Monday, November 24, 2014

Make A Wish: 28 Things I Will Accomplish in 2015

Strawberry Flavored Ice Cream Birthday Cake from Baskin Robbins
This has been a November to remember, no doubt. I celebrated my birthday by doing a little shopping at Kuwait's Grand Avenues Mall and was treated to dinner at Ribs and Rumps restaurant, presented with flowers and balloons and surprised with the above pictured, already lit, delicious birthday cake. 

I will be spending the next few days in the UAE, specifically Abu Dhabi and Dubai, continuing my exploration of the Middle East and networking with new, like-minded people in the area. I'm another year older, and thankful for an increased level of ambition.

28 Things I Will Accomplish in 2015 (in no special order, but all deserving of special attention):

1. Stop overworking myself to the point of exhaustion.
2. Limit time on social networks.
3. Finish writing my first script and pitch it to Hollywood.
4. Release my next two books: "Pen, Publish & Promote Your Book the Write Way (Detailed Guide for First-Time Authors)" and "Date Knight: A Man Who Findeth A Wife".
5. Faithfully practice healthy eating habits.
6. Improve cooking skills.
7. Exercise regularly.
8. Publish three more first-time authors.
9. Clear all outstanding debt.
10. Become a homeowner.
11. Launch iWrite4orU writing workshops.
12. Sign long-term Contributing Writer freelance contracts with 3 prestigious publications.
13. Complete business and architecture plan for Duval County literacy center. 
14. Approve the addition of #WriterGrind™ to a credible dictionary.
15. Travel to London.
16. Embark on a 10-city book tour. 
17. Successfully partner with a literary agent. 
18. Agree to a lucrative traditional publishing deal. 
19. Meet and/or co-write with Tyler Perry and/or Shonda Rhimes.
20. Receive an official literary award.
21. Sell 10,000 books independently.
22. Hire a dependable team of employees.
24. Secure 3 to 5 company sponsorships/endorsements.
25. Create an annual community literacy event. 
26. Seven to ten motivational speaking engagements with compensation.
27. Write 50 new poems.
28. Inspire more people to live their dream.



Friday, November 21, 2014

#PrayForFSU: An Ode to My Alma Mater

#FSUnited 11-20-14 Banner
On 11-20-14, while the majority of U.S. citizens were sleeping, my day was about to begin in Al Fintas, Kuwait, at 8AM. I read a few emails and checked my notifications on social media: 12 on Facebook, 16 on Instagram and 3 on Twitter. Then, I conducted my usual news feed browsing. There was a load of nonsense to ignore, until I was suddenly alarmed by a status update from a fellow #FSU graduate. She shared brief details about a shooting that had occurred at Strozier Library, the center of our beloved campus, where I spent many days and nights writing and re-writing papers. I immediately consulted Google for more info, but nothing had been officially released yet. So, I swapped over to my Twitter app, saw and retweeted these words from Deion Sanders, a Hall of Famer who played college football at Florida State University.

Via @DeionSanders on Twitter
This isn't about football. Actually, the latest drama surrounding the outrageous targeting of talented players and still-maturing young men who represent #NoleNation on the field was never just about football. No matter how much bias eSECpn continues to reveal with its weekly, unfairly-voted FBS playoff rankings by refusing to allow us to retain the number one spot, as well as the obsession with completely ruining Jameis Winston's career, we cannot let our emotions be consumed by a popular, heavily-watched sport when disaster strikes, like this inappropriate, insensitive tweet from ESPN intern, Marisa Martin. 

@MarisaM24 on Twitter (now deleted)
I was a student at FSU from June 2005 to December 2008. There are many memories that I can share, but the one that is most relevant and appropriate for the point I'm aiming to convey is:

English majors were required to choose between two tracks of study: Creative Writing or Literature. I chose Creative Writing, although I still had to successfully complete a certain amount of lit-based courses. I loved the challenge of identifying and honing my skills, but I constantly felt like an amateur, which is why I titled my first self-published book "Amateur Thoughts". It wasn't until my senior year, while enrolled in an intense upper level poetry course, that I really started to think I had the potential to be a great writer. I was always told that no one would hold my hand and I would have to teach myself in college, but I learned so much, directly and indirectly, from Professor Erin BelieuAt the end of my last semester as a Nole, in order to receive a passing grade, she expected each student to present an original poem. I wrote and recited what she deemed a well-written piece entitled "Lyrically Speaking", a rhyming dedication that expresses my love for music.

Professor Belieu was a non-traditional instructor. She encouraged peer interaction and honest feedback and she often ensured that our meeting sessions were entertaining. This particular concluding one took place at a local restaurant on Tennessee Street in Tallahassee. A waiter was attentive to our entire class as we settled in a back room that was reserved just for us. After eating lunch and reminiscing about the semester's shenanigans, it was time to share our poems. I remember being the final student to present, since my last name starts with a letter at the end of the alphabet, and I didn't rush to volunteer. When it was my turn, I nervously stood and positioned myself so that everyone could see me, and the words began to flow.

I was holding the paper my poem was typed on, broken down into significant line breaks and stanzas, a skill that she helped me master. When I looked up, shaking a bit, Professor Belieu said to me, "Try it again, project more and don't look down so much." It was hard to breathe as I considered her advice. I waited and then I read the poem again. "Much better," she remarked. My classmates snapped and I blushed. I received an A in the class.

That will forever be one of my most cherished FSU memories. Thanks to that five-minute moment and semester-long encouragement from Professor Belieu, I knew what it was like to be brave. It was the third instance, since graduating from high school, that I was on a stage reciting a poem, in the spotlight, not wanting to shine. I was totally fine with being an unknown, yet exceptional poet. However, that unforgettable assignment allowed me to revisit a past experience of releasing all fear. 

#WeAreFSU Florida State Tragedy Ribbon
With this unfortunate tragedy, current FSU students needed to be brave, too. When the "dangerous situation" alert went out, many of them did not understand the severity of it. Some even thought it was a joke. I wouldn't have, because it could've been me... The 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting occurred while I was enrolled at Florida State. Facebook and Twitter were not as convenient or necessary as they are now for receiving credible, breaking news, but my fellow Seminoles and I stood with the Hokies as they tried to overcome their university's respective sorrow. 

Vires. Artes. Mores. is a Latin phrase that's embedded in our school's seal. It stands for Strength. Skill. Character. Three attributes instilled in each student granted the privilege of walking on the rich grounds of an institution that was built on tradition and integrity. Some people may push an argument of safety, which is understandable, but unless you know what it's like to study on a public campus, that is actually monitored by security 24/7 with open access to FSU PD, your argument may not be valid. Especially since we don't know why the now deceased gunman, Myron May, was terminated by police with an estimate of 30 shots after refusing to surrender. I didn't know Myron personally, but mutual friends and colleagues describe him as a "kind", "gentle spirit". He was a true Seminole, a 2005 graduate, member of a Divine Nine Greek fraternity and a well-educated, qualified lawyer diagnosed with a mental illness shortly before committing the crime, according to reports. Far from the description of a typical, disturbed shooter. I can only speculate when it comes to determining why he selected the library as the location for his shooting rampage. Maybe it's the last place that made him feel sane. Thank God the other three victims survived. 

There's never an acceptable explanation for nightmares like this. Since none of us can provide accurate answers for why he wasn't strong enough to overcome common paranoia, despite his seemingly normal, Christian background, I'd advise you to speak nothing but positive sentiments as we are all searching for peace during this time. We should focus on marching forward, while exemplifying unity with proud tomahawk chops, as seen in this #WeAreFSU video, posted on the Florida State University Facebook page:


In conclusion, I left FSU with many regrets, wishing I was more involved as a first-generation college student, only gathering up enthusiasm to officially join one organization, SISTUHS INC. But I will never regret responding to my early acceptance letter with a $200 tuition deposit, even if six years later, after depleting a partial Bright Futures scholarship and a few much-needed government grants, I'm still responsible for repaying an extreme amount of subsidized and unsubsidized loans. My desire to receive a quality higher education, while seeking to find my purpose in life, was fulfilled at what I will eternally believe to be the best university in Florida, my alma mater, home of the prestigious, unconquered garnet and gold tribe. 

For FSU is on the warpath now 
and at the battle's end she's great 
So fight, fight, fight, fight to victory 
Our Seminoles from Florida State!




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#GoneGlobal Week 1 & Week 2: Welcome to Kuwait!

The Recap
My 28th birthday is on Sunday, November 23rd, which means that this is my last #WriterWednesday at age 27. Now that I'm finally over my triple plane ride jet lag, I can share details about how I've been living for the past two weeks, overseas. To recap, I left Jacksonville on Tuesday, November 4th, election day. Daylight Savings ended the Sunday prior, so time fell back an hour. When I made it to my first destination, Chicago, I was on Central Time for 6 hours. The 13 hour plane ride to Abu Dhabi put me 9 hours ahead once I landed in Kuwait, which is one hour behind Abu Dhabi, but 8 hours ahead of the US. My last flight took off at 9:30 PM and smoothly hit the Kuwait airport runway at 10:20 PM. Confused or nah? Ha! Now you know how I felt... 

It's been roughly 14 days of playing catch-up on projects and sleep. I haven't quite adjusted to the time difference. When my day is beginning, usually around 7AM, family and friends are calling it a night back home at 11PM. Social media has been my best method of keeping in touch with everyone, although I communicate with my parents often throughout my evenings and their mornings. Behind all of the excitement, frustrations and anxiety, today, I am physically and mentally exhausted, but infinitely blessed. I've received so many well wishes and inquiries about this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, so the best way to inform everyone is by keeping track of interesting moments via my blog and directing people here for answers. Two weeks of details may seem kind of lengthy, but I'll try my best to keep your attention with vivid descriptions. FYI, I plan to incorporate professional pictures in future posts.

The Nerves

Truth moment: The night before I was scheduled to leave Jacksonville, I barely got any rest because I was extremely nervous. I'd only been on a normal aircraft just once; a 45 minute skip and hop to Ft. Lauderdale via Southwest Airlines. Short but eventful, as I was speed writing a few scenes for my first novel, it rained on the way back and there was lots of turbulence. That was 2012. Two years later, I still considered myself to be a flying virgin. Yes, I'm going places, and with these invisible wings, I'm ready to fly... or so I thought.

The Flights
For this international traveling experience, I packed my belongings about two weeks beforehand, thinking that a headstart on preparation would contribute to soothing my mental state. Nope, not at all! In fact, my last evening at home consisted of going through my check-in luggage to confirm my wardrobe items and re-stuffing my carry-on, which resulted in a broken zipper and a last-minute trip to Walmart for a brand new, lightweight, miniature rolling suitcase. I also had to ship three boxes at the post office, which included clothing, hygiene items and a few of my published books. However, that task was completed early as well. 

On the way to the Jacksonville International Airport, I had to make a pitstop at Publix to weigh my bags, just to be sure that I wasn't over my weight limit. I was. My dad fussed at me because he's a man and he's strong, therefore, the designated person who carried my bags into the store and placed them on the scale. I frantically took out some unnecessary things in order to meet the airline's set of rules. We then made our way to the airport, in my car, with my mom riding shotgun, of course.

Once we got to the departure flights garage, my dad dropped my mom and I off near the elevators so that I wouldn't be late for check-in as he attempted to find a parking space. My mom and I entered the elevator and it escorted us down to the first level of the airport. But there was a problem... departure flights were on the second level. We were supposed to keep walking through the pathway instead of hopping on the elevator. Yeah, my travel inexperience was showing and my mom was too emotional to notice our error in direction.

My dad finally met up with us at the check-in station for American Airlines. "Have your passport ready 'cause the lady is going to ask for it," he told me. 

"I don't have to show my passport until I get to Chicago," I replied, as if I really knew what I was talmbout. Sure enough, I walked up to the counter, handed over my photo ID and then told the lady that I was checking in two bags. 
A few seconds went by and then she asked, "Are you traveling out of the country?" 
"Then, I need to see your passport." 
The I-told-you-so look on my dad's face was priceless.

I was provided with three boarding passes to gain access to each plane. This wasn't my area of expertise, so my dad offered a suggestion. "Put them in your purse. You bet not lose the other two when you get to Chicago 'cause I ain't coming to get ya!" His joke was soothing, but the thought was frightening. I was traveling alone, leaving the country, for the first time... and I suddenly wanted him and my mom to come with me.

We sat around for about 30 minutes, smiling, thinking and phone surfing, separately. But, after looking up at the large clock in the waiting area lobby, I was immediately forced to say goodbye "see you later..." My mom made awkward small talk up until that point so that her tears wouldn't appear in front of me. She cried as soon as she got back to the car; my dad snitched. 

This would be my first time ever missing all three major, last quarter holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve, my mom's birthday. So, yes, I cried too... more than once, actually, but that's none of your business. *sips tea* I snapped the picture above, an ussie, and group hugged my parents before slowly walking to the security gate.

My mom snapped this one.
Surprisingly, Jacksonville's security checkpoint was the most intense out of all four airports. When I placed my carry-on onto the moving panel, I was asked to remove my laptop so that it could be re-inspected by itself. One of the security people retrieved it and I progressed forward to re-dress. I slid back into my jacket and my shoes, grabbed my other personal items and walked to my assigned gate, with 20 minutes to go before boarding time. Had I not removed my headphones, I would've missed two very important announcements, immediate notice of a gate change and my mispronounced name being blasted over the airport speaker system. The security person who confiscated my laptop did not put it back inside my carry-on! LAWD. I almost died, but somehow caught my breath and rushed back to the security station to get it. Now, I could officially prepare to board, back at my new gate, which was just a few feet away from the initial one. Before stepping foot onto the plane, I found out that my carry-on would have to be labeled as a valet bag and placed down below. I shuffled backwards to take out my HD Kindle Fire and gave my small suitcase to the luggage attendants. Finally, flight number one was underway: 2.5 hours to Chicago.

Yes, it was love at first sight and I didn't even have to explore the outside to think so. The Chicago O'Hare International Airport was fascinatingly beautiful and GIGANTIC. I needed assistance from two people in order to find my way to the correct gate. Both of them told me that a train would get me there. Say what now? *blank stare* 

Keep in mind that I'm clueless when it comes to this traveling stuff, so I had no idea what they meant. Basically, the airport was so huge and my terminal was so far away that I wouldn't  be able to gain access, or survive, walking. I found the train and as it sped to the other far side of the airport, I saw a brief glimpse of the city's features and popular skyline. It was moving too fast for a photo op. With a six-hour layover, I was now on the proper side, desperate for entertainment. My goal was to respond to emails and complete some of my iWrite4orU projects as I waited for my next flight, but my nerves returned, so I was distracted and then I got hungry.

I paid $17.05 for a burger, fries and ginger ale from RJ Grunts, my last expensive stateside meal. Unaware of what the international flights would be serving, I figured it was worth the money. I didn't eat much on my next 13 hour journey to Abu Dhabi. You'll soon find out why.

Passport viewed. Boarding pass stamped for flight number two!

Etihad Airways 

The picture doesn't completely capture the enormous BOEING 777-300ER JET. 
Wish I was calm enough to snap pics on the way to locating my seat number.

Nevertheless, I loaded my carry-on above my head and nervously watched for my seat partner to be revealed. Most of the passengers on this flight did not look like me. I honestly thought I was the only non-foreign person aboard. Shortly after that assumption, a young, slim Arab guy sat down next to me. Still jet lagged with slight memory loss, I don't remember his name, but I don't think I would spell it correctly if I attempted, either. I do remember asking the flight attendant about the in-flight WiFi. She confirmed that I could use it once we were about 20,000 feet in the air and I would have to pay for the 24-hour T-Mobile hotspot via the browser on my iPhone 6, which is serviced by Sprint. My seat partner, who didn't speak very good English, asked me to repeat what she said and I tried to explain it to him. I told him that he would have to purchase the hotspot with a credit card. He then told me that he didn't have a credit card and asked if I could purchase it for him, in return for cash later in the flight. I hesitantly agreed, but seconds later he spotted a friend and decided to switch seats. So, I was introduced to a new seat partner, an older Arab guy who was a little more bulky, but not exactly fat. However, this would result in less left elbow room. But, I did have the window seat. *sticks out tongue* The flight was soon in motion. Once it was steady in the air, the flight attendants passed out these misleading dinner menus.

The satisfaction of my juicy burger had worn off and I was starving for something familiar to eat. I ordered the main course meal with chicken and the 7-Up soft drink. The tray that I received was not very appealing, though. Again, I wasn't calm enough to take a picture, but I picked at the food anyway. The second meal was a cold "chicken" sandwich and the third meal appeared to be spinach with rice and light brown pea-like meat - a wild guess, as the official name wasn't listed on the menu. The only item that I enjoyed was the Kit Kat for dessert. I had about four cups of water total, which led to that same number of restroom tinkle trips, and one of those included using the men's toilet. Don't ask!

A map of our path from Chicago to Abu Dhabi on the back of each seat.

This headrest screen was my only source of entertainment after my laptop, kindle and phone died. I wasted $20 on a hotspot and couldn't charge my devices until my seat partner let me use his cord. The dilemma was also expeditiously handled by watching reruns of #Scandal. Duh!

In and out of sleep in multiple sessions, I was awakened by the announcement that the sun was rising and we were given permission to lift our window shades, after being told to keep them closed in the beginning. To my surprise, I was greeted with what looked like a bullet hole. *I can't make this stuff up* I was no longer excited about having the window seat. I overlooked the alarming resemblance to an after-the-fact hood driveby to view the pretty horizon. Thankfully, 13 hours later, we arrived safely in Abu Dhabi

Again, I was frantic about finding the right terminal so that I could make it to my proper gate. There was a one-hour layover at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, but by the time I was directed through the speedy security check, it was time to board flight number three. Final stretch! YAAASSS. No, I literally needed to stretch.

This last flight was much quicker and much smoother than the others. Plus, no one was sitting next to me, so I could take full advantage of all window seat and aisle seat privileges. I dozed for a short period and woke up right before the landing alert and reminders were mentioned. The nervousness subsided and my excitement was building. 

The Welcome
When I entered the main door of the Kuwait International Airport, there was a guy standing there holding an electronic device with my name on it, in white text on a red background, my favorite color combination. I verified that I was indeed Liltera Williams. He smiled and said, "Welcome to Kuwait!" I followed him to the Visa station. He asked for my passport and advised me to have a seat. 

He returned with a piece of paper that was covered in mostly Arabic writing and explained that it would serve as my tourist visa for the next three months. We then proceeded to the luggage station. I identified my bags and he asked if I needed someone to help me push the heavy load out to the waiting area. "You want porter or cart? Porter you have to pay," he said in accented English. I declined the offer for assistance and pushed the cart myself. I wondered why he refused to be a gentleman on my behalf by pushing it for me, but later understood that his only job was to ensure that I was able to enter the country without any issues. He deserved numerous thank-yous for a job well done. 

The Pickup
I texted my love to let him know that I was ready to be rescued, but there was no reply. I got nervous once more. As I was walking, simultaneously pushing my cart and looking down at my phone to see if I was still connected to the airport's WiFi, our eyes met upon me looking up and his face glowed with his signature closed-mouth smile. After spending almost four months apart, he was happy to see me, and vice versa. We hugged like old friends. I quickly learned that PDA isn't openly accepted in the Middle East, so it wouldn't have been appropriate to share a "me love you long time" kiss. My formal escort was dismissed and I walked, side-by-side, with the man of my dreams as he rolled my luggage to the parking garage, like the gentleman that he naturally is. I used his phone to notify my parents of my arrival.

The Residence

I've been resting inside of this twenty-story building for 14 days, enjoying the quiet and repeatedly waking up to a beautiful sunrise view. It's been an eye-opening experience already, notably witnessing this country's method of dealing with waste and mounting debris. The correlation to indoor peace is presently hard to decipher, but it makes me appreciate and somewhat miss the perks of home a whole lot more.

The Traffic
The only other negative element is the insane traffic that I was forewarned about, more so the locals' non-driving abilities. Motorcycle riders don't obey the red light signals, no one yields at roundabouts, they ignore the numbers alongside the roads that are casual reminders of the legal speed limits, and the student adult drivers have no problem with cutting across you from the far right lane to make sharp left turns. No wonder Kuwait is allegedly famous for having numerous traffic deaths. "Click it or ticket" moderately applies here, but there is a no texting and driving law, with flashing cues along the highways.

The Food
"What do you eat?" seems to be the most-asked question. Let's just say I'll never have to worry about being tricked by a falsified chicken dish ever again. I eat unhealthy, pricey American food. Yep, don't judge me. The healthy regimen will commence after my birthday... Apologies in advance for that possible lie. Furthermore, I've been to three grocery stores (Géant Easy, The Sultan Center and Lulu Hypermarket, respectively) to purchase snacks and meals to cook. Side Note: It's really hard to find quality, raw meat overseas. 

Géant Easy Supermarket was located in the basement section of the mall.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner has been personally delivered to my temporary living space via the app from the following restaurants: Wasabi, Johnny Rockets, Waffle & Steak, and others. We also went out to Ribs and Rumps (probably my fave solely because of the mocktails) for my love's birthday last week. See pic below.

 "Drunk in Love" (Disclaimer: No alcohol Permitted in Kuwait) 

And we found an Applebee's!

The Culture
I'm not yet acquainted with the culture and I'm still learning how to behave, according to what's standard, but soon I'll have a long, accurate summary to provide. The women here are expected to cover up, but as a tourist, I'm not required to wear a burka, a floor-length garment that covers the entire body, down to their feet. Anything revealing or tight-fitting is also frowned upon. I don't know if an acceptable form of punishment has been established. Another thing I've noticed, with my inquisitive self, is the women wear black and the men wear white often. I think that's an interesting allusion to being colorblind.

The Mission
That Al Salasil, the Biggest Bookstore in Kuwait
By now, everyone should know all about my #WriterGrind: a strategic quest to accomplish various writing objectives while striving to conquer the demands of authorship. My ultimate mission is to advance in my career and become a Bestselling Author, internationally. Writing is my passion and my purpose, therefore, I am developing my skills in a different country with the same objective: to inspire the world. The opportunities are flowing in quickly. God is good. 

My first overseas article will be published in Bazaar Magazine next month, right before my book signing/reading at Q8 Bookstore on December 6, 2014, 6PM to 9PM. I am also leaning towards accepting an agreement to become a Contributing Writer for Khaleejesque Magazine and completing the process required for having my books sold at the Grand Avenues Mall, inside the bookstore pictured above. Additionally, I have two books to complete before heading back to the states, "Pen, Publish, & Promote Your Book the Write Way (Detailed Guide for First-Time Authors)" and my second novel, "Date Knight: A Man Who Findeth A Wife". There's no need to reiterate how busy I insist on remaining. I love what I do and I'm beyond grateful that I can add the word "international" to my résumé. I've #GoneGlobal, but I had to overcome dream-halting fears to arrive here. 

The Message 

Spread your wings and LIVE YOUR DREAM, too.
The End