About Ali

Personal posts about Ali Cross, including personal insights, stories, family, etc.

Together We Are Beautiful

| About Ali

I love the moments with Dr. James Dobson on my local radio station. In just a few minutes, he offers wsdom and advice on parenting and relationships, that I often find uplifting and insightful.

Recently he shared the story of a grocery store that underwent a social experiment of sorts. The store manager challenged his employees to come up with their own personal signature and use it to improve customer relations.

Nicholas, a bagger with Down Syndrome, took the instructions to heart. The next morning he came to work with a stack of notecards. The front of each card featured a thought for the day, and Nicholas had signed the back. He put a card in each customer’s bag.

A few days later, the manager of the store noticed a long line at one of the registers. He opened another lane, but the customers refused to move. They wanted to have their groceries bagged by Nicholas, because they wanted one of his notes. One customer said she came in every day, just so she could have a new note.

News of what Nicholas had done, and the customer’s reaction, spread through the store. Soon the florist was handing out a carnation to each customer that walked past. The butcher put snoopy stickers on each of his packages of meat.

In a short period of time, the environment of the store changed from something mundane to something extraordinary—an experience that customers loved and returned again and again to enjoy. All because its employees sought to discover who they were, and to share the gift of themselves with everyone who came into the store.

Far too often we hold ourselves apart. We hide our light under a bushel, if you remember that old Sunday School song. And what are we saving ourselves, our light, for? And if we are saving ourselves, will we recognize our moment to shine, when it comes?

Like Grandma’s precious china that goes unused over a lifetime because no moment is special enough to warrant its use, it’s possible our own best selves may also be wasted.

For any of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you know I have issues with being myself. I am constantly worried that myself simply isn’t good enough, that if a friend knew the real me, they’d be sorely disappointed. Who am I, after all, if not just me? Just me, is not that special. Just me is insecure, sometimes lonely, sometimes unsure of my beliefs or who I really am.

But, to be fair . . . there is more.

Just me is loving, kind and generally thoughtful. Just me has spiritual gifts that bless my life and have, on occasion, blessed the lives of others. Just me has learned to treasure love, to cherish it. Just me can often recognize the beauty in others, even if I don’t always see it in myself.

So what would happen to the world at large if all of us sought to share ourselves, to let our lights shine? It doesn’t have to be in spectacular acts of selfless generosity, it can be as simple as a thoughtful note, like Nicholas did, or a sticker of our favorite cartoon character shared with some neighborhood kids. What would happen if we told the people we met that they were beautiful? Or told a mom, when we have overheard her talking to her child, that we were touched by the love we saw there?

Would we be shunned? Pushed away? Possibly.

But would we make a difference? Almost certainly.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

After a lifetime of feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, I’ve recently discovered that I do have a place. There are people, strangely, who are willing to love me and accept me. And they are desirable friends, they are people I admire and for whom I have so much respect.

But there’s a catch.

If I want to keep these friends and be worthy of their friendship in return, I cannot hide my light under a bushel. I need to shine. Because in letting my light shine, I reflect the light of others, and together we are beautiful.


Tools of the Incompetent

| About Ali

Sometimes you find pearls of wisdom in the most unlikely places.
Last week while watching So You Think You Can Dance, one of those pearls dropped into my lap. The unlikely giver, the unlikely setting, left my mind reeling. It was brilliant. Pure wisdom on a reality dance show.
A girl who had high hopes of getting into SYTYCD’s Top Twenty was cut from the competition. She was beautiful, shining, and while tears glistened in her eyes, she smiled, and offered wisdom:
“Excuses are the tools of the incompetent and I will not use them.”
Holy Guacamole. Was that a pearl she just flung out there?
I had to hurry to write down the words, and then I spent some time googling them—wondering if the dancer had authored them herself, or perhaps she was falling back on wisdom someone else had given her.
There seems to be some dispute as to who the author of this wisdom might be, and in fact I could not find record of the exact line quoted above. Stephen Grayhm said “Excuses are the tools with which persons with no purpose in view build for themselves great monuments of nothing,” but I like the dancer’s line better.
I cringe whenever I hear dancers on the show, singers on American Idol, or people in regular every day life, offer excuses as a way to avoid consequences for their actions or choices. I used to be an excuse girl—who among us hasn’t tried them, right? But eventually I learned that I made so many mistakes that the excuses started to sound flat, even to my own ears.
The truth is, mistakes happen. As human beings, we are far from perfect and it shows. We make glorious, huge, life-altering mistakes. But the awesome thing about mistakes is that if we own them, claim them, and if we are willing to take a good, hard look at them, we can learn from them.
Learning never happens when our minds have built up walls of excuses around the truth.
Strangely, I am grateful for the mistakes I have made. Because of a poorly written first book, I strove to write again, to see if I could do it better. And again, and again. I am getting better, and it’s only because I haven’t hidden behind excuses as to why I wasn’t awesome to begin with.
Because of mistakes, I have felt the sweet swelling of love and forgiveness of my Savior and Father in Heaven. If I’d hid behind my wall of excuses, I might never have known how much They loved me.
And because I no longer making excuses for the poor choices my mother made, I’m able to see how I can pilot my life better.
No good comes from making excuses, while so much joy awaits beyond them.
Possibly Stephen Grayhm, but I’m not certain, wrote a poem related to the line given by the dancer on SYTYCD:
“Excuses are monuments of nothingness,
They build bridges to nowhere,
Those of us who use these tools of incompetence,
Seldom become anything but nothing at all.”

I, for one, plan on being something, warts and all. How about you?


Free Spirit

| About Ali

I used to think I was a rebel, and therefore that I was bad.

I’ve always hated conforming to arbitrary standards–whether they were imposed on me by my mother, by school, by jobs. Believing that I was a rebel translated to believing I was bad.
What was wrong with me, that I wasn’t satisfied doing what was expected of me?
Sometimes not conforming has meant going above and beyond expectations, but most often it has meant marching to the beat of my own drummer or taking the road less travelled.
It also means that I often have to travel with a machete because the road is troubled with brambles and thorns. It’s not easy to travel that road.
So much easier to follow the crowd, go along to get along, be one among the many.
But I guess that’s just not me.
I used to think I didn’t know who I was–and honestly, I’m still working on that. But as I hang around with more writer types I discover I’m less an island than I thought. Writer types get me. Writer types are like me. This is an amazing realization for me, because I’ve never felt so accepted by a group of people before. It’s also a little scary because I’m not usually a group person. I fly solo. Typically.
So in the framework of this discovery, I’ve learned that it’s not just about being a rebel. It’s more like being a free spirit.
I don’t rebel because I don’t want to conform. I rebel because I have a spirit that yearns to be free of customary restraints. I need to be free to go where my spirit takes me. I am not bad, I am me
I don’t always know who I am, because I am constantly in flux. I don’t have a particular style that defines me because I, by my very nature, am indefinable. I am simply me–happy, whimsical, determined, a bit nuts, special, unique. 

I am not a rebel, to be contained and reformed. I am a free spirit and I am meant to soar.


25 Writerly Things About Me

| About Ali

So Stephanie (and maybe a few others?) tagged me in that 25 Random Things About Me meme that’s been making its rounds of late. Since I’ve already done it on Facebook, and you’ve already learned like a zillion things about me on my regular blog, and since I’ve been completely neglecting my writing blog (um, because I’ve totally been neglecting my writing?) I thought I’d do her tag, but do it on writing stuff. Whew! How was that for a run-on sentence?

  1. I love run-on sentences. Well, not love maybe, but I tend to use them a lot!
  2. I have three huge books filled with bad poetry I wrote as a pre-teen, teen, and angst-filled young adult.
  3. I wrote my first book in the last months of 2000, and wrote the last line an hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2000.
  4. My first book had been rattling around my head for fifteen years or so.
  5. My first book was based on a character I created during Dungeon and Dragon play.
  6. My first book stinks.
  7. My second book was written for my boys–I wanted to write something they would love.
  8. I think I’ve done a decent job on my second book.
  9. My third book came about on a total fluke, but has ended up being my favorite so far. I was trying to figure out if I could pull a book idea out of thin air, so I played the What if … game until I came up with the one that ended up being my book. Neat!
  10. My husband is my very best muse. He’s excellent at the What if … game.
  11. The What if … game is when you just pop around what if questions until ta da! you have your story. Works great!
  12. Because of the What if … game, I rarely suffer from writers’ block. 
  13. I have dozens of story outlines sitting in my folder.
  14. I have no idea what I’m going to write next.
  15. None of my stories are calling to me.
  16. I am having a really hard time editing my finished books.
  17. I’ve done two or three revisions, but it’s the fine tuning editing that I’m having a hard time with.
  18. The very best thing that has helped me with a writer has been getting to know other writers, especially authors, and discovering that they suffer in their work just like me 🙂
  19. I love my critique group and look forward to meeting with them. I know they are helping me be a better writer.
  20. I would not even consider myself a writer if it weren’t for Cathy Witbeck who was the first one to befriend me in this writerly world and who convinced me that I was, indeed, a writer.
  21. I haven’t read a lot of books on writing, which I probably need to rectify. 
  22. I am a terribly slow reader which I think works against me in this writers’ world.
  23. I made a goal for myself that I would have a book published before my boys graduate from sixth grade.
  24. I’m not sure I’m going to reach that goal. I only have two years left!
  25. I guess I need to play the What If … game again because I am suffering from total writers block these days. 


| About Ali

It used to be, I was a caterpillar. Slowly meandering around my writing. Doing a little–doing a lot of not writing. Good intentions and all that, but not a lot of production.

During the finishing of The Devil’s Daughter the last couple weeks, it was like I climbed into my chrysallis. Tucked inside the closeness of that cocoon I completed my book and learned a lot of myself in the process.

When I was finished, it was time to truly fly.

Once free of my chrysallis, I spread my wings and man they feel good!

The point of my little wanderings through the wonderful world of analogies (which I know I did very badly!) is that I truly feel like a writer now. I even had a dream the other night in which–well, it was not a tangible dream–but I woke up feeling absolutely like a writer.

I have learned, just in this past month, how to make writing a part of my every day life, how to stay focussed and how to achieve a writing goal. Where once I felt like I hoped to be a writer one day, now I feel like I am a writer. I may not be published just yet, but I feel confident that one day I will be.
And that my friends, is a wonderful feeling!

Beginnings …

| About Ali

I have been blogging for a couple years now and have had this little blog sitting off to the side, untouched. I have been unwilling to touch it. Why? you might ask. Probably for a couple reasons.

I was afraid that I might not be able to keep up with two blogs, and I don’t want to let my regular readers down. Also, truthfully, I’m afraid I might not have anything worthwhile or interesting to write over here. After all, here I’m wearing my very lofty hat of “Writer”. Maybe I ought to change that name, lol 🙂

But now I truly am embarking into the wonderful world of writing and my first real step is to take myself seriously. I AM a writer. Three of my favorite writing-related quotes, which are basically my mottos:

“I will NOT live like a normal person. I am a Writer.”
~ LDStorymakers Conference

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

~E.L. Doctorow

“Anybody can say you can’t write. Let nobody say you don’t.”

~ Ken Rand

So, here we are today, the beginning. This past weekend I attended the LDStorymakers Conference. It was my second time attending. Last year, I barely considered myself a writer. I would say the word under my breath, afraid to say it out loud. I didn’t want to offend real writers by presuming to count myself among them. I also didn’t really know what to expect of myself and I’m pretty sure I wondered, deep down, if I really was up to the task. At that point I had only written one really bad fantasy novel and a good but heavily rejected children’s book The Famous Mouse of the Opera House. Last year I placed second in the LDStorymakers First Chapter contest with my middle-grade sci-fi adventure The Jump Boys.

Now, a year later, I attended the conference again, a new woman. This time I did feel like a writer. I AM a writer. Since last year I have finished a children’s book The Lullaby LadyBug, finished The Jump Boys and begun a heavy re-write on it, and have almost completed a YA novel The Devil’s Daughter. This year I took first place in the First Chapter contest with The Devil’s Daughter. I also had the privilege of having a private pitch session with Lisa Magnum, assistant editor at Deseret Book.

Thankfully, Lisa was very friendly and easy to talk to, or else I’m not sure the pitch would have gone as well. Instead, it was a success, I think, as Lisa requested I send in the first three chapters as well as the chapter that shows a life-changing event for the main character. Since then I’ve exchanged emails with Lisa and she said:

“Yes, I am still very interested in reading more than just the first chapter of your book.”
“I can’t wait to read your manuscript! :)”

Not bad, eh? I’m choosing to take it all very positively and to think the best.

So I’m hard at work getting the requested chapters ready to go. I’ll keep you posted on my progress and hopefully, in doing so, I’ll really be chronicialing my journey from being not only Ali Cross, Writer, to Ali Cross, AUTHOR.

In fact, I think I’ll wait to change the title of my blog until I can make THAT change. Deal?