Thursday, October 24, 2013

Broken Hearts in Kansas

A 5-year-old was killed in a Kansas farm accident yesterday and I keep asking myself what right I have to grieve, to take this loss on as my own.

I did not know Brooklyn Debenham. I have never met her.

But only a couple of days ago I was thinking about a story involving my little cousin, Chantell, and I was wondering how it was that I could still begin stories with that description when my cousin is now a married woman with three children of her own. On my vast mental list of things to do now that I live in this part of Kansas (going on 10+ years now) is to get together with Chantell, reaquaint my children with her oldest daughter (whom we babysat for a semester when they were all near-babies) and get to know her babies, who barely qualify as babies any longer.

Thanks to Facebook I have images of all of them and I can thumbs up their accomplishments on the volleyball court and laugh that the little one apparently isn't a big fan of birds and smile at the photos of them all dressed up for somebody's wedding. I know that Brooklyn loves spending time with her daddy on the combine. This is a fact that makes me smile, even though I have never met Brooklyn. I claim her momma. I admire her daddy. I ask about her by name when I visit my aunt, my own momma's sister and little Brooklyn's great-grandmother.

I claim Brooklyn as I claim my own heartbeat. That's the only way I can explain the ache I feel today, the tears that keep springing to my eyes, the inability to concentrate on anything except the moments when I grab my children and hug them to me. I claim Brooklyn just as I claim her sisters, her mother and her brother, her grandparents. Cousins don't always get enough credit, but they are woven into the very fabric of our being just as deeply as our siblings and our parents.

A year ago so many of us cousins attended a funeral (Brooklyn's great-grandad) and lamented together that these would be the events that would bring us together more frequently in the future, and then made promises to each other that we would get together for happy times, as well. "We'll call you when we are ready to take that field trip to Abilene," I told Chantell.

We were thinking of the older generation, of course. Those who are more frail than they used to be and have full lives behind them. We weren't thinking of Brooklyn's Uncle Miah whose life was cut short only a few weeks ago. We certainly weren't thinking of little Brooklyn.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Caution: Fresh Paint

Every couple of years our family takes on what we consider a major house renovation. Sometimes I think we only do it every couple of years because it takes us that long to save up enough money for whatever the project is. Then about midway through a project I remember that we only do it every couple of years because it is a LOT of work and it kind of cuts into my time for things that I really do enjoy doing year round.

The kids and I have had painting the house on the list. We've lived here seven years; it was time for a little TLC. We took this on as one of our Wednesday projects. Wednesdays, of late, have been days that we take off from going to the office in favor of something like a road trip or... for the month of October... home improvement. We still have a few shutters to rehang and some trim and doors to paint, but we were able to finish the bulk of the job today.

It was a lot of work, but it looks so much better! I came home this evening and was actually filled with pride just looking at the house (even in the near-dark!)

Anyway... that's my excuse for not getting much writing work done today! But my mind is now spilling over with ideas. One day of painting = several pages of material... at least!

I am fortunate to have three talented, hard working kids. I had a bit of a neck ache from all the looking up today, but didn't have to spend much actual time on a ladder myself. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why I Like Hanging with Writers

Many, many years ago I almost didn't join the Kansas Authors Club. I don't remember how I first came across the organization, but I remember not going to a meeting because my eighth grade English teacher was on the membership list. I can't really tell you why that stopped me. I was a pretty good student in school and I have fond memories of that class. I still have some of the projects I completed, most notably a poetry book and a book I put together about my cat. I guess I must have let myself feel intimidated. Luckily, I got over it, and I finally went to a meeting. And my eighth grade English teacher? I've never seen her there... though her name remains on the membership list.

The very first KAC convention that I attended was in Wichita. I only went for the day of workshops and I was inspired enough that I was determined not to miss a minute of the next convention. The following year, however, my district was co-host, so I got to work running the book room as well as attend the whole event. I think that was the year that I truly got hooked.

During that same time I was actively finding my way as a writer. I was involved in a fairly active online writing community and participated in a great email list run for and by writing moms, primarily stay-at-home mothers with kids under age 5 in the house. These virtual communities were wonderful, but not entirely fulfilling. Looking back, I think part of the problem with my online writing communities was how easy it was to completely immerse myself in the thoughts and inspirations of people who were on such similar paths. The information was good. I was learning and lot and making good contacts. But then I would go to a KAC meeting and find myself interacting with writers on a wide variety of paths, from the traditionally published to the still figuring out what they wanted to write, from the romance writers to the academic historians, from the sonnet writers to the whimsical stories about growing older.

The variety always left me feeling energized and full of new ideas. I remember putting programs on the tables at the convention in Hutchinson with several other organizers. Doris Schroder, who would later serve as president of the club, suddenly stopped and said, "You know what I like about spending time with other writers?" Her answer was about how accepted she felt. Something to the tune of writers understanding that it was okay to be different.

Doris and I had a conversation in the elevator this year about that moment. I told her that her spirit of acceptance had really stayed with me and from that convention on, I've made a point of getting to know one new writer each year. Each new writing friend has made my life richer. Most of them have become and remained active members of the club, and I hope they've gotten as much out of membership as I have.

At the end of this year's convention, Doris wrote:

All you "peculiar people"
Getting older (and hopefully wiser) I realize more and more why we enjoy the convention so much and getting together with those who have the same affliction as we do... that of writing.
I actually came home with such peace in my being for that very reason. Each year the conventions seems to get better and better. It must be that writers have a spark of originality in them that has to get out....
Every year in October now I have a standing date with my friends from the Kansas Authors Club. It's something I really look forward to. I've attended twelve conventions in my thirteen years of membership, and I look forward to attending many, many more.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cartwheels and Gratitude, a Weekend with my Writing Family

It has taken me more than 24 hours to get to this blog post. I can't believe it has taken this long, but it has. There was all the unpacking and showing off the things I brought home to my family. Hugging my kids. Feeding them some comfort food because I came home to a place where 3 of the 4 beings in my house seemed to be a touch under the weather. Sorting the stuff I had dumped on the table because there are some people in my home who seem to think the kitchen table is not meant to hold the copious amounts of stuff I tend to spread out on it. And then there was sleeping... in my own bed... with my own pillows... because I was very, very tired after three fun-filled days at the State Writing Conference and Convention.

The weekend was fun and informative, and I spent quite a bit of it riding high on adrenaline. Since I still haven't come up with an appropriate (or smooth) way to announce it, I'll just come right out and say it.


I know, that's excessive use of the exclamation mark and I should apologize for yelling it in all caps, but... HOLEY MOLEY! I WON!!! 

Breathing now.

Here's an image. Proof!

William Karnowski, VP, Kansas Authors Club, presents Tracy Million Simmons (that's me!) with the Coffin Memorial Book Award for my first novel, Tiger HuntingThe Coffin award is intended to honor the best published book (excluding history and poetry, which have their own awards) written by a member of the Kansas Authors Club and published in the two years prior to the award date. (Thanks to Carol Yoho for the photo.) 

But seriously... breathing peace and filling with inner calm now. If this doesn't shut up that nasty little critic in my head, nothing will.

I plan to write more about the convention, but had to get this out of the way first. I am basking in the afterglow of a wonderful weekend with my writing family. Now looking forward to another night in my own bed. I'm not quite caught up on my sleep yet.

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