Sunday, October 25, 2020

Into The Woods Is Where It Can Be Found

Into The Woods Is Where It Can Be Found
By: Kelli J Gavin 
For Writers Unite!

As a small child, my mother once told me that she had a secret to share with my sister and I. I loved the idea of a secret being shared and immediately she captivated our attention. She pulled my sister and I near to her on the bottom stair of our small back porch. 

  "First, I need to disclose that I have never been able to find what I am about to tell you. When your dad and I moved into this home in 1972, Shirley who lives in the backwoods stopped over to greet us. She told me that she was never so lucky to verify it either, but she was also told that there may still be a fairy home in these woods. She and I walked these woods together and I firmly believe from the stories that she shared that it is true. Can you believe it? A fairy!"

  Our eyes as big as saucers, she had our full attention. A real fair house could be in the woods behind our home but she and Shirley had never been able to find it? Even my young mind knew how outlandish the story sounded. Fairies were only found in books and in movies. I, at 6 or 7 at the time, knew better. I knew about Santa and the Easter Bunny and even The Tooth Fairy. My mother was a woman of her word. Why was she telling me a story about a fairy home if fairies weren't real? 

  "Mom, I think you are telling us a story. You are just teasing us." I spouted.

  "Kelli, what I say is true. I have shared the story with you about the fact that it is said a fairy home can be found in the woods behind our home. It is up to you whether or not you believe it to be true. It is also up to you to decide whether or not you are going to search for it."

  Angela, my older sister smiled as my mom stood up and opened the backdoor to enter our home. 

  "It isn't real. Just a fun story." Angela then stood quickly and ran off to play. 

  Sitting for a few more moments, I really contemplated what our mom had shared. I knew that my sister didn't believe it was true, but what if it was? Our dad was usually the joker, not our mom. So why would she share a story that wasn't true? 

  I decided right there and then I wouldn't say another word about it to my sister or to my mom, but I would keep my eyes peeled just in case I could find the fairy home. 

  I searched deep in the woods that summer. I checked under downed trees, and I attempted to move large bows that had fallen to the ground from the canopy above. I occasionally even brought a blanket so that I could sit on the forest floor and see things down below where only my feet would tread. I didn't see a fairy house, but I was thankful for the blanket. I avoided a mean patch of poison ivy and a few hungry giant ants. 

  Searching for the fairy house became something I would do almost daily, whenever I had free time and could explore. Really never giving up the idea, I may have even kept my eyes open even into my teens years. My rational mind knew that it wasn't possible, but it would make for the most fantastic story to tell others if for some reason I really did find it. 

  When I turned 16, my mom gave me the most beautifully illustrated book all about fairies. Originally written in the early 1900's, it was all about a young girl who was convinced that fairies existed and she documented her findings. 

  "Kelli, I know you are far too old to believe in fairies and the fairy home that I told you about when you were little, but I thought you would appreciate this book that I also enjoyed when I was young. I also wonder if it won't inspire you to write a few more stories about the fairies that we have been told live behind our home."

  Learning that afternoon that my mom had shared the story with me to inspire me while writing and to fire up my imagination, I appreciated her efforts even more. My mom shared something special with me that she also adored. A story, a book and the desire to never stop searching for the truth.

  I never did find a fairy home, but I continued to write stories, search for truth when need be and to always share the joy and fascination of what could possibly exist in the woods behind our home with my children now. My 14 year old daughter and 17 year old son no longer believe in such things, but my heart beams when my daughter will pull my mother's beloved fairy book from the shelf. She will sit on the end of the couch with the light shining in from the afternoon sun and marvel at the illustrations. She will smile at me when I catch her eye. The best stories are the stories that are passed from generation to the next. And I am sure my daughter will someday share the book with her children and the story of the fairy home behind their grandma's childhood home. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Best Story Possible

 I felt utterly discouraged. I wrote a well written 5,000 word short story, it hooked the reader from the start and was different from anything I had written prior. I had never written a story of such length in a day before, and loved that the idea came to me so quickly. I edited it the next day and sent it in. Completed the entire project within 48 hours. 

  And a few days later, a decline email was sent. A thank you, but no thanks. I began to second guess myself. Was most of my writing crap and I had somewhere along the line developed an inflated sense of self and believed that I could write, when really the opposite was true? Why was I continuing to put my work out there and to see it turned down, time and time again?

  I quickly realized that the doubt and questioning phase had begun. Doubt is something that I am not a stranger to. I have experienced it before. When I quit a job I loved and started a new company. When I began consulting on a part-time basis and no longer had any clout with any financial organization. Or when I began writing. So many times I had experienced doubt. From the time when I was young, until that very moment. But why?

  I began to realize that doubt seemed to creep in, to become comfortable and expected whenever a change was made or when I didn't get what I desired. When I had to work very hard at something to accomplish a goal or do something I felt completely ill-suited for. Doubt freely roamed when I would be told No

  I also realized that the No is what disabled me from moving forward. The No wounded me and made me feel less than, not good enough.

 Since when had I let the words of others influence me to the point of feeling immobilized? 

 When did I start believing that I shouldn't try again?

  But mostly, why did I think that I should always get what I want?

  A life of privilege influences our thoughts about ourselves and about the life that is yet to come. At least it has been the case in my life. Fast and furious affirmative responses often conditioned me to believe that everything I wrote was golden. 

  I am working on my third book right now. Originally 95k words, it was a collection of non-fiction short stories. After three self edits and correcting as much as I could, I had a friend read it. I asked for feedback. I wanted to know what they thought as a reader, not as a friend. 

  I was asked if when I started writing the book, did I believe that the longer it was, the better? I was asked if I had always wanted it to be so long? The biggest issue was length. It was too long. The reader stated that there were so many short stories that needed to be removed because it seemed that they did nothing. As if they were added only to increase the length of the book. I was offended but only until I read through my book a fourth time. That fourth time, all of the fluff, the excess, the unnecessary stood out to me. It was very apparent that the reader was right and I needed to start working again. 

  I cut over 20k words. So much excess.Once the edits had been made, I felt stripped. Exposed. The bare bones of the true short stories of my life were the only story I was meant to tell from the beginning. 

  What did this teach me? It taught me to be tough, to heed great advice and to make changes even when I didn't believe that changes were necessary. That a No, this doesn't work, but have you considered this?- was exactly what I needed to take the next step forward. 

  I have continued to write and edit every day since. And I will continue doing so. I should be actively listening to the constructive criticism of those that know me, my heart and my desire to write well. Also, I have come to accept that I won't always hear Yes. That I shouldn't want every response to ever be a Yes. When a No inevitably comes, I need to remember situations such as this and understand that a No provides the desire to read, re-read, and edit some more. It helps me to continue writing until each story is actually complete. The best story possible is the one I always want to present. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Stupid Slippery

 About a month ago, I was thrilled to find a set of brand new king size satin sheets in the original packaging at the Goodwill for only $4.99. All the other sheet sets came from stores and cost up to $29.99 a set. Being the thrifty girl that I am, I accepted that the color was burgundy and not a nice beige or gray that I would have normally searched for. I giggled when I remembered the queen size sheet sets that I registered for when got married. They were burgundy and hunter green. These colors were all the rage back in 1995, and I even decorated my first apartment bathroom in these colors. 

I have never owned a pair of satin sheets. When I was a child, I remember my parents had a cheap pair of satinish sheets when I was a kid.  We didn't have central air, and sleeping could be tough in the summer months when it was so very hot at night. My mom loved the soft feel of the sheets. My dad was never really crazy about them and insisted he was "just fine" with cotton. 

I usually love Egyptian Cotton or those amazing Mellani sheets that Angela Lanter raved about on her vlog.  I did however consider the price tag and thought- If I hate them, who cares? They are only 5 bucks. 

I tried. I really did. I washed them and they smelt so good and were so soft. I laid down on them after making the bed and couldn't believe how lovely it felt.  And then I slept on them.  I was so cold in the night.  I got up to use the restroom and couldn't figure out where all my blankets were. They were on the floor.  I laid them all flat back on the bed along with the flat sheet. I woke about an hour later, again freezing. Where were my blankets? Yep. Floor.  

I kept trying to convince myself that I had to like these sheets. I mean, I spent money on them, they were so soft and I should like them.  I day six, I sat down on the side of the bed to put my socks on. Not only did the top sheet and the two thin blankets slip to the floor, so did I. I sat, barefoot and sockless on the floor completely confused about the error of my ways.  Those stupid sheets had tossed me.  I was sitting in a heap on the floor because I refused to admit my sheets were too slippery. 

I put on my socks, rose, and hastily removed the stupid soft sheets. I located a new clean set of  gray paisley Mellani sheets from linen closet and promptly put them on the bed. After laying the blankets and pillows back on the bed, I found that I was audibly scoffing at the burgundy discarded slippery suckers lying on the floor in a heap just like I had been 7 minutes prior.  Served them right for tossing me. 

So, you bet, after washing them, I placed those King Sized Burgundy Satin Stupid Slippery Sheets in a Target bag with intentions of selling them. But let's be honest, I will need to be very upftont about the extreme slipperiness if I ever want to sell them. Donation bin is more like it. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Quarantined With a Bunch of Critics

It is now September, and 2020 has been anything but expected. A pandemic swept our world, stay at home orders and mask mandates, school and business closures, lack of necessities, extreme social justice issues, rioting and looting. All of it seems so overwhelming, yet I realize what a privileged and comfortable existence I have lived thus far. 

In our own little quarantined world, I told my husband as he left for Costco one day this past May, that if he found any meat whatsoever, to buy one of everything, knowing it may not be available anytime soon. Severe hoarding of toilet paper and cleaning supplies had begun and we were beginning to see the decrease of available meat and dairy products as farms and factories decreased their production and sometimes even closed their doors. I said I didn't care if it was something we normally ate or if I even knew how to prepare it.  We would learn to like it and I will learn how to cook anything. I am thankful he was able to fill both of our freezers and we were able to order out when our food levels ran low. 

I have to admit, I loved having extra time at home during the stay at home orders. Not only did my husband and I complete quite a few projects that we had been meaning to get to, we also purged 41 bags and boxes of donations that were then brought in when the donation sites reopened. I also enjoyed making new foods and trying new recipes. My husband bought an air fryer, and in combination with my instant pot, I have experimented quite a bit. Some big winners, a few horrible failures. But more often than not, smiles and clean plates. 

Now as fall begins and kids return to school, whether it is distance or at school learning or even hybrid learning like both of my kids, we are learning to make accommodations in our lives so that life can continue, even in the presence of a pandemic. Masks in both cars and even an extra set for our whole family. Lots of hand washing and antibacterial pumps in both cars. Masks in all public spaces and avoiding busy areas where keeping 6 feet apart from others isn't always possible. But we make these accommodations to remain healthy ourselves and to also help those we come into contact with. My kids still complain, but they usually quiet down right quick when I ask them if they would like to continue just staying home all the time.

While my family was home all spring and summer and now continuing into the fall, I have realized something quite interesting.  I feel as if I have been quarantined with a bunch of critics.  People who have always had ideas and opinions about things, but now feel super comfortable sharing all of this unsolicited information. Whether it is about how they would do something, how I chose to do it differently or even ideas about how this something should be done differently in the future, so much conversation seems to be taking place.  Sooooo much conversation.

I am an extroverted introvert. Meaning, I like going out and having fun and meeting new people and having great conversations. But I also enjoy being by myself, the quiet that entails and solo activities such as walking, swimming, reading and watching movies.  Because of the work that I do as a Professional Organizer, I talk a lot at work. I talk with clients about everything involving organization and how they would like for me do something. I talk to them about what I will do in between the day that I am with them and the next time I work with them. I also listen. A lot. Being a Professional Organizer has made me into the equivalent of hair stylist or bartender.  There are issues. I listen to said issues. 

So when I get home, my brain is tired. And sometimes my heart also. A lot of heavy burdens are shared with me that can weigh me down a bit as the day comes to an end. This can be exhausting. At home, I still need to cook and clean and prepare for the next day. This is a lot. 

Yes, I want to know about what my kids do during the day. Yes, I want to know about how work was for my husband and if he was able to take care of some of the problems with a troubled employee. I however have found that I do not wish to hear my daughter tell me about how she needs me to do her laundry more often because she really wants her camp tee shirt and her three sweatshirts available to her most days.  Or how my son doesn't want to eat what I have prepared for dinner and then goes to fridge and pulls out what he really wishes I would also make. I have little patience when my husband doesn't understand that I can't drop everything to help with something that seems so very urgent when my evening to do list is a mile long. So, again with the excessive talking, I explain that I am one person and can only do so much.

-Hey, next time maybe you could put peaches or strawberries on the cheesecake, and not cherries again. 

-I saw that there was a different type of hand towel on Amazon. Maybe buy those. 

-I am not wearing these. I hate dresses. Stop buying me anything like this. 

-I'm not eating that.

-Maybe next time you can get all the skin off when you cut my apple.

-Did you change the detergent you are using? My face masks smell weird.

-Can you always buy this hand soap for this bathroom and the one upstairs? I love the smell.

-Why don't you try flipping the tater tots more often. Then the one pan won't get so crispy.

-Don't fold my laundry. I wear it all before I even get it out of the basket. 

I purchased the hand towels, he was right. They are great. I made the cheesecake with peaches. I stopped buying her dresses and you bet, he ate what I made. The face masks are clean. And they smell amazing. I can't find that hand soap all the time, but I will keep looking. I have now taught my kids how to make quite a few different items in the microwave, on the stove and in the air fryer. And I will still do the laundry but have now taught everyone how to put it away and to actually put clothes in the dirty clothes baskets so that I know it is dirty and needs to be washed. 

Will there always be opinions and suggestions? Yes. Will they be different from what I want to do or even from what I want to hear? Yes. Will some of it sound critical of how or why I do things? Absolutely. But what can I do to soften the blow? What can I do so that the critic understands I am doing my best and that I am willing to work as a team if they are? I can love them as I explain the why, the how and the when. I can explain my day, what it looks like and what I hope to accomplish.  I can tell them when I need help and not try to do everything myself. I can joyfully delegate, trust that they are doing a good enough job and not be critical myself. And I can encourage my family. Because often when extra conversation and suggestions or even rude behavior occur, it is usually because something isn't understood. And understanding comes from modeled behavior and further explanation.

I may feel overwhelmed, and that some days are just too much. I may feel like I am so behind and will never catch up.  But I need to be a good listener, and a good example. I need to take suggestions and implement them when I can.  I need to love and answer questions even when I don't feel like it. I need to lead by example. 

I hope at some point I will be able to quiet the trivial concerns of the critics that I have been quarantined with. I know they will always need lots of love, lots of hugs and lots of information to make sense of our home life and life in general in their own brains. And if I can be of assistance on that journey, I feel honored. So very tired, but honored. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Night Boseman Died

Chadwick Boseman, the amazing actor who played Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, James Brown and The Black Panther, died today at the age of 43 after a 4 year battle with colon cancer.  Chadwick was diagnosed a stage III in 2016 a continued to fight these last four years. He passed at home with his wife and loved ones surrounding him. 

Why does my heart break tonight for a man's family that I have never met? Why do I grieve the loss of a Hollywood actor? There are a few simple reasons. One, I know what it is like to lose someone at a young age from a vicious cancer.  Two, I know what it is like to be that family that is left behind grieving the loss of a loved one. And three, I was diagnosed at the age of 24 with a pre-cancerous colon condition and had surgery.  

Gastrointestinal and Colon Health, testing and early detection is something that I talk about frequently with friends and family, and often anyone who listen.  I was fortunate and had symptoms which scared me and those symptoms drove me to see a doctor.  Most colon cancer patients do not have symptoms and it is often discovered by a fluke or looking for or testing for something else.  Many colon cancer fighters are diagnosed already at stage III or even IV.

As I mentioned,  I am one of the lucky ones who had symptoms, had surgery within two weeks of detection and was able to stave off any progression of cells that were present. But knowing that it would produce medical issues the remainder of my life, I have sought out specialists that continue to perform necessary surgeries and reconstructions of my broken body. These same doctors order copious tests and well patient visits to ensure that if some tissues, or cells change, that it will be detected early. 

But tonight, I had to sign off social media. No one needed to hear about my advocacy and personal story. Quite a few people were feeling the need to comment on Boseman's death, and were rude, speaking ill of the dead, and changed a man's death into a political agenda.  Blasting Hollywood. Blasting BLM. Blasting anything and everything associated with the "democratic party" that would make it appear as if "their savior had passed." What? I was lost also with that one.  This man died. This man who had a promising future died. This man who loved his wife and family died. And he died from cancer. And for that he deserves a pause. 

Each of us has known someone with cancer, and many of us have lost someone because of cancer.  Cancer isn't political. Cancer doesn't normally attack people based on skin color. Cancer doesn't discriminate. But apparently tonight, some people are slightly skewed in their thinking and believe that this man's death doesn't count. Because he was famous? Because he was black? Because it wasn't Covid-19?

Whatever reason for his death, he mattered. His death matters because he was a person. Just like you and just like me. His death matters, because it brings additional awareness to testing, even frequent testing, and early detection. 

So tonight, sign off social media. Sign off the internet completely. Shut the news down. Rest.  And be kind. And once again, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

That's the House

 That’s the House
For Writers Unite!

By: Kelli J Gavin

A couple summers ago on the 4th of July, I drove my kids to the house I grew up in in Forest Lake, Minnesota. I was on an amazing emotional high after a fun day well spent in the town I seldom visit. The parade was a wonder to behold. Floats, Dairy Princesses and Firemen throwing obscene amounts of candy. Classic cars, Marching Bands and an unusual amount of clowns. I enjoyed seeing friends from high school, spending time with our extended family and a BBQ at my sister’s house in Stacy. Being that my childhood home was just off the freeway on the way home to Carver, I knew making a quick stop would be a fun way to end our day’s adventures. 

My mom passed away in 2013, but lost the house to Bank Foreclosure a few years earlier when she went into an assisted living facility. We drove down the gravel dirt road to the corner of 135th Ave and Humber Street. The white house with brown trim looked smaller yet inviting.The trees looked like giants and towered over our home.  Nestled on just under 2 acres with woods surrounding, it was an ideal place to grow up. Plenty of places to hide, plenty of places to explore. 

“Mom, which one is it?” My then 11 year old daughter Lily questioned. My heart broke a little. Lily had been to mom’s house a number of times when she was younger, but her sweet little memories must have started to fade. 

“That’s the house. Right there.” I replied as I turned to smile at her. 

“Mom, did we come here a lot? Did I play here with Grandma?”  She asked as tears began to poke the corners of my eyes.  

“Lil, you didn’t come here a lot to play with Grandma. Mostly Grandma came to our house. Grandma’s house was old and needed a lot of work done. The carpets needed to be replaced and I didn’t feel comfortable letting you play on them.”  Why did I say that? What made me think that this was the information I needed to share with Lily? A child who clearly missed her grandmother.

I then regaled her with stories of all the fun things we did do with Grandma Jo. Swimming and walking and reading stories and shopping and eating at great restaurants. Farmers markets and garage sales and movies and laughing together. Making chocolates and enjoying apple cider and baking bread.  Baking cookies and snapping beans and making sun tea.  

Lily replied, “ I remember all of that. I miss Grandma.  Did you do all of those things with Grandma when you lived here?”   

I paused for a brief moment, “Lily, I did all those things with Grandma when I was little.  I loved spending time with Grandma. She was amazing. I miss her too. A lot. I miss her every day.  But today, I am showing you the house I grew up in so I can continue sharing with you all of the amazing things about Grandma. I loved living here. That’s the house I will always remember Grandma living in. The house I love. The house I will treasure. “

Lily was quiet for a bit. “ Mom, can we come here again?” I smiled as a single tear escaped.  “Yes, Lily. We sure can. Remember. That’s the house Grandma lived in and loved. Take a mental picture so you will always remember it.”  

She winced one eye closed and clucked her tongue like the flash of a camera.  “Got it mom. It’s all up here.” Lily explained as she pointed to her head.  

My heart changed a bit that day.  I now share more stories with my kids and encourage them to talk more freely about the Grandma they miss. About the Grandma they love.  Lily asked yesterday when we will drive to Grandma’s house again. She said she wanted to go for a walk in the woods. My heart soared as I looked at the calendar and wrote down a date to visit in early October when the leaves are changing color. “ We can go before then if you like to Mom.”  We just might Lily. We just might. 


Thursday, August 6, 2020

Big Talker

I wrote a piece for an online magazine a few weeks back called "Big Talker." It is a true story about people who have come and gone from my life who had also had a great tendency to embellish the truth. People who would combine bits of truth with a whole lot of wishful hoping and make it the story they shared. And once they shared their fanciful new story, it become real to them. The lines between fact and fiction became skewed. 

Quite a few years ago, Josh and I met a man who was a big talker. He often repeated stories until they became God's honest truth, at least to him. I repeated a couple to my mother and she smiled in that certain way she did and just nodded. She knew what I was saying couldn't all possibly be true before I even did.

My mom said, "Kelli, come on now. While that all sounds amazing, think about it. It doesn't sound like half of what this man told you could be true. How is it possible that he is always in the right place at the right time? To meet all those people and have all those deals and projects in the works. Kace, he sounds like a Big Talker."

My mom went on to elaborate on what she meant and I listened closely. She described people from her own life who always had to have a bigger and better story to tell. And God forbid if they saw your eyes light up or if you smiled while they were mid story, the story tended to become even more grand. 

My mom was right. This man whom Josh and I cared for as a good friend wasn't telling us the truth.  But my mom also said something fascinating. 

"You have to decide if the friendship means more to you than the truth. Never be confrontational, but ask questions, ask for them to tell you more, check facts and kindly correct them when you do hear them telling you another version of the story you have already heard."

I then talked to Josh about what my mom had said, and sure enough, he totally agreed. Josh said that when our mutual friend really got talking in a group, he would often excuse himself so he wouldn't appear to be part of his listening crowd. 

"Kelli, he wants attention and I think he is lonely."

How was it possible that Josh and my mom seemed to always be right? Our friend was lonely and a big dreamer. He liked the attention he received from his grandiose storytelling. His stories seemed to become bigger and better and more unbelievable the more he observed people were listening or if he received a lot physical or verbal affirmation while sharing.

I changed how I related to our friend. I no longer nodded in agreement or said "M hmm" to affirm what he was saying. I would excuse myself the way Josh did. I would ask clarifying questions and carefully bring to his attention when I observed a discrepancy or inconsistency. 

It didn't work. Josh and I believed that our friend was socially clueless, unable to pick up on verbal and non verbal clues and wasn't about to be changed. But it also wasn't our job to be the ones to force truthful change upon him. 

I learned a few very important things about not being a big talker.  I try to only communicate deals or project with Josh and friends and family once they are in writing. When I have actually signed the contract or have received a publication date for my next book or magazine. I also don't repeat other people's news. Their story is their story for a reason, and I want them to tell it. But the biggest take away for me is to speak words of truth. Not what I want to see happen or what I wish hadn't. But words that are real and tangible and mean something. Information that matters, never added to or taken away from something. No could have, would have, should have. Only, this is truth and I can't wait to share the details with you. 

I don't relate to people the way I should. I am poor listener and get exited in interesting conversations and can't seem to wait my turn to speak and often interrupt. I am aware of this and  try to be more properly engaged. But I am absolutely more conscious of not being a big talker.  I like groups and attention and when people find my stories interesting. However, sharing truth is what make stories that much more interesting. And that what I will always focus on. 

Into The Woods Is Where It Can Be Found

Into The Woods Is Where It Can Be Found By: Kelli J Gavin  For Writers Unite! As a small child, my mother once told me that she had a secret...