My 10 Favorite Posts of 2018

It’s always interesting to see which of my posts were the most popular over a given year. Of my 10 most popular posts, only two were actually published in 2018.

For whatever reason, my most popular posts are often from previous years. Here are 10 posts that I think should have gotten more love last year.

10 Reasons I Love Happy Endings: Some people think happy endings signal a book that isn’t as important or good. I disagree.

The 10 Worst Couples in Fiction: There are just some couples who irritate me or who are just terrible for one another. These are the worst.

How Querying is Like Online Dating: It really, really is.

Do Happy Endings Exist? Maybe?

#sorrynotsorry 5 Books I Love That Others (Claim To) Hate: I don’t think anyone should apologize for their choices in entertainment.

Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Writing Critique Group: Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without them. I’ve learned way more than just ten things.

Please Stop- Tropes I Hate: Enough is enough. (These mostly apply to YA)

Shut Up And Take My Money! Tropes I Love: I’ll never stop loving these. (Again, mostly YA)

7 Reasons I’m (Mostly) Over Sequels: With few exceptions, sequels tend to be meh.

10 Ways To Waste Time Instead of Writing: Why do writers dream of writing, but when they sit at their computers, waste time? (No, seriously… why?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rooting for a Terrible Character

I recently read The Boy at The Door, by Alex Dahl, to fill a “Nordic noir” category for a reading challenge.

As I was trying to pick out a book, I read some Goodreads reviews, hoping to get a sense if I’d like the book or not. And what was interesting to me was how many people said they hated the main character, Cecilia.

A quick, spoiler-free summary is that Cecilia is asked to take a boy home from swim practice one night, only when she gets to his house, it’s obviously abandoned. So she brings him home, and from there, a series of events happen that threaten the “perfect life” she’s created for herself, because that life is based on lies.

I can see why people didn’t like Cecilia. She’s selfish, manipulative, unapologetic, a complainer, and a perfectionist.

But she’s also pretty open and honest with the reader. There are reasons that she is the way she is. She’s also kind of vulnerable, wanting to keep the life she’s so carefully crafted.

As Cecilia’s secrets were revealed, none of them surprised me. Yet I felt increasingly sorry for her as this life she’d crafted fell apart.

It got me to thinking about how a lot of people probably would feel that the “bad guy” got what she deserved, and on one level, that’s probably right. Actions have consequences, and everything that happened to her was a result of the terrible choices she made.

On the other hand, she never meant to hurt anyone. She was only thinking of herself when she did things, which is not an enviable trait. And yet, it’s clear that she didn’t think through the consequences of her actions. She was just so terrified to lose what she’d built that she was in constant reaction mode.

I’ve always found the saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” to be an interesting one. While that’s undoubtedly true, it’s also paved with bad intentions. Why don’t we get any credit for our intentions? Why do others tend to judge us based on the worst thing we ever did? We all make mistakes, so why can’t we be more forgiving of the mistakes of others?

I didn’t like Cecilia. I wouldn’t want her as a friend or as a relative. But reading this story, I absolutely felt sorry for her and hoped that things would work out for her in the end.

Have you ever disliked a character but hoped they’d have a happy ending?

(And incidentally, if you want to try Nordic noir, I absolutely recommend this book.)

10 Thoughts on Reaching 41

DSCN1852

I turned 41 earlier last month, and it’s made me thoughtful.

I’m not someone who freaks out over age. I really do believe it’s just a number, and I don’t feel the way I think I should. I still don’t always feel like an adult. I sometimes feel like I’m faking it, like someone’s going to call me on it and say, “Shut up, kid!”

That being said, I have learned a few things over the years.

  1. Do what you love. Make time for it. If you don’t, what’s the point?
  2. Let it go. If the lady at the grocery store is rude to me, I shake it off. Most people, even the cranky, miserable ones, don’t actually want to be cranky and miserable. She’s not part of my life, so why not just move on with my day?
  3. Smile at everyone. Look them in the eye. Say please and thank you. From people’s reactions, they’re often surprised by this. I’m not the person who loves being out among others, but when I am, I try to add to the world by spreading a little bit of positivity wherever I can.
  4. Don’t be a doormat. Just because you understand or try to empathize with people doesn’t mean you have to allow them to treat you in a terrible way, especially if they are a part of your life. Dump the toxic people.
  5. Don’t apologize for what you like. Everyone’s got opinions, and I swear the emperor has no clothes. Whether it’s YA or Fifty Shades of Gray or bad horror movies, if you like it and it’s not hurting anyone, enjoy!
  6. Age is just a number, and not a particularly meaningful one. I see lots of lists about things you shouldn’t wear after 40 and books you shouldn’t be reading after 20, and so on. They’re all stupid.
  7. Find your tribe. They’re out there, and they like the same things you do. I’m a socially awkward introvert with a sense of humor most people don’t understand, and I like books and characters more than I like real people. Yet, I’ve managed to find amazing people who don’t make me self-conscious. I can say stupid things and don’t feel judged. It’s a beautiful thing.
  8. We all make mistakes. Ah, it’s such a simple phrase, but it’s such a hard one for me. Sometimes I’m okay with not being perfect. Other times, I perseverate on every mistake I’ve ever made until my head feels like it’s going to explode. I try to remind myself that I don’t judge others for their mistakes, so I shouldn’t judge me either.
  9. Be kind to everyone, even yourself. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness. It’s easier to be kind to others when you treat yourself well.
  10. Everything makes sense in retrospect. I’m someone who believes that everything happens for a reason. When I look back on the things that have happened to me, both bad and good, it all seems to make sense. Maybe that’s me just putting meaning where none exists, but I’m okay with that. Even if I’m making meaning, the point is that I have meaning in my life.

Deciding If I Liked A Book Or Not

DSCN1738

Have you ever finished a book and thought, “I can’t decide if I liked it or hated it”?

Normally, it’s pretty simple for me. If I can’t put the book down and function in real life, I loved it. If it takes me a long time to read because I’m not obsessed, then I didn’t like it.

It doesn’t happen to me often that I can’t decide, but when it does, it causes me to go into deep thinking mode. What was it I didn’t like about the book, and why?

Normally, when this happens, it’s because there are things I both loved and hated about the book, causing a tug of war in me. For some books, the ending is enough to turn my like into dislike, but others cause more complicated emotions.

I recently read a book that I really wanted to like, but just couldn’t. It didn’t draw me forward. I liked the idea of it and where it was going, which was why I kept going back to it. But I tired of it easily and even put it down in the middle of chapters sometimes.

When I got to the twist in the middle of the book, that invigorated me quite a bit. But then I hated the ending. The whole book led up to this one moment, and it felt like a letdown.

When I finished reading, I kept mentally going back to the good parts of the book and thinking about how the bad parts could have been made better. I wanted it to be a different book, and that’s how I figured out that I didn’t like it, after all.

I like when books cause complicated emotions in me, make me think and feel, but it makes me sad to decide I don’t like a book that had so much potential. Maybe that’s what it’s really about for me… all that potential unrealized.

Does it ever happen to you that you can’t decide if you like a book or not? What makes it hard for you to decide?

 

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About Grief

IMG_9445
When I was in my Master’s program, we had to do a yearlong unpaid internship. I wanted to work with the Seriously Mentally Ill, people with diagnoses so serious that they need extra support to function in society.

I didn’t get the internship I wanted. Instead, I was assigned to work in Hospice. If I had to rank where I wanted to work, grief would have come last. So of course, that’s where I needed to be.

It ended up being an amazing experience, and I learned a lot. I’m from the “suck it up and deal” school of grief management, so I had to learn everything about grief, including how to be sensitive to how others grieve.

Here are some of the things I learned.

  1. There is no wrong way to grieve. Before I worked in hospice, I really believed that my way was the best way and that people who were more open to feeling their emotions were doing it wrong. The truth is that people grieve in a myriad of ways, and most of them are healthy.
  2. People grieve the way they live. This is the single most important piece of information I ever got. Expressive people tend to grieve more expressively. People who tend to turn inward do the same with grief.
  3. There’s no end date. Sometimes other people set a deadline for the grieving person, that they should stop being upset in a year, or two years, or whatever it is. The truth is that grief doesn’t just end. It often does hurt less over time, but sometimes, especially anniversaries, birthdays, and milestones can make the grief fresh and new.
  4. Grieving people DO want you to reach out. They don’t expect you to have the right words (though there are wrong ones), but they want you to acknowledge their pain. Contacting them on anniversaries, birthdays, etc. is a thoughtful and welcome gesture.
  5. There are wrong things to say. These include things like, “Aren’t you over it yet?” or “It’s time to move on.” Depending on the belief system of the person, “It was meant to be” or “They’re in a better place” can also be hurtful.
  6. Grieving people want to talk about the one who died. Bringing up the lost loved one won’t “remind” them; the loved one isn’t far from their mind anyway. It’s important to say the loved one’s name and share memories to show that even though they’re gone, they aren’t forgotten.
  7. You can’t ever be prepared, not really. Whether the death is sudden or you knew it was coming, most of the time, you’ll wish for one more day with your loved one. In some situations, you can start the grieving process ahead of time, but it’s always difficult, no matter what.
  8. It’s not your responsibility to grieve in a way that makes people comfortable. Death and grief make people uncomfortable. Real, raw feelings make people uncomfortable. If the way you grieve makes someone uncomfortable, that’s okay. Take ownership of your feelings and let others take ownership of theirs.
  9. People will say stupid things, but it’s probably not intentional. When people get uncomfortable, they say things as a way to make them feel better or more comfortable. Even though it often doesn’t work, they’re not trying to hurt your feelings. We’re not really taught what to do with emotion, so we’re all just floundering around trying to deal. (raises hand)
  10. There are five stages of grief, but people don’t usually go through them in a linear fashion. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. They can happen in any order, and you can go through any stage more than once. The stages can also overlap, like you can be in bargaining and anger at the same time. In a nutshell? Grieving is a mess. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you grieve and understand that all those feelings are normal.

I could probably write a list much longer than this one, but ten is always a manageable number. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Please Don’t Feed The Trolls

IMG_1899The internet can be a magical place, full of wonders and cat pictures.

It can also be a dark and terrifying place, full of smelly creatures like trolls.

My philosophy on life is “live and let live.” I’m not a fan of cyberbullying, and I do think people (especially adults) need to think before they post.

At the same time, I also believe that many people are far too sensitive, and need to go back to elementary school to relearn that rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Words only hurt because we give them the power to do so.

But I digress.

I was on Facebook, and someone shared a picture of this comedian who was imitating various fitness photos. One of them was a photo of a naked model hiding her breasts with two wine glasses. The comedian is a normal looking woman who made no effort with makeup or hair, hiding her breasts behind orange juice cartons. It was hilarious!

As I always do, I went to the comments. For me, comments are often the best part of anything on the internet. One man started commenting about how he didn’t think it was funny, and he found the model far more attractive than the comedian. The comment thread exploded.

At first, it was just people disagreeing with him. Then it devolved into people checking out his Facebook page and denigrating how he looked because he had some extra weight in the stomach. From there, people started cutting down his wife. And so on.

After many, many comments, someone finally said that everyone should stop responding to him because he was obviously just trolling. This guy thanked the person who said that and explained that he was in a sociology class, and his assignment was to go on a comment thread and disagree with what anyone else said until he was called out on it. He got extra points for making people emotional.

I’m fascinated by the idea that people get into so many arguments with random strangers, and that many of these people are obviously trolls. They are arguing to cause chaos. To see what will happen. Because they can.

I read most of the thread, and the man didn’t say anything horrible or personally attacking toward others. He’s entitled to his opinion that the pictures weren’t funny. A model in full makeup probably is more attractive than a comedian who wasn’t making an effort to be anything other than funny. His comments weren’t terrible. But people thought it was okay to attack him, and then his wife (who was at no time part of this thread) because he stated an opinion.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t feed the trolls. If we ignore people who are obviously trying to incite reactions, it’s far more effective than engaging and attacking them. Whether you think what this guy did was awful or amusing, attacking back is never an effective strategy. Attacking someone else who isn’t even part of the conversation, in my mind, is far worse.

Often, when we attack someone else (whether as an action or a reaction), it’s coming from a place inside ourselves. Secure, happy people don’t feel the need to respond with invective. Philosophically, I prefer to respond to kindness. I’m not perfect, and I obviously don’t always do that, but it’s my preference. But if I can’t respond with kindness, I can not respond at all.

Sometimes we think that we’re going to convince someone when we respond in kind, but that almost never happens. People aren’t convinced by angry, emotional arguments. They’re convinced by action, and one action that has a huge effect on people is to respond to an insult with kindness.

Feeding trolls with anger makes them stronger. Kindness starves them. So does lack of attention. Please don’t feed the trolls.

What are your thoughts on all this?

How to Keep a Travel Journal

I have a number of journals: one specifically for quotes, one for general thoughts, one for stories, and one for travel. I find that having multiple journals works for me as a way of staying organized.

It had never occurred to me to keep a travel journal until I saw the ones my sister in law keeps. She explained that she buys her “next” travel journal at her last location.

I loved the idea of keeping a record of my trips, but it’s taken me some time to refine what works for me.

The Journal

Size: You want something big enough that you’re comfortable writing in and large enough that you can stick in tickets, business cards, random bits of paper, but small enough to carry with you.

Paper type: Something thick enough to hold all that ephemera. And if you’re like me, you don’t want the ink to bleed through.

I like 5×8.5 inch Molskine, but there are many other good journals out there. I use one journal until it’s filled, while my sister-in-law uses one per trip. It’s all about what works for you.

The Supplies

My bag of supplies for travel journaling has grown over time. Here’s what I like to keep with me:

Pens: I’m fond of writing in different colored inks, and I prefer high-quality gel pens. My current favorite is the PaperMate Ink Joy Gel. Believe me when I say that I’ve tried a ton of different pens. I also like writing with a fountain pen, but those can be a pain to carry on trips.

Glue stick & washi tape: These are great for attaching things inside the journal. I used to just leave them loose and attach them when I got home, but it’s so much easier to do right away. For one thing, it reduces the chance that you’ll lose something. Just remember that a glue stick can’t go in your carry-on bag.

Scissors: Sometimes I want to cut things out of flyers. On cruise ships, they give daily bulletins, and there’s some things that are fun to cut out, like the daily weather and port. Whenever I try tearing things out, I inevitably rip them. Scissors are my friend. But they also can’t go in the carry-on.

LifePrint: Last Christmas, my husband bought me a LifePrint, and it is one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. I can print pictures directly from my phone, and it’s tiny, so it travels easily. I always see advice to draw and sketch in travel journals, and while I admire people who can do that, I have to Google “how to draw _____” whenever I want to draw a basic shape. I swear, I’ll take a drawing class one day. For now, there’s LifePrint.

What to Record

First, decide who the travel journal is for. Do you intend to share it with others? Or is it just for you? It may make a difference on what you write down. At first I had the idea that I might share, but as time went on, I realized that it was more fun for me to write down more personal observations rather than to go back and forth between my travel journal and my personal journal.

I also like recording my hotel, airline, and travel information on the first page of that trip. I have a handy place to gather all my necessary information, but it’s also nice to be able to look back and remember if I liked that hotel, cruise ship, etc.

You can record literally anything in a travel journal. The point is to have a fun and memorable trip. I tend to record observations about people and philosophical concepts, as well as what I did and ate on a given day. My sister-in-law tends to record a lot more about the history of places. It all depends on what you personally want to remember.

I’ve also gotten less fussy about keeping it as a “pure” record. I’ll put anything in my journal, even if I just need to use it for scrap paper. Some of those jottings can be fun to see in the future.

The most important thing is to regard it as a fun and to use your imagination. My journals have more stuff interspersed with the writing as time goes on.

Preparing Ahead

In addition to gathering supplies, it can also be fun to get maps or other printed materials. Stickers are always fun, and since scrapbooking has become so popular, there are tons available everywhere.

Do you keep a travel journal? If so, do you have any tips?