Caturday Story Corner

Caturday Story Corner: The True Story of Oreo

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Becky Cuadra who lived with her parents and brother in Miami. She loved cats dearly, but her allergies prevented her from having any. Because she couldn’t have one, she learned everything she could about them instead. She studied a giant book of cat breeds, wrote stories about cats, and dreamed of having her own feline one day, against all odds.

And to everyone’s surprise, that day came. One fine summer afternoon, a black and white kitten showed up on her doorstep with its paw stuck in a bright red collar. Soft kitten mews called the family to the door. Becky’s father helped the kitten get unstuck. The grateful feline played with them right there on the doorstep.

After no one claimed the lost kitten, Becky begged her parents to keep her furry friend. They said they couldn’t bring her inside because of Becky’s allergies, so they set bowls for the kitten outside, took her to the vet, and did their best to give the kitten a loving home. Becky named her Oreo. Her best friend, Jenny, also had a cat named Oreo–yet another thing they had in common.

Oreo brought Becky joy every day they spent together. Becky would rush outside after school to cuddle and play with her kitten, who soon grew into a cat. Oreo brought the rest of the Cuadra family joy as well. Every time Becky’s mom washed dishes, Oreo would jump up on the windowsill. While Becky’s mom would coo, “Oreo, kitty,” Oreo would rub her head against the glass.

One night, a fox came for a visit and ate some kibble from Oreo’s bowl. The whole Cuadra family watched from the sliding glass patio door. Should they shoo the fox away? Make a loud noise? Call for help?

But no help was needed. Oreo booped the fox on the head with her paw, and it ran back into the trees across the street. The Cuadra family laughed and cheered and retold the story of brave little Oreo to anyone who would listen.

Oreo brought Becky laughter and joy, but also comfort in her greatest sorrow. One day after school, Becky ran out to the patio in tears and cradled Oreo in her lap. Oreo purred and stayed longer than usual, because Becky needed her. That was the day Becky learned her great grandmother had passed away.

Becky and Oreo bonded over several years as they grew together. At one point, Oreo had a little cat boyfriend that would sit in the patio chairs with her. Becky was glad to see her cat fall in love, hoping one day she would, too.

For the rest of the days they had together, Becky would run outside after school to hug her cat–the highlight of her day. Her mom would coo to Oreo through the window while washing dishes. Her brother and father would play with Oreo outside and share a laugh. Oreo was a Cuadra, through and through.

As Becky continued her Saturday morning short story tradition, more and more special felines became characters in her repertoire. Today, Becky brings the Saturday morning tradition back to life.

Next time…we’ll journey through the true story of Fraidy the siamese cat.

=^..^=

Life Reflections

Does your writing spark joy?

Hello, dear readers!

Please grab a cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa and join me for a chat. It’s been a while since we’ve last met, so I’d like to give you an update. Please let me know how you’re doing in the comments as well.

This past New Year’s Eve, my favorite holiday of the year, I finished the rewrite of my contemporary women’s fiction manuscript. Afterward, I shared an unforgettable meal with my soulmate, then rang in the New Year in the kitchen amongst the cheers of other guests, the restaurant staff, and the chef and owner himself. It was my happiest New Year’s Eve as an adult. The happiest New Year’s Eve of my youth was 17 years ago, when I finished my YA novella at 17 years old, then danced salsa and merengue with my Cuban family members and best friend in the living room until it was time for our midnight twelve grapes and sidra.

Two manuscripts, two New Year’s Eve completions. As you may have guessed, I’m fond of patterns, whether intentional or serendipitous. One pattern that fell by the wayside, however, was writing a short story every Saturday morning.

This pattern began at eight years old, and it’s how I fell in love with writing. Somewhere along the writing journey in adulthood, the pure joy of childhood writing got overshadowed by the fear of criticism and rejection, not to mention the unrealistic goal of perfection.

I recently listened to the audiobook Stop Worrying, Stop Writing by Sarah Painter, which I highly recommend. My biggest takeaway from that book was that the joy is in the actual writing, not the destination.

Considering Sarah Painter’s wise words and Marie Kondo’s philosophy of only keeping items that spark joy, I ask myself…does my writing spark joy?

My answer is…it depends.

Now, before we all thank our laptops, notebooks, and pens for their service and hurl them out the window, let’s take a closer look. When does writing spark joy? When does it spark tears and frustration? When does it spark turning to TV or chocolate or hiding under the covers?

For me, the answer lies in the object of my focus. Is it on the actual joy of writing, as Sarah Painter so wisely recommends? Or is it on the destination? On publication, or the need to feel good enough for my parents or husband or friends or peers. Where does the drive to succeed come from? The drive to write?

As a child, I wrote for the joy of it. Every single time I sat down to write, it sparked nothing but the utmost joy. Everything else faded to the background. I didn’t write to prove myself or to get good reviews or to find an agent or publisher to validate my worth. I didn’t even write to get my parents’ approval. I wrote because it was fun.

So why do I write now? Is it still fun? Again, it depends. When I’m not worried what people will think, it’s fun. When I’m anticipating critique, judgment, or review, it’s stressful. As you may already know, I suffer with anxiety and depression. I have low self-esteem, as well as rejection-sensitive dysphoria (look it up–it’s a thing, and I even run a Facebook support group for it if you’re interested). Basically, I am my own worst critic. I can’t say when exactly I picked up this baggage…only that I miss the weightlessness of writing without it.

Sometimes writing is painful. It doesn’t always flow, and it isn’t always fun. When I worry what people will think, how I’ll be perceived, whether I’m good enough, whether I’m making amateur mistakes or letting somebody somewhere down, then it’s not so fun. More like…agonizing. I persist, because I want my voice to be heard, I want to share what I’ve gleaned from life, and I hope readers will love my characters as much as I do. I want the pain I turn into art to mean something. To help someone.

So how do I keep that spark of joy from burning out in the darkness of negativity?

In one EMDR session with my therapist, I traced my writer’s block to the shame of not feeling good enough. To my struggle with attention and reading comprehension all through school, caused by undiagnosed ADHD. To the business college professor who told me to find someone who “knew how to write,” because I had accidentally written “threw” when I meant “through” while struggling with untreated depression and ADHD. To the desire to please my parents by excelling like my brother, when I didn’t have his knack for mathematics. To the need for validation. To the fear of failure. To the fear of success. It became so intense that sometimes I would self-sabotage, procrastinate, and numb my mind with TV and social media instead. The buried shame and feelings of inadequacy were too intense to face every time I opened Scrivener to write. I tearfully recounted to my therapist that maybe it would be easier to give up the dream, because it hurt too much to pursue it.

In the second half of that EMDR session, after processing the roots of my shame and fear, I reframed my writing practice as a serene day at the beach, making sandcastles. Playing with words. Letting go of them as the water comes to wash them away. Writing the way I did as a child. Ebbing and flowing like waves on the sand.

That EMDR session broke down the stubborn foundation of my writer’s block. Though I am not fully cured, I have a newfound awareness. And I’ve changed my writing practice to rekindle the joy.

Instead of writing in a serious serif font, I now write in the font I used as a child…Century Gothic. It’s playful, it’s simple, and it reminds me of those childhood Saturday mornings. In Scrivener, the backdrop to my writing is now a sandy beach. My desktop wallpaper is a dreamy sandcastle. This small brain trick has worked wonders.

And now, I plan to implement another change, here on my blog. In honor of my childhood Saturday mornings, as well as my lifelong love of cats, I declare that Saturdays will now be Caturday Story Corner days on Shelter for Sensitive Souls.

My cat, Charlotte the Literary Cat, now has her own WordPress account, so she will make the occasional appearance as a guest blogger. I will start this Saturday with a story of the cats God has placed in my life along the journey when I’ve needed them the most.

I hope this post has blessed you in some way. I am so grateful to you for reading, and I hope you will stop by again soon.

So I will end with this question…does your writing spark joy? Why or why not?

Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you, and best wishes for your 2019.

Life Reflections

Dreams Do Come True

When I turned 30, I got my beloved Siberian cat, Charlotte, for my birthday. She fit perfectly into the cat-sized hole I’d carried in my heart since childhood.

When I turned 31, I got my dream harp, a Thormahlen Serenade named Rhoswen. Another dream I nearly gave up on just before it came true.

The following year was difficult, as I watched my Abuela’s health decline. It broke my heart to see her so changed. So ill and frail. But in the midst of brokenness, God painted a silver lining. Just before I turned 32, I flew to Florida with my smaller harp, Nightingale, and played at my grandmother’s bedside. She passed the following February. I saw her only once more, on the day she passed. That April trip was the last time I got to play for her on this side of Heaven.

A few months after Abuela passed, I turned 33. On that birthday, I privately self-published my first book, a children’s fairy tale I wrote for my niece. I imagined Abuela smiling from Heaven. After all, I owe my writing gene to her.

This Friday, I turn 34. I know Abuela is smiling again, because I got a literary agent for my birthday. Yesterday I signed with the Books & Such Literary Management agency. My literary agent is Cynthia Ruchti, and I am deeply honored to be represented by such a kind, skilled, precious soul.

Now I wonder…what will the future hold for me? What will it hold for you? I hope you will walk with me through life’s journey so we can find out together.

Remember…if my impossible dreams can come true, so can yours. ❤

Life Reflections

My First ACFW Conference: A Writer’s Journey Through Fear

On September 20, I arrived at my first American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference in Grapevine, TX, and it was everything I hoped for and more. I learned so much from my sessions, reunited with old friends, made new friends I’ll treasure for a lifetime, and even got to meet my mentor of 18 years in person for the first time. The whole experience was life changing and euphoric.

Leading up to the conference, my anxiety had kicked into overdrive over the looming pitch sessions. The idea of discussing my book for 15 minutes straight with literary agents and acquisitions editors I’ve followed and admired for months was daunting, to say the least. Usually, though not always, writers write because written expression comes more naturally than verbal expression. I…er…um…yeah. That’s me. Again and again, I heard the advice, “Don’t be nervous.” I know, I know. The pitch sessions aren’t life or death, and we shouldn’t put so much stock in them. Excellent, truthful advice. Still not sure how to train my brain to follow it, though. Alas, I’m a work in progress, much like my manuscript.

Thinking back to the actual appointments…they’re a bit hazy, but the happy, dreamy kind of hazy. I can’t exactly remember what I said, how much I stuck to my memorized pitch, how much I came up with on the fly, or how much I messed up. I’m just resting in the knowledge that I did my best, and that the wonderful professionals I met with accepted me, smiled at me, and didn’t melt into puddles of sad disappointment because of my imperfections. By the grace of God, all four of my appointments were positive experiences, despite my low self-esteem and negative self-talk.

Speaking of God’s grace, the conference opened my eyes to it all over again. I was blessed to have a prayer appointment with the amazing Brandilyn Collins. As we prayed, I cried, wanting so much to let go of everything I gripped so tightly in my life and give it to God. I realized God wants me to release all the fear, pain, and negativity trapped not just in my mind but in my body, and I believe He’s working to heal me, evidenced by Brandilyn’s guided touch to exact places I’ve had chronic pain. I also believe He wants the smile I wear on the outside to shine on the inside as well, as He led Brandilyn to say. As you read this blog, whatever your beliefs are, please know that I absolutely love, respect, and accept you, exactly as you are, and I hope you’ll do the same for me, but it’s okay if you don’t. I just want to express that for me, in that hushed, dimly lit prayer room, I experienced a moment of childlike faith, free of the doubt that so often plagues me. I believe with all my heart that God was with me in that moment, letting me know I’m His work in progress. I felt heard, validated, and loved, and that’s the biggest gift of my whole conference experience.

Letting go and letting God isn’t easy, and I have yet to master that skill. I have a recurring nightmare where I’m driving along a treacherous road and unable to control the wheel. The road itself varies. Sometimes it’s surreal with bright red dirt and purple trees, and sometimes it’s a regular highway. Either way, the danger is the same. The road curves, without guardrails, and it’s miles high. I see it now as a representation of my anxiety taking the wheel when I feel overwhelmingly unsafe. In some versions of the nightmare, I swerve off the road precisely because I’m trying not to. In others, it is a careless act, or even a daring one. In all, I’m not putting my trust where it belongs–in God.

The writing journey is a difficult one, fraught with waiting, unknowns, judgment, rejection, and growing pains. I’ve learned from writers ahead of me on the journey that all these hardships are ongoing. Writers at all stages deal with imposter syndrome, fear, and doubt. But I’m not alone on this journey, and neither are you, even if your journey looks a bit different.

While I was on vacation with my husband in Charleston last August, there was a day on the beach I’ll never forget. I stood waist deep in the ocean with my arms stretched in front of me as I braved each crashing wave, imagining it was something in life I struggled with and wanted to conquer. Self-doubt. Self-hate. Anxiety. Depression. Codependency. ADHD. Fibromyalgia. Fear of failure. Fear of worthlessness. Fear of loneliness. Sometimes the wave was too great, and I had to dive under it. Sometimes it was smaller than I expected. Sometimes it knocked me down. But I fought to stay upright, got back up every time I fell backward, and felt…strong. Brave.

Yes, life is hard. Writing is hard. In fact, it’s terrifying. But I’m on this path for a reason. God put this passion in my heart for a reason. I’m not a perfect Christian or human being, and I don’t pretend to be. I don’t even know what that means anymore, because I’ve changed and progressed over the years. I don’t fit into a box or stereotype, and I don’t want to. I’m just…me. And you’re you. And that’s okay. I’m loved, and you’re loved, and we all have a purpose. So whatever it is you’re called but scared to do, just do it scared. Lean into the discomfort and trust that God will catch you when you fall. Because you will fall. We all do. Just get back up. Maybe have some chocolate or take a nap first. The important thing is to keep working on your dreams. Nurture the friendships you make along the way. Do whatever feeds your soul. Help someone who’s behind you on the journey. Learn from someone who’s ahead of you. Do whatever you need to do, as long as you stay in it. Stay on that curvy, frightening road. Let God take the wheel instead of fear. Fear will throw you off the cliff every time. Prayer will keep you on the road and block out the fear of falling.

At my first ACFW Conference, I learned that God is bigger than fear. I can, and will, brave the journey. I believe you will, too.

 

Life Reflections

Organizing my Life

Hi, friends. I’ve had some challenging but rewarding months since the last time I posted. I started life coaching in March, and it’s been truly enlightening. I realized that some of the challenges I was facing with life overall were due to not being fulfilled in my current role at work. I’ve since started on a track to become an official instructional designer (even though I have many years of experience in that role without the official label), and I am loving it. I realized I couldn’t be happy with myself and my life if my days were spent just proofreading technical materials without having a greater purpose or applying my creativity to what I was doing. I am much happier now after taking the courage to speak up and make a change, and it’s making my organization and efficiency better as a result. I’m also taking the same approach for my personal life, specifically my novel writing and the overwhelm and insecurity that hinder me from moving forward.

My life coach and I discovered, first and foremost, what doesn’t work for me. With my novel, I kept coming up with impossible timelines because I was overly ambitious and anxious about getting it done, but with my already busy life, it just wasn’t realistic. I would fall short, hate myself, and stop writing altogether. Then rehash my schedule and repeat the same pattern. Obviously, this is the opposite of what I set out to achieve.

But then my life coach and I realized what does work for my highly sensitive mind and heart. Positivity. Reflection on what I’ve already accomplished. Thinking about starting where I am, not how far I am from the finish line. We came to the conclusion that a comfortable setting is very important to me (such as a cozy coffee house), as is going back to the pure judgment-free creativity I had as a child (mostly by sitting on the floor and playing music while I work). So I’m scheduling coffee house writing sessions (with the companionship of a fellow writer and great friend), and making my office floor a comfortable workspace at home. I also created a spreadsheet where I log my daily accomplishments–in all important parts of life, not just writing–so that I can look at it before I try to write and see everything I’ve already done to reach my ultimate life goal–making the world a more compassionate place.

The icing on the cake is that my two life-long best friends have also joined me in using the goal spreadsheets, and now I feel closer to them than ever in adulthood. We encourage each other, see each other’s goals and accomplishments, and that makes the tasks at hand no longer look like mountains. It’s hard to see a mountain when you focus on the small rocks in front of you, and when you look back to see how far you’ve climbed.

So let’s keep climbing, one step at a time, until we reach the top. We’ll get there. Just believe. 🙂

Life Reflections

We All Dance with Our Struggles

To all my lovely readers, friends, and fellow sensitive souls, I offer you my sincerest thanks. I never know where God is going to lead me, but I trust that it’s where I’m meant to go. You have been a big part of making this week one of the most joyful of my life.

The start of this week was very rough, and I won’t pretend that it’s not terrifying to share these details. Monday was an emotional day after a disappointing appointment with a psychiatrist. Like the majority of highly sensitive people, I struggle back and forth in a dance with anxiety and depression, mostly anxiety. That said, I am in a significantly healthier and happier place now than I was several years ago. I’m blessed to have the best therapist in the world. I’m blessed to have healed and grown. Walking into the new doctor’s office, I felt like I was past the labels. Or at least the label of depression, since I feel so much joy on a daily basis. I love God. I love my husband. I love my family. I love my dear, sweet cat. I love my friends. I love my job. I love writing. I love playing the harp. I love my life.

But the doctor didn’t see me for who I was. My therapist agreed. My amazing writer friends, who turned Monday around into a good day by nightfall, comforted and reassured me. Suddenly the labels didn’t seem so bad. After all, it’s just a dance. It doesn’t need to be a fight. There doesn’t need to be a stigma. There doesn’t need to be shame. If I didn’t have the depth of feeling and emotion I have, the good and the bad, I wouldn’t be able to produce any writing worth reading or music worth hearing.

So on Tuesday, I awoke with a new vision and purpose. Shelter for Sensitive Souls. My blog and Facebook author page, once barely breathing, lit up with life. Connections. Interactions. I realized that I know exactly who I am, who I want to be, and who I write for. I write for God, I write for myself, and I write for you. And I thank you, from the depths of my soul, for reminding me that there is worth in my existence. In my writing. In my soul. ❤