To get me back in the habit of noticing the beauty that surrounds me, I’m trying Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge. I won’t really post every day, but when something pretty is blooming, I’ll share. This is the first water lily I bought for our pond, ‘Perry’s Almost Black.’ It’s a hardy one–it’s survived three Flagstaff winters and come back bigger every spring. I took this picture with my iPhone around mid-morning, so the sun washed out some of the color. It’s actually quite a bit darker than it looks, though certainly not “almost black” (people who name cultivars lie almost as much as politicians).
I’ve spent a little while noodling on this week’s prompt. Tossing manure in garden beds? Toss-ups? Tossers (a great British insult)? I landed on the idea of tossing things out, on clearing clutter from my life, getting rid of what I don’t value (much) to make room for what I do value. I’ve been doing that literally and figuratively for at least the last year or so.
I’m big on renewal. I had a lit professor back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was an undergrad, who talked about American optimism and how the idea of starting over is ingrained in our culture. That resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now. I’ve always loved the beginning of fall, when the new school year starts, because it feels like a fresh start. I enjoy moving (well, OK, not the actual process of hiring movers and having them steal our DVDs, nor the process of selling our house to some jerk who wants to lowball us and have us do $15,000 worth of repairs). I enjoy the process of starting over in a new place with new people and new possibilities. Having a clean slate forces me to think about what I really want in my life rather than to keep doing the same old stuff.
But I’ve learned that renewal is possible without something as drastic as moving. I can lighten my load, again, literally and figuratively. I can toss out stuff I don’t use anymore to make room for things I will use, or, better, to create space uninhabited by crap. Open space, empty space, is relaxing and peaceful and inspiring. Clutter is exhausting.
I can rethink my commitments and drop a few to make room for my current priorities (like writing). I can drop an old habit that doesn’t serve me well and replace it with one that does. Example: I read a book called The Miracle Morning a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been revamping my morning routine based on its recommendations. I’m actually more excited to get out of bed in the morning now, and I’m getting up earlier, too. Today–a Saturday and a holiday–I rolled out of bed at 5:40, and I started writing this piece at about 6:30. Anyone reading that last sentence who knew me even a year or two ago probably thinks my soul has been snatched by aliens, and I’m now a pod person.
So if you’re feeling like your space or your life is too full or full of the wrong things, you can change that. You can toss out what doesn’t serve you well and either replace it with things that will help you meet your current goals or enjoy the newfound space in your world. Remember:
Today is a new day.
Today is a fresh start.
What would you like to toss out? How would you like to remake your world?
Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. Details and signup here. This month’s optional question is: There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?
I’m going to be a rebel this month and not respond to the optional prompt, because a) I’m still a novice and don’t feel qualified to talk about what’s going on in the publishing industry, and b) I want to share something I discovered last week that helped me, both in my writing life and my library life.
I’ve been trying to build personal development into my days, because it motivates me and helps me stay positive, even when life is… challenging. Until today, my university had a campus-wide subscription to LinkedIn Learning (we’re now moving to Udemy to save money, so I have a new resource to check out), and I’ve been taking advantage of that to grow my skills. Last Monday, I logged into LinkedIn Learning and saw a short session called Complete Confidence in Minutes. It was about 30 minutes long, and I wanted to walk for 30 minutes, and who doesn’t need more confidence, so I hit Play. The presenter was Selena Rezvani, a consultant and speaker on women’s leadership. I won’t try to summarize her entire presentation, but I will share her four power statements, short affirmations that may inspire you to feel more confident as you take on new challenges:
Today is a totally fresh start.
Be afraid and do it anyway.
I move on from setbacks completely.
Change is inevitable and good.
Every one of these resonates with me as both a writer and a leader:
Today is a fresh start. I am not bound by who I was 30 years ago or last year or yesterday. I’ve been slacking off on my writing? Today is a new day! Today I can make progress. I am not a slacker. I’m a productive writer–starting today. This idea is so liberating!
Be afraid–and do it anyway. Being afraid doesn’t mean you’re a coward. Fear is a normal response to risk and to the unfamiliar. Courageous people aren’t free of fear (in my experience, only drunks and clueless people are free of fear, because they aren’t able to recognize risk). Courageous people are afraid, sometimes knees-knocking-like-a-skeleton-in-a-windstorm afraid, but they push forward anyway. This kind of courage is essential for writers. Every time we let someone read our stuff, every time we create a blog post, every time we submit a story or a query, we’re taking a risk. We’re putting ourselves and the precious fruits of our creativity out into the mean, cruel world. We might get rejected. We might get criticized. We might get ridiculed. But unless we want to keep our writing locked away in a drawer for our hapless heirs to ceremonially burn in their fire pits after we’re gone, we have to face the fear and do it anyway.
I move on from setbacks completely. This simple statement was exactly what I needed to hear last week. I’d had a setback that, for reasons I didn’t and still don’t understand, bugged me way more than it should. Moving on from setbacks is another skill that’s essential for us writers. We’re going to get rejected. Our story that we lovingly crafted and are so, so proud of–will get rejected. With a form letter. And that will happen over and over and over. If we can’t move on from setbacks, we’ll never be able to share our words with the world.
Change is inevitable and good. Raise your hand if you love change. Anyone? Bueller? Yeah, didn’t think so. Change is good for vending machines. Most of the rest of us hate it or at least find it stressful. I’m a novelty-seeker, and I still get discombobulated by change. I knew how to do whatever-it-is the old way. I was competent. Now I’m not. Ugh. I suppose this statement relates to the optional IWSG prompt for this month, since the publishing industry has changed so much in the last decade and likely will keep changing. What works today will fail tomorrow, and we’ll have to learn new ways to share our words with the world. We can complain about it and dig our heels in and pitch a good old-fashioned fit, or we can learn to roll with it and–this is key–find opportunity in it. I’m trying to change the way I look at change, to stop moaning and consider how the change might be good–for me and for others. I’ll admit, that’s been a challenge in the age of COVID, because most of the changes associated with the pandemic are less than wonderful. But at the same time, I’ve managed to find opportunities for self-renewal (like Selena Rezvani’s presentation that inspired this post) and self-reflection that I almost certainly wouldn’t have made time for in my pre-COVID world.
Cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been reading these four statements as affirmations each morning, and they’ve improved my attitude and, yes, my confidence. I hope they do the same for you.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have any tips for building/increasing confidence? Any affirmations or quotes that help you step out of your comfort zone? Share ’em in the comments!
I’ve been lucky to not be on the receiving end of too many skeezy pickup lines, but one sticks out in my mind. Back in the early 1990s, my husband and I were living in northern Georgia, where we’d moved for my first job after I graduated from library school. He’d always dreamed of being a professional wrestler (hey, who am I to judge someone else’s dream?), and he found a local wrestling outfit that would train him and give him a shot. And so his wrestling career was born.
An aside: his first character was called the Seattle Storm. He wore a mask and spandex shorts with a storm cloud on the butt. His theme song was, “Smells Like Team Spirit” (we’d moved there from Seattle), and his shtick was to antagonize the local good ol’ boys like the invading Yankee he was. They hated him. It was hilarious.
Later, he became a good guy (a babyface for you wrestling aficionados) called Adrian Champagne, complete with sequins, rainbow feathers, and a mullet worthy of Billy Ray Cyrus (Miley’s dad for you young ‘uns).
Anyway, back to the pickup line theme. Every now and then, they’d have someone from a larger wrestling outfit wrestle there. Naturally they’d promote the event as though Hulk Hogan himself was descending upon Rossville, Georgia, for the evening. And some of the fans would act like the guy was a big star. Well, one night, I stepped outside between matches for some fresh air (summer… Georgia… small, stuffy building filled with screaming wrestling fans…), and the “big star” was out there too. We exchanged hellos, and start a conversation. And that’s when it happened, when I became the target of the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard:
Skeezy wrestler who shall not be named: Are you here with anyone?
Me: Yeah. Adrian Champagne is my husband [side note: that is not a sentence I ever imagined myself uttering]
Skeezy wrestler who shall not be named: If you ever get divorced, call me.
And there it is, folks, the story of the time a professional wrestler hit me with the ickiest pickup line I’ve ever received. “If you ever get divorced, call me.” Still makes my skin twitch.
p.s. to the skeezy wrestler who shall not be named: I’m still not divorced. Get lost.
As I read the news and think about the protests going on right now, I’m often reminded of the old saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That seems to be one of the fundamental problems with policing in the USA (systemic racism being another, bigger, problem). When use of force is the only tool in your toolbox, when it’s what you’re trained to do, it’s what you do. When you’re trained to fight crime, you see potential criminals. More broadly, you see what you look for. Combine that with systemic racism that causes many people–not just police–to see people of color as potential criminals, and you get an environment in which a white officer can murder a black man slowly in front of an audience. An environment in which scenes of indiscriminate police brutality play out across the country in video after sickening video.
I haven’t posted much, here or on social media, about these issues, because I need to shut up and listen. Many people, especially people of color, have a much deeper understanding of these issues than I do, so I’ll let the previous paragraph stand as my only commentary on the issue, at least for now. Instead, I’d like to encourage all of us to consider how our perspectives are limited. How the particular hammers we carry cause us to see only nails where we should see nuance.
We are humans, and humans are limited. We are shaped, both obviously and subtlely, by our identities, our upbringing, our culture, our religion, and our life experiences. And we are also limited by those things. They condition our views, our perspectives, our reactions. This is normal, but we don’t have to be ruled by, blinded by those limitations. We can read, educate ourselves, and most importantly, listen to those whose identities and culture and experiences are different from ours. Listen to their lived experiences. Learn from them. Approach situations with humility born of our limited perspectives rather than the false certainty born from our personal blinders. Use our new knowledge to develop tools other than hammers and to see more than nails.
Some people hear, “fan,” and think of a cooling device. Or people with their faces painted in team colors, yelling from a stadium seat while swigging whisky (note: that described most of the adults at my high school’s football games. We teenagers had more dignity). Or maybe you think of fandoms, which has a definitely nerdy connotation: Star Wars fandom, Harry Potter fandom, etc.
For me, though, “fan” immediately makes me think of music. Music fandom, especially for women, has a different–and distinctly sexist–connotation that sports or movie or nerdy fandom does not. If I schedule my vacations around my favorite football team’s home games, I’m a fan. If I schedule my vacations around Def Leppard’s tour schedule, I’m a groupie. And “groupie” has a very different connotation from, “fan.” When you paint your face and haul your giant foam finger to a 49ers game, no one thinks you’re planning to bang the quarterback. Even if that quarterback is Joe Montana, and you’re a horny 16-year-old (Not that I’d know anything about that. Nope. Not me.)
My sports fan days are mostly behind me, because I have too many hobbies already, and I’m old and cynical enough to be disillusioned by so many aspects of big-time sports. But that’s a rant post for another day. I remain, however, a diehard fan of 80s rock, and I do still take vacation to see Def Leppard when they play nearby (and when I can afford it. $150 a ticket? Seriously, guys? Don’t you have enough money already?) For a couple of hours, I get to feel like a 16-year-old again, dancing and singing along and, yes, looking at the band members. I’m middle-aged, not dead.
Concerts are a shared, multi-sensory, visceral experience, a combination of the band, the music, the lights, and–especially–the audience. It’s a chance to be part of a mob that isn’t angry, that’s feeding off each other in a loud, wild, primitive celebration of musical joy. It’s a wild party with 10,000 of your closest friends.
Concerts are also a fun photographic challenge. I’m not even good enough to call myself an amateur photographer, but I’ve gotten a few good shots at shows. If you scroll through my albums on Flickr, you’ll find some decent concert shots. Here are a few of my favorites:
Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. Details and signup here. This month’s optional question is: Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?
I struggled to come up with an IWSG post this month. Usually I have one done by no later than Monday, and I’m usually pretty happy with it, but not this month. As much as I try to shut out the outside world and focus on my writing and my day job and my family, it’s been hard these last few days. So much pain and brutality.
It’s a bit ironic, I suppose, because I tend to write about pain and brutality. My first novel (still stuck in the hell of interminable revision) features a character who was brutalized by an abusive husband–and that dude is intent on brutalizing her again, right into a cemetery plot. My second novel (for which I have a messy first draft from last year’s NaNo) features a villain who rapes and murders kids. The main character of the short story I’m working on accidentally shoots a kid. And the short story I wrote last year that won an award features the meditations of a fed-up wife who… well, one day I’ll post the story online, and you can find out for yourself.
So what’s my secret? Am I a closet psychopath? Have I done time for murder one? Spent my youth working as an assassin for a foreign government? Nope, nope, and nope. My secret is this: I’m an almost stereotypical mild-mannered librarian. I read. I garden. I knit. And my heart breaks at accounts of real violence. There are news stories I don’t read, even though they would make good fodder for future stories. Videos I don’t watch. Movies I don’t watch. I used to love 80s slasher flicks–Jason and Freddie and Michael Myers mowing down teenagers with various sharp objects. Now that I’m not a teenager–and now that I’m a mom–I find myself actually sympathizing with… the teenagers. Sixteen-year-old me would be mortified.
And so, though I write about murder and mayhem with glorious abandon, I cannot abide the real thing. And that’s why I struggled to come up with a post and why I’ve struggled to write or concentrate these last few days. My heart breaks for the family of George Floyd, whose loved one was murdered–slowly–in front of an audience on a public street. My heart breaks for every person of color who has grown up in a racist culture, oppressed by racist systems that limit opportunity, damage bodies and souls, and sometimes kill. I am sickened by the actions of some of our police officers and the statements of some people I considered friends. And yet I am safe from the murder and mayhem. Safe to write about violence and brutality in my nice white lady world. Safe in my rural neighborhood. Safe in my white skin.
And that, my friends, is my secret. And more and more, I find it a shameful one.
I contemplated a few ch words: child and chair immediately came to mind. Then, from nowhere came chirurgie, the French word for surgery. Do I speak French? Non. Not a word. Well, except for merde, because I’m full of it, and one ought to be able to describe oneself in at least two languages, am I right?
So why chirurgie, which I cannot spell without looking it up and am copying and pasting each time I use it in this post? Because it reminded me of the summer of 1991. I was home in Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the infinitely cooler Vancouver, BC) between years of library school and landed a job at Oregon Health & Science University doing two things: working the reference desk and cataloging books in the history of medicine collection. There were quite a few French books in that collection, many of which included some variation of chirurgie in the title. And for some reason, that word and its variants stuck in my mind, even though to this day I cannot pronounce it (but I can pronounce merde just fine – thanks to the wonderful Outlander audiobooks).
There was something magical about that summer, sitting in the musty History of Medicine Room, smelling decaying leather (and possibly decaying other things – I heard rumors that we had at least one book bound in human skin, though I was never able to verify that fact) and poring over title pages of books at least a century old–like this one:
I remember lots of herbals–herbal medicine was big, especially in the days when medicine didn’t have much else to offer–and cringe-worthy gynecology texts from the 19th century. Let me tell you, people with female organs, if you ever want to feel grateful that you live in *this* time, take a look at a 19th century gynecology textbook. Or, worse, 19th century gynecological instruments. We had some of those too.
And I think I’ll leave this post with that happy thought. I love to reminisce about the past, but I also try to be thankful for the current moment, whatever and wherever it is. Have a wonderful weekend, dear readers, and keep safe.
This week’s post for the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop celebrates a not-so-small thing: my son is almost done with his 2-year associate’s degree! There’s no graduation ceremony this year (thanks, Microbe That Must Not Be Named), but he got a lovely box in the mail yesterday from his campus, with his class of 2020 tassel and membership card for the alumni association. My baby is an alumnus!
In the fall he’ll move on to a 4-year university, but for now, we’re celebrating this milestone with him.
And congrats to all the graduates out there! I’m sorry you don’t get to have big parties and ceremonies this year. I hope your schools find a way to celebrate you once it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, celebrate yourself! Be proud of the grit and determination it took to finish.
Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. Details and signup here. This month’s optional question is: Do you have any rituals that you use when you need help getting into the zone?
I hope my fellow IWSG-ers have some great responses to this question. I need all the ideas I can get, because right now my ritual for getting in the zone is pretty simple: sit my butt down in front of my computer and get to work. I wrote about that process in a post last December.
Part of why I don’t employ much in the way of writing rituals is that I have so little time to write. There are tons of rituals that I think (and sometimes know) would help me:
Freewriting, like the morning pages Julia Cameron writes about in The Artist’s Way
Exercise. Aerobic exercise in particular tends to fuel my creativity.
Meditation, wonderful for clearing the mind and tapping into the subconscious.
In fact, my ideal writing ritual would go something like this:
Get up around sunrise. Eat and caffeinate while writing morning pages.
Go for a “run.” “Run” is in quotation marks, because I would be running for less than half the time. But some running is better than no running, right?
Meditate for 5 or 10 minutes.
My actual writing ritual looks more like this:
Sleep later than I planned, because I stayed up too late. Again.
Grab some cereal and a Diet Coke. Check my watch. Crap. Less than an hour till I have to start work (and before corona, it was, Crap. I have to leave for work in 15 minutes.)
Sit down, shovel Frosted Mini-Wheats into my food hole, swig my magic elixir of caffeine and aspartame, and agonize about what to work on: the paid writing gig (boring but $$), the novel I’m editing, the novel I’m writing, the short story I’m editing, the short story I’m writing, or the blog post I’ve been putting off for a week and oh crap tomorrow is IWSG Day and what the hell am I going to say to a worldwide audience of fellow writers when I can’t even figure out a decent writing routine…
Pick whichever one I think will most likely entice my muse (the drunken floozy) to put down the tequila bottle and grace me with her inebriated and slightly stinky presence.
Write. Get into the zone. And realize it’s time to start my day job.
Yes, I could get my sh*t together, get up an hour earlier, and go through the ideal routine (and the once or twice in 6 years that I did it, it felt great). Or I can accept that I am the way I am and that any method that lets me get the work done is the right method for me.
How about y’all? Have you found a routine that works for you? Or is your “process” as messy as mine?