Apr 022014
 

When I began freelancing, I didn’t have a computer. I’d write out all of my short stories and novel ideas in notebooks. Then, I’d take them to the nearest computer/coffee shop where I’d spend hours transcribing. I thought I was spending my time and energy wisely, but looking back, I wasn’t as productive as I should’ve been.

I should’ve been writing, not transcribing, but I didn’t have a proper tools or workspace. It’s easy to talk yourself out of being productive when you don’t have either.

It took me a few years, but I now have what I need: space, a laptop, software, books, a coffee maker, a routine, and the ability to say no.

This works for me, but every once in a while I dig a change of scenery. Unfortunately, I get easily distracted at coffee shops and bookstores. This leaves me with my current workspaces. I have three desk areas, but they are all very small.

Here’s what I need: space, light, color, and convenience.

Here’s what I need to do: purge and purchase new matching supplies.

When my workspace is unorganized, I find that I am mentally unorganized. I am going to fix my workspaces. My timeline to get these workspaces complete is in 1 month.

I will show before and after photos of my workspace on Monday, May 5th. Stay tuned.

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Feb 232014
 

If you’ve tuned into the news lately, you’re aware that the weather in the Midwest and beyond has been intense. It’s been snowy to say the least, but we’re tough. We can handle it. Except when people get stuck in the alleys. That’s where we draw the line.

A few weeks ago on Saturday morning, I was awakened by the sound of spinning wheels. I looked out and saw a truck stuck in the snow. The alley hadn’t been plowed and I wasn’t sure it would. Alleys aren’t top priority in Chicago after a snowstorm.

The driver kept hitting the gas. The wheels spun. This went on for an hour and a half.

If you’ve ever been awakened by somebody stuck in the snow before drinking your first cup of coffee in the morning then you know how blow-out-your-brains inducing this can be. Think I’m exaggerating? Watch for yourself:

Imagine hearing this for an hour and a half.

Just as I was about to go out and bring the driver a shovel, I saw my neighbor trying to help. Strange thing was, the driver didn’t seem to want his help. Eventually, two burly men arrived and pushed the driver out of the snow.

A beautiful calm fell over my alley and all I could think was, silence is wonderful.

Note to self: emergency shovels are essential and rather cheap.

Note to others: Chicago winters aren’t something to be messed with. Prepare well.

 

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 Posted by at 12:15 pm
Oct 072013
 

A few months ago, I stopped working on my novel. I was scared to finish it because I knew I’d have to tackle some painful childhood memories and I didn’t want to deal with them. I wanted to leave them in the past where they belonged.

I did everything to prevent myself from thinking about them including starting new projects, planning trips, and drawing, but it didn’t work. I had the urge to finish my novel, but I couldn’t. Not until I dealt with some issues.

I made the decision to stop pushing away the pain, even though the thought terrified me. And I knew a scratch of the surface wouldn’t do. I was going to have to sledgehammer that bad-boy open. I needed to feel every emotion.  It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was downright painful, but this is bleeding on the page. This is writing born from pain. This is the feel of writing.

I jumped in head-first and started off by interviewing my parents and then each one of my siblings. It forced me to look at the same situation from many different angles, which is a phenomenal gift, but difficult. Their truth was not my truth and vice versa. Since we’re all individuals with our own take on each situation, our perceptions were different. I had to come to the realization that this is okay. This is real.

Then I had my sister interview me. In the middle of the interview, I let everything go and shouted out my feelings. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. It shocked me, but it was also liberating.

I’m glad I decided to interview my family because it recharged my novel. I am now able to look at it with mature eyes.

The process of writing this novel has been incredible. It has broken me down mentally, built me up, and challenged everything I am and thought I was. I am emotionally drained, but enlightened in a way I never thought possible.

I didn’t want those memories to bleed into my current work, but the truth is, that wasn’t authentic. I needed to bust open the memories from my past to write what I am meant to write and I’m glad I did.

Now back to work.

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 Posted by at 6:23 pm
Aug 232013
 

My sister and I recently finished our collaborative picture book. I’ve got to tell you – it feels amazing! It took a lot of hard work, motivation, and serious revision, but we’re finished. It looks awesome and I like the way it reads.

I am proud of us!

This work is especially important to me because it’s about growing up as a multiracial kid, a subject I know all too well.

I grew up in Chicago in an area called Ukrainian Village and went to a grammar school in Humboldt Park; a neighborhood that was a stone’s throw away and mostly Puerto Rican. Many of the students that attended my grammar school were 100% Puerto Rican. My sister and I were not. We were genuine Poliricans – half Polish, half Puerto Rican. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, but it was back then. I didn’t and still don’t speak Spanish or Polish. To people in these very strong communities that is a no-no. It looks lazy and like you don’t care enough about where you came from, but that is incorrect. All that means is that neither language was available to you. If you were not immersed in a particular language, chances are, you did not pick it up. That’s what happened to us. It had nothing to do with us being lazy or not wanting to connect with our cultures. It didn’t have anything to do with the kinds of people we were or the kinds of people our parents were. It did however, have everything to do with the environment we grew up in. Now try explaining that to a child. I can tell you from personal experience that all of those things don’t matter because kid world is different from adult world and it comes with its own rules. Kids can be loving and enthusiastic, but at their worst they can be as cruel and illogical as any adult.

I was told that I wasn’t Puerto Rican because I didn’t speak Spanish in the 7th grade. When I stood up for myself, my classmate asked if I was calling her mother a liar because that’s who she got that idea from. She was the tallest girl in my class and she was towering over me in a threatening way. For a moment, it scared me. Would she really hit me? I didn’t know. All I knew was that you never wanted to call somebody’s mother a liar in grammar school because it could get you punched. So I did what any kid my age would do, I backed off and let it be. I never believed what she said, but I never liked her or her mother again. From that day on, I refused to be her friend.

What she said to me divided us. It made me feel like I was not good enough to be Puerto Rican, that even though I had this blood running through my veins, until I spoke Spanish, I would never be good enough for that girl and all of the other Latina’s that spoke Spanish. To them, I would be just be an imposter, a fake, different.

Being different is the worst thing you can be in grammar school. Nobody wants to be different. Everybody just wants to fit in and blend and exist because nobody wants to be made fun of. Everybody just wants to be left alone. Most days, I was, but some days, I wasn’t. So, I just got quieter and quieter. All I wanted to do was disappear. And I was disappearing or at least my self-esteem was. That’s how it all started. That’s when I learned how to bury my feelings. That’s where it lay until this one day when I took my son to the park.

This older kid singled him out and told these little girls not to play with him because he thought my son looked weird. Weird to kids nowadays seems to be the new racial epithet. And he wouldn’t let it go. He was berating him and my son didn’t know what they were saying because, well he was two, but I did and it brought back all of these horrible memories of being ostracized by ignorance. All because he looked different. It made me angry.

So, in order for my son to be accepted into their world he had to look like them? Who told them that nonsense?! Where did they pick up that ideology?! I wanted to leave and never take my son back to that park, but my husband said no. That we weren’t going to just walk away and hide. That doing so would be teaching our son that he’s not welcome to play where ever he wanted to and that is not a good lesson to teach a child. You know what? He was right!

And then one of the little girls said something that changed everything. She said, “WHO CARES IF HE LOOKS WEIRD. I DON’T CARE!” And I wanted to applaud that little girl and I was, on the inside, because even though she didn’t know it, she was standing up for my son, for people of color, for me. I knew then that my son and this world would be okay. And that is how our picture book was born.

It’s a book that is long over-due, a book that kids like my siblings and I have been waiting for our whole lives. We are currently shopping our PB around and we’re hoping that it gets picked up soon. This world needs this book and more books about being multiracial; about acceptance and love.

Our fingers are crossed.

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Jul 162013
 

30. Moisturize. Enough said.

29. Recognize your part in everything and take responsibility for your action and inaction.

28. Exercise is a necessity. If you work your body, you will work your mind.

27. Fun is essential.

26. There are a lot of bullies in adulthood. Don’t let people treat and talk to you any old way and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Remember, if you don’t, who will?

25. Fresh foods are the key to healthy living.

Fruit Bowl

24. Go to the doctor and the dentist regularly.

stethoscope

23. Don’t say you’re sorry unless you mean it. It comes off as disingenuous and everybody knows that a phony apology is worse than no apology at all.

22. Having good friends is important.

21. ABL. Always be laughing.

20. Don’t talk to people any old way. They’ll always remember the way you made them feel – disrespected and insignificant.

19. Sometimes it’s better said with a look. Remember the folks from The Office?

18. Take a moment for yourself during the day and go to bed on time to ensure that you’ll always be and feel your best.

17. Travel and make photo books.

16. Some people will disagree with the decisions you’ve made and are making in your life. This is okay.

15. Love yourself.

14. Sometimes you’ll go through a rough patch. Just remember – it’s temporary.

13. Splurge on good coffee. Trust me, you will not regret it.

coffee

12. Believe in yourself. Now take a chance.

11. It is okay to indulge sometimes.

10. Listen to what people are saying and not what you think they are saying.

9. Your spouse/partner/significant other is one of the only people you’ve chosen to have in your life. Remember that and treat them as such.

8. Your body tells you everything. Pay attention to it when it’s shouting at you.

7. There are many young, brilliant minds. Respect the youth.

6. If somebody hurts your feelings, be confident and tell them straight away. Under no circumstances should you let those feelings fester.

5. Your tongue can be just as cutting as a knife. Choose your words wisely.

4. Always be in control of your emotions.

3. Life plans are amazing.

2. Have a running list of nouns that make you happy and refer to it often.

1. When you love the people in your life, love them hard because they won’t be around forever and chances are you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Hearts

That’s what I’ve learned in the past five years. What about you? What did you learn in your 30′s or are learning?

 

*Note: all images were created by me – Janina R. Williams. Please contact me for permission before using.

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May 122013
 
I sketched these two fellas using Paper by FiftyThree

I sketched these two fellas using Paper by FiftyThree

When I found out Roger Ebert passed away, I felt hollow and sad. Much like the way I felt when I found out that Ray Bradbury had died. He was my favorite short story writer. Most of that sadness has passed and I now feel inspired by the work they’ve both left behind.

Ray Bradbury was a brilliant writer. Most people would probably know him by his novel Fahrenheit 451, but I know him by his short story, “All Summer in a Day.” It’s the story of a girl named Margot who lives on Venus where it always rains and where the sun only comes out once every seven years. It is a wonderful short story I recommend checking out if you haven’t already read it. I read it for the first time when I was eight. It was one of the stories in the Great Books series given to me by my teacher. I read it over the summer and fell in love. I was most drawn to the human aspects and emotions of the story. “All Summer in a Day” changed the way I viewed story telling and writing by opening my mind to the possibility of constructing unhappy endings.

In the same respect, I found Roger Ebert to be a ridiculously talented writer and reviewer. I looked up to him in more ways than one. He went to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, was in an interracial marriage, and loved the city of Chicago. I can relate to all of these things. I went to U of I, am in an interracial marriage, and love the city of Chicago.

Ebert wrote a great piece about his love for his wife. Check it out here: Roger Loves Chaz. It’s a good read. I have yet to write such a beautiful piece about my husband, but that’s another post for another day.

I attended the Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois with my husband one year. Roger Ebert showcased a brilliant documentary about amateur boxers. Afterwards there was a Q & A session with the director, which I found fascinating. My husband and I were talking about the movie while exiting the theater when I looked over and saw him walking with two gentlemen. To be honest, it caught me off guard. He was so close. I’d seen him on television so many times, so to see him in person was surreal. I wanted to talk to him, but I didn’t know what to say and by the time I did, he was gone.

My husband and I finally made our way outside and started to walk towards our car when I looked back and saw Ebert. He turned his head and looked directly at me like I was the only person on the street. I said to him, “That was awesome!” His reply? “It was, wasn’t it?” And I shook my head yes. He could’ve very well left me hanging and not answered at all, but he didn’t. It was like he actually cared. I will forever cherish that memory.

I actually thought I’d have the opportunity to discuss his take on writing one day (it’s good to hope), but nope. Now, his books will have to do.

What an amazing legacy Ray Bradbury and Roger Ebert left behind.

I wonder if anybody else will ever come close to their genius.

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Feb 192013
 

If my alley could talk…

A week ago, at 3 a.m., I heard shouting. I sprung up from my bed, darted towards the window, and lifted the shade to see two guys screaming at each other. One was thin and dressed in white t-shirt and jeans with an open windbreaker. He was wobbling as he walked and I couldn’t tell if it was because he was completely inebriated or if it was because of our icy alley. I soon came to the realization that it had everything to do with alcohol. His friend, a big burly man with shaggy red hair and a beard was screaming at the top of his lungs. “I’M NOT GOING TO LET YOU DRIVE HOME.”

The conversation went something like this:

James Dean Dude: “Why do you care dude? Huh, why do you care?!”

Red Haired Dude: “Because I f’ing care about you okay. I don’t want you to f’in kill someone. I don’t want you to kill yourself!”

James Dean Dude: “Who cares if I kill myself?!”

Red Haired Dude: “I f’ing care okay! I F’ING CARE!

James Dean Dude and Red Haired Dude get into a scuffle. Red Haired Dude comes out of it with an accessory.

James Dean Dude: What, so you’re a tough guy now? YOU’RE A F’ING TOUGH GUY? Give me my glasses.”

Red Haired Dude: “No, I’m not giving you your glasses! You’re not driving home. I’m not letting you drive home!”

James Dean Dude reaches for glasses, but Red Haired Dude is way too strong for drunken James Dean Dude.

James Dean Dude: “Give me my glasses.”

Red Haired Dude: “No.”

James Dean Dude: “Give me my glasses, give me my glasses, give me my glasses, give me my glasses dude, GIVE ME MY F’CKIN’ GLASSES, GIVE ME MY F’CKIN’ GLASSES, GIVE ME THEM, GIVE THEM TO ME, GIVE THEM TO ME.” X 10.

Red Haired Dude: “No, you’re acting like an f’king dick.

James Dean Dude: FFFFFFFFFUUUUU!

Red Haired Dude: “FU you F’king dick! You are f’king wasted, you stupid piece of ish.”

James Dean Dude: (Stomps around with arms flailing.) “Give me my glasses or I’ll call the cops.”

Red Haired Dude: “I’ll call them right now. Here’s my phone.” (Lifts phone into air).

At this point I’m hoping he actually does it, but of course he doesn’t.

They continue screaming like this for five more minutes and I decide that this is my cue to call the cops if I ever want to get back to sleep again.

James Dean Dude: (Stomps around again minus arms) “I can’t see! I CAN’T SEE WITHOUT MY GLASSES!”

Red Haired Dude: “Walk to the street.”

James Dean Dude: “I can’t see. I can’t see.”

Red Haired Dude: “Walk to the street. WALK MFK’er. Walk!”

James Dean Dude: “I can’t see!”

Red Haired Dude: “Put one foot in front of the other and walk.”

James Dean Dude: “I can’t see!”

This is when I realized that the James Dean Dude had some major problems beyond being a little drunk. I was watching a full blown alcoholic with severe mental problems. I started to feel really bad for the Red Haired Dude because I could tell that he really cared for him and I could see this friendship ending very soon. I could also picture the Red Haired Dude being completely broken up by the friendship and I could imagine the James Dean Dude being indignant about it.

I wanted to open up the window and tell the Red Haired Dude that it was useless; that he was wasting his breath. I wanted to say that the James Dean Dude’s problems were way bigger than he could ever imagine and that no amount of trying to make him see that he is screwing up his life will make him change, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t my battle to fight.  It wasn’t even the Red Haired Dudes battle to fight. It was the James Dean Dudes fight and he was in a battle with himself.

The cops were supposedly on their way, but probably not.

A few minutes later, I saw another man walking down the alley and I was scared for him. The two guys were so aggressive I thought they might beat him up just for being around. Luckily, they didn’t. They just moved out of the way and continued on with their argument. And just like out of a movie, a homeless man erupted onto the scene. He walked right up to the two dudes, completely fearless, and said, “Come on guys. Don’t argue. Why all the screaming?”

They both looked at the homeless man and I thought maybe, just maybe they were going to realize how ridiculous and rude they were being, but no. They just shook their heads at him like he was the crazy one and turned the corner.

The alley became silent again.

I learned two things from episode:

  1. Alcoholics make miserable companions.
  2. I fear Wicker Park in the summertime.

Stay tuned for more stories from The Alley From Hell.

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Feb 062013
 

This past weekend I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild. It didn’t hit me until a day later, but the storyline reminded me an awful lot of The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is about a father and daughter struggling to survive before and after a devastating hurricane in Louisiana. The Road is a story about a father and son traveling in a post-apocalyptic world looking for food and shelter and just plain trying to survive.

In Beasts, the story is about a father and his child, a daughter. In The Road, the story is about a father and his child, but in this case, it’s his son. In Beasts, the hurricane signifies the end of the world. In The Road, the father and son are living in a post-apocalyptic world. In Beasts, food is scarce. In The Road, food is also scarce and it is very much feast or famine. In Beasts, the father is a hard son-of-a-gun. In The Road, the father is a hard son-of-a-gun. In Beasts, the mother leaves her family. In The Road, the mother also leaves her family, but in a much different way. In Beasts, it’s important to the father that his daughter be as tough as nails and independent. In The Road, it is essential that the father teach his son how to survive and how to be independent. In Beasts, when the daughter gets emotional, the father gets angry. In The Road, when the son is sympathetic to a starving old man and takes action, the father gets angry. In Beasts, the father is sick and deteriorating. In The Road, the father is sick and deteriorating. The endings are virtually the same.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is based off of a one-act play called Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar. In it, the protagonist is a boy, which makes it even more like The Road. Check out this interview with Lucy Alibar: Interview. Juicy and Delicious was published in 2012.

There are two main differences between Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Road. One is the setting although a good argument can be made that both are apocalyptic. The other is why the authors came to write what they did. Cormac McCarthy said The Road was inspired by and written for his son. Lucy Alibar said that Juicy and delicious, the one-act play in which Beasts of the Southern Wild was based off of, was written because she was trying to deal with and process her father’s sickness. Although both writers were inspired by two vastly different relationships, the plotlines are similar.

The Road was published in 2006 and won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. To read more about it, please visit: http://www.pulitzer.org/works/2007-Fiction. Here is an interview that Oprah Winfrey did with McCarthy back in 2008 about his work as a writer and his book, The RoadInterview.

I would recommend seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild because it is wildly engaging and well done. That said, I would also recommend reading and watching The Road for the same reasons.

What are your thoughts?

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Feb 012013
 

Don’t you feel lighter when you have less stuff around? I know I do. If I have too many things clogging my space, my mind feels cluttered. Then I have a hard time focusing, which means I can’t write.

So I’ve decided to start on my purge early this year. I’m purging clothes, lighting fixtures, furniture, and books among other things. The problem is I’m not the selling type. I’m the mail it to people I know or drop it off at the thrift store type.

The biggest problem for me is setting aside the time to actually do it. I always feel like I have to make extra special concessions to get this stuff out of my place. It’s definitely a process. I have to get my head right, make a plan, and drag the stuff down to my car. I’ve had a bag of junk, er stuff sitting in my trunk for the last month and I have no idea why.

A new revelation - no more stuff.

I have this horrible habit of collecting things and then stuffing them into random spaces I almost never visit, like cabinets, drawers, or parts of my closet. It’s the whole out of sight, out of mind thing. Hoarding tendencies I suppose. I no longer have the luxury of keeping the stuff I don’t use because things are looking rather cluttered.

Here’s what I’ve heard you should do if you’re interested in purging:

  1. If you have more than one item, keep the best one and get rid of the others.
  2. If you no longer fit into a piece of clothing, it’s time to let it go. This is the hardest one for me because I have a lot of clothes that I love and I’m just not ready to let them go yet. Maybe you are?
  3. Go paperless by scanning everything. Have you all seen Try Neat? I don’t have one, but I do have the VuPoint Scanning Wand. I’ve used it to scan my magazine clips collection and it is amazing. My intention with this gadget has been to scan all of my bills and important papers, but it’s been a year since I entertained the idea and I have yet to start.
  4. If you’re still using CD’s, it’s time to get an MP3 player. Seriously.
  5. Organize your junk drawers. I do this like once a year.
  6. If you have kids, go through their toys. Are any of them broken? If so, toss. Have they outgrown them? Perhaps give them away. There are so many toys in my home that it feels like a toy store. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a good or bad thing. I am also trying to figure out a way to organize the toys. Check out this blog post by Rachel Meeks about how to declutter toys.
  7. Only buy furniture that works with your space. I wish I had burned this into my brain when we first moved in. We brought way too many pieces from our old apartment, but I spent good money on them and didn’t want to let them go. I now realize how ridiculous that was. In the last three years, I’ve slowly gotten rid of a lot of our huge pieces of furniture, but I still have some that I can’t bare to part with. They sit in the back of my closet, but now that the clutter is building up, I think it’s time to get rid of those pieces too. It’s so sad because they are so beautiful.
  8. And the best idea I’ve heard about purging, stop buying new stuff.

Here’s a great article by Peter Walsh about how to declutter: ”5 Steps to Kick-start your Clutter Cleaning.”

Good luck all!

 

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