On Time Management and Saying No

Lately my life’s been a little bit of a spiral. Not entirely downwards, not entirely upwards, but more of the all over the place kind of spiral that is euphoric one moment and devastating the next. At times like these, everything tends to pile up on itself and start to take over everything. Stress from one task bleeds into my ability to complete the next, and I suddenly find myself doing a million things half-heartedly. I don’t like doing things half-heartedly. So when I notice that this is all going for a loop, I begin to fall into a pit of guilt and I get nauseous and force myself into a kind of dull depression.

It’s times like these that it’s important to remember that one little word: ‘no’. When people ask me to help out, to volunteer or make posters or come take care of their pets, what have you, it’s so hard for me to say ‘no’. I’m the kind of person who wants to be able to help. I want to be able to do what I can to make the world a better place, even if that just means alleviating the stress of the people around me.

Stretching myself out paper-thin doesn’t accomplish that, though. Sure, it may be a little spot fix for the person who needed me right then but what about everyone else? What about the kids I watch who will take the brunt of my stress at work the next morning? What about my family, who get brushed off by my so that I can take extra time to de-stress after work because I didn’t want to punish them for my life? What about my significant other, who I will make feel less loved because I decided to help everyone else and then no longer have the time or emotional capability to attend to him come the small amount of time we have together a week? When I’m helping out with a million different tasks, I end up not being able to focus on any of them to the extent that they deserve. My contribution is slighted, the project as a whole is slighted, and the opportunity for something amazing, the opportunity for grace and light, is wasted.

I’m not one to say that my own self-care takes precedent over other things, or that I shouldn’t try to do as much as I can for others. But in the past couple of weeks I really have come to a greater awareness of the need to know one’s own boundaries. The need to trust that other people will be there to help. That saying ‘no’ when I have become overwhelmed is not a bad thing- and is, in fact, necessary if I am to function to my own best ability. And functioning to my own best ability will, in the long run, enable me to do more for others than if I run myself ragged for a short amount of time.

So for the next month or so, I’m going to be practicing my ‘no’s’. I’m going to practice being honest with people about my capabilities (directly saying ‘I can’t make this commitment’ versus my normal ‘I’ll see what I can do). I’m going to practice being realistic about what I can fit in on my current schedule (being able to help for large events, rather than weekly commitments). And I’m going to pray that the needs I cannot fill myself will be filled, while also praying to alleviate my own anxiety and guilt about not being able to carry my community on my shoulders. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back into a healthy rhythm in my own life, and increase my capability for contribution. Because the point of saying ‘no’ should never be to simply release yourself from all stress and constraint in life, but used in order to better prepare yourself to give an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to things you can accomplish in the future.

How do you do with ‘no’s’, readers? Has it always been easy for you? What, or who, do you have a hard time saying no to?

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Go Thrift Shopping

Something that I’ve gotten slightly addicted to in the past couple of years is thrift shopping. No, it did not start with Macklemore (thank goodness). I had actually really disliked thrifting when I was younger- my mother would always ask if I would want to come along, and I would always say no (she now makes fun of me for this). I thought that thrift stores had nothing that I wanted, that they were for old people, that the clothes would all be out of style and the other items just plain outdated.

In college, I went thrifting to help my friends build up pieces for their costumes in the school musical (which at the time was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). While they were off looking for their go-go outfits and sparkly headbands, I wandered off and used my time actually looking around. I ended up finding three dresses, several cowgirl-esque button ups for my weekly dance nights at the Grizzly Rose, and a couple of sweaters. Most of the items were also half off the already ridiculously low ticket prices, which means I bought all of those items for less than one blouse at a department store. As a poor college kid, you can imagine how much this appealed to me. I was already a huge fan of shopping at places like TJMaxx and Kohls, but this whole ‘thrifting’ thing let me go one step further with saving money.


Thrifting soon became my go-to shopping experience. Instead of hanging out at malls, like I had done in high school, I started finding all of the thrift stores that I could- comparing their inventories, seeing what new things were in that week. Soon enough I was dragging my boyfriend with me, where he too picked up an appreciation for thrifting (he likes the cheap electronics and the fact that he can get outfits I like without spending too much money on them!)

It’s only recently that I recognized the potential for my thrifting outside of getting cheap clothing. On a thrifting outing that was more focused on finding my boyfriend a DVD recorder, I decided for once not to look at the clothing, and instead look through the DVD and book sections that I so often skipped over. Turns out, the Arc stores that I so dearly love (and favor very highly over other thrift stores) have expansive book sections- even having a neat little section for poetry and classics. Since this was a 50% off Saturday, most of these books were even cheaper than normal- though they were in perfectly good condition. I ended up with a collection of Pablo Neruda’s love poems, which I have always been meaning to reading, three or four poetry anthologies (one 365-poem collection, one around-the-world collection, one with love poems by women, another with love poems to God from different traditions), a large, beautiful copy of Robert Frost’s complete poems, and a small collection written by a woman who lives here locally (I ended up liking her poetry so much that I sat down on my kitchen floor with that collection and read it straight through without stopping). I also picked up a couple of novels that I’ve been meaning to read, such as The Jane Austen Book Club and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and religious items like a collection of thoughts and prayers by Mother Theresa and Between Heaven and Mirth. All of these books for the price of one!

Now I really believe in supporting authors and artists through purchasing full-priced copies, preferably from independent bookstores when I can. However, as a fledgling writer currently working two jobs as a nanny just to pay rent and help buy a car for my little brother, I don’t often have much ‘book money’ to spare anymore. Thrifting for books is a great way to keep up your book collection and your love of reading when times are tougher (and they are books that you know you’d want to keep- otherwise, local libraries are the best resource for ‘trying out’ books before you buy them).

It’s also, surprisingly enough, a good way to get cheap local lit (if you look for it hard enough, and come on a lucky day- as it is with most thrifting). I know that might seem a bit like a cop-out with supporting local authors- but I know that at least in my own experience I’m much more likely to try something if it’s got less risks, aka less costs. One way that I’ve done this in the past is enter copious amounts of Goodreads giveaways, looking for independent artists to win review copies from. Now I can go thrifting and look for local artist’s work, try it out, leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads, and then see if there’s anything else they have out for sale! It makes supporting local authors a little more risk-free, and works for everyone all around.

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Enjoy Children at Mass

I don’t talk too much on my professional blogs about my faith, partially because I hope that my writing does it enough for me, partially because I run a separate Catholic blog for that kind of thing and partially because I like to hold my faith a little closer to the heart to prevent me from coming off as preachy and having a holier-than-thou attitude. But this particular practice of mine has been consuming my religious poetry lately, and so I feel the need to mention it.

I enjoy having children at mass.

And I’m not just talking about the adorable sleeping babies or the kids attempting to sing the Alleluia three keys off tune in the pews ahead of me who are otherwise very well behaved. While I appreciate the parenting prowess of the people watching those kinds of children, I feel like it is a bit too easy to love and appreciate the kinds of children who are subdued.

I’m talking about the shrieking children who get hoisted up on to Daddy’s shoulder to be taken out in the middle of the rite of transubstantiation. I’m talking about the kid who pushes his little brother halfway down the pew. The baby who I notice attempting to steal my keys while I’m otherwise occupied, holding hands with his mother during the Our Father. The siblings who line up their toddler devotional books on the seat and then push them around making such loud train noises that I can barely make out the deacon listing off the Prayers of the Faithful. I’m talking about the troublemaker kids who make mass seem, for the most part, like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. The ones who take the silence of sacredness and rip it to shreds with no remorse, biting on Bibles with a giggle and a twinkle in their eyes.


Don’t get me wrong, it’s distracting. I don’t like being distracted at Mass- I’m the kind of churchgoer who prays a rosary beforehand and gets irked when the choir begins practicing early and interrupts the flow of my thoughts. This isn’t about inherently enjoying the presence of rowdy children at mass- this is about consciously choosing to do so.


I especially was brought to think about this a couple of Sundays ago at a morning mass at the Spirit of Christ parish. I sat next to a lovely woman in a beautiful chapel veil. She had with her her husband and three small children- the boys seemed both younger than four, and the daughter was still in the newborn stage. The daughter slept in her father’s arms the entire service- he even propped her up as if on a table when we knelt to pray, which was probably the single most precious thing I have ever seen- but the boys were an entirely different story. They sang out, they screamed, they laughed- they pushed each other, they tried to take the toys of the girls in front of us, they sat behind me in my spot when I stood for prayers; one of them tried to stay behind during the Eucharistic procession and ended up barreling through a couple people to get back next to them. The mother dealt with this with the patience of a saint- she took interest in what they were interested in, spoke in a soft, even tone to them and tried her best to give as much of her attention to the mass as she could spare form keeping her boys in line. The presence of those boys would normally have grated on every one of my last nerves. I don’t personally like when things are out of turn, ever, and boy were these little blonde angels out of turn.
Instead of let myself fill up with anger and indignation, however, I cleared my heart and quieted it. I thanked God for the existence of such lively, creative children. (Which turned out to be ironic because the homily for that day was about giving God thanks ahead of time, so that was kind of a smack in the chest for me). Instead of becoming irritated, I felt myself being filled from the outside in with a warm, joyous glow. I can’t really fully explain the kind of love that I felt then- it started with those boys and then just kind of radiated in and out, washing over all of that excess noise that comes with being at a crowded mass. It’s not as if I couldn’t hear all of those distractions out there any more- far from it. I was aware of them, and I was grateful for them. I was happy for the signs of abundant life there in that church, echoing and feeding into the Eucharistic mystery. I wanted to hug that mother and thank her for bringing her children. When it came time to say the Our Father, the youngest boy gripped my hand hard and stared up at me with the most calm blue eyes I’ve ever seen and smiled. For once, I wasn’t afraid to look at someone’s eyes. It was all the acknowledgement I needed. I left mass that day refreshed and energized in the middle of feeling lost and afraid regarding my impending thesis deadlines, graduation in a month and a half, and eternally uncertain writing career.

When we force ourselves to look at something that grinds on us just a little differently, its amazing how completely different we receive that experience. Just by making myself give thanks for the noisiness at church rather than grumbling about it, I was open to the grace that comes in the midst of and-paradoxically- through chaotic living. I don’t believe that you need to be particularly faithful to do this, though prayer certainly helped me, and I am certain that the love I felt at that mass was a direct gift from God.

But for those of us who aren’t religious or are looking for more of this kind of calming experience in a more secular kind of way, I would venture to say- find yourself a new perspective. Meditate on it. Write it into a poem (as I often do), a journal entry; a short story. Go on a walk and speak a new way of living to yourself, and see how amazing it is when that new way of living simply opens up through the act of willing yourself to see it.

So see your job as a live-giving experience. Assume the best out of the actions of people you consider your enemies. Seek for the love in the annoying things your siblings do. Take those rejection letters as abundant opportunities to make yourself a better writer. Be thankful for readings and signings with low attendance, for the room for growth and humility they provide. Forgive your lover for the small things, try to see their hobbies through their eyes. Enjoy the mischievous children at Church. The benefits are incredible.

Things I Do To Stay Sane: Join a Poetry Club

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of believing that writing, of any kind, is a job that is purely done on one’s own. I could go for several days talking about the hows and whys of that not being true- both in positive ways and negative ways-but for right now I want to focus on writing groups.

When I started this whole writing thing as kind of a hobby back in high school (lord, I’m getting old) I really thought that I didn’t need anyone else’s opinion on my writing. I knew what was best for my style, I knew what was the best thing for me to talk about and I knew what sounded good or not. Creative Writing classes existed purely so that I had somewhere where people were forced to sit and listen to my genius, but I didn’t have any obligation to listen to anyone else.

Since then I’ve realized that that kind of attitude is not only idiotically self-absorbed, but it was also toxic to my art. My poetry was less poetry than it was creatively spaced pity partying spanning several relatively expensive art journals. I once heard in a writing workshop for short stories by Jim Daniels that the problem with a lot of amateur artists is that they spend most of their time telling people how they feel instead of showing how they feel. And they never learn how to, because they refuse to admit that there is anything to being relatable beyond laying bare their own feelings. They never learn to take into account the places from which their audience will be coming. What kind of feelings will scare them. What kind of things they don’t want to admit to. The things that are easy to say, but shouldn’t- and the things that should be easy to say, but aren’t.

Being part of a writing community can help ease one’s own ignorance on that front. There’s nothing better than sitting at my university’s poetry club, listening to other students read their pieces for a half-hour on a prompt given not even an hour before that. Some of it is downright awful, and some of it is heart-breakingly beautiful. Both kinds of pieces can come from just one poet, depending on the week. And both kinds of pieces gets me, as a poet-listener, just that much closer to understanding who an audience is. What kind of particulars I can point out to. What kinds of beauty I forgot to pay attention to today. What kind of hurt or joy I forgot certain kinds of feelings could bring. Listening to the writings of others in a non-professional setting (I’ll talk about the benefits of a more professional setting later on) is more beneficial than I could have ever imagined.


You see, I only thought that this kind of inspiration could come by sitting in a room with a bunch of poets who all want to be published and make names for themselves with their art. The kind who compete and submit and go through the same agonizing process of waiting and being rejected, or the unexpected euphoria of acceptance, as I do in my own journey. But the thing is… getting better at your poetry, and getting better at being yourself, isn’t achieved by surrounding yourself only with the kinds of people who do the exact same thing that you do. It’s surrounding yourself with the people who will make you better, regardless of how closely they fit to your own ideals.

In my poetry club, the one I’m proud to call home, we’re a pretty similar in that we are all students at the same university. But at the same time, we are commuters, off-campus livers, dorm dwellers and student life employees. We are Math, English, Science, Philosophy, Nursing and Religion Majors.  Some of us write poetry to keep from killing ourselves. Some of us write poetry because we are so enraptured with life that it spills out of every pore. Some of us want to become professional. Are professional. Some of us will never read poems aloud at meetings. Some of us write in diaries. Some of us write on our computers. Some of us Slam. Some of us rhyme. And we’re never better than when we are together, bouncing our souls off each other as easy as laughter.

So if you’re stuck in your writing, stuck in your formation as a poet- join a writing group. If you’re still a student, chances are there are one or two at your high school or campus. If you’re not, there are online places such as Meetup that will help you find a group near you who will fit your specific needs. Can’t do in person things? Try a site like Webook or Wattpad that are online critiquing communities. Start a collaborative Tumblr or password-protected WordPress blog. Heck, even a Wix or Webs site.

Just don’t ever think you have to do this alone. That you even can do this alone. It may seem like a waste of time, or even an added stress. But keep at it- keep going, keep sharing, keep opening yourself to what other people have to say. You just might find that it helps you become better at being able to say things yourself.

Things I Do to Stay Sane: Hang out with Children

Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to take a break from being an adult and remember what it was like when stuff like bills were ‘mommy and daddy’ problems. It’s nice to think that entirely nonsensical answers could truly be the way to deal with conflict in one’s life. It’s fun to spend the entire day reading, or playing pretend, or thinking up crafts, or baking, and consider that to be as productive as we need to be today.  Sometimes, it’s downright necessary.


I’ve been getting more than my fair share of this kind of therapy this summer what with being a nanny to two girls (7 and 11) every day from breakfast to dinner time. But if I’m going to be honest, I’ve always been around kids. I have a large immediate family (five siblings, three older), and a pretty close extended family. I can’t really remember a time where there wasn’t a baby or small child under the age of ten somewhere in my family tree. As one of the ‘older’ kids, but not quite the oldest, I also can’t remember a time where I wasn’t expected to hang out with or watch other kids who were either just younger or a lot younger than me. And I’m not about to say that this was always the best of times for me, babysitting or hanging out with younger kids. Most of the time, it’s honestly a royal pain in the behind (though what isn’t, eventually).

But taking time out of your day to just hang out with children can be an awesome thing, too. It always blows me away, the things that children notice. It can be as simple as obsessing over your new hair cut or as out of the blue as pointing out the racism in a Nickelodeon movie. I think a lot of the time, when I tell people that I hang out with kids a lot, they immediately think that I’m cool with it because of the innocence of children. Honestly, I like it more because of the wisdom of children. They’re still in this age where they haven’t become so tired of the world that they don’t truly believe, down in their little bones, that they can change the world. Not someday, but today.

I love when I talk to the girls that I nanny, and one of them, ‘Star’, tells me that she wants to be a banker when she grows up, and that she wants to do a semester of school in Japan in high school.  When we talk together about what kind of work that would entail, she doesn’t get discouraged. She just kind of gets this wide-eyed, goofy grin look on her face and she says, “Well, I better get working on that then”. ‘Snail’, her younger sister, wants to be a gymnast. Not tomorrow, but today. And no statistics or comparing her to other girls is going to convince her that she can’t be. These children have an unwavering faith in themselves, and they haven’t yet learned that the rest of the world has forgotten that. I know my older niece and nephew are the same, and hope my younger nieces and nephews grow into that invincibility as well. And never grow out. So I hang out with kids to remember just how dumb I’ve become regarding my own God-given potential.

Also, specifically as a writer, I love some of the questions kids ask. When I’m writing a poem, I often get stuck in this kind of rut, asking myself (and the world), the same kinds of questions over and over. Appreciating the same things that are within my comfort zone or within my immediate realm of existence. The kids I know are always challenging that. They ask questions that make no sense, are rude, or improper, or ‘common sense’. They never stop questioning. They appreciate the wonder of hairless cats and guinea pig medicine and bubbles and eating pizza with their aunt at the cool kids table.  They remind me not to doubt the importance of what I’m writing. They teach me not to be ashamed of wanting to immortalize a feeling in verse, whether it be appreciation, frustration, loathing or doubt, because to them all feelings and questions and loves are valid and sacred.

So if you’re feeling like you’ve lost your magic, go ahead and take your niece or nephew or little cousin, little sibling to a picnic in the park (or the zoo, or aquarium). Don’t ask them to entertain you with their antics. Don’t expect them to come up to your level. Simply be with them, listen, and absorb all of the wonder that they have had the grace to retain. Remember the grace you were born with, but have forgotten. Recharge, and heal.

Then, write.

Four Star Review for ‘Drunk Dialing the Divine’

A short, yet positive review from Cecilia Lester, a participant in last month’s Book Blog Tour, titled ‘Avant Garde Poetry from a Young Poet’:


Amber Koneval has written a collection of avant garde poetry. The poems are in the free-verse style. Her style is unique to me. She goes deep with her  thoughts with each of her poems speaking of God as she sees Him. Her choice of title speaks of the times a person will call out to God and not know why he or she does it. On the back cover, she writes: “Drunk Dialing the Divine is an attempt to capture a glimmer of the emotional struggle of the deeply faithful. Though each poem begins in a negative space, they resist both the angry and the naively optimistic ending—instead finding a ray of hope in the maxim ‘Things are because God is.’”

Thank you for the feedback, Cecilia!


Speaking of feedback, today I also received an e-mail from Janet Kalmadge, one of the winners of the June Book Blog Tour giveaway. She has told me that “it really is wonderful” and that my “writing is captivating”; due to her Catholic upbringing, it also “touches a chord”. Thank you for the encouragement, Janet! It means a lot to someone as new to the industry as me to see people who appreciate the collection, and it gives me a real sense that I am truly on the path I am meant to be on!

If you ever feel like dropping me a line to tell me personally what you think of my poetry, whether you want to enthuse or critique it, feel free to e-mail me here. I’m never too busy to talk about poetry!

Book Blog Tour: Signed Copy Winners!

Here we are at the end of this book blog tour- I want to deeply thank all of the wonderful bloggers who have hosted me this month, whether it be an interview, an excerpt, a guest post, or an exclusive poem. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to examine myself and my writing even further with everyone, and I hoped you all enjoyed the little insights as well!

To end the Book Blog Tour, I have the winners of the signed copies of Drunk Dialing the Divine-

Hannah Long

Amanda Miguelgorry

Katherine Varley

Janet Kalmadge

Sam Cronk

Congratulations, and thank you for participating in this giveaway! I will be e-mailing you all to get your addresses so I can get your copies to you soon.

Remember, for a limited time you can e-mail me directly and order a signed copy of Drunk Dialing the Divine from me for yourself, or if you purchase the paperback from my publisher directly, eLectio publishing, you get both the paperback AND electronic versions.

If you ever want to revisit the posts from this blog tour, they have all been categorized under ‘Book Blog Tour: June 2013’. We will be back to our regularly scheduled postings starting the first week of July!

It’s Almost July!


At the end of the month, I’ll be announcing who won the signed copies of Drunk Dialing the Divine as well as finally trying to get back in to compiling my next manuscript. I know I keep saying that I’m starting that, but with all of the work I’ve been doing this summer its been getting really hard just to find the time to sit down and organize everything I’ve written. Or to justify printing it all out. I’ve only written maybe a total of four poems so far, and they aren’t at all ready for any kind of submissions (in consequent, I’ve also not been submitting half as much as I was at my peak). So this is a picture of how I feel pretty much all the time right now. I can’t wait until I graduate and I at least don’t need to spend my time after work writing papers that I’m not really excited about anymore. I just want to spend my free time writing and editing things that are of utmost importance to me, and its frustrating when I can’t. Again, I’m privileged to be so busy but… it’s not always easy to remember that. I’m honestly just waiting for this summer to be over.

Book Blog Tour: Interview, Part Two

And here is the second half of my interview, and two poems, over at the Wonderings of One Person, where I talk about upcoming projects and current works.

Don’t forget, you can enter to win a signed copy of Drunk Dialing the Divine here simply by liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, and tweeting about the giveaway!