Welcome to Tuesday Chat, when non-Poppy authors come to the Tall Poppy Blog to tell their stories. This week we have novelist and artist Lauren Faulkenberry.  –Katie Rose

Seek the wonder. That’s the inscription on a book I have from Ron Rash, a favorite author of mine. We were chatting about that idea when I saw him at a reading last year, and the words have stuck with me—mostly because as soon as he said it, I felt like it was a phrase that had steered me through my life.

Wonder. It’s what drove me to be a writer and an artist. It’s what led me on countless adventures across the country (some felt like wild goose chases at the time, but they all fed my curiosity—and yeah, became fodder for books). Wonder is what led me into working for the National Park Service. I’m curious by nature, and I love a good adventure—but I’ve never had the money or the time to travel and take big trips, so I learned to look for wonder in the everyday—in the small things. I like being amazed by the natural world and being moved by small acts of kindness. I’ve spent my life seeking the wonder, and it’s filled my heart. (That may sound corny, but I swear it’s made me a happier person. There’s a lot of ugly in the world, and when it feels overwhelming, that’s the time to start looking for more beauty. Taking note of that beauty every day, no matter how small it is, gives me hope.)

It’s been a tough year though, and there were times where I lost that feeling of wonder. There were days where I felt I lost hope, too. It was as if a critical muscle had atrophied from too little exercise—I didn’t realize this part of me was getting weaker until one day this summer I took a walk on the beach and that part of me that had fallen dormant was awakened.

I felt calm. I felt wonder. I felt real again.

I couldn’t recall the last time I had sat in the quiet, just enjoying the moment and the world around me. I sat on the beach watching sandpipers scurry back and forth in the tide, hurrying to drill their little beaks into the sand before the next wave chased them away. Watching those goofy little birds made me realize how long it had been since I simply sat in the stillness and paid attention to the wonder around me. Listening to the birds’ chirps and the tumbling waves, I could stop worrying for a moment about my job, and my mother’s brain tumor, and my father’s attempts at caregiving, or when I’d see my fella again, or whether I should sell my house and move, and how I was going to start a publishing company and write a book while my life seemed more chaotic than ever before.

It felt good to put all of that worry aside for a minute, and just watch the goofy birds. And breathe.

On that beach, the phrase came back to me: Seek the wonder. It made me sad to think this part of me had become weaker, this part of me that took so much joy from being in nature, so I made a decision that day. I’d make a point to get outside more often, and to enjoy the wonder around me: even if it’s a tiny surprise like the bright green tree frog that hangs out in the campground’s bathroom sink, or the pelicans that cruise along the crests of the waves, or the flock of ducks that pass overhead as I open the office in the morning. Since that day, I’ve been watching more sunsets, listening to the thunderous cicadas, letting the waves wash over my feet. Worry is a monster, and it’s the bane of the creative mind. I don’t know how to make it go away, but I’ve found that with some practice, I can at least create a kind of balance that leaves more room for hope and magic.

But it takes effort. It takes resilience. And this month, during NaNoWriMo, when writers are furiously typing out entire novels, I know there’s no way I’ll write my whole book. But I’ll write a little bit every day, twenty words or two hundred, about the small wonder that I saw that day. I’ll write it down in my handmade journal, so the words can be held in my hands. That act will keep me calm and grateful, and whether those words lead to the next book or not, they’ll give me balance and keep the creative part of me alive and strong.

Lauren Faulkenberry is author of the Bayou Sabine series, which includes BAYOU MY LOVE (2016), BACK TO BAYOU SABINE (2016), BAYOU WHISPERS (2017), and JUST THE TROUBLE I NEEDED (2017), all from Blue Crow Books. She is also the author and illustrator of the children’s book WHAT DO ANIMALS DO ON THE WEEKEND? (Novello Festival Press 2002, reprint edition forthcoming 2018).

Lauren divides her time between writing, teaching, and printmaking. Originally from South Carolina, she has worked as an archaeologist, an English teacher, and a ranger for the National Park Service. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Georgia College & State University, and her MFA in Book Arts from The University of Alabama. She was a finalist for the Novello Festival Press First Novel Award, won the Family Circle short fiction contest for her story “Beneath Our Skin,” and was nominated for an AWP Intro Award. She’s a sucker for a good love story and is happiest when she writes comedy and romance. She currently lives in North Carolina, where she is at work on her next novel in the Bayou Sabine series.