Inside The Ivory Tower

Everyday

During my senior year of college, I took a course entitled, “The Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe from 1780 to Today.” Despite the long and boring title (and the fact that we were expected to read all of 12 books in three months), it became one of my top five favorite courses I ever took. The things I learned in that class really stuck with me and changed how I see the world. One of those things was the concept of the Ivory Tower.

Throughout the semester, my professor led me and my fellow students on a crusade to discover the critical thinkers and power players of the intellectual explosion in Europe during those pivotal years. We read Karl Marx and George Orwell, studied the Spanish Civil War, and analyzed wartime poetry and political essays. Each time we met a new great thinker, my professor would mention something he called the Ivory Tower. You see, all these great thinkers spent time secluded from the world/culture/society physically or intellectually before they stepped out into the real world and made their mark. They worked in their “ivory towers” until their thoughts and ideas forced them to action. They’d stew over ideas for new governmental systems and dream up new ways to treat workers and wallow in their own suffering. Their time in the Ivory Tower was valuable, pivotal even. But there came a time in each of their lives when they had to stop theorizing and dreaming and thinking and get out there and live it. And they changed the world.

I really locked onto the idea of the Ivory Tower. I’ve found that it is as meaningful today as it was back in the nineteenth century. After all, we all have our own ivory towers inside of our heads. It’s where we ponder and scheme and dream and think. But there comes a time when we can’t think or plan anymore. We have to go out into the world and make our dream a reality. We have to write that novel. Or start that small business. Or apply for that position. Or join that protest. We have to break out of the ivory tower or else let our dreams gather dust on the shelf.

For the past several years I have felt like I’m trapped in my own Ivory Tower. While I don’t compare myself to great world-changers by any means, I do feel like I can accomplish much more than what I’m doing right now. Right now I’m just reading and thinking and deciding what I think about the world. But shouldn’t I be doing something about it? But something else my professor taught sticks with me. The Ivory Tower isn’t a dungeon: it’s a thinktank. It’s a place where no idea is stupid or plan too lofty or dream too unrealistic. It’s a place to play, learn and experiment. It’s a playground of sorts. A gift. We just shouldn’t stay there forever.

Now, I’m trying to enjoy my time in the Ivory Tower. I pray that when I leave it, I’ll be ready to change the world in my own way.

What are you doing in your Ivory Tower? Have you left it? I’d love to hear about your brain journey.

On Writing & Rejection

Everyday

In 2016, I wrote a children’s book. Yes, it took me a year to write two Microsoft Word pages of rhyming children’s literature. What can I say? Writing is HARD.

Recently, I was encouraged to try to get it published. While I’ve published several industry articles and some poetry, I have never completed a manuscript and shopped it around. This was new territory for me. I painstakingly researched tips for writing query letters, made a color-coded Excel spreadsheet of literary agents who were most likely to consider my book, obsessed over the first draft of my query letter, and, finally, sent my baby out into the great unknown, possibly never to be heard from again. In fact, very probably.

You see, literary agents no longer send rejection letters. The ease of online submission means more people can send just about anything and literary agents end up with thousands of entries they have to dig through looking for something worthy enough to represent. There is simply no time for rejection emails. Instead, they post a time frame on their website and if you don’t hear back within that window, they aren’t interested.

Harsh? I don’t think so. There simply isn’t enough time to write every desperate author a rejection letter. And there could be so many reasons for rejecting a manuscript. Perhaps it sucks. Or it doesn’t have a market. Or it’s been done before. Or that agent already is representing three other young adult fantasy authors. (Note: I am not writing young adult fantasy.) At the end of the day, the agent just might not like it…

All that being said, this week marked the end of the time window for three of the literary agents I submitted to. It’s official. I’ve been rejected. Or rather, my work has been. Part of me thinks this is a great experience to have. Every writer should experience rejection. It’s part of the whole struggling-writer persona, right? I wouldn’t want this to be too easy – it could mess up my street cred.

But part of me is sad. And a bigger part of me wants to know why. Why was I rejected? Is the subject matter too niché? Is rhyming passé? Was the writing bad? Did they read the manuscript or did they stop at my query letter and move on?

The bad news is that I will never know. The good news is that I will never know and I can move on. And keep on trying.

Reading Challenge 2016

Everyday

While I may not have quite achieved my other 2016 goals, I was pretty dedicated to advancing my reading list. In 2016, I read 11 complete books as well as half of two books. In Haley math, that means I achieved my 12 books in a year goal… So here is my celebratory recap:

1. 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

In the past couple years, I’ve read three of Mr. Metaxas’ books and I have enjoyed them all. I had been eagerly awaiting this one as I feel his books have been pretty male-heavy. The book gives brief (10-20 pages) summaries of the lives of seven inspiring women including Joan of Arc, Hannah More, Rosa Parks and Corrie Ten Boom. I was particularly taken by the recounting of Sister Maria of Paris, a drinking, smoking, divorcée who became a nun and eventually a saint. Overall, it was a great follow-up to Seven Men (which I read last year) and I enjoyed getting a peek into the lives of several women the world doesn’t talk much of anymore.

2. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories by the famed Bradbury. It gave both a fun and a harrowing look into the effects humans could have on an inhabited Mars. If you like science fiction (and even if you don’t) it’s a good book to keep on hand if you ever have time to kill.

3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My sister got me this novel for my birthday and I was frankly surprised how good it was. I’d heard lots of good things, but the author usually writes sappy love stories with thin plots, which is typically not my style. The Nightingale is anything but. Showing a side of World War II I haven’t really explored, it follows two sisters who choose different paths during the war. One tries to avoid the war while raising her family without her soldier husband, the other thrust herself into it by becoming a spy. Though the stories aren’t real, it was a thrilling and captivating tale.

4. Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin

I threw in a book on strategy this year (which might become a tradition for me in the future) in order to refine my approach to ideas and business. As a professional in a creative industry, these books aren’t super applicable, but I believe are necessary in order to understand how business works (or should work) on a basic level. The book could do with a writer’s touch, but overall delivered a great approach to strategy development that really works.

5. On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae-Lee

I’ve been wanting to read this book for about a year and tried to get my 2015 book club to read it without any luck. It was well worth the wait. Set in a not-so-distant future where labor colonies have been set up in a declining America, the story follows a teenage girl who, after her boyfriend mysterious disappears from her colony, sets out to find him on her own. It is poetic and harrowing and fascinating. It also mentioned bubble tea a lot (who can argue with bubble tea?).

6. Shades of Grey by James Fforde

Not to be confused with 50 Shades of Gray, this book details a society set up in a caste system determined by the colors you can see. These color abilities determine everything, from who you can marry to what job you can hold. With Purples leading the system, the lowest people on the totem pole are Greys. A little confusing at times, this is an interesting take on a totally different way to set up a culture.

Note: my sister-in-law gave this to me for my birthday. Thanks, Laura!

7. John Adams by David McCullough (1/2)

Ever since I was little I have loved John Adams. 1776 was one of my favorite musicals. I own the HBO mini-series. He is my favorite Founding Father and President. Abigail is my favorite famous female. So I figured this year I’d actually confirm that I like ALL of what Mr. Adams stood for. I’ve made it about halfway through the 600+ page book. To be honest, I stopped right when he becomes Vice President because even John thought that time of his life was pointless. However, everything I read leading up to it reminded me of how much I love the Adamses. I hope to finish the book in 2017 and confirm once and for all that Mr. A rocks.

Note: I hate that Hamilton: An American Musical is so mean to John Adams. Give him a break, guys!

8. The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

I wouldn’t have read this, but Amazon gave it to me for free and I am so grateful. Told from the perspective of four neighbors, this book details the changes in a community after a terrible accident occurs at the neighborhood pool. It is sweet and chilling and inspiring. I read it in less than a week.

9. Made to Crave Devotional: 60 Days to Craving God, Not Food by Lysa TerKeurst

This past summer, I met weekly with two lovely women in a season dedicated to discussing our struggles with disordered eating, reconciling it with our relationships with God, and supporting each other on the journey to a better relationship with food and our bodies. Our meetings were great. The book, however, I found lacking. I chose this devotional because I thought it could be used for any kind of disordered eating and was disappointed to learn it was geared toward weight loss (which was not exactly what we were going for). That being said, I’ve heard that the book version is better suited for what I was wanting. Anyway, it shared some good biblical truths that led to some great discussions.

10. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

If you know me, you know I love Ender’s Game, but I was always hesitant to read the sequel because everyone told me it was “different.” Well, different or not I love this book. It was great to be thrown back into the Enderverse for the first time in years (I do NOT count seeing the film version) and getting to experience a grown-up Ender. Card gets very head-y in this book, but overall is an interesting look at human/human and human/alien interactions.

11. Devotions For a Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas

Neil wanted us to do a devotional for our first year of marriage and it was really neat to be able to read and discuss each chapter together every week. Gary Thomas does a great job in providing encouragement as well as challenges to help make your marriage meaningful and prosperous while rooting it all in biblical truth. Whether you’re a newlywed or going on Golden, it’s a great reminder of God’s plan for marriage and how we can help keep our marriages intact and our spouses thriving.

Note: I’m cheating a bit here, because Neil and I started reading this in September 2015, but I’m counting it for 2016 because this is my blog and I can do what I want.

12. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Yeah, I know. I went back to the Enderverse. Speaker for the Dead reinvigorated my love for Ender and his new crew. Xenocide continues Ender’s story but this time the stakes are much higher. This book really got me thinking about how we’re naturally afraid of people/things “other” than us and what “other” really means. I think it also goes way harder on the science fiction spectrum than the other two books, so if you’ve gotten this far hang on and stick with it. Looking forward to finishing the quartet this year!

13. The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (1/2)

As my Booksgiving book this year, I’m technically supposed to have finished it already, but I made it halfway and that’s going to have to be okay. Neil picked it out for me because TIME listed it as of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923 (according to Wikipedia and another source Neil found). I’ll admit I was hesitant. It’s not my typical fare and it’s been harder to get through than most books I read this year. However, I am glad to be reading it. Not only is it stretching me in regards to genre, but it’s giving me an interesting look at American life in the early millennium. About a complicated and broken family set right before the most recent economic slump, its social commentary reminds me a lot of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (one of my favorite plays). We shall see. If anything, I’ll be able to say I’ve read one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923…

What did you read in 2016? Have you ever read any of these? Let me know!

Dear Sister

Poetry

Dear Sister,
This is about a girl who just caught her bus.
She is one of us.
She wants to be everything at once.
But mostly feels like nothing at all.

She wants to be tall.
She wants to be taken seriously,
But is usually taken for granted,
And now is being taken to the corner
of Grant and Avenue D.
She is part of you and me.
Her hair is a mess
And she’s wearing a dress
That hasn’t been washed in a while.
She cracks a small smile.
At the boy in the front
Who just shot a glance her way.
But he’s not looking at her.
Instead he looks at the seat
Next to hers where he meets
the eyes of a girl
Whose dress is clean.
He wasn’t being mean.
But she felt in his eyes
a life’s worth of lies
She’d been telling herself in her dreams.
The lies that crept in her head
When she laid in her bed
Wishing the sun not to rise.
Clenching her eyes.
The lies that said she wasn’t good enough.
Not smart enough. Not pretty enough.
Not tough enough.
Her heart was rough.
The soft tissues that grew
Were now black and blue
From the beatings she gave to herself.
She put her dreams on a shelf.
Since she’d never achieve them
She’d much rather leave them
Far out of reach.
If she only knew
That the lies were not true.
But they tore through her like bleach.
Fading away, a bit everyday,
her marvelous, colorful hue.
This girl is me and you.
Constantly bombarded
And hopelessly guarded
from a world that demands nothing less
Than perfection and grace
Power wrapped in lace
A maiden who’s not in distress.
Because heaven forbid we feel stressed
And wear a dress
with hair that hasn’t been washed in a while.
Heaven forbid that we smile.
If the world only knew
All the things we could do
If left to achieve our own dreams
But the world isn’t as cruel as it seems
If we stand hand in hand,
Change from ask to demand,
We can finally go the extra mile.
We can learn to truly smile.

My dear, dear sister
we all have grown blisters
from where the world has rubbed us
against the grain of our souls.
So let’s make some new goals.
Be messy.
Be graceful.
Be crazy.
Be tasteful.
Be your own kind of strong.
Together, we’ll right the wrong
And tomorrow’s sisters can live the lives we wished for all along.

FOUR WAYS TO TELL BETTER STORIES

Advertising

This article originally appeared on MMI Agency’s blog. Read more here.

In the ad world, it seems we are all about storytelling these days. Everyone is talking about it—and for good reasons. Stories are entertaining, engaging, and valuable. When told well, they create meaningful connections between brands and consumers that move consumers emotionally, and generate conversations that can boost a brand’s visibility, cache and credibility.

Brands do this all the time. Think about Dove’s stories about women discovering their true beauty, or Nike’s compelling narratives about driven athletes who wear its apparel. Chipotle hit a home run with its short film that told the story of a scarecrow as dedicated to healthy, fresh ingredients as the restaurant brand.

Good storytelling takes skill, no question. However, not everyone in our industry has an English degree, studied psychology, or has been the beneficiary (or victim) of a storytelling workshop. But you don’t need those—or a Pulitzer Prize in literature—to be a compelling storyteller (although, it wouldn’t hurt).

So how do we hone our storytelling craft? With training and practice. Before you start telling yourself, “not for me,” consider these four easy ways to become a better storyteller…

Doing Things For Me

Everyday

If you have spent at least five minutes with me then you’ve heard me say “I’m a words of affirmation person.” If I haven’t said it to you yet, just give me another five minutes.

You see, I’m very big on personality assessments and understanding myself better so I can better understand others. So it was a revelation for me when I took the Love Languages test and discovered that the number one way I receive affirmation is through words. I crave sincere words of gratitude, praise, or affirmation. This doesn’t mean I beg for compliments. It just means that I am motivated and feel loved when people verbally affirm me.

This is great in a lot of ways because I am easily motivated by notes of encouragement and little things like being told by a teacher that they think I’m smart or the “chips” affirmation program at my office. But it is also a big reason that I am a Pathological People Pleaser.

People Pleasing is basically constructing your life around what others think. Although I am very independent and don’t really care what people think about my personality, I can care so much about what others think of my competence, intelligence, achievements, or niceness that I am often paralyzed by even the possibility of receiving negative words – or no words at all. But I want to change that. And I know where to start.

Last year, I had moderate success with my Daily Doodle. I got lots of compliments and “likes” and requests. So I began to shape my doodles around what I thought people would like to see. Obviously, the words of affirmation I received grew. That isn’t inherently bad. It’s a smart way to generate content. But now I’m working on my 2014 project: a 365-sentence story created by writing one sentence a day for a year. And you know what? It’s not always the most interesting to read. It can be slow for people who are used to constant information – or who like to read stories more than a sentence at a time. I’ve also discovered that a sentence isn’t as fun to look at as a doodle. Am I right?

So for the past five months I have struggled with contributing to a project with almost no words of affirmation accompanying it (Note: I am truly thankful for my friends who are following along!). But then I realized something important. Like this blog, I didn’t start this project to get attention or get famous or have people hang on my every word. I started it because I wanted to stretch myself as a writer. I wanted to see if I could create a full story with living characters while being shackled with intense time and creative restrictions. I wanted to test my patience.

I’ve decided to stop caring about what people think. My story could be the worst story in the history of stories, but as long as I complete it I will consider it a success. I’m doing it for me, and that’s all that should matter.

Here’s to the ordinary.

Uncategorized

I haven’t written in a while. I’d like to say it’s because I haven’t had time or that I’ve been so busy with this or with that. The truth is I haven’t written because I can’t think of anything to say. Or at least anything the world might want to read.

Yesterday was my fourth anniversary of being on WordPress, making it the fifth anniversary of me being a blogger. This blog began as an assignment for my Intro to Creative class. It was supposed to be a creativity blog and I had to make a certain number of posts during that semester. The posts could be about anything, so long as it was “creative.”

When the course was over, I kept the blog up and it eventually became the home of my portfolio, resume, and side projects. Suddenly, the online outlet for my thoughts, observations, and ideas, became a marketing tool for everything Haley. And the innocence behind my writing got lost along the way.

Now I feel this pressure to write stuff that people want to read, so I create content that I hope is engaging and interesting and relevant. But that’s not what writing should be about. I don’t want my focus to be getting internet famous or having a huge fan following or becoming a lifestyle blog that people check compulsively.

I want to make content that gives people an honest look into my world. I know that might only interest a handful of people and it might not go viral or show up in people’s news feeds, but I’d rather share my life as it is than create something artificial for others to enjoy. For my fifth anniversary I want to get back to why I started writing in the first place. And if that means I need to say nothing extraordinary for a while, then I’m okay with that.

So, here’s to the start of something ordinary. I’m ready for it.

Sick Day Philosophy

Everyday

I took a sick day yesterday. My second sick day ever. Impressive right? And what does Haley do when she is sick? Apparently write philosophical notes on her iPhone while half-conscious. Which I present to you now:

It’s amazing to me how much power one little word can have. Like, “yes.” Or “no.” Or “stop.” Or “go.” Just one word can carry with it the power of two thousand words – all by itself. Like “land!” And “duck!” And “why?” And “don’t.” One little word can command armies or stop machines. It can warn of harm or demand an explanation. It can say “please” and “thanks” and “certainly” and “sure.” It can make you feel “better” or make you feel “worse.” 

Words don’t exist. Not really. They are creations of our own making. Just sounds and shapes of sounds all mashed together and attached to something to give it meaning. And yet, without them we would have no meaning at all. I would not be “me” and you would not be “you.” That table wouldn’t be “table”, it would be just another object in a corner of the room. 

Words declare things. Call things into being. Words have more power than we can possibly have. They aren’t mere tools. Words are beings of their own. Living, breathing entities. Words are alive. 

I Write A Lot

Poetry

I write a lot of poetry,

That nobody will ever see,

Because a little part of me,

Is afraid they’ll say it sucks.