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RUN, MONSTERS, RUN

matt rydeen cherry lane.jpeg

I've posted this meme before, but I think it's worth sharing again. We creatives, no matter the field, have a tendency to be filled with sensitivity, self-doubt, and to be our own worst critics. Our skin grows thicker with each rejection, and we eventually learn to hone our craft as we internalize and then gratefully (and, hopefully, gracefully) apply the breadth of constructive feedback we receive along the way.

I can say that this has definitely been the case for me. After much (and continued) hard work, I've built the confidence to start sending creative non-fiction pieces out into the Universe, and have been rewarded with numerous recent and upcoming publication credits. This is all in an effort to build my resume and writing chops as an author, and my hope is that I will catch the attention of an industry professional that feels connected to my storytelling. I aim to be a voice in the void for sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors, to champion change by providing a personal account of how easy it is—as children raised in abusive environments and as bullied LGBT youth—to fall through the cracks, and to raise awareness that "the system," although designed to help, still fails many abuse sufferers that go unnoticed. 

So far, the feedback has been... strong. Very strong. The subject matter is clearly dark, and I worked hard to place readers directly into the merciless landscape of grief so that they would have no choice but to see, hear, smell, and even taste the rawness, to feel like they, themselves, are part of a family torn apart by addiction, rage, and mental illness. The most common reaction from readers is that they've been emotionally punched in the gut, and I guess, in all honesty, that was exactly my intent. While I consider myself a success story (whatever that means) as an abuse survivor, I'm not here to paint an inspirational picture of what can be when someone pulls themselves out of that chaos. I'm purposefully diving into the dark places, highlighting the fear and shame of being marginalized, of barely scraping by, of fighting a battle both inside and outside of the home and the self—while staying unrelentingly true to what that abuse looks like. What happens when you work to overcome it? Well, that's another story for another time.

You can find MONSTERS in the Matador Review, Eunoia Review, and Twisted Sister literary magazine, as well as in an upcoming publication of Down in the Dirt magazine (November 2017); and RUN, which will be published in Grey Borders magazine in August 2017.

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Where does the time go?

Hello, is this thing on???

It's near the end of April, and I've been back to work now for nearly seven months. You can tell, because I haven't updated here since the New Year; I had to keep myself focused on pushing forward with final revisions, one page at a time, and it went as slowly as it sounds. ;)

I feel forever grateful for the sabbatical I took to complete the initial draft of the manuscript. I don't know that I would have been able to accomplish such a seemingly insurmountable goal without having done so.

It has taken me since the beginning of this year to finalize the last draft — honestly, after working all day, I'm mentally and creatively exhausted — but I set a goal for myself, and was determined to achieve it, so I can finally say that Cherry Lane is officially ready for a flurry of agent submissions.

I'm very happy with where everything landed, quite excited even, and owe a million thank yous to the tremendously talented folks that I was lucky enough to work with throughout the process who provided such thoughtful guidance and feedback. I couldn't have done it without you. As self-reliant as I've become as the years have passed, one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is how to ask for help when I need it, and I'm blown away by how beautiful life can become through the art of collaboration.

So where does it all go from here?

My dream is to work with an agent who connects with the manuscript, who feels passionately about the subject matter, and inspired to help me shape and refine this work so that it can become the best it can possibly be before reaching all of you.

Then, I hope to one day have the opportunity to speak about my experiences, especially to students getting ready to start out in the field of social work, to provide a personal account of how easy it is to fall through the cracks, and to raise awareness that "the system," although designed to help, still fails many abuse sufferers that go unnoticed. 

And I'd like to honor the 38 million women in the U.S. who have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes, and the nearly 10 million children who witness domestic violence annually, by donating a portion of the sale of each book to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

We, as a society, can do better than these horrific statistics suggest. 

Finally, I'm planning to write another book depicting my spiral into escapism as I ran at a breakneck speed into my twenties, showcasing how children raised in abusive environments tend to encounter repeating themes in the challenges they face as they mature into adulthood.

Victim's of abuse do not simply get over it; rather, it is something we forever survive.

With hard work and determination, I'll be able to do all of the above... but keep your fingers crossed for me as well, because a little luck goes a long way. 

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Happy New Year!

Where the #*@ did 2015 go? It seems like time rushes by faster and faster with each passing year.

Many years ago, I struggled with the concept of 'letting go.' Looking back, I think it had a lot to do with an internal struggle I experienced to find my footing as I matured into adulthood. I spent a lot of time living in my head. Worrying. Analyzing. Moving my thoughts this way and that. I realized, slowly, that attachment to ego and projected self-image was keeping me stuck in the same place: repeating patterns and habits that were causing me unhappiness. I was aware of this cycle, but seemed unable to end it, to let it go.

Then, something shifted. I'm not even entirely sure how or why, but I am grateful. It was as if I was able to let go of everything at once. A liberating sense of loss of the past, loss of self — like losing all of one's earthly belongings to a raging fire, and realizing none if it had really mattered all along. That all of the meaningful things were intangible.

Ego attachment creates a cognitive dissonance between the way we perceive ourselves and 'our' world and the way things truly are. The 'true' self, the one that is in alignment and harmony with spiritual essence, isn't centered on the demands of ego, but on the higher values of love, truth, creativity, and compassion.

My goal for 2016 is to practice sacrificing ego, to shift focus from 'self' to 'being.' 

I love the following quote by Mahatma Ghandi. It resonates with how painfully my ears experience the world as of late, as if everyone is trying to shout their self-importance over one another, as if they alone possess the Earth.

"In a gentle way, you can shake the world."

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Letting in the Thieves

It's Christmas Eve, and I find myself reading a book that a friend loaned to me — one that I've been reading all year long — A Year of Living Consciously by Gay Hendricks.

One passage struck me as particularly moving this morning, and I wanted to share it with all of you. The holidays can be such a bittersweet time, as we celebrate all that we have to be thankful for, and mourn that which we feel we have lost. 

'In every winter's heart there is a quivering spring and behind the veil of each night there is a smiling dawn. — Kahlil Gibran

One of our neighbors is in the process of building a second-story deck onto the back of his house. We got a view into not only the deck-building process but something far more buried in this neighbor's heart and experience when he began trying to decide, during a discussion with us, whether to put stairs on the deck. He was concerned that it would make his house too accessible for thieves.

As he listed the pros and cons, we began to believe the he was really talking about a deeper level of fear for his safety. A single man who jumps from one short-term, intense relationship to another, and has for the twenty or so years he's been an adult, he was trying to come up with a way in which he could gird and guard himself against the possible inroads someone might make into his heart. 

We decided to take a risk, not knowing the man very well, and point out our observations. His eyes instantly glittered with tears, and we told him that we were glad to have raised the issue about his loneliness and self-protection.

"You made me cry," he said, sounding astounded. "I haven't cried since I was a boy."

"That's great!" we rejoiced. "You let someone in!" He shook his head at his wacky neighbors and went off to make his decision alone.

At this moment, looking out of the window in our writing room, we can see the deck as it nears completion; the stairs rise up to join the deck flooring, and our neighbor has built sunburst patterns into the railings all the way up the stairs.'

I wish you all peace, love, and enlightenment on your journey up the stairs to your heart.

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Confessions of a Writer

I was tagged by two lovely writers, @constantvoice and @ewiggins66, to answer the following questions from Nicolette Elzie’s blog.

When did you first start writing?
Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

I always dreamed of becoming a writer. Before I could read, I'd memorized the books mom would read to me, reciting them accurately page by page, and had a handful of relatives convinced that I was some kind of reading progeny. 

Once I was able to write full sentences, I immediately started writing stories based on my dreams, which were mostly dark and terrifying. I love reading them all these years later, awful spelling errors and all. 

Truthfully, I never thought myself capable of finishing a full manuscript. I'm so thankful that I took time out of the daily grind to pursue my passion, and am still a bit in shock that I did it and accomplished my goal. I'm now filled with the motivation to keep writing, especially large projects, and the knowledge that dreams are possible to achieve.

What genre do you write?
I am drawn to the darker side of fiction, and to creating characters that are neither all good nor all bad, but illustrate the complexity of human nature. Even the seemingly most evil human being is capable of compassion. We are all raw and imperfect. I struggled to decide what genre to tackle as my first full-length manuscript, ultimately landing on memoir, as my own inner child character was screaming the loudest for release.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress?
When did you start working on this project?

I have a few things in the hopper. I started a six month sabbatical from my day job at the end of March, 2015, to complete my first memoir manuscript, Cherry Lane, illustrating the impacts of domestic violence, mental illness, sexual abuse, and addiction on families. I queried one agent based on #pitmad, a Twitter pitch party, and received the most complimentary rejection I could have ever imagined. It was my first rejection, so I am thankful for how gentle she was after having read the manuscript in its entirety. 

I'm currently awaiting feedback from beta-readers, then will be completing another round of revisions before putting final touches to the manuscript over the next few months. I've compiled a list of agents actively seeking memoir, and will start querying once Cherry Lane has been polished to a gleaming shine. 

In the meantime, I've started a second memoir, tentatively titled The Brownout Years, depicting my spiral into escapism as I ran from the traumas of my childhood at a breakneck speed into my twenties.

I am also collaborating on a secret project with the talented @constantvoice, although it is moving slowly due to my struggle to find a creative balance since returning to the demanding corporate machine. But I am so excited about this endeavor! And I guess it isn't such a secret project any longer... ;)

What’s the best part about writing?
Ultimately, manifesting the wisdom we carry deep inside of us. There is something other-worldly about bringing those enlightening words to the page, and then rereading them days or weeks or months later... like stumbling upon a stranger's musings. Surely I didn't write these things? 

What’s the worst part about writing?
For me, it is the inspiration that comes at the most inopportune moments. I'll find my creative mind wandering while I'm lost in a task at work, and beyond capturing the ideas on post-it notes, I truly can't dive in to the moment. Truth be told, it's nearly impossible to remember what the hell was swirling around in my mind hours or days later when I read that silly note. This is exactly why I took time off to write — it's the only way I knew I could finish something I'd started, and allow myself to be at the will of my creativity during the process.

What’s the name of your favourite character and why?
Gentle, from Clive Barker's Imajica, because, I mean, come on... it's brilliant!

How much time a day/week do you get to write?
When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

Mornings are my favorite time to write, starting around 9 a.m., after I've had a cup of coffee to kickstart the creative cogs in my brain. Then I can be happily lost in the spinning of words for the next two to four hours. Six hours would be a very productive writing day for me. 

At this moment in time, I'm struggling to find the energy to write, and I am feeling internally critical regarding my inability to manifest balance. I won't detail the conversations I'm having while beating myself up about it, but suffice it to say I'm harder on myself than anyone else could ever be, and that, coupled with an edge of stubbornness... well, I will kick my own ass into gear here very, very soon.

Did you go to college for writing?
I did take a few classes while deciding on a major. Initially, I went to college for Journalism, then switched to Design Communication, and, ultimately, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Oh, youth. I've also taken numerous continuing education writing courses here and there throughout the years.

What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?
I am obsessed with the Oxford comma, and, therefore, am struggling not to add a comma in the above question. Ha! In all seriousness, what bothers me most are my own spelling and grammar errors that my mind corrects for me each and every time I read my work — it's amazing how much work your brain does to make you see things the way you want to — then beta-readers point out the mistakes and I'm embarrassed yet eternally grateful!

What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." — Terry Pratchett

What advice would you give to another writer?
Prepare yourself for a humbling journey, but be arrogant enough to start it.

What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
Twitter has been a surprising [to me] wealth of shared knowledge. I find fellow writers' blogs incredibly helpful as they illustrate the editing journey, pointing out things I would have never thought of on my own. That being said, here is a short list of editing resources I use:

The Writer Practice
The Beauty of Words
The Write Life

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
I love reading [obviously!], traveling, hiking, camping, road trips, painting, daydreaming, spending time with loved ones [humans and furry friends], trying new recipes while drinking wine or enjoying a fancy craft cocktail, getting myself worked up about social injustices, and imagining how I might someday be able to make a difference in the lives of children facing traumatic experiences they should not have to fight on their own.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I can't pick just one, so here's my top three that I've read this year: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, House of Stairs by William Sleator, and Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorious.

What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
The Martian was fantastic, and it inspired a landscape in my mind for a novella in progress.

What is your favourite book or series of all time?
Of all time? Imajica by Clive Barker. I was instantly enamored with the characters and the complexity and beauty of the story. I became so enthralled, I dropped my Philosophy course in college to finish reading the 800+ page behemoth. That, and I have a beautiful tattoo on my forearm based on the cover art by Clive himself. 

Who is your favorite author?
Again, too difficult to pick just one. Anne Rice, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Brett Easton Ellis, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Nasdijj, and Alice Walker, to name just a few. 

What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
Complete revisions on Cherry Lane. Complete first draft of The Brownout Years by the end of November for NaNoWriMo [I always set such lofty goals]. Complete first draft of not-so-secret novella project with @constantvoice — yet to be titled. 

Where else can we find you online?
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Google+

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The ACE Study

I just finished watching a TED talk on adverse childhood trauma by pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris. To say that this was an eye-opening and honest discussion of the impact of domestic violence, physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or substance abuse or mental illness of a parent on the overall physical and emotional well-being of children would be an understatement. These experiences change our health prognosis over our lifetimes, increasing our likelihood of heart disease and cancer, and, often times, shortening our lifespans. 

Harris is leading the charge in the way medical professionals examine children, looking at all of the factors holistically, which, in a society that doles out ADHD diagnoses in record numbers and treats the symptom (with heavy medications) instead of the problem, is quite the challenge.

'Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer.'

I am learning so much on my journey, and I feel compelled to pass along all of the things I'm discovering. This issue goes far beyond just me and my personal trauma. There is an epidemic in our society. We are neglecting our children. We are turning our heads away from their pain and the ugliness of the realities that many of them face at home. The scope of this crisis is overwhelming. I don't have the answers. But I think it starts with education. With open, honest discussions with our educators and healthcare professionals. With open, honest discussions with ourselves and our families. 

If you can spare fifteen minutes of your time, I highly recommend watching the TED talk. You or someone you know and love is impacted by this epidemic. 

To learn more about the ACE Study which Harris references, 'one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being,' please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.

Please also consider donating to the National Children's Alliance, 'a children’s advocacy center in which law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy professionals work together to investigate abuse, help children heal from abuse, and hold offenders accountable.'

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Hi everyone, my name is Cherry. Cherry Lane.

Cherry Lane Matt Rydeen

Here she is: the completed manuscript for Cherry Lane. 

What an incredible adventure this has been, not just through my subconscious, but also through the world of writing and editing. And there is still so much more to be done. But the book is finally in a state where I'm comfortable sharing with a select few folks who have offered to provide feedback.

Looking back now, I can say that starting this journey nearly six months ago, I was incredibly naive as to how much I could accomplish in one sitting. In my mind, I thought I'd be through the first draft in a month, and would have editing wrapped up a few months after that. The reality is that the initial draft took nearly four months, with much layering and shifting of sections, and the second and subsequent drafts took about two months. Very thankful for the six month sabbatical from work, as that is essentially how long it took to get to this stage.

I worked nearly every day, including weekends, so these next two weeks (well, just one now) before I go back to work are all mine, and I'm planning to relax and bask in the glow of accomplishment. I'm not sure if my process was similar to or different from other writers, but I could swear that within my first draft, there was probably a second or third that I wound up weaving during that initial writing, so who knows how many actual drafts there really were. I was very scattered. And I pulled the pieces together as I felt they fit at the times that I couldn't move forward any longer without doing so. I'm not sure I'm making much sense explaining this, but, in a way, that's exactly what it seemed like to me, too — things were happening that I wasn't aware of. Truly, I feel tapped into a collective well of inspiration, and I don't think it's possible to explain how you draw from it. 

What I can tell you with certainty is that, after the initial draft, it was very painstaking threading it all together so that it flowed properly in order to maintain a similar voice throughout. That was an art form in itself. Making sure the story and timeline and characters were cohesive. Like playing Jenga, but way more intense. That second draft was a beast!

The third draft was more fun, in the sense that I was able to chop a bunch of unnecessary words, and could focus on basic line edits throughout. I had no idea what some of my crutch words were, and let me tell you, my eyes are now open! As an example, here are a few repeating words I initially counted in the manuscript:

Just = 364; Like = 448; So = 337

There were many others as well, and I also focused on cleaning up adverbs in favor of using stronger verbs. I have to say, removing the word 'Just' throughout made the biggest impact. I could see the sentences tightening as I went along; however, that being said, I ended up putting some back in the last time I read through the manuscript when I felt they added impact.

There is still more work to be done. I'm sending the book to a small group of talented folks who've offered to read through it and provide feedback ('beta-readers'). Once I receive all of their feedback, I will go through and make another round of potentially major revisions. I am excited to receive the feedback — I'm so close to the story, the people, and the places, that it's nearly impossible for me to know what may be confusing to the reader. It will be invaluable criticism. 

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to stepping away from it for awhile. I need a breather. Next time I pick it up, my eyes will be fresh and my mind will be open once again. I am looking forward to seeing where this baby goes in the future. I think it has a lot of promise. 

Thank you to all of you who have followed along during these difficult yet rewarding months, and who've provided endless support and encouragement. I couldn't have done it without you!

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#PitMad

I am getting excited!

On Thursday, September 10, I'll be participating in an all-day Twitter pitch party, pitching my memoir to industry professionals in 140 characters or less for twelve straight hours. I've already come up with ten unique pitches!

Please stop by the Twitter hashtag #PitMad to check it out.

You never know who will be watching! Fingers crossed...

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I just finished reading the first draft of Cherry Lane!

What a surreal feeling. The first read-through was just for me to get a sense of what the book looked like as a whole, and how everything flowed. It's amazing how you can write something, and then a few months later, kind of forget what you said. It took me almost a week in itself just to transcribe my handwritten pages from my travels (you can see the notebooks in the above photo) into the electronic document! I had written way more than I'd realized.

So many themes popped out at me, planted in there like tiny seeds by my subconscious without my even noticing while it was happening, so now I'm going to go back and spend some time developing them throughout. Battle, escape, water (emotion), innocence, secrets...

My first impression is holy shit, this story is intense. 

But then there are places where it just kind of seems like total drivel and I wonder why anyone would even bother reading this crap. I've never done anything this publicly before, so I'm sure that's just an anxious voice in the back of my head worrying me about what people will think. Fortunately, it's a fairly easy voice to shut up once I realize that it's not offering me any productive advice.

Regardless of whether the final product is received as total drivel or a relevant, impactful story to illuminate the realities of domestic violence and mental illness, I'm just really proud of myself for having done this at all. I get to tell my story! And I got to tell it to myself, too, which allowed me to see some connections that I hadn't made before, and will give me the continued strength and new tools to deal with the adversity that I still face today.

I've been reading a book that a friend recommended, Use Your Words by Kate Hopper, and one of the many things that has resonated with me is the idea of using humor to break up the heaviness. It can be such an effective way to help shift our perspectives or just allow a reprieve from the severeness of the issues we face, both in writing and in daily living. I never thought I'd be a humorous writer, and by no means is my story a comedy, but it's been fun working in the funny bits to lighten things up here and there.

I'll be spending the remaining few months sabbatical from work focusing on editing, repeatedly redrafting this beast until it feels polished enough to start querying agents and publishers. Since I did not receive the grant I had applied for, I'm forced to forego a professional editor at this stage. I just cannot afford one after watching my bank account drain away during this wonderful leave of absence. I like to joke that this is the best mid-life crisis I could have ever funded! Sure, I could be driving around in a brand new, shiny red sports car instead, but I'd probably just end up with a bunch of speeding tickets and much higher insurance. ;-)

Anyway, I digress. If I'm unsuccessful at acquiring an agent or publisher going into next year, then I intend to self-publish, and will definitely be hiring an editor. There is no way I will have spent all this time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears without making sure that the book is as good as it can be before releasing it to the public. That being said, I am hoping for a release date of sometime in 2016, but we shall see what the Universe decides.

I already have some pretty solid ideas for a second novel swirling around in my brain, and that is an exciting feeling for sure. All those dreams of becoming a writer when I was a little kid... who could have predicted that I'd one day write a book about the scary things I was experiencing back then?

This journey has been incredible!

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Humblings

noun:

A collection of musings illustrating a modest estimate of one's own abilities.  

Okay, I made up that word and the definition. But in all seriousness, this post is about feeling humbled. I'm writing these humblings from the breathtaking state of Colorado, while journeying across the southwestern United States. This photo was taken at Sand Dunes National Park near Zapata Falls, about a hundred miles from Colorado Springs, where my parents lived briefly before they were married. 

image.jpg

I've had spotty Internet at best throughout the trip, which is just fine as I'm putting the finishing touches to the first draft of Cherry Lane via old school pen and notebook. But yesterday, while in a spot where I was able to check email, I received a rejection to a grant proposal I had entered for 2015 Minnesota Emerging Writers, which would have provided the opportunity to afford a professional editor's services, as well as a mentor throughout the arduous agent and publishing query process. And my heart sank a bit with the rejection, which read:

"Dear writer,

Thank you for applying for the Emerging Writers Grant this year. If you are receiving this message, your application did not make it into the semifinal round.  

As a writer myself, I know this is not happy news. The judges this year, very experienced, remarked on how large and talented the pool of Minnesota writers is. There was very little agreement among the judges about who to pick for the semifinalists, and some even asked if they could add more applicants to the semifinalist pool -- and some of you came very close to making the semifinal cut. All of this is to say, there is a tremendous amount of talent among you. More talent than we have money to award..."

There were around 300 applicants, which didn't seem like that much to me, yet while my logical brain knew that my chances were very slim, somewhere deep down I was full of hope. One can't help but take their first rejections personally — I mean, you're pouring your heart and soul into an enormous piece of work, so if someone is not interested in it, that must mean you suck, right? I didn't even make it into the semifinals round...

I think that's a pretty universal depiction of how most artists feel until they've experienced enough rejection to toughen up a bit and stand purely on the merits of why they are creating in the first place: because they must. Because that restless little voice inside won't let them sleep until they let out the muse, so to speak. So while I am just as excited about this writing journey as I was the day before receiving that email, I must admit, it is a shattering blow to the already fragile creative ego. 

I'm reminded of a writing contest I'd entered last year, sponsored by one of my favorite authors, Clive Barker, in which there were also around 300 competitors. The goal was to write a 2,500 word short story inspired by one of his recent paintings. I didn't win that one, either, nor did I place 2nd or 3rd or at all, for that matter. But I really enjoyed writing that piece, since it spoke to me and came from the deep rumblings of my inner creative well. 

And you know what? Clive Barker, one of my creative idols, one of my favorite authors ever, read my story. He read my story. How amazing is that?

So that's the attitude I will maintain going forward: there will undoubtedly be countless rejections, but no matter what, just by the act of creating in itself, I'm going to cause all sorts of reactions — good, bad, and everything in between.

I'm not doing this to be liked, after all, I'm doing it to be impactful.

And that's a pretty damn good goal to have, when you think about it. 

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We are only human, after all.

I'm nearly through the first draft!

I almost can't believe it. What a journey this has been. I could not have possibly anticipated how healing it would be. I truly hope that when this book is completed, it can provide a light for someone who might be suffering in their own private darkness. I also hope that it will inspire people to help one another, to be more understanding and compassionate to those who've suffered at the hands of domestic violence or sexual abuse, some of whom have mental illnesses or lifetime struggles with anxiety, and some who've been swallowed up by addictions, too ravaged by the past to find the strength to fight it any longer.

I've learned to have much more compassion for myself while writing this story. Sometimes, it's compassion for self that is the most difficult to achieve. We are only human, after all.

I think the most important thing we can do is try not to harm one another, or ourselves. We stumble along, attempting to become our best selves as we progress through life, often forgetting where we've come from — forgetting to acknowledge the struggles of others which have shaped their thoughts and patterns much as our own struggles have shaped our personal views. Can you imagine what the world could look like if we tried to simply be kind to one another?

When I think of this first draft, my mind's eye creates an image of an old house, centuries old, chests and boxes of memories stored in the basement and the attic, antique furniture strewn about the dusty floors, old photos hanging at odd angles, draped with cobwebs. The bones and the structure are good, but there is much remodeling to be done.

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Goodbye Innocence

inhale, deeply

today, floating ethereally
lids, heavy
mind, clouded . . . shapeless

this moment, eternal
this day, this life

exhale, slowly

goodbye innocence
goodbye rose-colored glasses

my mother sheds her skin
she is filled with maggots,
rotten, decaying

my father, a ghost, a fantasma
sentenced: the executioner of hope,
and dreams

i, i, i am breathing

my skin, a lifejacket
my eyes, cellophane-covered soul

© 2004 Matt Rydeen

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I've found my writing sweet spot!

Hello, everyone! Do you ever have those days where things just seem to kind of fall into place, and the world around you looks a bit sharper than it did the day before? Almost as if a veil has been lifted from around your mind as it springs awake with renewed clarity?

Well, as few and far between as those days seem to be, I'm having one today. And with this clarity I've figured out a bit of personal writing wisdom that I've recently picked up along the way. One of my supportive new Twitter friends, @constantvoice, invited me to participate in a writing group called the Monthly Twitter Writing Challenge. They were already a few weeks into the #MayWritingChallenge, but I was welcomed with open arms. I diligently wrote every day for the remainder of May, logging at least 500 words each day as is the committment.

This simple experience was profound for me in a couple of ways:

One, it reinforced what I already knew to be true — daily habit is key to writing success. You need to be consistent in your pursuits, and even though the inspiration is not always going to come soaring from within and then flying out from your fingertips, just the very act of writing itself, every single day, is what creates a stable writing life. You are not always going to be thrilled with what you produce, but there is still a feeling of accomplishment for having done it at all, especially when it feels difficult or otherwise challenging.

Two, that little devil that sits on one shoulder whispering in your ear that everything you do needs to be perfect all but disappears. With a realistic goal of 500 words per day, I was able to tell myself that I can turn crap into gold if I need to during the editing process, but in order to get to the editing process, I have to finish the first draft. Finishing is all about producing consistently, regardless of quality. 500 words, which translates to about two pages of a book, is not difficult to achieve by any means, even on the worst of writing days — most days I'm able to surpass this goal.

And, finally, when I calculated what a writer would be able to achieve with even just a minimal word count such as 500 per day, well, my logical mind loved the outcome. 500 words per day X 180 days (6 months) = 90,000 words. That's a whole novel's worth! 

That final conclusion turned my initially unrealistic goals when I set out to write my first novel (that will be for a different blog post — HA!) into stable, achievable ones. It means that I can even continue to write while working full-time and still complete another manuscript within a reasonable amount of time. Fortunately, I'm almost finished with the first draft of Cherry Lane, which is super exciting in and of itself. But I like this writing life. It speaks to me. It's something I intend to pursue passionately, in realistic ways, for the rest of my days.

Bring on the #JuneWritingChallenge, and cheers to all of the supportive participants in this writing community that are along for the ride!

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Hello, Major Milestone!

I haven't posted for a bit because I've really thrown myself into writing this past week, and I'm happy to announce that I'm two-thirds of the way through the first draft! It's progress in the making, the end is in sight, and I couldn't be more excited. There will be much more work to be done after that, editing and reshaping and perfecting, but completing the initial draft is a huge accomplishment in and of itself, and worthy of celebrating once it occurs!

It has definitely taken me longer than I had initially anticipated. To be honest, there were days when I just didn't want to look at it. Didn't want to relive all of the tragedies. I was respectful of those feelings when they would appear — giving myself room to breathe and just be. I think those days have been just as important as the productive ones, because it allowed things to shift and settle inside, paving the way toward forward movement, both with the progress of the story, as well as the healing within.

I've mentioned to a few friends that I could not have predicted the enormity of growth I've been experiencing by writing this story. I mean, I knew that it would be tough. That I'd be examining pieces of the past long buried, and probably buried for good reason. What I didn't know, couldn't know, is that the lens I now use to view these memories has changed. I'm no longer running from everything — from everyone — away from myself. I'm older and, hopefully, a bit wiser now; able to revisit the past with questioning eyes instead of narrowed, distrustful ones.

I'm so thankful to be taking this time away from work so that I don't have to wake up each morning and put on the professional mask, so to speak. I'm able to truly sit with my thoughts and feelings as they come rushing through me or float about me, able to hold them and examine them, and then, ultimately, set them free.

Aside from all of this heavy stuff, I've also had some fun experiences revisiting my childhood. When taking a walk through your past, you will undoubtedly uncover the quirks of the era in which you grew up — in particular, the words and phrases that were common at the time, the electronics that were impressive in their day, the television shows that were popular, and the kinds of games you would play. Here are a few that I made today for us to reminisce together:

Does anyone remember these games? Please, please, please laugh at the giant FAIL that is the Paper Fortune Teller on the left. I'm seriously cracking up at my shameful lack of inner kid wisdom. After twenty minutes, I finally just gave up. I didn't even have the heart to write the numbers or colors on it, even though there are some fortunes inside. But you can Google search it if you're feeling up to the challenge of creating one of your own!

The Paper Fortune Teller and MASH (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House) — we loved these games! I was filled with nostalgia when I rediscovered them. Instantly, I found myself sitting outside in the hot summer sun, on the hard concrete steps with friends, big, stinky black markers in hand, intently making up lists, and then letting fate decide our futures.

So it's not all bad, this journey I'm taking. Quite the opposite. For any of the tough days, I'm reminded of the many ways I'd endured them. And for as many todays as I'm fortunate enough to continue experiencing, I'm filled with gratitude that we can keep exploring ourselves and the world around us, and that growth and self-actualization doesn't stop at any age, as long as you are still willing to take the leap.

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Can you write your way to happiness?

I just read a fantastic article in the New York Times, Writing Your Way to Happiness, and I absolutely agree that writing is tremendously healing and can provide one with insights that are rich with the potential for personal growth and change. 

I've been journaling since I was kid, and in many ways I'm certain that this habit helped to keep me sane and in-tune with my feelings. At the very least, it provided me the opportunity to tell myself my story as I experienced it, and, as I would often go back and re-read the entries a few days later, it gave me the time to digest those feelings and choose a course of action based on reflective thought. 

The act of writing has given me a sense of self-awareness that I am very grateful to possess, and has helped shape the story that I tell myself, which is that I am a survivor and always will be, no matter the stakes. It's a very different story than feeling like a victim — whether that be a victim of circumstance or a victim of others — I have never felt that way. 

One of the most impactful learnings from my Psychology studies that I still carry with me is the idea of locus of control — whether or not one believes that outcomes are a product of our actions or a product of things outside of our control. Those with an internal locus of control are more likely to take responsibility for their actions and to feel confident in the face of challenges, versus those with an external locus of control feeling helpless and not believing that they can change their circumstances through their own efforts.

Obviously a child is a victim of his or her circumstance, as was I; however, as soon as I was able, I got the heck out of dodge to start my own life as free from the craziness as I could get, constantly trying to shake off the shackles of my upbringing. It definitely wasn't easy, and I stumbled along the way. In many ways, I'm still stumbling. But I learn from each step I take.

This current writing journey that I'm undertaking is opening my eyes to so many things that I just wasn't able to see as a young adult. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to take this time to pour the words out, sit with them, and not only create a (hopefully) beautiful manuscript, but also incorporate them into my life moving forward. I believe everyone has the opportunity to reflect upon and revise their personal story at some (and often many) points in their lives. 

Here I am, almost forty years old, making peace with my past, building healthy relationships, and rebuilding broken ones — and I couldn't be happier to do so. 

Anyone reading this blog should definitely take a few minutes to read the NYT article. Just a few moments of your day could impact the way you view your story and alter the course of the rest of your life...

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Welcome to 1976...

The year is 1976, and I am not quite one year old. 

We have returned to the states from Germany, where I had been born the previous year, and where we lived about a mile off base while my father was stationed as a clerk in the United States Army. 

I want to go back in time and save everyone from that horrible burnt orange and yellow upholstery fabric, and save myself from that strange, giant, psychedlic pink cat pillow. But in all seriousness, look at my mom. Isn't she pretty? A sort of peaceful, Jodie Foster-esque young lady at the beginning of her adult life, full of hopes and dreams for the future. This was before things started to get really bad for our family — the calm before the storm, if you will. 

I wonder if she can remember feeling the sense of peace that this photo captures? I wonder what she is thinking...

I want to hug this little boy. I want to run away with him. I want to preserve his innocence for as long as possible before it is ripped away. I want to save my mom, too. I want to change everything. I don't want any child to experience what he's about to experience.

But part of me just wants to leave him in peace — to not prepare him for what's about to come — to allow him to have those last few innocent months of contentment.

A snapshot into the past can be so bittersweet.

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The Creative Process: Part 2

Yeah, remember in an earlier blog entry when I mentioned that I had quickly discovered I couldn't write this manuscript in chronological order? Well, I lied — sort of — it was a premature assessment! 

Turns out that my brain has to organize the events this way in order for me to be able to tell the story (hence the frenzy of pink Post-its). So while I'm super thankful that I allowed myself to just dive in and go with it for a few weeks, throwing myself into scenes and crafting them accordingly as the moments possessed me to feel impassioned to do so, once I had enough scenes written, it started to feel like total chaos and I had no idea how to sort through it all. 

In many ways, I feel like my creative process operates much like a pendulum, swinging wildly from side to side, from creative chaos to organized reason — one side passionate and full of vision, and the other logical and process-oriented.

Now that I have the bones, I've been able to sit with them. Organize them. Meditate on them. Sleep with them. They are arranging themselves in my mind into this living, breathing manuscript — the feet, the hands, the head, the heart, all coming together — becoming one whole being. Becoming me all over again. Transformed.

I am so excited for this journey. I couldn't have possibly imagined the transformative powers of this process — examining the most fragile pieces of my life again after all these years, and now, as an adult, seeing them through mature eyes. I am eternally grateful for giving myself this time to heal, exploring things long buried and seeing them as they are — raw and imperfect, yet connected. I hope that this memoir will be able to touch a few lives, perhaps even helping folks who came from similar circumstances along their paths toward understanding and healing.

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How do you illustrate 'survival'?

Let me first preface this entry with this: I am feeling really fucking angry today. 

There it is. I've named it. Now I'm going to try to work through it in this post. It has only been a month since the start of sabbatical from my day-to-day life — my nine to five, full-time job — in order to devote the time and energy necessary to undertake this enormous task of writing a novel that sheds light on the realities of growing up with domestic violence.  And I'm already connecting so many dots...

In my prologue, I've tried to accurately capture the sentiment which I've carried with me my whole life, which is, 'Victims of abuse do not simply get over it; rather, it is something we forever survive.' How do you portray this to someone if they have never experienced it themselves? 

As I'm dredging up these memories in order to detail them in my story, many of them are vivid and violent, and I'm realizing that I've buried much of the details deep in my subconscious. Frankly, I had to. If I had allowed them to haunt me through all of these adult years, I would be a much different adult sitting right here, unrecognizable to myself, and I would have a much different story to tell. In many ways, I imagine I would be stuck, stagnant on my path to healing. 

That is not to say that I haven't carried the memories with me everywhere — I have. Just not the details. The details are something entirely different. They make you see the events, hear the language and sounds, and feel the power of the moments, in essence reliving them. They make you feel the feelings you felt when you originally experienced them. Fear? Check. Despair? Check. Sense of self? Erased. 

In many ways, this describes my mother. I think she has carried these details with her for most of her life, trapping her for many, many years in a place of non-healing.

During a recent conversation with her, while I explained the motivation and desire for writing my story, she expressed concern. "Do you think anyone will come after me for what you're doing?" And with that one question, my heart broke for her all over again. I was filled with that familiar childlike helplessness.

This is where my anger now comes flooding back with a power that's difficult to explain. A giant FUCK YOU to the monster which is domestic violence, that perpetuates this eternal anxiety and fear that lasts well beyond the time that you escape, because you never really escape, do you? You've been groomed to stay in your place, to not show even a twitch of emotion on your face, to live your life stoically for fear that you will draw attention to yourself. Attention is bad. Attention is elevating. Attention is dangerous — life threateningly so. It awakens the rage monster of abuse.

I want so badly to protect my mom from those fears, but I can't. That is her own very personal battle now, and forever. And it fills me with righteous anger and immense sadness that I can't do anything about it. 

This is why people stay in the closet, so to speak, regarding domestic violence. It is out of a genuine fear for their lives. Many victims do not call the police. Many victims do not tell a soul about what they are experiencing. And many victims do not get out alive. But for those who do, what do their lives look like afterward?

Shame on the abuser that would create lifetime prisoners of his victims. 

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Where's my house again?

I've finished compiling a chronological list of the places we lived before my parents divorced. I knew this was going to be a challenging feat, but once it was all mapped out, staring me in the face, that's when the reality of it all truly hit me.

I knew we moved a lot, but to say we lived in a new space every year would be an understatement. And that's not even including the three separate women's shelters where we took refuge during interim moves. Once we landed at Cherry Lane, the moving came to a halt, but the tragedies certainly did not — and when I left at sixteen, I carried that moving tradition on well into my early adult years. 

I wonder now if there wasn't some comfort to the leaving and creating a new space every time as a young adult? Clearly this is not something I would have been able to name at the time, but it would make sense to me now. As I started to look deeply within myself in my early thirties, becoming more aware of my experiences and honest with myself, life slowed down a bit for me, and my physical environments began to stabilize in a way I hadn't experienced before. 

I can't express how envious I am of those whom had or even still have a childhood home to return to. I really have nowhere to look back upon to place the bulk of my growing years. That just wasn't possible for us. Our lives were constantly scattered, the instability of the physical locations correlating directly to the chaos inside of us. Even now, as I type these words, there's an anxiety I feel about the constant uprooting, as if we were trying to escape some terrifying monster, which, of course, we were. 

I even remembered a time when I biked home from school to the wrong house, and sat down and cried because I thought my parents had abandoned me for good this time. It took about ten minutes before it sunk in that we had moved the previous weekend, to a different home on a different street in the same city. Domestic violence doesn't allow you to stay in one place for very long. 

There is one space, however, that still captures happy memories from my childhood, and that is my grandparent's cabin. We would visit nearly every summer, and I have wonderful memories of sunshine, fishing, and especially the routine of waking up to warm voices in the kitchen and the smell of coffee from the percolator, and the ringing of the dinner bell every evening as dusk started to settle in over the lake.

Kids crave that routine. It speaks of stability and safety. It's something I'm realizing I created for myself as an adult, where routine becomes almost similar to ritual, carrying with it great calming powers to shut out those unsettled feelings.

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