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Morning Diaries: Beck Rourke-Mooney signs books 📚 & takes their glasses off to see better

A morning in rituals.

Hi friends! Welcome to another issue of Morning Diaries, where I ask writers I admire to recap their mornings from the time they wake up until noon. Today’s diarist is Beck Rourke-Mooney, whose debut young adult novel, We Are Mayhem, is out now. Beck lives where the Catskills meet the Hudson River. When not writing contemporary YA novels, they procrasti-bake, write songs, and watch (depending on who you ask) either way too much or just enough television, including, of course, wrestling. You can follow them on Instagram @beckwritesya for writing & @punkyfunkster2.0 for cannabis industry stuff. Take it away, Beck!

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It’s 8:00 on Saturday when my alarm starts—Moby’s “Love Song for my Mother”—and I grab my phone to turn it off. There’s a WhatsApp message from my friend Jenn who lives in Warsaw. She stayed up late last night to finish my novel and was already deep into Bird’s Summer of Mayhem Playlist at the end of the book. She left videos on Marco Polo telling me through tears how proud she is of me for this book, how much it moved her, how she cried at the end, and how it inspired her to LIVE. I cry while I watch the messages, so touched that one of the humans closest to my heart is so moved by the story I wrote…having all of the reactions I hope my young audience will take from the book. Then I remind myself to print up the playlist for my current work in progress, a contemporary YA novel that I hope will be the same but different.

All images courtesy of Beck Rourke-Mooney.

I pick up my rosary from its heart-shaped resting spot on the bureau. Each morning I sit with rosary beads, though my recitation is modified from the Catholic prayer. A local group here in in the Woodstock area, founded by writers Perdita Finn and Clark Strand, teaches the rosary as folk tradition predating Christianity—a way of “hiding the Goddess in plain sight,” through the gathering of flowers and seeds around the cycles of the moon. I was raised atheist but my grandmother was devoutly Catholic, so this morning ritual makes me feel somewhat moored in a tradition that extends further back, into ancient family history. While I pray over each bead, I breathe in for six seconds and out for six seconds, my breath soft, like a silk thread. I breathe like I am fogging a mirror at times, what in yoga is called the ujjayi or ocean-sounding breath, the human equivalent to a cat’s purr. I know from The Healing Power of Breath, the book that introduced me to the six second breath, that the breathing rate brings my entire body into more optimal functioning (organs included) and that the resistance breath activates my parasympathetic nervous system—the part of the nervous system that heals itself.

My nervous system can be pushed into disequilibrium with the morning spike of cortisol. This reaction used to be much stronger. There are a lot of reasons for that, mostly related to my day job. I live with PTSD and in the words of most people who know me, I’m also an archetypal representative of the ADHD contingent. Both of these characteristics have led me to a close relationship with my brain and body, and I use exercise, meditative breath work, and medicine to keep myself steady and able to meet responsibilities.

I hold myself together with routines and systems, and each morning I have three cups of Twinings Earl Grey. I squeeze 8 drops each of the flower essences I’m currently working with – Divine Truth and Divine Timing from the flower magician Katie Hess at Lotus Wei – which adds a slightly sweet note to the tea. This morning I’m using my WWF mug, featuring one of the World Wildlife Federation pandas about to give a World Wrestling Federation-style folding chair shot to the other. 

When I sit down for my next ritual, watching a cooking show from my DVR, I have a second cup of tea and also use my medicine machine—the Volcano vaporizer. I fill a few balloons with vapor from the bowl of indoor home-grown G-14 (an indica cultivar nicknamed “the strain of peace”) and my brain begins to settle into a state of relaxation, watching the show, but also simultaneously running a back-channel organizing the next steps of my day. It’s a weekend so I don’t have my day job, but I still need to exercise, do some story thinking, and make it to Oblong Books across the river in Rhinebeck to sign a small stack of special orders and a few extra copies for the store’s inventory. A few weeks ago I had a book launch event there for my debut novel We Are Mayhem—a contemporary YA novel about wrestling, friendship, and gender—and the crowd of mostly family, friends and colleagues from The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators sold out the stock.

But for this moment, I’m sipping tea, chilling with the Volcano, and watching the “Spice Up Your Life” episode of The Kitchen. Lately the DVR is kind of blurry, and sometimes I can refresh and fix it, other times, like today, it stays like this. Glitches in reality like this make me think of how to texture the reality in my contemporary YA novels with details like that…so specific and strange that they feel they must be true. I jot it down as a note (“blurry DVR, if works conceptually, as a physical detail that adds to thematic portrayal”). The peppers spotlighted in the oncoming are jalapenos, harissa, cayenne, and ghost pepper. I remember that I have harissa in the spice cabinet that I haven’t touched in months. I haven’t been cooking as much since I got a full-time job with Supernaturals NY, a sustainable regenerative cannabis farm in the Shawangunk Mountains, but the break-out from my previous routines is also largely responsible for my significantly healed nervous system. 

Almost done with the second cup of tea, my stomach grumbles. I often forget to eat and live by my stomach’s reminders, a grumble preferred over tea-belly nausea kicking in. I scoop out some store brand plain yogurt into a bowl and top it with extra dark maple syrup from the Catskill Mountain maple syrup CSA I always buy a year’s supply from.

When Katie Lee Biegel closes out the show with her buffalo chicken nachos, I switch out of my sweatpants into shorts and a tank top to wake up fully with some exercise. I debate between a Classical Stretch routine—think yoga meets tai chi meets dance—or my other go-to, a leg workout from the dancer and teacher of twerk, Nastya Nass. I used to have what I called “sticky hip”—a painful, stuck joint that was guaranteed to get worse with age—but since starting to practice Classical Stretch, it went away. 

Like the protagonist of We Are Mayhem, Bird, I grew up an athlete. I also faced a crisis of identity when I stopped sports, and had a hard time knowing what to do…I stopped exercising in college and became really depressed. I have a lot of energy, but when I don’t exercise, I have less energy. An astrologer once told me, the solution is often the problem. If you don’t have energy, you need to move.

I also like doing things I don’t feel like doing but ultimately know they will be good for me – I’ve learned to build that skill like a muscle. And then I found out that doing things we don’t want to do is actually really good for our brain development. It increases the size of some part of the brain which is found to be larger in people who live longer. Since most of life requires us to do a lot of stuff we don’t want to do, I try to rip it fast like a Band-Aid. I hate doing dishes. But when I rip it like a Band-Aid, sometimes a pile that looks LITERALLY INSURMOUNTABLE is suddenly clean and drying in the rack before I know it. 

After my workout, I make a third cup of tea and then head to my office to print up the playlist. At the top of it I have a working title and then “Empire Records meets Go!” followed by 26 tracks, ranging from Lorde’s moody “Liability” and Sia’s old sad girl anthem “Breathe Me” to rave hits like Bicep’s “Glue”, the super group boygenius’s “True Blue,” and Oasis’s best song to love to hate “Wonderwall.” The first track on the list is Olivia Rodrigo’s “Making the Bed,” which I Google because I haven’t listened to it in a while, and I discover to my shock that somehow she’s released another full album, Guts (spilled), which sends me down a YouTube rabbit hole. 

While listening to most of Spilled, my dear friend Tin (a writing friend for nearly twenty years who lives in the Philippines and whom I’ve only known through text and voice messages and video calls) sends me an Instagram Live link to an interview currently happening for her work with Tergar, the Tibetan Buddhist international meditation community for the teachings of Mingyur Rinpoche.

The interview is with Helen Tworkov, the founder of the Buddhist Tricycle Magazine, which ironically Clark Strand (of the rosary introduction) was a former editor. 

“You’re not just stuck with one version of yourself,” she says. 

My debut novel started w/ a seed idea about kayfabe—a concept in wrestling where the identity of the performer and the character being performed are conflated into a single truth. Dwayne Johnson IS The Rock. The Rock is not a character he plays. The Rock is him. I loved the idea of applying that to identity play and exploration as a teenager. And I think it’s relatable to adults as well. 

We think we are these fixed identities. These selves. 

I have a supporting friend character in development for this work in progress who is into mystic traditions, occultism, and energy. I’m interested in what happens when fixed identities meet expansive identities (the kind who are seeking to dissolve into the fabric of the universe), and also how the boundaries of the fixed identity can help an expansive identity find the ground. What Helen calls in this talk “spaciousness and spacing out,” or “getting stuck in emptiness.”

I’m interested in how friendships help us find ourselves and each other – and how the most resilient friendships leave room for fluidity and change. 

“Where is your mind?” Helen kept asking.

My mind right now is in Instagram. That’s where Tin’s message came from, and when I click off the Live stream, I’m back into my feed, this time seeing a post from Craig David, the R&B artist from the UK who happens to be a friend of my friend Beth’s, and we’re going to see him this coming Friday at Madison Square Garden. I remember his singles from the early 2000’s when I was in college in upstate NY. But I want to remember more, so I press play on a YouTube list of the full album and there’s something about the nostalgic place it touches inside my psyche. Music does this more effectively than most things. And I think it’s why music is such a big part of my writing process when writing for teens.

I’m working on a book about kids involved with a local rave scene, and originally the story was set at Y2K. The protagonist was going to be working in a Blockbuster. But when my agent told me that would make it historical fiction and reminded me that I write contemporary, I both 1) made a mental note to tell my other friends in this age bracket that our teen years are now history and 2) decided with her guidance to set the story now with plenty of 90s trend flowing throughout the here and now.

While I’m listening to Fill Me In, one of Craig David’s biggest hits, I see another post about the current Pluto retrograde. The video reminds me that Pluto Rx happens every year for six months, and it makes me think about how larger astrological movements like that could be worked into a storyline. I’ve used astrology for my character development but tend to avoid things that place the story in a particular moment in time—the challenge of the contemporary genre, how to be current yet not so specific that you’re instantly dated—but generational large planet movements, or a six month Pluto retrograde, these are things that could be worked in thematically to add depth and mood but not so temporal that they’re problematic for plot as it ages. Hm.

Then I’m ready for a hike. There’s a nature preserve in my neighborhood with small waterfalls that lead down to the Hudson River. I put on my hiking boots and grab my water bottle and head down the road to the trail head. 

There are spotted lantern moth traps attached to some trees and dandelion fluff floating in the breeze. Vinca, the woodland “flower of death”, spills out from the edges of the woods along the path. I think about how since my next novel will be set where I grew up, in coastal MA/RI, I’ll have to make sure I familiarize myself with the seasonal flora. I use nature to tell time in stories as much as possible, because nothing is less temporal or more universal than nature. I think about how the bodies of water in this story will be different from the mountain creeks and lakes mentioned in my debut. Swamps, mucky rivers, and ocean.

I walk past a dead tree resting on a live one—alerted to it by the rubbing croaking sound in the wind. This strikes me as a potentially useful metaphor/image for friendship/family/relationships. Are we sometimes the dead tree when we think we are the live tree, supporting? Or vice versa?

There is a lighter blue myrtle flower amid the other darker purples, and I think of hydrangeas all over Cape Cod. How the soil minerals determine their color.  

I take off my glasses because I sometimes like to walk without them on. I read years ago that corrective lenses are like prisons for our eyes. 

When I take off my glasses, there is a different depth to my field of vision. It is less sharp, the lines are blurred, and lights tend to scatter out like magical golden rain. But when I wear glasses, the image of the world is flatter. I don’t know how else to describe it.

I think about how this concept could be applied thematically. Especially since I’ve got a flat earther character in the works.

I stop by one of the Romancing the Woods (local craftsman whose work is scattered throughout this preserve) Adirondack style benches under a pergola. 

I notice a rock down by the waterfall and it calls to me to sit on it.  So I do. My teacher Tosha Silver calls this the “sponda”.  When we feel called to move and must do so. There are ferns growing along the banks of the creek as it flows down to meet the Hudson. Across the river is Bard College and the train tracks I used to go watch sunsets from when I lived over there. There’s graffiti that reads Amanda Wong & the Boring Kid, and I’ve always thought that is an amazing YA novel title. I think the book would be from The Boring Kid’s POV. I hike along the edge of the ravine cut by the creek as it flows to the river, and notice again how much steadier I feel near edges. My job these past months has given me many opportunities to practice flexibility and courage, and every time I’ve risen to the challenge, I feel my brain and body steadying. When I come into the woods and experience no vertigo at the cliff’s edge and am so much less afraid…I am almost shocked at how drastically different I feel.

I descend to the spot I think of as the designated stone skipping area by the river’s edge, and then I climb up the next cliff, dotted with pink honeysuckle bushes bursting into bloom. 

It reminds me of the honeysuckle in Rhode Island, along my cousin’s apartment driveway in Providence, but then also along the Purgatory Chasm cliff in Middletown. I make a note – “honeysuckle, always near water?” And I jot down a sensory memory from childhood—pulling the honeysuckle stamens from the flowers and licking their base.

I head back home to take a shower and drive across the river to Oblong Books to sign the copies. It’s surreal. Years ago I went to a book signing there, a panel with three authors I adore, and one of them said, “Soon this will be you.” That was the day I met Nicole Brinkley, queer bookseller extraordinaire whose commentary on the children’s and YA publishing industry is a balm for authors everywhere. Nicole shrieked and hugged me when she found out I was a wrestling fan. And when I told her about the book—back then just a seedling idea, something to work on while I unsuccessfully queried my first manuscript—she said, “Please write that because I really want to read it.” It’s impossible to remember every twist and turn from that point to this one. I’m heading out to autograph my debut novel at my favorite bookstore. After I sign the small stack (and an additional book that arrived damage and is being send to a local prison), I’ll treat myself to a milkshake and hot honey chicken sandwich at Del’s Roadside Creamery. And then it’s time to watch a random movie from On Demand. Tonight’s is Late to the Party with comedic genius Melissa McCarthy. I’ve got some locally grown flower—the original blueberry strain from back in the day—grown in soil with water gathered from a local mountain spring. The perfect ending to a productive weekend day.

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You can follow Beck on Instagram @beckwritesya for writing & @punkyfunkster2.0 for cannabis industry stuff. We Are Mayhem is available now.

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