Five Things Friday- July 2018

One- What I’m Writing

I’ve just started editing an old YA horror novel, Acheron Crossing, with my YA writer’s group, and I’m going to start a few short stories to work on with my other group.

Two- Random Fact About Me

I adore squirrels, probably because we had a pet one when I was a kid. We have feeders outside and consider them our “outdoor pets.”

Three- What I’m Grateful For This Month

I’m grateful for my recent vacation and my wonderful pet sitter. I really needed some time off, but I can’t relax unless I know my cats and dogs are safe and well cared-for.

Four- When I Wasn’t Reading

I was vacationing in Alaska. We saw bears, eagles, humpback whales, orcas, moose, otters, seals, and deer. It was a great and relaxing trip.

Five- Favorite Picture This Month

I really love this picture I got of an otter enjoying his dinner.

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Superstitious

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I’m a superstitious person, in some ways. Obviously, I don’t think black cats are bad luck, and the only reason I’m worried about walking under a ladder is that I’m clumsy, and who knows how I’ll hurt myself?

I LOVE Friday the 13th. In fact, my grandparents got married on one, so I’ve always considered it a somewhat lucky day. Additionally, I love the numbers 13 and 31.

Broken mirrors worry me a bit, maybe because I like the idea of mirrors being doorways in fiction. If I spill salt, I always throw some over my left shoulder to blind passing witches. When a bird pooped on me at the Jersey shore, I consoled myself that it was good luck.

There are days when I avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. I get nervous if I’m buying something that amounts to $6.66, or worse, if I get that amount in change. I always knock on wood to stun the wood fairies (they’re mischievous, you know). I pick up pennies, and I know bad luck happens in threes (especially deaths).

And I don’t care what anyone says; weird things happen under the full moon. Study after study indicates it’s not true, but when I worked in crisis, if there was a full moon, we were guaranteed a weird night.

What superstitions do you believe in?

10 Things That Help Me Unblock Creativity

I’ve been sort of in a funk lately. Not like, depressed. But just feeling like the story I want to tell wasn’t going well.

For me, I’m doing well with everything or nothing. While the writing wasn’t going well, I wasn’t having much success with other things either. I was feeling disorganized, as if any item I put on my “To Do” list went off and died there. I was struggling with eating healthy, and wasn’t taking my dog for regular walks.

It wasn’t that I felt unmotivated; far from it. I wanted to accomplish all those things, but when it came down to it, I found myself reading a book or playing a game on my phone (I love 1010!) or aimlessly surfing the internet. And then the day was gone, and I’d managed to check off one thing.

Two weeks ago, I couldn’t do what I’d planned to, and was sort of forced to steam vac my carpets. (Let’s just say I have lots of pets and leave it at that, okay?) And it felt kind of good to move around and play music really loud and sweat and have something tangible I accomplished.

None of that week went as planned, but I got lots of things done. And then the following week rolled around, and all that motivation I’d stored up but hadn’t used just kind of burst to the surface.

I decided that I needed to clean off my desk and make my workspace a bit more appealing. In the midst of doing that, I saw my kaleidoscope collection and realized that I haven’t looked through them in a while.

In the past, when I’ve been searching for inspiration, I’ve sat down and looked through a kaleidoscope. More recently, I take out my phone and play 1010! It’s not the same.

I found my fountain pen, disassembled and cleaned on my desk, and realized that I haven’t been using that either. I love my fountain pens.

With all the other life clutter going on, I decided it was a good idea to make myself a list of things I love, so that next time I’m in a funk, I can remember to reconnect.

  1. Kaleidoscopes– Looking at the swirling colors is a form of meditation for me. I can slow down for a moment and just concentrate on one thing. If you want to get metaphysical, I can also remember that like life, they’re beautiful and constantly changing.
  2. Fountain pens– I started using a cheap plastic fountain pen when I was in my teens, and I just love them. Actually, I love all pens: gel pens and sharpies and nice ballpoints. But I have a special love of the smooth writing of a good fountain pen. I love to see ink on my fingers.
  3. Journaling– I seem to get away from this just when I need it the most. I’m trying (again) to make it a daily practice. I always use the excuse that it’s hard when life gets busy. But when isn’t life busy?
  4. Doodling– I’m trying to get more into art journaling. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, but am TERRIBLE at it. (No, seriously, visual art is something I’m bad at.) But I’m okay with loving something and being terrible at it. Lucky for me, Pinterest has about a million boards for inspiration on the topic. Right now, I’m mostly working with banners and arrows. Gotta start somewhere, right?
  5. Stickers– I can’t draw, but I can put stickers on everything.
  6. Healthy eating– I really do feel better when I eat better.
  7. Logic puzzles– While just playing random games isn’t all that helpful (and is actually a time waster, I know!), logic puzzles use the logical part of my brain. I guess that makes my whole brain work better? I don’t know; I just know that mindful game playing works for me.
  8. Coloring– For me, coloring is like meditation. I can’t draw, but I can stay inside the lines. The biggest decision I have to make is whether to use the blue or the purple crayon. It helps me turn off my conscious mind for a little while. Sometimes, that’s the space where answers find me, instead of me looking for them. Adult coloring books are a thing now. You can find them anywhere, even Wal-Mart and Amazon.
  9. Taking a Walk– We have a lovely greenbelt near our house. Getting out and listening to the birds sing and the breeze moving through the trees is relaxing, and sometimes helps my brain get moving again.
  10. Candles– There are more and more articles out there about the benefits of aromatherapy. It can help improve mood, help with wakefulness, even help with physical issues like headaches! I love burning candles and filling my office with scent. Because it’s what I do when I write, my brain knows that when it smells vanilla candles burning, it’s time to get to work.

What kinds of things help you unblock creativity?

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Saying Goodbye to My Dog

I’m a firm believer in the idea that nothing good is free. There are different ways to pay for things: through hard work, time, perseverance, etc.

Perhaps the worst payment of all is grief. That’s the ultimate payment, and we can’t avoid it.

I recently had to euthanize my lab mix. She was fifteen years, seven months old. I know she was ancient. For her size, my dog was 107 years old! It’s mind-boggling, actually. But as old as she was, I wasn’t ready to let her go.

The cards were stacked against her from the time she was born. She was the runt of the litter, the last dog born to a malnourished mother. The sac didn’t pop, and had to be pierced manually by my husband. (She was the puppy of a friend’s dog.)

She couldn’t walk well at the end, and she always seemed to be in pain. She got excited about the ball for a minute or two, but she couldn’t really chase it anymore. She was eating, but not enough. She’d gone from a stocky 55 pounds to a skeletal 35 pounds.

And yet, until the end, she would follow me around the house. She’d go outside to do business, and she got excited about food.

Making the choice to end her pain was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a long time. I firmly believe that she would have held on as long as I wanted her to, because dogs don’t understand selfishness. She would have stayed with me because she loved me, so I had to make the decision for her.

Even though I’ve had to do this a number of other times with cats (and another dog when I was much younger), I did my research, trying to find something on the internet that screamed THIS IS THE RIGHT DECISION. It never feels right, even when it does. We always want just a little more time.

Almost unanimously, most veterinarians agree that it’s better to do it a little early while the dog is still themselves than to do it too late when the pain has stolen everything from them.

I found this great scale that helped me, so I wanted to pass it on.

HHHHHMM Scale: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, & More Good Days than Bad.

In the end, my girl wasn’t even having good days anymore. She was having good hours. Because we’d planned it, I got to make sure she did her favorite things. I took her to the creek, and though she could no longer swim, she waded. We got a brand new tube of tennis balls, and though she couldn’t chase them, she carried one around. She got a cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, and a milkshake from McDonald’s.

I’m going to carry those memories (and so many more) with me. Even though grief is a steep price to pay, it’s so worth it. The best things always are. And it doesn’t get any better than love.

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?

Five Things Friday- May

Yes, I know it’s June, but just barely, so I’m calling this for May. 🙂 I haven’t done one of these since February!

One- What I’m Writing

I’m editing my YA horror novel, Not Dead Enough. I’ve recently gotten some good feedback on it that I’m incorporating.

Two- Random Fact About Me

Dodgeball is the only real (ie. not video game) sport I’ve excelled at. My strategy in dodgeball was to taunt the other players into throwing the ball at me, then someone athletic would attempt to catch it while I fell out of the way. I’m really good at taunting and falling.

Three- What I’m Grateful For This Month

I’m grateful for my peaceful home and my amazing animals. I’ve recently gotten a reminder that peace and quiet aren’t a given. Funny how it can take a reminder before we’re grateful, isn’t it?

Four- When I Wasn’t Reading

I was editing my book and helping a family member with a medical issue.

Five- Favorite Picture This Month

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Do Happy Endings Exist?

 

IMG_1486For the most part, I prefer books with happy endings. I’m not opposed to a sad ending, but it has to be the right one.

I recently had a friend say to me that they prefer “hopeful” endings, and that makes a lot of sense. What’s the point if we don’t have hope?

A while ago, I read A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an amazing book, but it’s also horrifically sad. That’s not to say that it’s unrelentingly sad, but the ending is not a happy one.

It got me to thinking that where authors end the book makes the difference between a happy, hopeful ending, or a sad one.

A Little Life ebbs and flows with happiness and hope, where it seems like Jude will finally get the life he wanted, and devestatingly sad parts, the kind of sticky sad that stays with you and makes you question your own life.

If Yanagihara had ended the book during one of those upbeat, hopeful moments, it would be an entirely different book with a whole different meaning.

Books only tell the story of a slice of time. They don’t tell you what happens after, if the character suffered a tragedy. Romance novels often end with a marriage or proposal, but they don’t tell you if someone got cancer after they were married for a few years or if someone had an affair with an ex. Mystery novels end with the detective finding the criminal, but they don’t talk about the detective descending into alcoholism  or having a car accident which causes them never-ending back pain.

My point is that anything can happen when a story continues, and it won’t exclusively be happy or sad. Life is about the whole spectrum of emotional experience. My life is just a series of stories I tell myself (and others). Sometimes I don’t get to pick what happens in the story because sometimes life happens to me, but I get to pick the frame.

For example, I was recently supposed to go to a Taylor Swift concert in Arizona (I live in Texas). I didn’t get to go because I had a sick 17-year-old cat, and I was worried what would happen if I left. So I stayed, and my friends went to the concert without me. I looked at their pictures on Facebook and imagined what a great time I would have had with them. 😥

If the story ends there, it’s kind of a downer, right? But what if the end of the story has the sick cat making a full recovery? And knowing that my elderly cat is healthy today because I missed a concert? And that my husband agreed to go see Taylor Swift with me when she comes to Texas? Does it change the story?

I think it does. I like happy endings in fiction; I prefer them in real life too. Life has its ups and downs, just like fiction does. And just like in fiction, I can usually choose where to end that particular short story.

Related post: 10 Reasons I Love Happy Endings