Goodbye, November

A lot has happened over the past month. The most important part, though, is that I’ve been actively fighting my gray friend on multiple fronts. I’ve started therapy with a really good therapist, and I’ve also started medication, although I haven’t noticed any changes on that front (it’s only been a week since I’ve started them, though).

My therapist is pushing me to get out of my cocoon and try new things. She noticed how much I light up when I talk about my books, and at her prompting, I’m going to join a writing group. I’ve been wanting to find a writing group for some time, but all the groups I’ve reached to were either full or never got back to me. I think I’ve finally found one that might work, so cross your fingers for me.

Another big thing that happened this month is that I finally started my research on my dissertation. Step 3 is finally underway. I observed my event. Now, I just need to get some students to volunteer to be interviewed and then do some document analysis of their story prompts. My goal is to have all of those pieces done by the time we go on winter break so that I can start step 4 (writing my dissertation) during break. Here’s to hoping everything goes my way, because so far, not everything has.

Finally, the other thing that happened this month is that I took a serious stab at NaNoWriMo. I tried it once before and gave up about a week in. This year, though, I wrote pretty consistently until the week before Thanksgiving when I had a pretty nasty work week (doing my dissertation observation and hosting several big events). While I lost my daily writing streak, I still managed to end the month having written 34,461 out of 50,000 words. In other words, I’ve got the first third of book three out of the way. Not too bad, if I say so, especially since writing that same number of words for book two probably took me about three months.

November hasn’t been the easiest month, but I’m grateful that things are getting better for me. I’d love it if I could banish my gray friend by the time New Year’s rolled around, and while I know that’s not realistic, I’m just glad for every positive step I’m taking toward better mental health in the meantime. Plus, other things are going well. I’m making progress toward my doctorate, book three, and improving my writing. That’s definitely something.

Confession Time

It’s time I got something off my shoulders.

This year, I’ve been battling my old friend depression. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I have faced depression since I was a teenager. It’s not something I love, but it’s something I’ve come to accept about myself.

Usually, I hit dips. Short periods in which things are harder to deal with, but I have functional depression. Basically, I force on a smile and fake my way through things. Part of my medication routine for my migraines is an antidepressant, so it helped me out of those dips whenever I hit them.

But not this year.

This year, the dip got deeper. I found it harder and harder to force on the smile. Once, it was so bad that I didn’t talk for two days. Me, the girl nicknamed Motormouth Mindy. I didn’t speak for two entire days.

Getting out of bed became harder. In the past, I could get out of bed at 6:30 a.m., so I could be showered and ready to go by the time Jeff got up at 7. I’d then use the next hour to focus on writing. By the time I left for work, I’d feel proud of how productive I had been, having written a chunk of my next chapter.

Lately, I roll out of bed at 7:50, right after Jeff gets out of the shower. I have exactly 20 minutes to shower and get ready before I have to rush out the door to work. I tell myself that the extra hour of sleep will help me feel more refreshed, but in all honesty, I crawl out of bed feeling more exhausted than I did the night before when I bundled myself under the blankets.

It doesn’t matter whether I sleep for 7 for 12 hours. I still wake up exhausted. Dark circles have taken up permanent roost under my eyes. My shoulders ache, and I feel like nothing I do will ease the exhaustion that I feel.

Even food has lost its luster. I eat because I have to, but not because it tastes good. In the past, when Jeff would ask what I wanted for dinner, I’d say I don’t know because so much was tempting. Now, I say I don’t know because nothing sounds good.

I’m slowly losing the functional part of my depression. I know it. I need help. Don’t worry, I know that, too. I finally gathered the courage to ask for help, because I realized that the antidepressants weren’t enough anymore.

So, why am I writing this? Because I need to acknowledge what you all have likely been seeing for some time. On Facebook, I’ve posted memes that absolutely were cries for help. Between Facebook and Twitter, you’ve seen me down in the dumps due to a string of rejections from agents. Honestly, outside of the pictures of Bitteh and Nevaeh that I post, I don’t know that I’ve posted all that much that could be considered positive for longer than I can remember. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t feel that way.

This is my way of holding myself accountable. If I post this, I have to go see that counselor later this week. That way, when people ask me how I’m doing, I have a genuine answer I can give them, instead of a half-hearted shrug. Also, I’m posting this because I need to get better. I’m sick of crying. I’m sick of the exhaustion. I’m sick of not being me.

Happy Anniversary

This weekend, Jeff and I celebrated our first anniversary. It was a weekend filled with ghosts, getaways, and more melted cheese than you can shake a stick at. In other words, it was a great weekend.

On Saturday morning, Jeff told me that he found a cool bed and breakfast in downtown Denver called Castle Marne. He was excited that the room had a private hot tub. I was excited that it was likely haunted. We booked a last-minute trip, and honestly, it was worth it.

Castle Marne was gorgeous. The bed was probably the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in, and the breakfast this morning was absolutely delicious. Also, it was within walking distance of Tattered Cover, Twist & Shout Records, and Voodoo Donuts, all places we popped into last night.

As we checked in, I wondered whether the castle was haunted, but I didn’t go out of my way to look up any stories. If it was, I didn’t want to influence any experiences I might have. Not long after I fell asleep, I had a dream that something cold brushed against me, but I knew it wasn’t the air conditioning, because it came from the opposite side of the room. I slapped away whatever it was. Of course, in reality, I was slapping Jeff.

Was it a ghost? Probably not, but we did learn that the hotel does have a young girl haunting it.

Wrapping up our weekend, Jeff and I decided to try out The Melting Pot for the first time. Of course, we chose it because it, too, was haunted. I am so full of cheese and meat and chocolate. It was amazing.

It’s funny. As Jeff and I do things, I will often think of the main characters of my novels, wondering how they would react in the same situations. As Jeff and I were eating our first course, I thought of Kath and Smith at The Melting Pot. As the waiter warned us not to eat directly from our fondue forks, I thought of Smith giving Kath the following warning:

“Katharine Elizabeth Smith, if you eat directly from the fondue fork, so help me, I will divorce you.”

Because she would definitely try it.

What’s Going On…

Y’all, I would just like to start by saying that I’m exhausted. Like seriously exhausted. Like I could sleep for a month and probably still wake up tired. But such is life.

So, it’s been a while since my last post, and quite a bit has happened.

On the school front, as of today, I am officially a doctoral candidate. Three more steps, and then I will have officially finished the hardest thing I’ve done so far. Just have to do research, write my dissertation, and then defend it. The goal is to have all research done by the time the fall semester ends, write the dissertation over Christmas break, and then defend sometime in March. You know, nothing big.

In my personal life, I’ve had some ups and downs. Starting with the downs, as I’ve said, I’m exhausted. Of course, I know the cause. I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride with depression over the past year or so, and I know now that it has firmly taken hold. I’m on an antidepressant, but I think it’s time to call in the big guns and see someone professionally. Just until things stop seeming so difficult. Because right now, pretty much everything seems difficult.

Luckily, that’s the worst of it. In the past month and a half, I’ve had some really good things happen to me. First and foremost, I finished the first draft of The New Year’s Eve Murders. It took me just over eight months, but I can say that I have now written two novels. And if I’m lucky, someone will want to publish them.

I’m currently working on my second draft of the novel, but it feels weird not to be writing constantly. Fortunately, I’ve started fleshing out the third book in the series. My hope is to start writing in November. While I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo, I’m going to hold myself to the practice of writing every day.

In other book news, I’m still shopping Last Breath to agents. I’ve got a full request out with someone, and I’ve sent a few other queries. But even if those don’t pan out, I have plenty more agents to reach out to. Send some good thoughts my way, though.

The only other news is that I’ve officially said goodbye to my thirties. And while my birthday was a little bittersweet, I have to be proud of all that I managed to accomplish over the past decade. I finished my master’s, started my doctorate, wrote two novels, met a swell guy, got married, moved to the mountains. Not too shabby of a time, if I say so myself.

As I start this new decade, I’m going to keep working my butt off. I’m going to continue writing and trying to publish. I’ll wrap up this doctorate. Who knows what else I’ll manage to pull off in the next ten years. I’m sure I’ll post about it here, though.

Standing on the Ledge

Today marks the final day of class in my doctoral program. Nothing exciting. I just had to write a five- to seven-page reflection about my study abroad trip.

As I stated previously, the trip was powerful. I had an opportunity to experience a side of Nayarit and the surrounding community that I would never have otherwise seen thanks to Human Connections. And Northern Illinois University.

Looking back on it, this study abroad taught me so much more than my trip to London back in 2001 did. I think the most important thing I learned was the importance of cultural humility, which is the idea that we do not know everything and that we need to be aware of our own position in power balances so that we can navigate situations without hurting others. Honestly, I think that this can help me be a better leader in my work with students, because it reminds me that I can learn so much from others and leverage my privilege to help those who do not have as much as I do.

Even though it meant I had a longer summer semester than my cohort, I am grateful I took advantage of this opportunity. But now that it’s done, I’m in this strange place. On one hand, all that stands between me and graduation is my dissertation. On the other hand, ALL THAT STANDS BETWEEN ME AND GRADUATION IS MY DISSER-FRICKEN-TATION.

So, what does that mean?

Well, between now and Aug. 16, I have to revise my research proposal and get it back to my dissertation chair. Once she’s good with it, I have to defend my proposal to my dissertation committee. That’s not at all terrifying.

But once my committee says, Yeah, that sounds like a good project. You seem to know what you’re doing, I actually have to conduct my research. No big deal. (For the record, I’m stress eating M&Ms as I write this.)

Then, once the research is done, I have to write my dissertation. Honestly, I think that’s going to be the easiest part of all of this. But I have to do so much before I get there.

And then once that’s done, I have to defend my dissertation. No big whoop.

My goal is to defend the dissertation by September, conduct the research by the end of November, write everything over winter break, do revisions through January and February, and then defend in March. In short, this next year is probably going to be insane.

But when all is said and done, I’ll be Dr. Kinnaman, which has a nice ring to it.

Turbulence

Two weeks ago, I climbed on a plane for my study abroad program. Now, I hate flying. I have a terrible fear of heights, and planes bring out the worst of it. That, alone, wouldn’t have been such a big deal, because books, music, and podcasts tend to help calm me down, but pretty much the entire way from Salt Lake City to Puerto Vallarta, we experienced turbulence.

With turbulence, I always worry that something’s going to go terribly wrong, and the plane will just drop from the sky. And as some snarky person once said, it’s not the fall that will kill you; it’s the sudden stop. So, I needed a distraction. I read an entire book, but that wasn’t quite enough to ease my panic.

I had been using my phone to jot notes on my novel when the idea hit. Kath, my main character, has a lot of my fears – the dark, clowns, lakes. It made sense that, along with those other fears, she would be afraid of flying. And that’s when I got the idea for the short story below. I wrote this over the course of my trip, wrapping it up on the flight back to Denver.

What’s different from the other Kath / Smith short story I posted is that this is more in line with the voice in my novels. The bulk of each book features Kath’s first-person perspective, and the remaining chapters are third-person, typically from Smith’s point of view. This story takes place about two months before the first novel, Last Breath.  Enjoy!

 

Turbulence

“Hey, it’s okay.”

As Smith spoke, he laid his hand upon mine. I would have given him my own to hold, but I was too busy clutching the armrests.

I hated flying, but I was willing to put my fears aside as best I could for Smith. Plus, it helped that he was beside me offering comfort. If I were doing this alone, they probably would have kicked me off the plane before we even left the airport.

The plane hit another pocket of air and bounced. Squeezing my eyes shut, I sucked in a breath and held it, waiting for us to drop out of the sky. Beside me, Smith leaned in close and whispered in my ear, “It’s okay, I promise.”

At the sound of his voice, I exhaled but kept my eyes shut. Smith had explained how turbulence worked to me time after time, but it never helped in the moment. Even pointing out the calm demeanor of the flight attendants walking through the cabins serving drinks and dinner failed to help.

I just wanted to be safe on land. If there was an easier way for us to get to London, I’d have taken it, but this was our only choice. Well, besides taking a boat, and I’ve seen The Poseidon Adventure, Titanic, and Jaws too many times to be okay with that. Plus, it would have added so much more time to our vacation.

For as much as I hated flying, I loved visiting London. This would be our fourth trip, a surprise birthday present from Smith. We had never visited in the spring, so I was excited. I just had to get through the next six hours of this overnight flight without panicking.

The plane smoothed out, and I felt comfortable opening my eyes. Looking at Smith, I tried but failed to muster a smile. His dark chocolate eyes reflected concern. I gave him my hand, but I couldn’t help but squeeze it tight.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Don’t apologize,” Smith said. “Would it help for me to distract you?”

I wasn’t sure how he could, but I was willing to let him try. “Yes.”

All around us, people slept or gave their attention to electronics. Smith leaned in close, his beautiful eyes studying my face. When he spoke, he kept his voice low.

“Remember our honeymoon?”

How could I forget it? It was the perfect conclusion to the most incredible day of my life, the day that Smith surprised me with a wedding. Keeping the surprises coming, he had planned a month-long journey: two weeks in Australia followed by two in New Zealand.

“I wanted to take you somewhere beautiful and warm. That winter had been so cold and miserable, and you complained more than normal about the snow. Plus, I needed to do something big to make up for being so distant in the weeks leading up to the wedding.

“I worried about you, though. Flying there meant a long trip that would cause you so much stress. I didn’t want you to worry, but I had no clue how to make that happen.”

I smiled. “Worrying is what I do best.”

Smith’s lips drew back into his crooked smile that I loved so much. I wanted to kiss him and lose myself in the one thing that I knew could bring me peace, at least for a little while. But we were surrounded by people, and even though no one paid any attention to us, I knew it would cross our PDA boundary.

“I wanted to give you memories that lasted a lifetime. We just had to get you there first. When I told you where we were going, I saw equal parts excitement and fear in your eyes. You wanted to go so bad, but you knew that it meant a very long flight.”

“I asked you to drug me somehow so I could sleep through the whole thing and just wake up there,” I said. “I could never sleep naturally on a plane. There are too many many things that could go wrong.

“I wish someone would just invent teleportation. Of course, that has its own set of problems that I would worry about.”

“You’re such a goof,” Smith said with a smirk.

“But you love me,” I replied.

It was an old endearment between the two of us, one we started not long after Smith first told me he loved me. Like his kiss and the soft timber of his voice, it comforted me. I didn’t feel entirely at ease, but I felt a lot better.

Smith wrapped his other hand around the back of mine, and I did the same to his with my free hand. 

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve been wondering how much force it would take for me to accidentally rip off the armrest. And whether that would that get me arrested by the Air Marshal.”

Chuckling, Smith said, “They’d probably just fine you and ban you for life.”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take then.” I stuck my tongue out at Smith.

His plan was working. Despite the occasional rumble of turbulence, I felt more at ease. Damn that sexy son of a bitch.

“The plane ride to Sydney was rough,” he continued. “One of the worst I’ve ever experienced. I was so worried about you, but you were so brave. Yes, you were scared, but you never once cried.”

“I yelped when the plane dropped, though.”

“You did, but so did other people. Even the flight attendants seemed scared. But as quickly as the turbulence began, it was over, and the rest of the flight was fine.

“I can’t say how long this will last, but right now, it’s just little bumps. Even if it gets worse, we’ll still be okay, I promise.”

I smiled. “I thought you were going to distract me.”

Once again, Smith chuckled. God, I loved that sound.

“I’m getting there,” he said, giving my hand a squeeze. His face turned serious. “I would give you everything in this world if I could. When you’re happy, I’m happy. I never want you to feel unloved or that you’re not important, because you are the only person in the world I would give up everything for. Whenever you cry, I am genuinely hurt, because I feel like I’ve let you down.”

“You could never let me down,” I said. “Even when we fight, I know it’s just our emotions getting the best of us.”

Smith nodded, his face still somber. “Every time we fight, it rips my heart to pieces. We never mean it, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I only want you to be happy, and I know that I’m not always able to do that, especially when I act selfish. But that’s why I go overboard making things up to you afterward. I don’t just want you to be happy, I need you to be happy.

I wanted to pull Smith’s hand to my lips, to kiss it and clasp it against my cheek. Instead, I said, “Even when we fight, I never think that you want to hurt or punish me. We just sometimes let our emotions get the better of us. Whenever we do, I just want us to get back to normal as quickly as possible so we can go back to being happy.”

“Me, too. When you’re happy, you glow. Everyone around you is impacted. I’ve seen even the most dour people start to smile when you’re there.

“And you make me feel like I am the only man alive. I don’t know if you realize it, but you have smiles that you only show to me.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Really. You have a shy grin where you suck in the left side of your mouth. In the morning, you have this soft, sleepy smile. But my favorite is the smile you give me whenever I kiss you. It’s big and bright and absolutely beautiful. Even the one you’re giving me right now is special.”

Smith pulled his eyes away and glanced down at our hands. When he looked back at me, his eyes glimmered in the dim light. “I sometimes struggle to wrap my head around the fact that I found someone who loves me unconditionally, someone who I’d fight for in order to keep safe, someone who makes me feel like the most important man in the world. 

“In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why you wanted anything to do with me. I nearly got you arrested and expelled, but every day, when I stopped by your room to pick you up, you were not only there, but you were so happy to see me. You’re still happy to see me, even after all these years.”

“And I’ll never stop,” I whispered, letting my fingers dance across the back of his hand.

“Our honeymoon was special because it meant a month of adventures. I loved exploring with you. You’re the perfect partner because you have this deep curiosity, and everything fills you with awe. That’s another one of your special smiles, by the way.”

Exploring the world with my best friend is one of my favorite activities. It doesn’t matter whether we’re on another continent or one town over, being with Smith has meant that I’ve done things I never would have otherwise. From the day that he and I went off in search of the bomb that never existed, I have never been happier. With any luck, we’d get to spend the next fifty years chasing adventure together.

“But as much as we explored, we also spent so much time alone with one another. I’ll be honest, I loved that even more. The beach house in New Zealand was my favorite. We were all by ourselves in the middle of nowhere, and some days, we never left the bed. Other days, we did, but we didn’t venture very far.”

My face reddened and my stomach did barrel rolls thinking of those wonderful days. Smith noticed and brushed his fingers against my cheek. His skin sent electricity through my body. How much longer until we arrived in London?

“We should go back to that beach house some winter,” I whispered, my voice suddenly hoarse.

Smith winked, and my stomach fluttered once again. 

“I think we can make that happen,” he said.

A few minutes ticked past as Smith and I stared at one another. I wished we were alone, because I wanted so badly to curl up in his arms and feel the energy from his body pouring into mine. It wasn’t until I met Smith that I understood what need was. I needed his touch, his words, his love. Without it, I felt incomplete. Smith truly was my soulmate.

“How do you feel?” Smith asked at last.

“Better,” I said. “I’d kiss you if I could.”

Smith gave me his crooked grin, and before I realized what was happening, he leaned forward, pressing his lips to mine. The acrobats in my stomach went wild, and goosebumps raced across my skin. I cupped Smith’s cheek in my left hand and disappeared in that perfect moment. 

I had fallen in love with Smith nearly fifteen years earlier, and every day, I only loved him more. He knew exactly how to make me smile, to make me feel safe and loved. I wasn’t sure what I’d do without him, but I was glad I didn’t have to worry about that.

“Have I ever told you that you’re perfect?” I asked, leaning in for one more kiss.

Mexico: An opportunity of a lifetime

 

This past week, I had an opportunity to take part in a study abroad program as part of my doctorate coursework. Instead of taking a class on policy (snooze), I had the option to take a course about designing experiential learning activities, specifically community-based global learning through a study abroad in Bucerías, Mexico.

Honestly, I couldn’t pass up the chance. I studied in London as part of my bachelor’s degree, and it was such an incredible experience. This experience fits in perfectly with my dissertation topic, which will study the impact of student-led experiential learning activities on the students’ leadership development. And even though it meant that I would travel to a foreign country to meet up with 11 other students I didn’t know, I leapt at the chance.

Over the course of the experience, we partnered with Human Connections, an organization that showcases Bucerías through responsible tourism. Throughout the week, we visited with the company’s various partners, who taught us about their lives and their work. (Honestly, if you ever find yourself in Puerto Vallarta, take a tour with Human Connections. You’ll learn so much and gain so much appreciation for crafters who make a living from their work.)

In addition to meeting with the partners, we visited San Pancho, a small coastal village, and entreamigos, an incredible community non-profit. We also traveled to Sayulita, another coastal village to visit the Galeria Tanana, to learn more about the Huichol people and their artwork. We also were fortunate enough to visit Puerto Vallarta and Centro Universitario de la Costa to learn more about higher education in Mexico and SETAC, an LGBTQ+ center.

I’ve been back for nearly 24 hours, but I am still processing the experience. It means a lot to me to have had the opportunity to learn more about Bucerías and the incredible people who work so hard there. While I took many pictures of my trip, which you can see below, I did not take photos of them. I didn’t feel it would be fair to showcase the people and their stories in any way that could be construed as exploitative.

In addition, I am grateful to have gotten to know my professors better and met some great doctoral and master’s students from Northern Illinois University. I spent so much time with them, especially the doctoral students, and I am grateful for all that I learned from them.

Now that the experience is over, I have two papers left to write for the class, one of which is a reflection about my time in Mexico. Maybe then, I’ll be able to express myself more coherently. For now, enjoy these photos of Puerto Vallarta, Bucerías, San Pancho, and Saylita, as well as the Pacific Ocean.

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March Reads

As this blog focuses a lot on my books and my writing, I think it is only fitting to give some recognition to the books I’m reading that serve both as entertainment and inspiration to my writing.

Of course, as I have been focusing so much on writing this year, my reading has suffered a bit. I normally set a challenge to read 60 books each year, and normally, I have no problem meeting that goal. This year, however, I’m behind schedule. Like really behind. Like eight books behind schedule.

Fortunately, I did manage to finish two books in March, not counting the textbook I read for class. I thought I would share them with you as a chance for you to share your thoughts if you have read one or both of them. I would love to hear your thoughts on these, as well as other books you think I should read.

Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas
One of my students lent me her copy of this book, which is the first in a series. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard good things going into it, so I was not all that excited to pick it up. But in fairness to my student, I wanted to give it a try. Overall, it’s a decent book.

My biggest issue is that the main character is such an egotistical brat who knows she is beautiful and does not understand why people are not falling for her. In other words, she’s not the most likable protagonist.

What this book does have going for it, though, is a Battle Royale-esque competition to see who will be the king’s new hero, some interesting fantasy elements, and a murder mystery. Fortunately, they were enough to keep me reading even though I wanted to smack the main character silly.

Overall, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Unlike the previous book, this was a book I looked forward to reading. Other than reading his story arc in the Black Panther comics, I had not read Coates before. I am really glad I did.

Written as a letter to his son, Between the World and Me serves to share Coates experiences as a Black man in an America that is defined by whiteness. It’s an America where Black lives and experiences are not equal to those of white people, as shown through the violence we see play out day after day.

I would say that this is required reading for anyone who wants to grow in their ally-ship, understand their privilege, and work toward equity. America is not kind to people of color, most especially those who are Black, and works such as this serve as a reminder that the fight is ongoing. I look forward to reading more by Coates, as well as others who write about race and its impact.

Overall, I’d give this 5 out of 5.

The Engagement

Last week, I found myself stuck on the novel, so I decided to write something that’s been sitting in my head for a while. This is part of the Last Breath universe, though it is definitely a much happier tale. Since I don’t have a book where this belongs, I thought I’d share this short story with you all. It will give you a glimpse of these two characters I’ve come to know so well.

So, without further ado, I present “The Engagement.”

 

Stepping out of the cab, Smith walked up to Kath, who stood in awe of the building before her. A soft, warm San Antonio breeze tousled her long, brown curls. Smith slid his hand into Kath’s. Squeezing it, she turned to him and said, “I can see why you love this place. It’s beautiful.”

Before them stood a Spanish-style mansion beyond a lush green lawn lined with palm trees and perfectly trimmed bushes. To their right, flagstones led to a large koi pond covered in lily pads. The McNay Art Museum looked like heaven on earth. And with it being the day before Thanksgiving, Smith and Kath appeared to have the place to themselves.

Overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, Kath let Smith guide her, first to the koi pond where she marveled over the large fish. Smith stood back, watching his girlfriend’s unfettered joy. Ever since her surgery over the summer, Kath had seemed so subdued. The weight of losing her chance to have children brought about a melancholy that dug in as time passed. Grief had stolen the bubble out of the beautiful woman, but now, he saw her former spark.

“We haven’t even gone inside, and I already know I love it here,” Kath said, turning to Smith. “How did you ever find this place?”

“My parents brought me one summer. Later, I tried running away so I could live here.”

“I would have, too.”

“Ready to go inside?”

Kath squeezed Smith’s hand again and nodded. “But be warned, I may never leave.”

“I’ll be right here with you.”

Leaning over, Kath kissed Smith’s cheek. The act was bold for Kath, but Smith didn’t mind, not when he saw the light in her emerald eyes. He found her beautiful everyday, but today, she was stunning. Her forest green sundress brought out her eyes, and her porcelain skin glowed. What few people milled around the grounds turned to watch Kath pass. Smith couldn’t help but beam with pride.

Hand in hand they entered the museum. Kath, in her good-natured charm, smiled and greeted the docents. Smith grinned. He was, without a doubt, the luckiest man on the planet, and if things went as planned, it would be a day Kath never forgot.

The east wing housed a collection of Monet paintings. Kath loved impressionists, Monet above all. Once, when they visited Kath’s parents over winter break, they took the train down to New York City to see at Degas exhibit at the Met, and Kath floated around for days afterward. Today, she stood in front of one of the water lily paintings, one hand on her chest, her mouth parted in wonder.

They spent close to an hour looking at the paintings, although Smith spent most of that time watching Kath. He had picked the perfect place to ask her to marry him, but they hadn’t yet reached where he wanted to propose. 

Smith guided Kath through the building, letting her marvel over the art and the architecture. For a moment, his thoughts turned wistful. Imagining Kath as a toddler, her eyes filled with delight and wonder, Smith couldn’t help but see the daughter they’d never have. As the thought hit him, he gripped her hand tight out of reflex. She saw his flash of pain, her face crumpling.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

The one thing Smith could never do with Kath was lie. Not that she could see through him. He just couldn’t willingly hurt her. But he couldn’t spoil this perfect moment.

Kath saved him from the decision.

“Is it hard to be here? Because of your parents?”

Not committing to the lie, Smith shrugged. “It’s nothing.”

Smith walked on, leading Kath into a narrow hall lined with dark walnut paneling. On their right, a wooden sculpture of a man stole Kath’s attention, stopping her. She fawned over the tiny beads of stubble on his cheeks and the neat crescents of his fingernails.

The man wore weariness in his delicate but detailed features. Smith understood the pain and exhaustion in the man’s eyes. He had seen it time after time in Kath’s eyes as she battled the pain of endometriosis. All the times when Smith could do nothing more than hold her in his arms and whisper that things would be okay.

As Kath stared at the sculpture, Smith let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. As she always did, she leaned against his body and slid an arm around his waist, hooking a finger through one of his belt loops. Pulling her gaze away, Kath kissed Smith on the cheek once again.

“Thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“All of this. I never knew this place existed until today, and now, I never want to leave. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, returning the kiss.

They continued wandering through the museum until they emerged in an enclosed courtyard. Smith led Kath to a bench under a towering cluster of palm trees. As he sat, Smith pulled the ring from his pocket, closing it in his fist. They sat in silence for a few minutes as Kath’s gaze took in the lush greenery growing around them.

“It’s like I’ve been transported to the setting of a fantasy novel. It’s too beautiful for words.”

Smith smiled and angled his body toward Kath’s. Taking a deep breath, he pushed his glasses up his nose. Smith grabbed Kath’s hand, and as he spoke, kept his gaze on her long, delicate fingers. He had rehearsed the words, repeating them each night while he laid in bed watching his love as she slept.

“Four years ago, I met and fell in love with my best friend. Love was something I thought only others experienced, but you swept in like a whirlwind, throwing my life into disarray in the best possible way. I couldn’t help but fall in love with you.

“I know I haven’t always been the best boyfriend, but the fact that you gave me a second chance means more to me than you will ever know. You taught me how to love. If you let me, I’ll never stop showing you how much you mean to me.”

Pulling his eyes up to Kath’s, he saw the promise of tears, but the smile stretched across her trembling lips spurred him on. Opening his hand, Smith held up the blue diamond encircled by tiny flecks of diamonds on a white-gold band.

“Will you marry me?”

The first tear fell as Kath nodded. “Yes, yes! Of course!”

Before he could slide the ring onto her finger, Kath threw herself into Smith’s arms, kissing him on the lips before hugging him. He held her tight, face buried in her hair. She smelled of sunshine and love and happiness. In a word, she smelled like home.

Bad Times Are Tough…

Balancing school and work and writing has been a big part of my life for nearly a year now. For the most part, I’m able to balance all three as separate aspects of my life, although I do admit to focusing a bit more on writing than on school. As much as I love getting my doctorate and the immense feeling of accomplishment knowing that I’m doing something no other member of my family has come close to, freeing the stories living in my head just feels so much more rewarding right now.

But for the past few weeks, I found myself pulling away from all writing. Not to say that I haven’t written anything, but I procrastinated on two papers for class, waiting until the day each were due. With The New Years Eve Murders, my current work in progress, I would write a little bit here or there, but nothing substantial.

However, as much as I love to be lazy, I didn’t procrastinate out of exhaustion or general malaise. There was a real reason why I’ve been pulling away from writing, one I had kept to myself until last night. It’s a hurdle that I need to move past, because at this point, there is nothing holding me back.

For pretty much my entire education, writing had been my thing. I joke that I have a B.A. in B.S., because I can write a mean research paper. I won an award for my journalism; I was named Outstanding English Graduate. During my master’s program, I was regularly praised for my papers. Even with my doctorate, I had gotten compliments.

And then I took my higher ed law class.

For the first time in my entire writing and education career, I came across that one teacher, who no matter what I did, just did not like my writing style. That was hard. Of course, while taking this class, I started querying, and while I haven’t sent many query letters out (right now I’m at a whopping four), I received two rejections. The rejections, themselves, didn’t hurt. But when paired with a teacher who I couldn’t connect with on any level, I started feeling like a failure.

Who am I kidding, I still feel like a failure.

I know I’m not a failure. I know I’m a good writer, but right now, my brain is trying awfully hard to feel sorry for itself. As a result, my imposter syndrome has been on overdrive.

This feeling won’t last, and honestly, I just keep quoting King Falls A.M. when I feel myself getting too down. As the awesome Ben Arnold sang in A King Falls Christmas, “Bad times are tough, but not tougher than me.”

I will get through this. I will believe in my writing again.

 

Bat Times are Tough
Wallpaper courtesy of https://skylarkevanson.tumblr.com/post/155884814364/i-made-a-couple-of-king-falls-am-phone