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Coffee and art.  :)

Coffee and art. :)

My husband’s friend recently visited from out of town for a weekend, and it was fun.  We always enjoy having this guy around.  Not only is he my husband’s friend, but at this point, he’s mine too.  It’s nice that I can say that and mean it.

We got to talking about Facebook.  I mentioned that another friend of mine is on Facebook but never goes on Facebook because he blames it for the disconnection of society, which led to a rather interesting discussion on social media.

Social media, at its best, is a tool, like a phone or a hammer.  If I use my hammer to pound in a nail (what the tool is made for), it works perfectly.  If I use my hammer to open a jar, it’ll work.  Once.  :)  The point is that social media is a tool.  If it’s used to keep in touch with old friends, see their pictures, and stay up on their lives, then in my opinion, the tool is being used correctly.  However, if it’s used in place of a social life, if I’m checking my Facebook feed instead of interacting with another human being, then it’s being used incorrectly.  If I’m using Facebook to be passive aggressive or start arguments that I’d never start in person, then it’s being used incorrectly.  I’m I’m using Facebook to put people down, compare my life to others, or brag, then I’m using Facebook incorrectly.

Back in the 1800s, everyone wrote letters.  They had lovely handwriting and wrote lovely long letters to one another, filled with banal details of life.  The Facebook feed is nothing new; it just takes a different form now.  It’s faster and without filters.  Sometimes I read critical statements about how people share “unimportant” information about their lives, and that’s the problem with the Facebook feed.  Personally, I’d rather read about someone “checking in” than a passive aggressive post telling an unidentified person to stop something.  I don’t mind seeing food pictures or reading that someone is tired, because it’s real life.  We act like things have to be “important,” but why?  Maybe that’s what leaves us feeling lost and disconnected, that idea that others have more important things to say/ do or that others are having more fun.  Why can’t we just be?  And if the most important thing that happened to me today is that my eggs and toast looked like a smiley face, why shouldn’t I post that?

A guy in Australia is in the process of having coffee with all 1,088 of his Facebook friends.  What a fun idea! I would too if I had unlimited income and could fly to Pennsylvania, Maryland, Montana, and more places, spend a few weeks there to see everyone, and have coffee (or lemonade) with all of them.  Still, in my opinion, the point isn’t what he’s doing so much as it is that he’s connecting with old friends, some of whom he probably hasn’t seen in a long time.

All that being said, while I love Facebook and accept it for what it is, I also don’t want it to take the place of real human interaction.  Real human interaction doesn’t have to be face to face.  For example, I have a childhood friend who I was very close to while she lived up the street, but in the pre-social media days, we lost touch when she moved away.  I missed her, but keeping in touch was difficult, and we moved on with our lives.  About 20 years later, we reconnected through the magic of Facebook, and she’s just as zany and interesting as I remember.  I comment on her feed and vice versa, but we also “talk” via messaging and email.  Without Facebook, I probably never would have reconnected with her.  She lives in Montana, and I live in Texas, so we probably won’t be getting together for coffee, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t raise our virtual cups together!

What do you do to connect with old friends?

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I laugh sometimes when I watch movies, and the disclaimer comes up at the end that any resemblance to real people is unintentional.

I think that most writers are inspired by true events at some level.  I walk in the mall and see someone dressed in a certain way and think, “Hmm, I wonder if…”  I read the news and think “What if they…?”  A story grows from that tiny seed.  I’m not a visual person, so when I describe characters, I use other people as models, mostly actors and actresses, but still…

I starting thinking about this after the recent controversy between Stephen King and the BTK killer’s family.  The BTK killer’s daughter was angry by what she saw as exploitation by Stephen King in being “inspired” by those events.  He responded and explained that his recent movie, “A Good Marriage,” was inspired the the events, but that the story isn’t about the killer; it’s about a “brave and determined woman.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the BTK killer’s family went through, but I do understand that drive to understand.  Most people avoid what scares them, but writers will often get inside things that scare them, that seem foreign or alien, and ask questions, make assumptions.  In the best stories, the characters drive the story, and most of the time, they go unexpected places and get there in unexpected ways.

I have a story that I’m currently working on, and the story was inspired by a PostSecret.  The story was meant to be a short story (under 2,500 words), but because the characters wouldn’t allow their story to be told that quickly, the story is currently topping 11,000 words, and I now have to decide if I want to go back and edit the beginning and hope that the story is told, or if I want to expand the story and just make it into a short novel.  I didn’t plan for it, and I tried to keep the story shorter.  As a result, I now have to do a lot more work than if I had just listened to the characters in the first place.

I sympathize with the family, but I believe King meant no harm.  Those of you who read my blog on Feel Good Fridays might be confused by my attitude on this, because I’m all about giving positive things most of our attention.  And while that’s true, I never meant to suggest that we should ignore things that go on in the dark.  The things that go on in the dark can be scary if we don’t shed light on them, if we try to pretend they don’t exist.  I try not to live in fear, because I truly believe that fear gives power to things, and that exposing them takes that power away.  Early man sat around the fire and learned that stories could chase away the dark more powerfully than fire.  They told scary stories for the thrill, yes, but also because telling scary stories is like whistling in the graveyard.  It’s a talisman, bravado, but also a way to understand and take some of the mystery away.

So gather ’round my fire, and I’ll tell you a story.

From the Phoenix Art Museum Photo Credit: Doree Weller

From the Phoenix Art Museum
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

This week, September 21-27, was Banned Books Week.

I love the idea that people attempt to ban books.  Why?  Because people wanting to ban a book means that it was provocative, that it touched a nerve.  I’m all for entertainment, and some of my favorite books are just entertaining, with no other “value.”  I don’t think that art needs to have value other than entertainment, but I like it when art provokes and inspires.  Art at its best should have an effect on the reader or viewer or listener.  It should touch some chord within, even if it’s not in a positive way.

Art is a reflection of life, sometimes a truer reflection of life than an actual reflection.  One of my favorite quotes is:

“Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”
― Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Life isn’t always pretty.  It’s not always neat.  Sometimes it’s ugly and difficult.  Sometimes it disgusts.  Which is why art should be provocative.

Don’t get me wrong; I have been personally offended by art.  I sympathize with people who want certain books banned.  But there’s only one type of censorship I favor: the ability to choose.  That’s right, if something personally offends me, I can choose not to view it or read it or listen to it.  I think parents should always have the right to choose what their children are exposed to, but that doesn’t mean that a certain group of parents should be able to choose for all.

Personally, when I see a list of banned books, I want to read all the ones on the list.  I’m not easily offended, and I always find it interesting to see what offends others.  I’ve read The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Gray, but those are the only ones on the list.

Here’s a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2013.

It’s Friday, everyone!  Time to celebrate!  Here’s your weekly dose of good news.

A Bengals football player wants to spend more time with his daughter, who has cancer, so the team puts him on the practice squad to make it possible.

High school sweethearts marry… 63 years after their first meeting!

Young Muslims are taking to social media to make it clear that violence carried out by ISIS is #notinmyname.

The number of Federal inmates has decreased as lawmakers decrease penalties for non-violent offenders.

Victim of Ice Bucket prank is being sent a “nice bucket” by strangers.

Just a note about the “nice bucket.”  When we saw that kid was a victim of that horrible prank, we could have decided to sit back and just say “How horrible!”  Some people decided to do what they could, by sending him words of encouragement.  I don’t post good news because I want to pretend bad news doesn’t happen, but because I want us all to remember, as human beings, that while we can’t stop the bad stuff from happening, we can control how it affects us.  Do you throw your hands up in the air and say, “There’s nothing I can do about that!” or do you take what action you can?  We all make choices.

_XE21226One of my favorite games has always been Tribond.  If you don’t know it, someone would read a card with three things on them, and you’d have to guess what they have in common.  The example on the box is a baby, an eagle, and a tire.  I’ll put the answer at the bottom in case you don’t know the answer.  It’s okay; you can think about it.

So back to the original question in the title… What do these things have in common?  For one thing, they’re all things I like to do (except cooking, but since I like eating the result, it sort of qualifies).  Actually, what they have in common is that they require more attention and take longer than their alternatives and are kind of inconvenient, but the results are worth it.

I was skeptical when the husband started wanting to buy records.  This was early on in time when records were getting popular again.  We went to FYE one day, looking for a CD and found stack and stacks of records.  We flipped through them just to look, and ended up buying a bunch.  Mind you, at this point, we didn’t have a record player.  Luckily, Amazon is there for us day or night, and we bought one.

As a kid, I had a record player and one of those cool stereos that played tapes, records, and had a radio.  I got it for a birthday or Christmas, and I thought I was the coolest thing ever.  I had a few records of my own, but I liked listening to my mom’s old records.  I specifically remember liking Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Get Off My Cloud.  (I always had great taste.  Obviously.)

In any case, beyond the nostalgia factor, listening to records is slower.  It’s something I do to relax.  I have to get up every 15 minutes to turn it over, so I actually have to pay attention to it.  So often when listening to music, I sort of tune it out and do what I’m doing.  Records have made me more present, and I get a little exercise.

Cooking from scratch takes more time, but it tastes better.  I know exactly what’s in my food.  I recently read something that said that the average housewife in 1950 burned 1000 more calories per day than women today.  Holy guacamole!  That wasn’t just from cooking, but from other chores as well.  But it made me think how many more calories I burn by having to prepare food, chopping and mixing for a half hour to an hour a day vs. opening a package and putting something in the microwave.  Or worse, pulling up to a drive-through.  Yes, I was that girl 7 years ago (hangs head in shame).

Gardening… where do I start?  First off, it’s my meditation.  Second of all, there is nothing quite as satisfying as eating food I’ve grown.  It takes so long, but the pay-off is enormous.  Gardening teaches patience and nurturing.

Writing is like all of the above.  In order to do it well, I have to pay attention to it, turn the page sometimes.  I have to use the right ingredients.  Too many adverbs and junk words will spoil the mix.  And I have to pamper it, feed and nurture it to get a good story.

What do we give up in the name of convenience?  Is it worth it?  I don’t think so.  I enjoyed all the conveniences for a little while, but now I’m back to simplifying.  I’ve tried to slow down my pace a little.  Now, I’m not saying that I don’t listen to my iPod anymore (of course I do!) or that I never prefer convenience food.  But… often things that take more time are worth it.

I’m reminding myself of that now that I have more time to write.  Sometimes the editing and revisions seem endless, but much like tweaking a recipe in cooking, the end results are worth it.

What do you do that takes more time but is worth the effort?

*Answer: They can all be bald!

From left to right: Ripley, my parents' dog Harry, and Midnyte

From left to right: Ripley, my parents’ dog Harry, and Midnyte

It’s a gorgeous Texas day, warm and sunny.  (I’m ignoring the humidity on purpose, hoping that if I pretend it doesn’t exist, I’ll stop sweating.)  The breeze is great though, very refreshing.  It’s a pleasant change form the hot winds in Arizona!

I decided to come outside and write, partly because it’s one of my favorite things to do, and partly so I could play with the dogs.  We play for a few minutes, until my old dog is ready to pass out from panting so hard.  She’d play until she drops, but I’d rather give her breaks and play again.  It works out for both of us; I get up from my laptop, stretch, and take frequent breaks.  She gets to play and hang out for a few hours.

I was brainstorming blogs and this topic came to mind because my dogs really are my best friends.  Even my husband, who was not a dog person when I met him, has come over to the dog side.  Why do we love dogs so much, and why are they such great friends?  I think I have a few of the answers…

1.  Be happy to see one another, no matter how much time has passed, and show it!  People appreciate when you’re happy to see them.  It makes them feel like they’re the only one that matters.  When I get home and my dogs greet me, it automatically lifts my spirits.  I look forward to going home because I know that I’m going to get a dose of joy.

2.  Live in the moment.  It doesn’t matter if your best friend said something mean to you 5 minutes ago.  Let it go.  Friends don’t keep score, and if you can forgive easily, you will feel lighter.  It’s more fun to be happy and pay attention to what’s going on right now.  Now is the best place to be.

3.  Give little treats.  It could be a tiny morsel (like a compliment) or a huge bone (like a gift).  Those treats say “I’m thinking of you.”  Treats show others that we care.  No, they’re not necessary, but who doesn’t like getting treats?

4.  Play together.  Dogs make us laugh when we throw balls for them or watch them splash in the water.  They’re not afraid to be silly.  Be silly with your friends and laugh together.

5.  Don’t focus on the superficial.  My dogs don’t care how much I weigh, how I’m dressed*, how clean the house is, what job I work, etc.  What they care about is who I am to them.  I can be myself and will never judge me.

*The one exception to this is that Ripley gets really excited when I put on yoga pants, as that’s usually what I wear to hike.  She cries and jumps up on me.

6.  Just be there.  When I’m having a bad day and talk about it, my dogs will never interrupt me, never jump in to offer solutions, will never tell me what I should have done.  They just listen without judgement, and give me a lick on the cheek or the hand as if to say, “I’m here for you, and I love you.”  There’s nothing more comfortable than reaching down and feeling a furry body at my side.

"Hi, I'm here!"

“Hi, I’m here!”

7.  Whatever you want, chase with abandon.  Whether it’s a ball or a pesky squirrel, go after it.  It doesn’t matter if you catch it; the fun is in the chase.  Good friends will cheer one another on through that chase and never say, “You can’t do it.”  In fact, they’re probably running by your side with you!

8.  It’s never too late to build a lifelong friendship.  No matter how old they are, if a dog loves you, they love you.  Even if they’ve been abandoned many times before you found them, they will love you if you let them.  They don’t care if you’re old or young; as long as you’re willing to share your space with them, they will be glad to be with you.

9.  When you’re together, give the relationship your attention.  I get frustrated with people when they check their phones or watch the restaurant TVs when we’re together.  My dogs do their own thing when I’m busy.  They go off and think doggy thoughts, watch squirrels or birds, chew up toys, squeak toys, play fetch alone, or bark at other dogs.  But when we’re playing together, they are completely focused on me, and I try to stay focused on them.  Time together is more fun when we’re both engaged.

"Why aren't you paying attention to me?"

“Why aren’t you paying attention to me?”

10.  When someone you love hurts, don’t take “no” for an answer.  Many times, when I’ve had a bad day, Ripley (65 pounds) jumps in my lap and starts kissing me, whether I want her to or not.  She pokes at me with her wet nose and demands to be petted.  Midnyte lays at my feet or puts her head in my lap.  Even if I think I want to be left alone, they won’t.  And I can’t resist them.  Maybe whatever happened didn’t get better, but I feel a little better, and that’s what’s important.

Is your dog your best friend?  What have you learned from your dog?

Sleep Is Plotting Against Me

Her paws are hanging out of the box... Can the monster get her?

Her paws are hanging out of the box… Can the monster get her?

I’ve decided that “sleep” is a woman.  Why?  Well, she’s moody and irritable, and she just stops talking to me for no reason.  The current time is 1:39 a.m. on Sunday morning, and I’m on my laptop because sleep is mad at me for some reason.  I didn’t do anything to her.  I’m always very nice to her.  I don’t drink too much before bed, and I try to get to bed around the same time every night.  I have a good pillow, and my room is nice and cool.  But is that good enough for her?  Nope!  She’s just decided that she didn’t like something, so now I’m banished to the couch.

At least I was productive, right?  I stayed up and wrote reviews for other writers on Scribophile.  If I smoked and had two fingers of scotch, I’d pretty much be a cliche at this point.  Insomniac writer.  Pretty redundant, right?

And now my house is making funny noises!  I’m sitting here in the dark, with my laptop screen on the lowest brightness, just hoping to get sleepy.  But my heart races from an unfamiliar noise, and I think about shining my iPhone flashlight toward the noise, but I don’t.  Half of me thinks, “There’s nothing there; don’t be silly.”  The other half thinks, “Of course there’s something there, but it can’t get you as long as you pretend it’s not there.”  But I don’t have any covers to pull over my head, and my feet are hanging off the chair.  Since I was a kid, I always believed the monster couldn’t get me as long as everything was covered and my feet were on the bed.

So on that note, maybe I should head back to bed.  Even if I can’t sleep, at least it’s safer there.

Feel Good Friday

Hello, and happy Friday!

Google funds all teachers requests in LA. from donorschoose.org.

Veterans are being trained to be America’s next farmers.

Janitor uses breaks to play piano for hospital visitors.

6 year old explains the meaning of life.  Seriously.  She gets it.

Have a great day!

Truth.  Attitude is everything.

Truth. Attitude is everything.

Confessions of a Vampire Lover

Look closely and you can see a big spider...  Creepy!

Look closely and you can see a big spider… Creepy!

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve never read Dracula.  I read Frankenstein, so at least I don’t have to be completely ashamed, but… how did I miss that?

I’m reading It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother & Me by Jane Congdon.  It’s a memoir written by a woman who has always been a Dracula fan since she saw her first Dracula movie, starring Christopher Lee.  She explains that she had always wanted to see Romania, but that it took her until her 60s to get there.  Once in Romania, she started resolving some of her childhood issues.

She explains that she had read about travel being a transformative experience, but that she didn’t expect to actually experience any transformation or changes.

I’m not very far into the book, but so far, I’m really enjoying it.  She talks about vampires, and I realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve read anything with a “real” vampire in it.  I think the last one must have been ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.

Recent books with vampires have romanticized them, with books like Twilight, the Anita Blake books and The Vampire Diaries.  Vampires just aren’t scary anymore.  They’re sexy and rich, and can be tamed like puppies.  What made Dracula so scary was that he was sexy and evil.  He couldn’t be tamed.  Vampires of yesterday treated humans like food or vermin.

Here’s a list of 55 best vampire books per Goodreads.  I think my next mission is to work through this list.  What’s the best vampire book you’ve ever read?

A Perfect Saturday

What breed do you see in the brown one?

What breed do you see in the brown one?

You don’t get many perfect days in life.  I’m trying to make the most of my weekends these days, and this Saturday was pretty much as good as it gets.

When we woke up, it was raining.  I love rainy days, and I’m glad to have them again now that I’m in Texas.  It was also 60 degrees, which meant jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt.  Jeans are my favorite clothes ever, and shorts just don’t do it for me the same way.  I have a few pairs of jeans that fit just perfect right now, and that makes me feel great.

We went to explore the local farmer’s market.  I have to admit, I’d gotten used to the anemic offerings in Arizona flea markets, where you’re lucky if you get a few locally grown items mixed in with typical supermarket fare.  I read this on their website, and one of the vendors also explained it to me: At the Cedar Park Farmer’s Market, vendors are only allowed to sell things they’ve produced in some way.  The coffee seller got her beans from Brazil, but she roasts them herself.  The man sharpening knives only sharpens knives; he doesn’t sell them because he doesn’t make them.  The man selling burgers buys his beef from the rancher a few tents over, then uses the recipe his mother showed him for his patties.

It was raining, but a really cool experience.  I think there were almost as many dogs as people there.  The kids were polite, and all the vendors smiled and made conversation.  We bought way more than we intended (it was meant as a scouting mission), and the husband got a bunch of water dumped on his head and down his back from the tents overspilling.

When we finished up, we headed over to PetSmart to pick up a few items.  Though my goal is to get away from big box stores, for things like cat litter, I don’t have a ton of options.  There was an adoption event going on, and my husband decided that Ripley looks a lot like a Boxer.  (I call Ripley my Rorschach dog test… everyone sees something different.  We know mom was a German Shepherd, but have no idea about dad.  Maybe a Pit Bull, or a Boxer, or a Great Dane.  Sometimes she looks almost exactly like Scooby Doo.)

Afterward, we got a little lunch and some Starbucks (the coffee roaster was out of coffee at the farmer’s market).  Then we came home and took naps to the sound of rain.  After that, we did quite a bit of unpacking.  I burned some candles, played some music, wrote some words… really, how does life get any better??

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