Memento Mori… a phrase the conveys a simple concept-remember, you must die. Sounds depression, right? But wait, let’s think about this for a moment. Is it true? Absolutely. So why not use that to motivate yourself to do the things you’ve been putting off? In August, I realized that the year had just about passed me by. What had I done for the first eight months of the year? When I reviewed the year, I concluded that the better question was, “What have I NOT done?” In reality, so much. 365 days in the year, 24 hours, 1440 minutes, and 86,400 seconds in a day. We all get that. What we do with it is entirely up to us.
To be clear, I’ve done some great things this year. For example, sitting on the couch with my husband every morning, slowly sipping coffee and talking without a care in the world. Our garden has been fantastic, and over the past month, we’ve begun to can and freeze fruits and vegetables. My parents, nephews, sisters, and I are all in an endless group text message, so I interact with them daily. I’ve stopped absorbing depressing, anxiety-producing news reports and social media, restricting my time in Facebook to writer groups and my author page. I’ve gotten back into a workout routine, lost six pounds, and I feel fantastic. I’ve taken on the attitude that if the world ends tomorrow, that’s fine. I’ll be writing or editing a draft of my next book, picking tomatoes in the garden, or sitting on the couch with my beloved husband, sipping coffee. Basically, whatever happens, I’ll be doing something I wanted to get done.
In my mind, the year started on August 24, 2020, because that was the day that I reminded myself, “memento mori.” The holiday novel I’m writing on was inspired by this idea that we will all die. My favorite podcaster utters this phrase from time to time. In the beginning, I was very uncomfortable with her throwing the truth out there like that. Then I realized that one of the reasons I admire this woman is because she’s taken this phrase to heart. Doing today, or you might not get the chance.
A Sylvia Wilcox Christmas was sparked by this idea that there is only so much time in life. No one has an endless clock, but there are times when we forget how precious each moment is. Sylvia Wilcox is a workaholic, partially because she is a young widow, but also because there are times when she isn’t sure what else there is to do. In A Sylvia Wilcox Christmas, she takes a moment, a breath, and examines what can happen in a moment of much-needed downtime.
The first eight months of the year were not a loss. I learned a great deal about what I wanted in life and what I needed to leave behind. Ten years ago, I climbed aboard an Amtrak with a bunch of books, a few apples, trail mix, and the last sixty buck I had to my name, because I’d figured out that life was too short to stay in stagnation. It was better then, and now, to walk into the unknown. 2020 has made me realize that it was time to get back in the game. Throw caution to the wind and move forward, even if the road is scary and I don’t know where I’m going. I’m confident that the road will eventually meet my feet. 2020, with all its troubles, has ironically boosted my mood back up into the stratosphere. I’m excessively happy again. As an old friend of mine use to say, “She’s all sunshine and lollipops!”
As I continue to contemplate memento mori, and the beauty and mystery surrounding mortality, my level of gratitude increases. Death can be feared, or simply recognized as a part of the life cycle. Let it encourage action-not fear or stagnation. I’ve come to think of it as a motivation to live my dreams and keep moving forward without looking back. This idea that we will all die reminds us that time is of the essence. Do it now, or possibly never accomplish your goals. The good news is that you have time, as do I, to move forward and complete the task at hand. Make yourself proud!
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Happy Friday! I hope everyone is doing well. This has been a great week for me and I wanted to share some of the going-ons in my world, and give an update Fracture, and a surprise announcement of another book that will be out in November. Yay! Productivity has returned! You may be wondering why my engine has suddenly been revved up and there are a few simply explanations to why I’ve been more productive in the past two weeks, than I’ve been the rest of the year. Exercise and living in the present moment.
2020 has been a year for re-evaluating everything from my career to my weight. As I hunkered down in my house earlier in the year, I will admit that I was frustrated and angry, but over time, I realized that there was so much opportunity in those moments. What was working? What wasn’t? How could things be different? Once I stopped following social media eliminated what I’ve heard termed, “doom scrolling” I just focused on my life. What could I do to become a better person? A few of the ideas I came up with were getting back into shape, writing several books a year, and getting to know the town where I live. When I first moved to Utah, I loved living in Salt Lake City. It was so clean and pleasant, and I had no choice but to learn the city, because I didn’t have a car. As the years passed, I moved into a teaching career and eventually relocated to a suburb in northern Utah. That was back in 2016 and I still don’t care for the area of the state I live in. Over the past few months, I’ve taken some time to analyze why this is the case.
One of the reasons I fell in love with Salt Lake City was because I didn’t have a car. I walked or used public transit to get everywhere, and I became a part of the city. At one point, I lived in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, which was 2.7 miles from my job. On nights when the bus was taking forever or stopped running, I’d walk home. I don’t recommend walking alone at night. Still, it was something I did in part because I felt like Salt Lake City couldn’t possibly have anything that Detroit had not thrown at me. While this is probably true, I realize now that I should have just asked for a ride from the scores of concerned coworkers who often volunteered to take me home. But, I was in a phase of my life where throwing caution to the wind was a daily occurrence. Right or wrong, those long walks home helped me become a Utahn.
Moving to northern Utah was a bit of a shock to my system. First of all, I’d never been to the area until I met my husband. Most of the people I knew spoke of all points near Ogden as “out there.” Well, they weren’t wrong. It takes close to an hour for me to get back to Salt Lake City, and if I-15 is shut down, I have to take a roundabout, long route that weaves through mountains and adds about half an hour onto the drive. Needless to say, I don’t drive down there often, and during 2020, I have only headed to SLC a handful of times. No matter how much I love Salt Lake, I don’t live there anymore. It’s time to move on and embrace the present.
Salt Lake City is a unique hub for transplants and misfits. There isn’t another place in the state that is as welcoming to newcomers. With that said, after moving to northern Utah, I fell into a habit of rarely leaving my house. Could that help explain why I don’t feel connected with the place where I currently live? I spend time in my garden, head out to the grocery store from time to time, and I do have one friend that lives in the neighborhood, but for the most part, I drive to Salt Lake City for all significant socialization outside of my hubby. This, of course, is not healthy, and it led to a twenty-four-pound weight gain. Yes, I’ve eaten all the loneliness, stress, and unfriendly encounters I’ve experienced over the last few years. Well, you know what? I’m done with it. I live where I live, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t love it. So this week, I’ve been embracing everything that exists right now.
Each day this week, my husband and I have taken walks on the Ogden River Parkway. It’s a cozy little blacktop trail that travels along the river’s edge throughout communities in the area. We park and walk to the Ogden Botanical Gardens where we browse through the rose garden and stroll along the short trails. There’s one spot, tucked away in the shade where we like to sit and chat while resting up for the walk back. It’s just a pleasant, quiet place in the world where we can relax and take in the beauty of the area. It’s also a way to feel connected to where we live. That little bench is “our seat.” We now have a set path and a general time that we take to the parkway for “our walk”. All of s sudden, this place feels more like home than it ever has before.
Ten years ago today I was headed back to Michigan from Utah. I’d just spent four days in Salt Lake City, a place that had never been on my must-see list, and I was SO sad to be leaving. One of my good friends had moved to Utah years before, and I’d taken a trip to visit him, but I never thought I’d fall in love with the place. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting much from the trip. Just some laughs and good times with an old friend. We did indeed have a blast, but the place turned out to be enchanting and from the moment I touched down in Michigan, I was planning a way to get back to Salt Lake City.
Utah was never on my radar, but I was definitely looking for a place to move. Michigan had been in decline for decades. By 2009 I’d been done with graduate school for four years, and was working three part-time jobs. A full-time job with a decent salary had proved to be elusive, I was thirty-four and I’d never had a meaningful romantic relationship, so I was pretty sure I’d never marry, and my novel, Lives Lived wasn’t being picked up by literary agents. Moving to a new town for a fresh start was constantly on my mind and I was open, but Utah was not one of the destinations I had in mind. As I considered cities I might want to live in, I decided to plan one fun trip to see an old friend in Utah.
From the time I boarded the connecting flight in Denver, to the moment when I stepped off the plane in Salt Lake City, I was showered with kindness. A man stowed my bag in the overhead compartment and removed it when we landed, carrying it off the plane. As I stepped into the airport, people smiled and spoke to me, and as I stepped outside, I was in awe of the mountains that jutted into the sky in every direction. One the flight I’d been mesmerized by the red rock and snow capped peaks. I thought Utah was nothing more than the Great Salt Lake. Why hadn’t anyone told me that it was a hidden gem?
Over the next four days my friend made sure that we packed in as many activities as we could. I was enchanted with the landscape, surprised at the friendliness of the people, and I loved fry sauce. After climbing Ensign Peak I remember thinking, maybe this IS the place…At the end of my trip, I found myself longing to stay. I remember being a bit sad when I returned home. How could I miss a place I barely knew?
In September of 2010, I bought a one-way train ticket, packed a bag, withdrew the last sixty dollars I had in my bank account, and I headed to Salt Lake City. I wasn’t sure if I was going to head to another spot afterwards, or if I would head back to Michigan at some point. By October, I decided that I was going to start over in Utah. It made no sense and plenty of people thought I’d lost my mind for making such a major decision on a whim, but what did I have to lose? As the ten year anniversary roles around, deciding to move to Utah is the best decision I’ve ever made.
Home…Or Is It?
Utah is very nice but even after ten years, it doesn’t feel like home. This is confusing because after a decade, where else would home be for me? When I travel back to Michigan I enjoy my time there, but I’m always ready to get back to Utah after a week or so. This is a strange position to be in and I wonder if the concept of home is even more arbitrary than I thought it was. I wrote the bulk of Who She Was back in 2009, when I was living in Ypsilanti, Michigan. At the time, I thought, “I love Michigan and it’s my home. I’ll set my story right here at home.” Now that I don’t live in Michigan, and I’ve experienced a different type of “home,” I want to write about the desert and this foreign culture I’ve been immersed in for the past decade.
In Fracture, Sylvia Wilcox finds herself in Utah, a place that is intriguing, friendly, and mysterious. A clean wholesome mecca for families, but it’s also a haven for secretive religious zealots. While those things are true, it is possible to simply get caught up in the beauty of the place. I’m not a professional photographer, but Utah’s amazing terrain doesn’t need a professional to spruce things up. Here are a few lovely places to visit in Utah.
Places to Visit in Utah
Antelope Island is one of my favorite places to visit! It is located near Syracuse, Utah and birds from around North America nest on the island. The landscape is much different from the areas surrounding the island, because of the high salinity of the lake. While this is a beautiful place, be prepared for what locals call “no-see-ums“-biting flies, and the brining scents that rise up from the lake. It is also important to make sure that steer clear of the wildlife on the island. Do not approach bison or antelope, or any other wildlife you come across.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a must see for anyone visiting Utah. In fact, you need to find a way to visit the “Mighty Five” before you leave the state. I never get tired of staring at the red rock and exploring the wilderness. This is a photo from a solo trip I took a few years ago.
I live minutes from Ogden Canyon which is full of breathtaking trails, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. I often refer to myself as a flatlander because I grew up in Michigan-at sea level. it doesn’t take much for me to start huffing and puffing on a trail, but it’s so worth it. The Wheeler Canyon trail is especially wonderful in autumn.
Driving the Alpine Loop in another great way to see spectacular autumn colors. A pass to the area will cost you six dollars (as of 2020), but it’s good for three days, so you can spread out the awe over a couple of days.
Ensign Peak is an easy, short hike close to downtown Salt Lake City. Head up around sunset and you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the valley. This is reported to be the place that Brigham Young declared “This is the place” during the Mormon trek west. No matter what your views are, learning about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints is synonymous with Utah history. You can’t have one without the other, so soak up all the knowledge. I guarantee you’ll be fascinated!
Utah is a religious place, but there’s more to state. If you love the outdoors, kind people, safe environments, and a fantastic economy-this IS the place! Okay, that’s just a bit about how Utah charmed me and stole me away from Michigan.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Salt Lake City
Fracture is with the editor and should be ready very soon! My original plan was to published the book months ago, but 2020 has been quite a struggle. The good news is that I’ve retreated to my creative world and have been able to bury my head in stories. Fracture will be available by September 15th. After that, I have an idea for a holiday novella. Sylvia loves to take vacations. What kind of trouble can she sniff out during a holiday trip? We’ll see where that goes, but in the mean time, let’s learn more about Fracture.
In Fracture, Sylvia takes on a case that forces her to take the road. I’ve done my best to clean things up, but the book just went to the editor, so the prologue below hasn’t been professionally edited yet.
Delaney pulled the front door closed, her heart beating rapidly against her chest. The day had finally arrived. Her hands shook as she fiddled with the key fob, pushing the button to unlock the door. Climbing into the car, she closed the door, sighed, and looked back at her home. Was she really going to leave it all behind? Definitely. Maybe. She wasn’t sure.
It had taken several months, but she’d finally reached the ten-thousand-dollar mark. Casually venturing to the bank during playdates with other stay-at-home moms, or stopping by at the end of a grocery run, Delaney Whitby had withdrawn small amounts of money, so the dwindling savings didn’t look suspicious. She was always bubbly and full of smiles when she walked into the bank, making sure to wear her least modest shirt—the one she kept tucked away in the back of the bedroom closet. The red v-neck swooped low enough to allure male bank tellers, but it also showed off her garments. A gentle tug at the edge of the shirt would hide the sacramental cloth’s rim—allowing her to maintain her dignity. Delaney did her best to deal with a male teller when withdrawing the money. Chatting away about home improvement projects and expenses for the children, the teller would complete the transaction without noticing that she had been dipping into the account, bit by bit, weekly. No one suspected what she was planning.
At church, Delaney had maintained her leadership role amongst the young women of her congregation. Spending each Sunday leading the women with righteous messages, advising young mothers who only had one or two babies, and banning together with more experienced moms like herself, who had four of five children, created a support system. Men in the congregation would watch her with envy, wishing that their wives were a little more like the selfless, beautiful Delaney. That Sunday, less than twelve hours before she would leave, Delaney thoroughly maintained the facade. All was well, and she was perfect.
Will I see the children again? Delaney wondered. She loved them, but nothing should deter her from God’s plan. Tears of anticipation and fear caused her heart to flutter and vision to blur. What waited on the other side of her journey? What would it be like to spend the first night away from her family? There was only one way to find out. She grabbed the lever and pulled it until the lock popped, pushing the car door open. She shook her head and slammed it closed. There is no time for such thoughts.
The prophet had told her that time was of the essence. They had a short window to build Zion before Jesus returned. If she didn’t leave now, there would be no way to reap the full benefits of “the work”. The Savior has expectations, the prophet had repeated two days prior, before telling her, Now is the time. If you want to be a part of Zion, the decision must be made now.
They were going to build paradise, tucked between isolated mountain towns, and far away from secular society’s prying eyes. As for her current life—she’d been unable to convince Jeff that there was one Truth and she’d found it. She loved Jeff, but the more he denied the prophet’s words, the less light she saw in his eyes. He didn’t understand the proper plan of the Savior. Perhaps he would in time, but until Jeff was ready to commit to Truth, she could do nothing to help him. Was it wrong to abandon her marriage? Delaney couldn’t be sure, but there was a calling on her life. She had to do what was right.
Delaney reflected on the preparations she’d undertaken. Seven loads of laundry washed, dried, and folded, two weeks’ worth of casseroles prepped and stored in the deep freezer, premade shepherd’s pie and chili also waited, ready to be popped into the oven and cooked. Jeff wasn’t much of a cook, but by the time he ran out of the meals she’d left, someone from the ward would show up with provisions and help with the kids.
She’d packed one bag of prairie dresses and garments—although she wasn’t sure if those items would be needed where she was going—and stuck it in the trunk of the car a week ago. The ten thousand dollars was taped to the top of the glove compartment, and her cellphone—which she’d been directed to leave at home—was still in her pocket. It was the last remaining strand of her life, and even though she knew she would be required to do so, she wasn’t ready to give up her cellphone. Forcefully turning the key in the ignition, Delaney started the car and took off, her head jerking from the momentum. She zoomed down the street, the tires screeching when she reached the stop sign. Delaney felt wild and uninhibited—free and anointed. Filled with reckless courage, she whipped the corner onto Michigan Avenue, enjoying the feel of the car tilting a bit on two wheels. It’s like being a warrior. I’m going into battle and fighting for what’s right.
Delaney rolled down the windows and let the thick, warm Michigan air fill the car. Speeding through town, she took pleasure in the cars shrinking in the rearview mirror. After tailgating a Dodge Ram, Delaney swerved to the left, cutting off a Mustang before mashing the accelerator. She had plenty of time, but adrenaline pushed her faster and faster down Michigan Avenue, rushing for the freeway.
She’d purchased the plane ticket a month ago, and by the time they discovered the car, she’d be at her destination. Speeding down I-94, Delaney Whitby gripped the steering wheel, her palms sweaty, and the backs of her hands red from the pressure. The late spring southeastern Michigan sky was gray and heavy with clouds. She pulled into long-term parking at the airport, grabbing a ticket for the car, knowing that she’d never need it. Delaney parked the Dodge Intrepid in a corner space, turned the car off, and said a prayer. Heavenly Father, I hope I am doing the right thing. Send me a sign if I’m not.
Sitting in silence, anticipating a flash of lightning or a phone call—anything to indicate she was making a lousy decision—Delaney waited. After several minutes, she closed her eyes and sighed. Nothing had happened. Heavenly Father had delivered his answer. She opened her eyes and muttered, “thank you,” climbed out of the car, grabbed her luggage from the truck, and took off for the terminal.