Unpacking Blue Ridge

Confession time: I haven’t known how to say everything I need to say. Pretty soon I’ll be rebranding the blog with a stronger focus on social media, writing, and editing. But now and then, I’ll still have some emo to share.

Like this post . . .

Y’all remember the suitcase I picked up a few months ago? [Read: “Oh, The Place You’ll Go!”]

First it took me to Seattle. [Read: FIVE THINGS FRIDAY: Seattle.]

And starting two weeks ago it kept me company at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

Luggage ready for BRMCWC

Blue Ridge Ready

Since returning, my peeps have been asking me to share stories with them. What was it like? Who did I meet with? Did I pick up new clients? What are my favorite memories? How hard was it to come home this year?

First, let me say this, as I’m sure most, if not all, at Blue Ridge would agree:

It was life changing.

As for the rest of it . . . It’s taken me a week to remember. To be able to talk about it. To share it authentically, and even then I’ve yet to do a complete job.

Because this year at Blue Ridge was a hard one for me. This year, God grabbed me at the beginning and said, “This is where the healing starts.”

When Healing Hurts

When Healing Hurts

Last year, Blue Ridge was new and inviting and full of connections and adventure. This year, some of my peeps couldn’t make it. This year I had the room to myself, and at the end of the busy days, I went into solitude.

From the first night away, I had bouts of anxiety. And I missed the FurFamily. Every few hours I was certain I just needed to pack it up and head home early. But who wants to admit that, at what amounts to a family reunion? These things are supposed to be fun, carefree. Not, “I need a hand to hold just so I know I have someone holding my hand” kind of moments. Right?

And the conference, well, it’s for writers, not whiners. So I sucked it up. Or so I thought. The thing is with me, and if you’ve hung around my blog for any length of time, you already know this: I’m a bit of a crier.

So there I am. At Blue Ridge and I’m overwhelmed with the responsibility to prove that I’m worth the collective efforts it took to get me there. And I want to make the most of it. And I’m afraid of letting people down. And I’m afraid of not gleaning every ounce I’m supposed to. And I’m missing my best friend who I met there last year.

And the hurts and struggles and trials of the last few years that have nothing to do with Blue Ridge or writing, they rise like cackles on the back of my neck. They surface, they grab for my attentions. They fight their way into every waking thought. They don’t even belong at Blue Ridge! But they don’t care. Stupid emotions!

And I feel misunderstood. Forgotten. Put down. Cast aside.

Worthless.

I. Am. A. Fraud.

Cloud of Negativity

Cloud of Negativity

Which is exactly what the enemy wants us to think, especially at a place like Blue Ridge, right? We’re not supposed to learn how to write for God, how to bring His message into the world, or think we’re worth the effort.

Right?

Wrong.

As difficult as it is, I celebrate the hard emotions. Sure, they were a distraction. A huge distraction. And when I say huge, well . . . Let me take you to Wednesday morning Group Meeting. Filled with people I know and love, but very few I felt connected to. So in a room of over 400 people, as I sat in the very back row between two of the ones I trust the most, the music starts. The worship music. The open-your-heart-to-God-and-let-it-go music. The it’s-too-painful-to-listen-to music. And for an hour, I cried. I just cried. Through the music, the announcements, the keynote speaker. I couldn’t stop biting my lip as the tears raced. I’m not exaggerating.

It was excruciating. And yet, now . . . I can see beauty coming from it.

I began to glimpse the bigger picture.

Blue Ridge isn’t just about learning to be a better writer. Of course it is that, but not just that. It’s also connections. Not just professional, either.

Me with the Ketchup Man - James L. Rubart

Me with the Ketchup Man – James L. Rubart

I was lucky enough to meet this guy, James L. Rubart. We’re going to be great friends, and he’s even forgiven me for saying he uses too much ketchup.

Aaron, Alycia and I are now known as “The Sibs”. We’re the siblings who weren’t born to the same family, but Blue Ridge brings us together every year.

The Sibs at Blue Ridge: Molly Jo Realy, Aaron Gansky, Alycia Morales

The Sibs at Blue Ridge: Molly Jo Realy, Aaron Gansky, Alycia Morales

Blue Ridge is where I was able to meet face to face with some of our loyal Firsts in Fiction podcast viewers. Like Bruce, who took it upon himself to Big Brother me and grab me for prayer whenever we passed in the halls. And get this – one of the last minute conferees came all the way from Australia because he heard about it on the podcast. How’s that for connections?

When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to be all things to all people all the time (I know. You’d think I’d learned that one by now. But hey. Work in progress, here, okay?), when I gave myself permission to fail, it was like giving myself permission to grow. I opted instead to do what I could for myself, not the world at large. Because being better to and for myself is better for the world at large. Yes?

Removing the parameters of perfection opened me. It was okay to tell others “I’m not okay right now.” It was okay to miss a few minutes of class and grab coffee with the Seesta. It was okay to sit in a corner, or in the front row. It was okay to say, “No,” or “Not now,” or just “Catch me later.”

And being not okay made the other things okay. I’d been fighting myself all week, and not paying attention to what was happening. And what was happening was confirmation.

Confirmation that I’m supposed to be there. That what I’m doing for my writing, editing, social media and marketing are spot on. That I’m getting better at what I do. That people believe in me and want to help me on this path. That I have friends-turned-family looking out for me. That I have something to offer.

I took new classes with favorite faculty, made the one-on-one appointments, prayed, connected, ate, hugged, laughed, shared . . . Everything I thought was missing, was actually happening.

The lie was that it was a lie.

Are you tracking with me here? Everything I thought I wanted to happen but felt wasn’t happening, because I was wrapped up in my tears and loneliness and anxiety . . . It was still happening. I just wasn’t experiencing it.

Until Wednesday morning. Naw, I’m not saying it all worked out that quickly. But I am saying on Wednesday morning I found myself surrounded by my peeps. Who kept surrounding me. And in retrospect, they had from the beginning. I just hadn’t noticed.

So here it is, a week later and I’m home. And it’s taken me this week of remembering and processing to realize, I still have so much to unpack.

Was it overwhelming? Yes. Would I do it again? As soon as yesterday. I know I’m not the only one who left the mountaintop and fell into the valley. We’re all gonna help each other back up.

“Next year, at Blue Ridge . . .” (Thank you, Lori.)

This is the song that did me in, Wednesday morning. God uses everything for His good.
“Blessings” by Laura Story. [How cool is her last name?!]

And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote.

FIVE THINGS FRIDAY: Seattle

It’s quite possible I’ve had so much to write that I haven’t written a thing. Okay, true story: I (almost) don’t know where the month of March went. I almost feel like the Beatles’ Here, There, and Everywhere. Oh, don’t get me singing. Just give me some sweet tea or coffee and I’ll calm down.

There was a chaotic beginning in March. Projects up in the air, should I do this or quit that? Bless her glorious heart, after a morning out as we’re sometimes prone to do, Mum asks, “Would you like me to come over and help you clean your house?” Now, Bedford Manor isn’t a messy place. Not usually. But let me throw a few words out for ya: Flu. Cats. Media. Work. Any of these pieces fitting together? So when Mum asks, I do the only thing a responsible, caring, independent, adult child could do. I cried and said, “Thank you!”

The next thing you know, the house is clean, the body is healthy, and I’m on my way to Seattle. Seattle, people! The Emerald City! The land of . . . Well, the land of my children. And coffee. And probably the sixth location mystery in the City Series. Yes, that’s already in the brain. Suffice to say, I picked a good locale for the story I need to tell there. But that’s a separate post and about three years away. [You can wait, can’t ya?]

I spent three and half days visiting Dot and her husband, as well as enjoying some of the town. I flew up on a Thursday, took the tram directly into downtown and walked myself up Capitol Hill and into my son in law’s work. Dot joined us shortly after and from then on it was go, go, go. Here’s the part where I profusely thank my daughter for telling me in no uncertain terms, “Get over your love of heels. Don’t wear them here. You won’t survive.” She was right. My Keds barely kept the kicks alive. And I’m pretty sure I burned calories from alien beings, that’s how funky the legs didn’t work after ten hours of this thing called walking.

Anyway, I digress . . .

From different Starbucks (I mean, that’s not a surprise, right? That’s as obvious as eating beignets when I visit New Orleans next year.) to unique cuisine to family time around the TV watching, you guessed it, Frasier on Netflix . . . It was the best non-working vacation I’ve had in years. [Okay, so the Frasier thing didn’t happen until after we visited the Space Needle gift shop and a saw a mug that said “Good morning, Seattle!” at which point we looked at each other and said “Ohhhhh, yeahhhh” then went home and watched it over popcorn.] [NOTE TO SELF: Get. That. Mug.]

It’s been difficult to narrow down my favorite moments to just five. Actually, I can’t even say these are my top picks. They just happen to be some of my favorite photos. The moments . . . Well, there’s far too many of them for a Five Things Friday post.

In any event, these are my five favorite Instagrammable moments:

  1. Nippers and I frequented the Willy Wonka of coffee places, the Starbucks Roastery. Here we are enjoying a hot chocolate made with real melted chips, not syrup, and a tiramisu topped with chocolate shavings. I might have been a little Type-A for a few hours after indulging . . .

    Nippers the Frog at Starbucks Roastery

    Nippers at the Roastery

  2. This amazing view of Mt. Rainier from the rooftop. This photo doesn’t do it justice. The beauty of the snow above the green above the city . . . And let’s be real: It’s name is Rainier. For my NOLA Swarm, you’ll know exactly why that excites me. Am I right?

    Mt. Rainier in Washington

    Mt. Rainier from the Rooftop

  3. Honey! Dot and I bought a handful of honey sticks from the Farmers market. These naturally sweet treats are good on their own, but we also love adding them to our hot teas. I bought the variety pack – like This Social Media Ninja Bee could pass up that opportunity.

    Honey Sticks from the Farmers Market in Seattle

    Honey! This Social Bee’s favorite tea sweetener.

  4. Seriously, potato pizza. Serious Pie, from renowned Seattle chef Tom Douglas, is a pizzeria with three locations including one in the Roastery. Dot and Her Man treated me to this amazing, I-didn’t-think-I’d-like-it-but-I-LOVED-it potato pizza the first night. The food and service were so good, when they asked where I wanted dinner the second night, I opted for different pizza, same pizzeria. That was not a mistake. And I’d do it again.

    Potato Pizza, seriously? Yes. At Serious Pie.

    Potato Pizza, seriously? Yes. At Serious Pie.

  5. My goodie bag is full of souvenirs from both the Roastery and corporate Starbucks where they work, the honey sticks, and, no shocker here, how could I pass up a book from the huge two-story Barnes & Noble? I couldn’t afford to buy the purse pen from Tiffany & Co. just yet, so I got myself the next best thing. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.

    Seattle Souvenirs

    Seattle Souvenirs: Coffee, honey, and books.

And since I always love to add a bonus photo or video, here it is. I can’t take credit for this. Ten minutes after arriving at the Roastery I met Cyrus who was kind enough to share his Seattle insights, and noted I came on a good weather day. He then showed me this time-lapse video he took a few days earlier of a storm. I loved the video so much I asked if I could share it and he said yes. He also gave us suggestions of places to visit. I later discovered he’s a real estate agent in Seattle, so of course he has become my Go-To Guy for any touristy ideas I might have. I’m trying to convince him he should start a YouTube channel and share his Seattle. If you agree, drop him a line on his real estate Facebook page. Tell him I sent you. And tell him he needs a YouTube channel.

Well, there you have it. My not-only-top-five for Seattle. What are your favorite travel moments? Share them in the comments.

As always, with some love and a big gulp of sweet tea,
Happy reading.
~Molly Jo

And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote!