Category Archives: Writing

The Sorrow and the Joy, But Mostly the Joy

Mom's sleep maskMy Mama died a year ago today. It simultaneously feels like forever ago, and just yesterday. At the memorial service we held in her hometown, I had the privilege of giving her eulogy. Afterward I promised some family and friends that I’d put my notes together and email them a copy of what I’d said.

I had every intention of following through, but when I sat down to do it, I couldn’t. It felt too fresh, and I felt too sad. My notes didn’t make sense, and as is often the case when I speak publicly, I had no memory of what I’d actually said, how I strung my thoughts together, or even if I just stood in front of a church-load of people and spouted gibberish.

But a year has passed and even though it still feels too fresh and I sometimes feel too sad, I can hear my mother’s voice in my head. JUST DO IT ALREADY! So, I’m doing it already. As promised, here is my Mama’s Eulogy, by me.

Thank you for being here to honor Anita … my mother.  And thank you also for the love and support so many of you have shared with my family these past weeks and throughout the past year during her illness.  Your care and your kindness made the unbearable bearable for her and for us, and we thank you.

So, how about that Anita?  I knew my mother for 50 years and that’s pretty incredible considering I’m just 34.  Of course I’m kidding, everyone knows I’m only 32, but who’s counting?

The truth is that the number of years don’t matter.  What matters is the richness of those years and my mother and I had some pretty rich years with lots of great adventures.

・We traveled around Europe together.
・We went on lots of cruises.
・We stopped at every drugstore we ever passed because she loved drugstores.
・We went snorkeling together in Belize.

Wait a minute. That’s worth repeating. I got MY MOTHER to go snorkeling with me!

What I learned about my mother that day was that she was petrified of the water. Petrified! So knowing Anita like you do, and knowing she had a flair for the dramatic, you can probably imagine what a commotion that was. Our snorkel instructor told me later that he never had a student who scared the barracudas away. But she did. She scared the barracudas.

My mom and I did a lot of great and small things together, but what sticks with me most, what I’ll always remember, is a lesson she taught me during one of our adventures.  It was a lesson about joy, and she taught me not by her instruction, but by her example.

I was living in Manhattan at the time and she came down to visit as she often did.  New York wasn’t a new experience for her.  She’d been there hundreds of times, so she knew the city.  But it didn’t matter, because every time she visited she’d get excited like it was her first time.  I don’t mean normal or age-appropriate excited … she’d get crazy excited like a little kid getting a pony.

On this particular day we were driving around the city, and I don’t know … maybe she had too much coffee or had double dosed her Prozac, but her excitement was ratcheted way up. She was pointing out everything as if she’d never experienced any of it.

“Oooooo, Look at that post office!”

“Liv, Look … A billboard for Cats! The musical!”

Everything was Oh my God, this and Oh my God, that. And when she got really excited she’d switch to her Amsterdam accent … Oh my gaaaahd, wouldja look at thaaaaht!”

The last straw for me was when we were driving down 2nd Avenue and she gasped, “Oooooo, look at that fruit stand!!!!”

That did it. I was done! “MA!” I said, “It’s a fruit stand, What is the big deal?”

She started laughing. “I know,” she said. “I’m an idiot. I get so excited about the littlest things.”

And that was it.  That was the moment.

But that moment never left me, because there we were driving around one of the greatest cities in the world, and she’s taking it all in and allowing herself to be filled with the excitement, the life, and the joy of it.  And there I was. Just driving.  Not really seeing any of it, not feeling it, not savoring it.  So who was  the idiot? I was.

She was a genius. A joy genius.

My mother knew how important joy was.  She wouldn’t just enjoy things.  She would… ENJOY THINGS!!!

  • Neil Diamond
  • Lobster in Maine
  • Cursing
  • Pete’s Hot Dogs
  • Dancing

And speaking of dancing, the day my mother got her cancer diagnosis everyone went to dinner at Dom and Lisa’s. That night ended in a famous Tejeda family dance party.  It was wild,  festive, and joyful.

Who does that? Who gets a cancer diagnosis and ends the evening with a dance party?

Joy genius does.

She loved life and laughter, and she went after those things with great passion.  That’s not to say she walked around like a happy idiot all the time, as she would have said.  She didn’t.

She fought a lifelong battle with depression that nearly did her in at times, but she kept fighting.  Every single day.

For 30 years and beyond, she lived with the excruciating heartbreak of my father’s illness and she kept going.

She kept going because of the things that sustained her.  First and foremost was her faith.  But her ability to seek out and feel joy was essential. It was an integral part of who she was and what she shared with the world.

And of course there was her family.  When my mother’s days were winding down and becoming more difficult, she’d say, “I’m ready to go but how can I leave you guys?” And I’d tell her, “Mom, you’ll never leave us.”  When I said it then, honestly, it felt like a platitude, but I wanted to give her some comfort. Now that she’s gone though, and I look at my family, at my nieces and nephews, her grandchildren, I know it wasn’t a platitude at all; it was absolute truth. Her person isn’t here anymore, but she’s right there, and I can see her when I look at her grandchildren:

In Julia, I see her wisdom and her dedication.

Lucas carries her wacky fantastic sense of humor and her kindness.

Jackson has her sensitive, compassionate heart and her lust for life.

In Lily, I see my mother’s deep intelligence and her supernatural grace.

I hear my mother, when I hear Autumn’s deep wonderful laugh, and she’s got her strength, too … her tenacity

Manny’s got my mother’s generous spirit and a heart overflowing with love.

In all of them, the rest of my family, and all those whose lives she touched, her joy carries on. If we let it, it will carry us through this and whatever the future holds.

Whether it was Neil Diamond, lobster in Maine, or a fruit stand, my Mama looked for, found, and felt joy.

Mother Teresa says in her book IN THE HEART OF THE WORLD, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. She gives the most who gives with joy.”

Anita Maria Palma Coloni Tejeda, my mother. She gave joy, and she gave with joy.  She had a heart burning with love … and she gave with joy. In that joy, she’ll be with us always.

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Shooting Stars and the Promise of Hope

starI saw a shooting star when I was out running this dark, early morning. That’s exciting for many reasons, but primarily because 1) I was out running this dark, early morning, and 2) I saw a shooting star!

That bright solitary shooter lifted my mood in the way shooting stars do, and it helped me finish a tough run with unexpected oomph.  It also reminded me that the Geminid Meteor Shower is this week, Thursday and Friday.  I’ll be out there watching, bundled up against the cold, mug of hot chocolate in hand, perhaps something harder.  I’ll take the quiet time as a chance to look at the past year.

2012.  It’s been a dilly and it’s not over yet  There’s the Geminid this week, the end of the world on the 21st (as if!), Christmas on the 25th, and a New Year’s Eve 5K run on the 31st. It’s a busy few days wrapping up a busy year.

In Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert wrote of Emma:

She did not believe that things could remain the same in different places, and since the portion of her life that lay behind her had been bad, no doubt that which remained to be lived would be better.

If you know much about Emma Bovary, you know things didn’t turn out to be better for her.  But I’m going to ignore her end for now and think about her hope instead, especially as the new year approaches. For me, 2012 was manic.  Heart-pumping highs, heart-breaking lows.  As 2013 gets ready to chime in, remnants of the highs and lows linger. It’s going to be a year of decisions and changes. I’m not a fan of decisions and changes.  I like static; it’s easier.  But new years hold the promise of new hope, new oomph, new excitement. Even after welcoming in 50 of them, I still feel that way.

So, with a wit more wisdom and a smidge less naivete than Madame Bovary, I’m keeping the promise of hope and looking forward to 2013 with the thought that no doubt that which remains to be lived will be better. Not that it’s been all bad. It certainly hasn’t. I’ve enjoyed far more than my share of heart-pumping highs and I’m going to do my part to make sure that continues. I’m going to keep running, I’m going to keep writing, and I’m going to keep looking for shooting stars.

PS: Happy birthday, Gustav Flaubert

Monday Motivator: A Writer’s Essential To-Do List

The Monday Motivator, as it says down at the bottom there, is a quote posted on Mondays to encourage, inspire, and motivate writers. Today’s quote is a little different. It’s a long quote, very, very, very long.  More than 2,500 words long. But motivate? Encourage? Inspire?  Oh yes, it most definitely does.

25 THINGS WRITERS SHOULD START DOING (ASAFP) is from TerribleMinds.com, the blog of writer Chuck Wendig. His “About” page warns that the site is unmercifully profane. I don’t know that I’d call it unmerciful, but he is a little saucy with the language, so if  your delicate sensibilities can’t take it, don’t visit.  If, however, you want to read a fantastic list that goes far beyond the perfunctory Writer’s Digest pats on the head and gentle nudges, you must click over and see what Mr. Wendig has to say.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Monday Motivator is a quote posted on Mondays to encourage, inspire, and motivate writers of all skill levels and across genres.  If you have a favorite quote you’d like to share, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Click here to see past Monday Motivators.

A Thousand Words: Simple

Today’s prompt is “reblogged” from Simply Olivia. Some rights reserved.

A Thousand Words is a photo prompt posted on Sunday.  Maybe the image will inspire you to write a short story, a poem, or a blog post.  Whatever your response, I hope the picture inspires you to some sort of creative zen.

If you write something based on the image, feel free to share a link in the comments section.   Also feel free to use the photo on your blog, just be sure to give proper credit, which I will always include in the post or the caption.

SOPA/PIPA and John Milton’s Areopagitica

After much research, I decided to join yesterday’s Internet-wide protest of SOPA/PIPA.

On the surface, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP) are anti-piracy bills. Antipiracy is a good thing; it’s necessary, and when administered properly it protects artists, writers, musicians, etc. The problem with these bills is that they are so broadly written they go too far and allow for abusive control and censorship — not good things.

SOPA was shelved before yesterday’s protest, but it’s not dead yet. PIPA goes to vote on Tuesday, but support is fading fast. We do need antipiracy laws in place. We most certainly do, but not at the expense of free speech.

As I researched SOPA/PIPA, I remembered a post I did back in June 2010 on Areopagitica, John Milton’s passionate essay on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  I thought it was worth repeating:

Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton

For more details on SOPA or PIPA, this video from Fight for the Future does a great job explaining it.

Silent Writers goes Oprah!

The February 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine includes an A to Z feature titled “Express Yourself,” an alphabetical roundup of possibilities for showing the world who you are. Listed under Q for “Quiet” is … drumroll, please. The Silent Writers Collective!

Thank you to Rachel Bertsche for including us and writing such a nice piece. If you haven’t seen the full article, it’s definitely worth reading. And while you’re at the bookstore, pick up Rachel’s new book, MWF Seeking BFF, her hilarious and touching memoir about the tough, sometimes awkward, and ultimately rewarding experience of making new friends as an adult.

Making the Time to be Quiet and Write

You write by sitting down
and writing.
Bernard Malamud

Sounds easy enough, but those of us who write know there’s more to it than that.  Endless distractions can pull us away from our writing.  Then a few days, turn into weeks, months, or more of not writing, and our initial excitement turns to dread.

The only way to break that cycle is to follow Mr. Malamud’s advice:

Sit down and write.

If you have a hard time motivating yourself to do that, join The Silent Writer’s Collective for a Silent Write-In, a weekly online writing retreat that helps writers put aside distractions and write.

By committing to a group effort, (think Weight Watchers or NaNoWriMo) many writers find it’s easier to stay motivated and reach goals.  Writing, as we’ve heard ad nauseum, is a solitary endeavor, but sharing our efforts with a group makes it easier, and can help us reach our writing goals.

Our next retreat is tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 17, at 9 PM EST (US), if there’s interest, we’ll also meet at 9 PM PST.  We start on time with a minute or two of hellos, then the “buzzer” sounds and we start writing.  You can work on your own writing project, or use one of the provided writing prompts or exercises to get started.

We meet via Twitter using the hashtag #SilentWriters. If you aren’t on Twitter, we have a group on Facebook. If you don’t have either, just join in on your own at 9, and know you’re not working out there on your own.

For more information, check out the SWC FAQs.