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 I Exercise

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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.

 

The Line Between Sanity and Fiction

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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

 

 

Rantings From A Food Critic

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I’m not your typical food critic. I don’t go to restaurants, scare the employees, order several dishes from the menu, and then write my opinions in the most sought after review columns.

Nope. Not me.

I’m the worst kind of critic. I HATE FOOD.

Hate is a pretty strong word, don’t you think? I dislike food – intensely.

I get very little joy out of food. I eat because I have to eat. People have told me they wish they could be like me. No – you don’t. Really. Trust me.

It’s super hard to come up with meal ideas when you don’t want to eat anything. I’m never in the mood for anything. I mean – NEVER.  I never crave anything either. (Except chocolate and caramel.) Not even when I was pregnant. The task of preparing meals for the Noodges and the Coffee King is daunting. I never know where to begin since I don’t care about the result. Food is for survival purposes only.

Obviously, I know which food groups are good for you. I use chicken, fish, and poultry as my base and build from there. But to say I’m in the mood for herb crusted chicken blah, blah, blah with a side of green yada, yada, yada won’t happen.

When I was a kid, my Italian mother would stand above me and shout, “but what’s there not to like? It’s only sausage and potatoes!” My Pop-Pop, (Italian grandfather straight off the boat) often asked when I refused to eat anything with tomato sauce, “What kind of an Italian are you?” The kind that likes cannolis, Italian cookies, Italian bread, and pretty much anything my professional baker Pop-Pop could make.

It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I discovered the source of my problem. I’m a supertaster. I have too many taste buds. (This is a real thing. I’m not making it up.) Lots of foods like broccoli, coffee, anything sour, taste really bitter to me. You should’ve been there when I accidentally ate broccoli rabe at a conference luncheon and needed to spit it out – immediately. It wasn’t pretty. What tastes like normal food to others taste terrible to me. In fact, I’m not sure I know what “normal” tastes like. I prefer to stick to anything bland. Macaroni with butter is an all time favorite of mine. On those Sunday dinners growing up, my grandmother would pull out some of the spaghetti for me and put butter on it before she dumped her homemade sauce on the rest.

So, tell me. What’s your favorite dish? What’s on the menu tonight?

Serial Killers Are Everywhere

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I’m sitting in my office, at my desk fretting over what to blog about this week. Coming from behind me, outside my window is either the sounds of a squirrel on crack, the roof coming off, or a drummer on scaffolding because I’m on the second floor. I’m trying to keep my mind away from the possibility of an intruder. Albeit, not a very bright one if he’s making that much noise on a bright, sunny day, at lunch time. However, I trust no one and my first thoughts are always to be careful. Serial killers are everywhere.

You know when you’re watching a scary movie and the character on screen decides to go look outside because they heard a crash or a gun shot and you yell at the screen, “DON’T DO IT. DON’T GO OUT THERE!”? I was compelled to look out my office window just now and thought this might be the stupidest thing I’ve done all day. But, there must be an explanation to the noises outside. We want to reassure ourselves the world as we know it hasn’t changed. We like the status quo, don’t we? And what was I going to do when I saw the rabid squirrel or the crazed drummer suspended in mid-air? Panic, that’s what. Not pretty.

Several years ago, I think before I even had kids, I was home and had somehow forgotten the roofers we hired were going to begin work. There I was home alone, footsteps pounded on my roof. It wasn’t Christmas Eve so that ruled out Santa immediately. I didn’t know what the sound was and then I heard voices! Robbers. Vandals. Serial Killers!!!!!!!! I panicked. Grabbed the phone and debated on calling 911. What was I going to say? I didn’t want to sound ridiculous and I didn’t want to go outside. I did bring myself to look out the window. Saw the roofer’s truck and passed out. No, kidding. I called myself a lot of stupid names for being silly.

I’m going to get a baseball bat. I’ll be right back.

There are disadvantages to having a vivid imagination. One of them is the stories in your head never stop. With baseball bat in hand, I investigated the noise. I opened the window, climbed out onto the ledge below and shimmied up the drain pipe to the roof above. A turkey vulture’s wing had tangled in the weather vane.

Looks like turkey for dinner.

No?

 

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

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I am often asked where I get the ideas for my books. All stories start with an idea, right? The idea is the thing that gets you excited about writing. It’s the thing you need to remember when you’re 30,000 words in and you can’t remember why you started that stupid book in the first place. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there right now.

When my son was about ten he said to me, “Mom, I had a nightmare. I was trapped in Hell and I had to answer math questions to get out.” And the idea for Welcome To Kata-Tartaroo was born. When I wrote the second book in the series, Welcome To Bibliotheca, I wanted to revolve the adventure around a quirky character trait of my main character. He’s a kid that loves the library. And that story was born.

Inspiration can come from something someone said. In 1967, Smokey Robinson was shopping for a Christmas gift for his wife with Motown producer Al Cleveland. Mr. Cleveland meant to say, “I second that motion.” A very common phrase. Instead he said, “I second that emotion.” The men went home and wrote a song around that misspoken phrase. It was a #1 R& B hit.

Inspiration comes from stories on the news or life experience. But be careful about the life experience thing. I hear a lot, “you should write my life story.” Yeah – No. Not everyone’s story is interesting enough. Sorry. Hard truth. That adage, write what you know, doesn’t mean tell your life story in a book. It means write what you know and if you don’t know something research it. But we all take pieces of things from our lives or from people we know and incorporate that into our books. That’s perfectly fine.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. What’s really important is what you do with that spark. Do you breathe life into it or do you let it burn out?

Any questions?

 

 

Ten Ways To Screw Up The Book You’re Writing

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  1. Wait for the muse. Yup, just sit there and wait. Your muse will show up dressed in pink satin and waving a wand. The muse will tap you on the nose three times then spin in circles spraying glitter everywhere and your novel will come spilling out of your fingers onto your keyboard at a rapid rate. You’ll write the best book ever, sell millions of copies, and be adored by fans world wide. Not.
  2. Do not set a daily writing goal. If you write one word or ten thousand, does it really matter?
  3. Only write a first draft. Your mother loves your writing. Who needs to edit?
  4. Never read a book on the craft, never attend a workshop on the aspects of creative writing. You read a fiction book in the seventh grade about a girl detective. What else do you need to learn to write that book?
  5. Believing all stories are worth telling.
  6. Only give your book to your parent, spouse, best friend for feedback. They know you take anti-depressant medication. They’ll be honest.
  7. Forget everything about grammar and punctuation. That stuff just clutters the page anyway.
  8. Rely on spell check to fix misspelled words. Does anyone really know the difference between there, their, and they’re?
  9. Put your hero in a jam and have a gun magically appear to shoot the bad guys with.
  10. Spend the first fifty pages telling the reader about the hero’s life before the book begins because the reader isn’t smart enough to understand your book without your long winded explanation.