“Real” Writers Write Anyway. Or Do They?

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This past July was the first time I haven’t met my Camp NaNo goal. What’s Camp NaNo you ask? Read about it here and perhaps you might decide to partake in April of 2020. 🙂

One week into the month and I suspected I might have a difficult time meeting my goal. Two weeks into the month and I knew I wouldn’t reach my goal. Between a family vacation, a heart procedure that required a hospital stay, the devastating deaths of two friends, and the emotional turmoil that accompanied these events, writing just wasn’t “there.” The fire went out.

While it was a difficult pill to swallow (I hate to “fail” when I’ve set my mind to doing something), by the end of the month I’d come to accept it. Rather peacefully, truth be told. But it didn’t happen until I began to believe that I hadn’t “failed.” I’d simply taken a much-needed time-out.

The difficulty I had in accepting it to begin with is something almost every writer likely deals with–others’ expectations of what it means to be a writer.

“Real” writers, I told myself, write no matter what. I’ve read in numerous articles that real writers don’t only write when they “feel” like it. They write no matter what. They sit their butt in the chair and write, by golly.

No. Matter. What.

So I asked myself–if I’m not a “real” writer, what does that make me? A fraud? A wanna-be? And if that’s the case, why bother?

The conclusion I came to after mulling this over, agonizing over the years I’ve likely been nothing but a fraud or a wanna-be, adding to the emotional turmoil I was already going through, is this:

No one–NO ONE–no matter how successful they might be, gets to determine who is a “real” writer. I’ve authored and published six books. I get to call myself a “real” writer if that’s what I believe I am. Even those who haven’t published anything at all, no one gets to decide if you are a “real” writer but you. Only you.

The fact that I needed a time-out (actually, that time-out is still ongoing), doesn’t make me less of a “real” writer, it makes me a smart writer. I can’t imagine never writing again. Never setting pen to the page–or fingers to the keyboard–and telling a story. Now that thought is enough to send me into a panic. Writing and creating brings me joy, peace, and a sense of purpose. It’s writing and creating that makes me feel alive.

But sometimes, we need to take a break from even the good things. We need to tend to what is right in front of us. Only you know what’s best for you and what your needs are. And if a time-out is one of those things, do it.

You’ll still be a “real” writer. Or photographer, painter, gardener, blogger, dancer…you get the picture.

This “real” writer is going to continue taking the time I need to heal and get back to the writing routine when the time is right for me. And I’ll be all the better for it.

Time for some feedback. Have you heard/read any “advice” that keeps you from feeling like you’re something less than what you are? Something that’s made you question your authenticity?

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Making a Difference to Just One

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A while back a friend talked to me about her desire to make a difference in the lives of others by getting her “story” out there. That story consists of almost being murdered by her ex-husband. No one–as in not one–not even the doctors, expected her to survive. But survive she did! She’s truly a miracle. In fact she didn’t only survive, she’s by far one of the most positive, smiling, happy, and grateful people I know. Those who know her are blessed indeed.

During this talk we had, she was somewhat discouraged. She wanted to help so many and felt like she was reaching no one. Writing a book was at the top of her list, but anyone who is an author knows writing a book and getting it out there takes a long time. Because of her generous heart and caring spirit, she wanted to help people now. What she didn’t realize, and what I pointed out to her, is that she was helping people–every single day, and that each one she touches, is so important. She’s a first responder victim’s advocate, offering on-the-scene support to victims of crime. She’s won awards for all that she’s accomplished and does because of what she’s been through, using her experience for good. She speaks to groups of people, letting them know that nothing is too big to be overcome. She motivates, inspires, and brings joy.

Every. Single. Day.

Each of us that had a role in the prosecution of her case has been forever touched by her.

Fast forward nine months:

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I got a message from her the other day that said “Oh my God, you’re Alexandra Benn!” She proceeded to tell me that her therapist lent her two books, one of which was my book that I wrote under a pseudonym, Finding Peace Through Gratitude: The Secret to Healing from Trauma and Finding Joy in Every MomentShe went on to tell me what a difference the book has made in her life and that she didn’t know it was me until she saw my picture on the back. I’d even seen a photo she posted on social media of her chair at the pool with a bottle of water and a copy of the book.

Imagine my joy. I was moved to tears. The advice I’d given her months before came back full circle. And her voicing the difference my book made to her, made a difference to me.

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo every April and July. This particular July, however, I’ve been preoccupied with life–vacation to Minnesota visiting family, chaos relating to my husband’s job, and surgery last week on my heart. Progress on my Camp NaNo project just wasn’t happening. But knowing my words made such an impact on this woman, one person, was all it took to get me back to it with gusto. Will I make my Camp NaNo goal? I don’t know. But I do know that knowing my words make a difference, that they bring me such joy to write–well, my friends, that’s all that matters. That I made a difference to one. Because that one is a woman who is beyond amazing.

And now I’m back off to Camp to keep on keepin’ on, despite reaching my goal or not. Whatever I write is that much more that I didn’t have at the end of June.

I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.
-Mother Teresa

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
-Mother Teresa

Change Begins with One

 

 

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April is an exceptionally busy month in the world of criminal law. Not only does it hold National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, but it’s also Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month. So for those of us who work in the criminal law arena, by the end of April, we’re all pretty much running on fumes. There’s not another month quite so exhausting, nor quite so satisfying and fulfilling. In fact, during that month, as difficult as it is, I’m pretty darn proud to be doing the work that I do.

The criminal justice system is called the criminal justice system for a reason–it’s justice for the criminal. When society thinks of the victim, it’s frequently not in a good way. Victim blaming and shaming has gotten out of control. When we’re silently thinking that the victim should have done something differently, was wearing the wrong thing, shouldn’t have been drinking–well, you get the picture–it’s blaming the victim.

The following two examples, while you may think to be a little silly, demonstrate how victim blaming happens:

Example #1: You’re house is burglarized and destroyed, your personal items trashed. Your door was unlocked and you have a nice welcome mat on your front porch. The police are called out to your house, but they respond with, “But your door was unlocked and you had a welcome mat outside your door. You invited this.”

Example #2: You’re in a diner having coffee with a friend and engaged in good conversation. The waitress asks if you would like more coffee. You tell her, yes, you would like more. You proceed to engage in conversation with her while she pours the coffee until it’s overflowing, dumping scalding hot coffee all over your lap. You jump up and complain, but the manager says, “I’m sorry, but you weren’t clear enough on when you wanted her to stop.”

Blaming the victim for what s/he was wearing, doing, saying, or NOT wearing, doing,  saying, takes the fault away from the perpetrator and places the blame on the victim.

Example #2 is not so far-fetched. Say a man or woman (yes, men can be sexually assaulted, too) gets carried away in the heat of the moment and their potentially willing partner changed his/her mind “mid-stream” and says, “NO, STOP”, whether verbally or non-verbally. Aggressors on many occasions have said it was too late–they couldn’t stop. Hmmm…If the pair are teenagers and the victim’s parents walk through the door, I bet the perpetrator would be able to stop in a hurry! Or if the victim’s six-foot-seven football star husband comes home unexpected, I bet activity would stop immediately and one of the two would make a beeline out the nearest window!

Denim Day (which is today) is a campaign that began after an Italian Supreme Court ruling overturned a rape conviction when the justices decided that since the victim’s jeans were tight she had to have helped the rapist remove them, implying consent. The next day Italian Parliament women went to work wearing jeans in support of the victim. Our office gives us the option to wear jeans every year on Denim Day. You can bet I have–and will continue to–wear mine loud and proud.

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From one who has been a victim of sexual assault and who works with victims of crime, I believe we can change the way society sees the big picture and to put the responsibility on the perpetrator instead of the blame on the victim. I truly believe we can! And as victims survivors of crime, we can rise above what has happened. Tragedy doesn’t have to beat us down or define us, but instead we can use it to shape and change the world in which we live. As a society, let’s change how we view crime and stop victim blaming. Change begins with just one. Won’t you be that one?

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. –Edward Everett Hale

And now I’m back off to Camp for the final burst of energy, finishing off Camp NaNo strong. See you on the other side.

Off to Camp

 

Women’s History Month

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Oh boy! I almost missed Women’s History Month. But it’s not too late. Technically, it doesn’t end until midnight tonight, March 31st.

There are so many women who have made enormous steps forward in making women matter in society. That being said, each of us matters.

Every. Single. One.

But there are women I’d like to mention who have blazed trails in my life. There are by far too many to name so here are a few that made a difference to me:

Mary, Mother of Jesus – The perfect woman to have as a role model. Obedient, hard working, brave, and endured the most horrendous heartbreak with such grace and dignity.

Jane Austen – A literary genius. She has six major novels – Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility; Persuasion; Mansfield Park; Northanger Abbey, and Emma, are classics. Female writers weren’t encouraged during the time Jane Austen wrote. Her dedication helped pave the way for future women writers. With Jane Austen listed as one of the women who made a difference to me, it’s not wonder that the movie The Jane Austen Book Club is one of my very favorites.

Malala Yousafzai – Malala battled for girls’ rights after the Taliban attempted to assassinate her for trying to get education for herself and other girls. She was just 15 years old at the time. She’s published a books, among them, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban and continues to advocate for equal rights. I don’t know about you, but at 15 years of age, I was still too worried about me to stand up for anything or anyone! What an impressive young lady!

Mother Teresa – She was an Albanian nun who devoted her life to serving the poor and dying. She personally cared for thousands of sick and dying people in Calcutta and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1979. Mother Teresa was all about love and being the hands and feet of Jesus on earth.

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Kathryn Stockett – An American novelist who’s journey continues to give me hope in my own writing. Her debut novel, The Help, was rejected by 60 literary agents before one finally accepted! It’s a phenomenal book and I would highly recommend it. Her tenacity is beyond admirable.

Barbara Bush – Wife of George H.W. Bush and First Lady from 1989 to 1993. She involved herself with literacy issues and worked with several different literacy organizations. After researching about the factors that contributed to illiteracy, she believed homelessness may have been connected and she strove to combat both. I always admired her for the roles she played as advocate, mother, and wife.

My Mother, Bev Cielinski – This photo I took one evening, unbeknownst to her, as I walked past her bedroom door, says it all. She raised me with the values of faith and family, and taught me the value of hard, honest work. She taught me that when life was too hard to stand, to fall on my knees.

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Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. Unknown

Compassion

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For those who have followed my blog for a while you know I have three sponsor kids from Africa: Alex from Tanzania, Amede from Togo, and Mamounata from Burkina Faso. These kids have enriched my life in more ways that I ever could have imagined when I first started sponsoring them.

A couple of weeks ago I worked at an event for Compassion International called the Compassion Experience. This experience allows participants to see how children in third-world countries live too frequently. While it’s heartbreaking, it prompts one to want to make a difference.

During the Compassion Experience, each participant is equipped with head phones and an iPhone that leads them through a realistic look into the lives of two real children. In the one I volunteered for, those children were Kiwi from the Philippines and Jey from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Before I began my shift, I walked through Jey’s life (you can listen to it for yourself here) so I could adequately represent it to those I would be helping with the experience. Let me tell you it was eye opening!

Jey didn’t have a father and they didn’t have food or money. He grew up on the streets begging for money and food. When he couldn’t get anything to eat or drink, he began stealing.

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At just 9 years of age, Jey was arrested and found himself in jail. His cell looked like this. Could you imagine the fear he must have felt? Jey admits to not fearing death, as that was the only way he saw that he could get out. And worse, as a mother, could you imagine knowing your child was in this place?

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The above photo is of Jey’s grandmother’s place where numerous family members shared a tiny space. There was one bed, the one shown here, for everyone to share.

 

 

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The above two photos are areas in the slum neighborhoods where children were often found begging and trying to make money for food.

When Jey got out of jail he went back to the same poverty stricken environment. His mother didn’t have any means to provide for her kids. Jey thought he would have to go back to the streets again to beg and probably die. At that point in his life is when Compassion International came in.

The two photos below are of the school in the Compassion Project that gave Jey hope.

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Jey finally had a place to go where he received food, learned music, and a new way of thinking. That’s when things started turning around for him. The first time Jey heard “I Love You” was from his sponsor. He was told he was special, and that we was going to end up to be somebody. Words that forever changed him.

Today Jey is a DJ and a youth minister. But even more importantly, today Jey is free from prison, hunger, poverty, and destruction.

Jey’s is just one of so many heart wrenching stories. As a mother, I couldn’t imagine a horror so great as watching my child starve or be put in jail as a result of trying to get food or drink.

Tonight as you tuck your children into bed for the night, or you get that phone call from one of your children needing help or just calling to say “Hi, Mom/Dad,” or you pass by your teenager’s messy room, offer up thanks for having a healthy, happy child. Be grateful that you have the means to support them. And give thanks for the freedom and government programs we all have here in our country. Freedom and government programs children in third-world countries don’t have.

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.
― Mother Teresa

We All Bleed the Same

You know how you can hear a song a hundred times and then on the hundred and first time you hear it, you really hear it? Or is that just me?

I’ve listened to We All Bleed the Same by Mandisa on the radio several times a week and while it always gets my attention, this past weekend it hit me up along side the head. There’s so much truth to the words in this song that it’s painful. Our world has gone so sideways with all the hate, judgement, violence and intolerance. So many groups fight against each other. Why can’t we fight for each other? Why can’t we look for the similarities rather than the differences?

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.
― Mahatma Gandhi

My challenge to you this week is to look deep inside of yourself and see if there’s a cause, or even just one person, you can fight for. Let’s make the world a better place by showing kindness to those who are different than us, tolerance to those who have different beliefs than us, and love to all.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
― Henry James

The Month of Hearts

Live, Love, Celebrate Life

February is the month of hearts and love. Anyone living on this planet is aware of Valentine’s Day, whether we’re fond of it or not. The card, flower, and chocolate industry can attest to how popular Valentine’s Day is. We celebrate and honor our “true love.” I also celebrate my kids, adults now, but that has never made me stop, as well as my grandchildren. I love them every moment of every day and try to show them as often as possible, but I cannot resist the lure of Valentine’s Day.

This year, however, my focus has been on the entire month rather than one day. February is American Heart Month. As I mentioned in a previous post, health issues have been my companion the past several months. When the cardiologist told me a pacemaker was necessary, I felt the earth crumble beneath me. I wasn’t nearly old enough for a pacemaker! And I was in perfect shape! I exercised regularly, I ate super healthy, I was filled with gratitude and joy. How can this happen?!? It was explained to me that my heart muscle was very strong (thanks in part to working out and eating a healthy diet), but the electrical component wasn’t working. In essence, I needed an electrician for my heart. That electrician came in the form of a pacemaker on January 17th.

I have never felt better. Approximately 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day. That’s an average of 1 death every 38 seconds.

Instead of allowing myself to wallow in the yuck of self-pity and disbelief, I’m so immensely grateful. I’m grateful that medical technology has given me new life. I’m grateful that it was caught in time before I became a statistic. I’m grateful that even though I thought my life was amazing before, that it’s gotten even better. I’m grateful for the medical professionals who have been so remarkable. And I’m grateful there’s an entire month dedicated to the heart instead of just one day. Typically my wardrobe consists of a lot of black and green. This month I proudly sport a lot of red.

My suggestion to you is:

Follow your heart, listen to your heart, protect your heart, and love with your whole heart. That is the essence of life. 

Believe in your heart that you’re meant to live a life full of passion, purpose, magic and miracles.
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

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Happy Valentine’s Day!