…..And Now, Presenting (cue drum roll, please!)

just hold on cover

After I lost my father, I crumbled for a long while. I struggled for quite some time to pick the pieces of myself back up. Tears were no stranger to me, and I had horrendous nightmares, unable to sleep for days at a time. It was right around then that I began to write as an outlet for my distress. Little things, like poetry, to begin with, and then a few short pieces of fiction. One night, rather than a nightmare, I woke in the darkness with a story in my mind, and slipped out of bed to start scribbling. By the end of the week, I’d filled a red spiral notebook and thought, “What if I could finish this?”

And so I did.

This story is dear to my heart, and the writing of it was a balm for the open wound of grief. I started it three years ago, and have been tweaking it periodically ever since.

As most of my readers know, I lost my sister last summer. Months after that startling loss, I felt a sudden clarity.

The epiphany was this: My sister was so young. She had plans for “later”, but for her, the future was cut tragically short. I am young. I have plans. I want to accomplish them now, because later may never come for me. Who knows? I could look back in ten years and say I wished I’d done it, or I could look back in ten years and say I’m glad I did it, or in ten years I could be dead.

And that is why I could no longer wait.

Friends, I’ve published my book, and I’d love for you to take a look at it. “Just Hold On” was my sanity through grief, and my joy when finished, and if you’d like to check it out, it’s available on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Just-Hold-Valarie-Savage-Kinney/dp/1499108486/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401195143&sr=1-1&keywords=just+hold+on

Or for a signed, print copy, you may order via PayPal from my website:
http://vkinney6393.wix.com/justholdon

I’m also around on GoodReads, and I’d love to connect with you. 😀

And if you do purchase “Just Hold On”, I’d love feedback!

As always, thanks for stopping by!

— Valarie

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Nibbling Books

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I remember Mrs. Lolly’s first grade classroom. Our little desks all faced the west wall of the room, and we practiced daily with “Dick and Jane” books.  I’m not sure if my memories are so vivid because of Mrs. Lolly herself, who was quite a unique woman, or because of her unusual style of teaching. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

Mrs. Lolly was a former nun who had changed vocations. When the song, “Harper Valley PTA” came out, I thought it was written about her. I remember hearing parents and staff whispering about her and the way she dressed. Most days, she wore a short black miniskirt, a dress blouse, stiletto heels, and really big jewelry. Her makeup was heavy with lots of pink, and when she smiled, her white teeth sparkled against her bright lipstick. Her hair was a cloud of black swirls that framed her face and fell down her back in soft waves. I always thought she resembled Wonder Woman (as played by Linda Carter). In fact, I remember at some point thinking that maybe she really WAS Wonder Woman, hiding out at our school to protect her identity.

Mrs. Lolly was a talented artist. Each week, she would design a persona for the sounds we would learn and draw it on a large poster board, which would then be hung on the wall in the front of the classroom. We were allowed to help add details to the character and this became an exciting weekly ritual. Of course, I didn’t realize it then, but now I can see how this technique appealed to children of every learning style; visual, auditory, and tactile. Letter sounds became so easy to remember once I learned what each character stood for. “Mrs. A” was a woman formed from a capital  A, and we glued a tissue to her hands, because she was always sneezing and saying, “A-A-A-A-ACHOO!”. My favorite persona was “Ms. Double O”. I think she was supposed to be a spy. She rode a motorcycle and the wheels were shaped like the letter O. The sound her motorcycle made was, “VROOM, VROOM!”.

Once we learned the letter sounds, we would make up a story and put the letters together to form words. “Class,” Mrs. Lolly would say, “let’s see what story our letters will take us into today”. Then our little hands would shoot up and suggestions would be called out until we had enough letters to make a word. For instance, “Mr. R” (who had a kicking, dancing leg) might call up “Mrs. A” and together they would go out dancing with “Ms. T”, and we would have learned the word “rat”. Spelling and reading became a discovery to be anticipated, rather than the rote memorization that is so typical in many classrooms today.

I strongly believe that such creative literacy beginnings set the stage for a lifelong love of words and books for me. I sometimes wonder if I would have become the voracious reader that I am if this fire hadn’t been lit inside me at such an early age. If, like my son’s teacher, Mrs. Lolly had simply written the words on the board and instructed me to “write, say, and read” the words, would I have become so thrilled with learning to spell and read every possible word I could think of as a child? If I had learned to read by memorizing small paper books, as my children have, I would likely still enjoy reading to some extent, because I think I am just hard wired to do so. But, I wonder if that hunger, that passion, that I hold for the written word today would be so insatiable if my early literacy experiences had not been as joyful as I felt they were. It is rare that I have met another person with an appetite for reading such as myself. I was never a child who could merely nibble a book as an after school snack, I had to devour the whole thing in one sitting and that hunger is with me yet today. I once read a poem by Mark Strand (Eating Poetry), and in this phrase, “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth, There is no happiness like mine, I have been eating poetry”, I clearly saw myself. However, I have never been limited to just poetry and would happily read just about anything in ink: fiction or non, poetry, magazines, and, lacking anything else, I’ve even been known to read the back of a cereal box for entertainment.

As a child and teen, there were a few teachers who made a difference in my life, educators who gave their job everything they had, because they wanted to make a positive impact on the children they taught. I recall a middle school teacher who let us call her by her first name, which made us feel so grown up, and my high school English teacher, who went the extra mile and then some to help his students be successful in whatever they were doing. But, what would my junior high and high school years have been like if I hadn’t developed such a solid foundation in my first grade classroom? Considering this, I have to believe that the educators of the early elementary years, the teachers often disregarded as “just” a kindergarten or first grade teacher, may have the most impact on a child throughout their life. One fantastic teacher, like Mrs. Lolly, or conversely, one boring, apathetic teacher, could set the tone for a child’s success in learning long after that child has left their classroom.

Some days, I find myself nostalgic for that first grade classroom, for those tiny desks and the feeling of excitement and empowerment that learning to read gave me, and I wish that I could somehow contact Mrs. Lolly and let her know that she made a difference in my life. I’d like to tell her that, thirty-some years after leaving her classroom, I remember how hard she worked to teach us and how tirelessly she gave of herself. I know she was aware of the rumors and whispered innuendos that circulated the school about her, but I’d like for her to also know that to the children she taught, she was a hero. Maybe not Wonder Woman, but a hero to us nonetheless, and I’m thankful for being fortunate enough to have been in her class.

Sixteen and Life to Go.

sixteen and life to go

I stand here in our kitchen, watching a storm of emotions play across your face. Hate, disgust, desire, innocence.

Anger.

I feel helpless. So many things I need to say, but the right words refuse to appear on my tongue. I stutter, and drift off, you begin to cry and I start again.

Other demands are shouting at me, “Turn the laundry load over!”, “Pick up the little guy at soccer practice!”, “Final exams this week! You’ve got to study!”, “Magazine article deadline tonight…hurry!”, “You didn’t take anything out for dinner….what will you feed everyone?” and I shove these thoughts back into the deep recesses of my mind, far enough that I can but hear the whispers repeating.

As I struggle to focus, I watch your eyes and your mouth and I listen, I listen.

It isn’t that I haven’t been listening.

It’s just that I don’t understand how to reach across this chasm that separates us and express myself to you in a way that won’t make you more angry, more shut down.

I know you want me to understand you, and you know what? I want you to understand me.

I see you, and I know you. I know every piece of you, every freckle, every scar.

I realize I continue to repeat myself to the point you’ve tuned me out, but you cannot comprehend the panic I feel when I think of how short a time I have left to influence you at all. Yes, I’ve said it before and yes, I will say it again, because you have to get it. Do you get it? I can’t be sure.

Your style of dress is so reminiscent of my own teenage self, and I clearly recall begging my parents for that black motorcycle jacket in a pawn shop. I wanted the one with the bullet holes in it, because it seemed so cool, so edgy and dangerous. I start to giggle a little at the memory of it, and it makes you furious.

“Are you laughing at me?” you scream, fists balled up at your sides. Oh man, I’ve screwed up again.

I’m always screwing up.

I was so much more confident when you were small. Back then, the dishes were caught up, the living room vacuumed, toys were in their place. Two children napping, one happily coloring at the dining table, and a baby quietly nursing at my breast. I was capable of solving all the problems then: a temper tantrum, a soaked bed, a stomach bug or some hurt little feelings. Dinner in the slow-cooker, a play date with some friends, and you all thought I was magic because I could suspend fruit in Jell-O.

I can’t solve all the problems now.

And it makes me feel like an absolute failure.

I wish I could take on all the hardships for you. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve endured, I’m sorry you have to struggle so much for things that seem to come easily for others, I’m sorry for all you have lost.

Watching you fighting through agony is what causes these sharp, razor blade nicks in my heart. And even though I know you must endure hardships to strengthen your character, to help you become a clear-minded adult….I still wish I could take them for you.

I would lay down my life for yours in a second, without thought, without hesitation.

Do you understand that?

It’s just rebellion. I know it’s typical, and it’s been a right of passage since pilgrim boys were shaving mohawks in their bowl-cuts.

It isn’t that you aren’t a great kid, because you are. Intelligent, creative, musically talented. That wickedly dry sense of humor that I love so much. And you are so desperately compassionate….you’ve always been the one to stick up for the little guy, the kid who seems different, the one getting picked on. Your strong sense of justice is a beautiful thing, truly.

We’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol. Never had to stay up late, wondering where you might be.

I remember lying to my own parents, gleefully arrogant in my youth. I laughed about it with friends, but truthfully there was always a sick, hollow feeling in my gut that told me I was doing wrong.

I’m trusting you get that same feeling, and that one day you’ll listen to it. Just as I did.

You face me, clothed in your righteous indignation, your arrogance so enormous it seems a physical presence. You cannot listen to me. You don’t care what I say. You hate me. Yes, I hear you.

I despair you’ve never heard a word I’ve said, never taken the important things to heart, the lessons I’ve tried so hard to teach you.

But I see you again, with little children that you babysit or kids in our family and I hear you telling them, teaching them, and my own words are echoing from your mouth. Your voice is sweet then, your face relaxed and happy, the joy in your heart apparent.

Ah. So you have listened.

And we stand here in our kitchen, doing this awkward little dance. We are not on the same page, or even the same book.

We are not in the same library.

I step left, and you insist the sky is green.

You step right, and I say you must be home by eleven.

I twirl, you shout that you love him.

It’s your turn, you bow and I whisper a question, “Is your homework finished?”

Me again. I leap, you ask why we hate you.

Back to you. Knees on the ground, arms outstretched, and I apologize…for what, I don’t know. Nothing.

Everything.

I step closer and raise my hand to yours and try to lead, you jerk away and tell me you’re old enough to make your own decisions now. And also? YES THE SKY IS SO TOO GREEN!

I can’t win.

And I can’t afford to lose.

So many nights I’ve lain awake, worried that your quick temper and stubborn nature will make life harder for you down the road.

But I can’t blame you for it, for you come by those traits naturally.

One more thing that is my fault.

I see so much of myself in you, and it hurts because I wanted better for you.

I see so much of her in you, and as much as it frightens me, I want you to keep those traits so I can still see her.

A cacophony of voices in my head, shouting for me to Be far more strict! Lay down more rules! Force you into submission!

Thing is, your fire, your creativity, your determination are exactly what makes you….well, you.

Who am I to douse those flames?

Guidelines, house rules – certainly. Other lines are not so well-defined. I’m playing this by ear, and I’ve never been musically talented.

Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t need to be reminded. I flog myself daily for my mistakes.

But I know what I want for you – everything.

Every single thing your heart desires, I want success in it for you. Love and be loved. Follow your passions. Stand for what you believe in. Find joy. Live with laughter. Hone your talents. Be comfortable with your own imperfections, for that is your true beauty.

I know what I want to say, but not how to express it properly.

You stand there, angry.

I step to the left.

We dance in the kitchen.