My Most Popular Posts in 2016

Version 2

At Austin Trail of Lights, Photo credit: Doree Weller

It’s always fun for me to look back on the year and see what posts were most liked by other people. I published 71 posts last year, and these were the 10 you liked most.

  1. ¬†But What if There Are Bad People? Written in 2015, but my most popular post for 2016, it’s my opinion that we shouldn’t give into fear or allow bullies to win.
  2. 10 Best Novels from Over 100 Years Ago– A perennial favorite, this was penned in 2011! I think the title is self-explanatory. ūüôā
  3. E is For Encyclopedia Brown– My A to Z Challenge theme in 2016 was “Books that have influenced me.” This series was one from my formative years, and I reflect on them in this post.
  4. B is For Behind a Mask, the Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott– Did you know she wrote thrillers?
  5. Z is For Zen Pencils– Have you read this webcomic? If not, you should.
  6. N is for Nineteen Eighty-Four– Terrifying book, but it’s a classic for a reason.
  7. H is for Happy Money– Money can buy happiness, depending on how you spend it.
  8. How My Former Bullies Are Doing Now– I was a weird kid who was picked on by others. But the magic of Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with some of those bullies and get a different perspective on them.
  9. How to Win At Life– How to reframe “failure.”
  10. The Timelessness of Stories– Why stories matter.

Thanks for another great year.

Lessons in Kindness

Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center, Austin TX Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center, Austin TX
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

On Wellness Wednesday, I try to post on a topic related to wellness.

On Monday, I posted quotes about kindness. ¬†I try to be kind, to live my life in a way that spreads kindness, but I’m only human, after all. ¬†And sometimes the Universe presents me with lessons to remind me that I can always be kinder.

I try to be kind both in action and thought. ¬†Being kind in action means taking a moment to listen to someone, even when I don’t feel like it, saying “please” and “thank you,” smiling at others. ¬†Being kind in thought is often harder for me. ¬†It means not judging other people.

I walk a fine line with being kind in thought and wanting to watch real life drama. ¬†Part of the problem is that I like gossip, not to judge necessarily, but because I like stories. ¬†It doesn’t matter to me if they’re true or not; I like hearing them. ¬†I like seeing bickering on Facebook because I like the story aspect of it. ¬†I have to constantly remind myself that there are real people potentially being hurt by gossip and bickering, and that even though I might not spread it, just by being a listener, I’m complicit in negativity.

My lesson this week came from driving. ¬†I was in a parking lot and about to pull out and make a right onto a throughway of the parking lot. ¬†A man in a pickup was coming from where I couldn’t see him (there were bushes). ¬†In all fairness, I wasn’t paying as close of attention as I could have been. ¬†I wasn’t texting or anything like that, just sort of in my own thoughts. ¬†I almost hit him. ¬†When I say “almost,” I don’t mean that it was a close call or anything like that, just that I almost pulled out and hit him, but I slammed on my brakes with plenty of time to stop.

The man passed where I was, and then stopped in the middle of this throughway.  He was making rude gestures, and I was a little afraid that he was going to get out of his pick-up and come back to yell at me.  I was about three seconds from backing up and going the opposite way when he finally continued on his journey.

I was angry, and thinking things like, “Who does he think he is?” and “Everyone makes mistakes. ¬†That jerk is acting like he never almost pulled out on someone.” ¬†And other stuff too.

Then, I realized that I probably startled or even scared him. ¬†When people get scared, they get angry. ¬†The man probably didn’t know how to manage his anger and fear, so he stopped in the road, took a moment to compose himself, and basically blew off steam in a safe way. ¬†It’s not like he came back to confront me or slammed on his brakes to “get even” or followed me. ¬†He just stopped and was angry. ¬†In all fairness, he was probably upset about the incident a lot longer than I was.

I hadn’t been thinking very kindly toward a man who had an upsetting thing happen in his day. ¬†Yes, I was only unkind in my thoughts, but unkind thoughts can lead to unkind actions. ¬†If I had stayed stuck in my self-righteousness, I could have taken it out on someone else.

Not long after that, I had an opportunity to practice the lesson. ¬†I went to Goodwill to buy some picture frames, and I found way too many cool ones. ¬†So as I stood at the checkout, heavy frames in my arms (of course I didn’t get a cart), the cashier was chatting with a male employee. ¬†The two of them stood there for far too long as he bought some small item, gum or candy or something (I’m guessing he was on his lunch break). ¬†My first thought was that they should notice me and move faster. ¬†This time around, I caught myself and reminded myself that any retail establishment is fairly stressful work, and they were under no obligation to notice me. ¬†I could just as easily open my mouth and ask to put my frames down, but I didn’t want to do that, which was not their fault.

When I got up to the cashier, she was not happy to see me. ¬†She made some comment about being past her shift, and that her relief hadn’t shown up yet. ¬†I smiled and validated her, and as we talked for a few minutes, she became more and more relaxed. ¬†I could tell by the way she started smiling at me and calling me “hon.” ¬†By the time she was done ringing me up, she went and held the door for me so that I could carry my heavy frames out more easily and returned my encouragement¬†to “have a good day!” with “you too!”

Would I have been justified in responding to her as grumpily as she responded to me? ¬†Maybe. ¬†After all, the customer is always right… right? ¬†But sometimes, being right isn’t worth the aggravation. ¬†Because I decided to be kind, we both felt better when I left the store.

Remember that everyone you meet has a lesson to teach. ¬†It’s up to you to figure out what that lesson is.

I’m going to work to be kinder today than I was yesterday. ¬†And tomorrow, I’ll try to be kinder than I was today.

Have a beautiful day, everyone!

Don’t Let Anything Stop You

On Wellness Wednesdays, I post about a wellness topic.

One of my all time favorite quotes is:

“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

-Chinese Proverb

Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Photo Credit: Doree Weller

There are always naysayers, people who say that you can’t do something. ¬†People who try to tell you that you’re not enough to do that thing. ¬†Most of the difference between success and failure is willingness to keep trying. ¬†And in order to keep trying, you need to believe that it’s possible, whatever it is. ¬†People who are ultimately successful usually have a lot of “failures” behind them, but they generally rename “failure” to something else, like “learning experience” or “practice.”

If you want something… if you have a goal or dream… don’t let anything stop you. ¬†Not what people say, not your own internal voice telling you that you can’t. ¬†If you have a story to write, a song to sing, a picture to paint, do it. ¬†Do it without judgement, without restrictions.

I didn’t show my writing to anyone for a long time. ¬†In high school, I showed a poem to a teacher, and she said, “Are you sure you wrote that? ¬†I’m not saying you copied it; I’m just saying that maybe you saw it somewhere and forgot about it.” ¬†(For the record, no, that’s not the case.) ¬†I let her words deflate me, and I was afraid to show what I wrote to anyone, lest they be disinterested, or worse, believe I was plagiarizing. ¬†I let that stop me for about 10 years or more, until I started bringing my writing out into the light again.

I’m sure that teacher has long since forgotten her words, but I never have. ¬†I know that she didn’t mean to stop me from writing, but took her words and allowed them to wound me. ¬†Much of the time, when others inflict wounds on us, they don’t even know it.

Don’t let anyone stop you. ¬†Don’t give anyone that power. ¬†Do whatever it is that makes your heart sing.

 

Where Do Ideas Come From?

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.

F is For Fear

How often have you let fear stop you from doing something you wanted to do? ¬†I’m not talking about phobias- of heights, of snakes, etc. ¬†I’m talking about the littler fears that are really much larger.

In my case, it’s fear of sounding dumb, or worse, sounding like a know it all. ¬†I’m quite awkward in social situations, and I get nervous and trip over my tongue when I try to make friends. ¬†I know I’m not dumb, far from it. ¬†I just tend to sound that way because I get nervous and words get jumbled. ¬†Other times, I’ve pushed myself to talk, and get accused of being a know it all! ¬†It’s just that I’m more comfortable, being pedantic and talking about trivia, facts and figures, than I am talking about personal stuff.

I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences from both respects. ¬†On one hand, I really am an introvert and really do prefer to stay home with my books, my animals, and my laptop. ¬†On the other hand, I have to wonder if I’ve allowed fear to hold me back in some ways.

As I thought about this (since I often write blog posts in parts, over a period of hours or days), I asked, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” ¬†At first, the answer was, “nothing.” ¬†I feel pretty content except for always running out of time to do what I want, namely, write. ¬†Even when I do write things other than blog posts, I tend to get distracted, allow it to fall low on my priority list. ¬†In other words, I seem to be sabotaging myself.

I had a huge revelation in the shower today. ¬†I wrote my last novel before I thought about getting published. ¬†For those of you who already know this story, I apologize. ¬†Seven years ago (yes, seven), I wrote a novel. ¬†It was my third? ¬†Fourth? ¬†(I didn’t say they were good). ¬†This one was different. ¬†It was actually pretty good. ¬†I wrote it over a period of one magical summer. ¬†The words just flowed out. ¬†Yes, it needed a ton of polishing, but it had good bones.

After I finished it, my husband asked a seemingly innocent question, “You write all this stuff… why don’t you ever try to get it published?”

The question blew me away because it had just never occurred to me before. ¬†So, I started doing research. ¬†I contacted editors and agents. ¬†I went to writer’s conferences, read everything I could online, and subscribed to magazines.

And I haven’t been able to finish a novel since then.

I’ve started several, several I know, as a reader, have the potential to be better than the one that started me on this journey. ¬†I’ve edited, polished, sweated, cursed, and rewritten the novel that put me on this path in the first place. ¬†But I haven’t gotten any closer to getting it published than I was seven years ago.

Is it fear that’s stopping me? ¬†What if it isn’t my lack of organization, lack of time, lack of discipline? ¬†What if it’s just plain old fear? ¬†Puts it in a different light, doesn’t it?

This being Friday, this is going to double as a writing prompt, and really, I think it’s a perfect writing prompt. ¬†Whether you’re using this for journaling or fiction, ask yourself, or your character, this question: ¬†What would you do if you weren’t afraid? ¬†What chances would you take if you (or your character) only had a few months left to live? ¬†What would you (or your character) do differently? ¬†What would be important in life?

Fear and Haunting in Arizona

I went to a haunted house with a couple of friends last night. ¬†It’s called the Crypt, in Mesa AZ, and it was pretty good. ¬†Good scenes, good jump factor. ¬†I’d recommend it for someone who wants something scary, but not too scary. ¬†I’m off track, though. ¬†One of my best friends doesn’t like anything scary. ¬†She only likes romance novels and romance movies (how did we get to be friends?). ¬†So, when I suggested a haunted house, and she agreed, I didn’t think anything of it. ¬†I’m pretty blase when it comes to scary stuff. ¬†I mean, my husband and I laugh at horror movies. ¬†I’ve been pretty disappointed by most movies that are supposed to be scary. ¬†She was really scared though, and it got me to thinking about fear.

I’m not afraid of much. ¬†Mostly, I’m afraid of things I can’t see. ¬†The dark really scares me because of what could be there. ¬†I live in a neighborhood in Arizona, and it’s never dark in my neighborhood. ¬†Back in Pennsylvania, I lived in a pretty rural neighborhood, and when the lights were out, it was DARK. ¬†I remember getting home after dark, heart pounding, eyes scanning the darkness, jumping at every little noise– the stuff of real nightmares.

I kind of miss that fear. ¬†I miss that pulse jumping feeling. ¬†Maybe it doesn’t feel great at the time, but it always made me feel alive. ¬†That’s why I keep watching scary movies and reading scary books. ¬†I want to recapture that feeling of being safely scared. ¬†Of knowing that there’s a monster out there, but that it doesn’t really want to eat me.

Maybe that’s why I prefer psychological horror these days. ¬†Psychological horror is not about a monster I can see, but a monster that could be out there. ¬†Something that could be lurking in the darkness. ¬†It’s the possibility of fear that I’m addicted to.

What are you afraid of?