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. Continue reading “The Sorrow and the Joy, But Mostly the Joy”


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.

Monday Motivator: Steve Wozniak’s Apple I

“Even if you do something
that others might consider wrong,
you should at least be willing to talk about it
and tell your parents what you’re doing
because you believe it’s right.”
— Steve “Woz” Wozniak
Designed and hand-built the first Apple computer

Apple I On display at the Smithsonian
Apple I computer, created April 11, 1976.

The Apple I Computer was Apple’s first product.  It was designed and hand-built by Steve Wozniak, and sold by his friend Steve Jobs.

Woz and Jobs initially built 50 computers and sold them at a local computer store for $666.66 each.  They sold every one.  In total, about 200 Apple I Computers were built, but they quickly became obsolete.

Inspired by their success, Woz designed the Apple II less than a year later, and it went on to become one of the great computer successes of all time.

The Apple I still fares pretty well, though.  In November 2010, an Apple I sold for $212,267 at Christie’s auction house in London.  It is the highest price paid for this model so far.

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

Resources: Apple, The Daily Post

On the Path to “Beautifully Written”

Yesterday at Writer Unboxed, the title of a post by author and literary agent Donald Maass caught my attention.

“Beautifully Written.”

When I worked at a literary agency, we used those two words to describe many of the books we represented, both fiction and non-fiction.  Though it may sound cliché, it wasn’t.  In order to represent a book, we had to feel that it truly was beautifully written.

Defining something as subjective as beautifully written makes me think of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s now famous quote on pornography.  He said he could never intelligibly define it, but “I know it when I see it.”

That’s how I feel about beautiful writing.  I have a hard time defining it, but I know it when I see it.  Mr. Maass does better.  He says, “For me, beautifully written has come to be not just a nice extra (when you get it) but a critical component of high-impact fiction.”

In my comment on the post, I wrote that my writing goals are 1) To complete my novel, and 2) Finish with a completed novel that is beautifully written.  Sometimes it feels like those goals clash and my frustration builds. When that happens, I need to pull back and remember that “finished” and “beautifully written” are one in the same for me.

Guidance like that found in Mr. Maass’s post will help in reaching my goals.  In his new series on Writer Unboxed, he will be discussing the ways in which novels can be beautifully written, starting with creating parallels.

To read the post, visit Writer Unboxed » Beautifully Written.

Resources: Writer Unboxed, Donald Maass, The Daily Post

Deciding on Weight Loss

Shortly after taking on the challenge to write a blog post every day for a year, I took on the challenge to lose weight.  It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution because I don’t believe in those.  I decided to do it because my weight was bothering me more every day.  In the five or six years since my last weight loss effort, I gained back almost all the weight I’d lost, I stopped exercising, and I felt awful, mentally and physically.

I felt worse than awful.  I felt desperate, defeated, and hopeless.  I’ve had a weight problem all my life.  I’ve lost upwards of 70 pounds twice.  I have (slowly) run close to a hundred races, including the NYC Marathon back in 1997.

I know how to lose weight.  I know how to exercise.  I know how to eat healthfully.  I know how much I hate being overweight.  I know all this stuff and yet there’s a switch in my head that turns off and a little voice says, Nope, not gonna do it.

Period.  End of story.  Good night.

Except it’s not the end of the story because if I’m not actively losing weight, I’m actively gaining it.  There’s no middle ground for me.  And so on January 11, I dragged myself back to Weight Watchers, the only program that has worked for me.  I signed up, got all my program materials, and started counting points.

That was 18 pounds ago, and although there are many pounds lying in wait (in weight?), I feel like I’ve done the hardest part.  I got started.

Now that I’ve started, I have to say that Weight Watchers makes it easy to keep going.  The new Points Plus program is wonderful.  It’s easy, flexible and most importantly it works.  I’m not getting any spokesperson $$ for this, so I won’t go on, but I will say, I’m a believer.

I’m also a believer in exercise, although you’d never know it by my actions in the last few years.  To get myself kick started, I participated in a 12-week boot camp program.  That was amazing.  I hated every minute of it, but I loved every minute of it, too, if that makes any sense.  What I liked most was the structured workout that helped show me how strong I am and how much I’m capable of.

In the midst of boot camp, I started running again.  I’m training with an online program called Couch to 5K (C25K).  The website says it has “helped thousands of new runners get off the couch and onto the roads, running 3 miles in just two months.”

Once again, I hate every minute of it, except the last one when I’m finished.  Then I L-O-V-E it!

I know there are many miles and many pounds to go.  I’m slowly learning that I won’t ever be able to “eat like a normal person.”  I don’t think there is such a thing as “eat like a normal person.”  We all have our quirks about food.  For now that little switch in my head is staying on and the voice is quiet, but I’m learning  I’m in control of that.  It’s not some mystical, magical mumbo jumbo that leads to success.  It’s a daily decision.  Sometimes it’s a minute by minute decision.  I’m hopeful that I’m learning enough now, while the going seems easy, to keep making the right choices when (if) the slog sets in.

Resources: Weight Watchers, Couch to 5K, mini true on Flickr, The Daily Post

For the Love of Literary Landmarks

Literature and travel.  They’re as good together as chocolate and peanut butter.  Thanks, Reese’s!  One of my favorite things to do while traveling, is visit an author’s home.  I find it inspiring and motivating to be in the presence of greatness, and I often leave a visit with a renewed commitment to my writing.

I’ve seen many homes already and plan to keep going, but one of the challenges in planning a visit like this, is that there’s no clearing house of information on these homes.  They’re not exactly Disney (to some), so tourism guides often overlook them.

A.N. Devers, a writer with an obsession similar to mine (the literary/travel one, not the chocolate/peanut butter one), found the same thing.  In response, she created Writers’ Houses, an online travel guide to writers’ homes in the U.S., with a sprinkling of homes around the world.  The homes are searchable by author, city, state, or country.  Each listing includes links, photos, hours, addresses, and other details to help make trip planning easier.

The website, launched in July 2010, is a work-in-progress, and Ms. Devers hopes to expand it with contributions from other literary travelers.

If armchair travel is more your speed, Writers’ Houses is a fun place to visit.  Just point and click to visit Walt Whitman’s birthplace, Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, or the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum.

To get your trip started, here are a few of the literary landmarks I’ve visited:

William Faulkner’s office at Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi.

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Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England

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  Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere, Cumbria England
Resources: Writers Houses, The Daily Post

On The Road, Just Me and Mom

My mother was here last week.  Her plan was to visit my brother and his family in San Francisco, then she was coming to see me in Arizona.  She was supposed to be here for two weeks, but I live in a quiet part of Arizona, and I know my mom … two weeks here and she’d be crawling the walls.

The solution?  Road trip!  (Honestly, I think a road trip is the solution to most problems.)

I drove to San Francisco to meet her, and the two of us took a week to wander along the Pacific Coast, up into Vegas and back down to Phoenix.  It was a great trip and we saw some fantastic sites.  Once again, I was awed by the diverse beauty of this part of the world, from the immense views of the ocean from the Pacific Coast Highway to Arizona’s stunning red rocks in Sedona.

Here are a few highlights (click on a photo to see it full size):

Photos © Olivia Tejeda.  All rights reserved.

Resources: The Daily Post

Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton


A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
……………………….—  John Milton

On June 14, 1643, the Parliament of England passed a Licensing Order that put publishing under government control.  The Order forced authors to submit their work to official censors for approval before publishing.

The Order was intended to preserve the publishing monopoly held by The Stationers’ Company, but in effect and in practice, it gave the government authority to control free thought via rigid censorship.

John Milton, who later wrote the epic poem Paradise Lost was called to action when he felt the strong arm of government enforcement after publishing his writings in favor of divorce.  In response he wrote Areopagitica, a passionate and enduring essay on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  Civil liberty, Milton reasoned, is attained through the open discussion of ideas and grievances.

Areopagitica, though widely acknowledged, had little influence on Parliament’s Order, but its importance was never forgotten.  The essay has endured as one of the most important and influential essays of free speech ever written, and it was crucial in the development of the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

United States Constitution – Amendment 1

In its eloquence, Areopagitica says that truth, all truth, need only to be heard, openly and fairly, to assure its victory over ignorance.

That is a timeless truth.

If you’re as uncertain about the pronunciation of Areopagitica as I was, this YouTube video can help.