline (even catching sight of friend and fellow writer Jill of Looks and Books!). The Citco sign was in sight and, even better, DFMC had a cheering section at mile 25. I ran over to get a hug from Sandy, one of our team’s most inspiring and committed volunteers, and felt so pumped to finish strong.

My legs were sore. My arms were chaffing. My feet were tired. But once I saw that sign that told me I only had one more mile, I got a burst of energy. I was doing this–I was going to finish.

I turned left on Hereford, right on Boylston, like I’d always imagined. And guys–nothing beats that turn onto Boylston.

461459_226292699_MediumEven though I was running at the end of the day, there were still so many people cheering. It was a beautiful day and I was in a city I loved on my favorite day of the year. My feet were light and my heart was full and I was going to cross that finish line.

4:44pm: I crossed that finish line.

I finished in 5 hours, 27 minutes, and 47 seconds. Since I was planning for a finish time between 5 and 6 hours, this was exactly what I was shooting for.

I always thought I’d cry after crossing the Boston Marathon finish line–and I only didn’t because I knew that if I started, I’d have trouble breathing and this was not a moment to lose my breath. Instead, I opted for awe and happiness.

I got my official Boston Marathon medal. (All medals should have unicorns on them.) I got a hug from Jan, DFMC organizer extraordinaire and the woman who keeps us all safe and running and inspired. DFMC volunteers guided me to the team recovery area, where I got changed, got food, and got a massage.

12987109_10102662008705026_4458592631801728958_nWalt picked me up, and we went home, where I showered and turned my phone on to see all the supportive texts and tweets and emails and comments from family and friends.

Running seems like something you do alone, but so much of it is about your community–your fellow runners, your supporters, strangers who cheer you on from the side of the road. So here are a few Marathon Monday thank yous of my own:

  • To my DFMC teammates, for sharing advice and running alongside me and inspiring me with their stories.
  • To the DFMC staff, for all their hard work behind the scenes to make this whole training season and marathon weekend a huge success.
  • To the DFMC volunteers, who took such good care of us all season, and who know all too well what it means to fight cancer.
  • To our coach, Jack Fultz, for his professional guidance and keeping us all on track
  • To my amazing PT, Danielle Adler, who got me from running in pain to running strong.
  • To fellow runners and athletes who asked about my training and really wanted to talk about it.
  • To Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton, whose voices powered me through my first marathon.
  • To the Trader Joe’s peanut-butter filled pretzel bites.
  • To Duncan and the OOFOS team for keeping our feet cozy off the road.
  • To Newton Fire Station 2 and the Newton Library, for having strategically placed bathrooms for long runs.
  • To the Newton and Wellesley police departments, who kept runners safe during our longest training run. (Sorry, people who were driving that day!)
  • To the Wellesley scream tunnel and the students outside of Boston College for keeping me pumped.
  • To the spectators waving hilarious signs and blasting fun music.
  • To the girl in Brookline who cheered, “I am so proud of you!”
  • To the fellow runners who caught my hat when it blew off a few times.
  • To the marathon volunteers who woke up early and worked so hard to kept us safe and hydrated.
  • To the marathon volunteer who saw my empty water bottle and offered to fill it for me.
  • To the spectators handing out cups of ice and spraying runners with water.
  • To the safety officials and race organizers who make sure we all have a fun day.
  • To the people who saw my singlet and cheered, “Go Dana-Farber!” with such support that I could tell their lives had been touched by cancer, and they knew what it meant to run for Dana-Farber.
  • To everyone who donated to my fundraising campaign, and who shared stories about battles they’ve fought or stores of loved ones who battled cancer.
  • To everyone who sent encouragement and enthusiasm on Marathon Monday and during my training.
  • To Emily and Billy for the best sign a marathon runner could have and giving me some serious sparkle power.
  • To Aunt Barbara, who was also a writer and reader and runner, and whose earrings carried me forward on the course.
  • To my friends and family, especially my parents, who never doubted that I could run the Boston Marathon, even though the Cardis are totally not sporty people.IMG_3388
  • To Walt for making sure I got where I needed to go, I had what I needed, and for supporting me in so many ways for months on this incredible journey.

I’m sore and tired but so happy. Stay tuned tomorrow for more thoughts on running and writing, but for now, this runner is taking recovery seriously and basking in the glow of 26.2 miles of awesomeness.

Dusting off the 2013 Resolutions

The end of the year is a time for looking back and contemplating growth and all that good stuff. In this looking back, I realized I actually posted about some resolutions/goals at the beginning of the year. (Way to keep on top of those, Annie.) Okay, so they were more things I was excited about than resolutions, but let’s see how real life panned out:

Then: Getting to know more of my fellow 2014 debut authors through OneFour KidLit. Our blog is now live, so I’ll be sharing thoughts, experiences, and (hopefully) funny videos there as well. Make sure to check it out.
Now: I’ve gotten to know several of the OneFours, and hoping to get to know more, especially now that the blog is about to kick into full 2014 gear.

Then: Attending at least two retreats/conferences.
Now: Check! I went to a few NESCBWI gatherings and flew down to Savannah for the first ever Fourteenery retreat. Overall, lots of writing time and good times with some amazing writers.

Then: Taking real author photos.
Now: Finally did it! Check some samples out at my Facebook page.

Then: Finishing up QotA edits.
Now: The now-renamed TCYWR is fully edited and out in the world in ARC-form! I had a pretty fantastic editorial experience all around.

Then: Going full steam ahead into the next project.
Now: Still working through the next project, but much further along thanks to my lovely critique group.

Then: Going to more concerts (as inspiration for the next project).
Now: Didn’t get to as many as I’d hoped, but maybe I can extend this over to next year.

Then: Reading more and keeping better track of what I read.
Now: Got in some great reading time this year, but also could have torn myself away from the blogs a little more. As for keeping better track of what I read…well, there’s always next year!

Then: Baking more bread.
Now: Tried a couple new recipes. Things got a little funky on the apartment front, but I’m ready to try all sorts of good bread baking in the new kitchen.

Then: Finally putting up the rest of our pictures on the wall instead of stacking frames on the futon.
Now: Well, at least those frames didn’t have to get taken off the wall. Onto new walls!

Then: Going to lots of readings and literary events in the area. (So lucky that so many authors live in/visit Boston.)
Now: Didn’t get to as many as I would have liked, but I went to the Boston Book Festival, got to meet Sarah Dessen and help celebrate the launch of Golden Boy.

Overall a pretty successful year. Here’s to lots more adventures in 2014!

My Teen Years in the Handbell Choir: a Christmas Eve Story

When I was a teen, I was part of my church’s handbell choir. (Try to out-nerd me, please.) I’m not that musical (or musical at all really), but I learned to read music so I could join the handbell choir because, at 12 or 13, it sounded like the most awesome thing to do. I ended up sticking with it until I went to college, so it was a relatively big part of my teen experience.

Being part of handbell choir meant performing at the Christmas midnight mass. My mom would drop me off about an hour before mass started and I’d run up to the choir loft, which was filled with people from the handbell choir and the vocal choir. While the vocalists practiced, I’d admire the decorations around the church and watch people take their seats.

We’d usually play a couple of songs during mass, but my favorite was the “Silent Night,” which we’d play after Communion. They’d turn the lights down in the church so everything glowed with candlelight. Up in the choir loft, we began “Silent Night” on the bells, then were joined by the piano, then the choir. Every year it felt intimate and special and Christmas-y.

This isn’t my handbell choir, but the arrangement of the bells is pretty similar:

I don’t play handbells or any musical instrument now, but Christmas Eve always reminds me of playing “Silent Night.” It brings me back to being a teen, hidden up in the choir loft, and feeling a part of something special for that moment.

Happy Christmas Eve to everyone celebrating!