Bucket Lists

Do you have a bucket list? How realistic is it? Did you set a time frame for the goals to be attained or just have a “Someday I’d Like To” list?

The older I get the more I realize the importance of setting attainable goals. Not just career goals or writing goals, but life goals. You know, the things you can’t put monetary value on that make you smile. I used to be one of those “Someday I’d Like To” people until I realized the importance of not just living life but making a conscious effort to enjoy life as well.

Happiness isn’t about how many degrees you earn, what model car you drive, how much salary you make, the size of your house, who you marry, or how many children you have. These statuses say nothing about the person you are inside and sadly, some people put all of their effort into obtaining them.

The moment you realize there is more to life than your job title is when you really start to live. So why not start with an attainable bucket list? I recommend creating more than one list, i.e. 1-year, 3-year and 5-year and setting realistic goals for each.

The 1-year list should include realistic things you would like to accomplish within a 1-year time frame. You should have a plan to achieve the goals.

For example: Pay off Credit card debt

If you have a plan to set aside a certain amount of money each month to pay off credit card debt and are diligent then this is a realistic goal. If you do not have a plan to set aside funds and hope to win the lottery to pay off your credit cards or are still waiting for the government to discover oil in your back yard this is not a realistic goal.

Do the same for the 3-year and 5-year bucket lists. A 3-year realistic goal may be to become fluent in a foreign language. A 5-year goal may be obtaining a degree or purchasing a house.

The key word is plan. Bucket list items fail because people are half-heartedly waiting for something to happen instead of believing it can happen and planning for it to come to fruition. Take writing for example. If your dream is to one day become a novelist and you expect a book deal to fall out of the sky without dedicating yourself to the process by writing daily and submitting work how will it ever happen? Words cannot write themselves and dreams cannot be fulfilled without a plan. So what is your plan?

In May, I embarked on a road trip of all road trips. Memorial Day was coming up which meant if I took just two days off from work I could have a 5-day vacation. My normal road trip companion was turning twenty-three and I wanted her to have a birthday she would not forget. This wasn’t just a vacation, but a celebration so the destination was centered around items on her bucket list.

Some of these items included:

  • Ride on a plane
  • Visit Las Vegas
  • Go to California
  • Find Johnny Depp’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Meet Johnny Depp
  • Visit Roswell
  • Get a tattoo

For her, these were all “Someday I’d Like To” items because there was always one reason or another why they weren’t possible. There are times when the impossible is possible if you are willing and flexible enough to make adjustments. If you truly want something in life you have to be willing to jump. So she did, starting with the tattoo. After that, I began searching for destinations.

Originally, the plan was to go to Las Vegas. It is an extremely affordable trip if you’re not big on gambling and are interested in the shows. Las Vegas is nice, but for me the choice was like choosing whether to see a movie in the theater or waiting for it to arrive at Redbox. Las Vegas was my Redbox. Thankfully, she found something she was more interested in that I would also enjoy – Roswell. From there I built our trip based on driving times and activities.

Fort Worth to California (by way of New Mexico) is a little over 1,500 miles, so I rented a car because I did not want to put that many miles on my own vehicle. A 5-day road trip with activities is perhaps a test of sanity, but I was up for the challenge.

I think the thing to do is to enjoy the ride while you’re on it.

— Johnny Depp

Roswell, New Mexico is a nice little city with great history. It is almost a 7-hour drive from Fort Worth, so we relied heavily on traveling music. There is more to Roswell than alien conspiracies, but the famous 1947 UFO incident overshadows the rest so make sure to schedule a UFO tour if you plan to be in town. Dennis Balthaser, resident UFO Researcher,  conducts the Roswell UFO tours and he is legitimate. For $100 a party of 4 can ride with Dennis as he chronicles the history of Roswell and shares what his research has revealed about what happened that night in 1947.

It was truly a pleasure to meet Dennis. He makes no attempt to convert non-believers to believers. He is an extremely intelligent, kind-hearted man who enjoys sharing what he has learned with others. He is also an engineer and has worked on many other amazing projects throughout the world. If you’re a researcher at heart and love history you will not want to miss this tour. Even if you’re a skeptic, driving around the city of Roswell and listening to Dennis talk will provide great insight. We learned so much and have a greater appreciation for the city of Roswell (and science). See for yourself by scheduling  your own UFO tour with Dennis Balthaser.

The next stop on the tour was Albuquerque, NM. It was about a 3-hour drive from Roswell, so after stocking up on alien souvenirs we headed for the hotel in Albuquerque. The sky over this part of New Mexico was too splendid to be real. I was surrounded by intense blues, reds and greens and filled with the urge to stop the car and create something just as beautiful with prose, but the idea that snakes might find the view pleasing as well and decide to venture out for a visit kept my creative soul in the car until we reached the hotel.

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.
— William Faulkner

The next morning, we had tickets to ride the Sandia Peak Tramway. Remember what I said about being flexible and willing to jump? We’re both a bit squeamish when it comes to heights, but this was my idea. The Sandia Peak observation deck is a located in the Cibola National Forest. In the summer hikers brave the altitude and in the winter skiers test their skill. I bought a shirt from the gift store that says “Got Oxygen?” on the front. They weren’t exaggerating. At times we were over 10,000 feet in the air and my lungs felt the exertion of a 400-lb man sitting atop my shoulders.

Once the tram arrives at the top visitors can explore, hike back to the bottom or wait for the next tram. We explored the narrow and sometimes steep mountainside until sanity kicked in and “death by fall” seemed a real possibility. Then we headed back to catch the next tram down. I’m so glad we did this and would definitely recommend it for vacation, but considering we’d faced our fears and were both happier on the ground, once was enough.

“We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.”
–Marilyn Monroe

After Sandia, we drove 6.5 hours to a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona to rest. There was nothing remarkable to either of us in Phoenix so we ordered take-out and got a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we drove 5.5 hours from Arizona to Hollywood, California. The scenery was beautiful, but the drive through the mountains – treacherous. Even in a Jeep, terror is an understatement. High altitude, sudden curves, steep hills, narrow roadways, falling rocks – a race car driver’s dream! For me, a nightmare.

After arriving in California we spent the remaining two days as tourists. We saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame and found Johnny Depp’s star, visited Universal Theme Park and toured Universal Studios, participated in an outdoor dance party (complete with Jumbotron) in front of Hard Rock Café Hollywood after a great dinner, entered the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and got sorted for wands, and met Johnny Depp – actually several versions of him at Madame Tussauds.

After an exciting vacation, we returned to Texas by airplane and collapsed from exhaustion. If I had to do it again I would recommend at least a 7-day stay instead because there is so much to see in California, but what an amazing adventure!

Bucket List Tally

  • Ride on a plane
  • Visit Las Vegas
  • Go to California
  • Find Johnny Depp’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Meet Johnny Depp
  • Visit Roswell
  • Get a tattoo

 

The tally proves almost anything is possible with a decent plan. So what are you waiting for? I’d love to hear what’s on your bucket list.

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Pomp and Circumstance

It’s New Year’s Eve and instead of making resolutions for 2015 or waiting to watch the ball drop in Times Square I am looking forward to the fact that tomorrow I get to sleep in. December has been a busy month and I have much to be grateful for. In fact, I am about to embark on my next journey which crosses several hundred miles. It’s time to go home.



Tennessee - Texas

If you have been with me from the beginning you know I have been a Tennessee Texan for the past two years and seven months while attending graduate school. Two weeks ago I attended Murray State University’s commencement and walked across the stage as they called my name to accept the keys to a dream I have been chasing. As I look at graduation pictures sometimes it is hard to believe I am the girl in the photographs. Surreal does not even scratch the surface of what it felt like to be in that room. It was the Academy Awards for graduates. Our procession in robed regalia to Pomp and Circumstance was the red carpet, and walking across the stage and being recognized for your hard work was like winning the Oscar.

Even though it was not the intimate graduation our English Department has planned in May and even though my immediate family in Texas could not attend, I am so glad I participated. My daughter, who has been with me along this entire journey, was there to see me graduate which made it even more special. If you are grauating soon make sure to attend graduation. Think of it as the Pre-Oscar party to the rest of your life. It is worth it!

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Now that I am officially no longer a student my focus has turned to finding employment, finishing my first novel, and traveling. My goal is to attend AWP – 2015 which will be held in Minneapolis and get settled once I return to Texas. I would really like to do more book reviews as well. I hope these posts have been helpful and encouraging, especially for those of you who may be considering entering graduate school. If you have any questions about the thesis process, low-residency MFA programs, road trips, or just want to talk about writing please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Right now, I am surrounded by boxes, but as always, I  am excited about the next adventure. The next time you hear from me I will probably be back in TEXAS. Thank you Tennessee for the Texas-sized welcome. Kentucky, I am pleased to be able to take a piece of you back with me. Texas, I will be home soon.

As always, keep reading, keep writing and keep dreaming.

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Happy New Year!

BALLOONS

I do not own the rights to this image.
Copyright: Megan McMillan

Every morning at work part of my responsibilities includes putting out new balloons to welcome new prospects to the property. For the most part I get to choose what colors to inflate. Just so long as what I choose is inside the package of balloons within the office. I tend to like bold, bright colors (which are not usually inside the package within the office), but I have made good use of the colors that are available and managed to put together some interesting, yet presentable combinations.

“It is all in the twist of the wrist,” the balloon expert at another property said when I asked how hers looked so pretty. Actually, it is a bit more than that. The sizes have to be right, the pattern has to be right and the string has to be the right length. A thin balloon and a bit too much helium leads to a loud gunshot erupting from within the office. I can tell that my senses have either dulled or I’ve grown accustomed to the environment because now I rarely scream when one pops. I just dig in the bag for another one of the the same color and start the process again.

Once they are inflated, I wrap them with string. Then I do the same with the next sets, layering and joining until I have something that remotely resembles a pattern. Most times the image in my head doesn’t fit the finished product, but I acknowledge the fact that I’m not a balloon expert and make a mental note to ask a clown for some lessons. Then I maneuver the large, flying mass out to the road where the welcome sign is and do my best to tether it so that the string is least visible.

On a good day I accomplish this fete and am able to walk back to the office, task complete, with my head held high. Then there are days when, during the process of tethering, the balloons refuse to cooperate and instead find a way to escape from my grasp. When this happens I take my walk of shame back to the office and pray for rain. On sunny days I console myself with the idea that the neighborhood children were going to steal them anyway.

My thoughts are on balloons now because so much has happened since my last post. In fact, that is the reason for the long delay between posts. What has changed? For starters, I’m working full-time, and it is no longer temporary. The two classes I’m taking this semester are coming to an end, but the past few months have been filled with numerous reading assignments, editing assignments, writing assignments and discussion board posts. While this is the normal graduate school course load most students probably don’t combine it with full-time work, and if they do, there is usually another breadwinner in the family. Don’t get me wrong – it is doable, and I’m certainly counting my blessings, because I couldn’t have fallen into a better opportunity, but sometimes I feel like one of those balloons tethered to the welcome sign. Some days I too want to escape.

The life of a writer is not easy, but it is definitely one worth embracing. Every writer has a different path and each uses different tools to produce their craft. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them felt like balloons sometimes too – especially when the rejections start coming in. I haven’t submitted anything lately, although I did start a new piece the other day. My time at MSU has taught me to soak up every experience – with that in mind I’m currently working on a story relating to apartment life. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Thesis semester is just around the corner and I haven’t even booked my hotel room yet for Murray. I’m excited, scared, overwhelmed, eager, and apprehensive all at once. More than anything I’d kill for some away time. I’m definitely going to have to follow suit and lock myself away in a cabin like my poet friend Whittney. She will be defending this coming semester and I’m so proud of her. If you recall, we started the program together and were supposed to finish together, but I took this past semester off. I’m glad I did. Out-of-state tuition is a killer and I really needed the time to find my writing voice.

I can’t say I completely know my style or can give you authors I think I might share similarities with (the normal questions everyone asks when they find out you want to be a writer), but I can know when I’m not being true to myself and that is a great start. I’m so much farther along than I was when I started the program. I can even say I might have a smidgeon more of confidence. It has all worked out better than I could have ever expected.

I’m a balloon. Maybe today I’ve escaped and am soaring, enjoying my freedom in the skies. Tomorrow, who knows, I might be tethered to float above the welcome sign, providing a path for those unsettled.

I’m free. I’m floating. I’m good.

A Remarkable Journey

923511_4981788099482_1111083140_nA year ago today I left what I’d always called home – Texas and set out for an adventure in Tennessee. It’s amazing how fast time flies when you’re dreaming. A year in and my future is still as uncertain as ever. What I mean is, the sky is still the limit and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Since I left Texas I’ve put close to 1,000 miles on my car, yet I’m dying for the next road trip to someplace I’ve never been before. It’s as if my spirit is restless and my body is thirsty for a new experience. Being open-minded is truly a blessing and a curse because at some point in life it’s good to become grounded – in something. I can’t say I’m any closer to finding myself or feeling content than I was on the day I left, but a lot has changed.

For starters, the MFA program has made me a better reader. I don’t say writer, because I don’t think writers can be made – something has to be there in the beginning in order for the program to work and yield positive results. Whether those results mean getting published, completing a story, or learning something it’s different for every person, but through the reading I’ve learned to recognize what works and what doesn’t work and why – that in my opinion has made me a better writer.

I still haven’t gotten anything published, but I’ve only tried once and with a piece I was iffy about, in a genre that is not commonly my own – creative non-fiction. I write fiction. There is so much I’ve learned since submitting that piece that makes me shudder at the thought I actually let someone else read it. But it was a start – I keep my fiction on lockdown and it felt good to finally let go of something.

I think I write better when I’m not trying to write. When I’m trying my voice gets lost in what I think I’m supposed to be doing instead of just transcribing what is being said. Since my mentor left I suffered a serious setback. It was as if he was the wind beneath my wings encouraging me to keep cranking stuff out and telling me it was worth reading. It’s really funny when you think about the fact that I didn’t think we’d click at first. I felt like someone had taken my closest ally hostage and the ransom was for me to write something good. I couldn’t even begin to do it. Everything creative in me seemed to leave when he left – only he’d left willingly because he has his own life, his own pieces to work on and more people to inspire. He had become my confidence and now that he was gone I’d once again misplaced it. How on earth had I let that happen – again?

When I left Texas I also left behind one of my closest supporters. He encouraged me to leave to follow my dreams, told me to “reach for the stars” and even helped finance my journey. After I’d been here for a while I missed the connection we had that a phone call couldn’t replace. Like my mentor, he kept me going when the waters got murky, but what I couldn’t see then, that I can see now, are all the wonderful lessons they both left behind. They knew the journey wouldn’t be easy, but they felt it was one I could successfully complete and both just waiting for me to see within myself what they could already see. Wow! It’s like having the keys to the kingdom in a glass jar and not having the courage to try and take the lid off.

So with that in mind I’m determined to not only write the final chapters of the piece I’ve been working on, but to fix the holes in the earlier ones so that I can be that much closer to being ready for thesis. Right now I’m not focused on publication. I just want to finish what I’m working on. Occasionally there are brief moments when I think it would be great to be able to do this for a living, but then I pull my head back out of the clouds and submit another resume in hopes of finding something to finance my journey to Writerland.

In the past I’ve planned and scheduled and fretted about my next steps, but it feels really good to hide the calendar and just be in the moment – wherever that may be. I’ve always said happiness comes from within and it’s nice to finally understand what that means even if just for a moment. It’s not about being published, although one day that would be really nice. It’s not about having a 4.0 GPA or finding the person of your dreams. It’s knowing that if today you write only one paragraph, if you’re granted tomorrow, there’s a chance you’ll be inspired to write several more.

I signed another year lease which means I’ll be hanging out in Tennessee for another year, but I plan on being productive while I’m here. I want my next hundred miles to be memorable ones. Thanks again for coming along with me on this journey.

Broken Rides

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Hello Friends!

Since we last spoke I’ve been struggling to overcome my passive-aggressive mentor-relationship (as I like to call it). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve re-read her comments on my last annotation packet looking for something, anything to change my pattern of thinking about her. The funny thing I realized is although I’ve changed mentors, and although we haven’t exactly bonded, it may be more of me adapting to change. It is easy when someone nurtures you to want to cling to that person, but in the writing world you have to cut the apron strings and sometimes go to a less nurturing person, or else find a way to nurture your own damn self for change if that is what you need. We all like to have our egos stroked and it feels good to be told you are making progress or are doing something right. The real challenge lies in how you react when the rules change.

I’ve always said I’m good with change, and in some ways I may be, but I’ve always also been very opinionated, and hate to be misinterpreted. Add all this together and I’ve made my own private little storm. Doesn’t it sound silly to be fighting against oneself? It doesn’t make sense to me either. I wasn’t really fond of Business Calculus, but I found a way to come to terms with it so that I could get a good grade. Same principle here. It’s not like I’m going to marry my mentor – we just have to work together. Who knows, maybe down the line we might actually click instead of the immense void I feel right now. The fact is that I have to be open to allow that to happen, and well – I’m working on it.

I’ve been working on the short story my latest mentor requested, because she said my characters in Straitjacket (she also changed my spelling, but I digress) seem to be lacking emotional depth. How odd I thought. I’m so emotional!  I sent her something from a story I’d been working on called In Pieces for feedback. In her defense she said she wasn’t a creative nonfiction expert, and after reading it suggested I draw from some personal experiences (since I obviously have an abundance of them) and transform them into art. Wonderful advice I thought, but I didn’t want to write about what she suggested I pull from. Do you ever get sick of re-living an experience? Instead, as I mentioned previously I’m writing something darker and revamping Three Day’s Grace about a woman contemplating suicide. Hopefully, this time when I’m finished people won’t think it’s all about me and accuse me of planning to off myself. Talk about awkward! I’ve made quite a bit of progress with the story, but my challenge here will be to keep it short and tight, yet still manage emotionally empty the character. I feel like I don’t know her yet, and until I do I can’t feel her pain. Only when I truly know her pain will she come alive. My packet is due for mail-out in the next three days so hopefully I can dig deep between now and then. It doesn’t help that I have to work when I need to be writing.

Those of you who have been along with me on this journey know I’m new to Tennessee, but I may or may not have filled you in on my latest job endeavor.

Have you ever been standing in line at an amusement park, waiting to ride the most popular ride, when all of a sudden the gate closes because the ride is full? Then you have to watch while others enjoy the ride, until your turn comes. It seems like the longest wait in history doesn’t it? There are even times while waiting, that the ride actually breaks down.

That’s what my journey from college graduate to cashierdom feels like. The picture you see above is my dog patiently waiting for me to come home from a long night of cashierdom. Like me, she is weary from standing in line for so long.

I miss the days when we got to spend the entire day together on the patio. She’d stare at the different kind of birds and smell the air, while I attempted to write or revise another chapter. Both of us were living in dreamland then, wishing on stars and living on our hopes. Don’t get me wrong – those were all really cool things, but since neither of us had a trust fund, and my writing wasn’t going to pay the bills, one of us had to get a job – meaning ME.

The road to cashierdom was paved with grandiose (although unrealistic) desires of success and financial stability. One can’t singlehandedly or reasonably hold down a full-time job and pursue a graduate degree in creative writing – at least I can’t.  To those who can – I take my hat off to you!

Don’t get me wrong, cashierdom isn’t what I’d call easy. In fact, it requires a particular state of mind, and an almost otherworldly perspective of one’s situation. In cashierdom one must be cheerful, smile and greet customers (3 out of 5 who are rude) while simultaneously pretending not to attempt to sell them a product or service they didn’t ask for, and disguising the fact that 1) your feet hurt 2) your back hurts 3) it is entirely too damn hot in the store and no, that wasn’t sweat that just dripped from your forehead onto the counter, and 4) the only thing that keeps you sane is you’ve been reciting, “There’s no place like home” “There’s no place like home” between customers.

Cashierdom is a special place, where special people are being held captive, because the economic roller coaster broke down once they paid their fare, and received their college degrees. So the next time you’re in line remember to say things like “please” and “thank you” to the person standing before you. After all – it could be you one day taking his or her place in line.

Thanks for reading!