Category Archives: Creativity

Day 31: Surprise (31 Days of Simple Truths)

31daysOfSimpleTruthsWell, I survived.

I must confess, when I started this 31 days writing challenge, I didn’t entirely expect to finish it. I definitely expected to miss some days.

It’s nice to surprise yourself. It’s nice to rediscover a level of grit and perseverance you’d forgotten about.

Maybe there is space in this crazy, uncertain life of mine for a little more creativity and a lot more dreaming. Maybe there’s space in yours too.

What have you given up on? It might be time to start surprising yourself.

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Day 29: Powering Through (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Can I tell you how many times I’ve wanted to quit this 31 days of writing challenge? Well, actually I couldn’t tell because I’ve lost count.

Some days I had something I really wanted to say, but other days involved a lot of staring at the blank screen before any words would form. Some days I was fine with writing for me whether anyone read it or not, but other days my brain was saying, “For the love, is anyone out there? Why am I doing this just for me? Don’t we have journals for that?”

31daysOfSimpleTruthsBut this was really important for me, largely because I’ve allowed all the writing I do at work to overshadow the writing I do for me. I haven’t been investing in my own words, and my creative soul pays dearly for that neglect. It even negatively impacts my work because I end up resentful of the time I need to focus there.

More importantly though, I am trying to unravel myself from the sticky trap of perfectionism. I always feel the need to have all my ducks in a row before really tackling any project. Which means I’ve been accomplishing a whole lot of nothing when it comes to many of my personal goals and ambitions, especially the creative ones.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for those unfamiliar); it’s an attempt at utter insanity, I mean, an attempt to write 50,000 words in a single month. There’s no time for overanalyzing yourself or making everything perfect. It’s about getting the words out. And I have a book idea (a few actually), but I’ve allowed everything else under the sun to block me from making it happen. But I need to get it out, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I can.

A feat like that requires consistently writing in big chunks, but it also requires consistently writing in smaller chunks—adding something every single day. I have no excuses now, because I have spent all of October stripping them away. No excuses, because now I know, tired or not, blank screen or not, burst of brilliant ideas or not, I can find the words, even if it’s only 200 of them at a time. I can write something, regardless of what else the day throws at me.

So if for no other reason, it was worth powering through October and reaching for the truth in each day. And now, I think I’ll try to write that book.

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Day 15: The Joy of Books (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Growing up, I was the kid who would rather be reading a book than doing pretty much anything else, with the exception of playing music. Books were magic. Characters were friends.

I was the rare kid in high school who read every single book that was assigned, plus a few extra. I remember we always had to report on so many pages of additional reading, and while most of my classmates moaned and groaned about this, I didn’t even think twice about it. I knew I’d be able to complete the “assignment” without trying.

In college, I was lucky enough to have a roommate who also loved books, a lot of the same ones I loved and a few new loves she introduced me too.

But then, somehow, into adulthood, the passion began to fade. Maybe it was the demands of teaching and all the time it required. Maybe it was having babies and all the sleeplessness that ensued. I know there was a spiritual leader I admired who made me feel like fiction was a waste of my time and possibly a poison to my spirituality. But then all the non-fiction Christian books started sounding the same. I just couldn’t do it. I stopped reading. And then, without even realizing the connection, I stopped writing too. No more journaling, no more poetry, no more songwriting.

So when I reconnected with a childhood friend and joined her writing group, I found myself so frustrated because I felt like I was choking the words out. They were stiff. They were lifeless. This was not a problem I’d ever had before in my whole life. Writing had always been like breathing, but not anymore.

I was a little slow getting the hint, but it dawned on me one day—words my teachers had said to me, words I had said to my students: If you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader.

Last year, I set a goal for myself to read 25 books before the end of the year. It felt embarrassing alongside the lists from friends who were reading 100 books. But it was what I thought I could manage. I made a list and chipped away at it, plus a few extras, and ended the year with 29 books in my brain and a torrent of new words in my heart.

This year, I upped my goal to 50, and I’m well on track to pass that again. And my creativity continues to come alive. Books are my obsession again. If I can’t manage any other creative pursuit because of life’s craziness, I can’t give up reading. It keeps the fire burning until I’m able to write or sing or art journal again. And no one will ever be able to convince me again that fiction is a waste of time.

Stories matter. Far beyond the craft of writing, stories have unlocked empathy and compassion on me. They have given me insight into people and situations. They have given me an outlet when I couldn’t find a way to express what needed to be said. They call me into rest when I would be tempted to push myself too hard. They offer points of connection and relationship. And yes, I’m pretty sure they make me smarter, and I won’t object to that.

So when my six-year old daughter comes to me and says, “Daddy told me you read almost every night before you go to bed. Do you think I could do that too?,” you’d better believe I said, “Yes.” And smiled inside because I’ve been waiting for this day.

Read, people. For the love of all that is wonderful in this world, just read. And tell me in the comments what some of your favorites are; it’s time to start planning my list for next year.

Also, my friend Suzanne is doing a super fun 31 days series on “shelfies”! Check it out and add some books to your list.

31daysOfSimpleTruths

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What the Hope of Gilbert Meant

anne.gilbertIt seems that a lot of beloved celebrities have left the world in the last several months to a year. Maybe it’s more than usual, or maybe it’s just that many of them now are associated with my own childhood or other significant memories and so I feel it more.

I probably don’t have to tell you (but I will) that something is distinctly different about Jonathan Crombie’s death. Of course, in my practical mind, I know he is a very real, flesh and blood person—someone’s son and sister and friend, and all those people are grieving him as such. But for millions more of us, Gilbert Blythe is dead, and this strikes us in a deep place that is hard to articulate.

More than one woman I know has tried—very unsuccessfully—to explain to a husband or significant other or just any male in general why this is a loss. I know my own husband has given me more than one “are-you-kididing-me” look since I heard the news. And I almost feel silly. Why did I actually cry over this? Is this like weeping through Titanic and Rose’s heartbreak as she pushes Jack’s body off the frozen iceberg? Is this like watching The Notebook? Is this chick-flick madness run amuck?

I’m going to have to say no. There’s a reason—a far better reason than a beloved book or excellent onscreen portrayal of a character. Gilbert Blythe is so much more than the heartthrob male lead in a love story. I mean, of course, he was perfect. His boyish grin that stayed with him from the schoolyard days when he had that unruly mop of curls all the way until he was a distinguished medical student—sigh. He was handsome and smart and charming. Even when he called Anne “carrots,” we were already falling for him.

When he clapped like a goofball after her performance at White Sands. When he gave up the Avonlea school so Anne could stay with Marilla. When he was heartbroken after Anne rejected his proposal and told her he knew she’d marry some fool who’d sit and read her Tennyson by firelight and he hoped he’d break her heart, whoever he was. Heck, even when he was at death’s door because of scarlet fever and revealed he’d broken off the engagement with Christine because there’d never be anyone else for him besides Anne—he was perfect.

But there’s still more. Gilbert Blythe meant something to so many of us as young girls because he sent a message through his unyielding love for Anne that countered practically every other message we receive as women every day of our lives.

Gilbert was hope.

Hope that smart actually was better than pretty (or at least as good as, because come on, Anne was lovely). Hope that we could be smarter than a man and instead of being threatened by us, he would celebrate us. Hope that we could have days when we were at our worst, days that could possibly include smashing slates over his head or knocking him over with our basket of flowers, and he would still want us. Hope that our pasts did not define us. Hope that it was really ok to not be like the other girls. Hope that it was ok to crave both romance and something more. Hope that ambition in a woman was not unattractive. Hope that we really could give a dramatic performance or write a book (or any other creative endeavor), even if no one around us ever aspired to such things. Hope that if our imaginations got the better of us and we ended up in some bizarre scrape (like hanging onto a bridge for dear life because our little skiff sprung a leak), he might tease us a little, but at least he would bail us out.

The fact that a man like Gilbert might love a woman like Anne meant that maybe we actually were not too much. This was perhaps the biggest hope of all—that with all of our fiery emotions (and possibly bad tempers) and lofty ideals and propensity for mischief and artistic bent and flair for the dramatic and tendency to make mistakes because we were so outspoken, maybe we were not more than a man could handle. Maybe we were just right, exactly as we were.

No wonder a fictional character managed to be the first true love of so many young girls. Maybe it was silly. Or maybe it was exactly what we needed to keep us from losing heart.

10514541_804042912973190_2247408792594572404_nAnd when I look at the man I’ve married—well, perhaps he’s not quite so eloquent and refined as Gilbert. But goodness, he has always embraced all of me—the good, the bad and the crazy. He champions me. He cheers me on when I chase my ambitions. He laughs at my dramatics . . . and occasionally gets a little dramatic himself. He picked me because I wasn’t like all the other girls. He’s not threatened by my strengths. He’s my safe place.

Like Anne, it took me a little bit to find him because I went looking for my ideals outside myself too. But even there is another gift Gilbert gave us—the hope that if it took a long journey to find ourselves, we would eventually find our way home, find our way to the love we’d always needed.

I don’t know if this will help our men look any less bewildered as we cry over a fictional character, but pondering the significance of this beloved character and how he actually shaped me has helped me to understand my own heart a little better and to appreciate my husband a lot more. And I’ll take both of those things any day.

So, rest in peace, Jonathan Crombie. And thank you, thank you for immortalizing the reminder of what kind of love we could hope for and giving us courage to be true to the women Anne inspired us to be.

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What I Never Noticed About Seasons

New life is emerging, even in unexpected or hardened places.

New life is emerging, even in unexpected or hardened places.

On Monday morning of this week, I could not drag myself out of bed.

As if a weighted blanket was holding me down, I could not even will myself to move. I finally managed to open one eye long enough to catch a blurry glimpse of the clock, then squeezed them shut again at the realization of how much I’d overslept.

Eyes still closed, body still unwilling to budge, I laid there and began to mentally rant at myself. Great job, Adela. You’ve thrown off your entire day . . . again. You were a mess last week after Daylight Savings. You can’t do this again this week. You’ll never get anything done. How do you think you’ll make a dent in your never-ending to do list if you can’t even wake up early . . .

(Seriously. Who needs the rest of the world to make us feel not good enough? I can manage just fine on my own.)

So before I’d ever made it out of bed, I had thoroughly belittled and berated myself, as if somehow that would provide the necessary motivation to war against my obstinate body. I dragged myself to the bathroom to begin getting ready, and because no one makes smart choices under the influence of dense brain-fog, I also stood on the scale during this process. Commence mental beat-down #2.

By some miracle, I managed to get the kids up and dressed and fed everyone breakfast without any total disasters ensuing. And I knew in my bones I’d best make time for my morning pages and sipping coffee slowly if I wanted to rescue my day from the oh so precarious position it was dangling from.

Pencil in hand, moving across the pages, thoughts finding their way through the clouds and into the light—and suddenly this sentence appeared on the page: I wonder if part of my struggle has been the result of warring against the season.

This thought stopped me in my tracks for a moment. I’m all about seasons. I welcome each one with its own special little ritual. I savor their unique nuances and invitations. What had I missed that was causing me to be at war?

Even considering the previous week, when Daylight Savings robbed an hour of my life and messed up all my rhythms by letting darkness extend into the morning, I kept fighting—trying to keep the same schedule, the same pace, the same routines—and I miserably lost the fight. Why had I not given myself grace and space to adjust?

As I fleshed all this out in my journal, another question for myself emerged: What would it take for me to look ahead—to see what season is coming and to make the necessary preparations and adjustments? What would it take for me to remember and show myself  grace in the nuances of each season?

I glanced at the calendar and was struck by the realization that the first day of spring was coming. These last few days were the final days of winter. I felt myself resolve to breathe in the final moments of rest before turning my attention to the bustle of spring.

And then there it was. A revelation that literally left me with my mouth hanging open as I stared down at my journal. Maybe you have seen this before, but I certainly have not. We often talk about the pattern God established in creation by resting on the seventh day. For the last year of my life, I have deliberately worked to weave rest into my schedule—at least 30 minutes to 1 hour in every day, and at least 1 day in every week. But I have never seen the much bigger picture.

God perfectly and strategically wove rest into creation through the cycle of the seasons. Spring and Autumn are the working seasons; Summer and Winter are the resting seasons.

Think about it a moment. Spring is for planting and birthing; it is for clearing away excess and remnants of dead things. If there is any hope of sustaining life for the rest of the year, there is a lot of work to be done in this season. Autumn is the harvest season. We reap the fruits of our labor, but it takes additional labor to gather those fruits. It is time to prepare and store, so there is no lack in the winter. If there is any hope of surviving the long dark and cold, there is a lot of work to be done in this season.

But tucked in between these busy seasons are the resting seasons. True—Summer is a more active rest. Things that were planted in spring need to be tended; things that were birthed need to be nurtured. But there is a lot of waiting now—waiting to see what will emerge, what will grow. The heat demands that we take it easy, that we drink deep and restore our souls. And then there is Winter, the deep rest. Winter invites us to see beauty even in death. It invites us to slow down and simply be. It demands that some things be let go in order that other things may live again when it is time.

Even physically, our bodies are not going to respond the same way to our efforts at exercise during the cold months. They are conserving energy and insulating us against the chill. Granted, some of us might have a little more insulation than we feel is necessary, but still, our bodies slow down. Think of it as a kind of hibernation for non-bears!

I believe our bodies respond to these seasons even when our minds don’t make the connection, and that is when we find ourselves at war. We are trying to override our hardwiring, and the results will not be productive. We feel guilty because we are failing to maintain our usual levels of accomplishment, and that guilt sets us up for further failure and frustration because who ever made wise choices out of guilt?

So here we are at today—the spring equinox. And I am ready. Because over the last few days, I allowed myself to linger in the final moments of winter’s rest. And while I still struggled a bit to get out of bed most mornings, each day the fog around my brain has been slightly less thick. It is lifting. My mind is turning to plans for cleaning and organizing, for planting seeds—both literal (mmmm, tomatoes!) and figurative (new ideas, projects and disciplines).

I feel like a clarity has emerged for how I need to live, and I am brimming over with excitement and hope. God outlined the perfect patterns, and I want to embrace them. I am even making notes on my calendar to look ahead, so I will remember to be gracious with myself when the transitions between the seasons come.

Here’s to less warring and more resting in the flawless design of each season!

(P.S.: A little bonus thought – what if the reason so many people fail at New Year’s resolutions is because they are trying to plant new things in the thick of the deep rest that is Winter? What if the first few months of the new year should actually be for further contemplating and thinking and planning, with new efforts not actually fully implemented until spring? Maybe we could actually see the changes we long for! I wonder . . .)

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An Invitation to Creative Community

IMG1151For a little over a year now, I have been on a journey. Surprising. Complex. Challenging.

It started with an invitation. My friend Elora Nicole had developed a course called Story 101 and while I wasn’t even entirely sure what it entailed, I was immediately intrigued. (It didn’t hurt that Elora is a kindred spirit, a friend I’ve known since I was 6, and an amazing writer.) When the opportunity opened for me to take the course, I jumped at the chance.

I expected to become a better writer. I expected to be challenged and stretched. I expected to rekindle a fire for creativity that had long been dwindling down to a few tiny sparks. But there was one thing I never saw coming.

Community.

To find community in the context of creativity was a wholly foreign concept for me. As an artistic soul, I have also frequently been alone. The girl who took ballet when everyone else was playing sports. The girl who listened to classical music while everyone else listened to whatever pop culture was pumping out on the radio. The girl who preferred curling up on the couch to watch musicals over seeing the newest blockbuster at the theater. The girl who cried almost every night during her first year of high school because she loved band and no one else was interested. The girl who loved her English class poetry project and read Shakespeare for fun.

And eventually I spent less and less time with the words and sounds and images that made my heart come alive. Art in all its forms begs to be shared, but I had no one to share it with. Then I was a college graduate and a high school teacher, and time to nurture my own creativity seemed lost for good. Until marriage and motherhood came along, and then I knew for certain it was lost for good.

Until it wasn’t. Story 101 was more than a class or an e-course; it was a lifeline for my passions. It was a re-birth for the seeds that had been waiting, dormant but not dead. I was surrounded by a community who understood me, a community committed to the excavation of every individual’s voice and dreams and stories. We wrote our hard things together. We pushed ourselves to try new genres together. We spoke aloud the stories we’d only held in our hearts before. It was powerful and transforming. I am not alone in my creative journey anymore.

Story 101 is about to offered live for the last time. And you should be part of it. If any part of you has ever considered investing in your love of words, you should do it. For ten weeks, make space to dig around in your own heart and find your voice, find your message, find your story. Who knows what will awaken in you? And to sweeten the deal, since it is the last run, the course is being offered at the discounted price of $127

Don’t miss out. You have a voice, and it needs to be heard. So this is it – come join the story.

Image from Gayl Sanders Wright

Image from Gayl Sanders Wright

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Embracing Now

Desert Rose (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Desert Rose (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

For the next 12 weeks, I am participating in Story 201, one of the many amazing course offerings of Story Sessions. As part of the course, we are working our way through a book, The Artist’s Rule, that is already profoundly speaking to my heart.

Reading through the Introduction this weekend, a particular block of sentences leapt off the page to me:

Bringing the mind and heart of a beginner to our lives helps us to discover the wisdom offered in each moment. When we let go of our desire to be clever or successful or to create beautiful things, we may begin to be open to the sacred truth of our experience as it is, not how we want it to be.

We all at some point or another wish that our present circumstances or experiences were something different. We struggle with the tension of things being not quite how we want them to be. And it is easy to fall into the deceptive web of thinking if this thing or that thing would change, then our hearts would actually be able to hold more truth or more wisdom or more creativity. It becomes the trap of always looking to another day and meanwhile losing the beauty of this day.

There is sacred truth in our everyday experiences right now. Exactly as they are. In the midst of the discomfort and the less-than-perfect. We don’t have to wait for things to be what we want them to be or as we think they should be. The next season – whenever it comes – might not even hold the same richness or depth if we have not learned to see the beauty and truth of now.

I realize this is easier said than done. Believe me – I do. Life is hard right now, and I spend most of my days waiting for something to change, anything to change for good. But it is a worthy discipline to embrace, to examine where we are each day and ask, “What is true, even in this moment? What wisdom is offered by these circumstances?” And perhaps the hardest question, but also the most powerful, especially in the hard seasons, would be to lean in close and ask, “Where is the beauty in this moment?”

This is a perspective I am embracing and one I hold out to you – what is the sacred truth of your experience as it is right now?

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Five Minute Friday: Belong

Photo by Jennifer Upton

Photo by Jennifer Upton


Restless heart,
you belong.

Perhaps not in the small spaces,
the comfy cozy places
sought by so many.

But you belong.

Gypsy heart,
I see you.

Your roots do not run merely deep,
but also wide,
far wide,
arms flung open
to embrace all the color,
wonder,
humanity
that is this great wide world.

Photo by Jennifer Upton

Photo by Jennifer Upton

You are not alone.
No one is alone
who has looked deep into souls
all over the world,
who can go back to anywhere
and find themselves coming home
because here they connected to hearts.

We belong –
you and I –
with our vagabond hearts
and feet itching to find new trails.
We belong to the adventure.
Our home is in the song of the wild
beckoning us to come and see.

IMG_4487-X3

Perhaps others shake their heads,
push us aside
because we brush up against their longing
for security,
for one place.
They are not wrong,
we are not better.
Our hearts just beat with
a different rhythm.

If you find yourself longing
to ride off on the wind,
craving new spaces,
ready to go –
it is not because you are lost.

It is because we belong.
We belong to the whole vast universe.

*Today I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday. Come join us.

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Knowing Myself

Image by Jennifer Upton

Image by Jennifer Upton

It began last July. I could feel the change in my bones long before the visible signs appeared. I even said it out loud to someone I trusted:

I feel a shift coming. A transition. But it doesn’t make sense.

It didn’t make even a little bit of sense. The restless was intense, but I was trying to tame it because any significant change seemed unlikely. Every aspect of our life seemed rooted – the good and the bad. There were commitments, relationships, plans.

But here we are, not even one year later, and the entire landscape of our lives is completely altered. I wish I could tell you it was all pleasant and lovely, but it’s not. Because when things are deeply rooted, it can be intensely difficult and painful to get them uprooted.

And it still hasn’t made sense. Until I read these words from Brené Brown this morning:

I did believe that I could opt out of feeling vulnerable, so when it happened – when the phone rang with unimaginable news; or when I was scared; or when I loved so fiercely that rather than feeling gratitude and joy I could only prepare for loss – I controlled things. I managed situations and micromanaged the people around me. I performed until there was no energy left to feel. I made what was uncertain certain, no matter what the cost. I stayed so busy that the truth of my hurting and my fear could never catch up. I looked brave on the outside and felt scared on the inside.

Slowly I learned that this shield was too heavy to lug around, and that the only thing it really did was keep me from knowing myself and letting myself be known. The shield required that I stay small and quiet behind it so as not to draw attention to my imperfections and vulnerabilities. It was exhausting.

– from Daring Greatly (*emphasis added)

I have read these words over and over today. Someone else wrote them, but oh, do they feel like they came right off the pages of my heart. There it was. Epiphany. (My one word for the year – so far I haven’t had any of the epiphanies I thought or hoped I would have, but never mind.)

Everything that has been stripped away is something that kept me from knowing myself and, by default, kept me from letting myself be known. And it had to go because it was also a year ago that I really started praying about and taking steps towards living creatively, towards “Wholeheartedness”, as Brené Brown calls it, even though I didn’t have the words for it at the time. But it is basically impossible to live creatively and wholeheartedly if you have buried the knowledge of yourself under layers of busy and performance and smallness.

So in spite of the oh-so-painful process this has been and will likely continue to be for a little longer, I embrace it fully because I want to know myself and not be afraid to let myself be known. I want a whole heart that results in a safe place for others to know themselves and let themselves be known. I don’t want to live exhausted and emotionally numb anymore. I want to live fully.

And now back to you – what things have you come to realize get in the way of you knowing yourself and letting yourself be known?

 

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I’m Writing a Children’s Story

My little adventurers

My little adventurers

I participated in a virtual retreat with Story Sessions last week – an opportunity to intensively fuel creativity for a few days.  In our final writing session, we were asked to journal through this question: what is one thing holding you back from the story you must tell?

My mind was ready to fire off the usual excuse – time.  Of course that had to be the answer, the one thing.  Because marriage, kids, job, etc.  All the stuff.  But my heart gave a twinge and raised her voice before I could shush her.  And I knew in an instant the real thing that holds me back from the story I’m working on right now:

I fear not being taken seriously as a writer because I have chosen to write a children’s story.  I fear other writers will view it as “less than”.

But just as quickly as my heart admitted her fear, I knew in my bones what a lie this was.  More importantly, I knew that even if it turns out to be true, even if other writers do look down on this endeavor, I will do it anyway.

Because it is for my children, especially my daughter, but for both of them.  Which is reason enough all by itself.  I am writing the princess story I want them to read – brave, beautiful, fierce, strong and soft all at once.  And I believe in this story.  I believe in the message I am carefully weaving through the characters and actions.  I believe there are big hearts inside little bodies who need the words I am laboring over. (And even crazier – a few big hearts in grown up bodies who might need them too.)

I push back against the fear over what others may think.  I remember what good company I am in – Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kate DiCamillo, E.B. White – just a few great writers who invested their words on a younger audience, and yes, please, don’t mind if I do aspire to join them. (With a healthy dose of reality, of course, because Narnia and Middle Earth are rare pinnacles of perfection.)

And just in case I needed any additional convincing to fortify my sometimes quivery heart, I found this nugget of wisdom from Madeline L’Engle – her response when she was asked why she wrote for children:

I don’t.  If it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children.  If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grown up, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books.  And words.  Sometimes I answer that if I have something to say that is too difficult to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.  This is usually good for a startled laugh, but it’s perfectly true.  Children still haven’t closed themselves off with fear of the unknown, fear of revolution or the scramble for security.  They are still familiar with the inborn vocabulary of myth.

So there you have it.  I write this story, not only for my children, but for me.  Because I love a good princess story and a good adventure.  And I will pour my best into it so as not to dishonor children or books or words.  No doubt, the process will be painful because that is how it goes when birthing something, but in the end, I expect it all to be quite fun and – dare I say it? – significant.  After all, stories are powerful.  Who knows what could happen?

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