Don’t Be Afraid to Be a Jackass

Have you ever seen the movie Serendipity? The movie stars John Cusack as Jonathan Trager and Kate Beckinsale as Sara Thomas. I love that film. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. It’s a rom-com about a couple who met by accident, and felt an instant attraction to each other. Four years later, days before his wedding to someone else, Trager begins a search for this mysterious woman, Sara, because he has to know for sure if she’s the one. At the same time, Sara searches for Jonathan.

serendipityimageDean Kansky, played by Jeremy Piven, is Trager’s best friend. (Piven also happens to be Cusack’s best friend in real life.) While searching for the mystery woman, Kansky tells Trager he’s a jackass  and goes on to quote Epictetus; “be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” Trager doesn’t care how searching for a strange woman on the eve of his wedding appears. His heart leads the mission logic cannot defy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live our lives as jackasses? Not to worry about what other people think or how they might be judging us. A benefit to getting older is having the ability to care less about the opinions of others; to throw caution to the wind, to coin a phrase, and finally understand life is what we make of it. To live a fulfilled life, we must not worry about being foolish or stupid, but run through the sprinklers with wild abandon, with the sun on our backs, the grass between our toes, and laughter in the air.

Guess who can’t follow Epictetus’ advice? Teenagers. (And a few adults, but let’s talk about the teens for a moment because they can’t help themselves. The adults – well, that’s another story.)

I’m in the thick of raising teens, and like every stage of parenthood, this one has its pluses and challenges. Here’s one of the challenges: teens spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying how others perceive their behavior. They believe the whole world is watching them, because they have magnifiers and bright lights pointed on themselves. They worry that the world around them will judge them; tell them they aren’t good enough, smart enough, fast enough, strong enough.

Truth is, no one is paying that much attention because they’re busy worrying about what other people think of them. One of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt:

You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do. 

Teens just don’t understand that. I feel badly for them. They worry about things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of life, but matter a whole lot to them. If they could let go of the fear, they’d probably enjoy the ride a lot more. (Again, same applies to adults.)

But teens have to be teens. They make decisions based on emotion and not logic or reasoning. So, when I’m trying to be logical with my teens about something that is purely emotional to them, I lose.

I’m learning not to argue. They have to come to their decisions in their own way, and that’s a life lesson for them. Soon they will be out in the world all by themselves and I won’t be there to wave logic in their faces like pom-poms. “This way. Look over here. Pay attention to my wisdom.” I want to shout, but can’t. Their lives. Their choices. I’m only the GPS if they need me. And they need me less and less.

Often I find myself thinking, I’d love to go back to being a teenager with the knowledge I have now. I’d have the great time I was too afraid to have back then. And often, I find myself wanting to say to my teens, “don’t be afraid to be a jackass.”

Since I can’t go back, alas, then I have to live the example now that I want for my teens. Be fearless in the face of fear. Be willing to be thought foolish and stupid. Have a blast.

Are you a jackass?

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Why The Gas Cans

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A friend recently asked me if my publisher for my women’s fiction/contemporary romance series would be marketing for me. Common question. As much as I enjoy working with my publisher, and my editor rocks, the majority of the marketing is my responsibility. Doesn’t matter who your publisher is; one of the big five or yourself – marketing your book is your job.

And that’s no easy task. Not only am I not experienced in marketing ( I was a director of special events before I had kids) I don’t have enough hours in the day to write multiple books, and market them well. But I’m trying. Believe me.

What I am is creative. Creative people think outside the box because usually their box looks a lot different than the standard, beige, cardboard, rectangle with four flaps.

I attend many conferences for writers and readers. Often the conference offers a “goody room.” The goody room is a place for authors to display promotional items to get buzz out for their books. I’ve seen everything from pens to candy penises. I don’t know if any of this stuff sells books. Especially the pens, bookmarks, and chocolate. (I love bookmarks. Don’t get me wrong.) Personally, I won’t read your book just because you gave me a nail file for free. I have a nail file.

At the RWA conference in Orlando this past July I wandered the goody room and saw pretty much what I’ve seen before. I even passed over the candy penises attached to a card for an erotic romance. Yeah, I get it, book with explicit sex and a penis made of chocolate. Boring. Next.

Later I thought – if that chocolate penis had been attached to a card for a contemporary romance whose cover had a vase of flowers, a cute dog, and colored in pastels then I might pick up the book and say, “what’s this all about?”

I knew I had to do that for my book A Second Chance House. It’s a women’s fiction/contemporary romance coming out in early 2018. The cover shows a wrap around porch and a porch swing. What could I create to make someone say, “what’s that all about?”

I needed a light-hearted scene from the book. I needed a promo item that wouldn’t cost a fortune and would get people’s attention. My heroine runs out of gas. She’s mortified because the hero comes to save her, which is exactly what she didn’t want. I had to find gas cans. Nothing else would do.

I brought those bright red cans attached to a card with my cover on the front and the excerpt on the back. I heard, cute, clever, I love it, who came up with that for you? (I tried not to be offended. I don’t think she meant it maliciously.) All my cans went. I was very excited.

Will my gas cans sell my books? I don’t know. I can only hope that someone said, this author is creative and when her book comes out I want to read more.

For the second book in the series, A Bridge Home,  I’m thinking a men’s razor. Or maybe a kit for stitches. That chocolate penis might work too. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Why I Exercise

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

We all know the benefits of exercise, don’t we? Pretty much exercise is the cure to everything. Yup, everything. Health issues, mental issues (within reason I realize. I’m pretty sure exercise can’t cure schizophrenia so please don’t get mad at me for being insensitive.) Exercise helps with self-esteem, strength, flexibility, the list goes on and on. I really don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do it. But that’s another story.

I was never athletic as a kid. In the fourth grade, Mr. Havilland, my gym teacher kept me after class one time because I couldn’t get the basketball in the net. He wasn’t going to let me leave the gym until I made a swish or whatever you call it. I suppose Mr. Havilland might’ve been trying to do something positive. Maybe he wanted me to succeed. Instead, while watching all of my classmates escorted out of the gym and back to class I only wanted to hit Mr. Havilland over the head with the ball or go running from the gym in tears. He only managed to send me the message – I sucked at basketball. And by the way, I never made the shot that day.

In middle school I played intramural softball. I sucked at that too. I could never hit the ball no matter how hard I tried. Because I always struck out my coach put me last in the batting order and shoved me out in right field to pick the dandelions. (I grew up in a time when adults didn’t really care or understood a child had feelings. Heck, my grammar school art teacher had a sticker on her door that read – Children should be seen and not heard.  I mean, really? From a teacher??) Anyway, back to softball. I stunk. But it wasn’t until a year ago I learned my eyes don’t work together all the time.

I have an eye condition called Strabismus Amblyopia. My eyes turned in as a baby and when I was six my eyes were operated on to fix the problem. Which for the most part, it did. I don’t have peripheral vision in my right eye when I look left. Go ahead, try it. Cover your left eye. How far can you see peripherally with your right eye to the left? I can’t do that. I can’t look through binoculars and use both eyes either. (Plus, other stuff I won’t bore you with.)

Now I know my right eye doesn’t always work with my left eye. It’s always been that way, but I can’t tell it’s happening. But what does it cause? When your eyes don’t work together it hinders your ability to hit a ball! So, all those years of striking out on the softball team wasn’t because I was a lousy athlete, it was because my eyes weren’t working properly. Who knew? But I believed athletics were for other kids.

The agreement had been made. I wasn’t an athlete. I hated gym class in high school because I was a slow runner, no one wanted to pick me for their team. And I had a gym teacher who felt it was her duty to point out every chance she had there was a line between those that had been gifted in sports and the rest of us. Like when she’d divide the class up into teams. One team would be all the jocks and they got to play together whatever sport we were doing. The rest of us were exiled to the other team to play amongst ourselves. As if we didn’t know what she was up to. Or she didn’t care if we knew. She wanted the athletes to have a more successful gym class. How fun could it be to have to play with someone who can’t get the ball over the net? Why should the athletes suffer, right? It’s not like gym class is a team building opportunity. Or that high school isn’t ripe with opportunities for judgement, exclusion, bullying. I mean, that crap only happens in the movies, right?

Even though I couldn’t play sports, I loved to exercise. I could be competitive with just myself. I did aerobics in college. When I started working I went to the gym and took the classes there. I also love to dance. (Not good at that either.) But because I love to dance that’s why step classes spoke to me. Exercising was the only time I could be completely free. My mind shut off for an hour. The exercise high took me to the moon. I loved it and wanted more.

Then I found yoga. Well, holy cow. Yoga was a life changer. I felt amazing. Even though there isn’t supposed to be any judgement in yoga, I knew I was good. I could get deep into many of the poses.

But an athlete? Well, no. Yoga wasn’t a “no pain no gain” sport. Is it even a sport? It’s not in the Olympics. But I’ll tell you what, you work your butt off in yoga. I’m confident I could rival some of those athletes during a yoga class. Still, I never thought of myself as an athlete because I can handle crow pose.

Ten years ago I worked out with a trainer. Again, I fell in love. I loved the weights in my hands. I loved the strength I built. Being strong is very important to me in more ways than one. I loved the changes happening to my body. One day the trainer said, “you must’ve been some athlete in school.” I spun my head around. “Are you talking to me?” He laughed. “Of course, you. What sports did you play?” Me: “I wasn’t an athlete. I suck at sports. I was a baton twirler.” Him: “You are an athlete. No one told you.”

And the agreement was broken.

Sure, I exercise for all the health benefits it provides. I exercise because it keeps me nice and my family appreciates it when I’m nice. But the real reason I exercise?

So, I can tell that nine year-old she doesn’t suck at basketball. And so I can tell Mr. Havilland to shove it. I exercise so that middle schooler who so desperately wanted to hit the ball just once knows it’s not her fault. She would’ve hit the ball if her eyes worked correctly.

I exercise for all the times in high school I wanted to hide during gym class instead of being brave enough to run toward the ball and kick it in the goal.

I exercise so I can be heard.

I’m strong and determined.

I am a contender.

I am an athlete.

 

Why You Should Go to Your High School Reunion

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Not my class. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

I recently attended my thirtieth high school reunion. I can’t believe how much time has gone by since I threw my white mortarboard into the air; my insides filled with the helium of elation and the possibilities life would unfold at my feet.

I went to a small high school. There were only 210 graduates in my class in a school that accommodated four shore towns. You can imagine having a small class brings good things and bad; you know everyone in your class and most of the school. Wherever you land in the popularity hierarchy is pretty much where you stay until the end. For teens, your status is often very important. Even though I really didn’t care what people thought of me (still don’t) and my big mouth was proof of that, I still wanted to find the place where I fit in. Four years is a mighty long time to wander the halls staring at the same faces. I was absolutely not popular in high school – I was a baton twirler – need I say more? No one was looking to follow me anywhere, but I did have “friends” in many of the cliques. And thankfully I had a few good friends who let me sit with them at lunch.

Despite my lack of popularity and boyfriends (someone at my twentieth reunion asked me why we didn’t date in high school. Really???? I wasn’t on your radar, dude. You never asked.) I didn’t have the worst time in high school. Sure, while I was there I hated it. I begged my mother to let me go to a new school which only garnished her squealing laughter in reply. But with the benefit of the beautiful and powerful hindsight, I realized high school wasn’t so bad. No one tied me to the flag pole during gym class. Yup, that happened. I bet that kid doesn’t attend his reunions.

Sure, I had people who didn’t like me, and made sure to tell me on a daily basis. I’ll leave them nameless. Thanks to the healing powers of time and Facebook, I’m now “friends” with them. I got into a few fights – all verbal. I knew I could never win a fist fight, but I absolutely could outsmart someone with my big, scary, mouth. Which was the tactic I employed when Paulette wanted to fight me in the bathroom because my guy friend beat up her guy friend on my behalf. As if I had anything to do with that – and just for the record; her guy friend was a jerk.

Group Photo 30th Reunion
My classmates 30 years later!

So, I look forward to attending my class reunions. Who cares what happened thirty years ago? It’s time to get over it, seriously. We’re all adults now and every one of us has realized whatever we made a big deal out of then doesn’t mean squat now. We’ve all been in the path of mistakes, bad choices, life’s sense of humor. We understand what’s important, and if we don’t, well sucks to be you, I guess.

You know what else is great about reunions, you get to see everyone still has the same personality just with less hair, more weight, and highlights. It was nice to watch my classmates interact with the same flair and genuine caring of each other they displayed long ago.

Okay, not everyone was caring back then. I’m sure I wasn’t either. (I should apologize to everyone’s head I bit off during 1983-1987. Forgive my immature, hormonal, over reactive, no filter comments.) But those of us that repeatedly show up to our reunions, who are excited to catch up with each other, were basically all friends back then too. My sister’s grade has never been able to pull off a reunion. I really do believe those of us who show up all got along. It’s special.

Reunions are for forgiveness. Forgive yourself for worrying so much about everything back then. Forgive those that said stupid things that hurt your feelings because they were trapped in brains that hadn’t developed logic or reasoning yet. Forgive yourself for not doing things that weren’t cool because you didn’t want to be judged, but really wanted to do.

Find the moments of joy; football games on Friday nights, parties, good friends, the prom; hanging in the Wind Mill parking lot (okay, you’d have to have been from my area). Focus on those times and forget the rest. The less than pleasant stuff doesn’t matter thirty, twenty or even one year later. Really, it doesn’t and it had nothing to do with you anyway. Let it go. (Unless you were the kid tied to the flag pole. That mattered, but you still need to work on getting past it. Don’t continue to give the bullies the power. They suck. Not you.)

Reunion - Me, Bets, Ginger, Jen
Jennifer, Betsy, Me, and Ginger – still friends!

I will tell you: I walked into the reunion with my BFF. Almost immediately, she dashed off to speak with someone and I stood there in the middle of the room alone. For a brief moment, fear dragged its cold hand down my back. I was back in high school sticking out like a sore thumb. I didn’t know what to do. Run for the bathroom? I took a deep breath and shook it off. Hell, it was thirty years later. I might look older, have a few more wrinkles, but I had this. I marched over to Ginger and we hugged as if no time had passed at all.

I was home and this crew shared some of my best times.

Thanks for the memories, Shore Regional Class of ’87. I love you tons!

 

 

 

Every Wrinkle Tells a Story

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Google “fight the signs of aging.” Go ahead. I’ll wait. Okay, if you Googled it then you saw the 379,000 results that came up. Most of which are geared toward women. In other words, women, don’t grow old you won’t be attractive any longer.

I buy into this whole anti-aging game. I hate what’s happening to my skin. I hate the lines on my forehead. I’m paranoid my chin will drop. I spend lots of money on products that are supposed to reverse the sun damage I did as teen when the only thing between me and the UV rays was baby oil. My family has blocked all paths to Botox websites.

I want my twenty-five year old complexion back. I miss my natural hair color – black. I know I’m not supposed to care I’m getting older. We want the years to pile up because the alternative is far worse. With age comes experience and wisdom you can’t handle as a younger person. I get it. I really do. I just don’t want to look old. Old should be a four letter word.

Staying in shape is harder than it was even ten years ago. My body creaks and groans in sounds I’ve never heard before. And if listening to my mother’s generation is any indication, those sounds only get worse. I tell myself that won’t be me. My hamstrings tell me something else.

Am I victim of societal norms? Well, if the fact I remove all unwanted hair from my body says anything, then yes I am! Society tells me hairless and young is attractive. I don’t want to be excluded from the popular kids’ table. Unfortunately, old people sit by the bathrooms and there’s a space open at that table. Spaces are always open at the old people’s table.

I need to turn my head around on this one. I may have found the way. Someone said to me, “every wrinkle tells your story.” You know how I love a good story. That phrase resonated with me. Our wrinkles and gray hair are the stories of our lives.

How many times have you said, “my kids gave me gray hair?” Could you imagine your life without your children in it? Not me. If kids equal gray hair, then I guess the gray is okay. (I’m still going to cover mine up, but I’ll try not to get so freaked out about the amount of them.)

We can’t navigate through life without a road map. (Have you ever seen me when I get lost? Probably best you don’t.) Bummer the road map is on our faces, but isn’t the journey more important than the destination? All the roads I’ve traveled have led me here. Sometimes the road was bumpy, sometimes smooth.

The lines around our eyes are paths filled with laughter.  I’m glad I didn’t miss out on the times I bent over laughing so hard I cried. There are countless memories etched into those lines on my face. I’d take everyone of them all over again.

I also have frown lines. Bummer again, but with the good comes the not so good. I’ve worried over the health of a loved one. I worried about school, money, love. I worry about my children every day. Noodge 1 drives in less than two weeks. I’ll be worrying a lot more. But I would never change his growing up. That is the cycle of life.

I’m not ready to toss my anti-aging serums in the trash. Instead, I’ll look at my wrinkles with kindness and give them space to tell my story.

 

The Line Between Sanity and Fiction

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Merriam-Webster defines sane as mentally sound; especially :  able to anticipate and appraise the effect of one’s actions.

She defines fiction as an assumption of a possibility as a fact irrespective of the question of its truth.

Here’s the problem: as an author I’m able to anticipate the effect of my character’s actions because I’m their God, and in my mind anything they do always contains the possibility of fact. You’ve heard the old adage: there’s truth in fiction. I can’t have my readers say, “that could never happen!”

The line between sanity and fiction is a blur for me.

Two summers ago I struggled to finish Welcome to Skull Mountain, the third book in my middle grade series. While I forced the words onto the page, a man and a woman started talking to each other in my head. They would talk when I should’ve been writing WTSM. The spoke when I was reading for pleasure, driving in my car, and taking long walks.

I heard songs on the radio that meant something to them. I found myself creating a sound track of songs fitting their story. When they popped up in my head I played the music suited to their relationship. I listened to them fall in love, have arguments, and was even a voyeur while my male main character came down with appendicitis. The entire time they invaded my space I thought  – Shut up! You’re driving me crazy.

They made me nuts because I couldn’t think about anything else. I wanted to know what they were up to next. I decided the only way to quiet the noise in my head was to write their story. They became Grace and Blaise in the first book of my women’s fiction/contemporary romance series. Thanks to Grace and Blaise I sold that book, A Second Chance House, to The Wild Rose Press in a three book deal. (Due out probably early next year. Still waiting on a publication date. Publishing doesn’t move quickly.)

I’m very attached to my characters. I spend a lot of time with them. I hear what they hear, see what they see, smell what they smell, and feel what they feel. I’ve developed a crush on Blaise because of the many hours I’ve spent in his company. (Hopefully, Grace will forgive me. If she doesn’t, I can just knock her off. I am still her God. It’s not insane to think you’re a God, is it?)

Author, Editor, Social Media expert Kristen Lamb says authors play literary Barbies. We make them move, say, and do whatever we want them to do. (Often times, they do what they want to do no matter how much we try and force them to do our bidding. Kind of like having kids.) But, we basically pose them, tell them what we want them to say, wind them up, and set them loose.

Recently, I played music from off my phone. The Coffee King came in and asked who I was listening to. I told him. I added that this guy wrote a song that would be perfect for Colton and Harley. (The protagonists of book two in the same series.) CK scrunched up his face, looked at me and said. “It’s like you’re playing with Little People.” Yup. Just grown up versions who curse and have sex.

I worry about myself. While I’m deep in the worlds of my characters I can be found laughing out loud at something they’ve said or done. The other day my writing buddy KM Fawcett looked across the table at me and said, “Are you crying?” I was. I couldn’t help it. Colton often makes me laugh and cry.

The good news is many other authors react similarly to their characters. I know authors who have cried when a character dies. I haven’t killed anyone I cared deeply about. I’m sure I will cry then too. At the moment, I’d rather someone cut my arm off before I had to hurt Grace, Blaise, Colton or Harley in a tragic way. (There’s so many people to worry about.)

Do you see what I’m saying? Insanity? Or possibly good at what I do? I’m going with the former. No offense to my author friends who cry and laugh through their work. I can only speak for myself.

I’m not sure how to handle my situation. Should I seek therapy? Do therapists lock people away for thinking someone is in your head talking? I don’t talk back. That must be a good thing.

Until I find a support group for my mental illness, I’ll return to Heritage River. I left Harley in a parking lot in the middle of a very important conversation with her BFF.

What?

“Dispute not with her: she is lunatic.”
William Shakespeare, Richard III

 

 

In Honor of Best Friends Day: Friendships Are Like Paper Plates

  I’m a firm believer that friendships are disposable. I know that sound harsh, but look at it like this; some friendships are like paper plates and some are like your good stoneware. A paper plate serves a purpose and when that purpose is over or the plate is a bleeding mess you toss it. But […]

In honor of National Best Friends Day, one of my favorite blog posts is making a return visit. To all my stoneware: Thank you for your beauty, integrity, and taking up space in my cabinets. I love you all! S. 

 

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My senior prom. Thirty years ago. (Time flies.) These girls were my besties back then. Betsy, on the left, is stoneware. Loren, on the right, also stoneware. I love them both dearly. Meredith, the one next to me, paper plate. Her plate got tossed thirty years ago. Just the way it goes. 

 

I’m a firm believer that friendships are disposable. I know that sound harsh, but look at it like this; some friendships are like paper plates and some are like your good stoneware. A paper plate serves a purpose and when that purpose is over or the plate is a bleeding mess you toss it. But your stoneware comes out every day, sometimes three times a day and is probably in your favorite color. Stoneware helps you, supports you, is reliable, loyal, accepts you for the cook you are, and heats up like a hot flash for you. You might buy thousands of paper plates over your lifetime, but you’ll only have a setting for twelve of that stoneware.

You don’t know when in your life you’re going to find that perfect set of stoneware. You might have to buy it in pieces. Some during high school, some during college, maybe even a piece you picked up along the way. But don’t look for a bargain. Stoneware is worth the price you pay. And if you do get it on sale, well, then, lucky you.

Paper plates are easy to find. They’re every where you look and they’re cheap. But they will always and forever be only paper plates. Don’t hold any grudges over them, though. I’ve had some paper plates I’ve loved over the years, but they still had to go when their purpose was served. I trashed paper plates in middle school, high school, college, from the countless jobs I’ve held, neighbors, committee groups, the list goes on and on. The best thing about paper plates is when you’re done with the package another package miraculously shows up in your cabinets. Right when you needed them the most. Paper plates are great-fill ins when you don’t have time to wash your stoneware. But when you’re making lasagna for dinner and the cheese won’t stick together and is running off the spatula nothing will do, but your favorite stoneware dish.

My stoneware set is much smaller than twelve, but I’m okay with that. We’ve been together a long time. My stoneware never disappoints me and is as vibrant as ever. It’s always there when I need it, shares secrets with me, makes me laugh, and reminds me why I bought it in the first place.

I’m thankful for the paper plates too. They’re quick and easy. They’re fun.

I often wonder if my Noodges have started buying pieces of their stoneware. Many times I look at the selection in their hands and think, “Dear Lord, that is a paper plate if I ever saw one. Put it down.” And sometimes I think, “that could be a keeper.” But that will be for them to decide. And I know for myself, there have been times when paper plates were disguised as my favorite stoneware. It wasn’t until the bottom leaked that I realized I’d been holding an imposter. I guess that will happen to my kids too.

How about you, faithful reader? What’s in your cabinet?