I Took A Break From My Blog To Make Room For These Young Voices

Image by Caleigh, 2Me@12 contributor and Graphic Design student

My husband’s buddy called me out during cocktail hour at a Bar Mitzvah party last week. “How come Red stopped saying what?” I took a swig of my cider, stuttered, stammered, then made an excuse. “Um, life got in the way?”

The “life” explanation is only half the truth. For several months, anytime I felt fired up or had something to say, I never bothered to write the words. With so much noise and so many voices, good, bad and ugly crowding the field, with so many articles, podcasts and videos more relevant and credible than my privileged, princess point of view, I decided it might be best if I listened more and put out less.

I mean, who am I to post a blurb on parenting when children separated from parents are suffering? Why read my take on education when our kids and teachers go to school wondering if a crazed shooter will show up in their classroom next? And why type up notes about my experience with MeToo, when it’s more impactful to hear from Olympic gymnasts and countless other men and women survivors who continue to step forward?

So I put my blog on mute. Red went ghost.

But I haven’t completely disappeared. Bit by bit, I’ve been working on a project. One that lifts up the voices of those who inspire me, who give me hope and who I think young people may want to hear more from: teenagers. Teen girls specifically. Ones who have found their power. Girls who have the confidence, wisdom and perspective I didn’t have the guts to go after until I was middle-aged.

For two years, I’ve been gathering experiences from teen girls who found power through sport, namely CrossFit with some tennis and swim sprinkled in. These teens have stories they wanted to share and advice they wanted to give to their younger peers about how empowerment has changed their lives and views about health, beauty, community, attitude, and ups and downs.

Who better to offer guidance to young girls than their older selves? With that, I named the project 2Me@12.

2Me@12 began with four teenagers who started working out at my gym when they were 14 years old and has grown to include dozens of young ladies between the ages of 14-18 from around the United States and on either coast of Canada.

There’s Sophia from Washington who chose health over looks.

Bridget, from New York who learned to laugh more and worry less about other’s perceptions and what she thought she saw in the mirror.

Julia, also from New York who the gained courage to step out of her small town bubble and Jocelyn from Arizona who, thanks to a supportive community, found her voice to encourage others.

There’s Shelby, a Reebok CrossFit Games finalist from North Carolina whose change in attitude allowed her to go farther in life than she ever thought possible and Kelly from California who figured out how to tackle the curse of her bad attitude.

And Chloe, the “Fittest 14-15 Year Old on Earth” from Louisiana who learned success is not an end game but instead, finding something you love and enjoying the process as you grow.

Having the awesome responsibility and honor of lifting up the voices of young people, working with these girls and replaying their words in my head has helped me to be a more empathetic mom, appreciate those who show me love and support, run a little faster, push a little harder, get uncomfortable, not be so tough on myself and get to work so young girls and boys can also hear what they have to say.

Since sport and fitness aren’t the only paths to finding one’s power, this summer I hope to connect with teens who found their power through theater. And, at the request of my two sons, I intend to work with young men with lessons to share.

Once I determine the best way to get these teens’ full thoughts into the world, I hope you’ll let their experiences into your lives and into the lives of your children. And if you have a teen who has found power with advice to share, I’d love to help build that bridge.

Please visit 2Me@12 on Instagram.

“You always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” – Glinda the Good Witch

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5 Tips for Conference Attendees

Creating art is often a self-indulgent, solitary craft.

So each spring, I make a point to attend a 300 person conference hosted by SCBWI, a trade organization serving the KidLit community. For two days, writers, illustrators, literary agents and editors who are committed to making books for children and young adults hole up in a hotel to teach and take workshops, socialize and share.

Making the emotional transition from a solo gig to an environment packed with peers and prospective partners requires a hefty dose of vulnerability, grit and guts.

I’d rather tackle burpees over a barbell than participate in an event where it behooves me to talk to strangers, explain projects or pitch ideas. But year after year, I close my eyes, swallow the medicine and go.

When it’s over, some leave the conference motivated and alive. I always left, after my writing had been criticized and critiqued, feeling demoralized, dejected and done. Tired of clammy skin, frayed nerves and a cracked ego, in 2016 I took a break.

But without a conference lined up, I let life – parenting, work, presidential elections and Russian investigations get in the way. I wrote less KidLit. The more the dust bunnies nested, the more I missed the craft and writing community.

When the 2017 conference registration appeared in my email, I decided to try again knowing the only way to recharge my batteries was to change my approach.

These 5 things helped me to keep this spring’s experience in perspective.

Lowered expectations

In the past, I wheeled my bags into the hotel lobby filled with a binder of manuscripts, a personal agenda packed with scheduled critiques, printed copies of my story’s first page for a public reading, an elevator pitch for any peer or professional willing to listen and the expectation that my work would catch the eye of an agent or editor before the closing speaker’s remarks.

My preoccupation with an end goal only created stress which in turn, made it tough to stay engaged with attendees, pay attention during workshops and feel happy for others’ successes.

This time around, I opted out of critiques, avoided forums where my stories were read aloud and didn’t pitch ideas unless someone asked me. I also left manuscripts home and replaced the binder with a paper clip and a notebook. To get my money’s worth, I interacted with faculty during meals, workshops and in my capacity as a formal volunteer.

Lower expectations improved my mood and preserved my ego.

Took a risk

I signed up for a workshop billed for visual thinkers. The class seemed like the right fit for the way my brain works.

Upon arrival, I took a corner seat in the back row and noticed I was the only non-illustrator in the room. The teacher explained we were going to draw in an effort to generate ideas. He demonstrated and then told us to get ready to doodle. The artists pulled out their tools. I stared down at my pen.

“Draw a line,” he said.

I can handle that, I thought.

“Now switch with someone and turn the line into a living creature.”

My fingers froze. I was about to sneak out when a lady handed me a paper. I transformed her line into the best living creature I could.

“Switch again,” the instructor announced. “Add accessories.”

Oh for the love. A new sheet with someone else’s beautiful living creature came my way. I took a deep breath and sketched.

This activity went on until we had a developed character. The class concluded with each person speed drawing the character we started out with in different scenarios.

After it was over, I smiled. I remembered how much I loved to draw and felt proud to have gone out of my comfort zone.

At dinner that evening, I happened to sit next to the teacher. “Thank you,” I told him. “Your workshop was the most fun I’ve had at a conference.”

Stayed positive about the little things

At an event where there’s lots of new people, it can be easier to bond with them over the negative: room temperature, food quality, elevator speed, noise in the common area.

During the weekend, I did my best to heed the advice of my CrossFit coach. “Complaining is like a rocking chair; gives you something to do and gets you nowhere.”

In an arena where there’s a solid chance my creative endeavors will be sliced to smithereens, it made sense to harness as much positive energy as possible.

Took mental breaks

Conference days are 12 hour marathons. Whenever burn out set in, I skipped a workshop, took a walk outside or passed on the post dinner festivities.

And when I wanted to move the conversation away from KidLit without jeopardizing a chance to network, I chose a lighter topic like the 2 senior proms and the wedding party who shared the hotel with us.

Listened More

In the past, my mission during community meals was to secure facetime with the person who had the power either to sign me as a client or buy my story. This year, I vowed instead to listen more and lobby less.

At lunch, there were two women of color at our table; one was an industry professional, the other a writer new to the conference. I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but somewhere between soup and the entree, an organic, honest conversation blossomed about white privilege in publishing and in life.

Each woman described the heaviness they felt any time they left the safe space of their home and entered an environment, like a conference knowing their skin color, accent and culture would be judged and on display.

They shared their experiences as children, women and parents. Neither sought sympathy; only the acknowledgement that white people, particularly white men are not burdened with daily inquiries as to why they pronounce their words “funny”, won’t be called “an angry black woman” after voicing a strong opinion and never have to fear their son might be hurt or harassed during his travels because of the way he looks.

The industry professional emphasized our need to do a better job of making room at the table while keeping everyone else there. As writers, illustrators, agents and editors, at the very least we owe this to the children for whom we write and for the ones we raise.

I’ve returned home to the quiet of my desk. As I type, the hum of talking heads in the background keeps me company. My outlook is fresh, creative process inspired and commitment to young people renewed.

Time to do a better job.

DONNA GWINNELL LAMBO-WEIDNER SAID WHAT?…Mother Love-a short story

Donna picture

Donna is a Writer, Reiki Master, Wisdom Keeper, all around adventuress and everyone’s cheerleader. She loves anything that deals with archery, armor, and swashbuckling and appreciates a good sword.

One of my first “blogger buddies”, Donna is a wonderful writer and blogger extraordinaire.  I hope you’ll take some time to check out her site.

Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner

Sweating and belching, the young mother rolls into the Emergency Room at precisely one minute before midnight. The attending physician’s eyebrows take on the appearance of his last patient’s electro-cardiogram just before she died.

dreamstime_xs_19673560 (c) Dreamstime.com

“What is it this time?” he says.

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