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My New Narrative

October 12, 2017

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

My New Narrative


“Hi, I’m Danielle. I work in new business and strategy,” I would say, balancing my tiny spear of swedish meatballs in one hand while I extended the other at a networking event. The person I was introducing myself to would nod, acknowledging my role, recognizing the large company I worked for. We’d sip cheap red wine and talk about our industry. I felt confident in my place in the world and in my “story” as a corporate executive.

I never introduced myself as a writer. It was a subplot to the “story of Danielle,” written into casual conversations about hobbies, somewhere between “brussels sprouts connoisseur” and “die-hard dog person.”

Two weeks ago, I attended a small business expo. This would be my first time introducing myself as a writer in a professional setting. I felt shaky, worried that as I uttered the words, someone might laugh. They might tilt their head, the way my dog Nala does when she hears a sound she doesn’t recognize. Would people recognize me as a writer when it was hard enough for me to recognize myself?

Fear pushed aside, I pulled my shoulders back and for several hours of networking, introduced myself as a writer. Generally speaking, I heard these three responses over the course of the event:


  • “Ohhhhh, that’s interesting,” they’d say, eyes sweeping the horizon for an escape route, looking as though they’ve just swallowed a live chicken. As we continued our conversation in halting phrases, one of their body parts would begin to bounce or twitch. They’d see “someone they know” at the farthest corner of the room, and were gone so fast I was surprised they didn’t leave smoke trails.


  • “That’s so cool, I write too! I’ve got a great idea for a book, it’s about this guy who’s a sloth keeper on a frozen planet…(fast forward several minutes) do you do any ghostwriting?” Their eyes bright and I’d smile, mentally taking inventory of my own partially edited manuscript, all my unwritten blogs posts, the deadline for an article, which I was now counting down in hours instead of days. Our conversation would pitter-patter back and forth until they realized I’m not really going to write their book for them and then they’re off to refill their drink.


  • “Interesting. What kind of writing do you do and what are you currently working on?” A book person, I’d think to myself, thank you, Jesus. I’d list the different types of freelance projects I have in the works and mention I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.

“What type of manuscript? Fiction?” they’d ask.

“No, memoir actually,” I’d say.


Here is where the conversation would hit a pivotal moment and I’d watch them curiously, knowing our casual chatter would abruptly end or shift to a deeper level of dialogue.

If it started with an awkward silence, then I knew the rest of the conversation was going to flop around like a dying fish on a dock. They would avoid asking me any questions about my project or joke about how I’m neither old enough nor have the life experience to write a memoir. I’d laugh and ask them a question about their line of work, watching the worry lines between their eyebrows soften, and knew the conversation was not veering anywhere near writing again – not memoir, not freelance writing, not writing of any kind.

Those that were brave maintained eye contact and asked me what my memoir is about. So when I’d tell them it is a story about motherhood, about my journey through the fertility process while losing my mom to cancer, I’d carefully watch their face, high fiving them in my mind for hanging on for the ride. To a man (or woman), they’d smile and I’d let out the breath I was holding in. Then we’d talk about the challenge they’d had having kids or about how hard it is when your parents are aging, or about writing, or something else entirely. These were the folks that asked me for my business card and the ones I collected in return.

This was a chance for me to learn how to tell my new narrative. Without fear. Without judgment. And while it may take me some time to get used to it too, I like this new story and I’m excited to tell it.

Blog, Writing

Living the Dream?

September 11, 2017

When I was six, I spent every Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. She would hover over the New York Times crossword puzzle, pencil poised as the smoke from her Kent Kings pulled lazily into the air. Some days I’d help, pushing my cereal bowl to the side to man the thesaurus and dictionary to help her look up words. Other mornings, I would pound away on her portable blue Smith Corona typewriter, crafting a story about flying giraffes or kung fu fighting squirrels.  I knew from those early years, swimming around in the words, splashing them onto the page, that I wanted to be a writer.

It was a dream I pursued through high school and college, one fiction or poetry workshop after the next. But when graduation came, so did a flood of fear; that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. So instead of pursuing a career in writing, I got a “real job.”

I never left writing completely. I would steal loving glances at it on weekends, working on my manuscript, a short story, or even flash fiction. We’d meet in coffee shops, lock ourselves away in my home office. I’d attend writing retreats and conferences so we could spend more time together. I dreamed of being a writer full time.

So, at the end of last year, when my boss told me that my position was being eliminated, I was more ecstatic than sad. I could spend every waking moment working on my manuscript. This was my chance to become the writer that I’d always wanted to be!

The first few days after the holidays as a “full-time writer” went well. I was focused, energetic and eager to get to the page every morning. But as the days passed, my resolve wavered. Some days I would sit down at my desk, and it was just like days of old—I felt inspired, creative, the words flowed. Other days, I felt like taking a jackhammer to my keyboard.

While I made progress on the manuscript, I was surprised at how hard it was to stay focused.  I found every excuse I could not to sit down and write—laundry or dishes, an errand to be run, a phone call to make. One day, my procrastination efforts were so extreme that I chose to steam clean my furniture instead of sitting down at my computer.  Before losing my job, I could always fall back on a long list of excuses as to why the writing “couldn’t” get done, most of which involved a lack of time or brain capacity to do it. But now? There were no more excuses, and yet, there were some days that I had nothing on the page.

I learned some valuable lessons. Creative work, or really any type of work that happens outside of a traditional corporate environment feels different. The pace of my days changed from having every minute accounted for in meetings or deadlines to relatively open and unscheduled. To feel like I was still accomplishing something, it was important for me to build in some structure: writing dates with friends, accountability partners to keep me on track, and joining a professionally led read and critique group where I have pages due every other week.

I learned to have more patience with myself. There are times to work through your writing, to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on your keyboard, and there are times to step away. I had to listen to my inner writing guide and learn which was which—to balance my need for a break, knowing I would come back with fresh eyes, with the guilt of walking away from my project.

And this new life still has stress, but it’s a different type of stress that comes from starting a new type of career, building a business around writing, and failing at things so that I can learn and grow. It has taken more time to adjust than I had thought and I still have my days of fear and doubt, just as I did when I was twenty-two, but overall as I sit at the kitchen table every morning with my laptop and my coffee, I’m incredibly grateful.


Heads or Tails

November 13, 2016


Heads or tails



I’ve spent most of my week, like many people, absolutely stunned trying to make heads or tails of what just happened in the election. I am faced with the reality of Donald Trump as the new POTUS. Facebook, normally a fun distraction for me, became something I avoided. The amount of fear, hate, intolerance and cacophony of voices, most of which continued to yell at one another, was too much.


Most of my horror and fury was the fact that almost half of my fellow Americans voted for a man who I believe (and to be clear, still do) stands for misogyny, racism and hate. How could these people look at their black, Hispanic, LGBQT, Muslim or female friends and believe that their choice wouldn’t impact the freedoms and liberties afforded to them? Is that what this country now stands for? What happened to “liberty and justice for all?” Those are the questions that tumbled over and over in my mind this week.


Those questions were a result of a perspective I had built over time. From the beginning of the campaign, Trump’s antics horrified, disgusted, and enraged me. In him, I saw a man who used fear-based ideologies to stoke the fires of his constituents to build his own power base. I saw a man who was more concerned with his own ego than he was for the health of the country. I saw a man that catered to uneducated, white men and sold them false promises.


And while I believe that those perceptions of Trump as a person are true, with every new sound byte, every new video and accusation, I used his words to build my own ideological wall, to plug my ears, and to create my own story of his constituents, the “uneducated, white male Trump voter.” It helped me to build a very binary view of the election – heads or tails – and to bolster a stereotype.


And just like any other stereotype, it did little to help me understand any other perspective. I have several close friends who voted for Trump (some of them female, all of them educated). Our tentative and halting discussions, done so to preserve the sanctity of the friendship, were about the lack of choice in candidates and a lot about the “lesser of two evils.”(As a brief aside, this is not an essay on the puts and takes of a two party system or the need for an electoral college, nor do I want to discuss it at this time). In some cases, the vote for Trump was about “primary core beliefs” centered around religious or other dogmas that people use as a moral compass to guide their life decisions.


These discussions, while painful, gave me a greater sense of understanding. And while part of me is still very angry and disgusted, I found that wasn’t helping me shake myself out of my post-election shock. Instead, I began to read the articles from opposing views with an open mind. I had read them throughout the election, but only so that I could create my own rebuttals, load my arsenal with anti-Trump articles and build up my own ideological wall. And while I continue to read liberal articles too (there is something to be said for Scalzi’s “Cinemax Theory of Racism”, which argues that any vote for Trump includes some form of active or passive racism) that trouble me and flame my own fears, I believe there’s more to it.


This listening and attempt at understanding hasn’t shaken my beliefs in women’s rights, equality for all Americans, in gun control, and in tolerance. I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for those ideals. The listening also hasn’t lessened the fear I have for violence as a result of the election perpetuated by the zealots representing both sides of the coin. I am still afraid that a Trump presidency could shove our country backwards several decades and undo what I consider to be a lot of social, economic, and political progress. I believe those threats are still very real. But as a result of listening to understand, while my own fear and rage towards Trump remains, those feelings towards my fellow Americans has lessened.


I’m not advocating an immediate joining of hands and singing kumbaya, and to be honest, am exhausted at both those that mock it as a strategy and those that suggest it as an immediate form of healing. I don’t feel ready for that. I’m also exhausted by the “shut up and move on” arguments I’ve seen, as though if we continue to relegate our dialogues to our own politically sympathetic echo chambers, that those actions will in some way help us make progress as a nation. It won’t. The current state of the union is due to a group of people feeling disenfranchised and not heard. The irony is that this state of real or perceived oppression, in all of its manifestations depending on the different red and blue audiences in our country, is exactly what brings Americans together at this moment. We are all striking out against a perceived exclusion of some form. It enrages us all collectively yet still manages to isolate us. And while the expression of rage is needed, there needs to be a step after. Instead of exclusion, we need to see if we take a step towards inclusion in the form of dialogue.


At some point, we’re all going to have to be better at it. For conservatives to listen and understand the very real fears of their fellow Americans threatened by a Trump presidency. For liberals to try and get through the shock and awe and take some time to understand “how we got here.” We’re going to have to listen to hear and not to speak. We need to think less about labels and stereotypes and begin to have conversations with real people who think differently than we do. After the conversations, we’re going to need to take concrete action to bridge the very large chasm that we have in our country. Standing on one side or the other and continuing to shout at one another across the abyss is not helping. We can’t afford to continue to look at just one side of the coin. It starts with every liberal, every conservative, every independent, and every other American. It needs to start before rage and violence are the only languages we speak, before force and brutality against one another is our new American ideal. And it needs to start today, before it’s too late.






Rooted in Hope

September 19, 2016

This is a flash fiction piece (less than 1000 words) I wrote for a contest recently where they assign genre, location and an object. Here’s what I wrote within the 48 hour deadline with an action/adventure story set in the rainforest with a toy boat. Enjoy!


The only sound louder than her pounding heart was the screaming of the howler monkeys. She and Ted were crashing through the underbrush as small darts and larger spears whizzed by their ears. They sprinted as fast as they could across the rug of knotted roots on the rainforest floor. The same roots that they had come looking for were now likely going to kill them. They were losing ground. The shaking of trees and leaves in their peripheral vision was getting closer. They just needed to stay ahead long enough to make it to the pick up point on the river.

When Bernadette and Ted had left the Awa village ten minutes ago, they were grateful. The trip had been a success, despite the constant humming of insects in her ears, the sweat that tricked steadily down her spine into the waistband of her pants from morning until night. With Ted’s direction, they had found the Awa tribe and met their Shaman, a man famous for his herbal cancer cures. Bernadette’s sister had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer just a few months ago. Charlotte was the healthy one. She was the triathlete who’d never smoked a day in her life. Bernadette had made a sport of channel surfing while she smoked half a pack of Camel Lights a day. But as the cancer wound its way through Charlotte’s lungs, the fear wound through Bernadette. It peeled the weight off of both of them, left them both choking for oxygen and struggling for breath. And when the doctors began to shake their heads and claim their hands were tied, that’s when the trip to Brazil came up. After two weeks here, Ted and Bernadette were heading back to Colorado with a bag of ground herbs and two small boats made from palm leaves tied together with vines that the village children had given them as parting gifts.

As they wound their way through the thick underbrush towards the pick up point, the buzzing of the insects seemed to drop away, the sound of macaws in the canopy of the trees went silent. It was as though the needle has been ripped off the soundtrack of the forest they’d been listening to for two weeks. Bernadette felt the hair go up on the back of her neck. And as she looked over at Ted, the first dart flew by and lodged in the trunk of the tree just three feet to their right. Ted looked at her wide-eyed and yelled, “RUN” as the howler monkeys began to scream in the trees.

While the Awa tribe was peaceful, the Massacos to the South were aggressive and territorial. The Awa told a story of watching one of their fellow tribe members be captured and skinned alive as punishment for trespassing on their lands. The only chance for survival, they said, was to run.

Bernadette yelled out in pain as her foot caught on a thick root and she came down with a crash onto the floor of the forest. Ted was just behind her and without skipping a beat, scooped her up under her arms and placed her back on her feet. A whoop went up behind a thick wall of green leaves. They were closer. Bernadette was choking as she tried to get air in her lungs, tears running down her face, desperate to find a way out. She and Ted continued to pound through the rainforest and wound themselves closer and closer to the river. Bernadette could see it, the brown water dully flowing by. She heard a thump and a gurgle just behind her. As she turned, Ted looked at her with surprise, a four foot spear stuck through his chest as he slowly fell to his knees and mouthed the words again, “Run.”

Bernadette was getting closer to the river, but so were the arrows. As she made it to the river bank, she knew she had little chance of making it down the half mile to the meet up point. Her only chance to save her baby sister was to get these herbs to Charles who was waiting down river. Hands shaking, she pulled the bag of ground roots out of her bag and placed it in the small leaf boat. After a second, she pulled her ring off her finger and placed it in the small boat with the herbs and shoved it out into the water just as she heard a crash behind her.


Charles waited for Bernadette and Ted at the pick up spot with the boat engine idling. They were thirty minutes late and despite the heat, his hands were starting to get clammy. He’d been watching the banks of the river for a sign of them and had seen nothing. Charles looked to the water and as he looked up river he thought he saw something unusual floating down the river. As it made its way slowly through the eddies towards his boat, he could tell it was a carefully constructed toy boat made of leaves with a small bag and a silver ring in it. A ring not unike the one that Bernadette wore. Charles choked on his surprise. As he leaned over to pick up the toy boat, a spear whistled just over his head and lodged into the far wall of the boat. He dropped the toy boat back in the water, ducked down and lunged for the throttle. He threw the throttle forward and the boat lurched away from the bank and down the river. As he picked up more speed, the rain of arrows and spears slowed as he gained some distance. He slowly stood up and looked back up the river. Charles watched the small leaf boat with its cargo dip into the wake he’d left behind and slowly sink down in to the dark muddy waters.