Umm, well. I was technically supposed to teach classes that inspired you to become an author, or illustrator, or whatever your heart dreams up, and then the coolest thing happened. You inspired me.
After learning the secrets of book design, some of the fourth graders at Mark Twain returned to class asking teachers for more time to write and draw ideas. In fact, one student who hadn’t done much writing on his own without a little prodding, well he wrote a story that morning.
At James McGee, after listening to my spiel on writing a book, one of you asked a question I will not soon forget. “I want to become an author and someone said it’s a really hard thing to do. What do you think?” Please don’t forget what we talked about, okay? All jobs are hard, so you might as well pick one that you like. And the most important thing? Never EVER let someone take your dream away from you.
The kids at Stevens Middle School, you are awesome. Your enthusiasm is contagious. When I reached your school, it was lunchtime. The day was unseasonably warm and before I began my talk, all I could think about was an iced coffee. But, even before I’d gotten through my introduction, I was grinning, the coffee long forgotten. I was there with you. I only wish I’d taken a picture of your faces when I told you I’d been a Stevens Tiger, too. You were great listeners and asked fantastic questions. Tigers, you are full of energy, passion and drive. I know you’ll slay your goals. Just don’t forget to ask for help along the way.
Pasco kids, you made my whole month. As I continue to write my third book, I’ll be thinking of you. When the words won’t come or the edits seem too daunting, I’ll remember your energy and excitement and push forward. Thanks for being a part of my week.
With gratitude from your new friend,
p.s. A special thank you to Amy Kohn at Pasco School District for coordinating this day of visits. You’re wonderful.
This morning I stopped by the local espresso stand for a mocha. When it was time to pay, the barista waved off my money. “Your coffee’s paid for.” She smiled. “My favorite customer came in this morning and gave me a big bill with instructions to pay for as many people’s coffee as possible.” She went on to tell me about the young couple that had been through earlier. They were in a rusty car that kept backfiring as they ordered. When the barista informed them that their coffees were free thanks to a stranger, well, they stared back and forth at one another in disbelief. Fantastic.
My community of Kirkland, Washington is like that. The first time I experienced a random act of kindness was shortly after my second daughter was born. She hated being in the car. Unfortunately, cars were necessary to take my older daughter to school and do countless other tasks. I needed baby Bryn adjust to the car for obvious reasons. Every day I tucked her into her car seat and we drove the streets of Kirkland. She cried. I cried. And after thirty minutes, we drove home to nap. Just weeks after our cry routine commenced, something life changing happened. They opened a Starbucks drive-thru.
I’m sure that first order I made over the speaker was nearly impossible to hear over the yowls of my baby. In truth, I didn’t care what the barista handed me, I was eager to drink some coffee-flavored feelings. Can you imagine how surprised I was when she told me that my drink had been paid for by the person before me? Stunned, I remember crying (jeez, the hormones back then). I wiped my nose and handed her my money to add to the tip jar.
A week or two later, I paid it forward. I treated the car behind me. Soon, it became a tradition. My goal was always to brighten someone’s day. My secondary goal was to drive away fast enough that the other car couldn’t catch up to me and wave or honk or something equally mortifying. I didn’t want to undo the good karma I was sending out there either. Isn’t there something to that effect in the Bible? Doing good with no regard for reward pleases God, or something like that with fancy thous and arts added in the mix.
We have a restaurant in Seattle that randomly pays for pizzas. I’m a regular customer and every now and again when I meet the driver at the door and he/she announces through a broad smile that my pizza is on the house. Wow.
Why am I surprised? Seattle is often named the most charitable city in the nation. We volunteer. We raise money for nonprofits. I’ve blogged about just a few of the pro athletes I admire for giving back to the community, Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson. But, is there a downside to living among the kindest people around? I loved this blog post by a citizen in Sammamish, Washington on the subject. Only twenty minutes away from Seattle, he’s witnessed people making such a fuss over opening doors one another at the grocery store that, well, he said slugs cross thresholds faster. J Here’s a link to his blog.
Recently, locals are becoming concerned that our kind hearts are getting the better of us. Seattle is set to spend more money than any other city in the nation, a whopping $47 million in 2016. Here’s the blog about it. People are torn over this. Some say our spending isn’t helping the homeless problem, our numbers from the One Night Count prove our homeless population is growing. Many of the new influx of homeless have been interviewed and have stated that they were given bus tickets to Seattle from California. Is the nation taking advantage of Seattle’s kindness?
Then there’s the recent controversy over RVs. Families that have been forced out of their homes because of the economy are living in RVs across the city. But, criminals hoping to blend in with this RV surge are running meth labs and sex trade operations in RVs, too. The criminal activity has been largely ignored by city police, so neighbors that notice a new RV on the block basically freak out, expecting the worst. There have been neighborhood meetings, press conferences, webinars, blogs, and news stories about it. And I try to keep up with it all to see all sides of this complex issue. It will take us some time to sort through the facts, the needs, the fears and find a solution, but I know Seattle can do it. I have faith in us. We lead with our hearts, so what other community is better equipped to do the right thing? I think it’s Seattle.
I make way too many assumptions and they’re usually wrong. Here are just a few.
Assumption #1:That aggressive driver? Oh, yeah. My bad. That pushy tailgater riding my bumper? I’m quick to assume that I must’ve made them mad with my driving. Maybe I’m too slow or use my signal too liberally. But guess what? It seems that’s just the way these folks drive. I’ve watched them zoom past me and tailgate the next car, then the next. So the ugly truth is, it’s nothing personal.
Assumption #3: Now that I’m middle-aged, I need to dress a certain way. Hmm. Truth – Not according to this hilarious article via the Huffington Post. Well, I guess since my expiration date is looming, I can wear whatever the bleep I want. Carpe yoga pants!
Assumption #4: I can do everything myself. Ha. Hee hee hee. What a load of bologna. Asking for help is my Achilles heel (I almost typed Achilles hell – Freudian), but I need to ask. Everything I do is better when I invite others into the process. Everything. Whether it’s planning a fundraiser, doing an art project, or writing a novel, other hands and eyes make my efforts shine. When I try to tackle stuff all by my lonesome, I end up stressed, frayed at the ends and bitter like unsweetened chocolate.
Assumption #5: I’ll be around for my next birthday. It’s something I try to control with exercise and diet, but the truth is, there is a large amount of variability in life. Any given day could be my last. That thought doesn’t depress me, in fact it helps me to live mindfully. I say my peace in real time. I let go of hurts. I hug my kids (often against their will) and I smile at my husband, letting him know that as hectic as the pace of our life is, we’re in this together. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
So, this week, I’m going to try to assume less. I’m going to give the world the benefit of the doubt and try to make that my new habit. <3
Sorry I’ve been silent over the last few months. If you’re a regular reader, then you know that this blog is a place where I laugh at myself, ponder life in serious and not-so-serious ways, and aim to show a different side of issues. I always ALWAYS add a dose of humor and Pollyanna-positivity to my blogs.
Lately though, my blog drafts start out lighthearted and quickly devolve into whines, rants and whimpers. I can’t hit the ‘publish’ button and add to the cacophony of negative voices shouting across the United States. Lately, my country’s become a place where hate and derision permeate every channel of the mainstream media. The us versus them viewpoint has become the norm. As much as I’ve tried to duck my head in the sand lately, that culture of suspicion and hate has leaked into my own writer’s spirit so I’ve kept silent.
But, not anymore.
Today, I choose to add my voice to the conversation. Sometimes I’ll roar like a lion and other times I’ll whisper. But, my intention is to reclaim this blog as a place to highlight the common experience. I’m still convinced we have more in common than we don’t, that good people are the norm, that this country of ours is a special and unique place filled with authentic, giving, loving and hard-working people just trying to do their best.
Top Ten Reasons I’m (still) Grateful I’m an American
10) Every citizen’s right to pursue happiness is protected by the law. It’s in our Declaration of Independence. What other country in the world legally protects the pursuit of happiness? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
8) We are a thriving democracy. Every voice counts. We can volunteer to canvas and phone bank for issues that are important to us. We can get out and campaign for people we believe in. And best of all? Every election, we have the privilege to cast our vote.
7) We have free public education for children. Did you know that 60 million primary school children aren’t in school? That’s according to the United Nations. Many kids have to stay home to take care of siblings, collect water, and do other work to support struggling families. Learn more here.
6) We give time and money to charities. In fact, after world-leader, Myanmar, we are the second-most giving country in the world. 68% of us give money and 44% of us give volunteer hours. We’re doing a lot of good. If you want to see the Mashable story, click here.
5) We are rich in diversity. According to 2009 census information, in 40-50 years we will be a majority-minority country. That’s fantastic. Some articles even prove how diversity makes us smarter. Here’s a snippet of an article from Scientific American – Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations.
3) We agree to disagree. It’s unique to live in a country where we can have different points of view, have respectful debates and walk away better for having the conversation. Did you read that snippet above about diversity? Every word of it applies to intellectual diversity as well. In the United States, our speech is protected by the Constitution. And I know first hand from living with two opinionated teens, robust debates always end up enriching my view on issues.
2) We can love who we want. It’s protected by the law. I just ask that you love someone that treats you with kindness and respect. Other than that, be happy.
According to by James Truslow Adams, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.[
In the United States, you can scratch your way to the top, heck you may even land a book deal and reality show along the way. This isn’t the case in other countries, where opportunities aren’t allowed to people based on many things including gender, race, politics, and money, to name a few.
The other day #fatpet was trending on Twitter. So was #blackfamilythanksgiving .
Fresh off the heels of terrorist attacks in Paris and Tunisia and Lebanon and Israel and Baghdad, I was more than grateful for the lightness these threads provided. Yes, scrolling through countless tweets was a sweet diversion, but it quickly became more than that as I giggled over post after post, most of which I could relate to from my own life. I had a light bulb moment. Yes, we are spread out across this nation, we have different struggles, dreams and fears, but these Twitter threads illustrated how much we still have in common.
And it hit me. I knew in that moment what I value most about the United States of America – it’s the united part. What unites us? Well, that’s a beautiful complication. Our innovative spirit? Freedom of speech? Our belief in the American dream? Freedom of religion? Our rich diversity? Our unwillingness to quit? Yes, those are common strings that bind us, but they only begin to scratch the surface.
Recently, KUOW did a story about the crows of Seattle. Here’s the link in case you’d like to read it. Every evening at sunset, tens of thousands of crows take to the skies and fly north. Observing this, the reporter became obsessed with finding out where they gathered and why. After a harried drive through the city, she followed the crows to a cemetery in a northern suburb. The crows clustered across the grounds of Calvary Cemetery. The strongest birds perched in the treetops overhead, standing guard. The rest of the crows sat on the grass, arranging themselves so that the younger, smaller birds were surrounded, protected by the others. As the sun sunk into the Olympic mountains, all of the crows stood facing the same direction as a community. Their instincts led them to this place, where they stood a better chance of surviving the night against predator attacks. United.
As I read this story, the hair stood up on my arms. These crows are smart. They know there is safety in community. By instinct, they know to protect the frail, the young and the old. At night they stand together. Safe from the coyotes and raccoons and raptors that probably detest this unity because it makes killing all the tougher.
There are global predators that wish to do harm to America, obliterate our way of life. Can we stand united against them? Or will we continue to allow our mainstream media and political leaders to fracture us? Pit you against me? Us against them? Him against her? Or should we take a lesson from the crows and unite. Can we agree to protect our most vulnerable? Can we view our differences as a blessing? Can we seek to find our commonalities and rejoice in them?
So, if your social media threads of late have left you feeling angry, frustrated, scared, and maybe even invisible, I suggest you unplug for a couple days. Connect with people in real life. Look for the good your neighbors are doing right now, then roll up your sleeves and join them. Live your truth and value the person next to you who has their own take on the world. Relish the differences and find the common threads. Gather at sunset and face the same way. United.
The recent opening of Amazon.com’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon Books, has filled my Facebook timeline with alarm, indignation and bitterness. Many swear this single act will be the final nail in the indie bookstore coffin. There’s ire directed at Amazon for being insensitive to the damage they’ve already done to indie bookstores with their wholesale buying/price cutting tactics. And once again people are talking about the paper-thin profit margins of regular bookstores.
People, get a grip. Amazon opened a bookstore. Not a meth lab or a casino or a porn shop. They sell (gasp!) books. Yes, I realize indie bookstores can’t compete with Amazon’s wholesale prices, but GAWD, it’s one bookstore. Today when most of our waking hours are stuck behind a screen, it’s refreshing to have one more way to engage people in some old-fashioned page turning.
As to the argument that Amazon.com has killed the indie bookstore, well call me Polyanna, but I see it as an opportunity to become better indie bookstores. Listen, I love reading mysteries, but I will never write like Hitchcock or Connelly or Jance or Christie. I’m me. I won’t apologize for my perspective, my visual prose, my multi-cultural characters or my obsession with addition history to my stories.
Amazon.com has forced indie bookstores to look at themselves differently, too. And the successful ones are evolving at lightening speed. Instead of fixating on the places where Amazon chops them at the knees (market reach, pricing, to name a few) successful indie bookstores are taking a close look at what they already deliver better that Amazon can’t. An intimate vibe. Helpful staff. Sense of community. Author showcase space. Access to indie books.
Need another example of how competition with Amazon.com has made indies stronger? Take a look at the new trend, specialty bookstores, and you’ll understand. Book Larder in Seattle, Washington specializes in cookbooks. They offer cooking classes, and they sell cooking stuff. Their schedule of events keeps a steady flow of foot traffic coming into the store. The cooking lessons themselves bring addition revenue and book sales. Genius. They’ve made themselves relevant to their customer base and are thriving as a result. Another Seattle-based specialty bookshop is Seattle Mystery Bookstore. Their events calendar is a who’s-who list of modern mystery bestsellers. Because mystery readers shop here, the authors come, sign books and connect with readers. Everybody wins.
In other corners of my city, indie bookshops are staffed with bookaholics – smart savvy consumers of books, they help readers discover new favorites. These vital people and places will never be retail dodos. As long as they do what they do best, they’ll never be rendered obsolete by Amazon.com. As long as they continue to push and evolve, they will be successful and relevant. And better.
I’ve been obsessed with cemeteries since I was a child. It all began when my mom, needing to attend night classes for her Master’s program, hired an unusual babysitter. The lady was nice enough, but she happened to be the daughter of a cemetery caretaker. Yes. Our sitter lived in a graveyard.
On that cold autumn afternoon, darkness descended before my brother and I had so much as swallowed down a decent after school snack. Cozy in the caretaker’s cabin, we started in on our homework when the babysitter encouraged (okay, maybe pushed) us out the front door. “Go get some fresh air before supper.”
I clung to my big brother’s arm, looking at the gray tombstones through my fingers. “What’re we supposed to do out here?” I asked.
“Well, how about hide-and-seek?” she offered. “My brother and I spent hours playing that out here when we were kids.”
That was a long night. And, toward bedtime, I was grateful to see the beam of mom’s headlights flash through the front window. I had nightmares after that. Well, in truth, I’ve always had nightmares. But after that experience, graveyards burrowed under my skin. My new two-headed fascination and phobia began.
Fast-forward to 2015. Traveling through London with my family, I stumbled across a book, HAUNTED LONDON. During an hour of down-time in the hotel, I read it cover to cover. Inside the author mentioned a place called, “Crossbones Cemetery.” A quick Google search and I found out it was a stone’s throw away from our hotel. I was determined to see it myself. Click here to book a haunted London walking tour!
The Crossbones Cemetery holds somewhere around 14,000 women and their children. There are no gravemarkers and prayers were never uttered over any of the bones within the property grounds. These were London’s castaways. Women of the night or Churchill’s geese for the orange hoods and white cloaks they were required to wear, these women were seen as too steeped in sin to warrant niceties like church rites and grave markers. That was 200 years ago.
Modern Londoners are atoning for the mistakes of their forefathers. On numerous occasions, developers have attempted to morph the property into a parking lot or other profit-churning venture. It’s always been fought and defeated. And now, well, what’s happening leaves me speechless.
IMG_6299Londoners come together once a month at Crossbones Cemetery. After uncovering the names of the women and children, they write those names on pieces of ribbon and tie them onto the surrounding fence. Slowly, they are remembering the dead, honoring their lives and reclaiming those lost souls.
As I tied our flower offering to the fence, I stood in awe. There was an overwhelming sense of peace at Crossbones. And love. And forgiveness.
This week, not because it’s Halloween, but because history lives and breathes in these sacred spaces, walk a cemetery. Take a photo. Tidy the leaves off a grave. And maybe utter a name etched into a tombstone. Who knows what this simple act will do for you or the person buried beneath your feet?
I smile easily, without any hesitation. I have crinkles on either side of my mouth from forty-six years worth of grinning. I laugh too loud and giggle until tears spill from the corners of my eyes. Some say that smiling is a superpower. Funny though. On a recent trip to London I found myself trying to refrain from smiling as I took my daily run around Hyde Park each morning. In Seattle, runners smile at one another and say, “Hi!” as they pass. Not in London. Runners pass without so much as a nod. It was the first time I ever wondered if my easy smile was a weakness. I’ll never think that again after watching this TED talk. My smiles are visual trick-or-treats for myself and others. Two thousand chocolate bars without all the calories to be exact. Find out what I’m talking about by checking this out.
We jumped in the cab at the foot of London’s shiny new landmark, The Shard. Excited to see the hotel we’d call home for the last leg of our stay, we barely noticed the luggage that totterer and shimmied at our feet as we crossed the Thames. As we drove, my family and I agreed, the Shangra-La had been posh in every way. But it was too perfect somehow. The Shard was merely a glass and metal picture frame, perfect for viewing the historic city from a lofty height but not for experiencing it. Yes, we filled our lungs with smells as we explored the city during the day, filled our stomachs with pub food. We savored old churches and visits to countless museums. But at night, we fell asleep to the twinkle of the London skyline from 46 stories above the bustle, grit and character. We were ready for a change. As the cab neared the corner of Kensington Gardens, we pulled to the curb at the foot of a pink-brick hotel that throbbed with authenticity.
There was an inevitable mix-up during check-in, but after a time, we were given keys to a suite with two adjoining rooms at the back corner of the property. We turned the key and as the door creaked open, the kids buzzed past, ran up the steps to check out room number one, then whizzed past again to see room number two. “This one is ours!” they shouted. I climbed the steps to see a room decorated in black, white and silver and flooded with natural light that came from a generous bank of windows.
My husband and I smiled and settled our things into our room-by-default. We set our luggage down below an oil-painting of twenty or so dogs, hungry ribby dogs. The rest of our room was painted in the same palette of browns, tans and grays. Two small windows and one lamp gave the room a tobacco-stained haze. Giggles from next as the kids set up house kept us from insisting they trade.
The location was ideal, within walking distance to our favorite London pub, The Britannia, we all went to bed feeling fat and happy.
Somewhere past midnight, I woke to the feeling of a cold hand gripping mine, which dangled out from beneath the duvet. It was the cold that made me tuck my hand into the blankets again. Two times more I would wake before morning light to a soft, “Mama.” The second cry caused me to walk the hall and steps up to check the kids next door. They were sound asleep. I smiled at the light they left on in the bathroom and the door they left ajar. I don’t think I was meant to know that they still needed/wanted a nightlight. I returned to bed and tucked the blankets around my ears, then slept once again.
The days after that were busy with plays, museums, trips to every H&M my tween could locate on Google maps. Every night I woke to the quiet, “Mama.” Once, I opened my eyes to see a little girl in a flouncy white dress standing near my side of the bed. She was watching me sleep with a tiny smile etched across her face. I smiled back at her. You see, I’m no stranger to ghosts and hotels. Click here to see my post about the ghost writer I had on book two.
Half-asleep, I whispered, “I know you’re interested in me because I’m a mom, but, please stop running back and forth in the hallway. You’ll wake up the kids.” Yes, the little girl spirit had been trailing behind me since we’d checked in. I asked her not to follow me into the bathroom, “That’s just plain rude,” I said. And thankfully, she obeyed.
The day of our departure, I did a thorough check of both rooms in search of forgotten items. As I zipped my daughter’s bag shut, I bit my tongue. You see, we have a couple rules when we travel. Rule 1: Never use the ghost app in a hotel room we have to sleep in. Rule 2: Never talk about any “spirit” activity in the room until we’re checked out and away from the property. I knew the rules, but we were basically checked out. The cab would be here soon. I blurted out, “Have you guys had any ghost stuff happen to you?” There wide eyes and pink cheeks confirmed the truth.
“There’s a white light that follows you everywhere, Mom,” said my teen. “It’s not a bad energy, but it’s always there, like a blur, no matter where you go.”
Then my youngest child confessed, “One night, I woke up and there was a little girl standing over me. She was watching me and sister sleep,” She glanced at the bathroom door, “And there’s a mean woman in the bathroom.”
“Oh, yeah!” interrupted the teen. “She’s horrible. That’s why I never showered here.” She scratched her head and shivered.
On the drive to the airport we exchanged stories, shocked at how they intersected. We were all grateful to be away from the historic hotel and eager to sleep in our own beds that night.
We never seek this out, but it happens to us. I guess if we had read all the Travelocity reviews before we’d booked, we would’ve known what we were getting in to. The title of one is, “Not as good as we thought and possibly haunted.”
Alex Kimmell lives in Rhode Island with his family and two dogs. The Idea of North was released in September 2015 to wide acclaim. His previous books The Key to Everything and A Chorus of Wolves are Amazon bestsellers and his short fiction has appeared in publications by Dynatox Ministries, Black Lantern Press, Front Row Lit, Canyon Voices, Wordcount Podcast and Dumb White Husband. alexkimmell.com.
When piano prodigy, Dalton Beaufort, plays his music people die.
Devastation is all that remains as storms of unprecedented size rage across the country side.
An elite group of storm trackers catch on camera a strange shape at the base of the largest tornado ever recorded.
Uncanny haunted melodies play upon the gales as whirlwinds churn and blow the world away.
Dalton must do everything in his power to discover what links him to the mysterious tempests, and avoid traveling along the path of a grim family tradition.
“Alex Kimmell’s stories just get better and better. I got an advanced review copy of The Idea of North a while back. Given his description, I really didn’t know what to expect. That’s good. When I’m reading, I like not knowing what to expect. That edgy feeling continued as the story unfolded. The writing is sharp and straight forward. Alex can turn a phrase and paint a word picture without falling into sounding too writerly. This is a haunting story that will keep you up wondering what dark path the author will lead you down. No spoilers. Just read it, and watch the sky.”
A Final Note
As a kid, I loved Steven Spielberg’s movies. He was the first movie-maker I’d known to create authentic families, lull me into the normalcy of daily life and then unravel it all, making their slow destruction all the more horrifying.
Kimmell is the literary equivalent of Spielberg. As I read his books, I’m both cringing and holding my breath to see how fate will crack and crumble his characters. And I love every minute of it.