Thoughts on 2015

**POST AHEAD IS FULL OF SAPPY THOUGHTS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY**

2015 is ending in just a few hours and this leads me to being inevitably reflective on the previous 365 days.

It wasn’t a bad year.

But, I’m fairly PollyAnna about life so unless it’s years like 1989 (which even then wasn’t a total suck), 1999/2000 or 2003 (trust me on this, these years were tough) then it’s almost always going to be better.

The Highs of 2015.

I got up the nerve to query agents. That was a big step for me. It was the push I needed to admit that I was a writer and that it was what I wanted to do with my life.

I met new critique partners. Rachel and Mary are two of my favorite people out there. They’re REAL with their critique and helped me find some more solid footing in some of my less-than areas.

I got signed by Eric Smith with PS Literary. This was obviously a pretty big deal for me. I could wax poetically about this for days, but it’s still in my top 20 life moments (somewhere after having lunch with Tom Hanks- I’ll tell that story sometime).

I learned to take criticism. Like most artists the need to defend my work is pretty solid. But, it’s good to listen, let it sink in, take what you need. It could hurt. It could be a bitch and tear at your soul, but chances are you needed to hear it. I know I did.

My family. I have an incredibly husband who takes every opportunity to brag about my writing. He reminds me that just because I might not be physically writing that I can be thinking about it.

My girls. They are spectacular in the way that your own children are. My Oldest is shy, reserved, and has an imagination that I could only dream about. But, this year I’ve watched her open up. I’ve watched her fall in love with camp, find a joy in reading, and obsess over every dog around.
Littlest is a delight. She finds joy in everything. Her vocabulary is now less Wookie and more words with thoughts and stories. It’s fun to listen to her talk about her day at school. How she tells people she “needs space,” and gets confused with her best friends memories (no, Littlest, you did not break your leg).

Friends. My friends, on line, off, near, and far. They have been what really made 2015 a year to remember. When we moved from Atlanta my heart was so heavy for the friends I was going to miss. But, like all good books, I found more friends. I also discovered that my friends in Atlanta didn’t forget me. They still wanted to hear how our lives were and included me in theirs.

I also met a huge new group of Online friends. I was able to help authors with questions about prosthetics, amputations, phantom pains. I was able to read books and give my thoughts on how those things were represented. I found a group of people who get what this whole writing thing is like (Lucky 13!).

So, in reflection- it’s been a good year. And I have all the hope in the world that the next will be just as fulfilling. Thanks to each of you for making it so wonderful.

NTWH and Finding my Voice

I have been blessed a few times in my life to work with really great people who have been very supportive of my dreams and ambitions. I have also worked with people who could not see past what I was missing. It could be a painful struggle at times to try and keep my  positive attitude in place when I was constantly being told I just wasn’t good enough.

In the fall of 1999 I was a freshman in college and majoring in theater. I knew in the depths of my soul that I wanted to act. I wanted desperately to be a performer and to be respected in it. I also knew that I had one leg and didn’t love my prosthesis. It was a hard barrier to cross with folks in the two minutes you had to audition. Also about that time I came across this article in a People Magazine. Then magically a new friend at college found an article in the New York Times about the National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped. Then I saw a 60 Minutes story on it.

 

It took a few more years. It took accepting that I had one leg and despite the fact that I was desperate to appear abled-bodied I, in fact, did not. But, eventually I attended The National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped.

The summer of 2002 I attended my first ten days at the summer campus in Belfast, Maine. My flights from Georgia were delayed to the point that it was after midnight before I arrived. I was exhausted and terrified. I’m fairly gregarious in person and typically have no problem finding friends. Something about this trip made me feel like a complete imposter. I vividly remember making my way down the three flights of steps (there were elevators everywhere, but I never took them) and seeing everyone in the refectory (this is a Jesuit term for dining room, something my very Baptist self was unfamiliar with) eating breakfast. I literally turned on my heel and went back to my room (which was now absent of roommates) and ate the a cereal bar I’d packed. It was so freakishly intimidating to walk into that space with all of these people.

Eventually I had to come out of hiding. I had to help my Beadle group (another Jesuit term that basically means intern) with our various cleaning chores. And then I went to my first acting class. And y’all. I nearly wept from intimidation. I was in a class with kids who were at NYU and studying at the School of the Arts. And 90% of us were disabled. I was no longer the stand out in that crowd. I was so out of my depths.

Like all good challenges though. I grew. I made friends that I will never forget. I worked my tail off on a monologue that made me so nervous that I remember begging my friend Sarah to do it for me. And they had me sing.

This was debilitating for me. I’d lost a lot of confidence in my own abilities the three years I’d been in college. When you do that, you can also forget that you were ever good at something to begin with. I’d forgotten that there was a time that I could sing. But, Father Curry and our (fantastic) musical director John Spalla made me sing. And I cried before every rehearsal.

The night of the performance I’d managed to make my way through an incredibly difficult monologue and was now expected to sing my solo. I prayed. A lot. Then, I stepped on stage and I found my character and for the first time in two years I found my voice.

I looked up into the balcony where the lighting booth was and Father Curry was up there and I could visibly see him cheering for me. I could see his arm outstretched cheering and just so proud of me.

When I was invited back at the end of that session to continue on with the more advanced students I remember the way that Father Curry looked at me. He told me to never lose my voice again. To never let those who did not understand my need to create doubt my ability to do so.

Saturday night I found out that Father Curry had passed away.

And for a few days my voice was silent again.

I had a hard time processing all the things that he meant to me and what the place that NTWH was meant to me. How it had defined me. I am so grateful for those people. I am so grateful that they helped me find my voice.

Never let anyone make you feel like you are not something because of what you are missing.

Never let anyone silence your voice.

I don’t know if I’ve said this before or not, but my writing journey is similar to my acting journey. To be honest, if I look back at my life I can see that the two “hobbies” have always been entwined in my head.

A few months ago Eric (my awesome agent) asked me to get headshots. And sadly the ones that I had done during my senior year of college were no longer going to work.

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What? I don’t look like this still? What do you mean these are too old?

So, I called up my friend Jess to see if she could do some pictures for me. She’d helped me out earlier this year when I’d asked for a picture of my foot for my business cards.

She was able to come over to my house during the 30 minutes of sun we had in a two week period (I’m not kidding, it rained for two weeks straight except when we were doing these pictures).

That first picture was actually a test shot, but we both loved it. But, me being me, I totally face planted once we walked off of my porch and into the backyard. Seriously, it was spectacular. My crutches slid out in two different directions and I fell straight out on my stomach. It was pretty awesome. I was only slightly mortified. Thankfully, Jess is a friend so we mostly just laughed about it.

My new headshots might not be as commercial as my old ones, but I love them. I love that I still get to do things like this.

Gateway Books and Authors

The slump is over! Well, momentarily. Most of the time I will only admit I’m in a slump as I’m on the way out. It’s weird.

A person I follow on Twitter mentioned re-reading vintage Julie Garwood yesterday and that reminded me that she was my gateway drug into admitting that I was a romance reader. It was hard as a teenager to admit that I really loved romance novels because they had lots of heaving bosoms and bare chested men. They weren’t “real” books. They were the books your grandmother read and that you secretly made fun of.

But, somewhere in my high school career I found her books. I know I started with her historicals. I’m not sure which ones, but I remember borrowing them from the lady I babysat for. I DEVOURED those books. And soon started reading other authors that before then I would have scoffed at.

During college is when Harry Potter came out and I discovered some really great children’s/ young adult books. I fell in love with contemporary YA by reading Sarah Dessen (I saw How to Deal and that the movie was based on her books and scooped them up) and Meg Cabot.

Who were your Gateway authors?

I’m in a slump.

I can’t seem to focus on anything longer than about three minutes and then it’s all… giphy (4)

And it’s frustrating. I want to focus. I’d wanted to READ and READ and READ during the month of December, but I can’t seem to concentrate for more than a sentence or two.

I blame this partly on the binge reading I did at the end of November, the fact that it’s just a very busy month, and the fact that I finished a book that left me out of sorts. Sometimes books that you don’t like just stick with you. This one did.

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And because of my shortened attention span it’s hard to get words on the page. I know that I need to do it, but I feel like I’m fighting with my computer. I’m trying to be kind to myself, to spend less time on FaceBook and Twitter (which lately just make me angry because of opinions I don’t agree with). I’m trying to be more present in my life. I’m trying to be forgiving to myself for not putting down lots of words or reading lots of books.

Sometimes you just need ice cream and TV. IMG_2561

World AIDS Day

I stole this from my sweet friend Cara Lynn…

“Remembering those no longer present who taught me much about living as they battled this disease called HIV/AIDS; Honoring those who continue to fight the fight…until there is a cure!”

For two summers I spent a week working with children and teens were infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. I remember loving each and every one of those kids. The sweet girls in my cabin ranged from 5-9 (that sweet five-year-old wasn’t supposed to come, but got away with it since her siblings were there- she was not going to be left out). I knew who was HIV+ and who wasn’t but it didn’t matter. We were just interested in making sure these kids had a great time. I was ASTOUNDED by the fact that out of all of the special needs camps I’d worked at (I love summer camp. I love camp where kids can be kids despite disability/income/disease/etc) that these kids were my healthiest. They would run circles around me. It was exhausting while being amazing.

On this day I remember my sweet girls, their families, and the awesome campers at camp.

*For privacy reasons I can’t post photos and I’m not naming the camp. If you’re interested in knowing more contact me. KatiGardner at gmail dot com.