Our Gifts: Small and Large #MondayBlogs

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It is not unusual for me to briefly return to painting or drawing after a particularly long writing session, or if I feel stuck in a chapter or a paragraph of my work in progress. Yes, you could say I reward myself for a good writing session with my first passion—painting, and you’d also be correct if you thought I return to what I know best and did for most of my adult life when things get tough. You see, I came to writing late in life–at age 50 to be exact.

Usually, I force myself to remain seated in my writing chair by trying out different phrases, grabbing the thesaurus, breathing in and out, and visualizing the scene, because I know writers must travel through dark valleys, alleys, and around corners to get to the other side, to the light. It has happened to me—beautiful prose doesn’t always flow on demand because we have time, the inclination, or even if the muse is willing.

I am blessed to have many wonderful avenues of expression—all creative outlets—and I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t paint. I thought of this last week and came to a realization—everything we do is a creative outlet; no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to us…or others. Our creative outlets are blessings, and I am grateful for them.

How grateful am I?

My artistic gifts have always nourished and sustained me. My gifts of writing and painting keep me grounded, and make me feel vital, energized, and relevant. I do not, however, have other gifts which others might take for granted if they don’t view them as gifts and creative outlets. For example, I cannot sing a note without sounding off-key, and I don’t have the breath necessary to really belt out a song, which I’ve always wanted to do! I am not good at math, so my checking account is usually a bit messy, and I’m not a great organized, so my writing desk isn’t neat and tidy–I was absent the day God handed out those gifts.

I am, however, highly intuitive and creative; always have been. When I was growing up, my father turned his head at the gift of intuition, as well as my gifts of creativity and imagination. His feet were firmly planted on the ground and growing up poor only led to his deeply-rooted belief that everyone should earn their way in life; hobbies were silly. When I was ready for college, my father was adamant that studying art and painting would lead me nowhere and that I would die of starvation. I wanted to pursue art and English Literature in college, but he forced me to study business, which I did. I pursued art and writing on my own while working as a secretary for seven years before I married and had children of my own.

Of course as is life when you are a creative person (and a stubborn woman), I ended up painting, writing, and exhibiting my paintings as an adult. I now use my gifts every day, and so do you. You might bake, make beautiful flower arrangements or wreaths, decorate a beautiful room, and have a garden that people admire. You might make furniture, work on cars, cross stitch, write short stories, make beautiful scrap books or invitations, or write poetry. I never took my gifts for granted because I had to fight for them all my life.

But how grateful am I for my creative gifts?

Last week, during my first book festival as a participating author, I met a tall, lanky young man who approached my author table, pushing a stroller that held an adorable infant who was rubbing her eyes, flanked by two little girls who held onto the sides of the stroller. The young man introduced himself as William and then he introduced his daughters, which I thought was beautiful. As it turned out, soft-spoken William and his brood were looking for a gift for his wife/their mother for Mother’s Day.

I answered his questions about my historical novel, A Decent Woman, and he said the book sounded right for his wife. He went on to tell me how strongly he felt about introducing his young daughters to women who are living their passions in life. I was entirely charmed by William, and my sister and I agreed that he was an amazing father.

Then William told us a moving story about his battle with brain cancer after a youth spent on drugs, playing basketball for his university only to fall and injure his knee, and about getting in trouble most of his young life. He said it was time to share his story. Well, it has been a long time since I taught creative writing, but I encouraged him and without thinking, I said I’d help him as a writing coach and I’d edit his manuscript free of charge. The words rolled off my tongue and felt right.

William thanked me, reached across the author table, and shook my hand. I handed him my business card, and asked him to send me an outline of his story. He was overjoyed and when he left, I whispered to my sister, “What have I done? I’m writing and researching my second novel. I don’t have time for this!” My sister smiled and reminded me of the question I’d posed to myself the week before, “How grateful am I?” Was I willing to give back for writing an historical novel that has so far been well received? Was I serious about being grateful? It would have certainly been easier if I’d offered to read to his daughters or even babysit! Writing takes time, energy, and lots more energy. I’m 57…I don’t have all the time in the world, but I’d committed. And I always keep my word.

On Monday morning, I had a long email from William with an outline attached. I was blown away by what I read—his life had indeed been a struggle from childhood to the present. It’s a wonderfully inspirational story, and the outline will need a lot of fleshing out, but the bones are there. I will learn a lot while coaching and editing for William, and I have a feeling William will teach me more than I could ever imagine.

I know it will take us some time to write William’s inspirational memoir because he is a new writer, but we’re on the path. One chapter at a time.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of PEN America and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

My Last Blog Post of 2014

matthew's 21st bday

2014 was a tough year for my family…2010-2103 weren’t cake walks, either. Now, I’m not saying wonderful things didn’t happen to us because they sure did, but boy, this year was challenging. With every dream come true and answered prayer, came much learning, new challenges and very steep learning curves. Yes, I can look back today and see how much we’ve grown. I am thankful for my lessons…well, most of the lessons. I’m tougher and more resilient than I thought possible, which is a good thing. I’ve bent, been flexible, and stood my ground when the ground was indeed pretty shaky. I did pray and ask for a little relief this year. I also asked for no tests in 2015; I get it, God. I need a little sitting on the plateau time; no more steep climbs and learning curves for me, please…and thank you.

I made it through another year, thank God. I’m grateful and thankful for what I have. I’m healthy, happy, and my precious children are, too. Thank God. I have a roof over my head, my heat turns on when I turn the heating dial, and I have clean water and food. I might not have a whole lot of money left at the end of each month, but I’m doing okay. I’m blessed to do what I love and am passionate about–writing books and painting on the side. I live a quiet, peaceful, and very creative life, which I love. I have a loving children, a wonderful family, and great friends, which includes my puppy, Sophie and Pierre, my cat. I pray for continued good health for myself, my children, my family and friends in the near year and beyond, and I pray my debut novel, A Decent Woman, is well-received when it comes out in Spring 2015. What a long road this has been!

I prayed for all these things last night, and then…

last night, I opened my front door and watched my quiet neighbors from across the street, a mother and her adult son, place everything they own on the sidewalk. It was a cold night and my heart broke for them. I already knew they would be evicted and had offered my help, but the son wouldn’t hear of it. I walked over and offered my help again. He thanked me and turned back to the job at hand. I felt helpless as I turned back toward my house.

The warmth of my home welcomed me as I opened my front door and my puppy, Sophie wagged her tail when I walked through. I had texts from my children and two phone calls to return from dear friends. I answered the texts and made the calls, but I couldn’t shake what I’d seen across the street. Around midnight, the sidewalk was full of boxes and furniture and there were no lights on in the house. Where had they gone? Would I ever see them again? We weren’t close; I barely knew them as they kept to themselves for the year they lived on my street, but I was sad for them and wished them well.

So, no complaints from me. I’m blessed. Amen.

I wish you and yours a blessed, happy, prosperous, and healthy New Year.

 

 

The 2014 Joy/Happiness Jar Challenge

#JoyJar #HappinessJar 2014

Do you like challenges? I always like a good challenge that doesn’t involve alligator wrestling, bungee jumping off a bridge or sticking my hand in a bee hive. If you like those sort of challenges, good for you. I’ll fearlessly root for you at a safe, dry distance with the first aid kit. I’ll remain poised, ready to punch in the numerals, 9, 1, 1 on my cell phone, and I might even take a photo or two for posterity’s sake. But then my fingers wouldn’t be poised and ready to punch in 911, would they? Scratch that then.

In late December 2013, I accepted a friend’s Facebook invitation to begin a year-long Facebook challenge to keep a Joy/Happiness Jar for 2014. The instructions were to begin writing little notes on January 1st and continue throughout the year with our joyous life events, and dropping them in a jar or container until the following January. I loved the idea and being an optimist, I found a larger-than-normal Bell jar at Walmart and couldn’t wait to begin filling it. I went a step further—I bought beautiful papers at the craft store on which to write. I cut the 11×14 sheets of paper into one-inch squares and away I went. I’m a Virgo. We do things like that, but I didn’t decorate my jar, which many friends did. I was proud of my restraint as I remember the year I decoupaged everything in my home that didn’t move. Trust me…everything.

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January 2014 was the perfect year to begin my joyously, joyful Joy Jar as many lovely things happened to me, my family, and our friends. The previous year would have been okay, but the little notes would have included more personal wishes than joyous occasions as I was still waiting, waiting for many projects to take flight and situations to unfold. There were engagements, weddings, graduations, new babies, reunions great trips and road trips, new adventures, and my publishing contract with Booktrope Books in February. After many years of quering agents, my historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, was accepted for publication! A huge blessing. It was very easy to think of joyous, surprising, and amazing occasions this year, for which I am thankful. When nothing newsworthy happened that week, I wrote that I was happy to be alive, healthy and safe as were my kids and my family.

Yes, we experienced a few disappointments, some sad moments, confusion, major delays (my book), frustration, a big fright, and a bit of anger, but that’s life. I lost my beloved Pug, Ozzy. RIP, buddy. We must take the good with the bad. Thankfully for my family, the negative moments were short-lived, and many of those moments unveiled hidden blessings for which we are extremely grateful for today.

So, I have less than ten days to finish filling my Joy Jar, which is nearly full. This afternoon, I wrote ten joys on ten little squares of paper and dropped them in the jar. On New Year’s Day 2015, I will empty the contents, unfold the notes, and read back over the year. I am thinking of having some type of ceremony–a symbolic burning of the small, folded pieces of paper as an offering of thanksgiving for all our many blessings in 2014, along with prayers. That sounds good to me and appeals to my spiritual side. After the ceremony, if I don’t catch the house on fire, I will go out and ring in the New Year with friends and family.

Christmas blessings to you and yours. x

Growing Old

Daddy at beach 2013Thursday, Florida.

Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease. Cancer is a horrible disease. As I write this blog post, my 84-year old father lies in a hospital bed staring at the soft yellow wall in front of him. He doesn’t seem focused on anything in particular, and I wonder what his brain is telling him. My father’s brain has failed him. It’s impossible to know what he remembers and has retained from his surgery on Monday. I quickly realize he doesn’t remember a thing. It seems unreal and particularly cruel than an elderly man should have undergone a delicate and long surgery to remove a cancerous tumor behind his ear on Monday that cost him his ear. In a perfect and kind world, no one after the age of sixty should have to deal with any disease; they should simply grow old gracefully, and with dignity and no pain.

According to the doctor, my dad is healing quite well physically, and the nurses inform us my dad’s agitation and anxiety of Monday-Wednesday has lessened. He is no longer fighting with the nurses and his night time caregiver who he cursed out royally yesterday. My dad seems calm, but entirely confused.  His roommate, a 98-year old man, is yelling for help at the top of his lungs, and clawing at his sheets. I see the man trying to swing his legs over the side of his hospital bed. We are shaken and feel for him, and relieved for our dad when a nurse comes in and gives dad’s roommate a sedative. The screaming is weighing on my dad; we are conflicted.

Every few minutes, my dad looks over at me and my sister and smiles as if he is surprised to see us. We are used to that. He asks us the same questions he has asked since Wednesday-‘when did you arrive’, ‘how long are you staying’, ‘when is Rebecca coming’, and ‘what the hell am I doing in the hospital’. At first we tell him we arrived on Wednesday, we’re staying a week, our step-mom is soon to arrive at the hospital for her visit, and we tell him he had surgery to remove a small growth behind his ear. His hand immediately goes up to his ear, and he pats the thick bandage, and then looks back at us. We wonder if he knows his ear was removed. My sister and I look at each other. He doesn’t seem to be in pain, and we can’t imagine what he looks like under the bandage. We are heartbroken for him. We now lie to our father. Every few minutes, the same questions. None of our answers have been retained.

My step-mom finally arrives, and my father’s face lights up like a kid on Christmas morning. Even the nurse’s assistant, a young Haitian woman, notices the change; it’s amazing. My step-mom babies him, spoons feeds him his lunch, and again, my sister and I are thankful for Rebecca. She is wonderful with my dad, and we are blessed. They’ve been married eighteen years, and the love, care and commitment shows, but she is tired.

My step-mom never had kids, I have two children, and my sister has two children. Rebecca now has a child in my father. A strange thought enters my mind. I am a 57-year old woman, and I’m thankful I’m single. My adult children are out of my nest, and it’s only me at home in West Virginia. My sister and I are caring for my dad this weekend when Rebecca goes to a hotel for some much-needed R&R. I wonder who will take care of me when I’m 84?

A Much-Needed Blog Detour

IMG_7086The book, THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, a birthday gift from my step-mom a year after she married my dad, sat on my book shelf for nearly a year before I opened it. I knew why it took me a year to read the book-I didn’t want to get to know my step-mom. I was still grieving my mother’s unexpected death in 1992. Although R was nice enough, and she and my dad were happy in their new home in South Florida, I wasn’t ready to form a relationship with the lifelong Floridian who I felt sure would keep my dad in Florida. That was my grief speaking. No one could replace my mother in my mind, and after a few years, I realized R wasn’t trying to take her place, and they weren’t moving back to Northern Virginia, either. Then, the Army sent my husband to Belgium, and we moved abroad.

I saw my dad and step-mom during our family home leaves to the US, and we grew closer. In 2006, I moved back to Northern Virginia with my children after 13 years abroad, and knew their decision to remain in Florida would mean fewer family visits, and hardships all around if one or both of them became ill. I was now a single, working mother on a limited budget, I couldn’t fly down at the drop of a hat, and neither could my sister, also a single mom. Despite the distance between us, we finally managed to become a family.

My step-mom has taken wonderful care of my father over the years as he battled colon cancer, and she dealt with her own cancer scare. She remains a courageous, loving, and committed caregiver as they both deal with my father’s advanced Alzheimer’s. Just this week, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor growing in my father’s skull, so my step-mom and 84-year old father are looking at a tough end of the year. His surgery will be extremely delicate because of his advanced age, and the location of the tumor. I’ve been told putting my dad under anesthesia could speed up his dementia or cause a stroke, so I’m headed to South Florida with my youngest sister in early October to care for our father, and give R a much-needed break.

I had all intentions of writing today’s blog post about THE ARTIST’S WAY, a book that changed my life and helped birth my writing career. I wanted to tell you how I read a chapter a month for a year, and discovered the world of  words and journaling. I wanted to share how passionate I am about this book (actually, all of Julia Cameron’s books), the impetus for inviting six friends to ‘do’ the workbook with me the following year, and many years after that. Julia Cameron is one of the reasons I wrote A DECENT WOMAN, and why I write full time today…

but after writing the seventh word in this blog post, I knew I was going a different route, taking a healing detour I needed. I realize what’s on my mind and heavy heart today are my dad and my step-mom, not The Artist’s Way, not Julia Cameron.

I’m thankful to have you in my life, R. I love you both. XO

Ellie XO

Taking Risks and Knowing When To Move On

writing at the river 015 Our riverfront property on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River has been my favorite place to write for four years. Last night, my co-owner and I signed on the dotted line to sell this idyllic property. I hoped this day would never come, but it did. I had a hard time putting pen to paper. I’ve accepted that this place might not be available to me to write, relax and enjoy nature from, and I’m sad, but I’m moving on. I’m a firm believer that when we close a door, a  better one opens for us.

In my previous life, I worked for a Northern Virginia non-profit as one of five Spanish language Family Support Workers (FSW). I worked there for a couple of years and although I dearly loved the important work we did for our wonderful illegal clients, I was unhappy. Our caseloads were unmanageable (25-27 families per FSW), the workload was brutal, and the burn out rate among FSW was very high. We were required to make home visits every week, sometimes five a day. Our job was to educate young parents and single mothers from pregnancy to their child’s fifth birthday as their first born in this country entered kindergarten. I found it extremely frustrating because most families were hurting. Their most basic needs were not always met-shelter, food, diapers,  medical care and I found it difficult to teach and educate when they were hungry or had just been kicked out of their cockroach-infested apartment.  And if you’re familiar with the DC area traffic, you will understand that we were all behind in our documentation, visits quota, weekly and monthly reports and mandatory classes. And, of course, we were paid peanuts. Before I arrived, five FSWs quit in one week and our complaints and team suggestions fell on deaf ears.

Frustrated, stressed to the max with no time to write or paint to relax and be happy made Ellie one very unhappy woman! During this time, someone gave me a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? I devoured that little book and gave copies to my children, family and friends.

I realized that I had to change my life. I’d been a working and exhibiting artist for over 27 years and I wanted to finish the historical novel I began writing in 2005. What was I was doing working at a job that was not fulfilling and wreaking havoc on my nervous system! The work was important work to be sure and I knew that. But living in the DC area making peanuts was nuts. I had to live where I could afford to live AND paint and write again, but I didn’t want to leave my adult children who were just out of college and  now living and working in Northern Virginia.

So, the next best thing happened. After a year of searching for river properties in Virginia and West Virginia (I’d only visited once) that I could afford, I came across an online ad for the property we now own. I showed it to my friend and she was interesting in going on this crazy adventure with me. We drove out, took one look and made an offer. We got the property for a great price. She and I inherited a large camper on a large, level lot, a pontoon boat with no motor and a riverfront patio. We loved it. We drove out on the weekends with family and friends and I kept my FSW job thinking that I would now be happy. I could relax at the river, return energized and I was still living ten minutes from my kids who were soon out of my nest. Perfect!

No. Not perfect. The fresh air, river, the birds, and thoughts of our fun, relaxing weekends called to me every day as I sat in horrific traffic knowing that I would be late for yet another home visit  that I barely had time for. My hands were tied and I knew it. Nothing we said to the powers that be were listened to. Two months later, I called our realtor and asked her to find me a house in West Virginia, close to river. A month later, I gave my two week notice. Three other FSW left after I did. I signed the documents with jittery hands and inherited a quirky, drafty 109-year old red brick house with a great garden and good bones. I’d never bought a house alone. I felt like I’d fallen off a damn cliff, but knew that I had to push forward. The momentum had started. There was no going back, but my kids thought I’d lost my marbles.

I live 30 minutes away from our river property, so I have been fortunate to spend large portions of time there, gardening and writing. The photo is the exact spot where I finished my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman. It is a very special place to me.

So, life goes on. My co-owner is retiring and returning to her hometown in Massachusetts. My son is moving to Europe next week and my daughter is getting married next Fall with plans to move to North Carolina in the future. For me to visit friends, my children and family who live in many different states and in Europe, I decided not to pursue another co-owner to keep the river property. It didn’t feel right. The money from the sale will allow me to travel, pay off my student loan (hallelujah!) and maybe buy the 17 sets of wood shutters for my original sash windows. Or maybe I’ll just travel 🙂

The awesome little book, Who Moved My Cheese? helped me to learn how to recognize opportunities, continue to believe and trust in my gut instincts about people, places and things, and mostly importantly, I’ve learned to make moves toward a better life and future by making fierce and fearless moves.

I reread the book when Booktrope accepted my manuscript, A Decent Woman. I had queried literary agents and small publishing companies for two years and I am grateful that this Indie publishing company took a chance on me.

I just had a light bulb moment…maybe one of the conditions for the sale of the river property could be that I am allowed to write at the river during the week when everyone goes home. It’s strictly a weekend place and most owners live in Maryland Pennsylvania. I could keep their garden weeded and mow the grass (there is no lawn) during my breaks from writing…

sometimes I surprise myself 🙂

Ellie

 

 

 

 

The Next Level and Beyond

When I think back to the time before my book was accepted for publication, I realize that those days were easy peasy. While I certainly knew that preparing a book for publication and the marketing to follow would be time-consuming, I had no clue how much my life would change.

At this time, two months before my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, is launched into the world, life is a blur. I eat, drink and breathe this novel and my daily routine is unrecognizable. I wake up earlier, fall asleep much later and as soon as I am up and about, my brain is focused on my book and marketing on social media. Gone are the days when I puttered around my house and garden after a couple of hours of good writing and editing. Now during my writing breaks, I’m on Goodreads, LinkedIn, Twitter and my author page on Facebook and trying to think up new ways to reach readers of historical fiction, Caribbean literature, and women’s fiction. It is non-stop.

I’ve sent emails to favorite authors whose book reviews and blurbs I would be honored to include in my book and on my book cover and the writing of acknowledgements to family, friends and new friends who have been instrumental in the writing and publication of A Decent Woman has begun. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their constant love, support and encouragement. The list is long and I count myself a very blessed person, indeed.

I’ve learned a lot about myself during this process, mostly that I have the guts, nerves of steel (not always) and an insane amount of determination. I realize that although I knew very little about publishing and marketing a book when I started out, I’m learning and I’m a quick study. But, the most important thing I learned during the writing and marketing of my novel was to ask for help. Not easy for me!

The life of a writer can be lonely and every time a family member and friend reached out to me, shared the excerpt of my book I posted on Facebook and came forward with help that even I didn’t know I needed, I again realized how fortunate I am. I am blessed to have such amazing people in my personal and author corner which at this time in my life, is one and the same.

My daughter sent letters to every major television talk show host, introducing me and my novel to them. I had no idea she had done this and when I read what she wrote about me in her email, I cried buckets. Of course, I love her to pieces and was very touched by her words. In between studying for her Masters finals, planning her wedding and working her internship, she made the time to write this tender, touching and thoughtful letter. My daughter is a beautiful human being. How lucky I am.

Amazing friends have walked my dogs, cleaned my kitchen, printed out copies of my manuscript, helped edit and fed me emotionally, spiritually and physically since February 14, 2014 when Booktrope contacted me about publishing my book. I am eternally in their debt. My Booktrope Team members and fellow authors have taught, inspired and nudged me to the next level and beyond. They have opened my eyes and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. No lie! I am blessed to work with such incredibly talented and professional men and women.

It truly takes a village to publish and market a book! I hope I make them all proud.

~Ellie