May – Mental Health Awareness Month

TPH Charity Promo Small
This month, I’m donating all proceeds from my novella, The Poet Heroic, to the Patient Assistance Fund for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, which is a  local facility that helps people with counseling, detox, etc.  Absolutely 100% of this fund goes towards helping people pay for treatments they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Why I’m doing this: 
Last Fall, one of my close friends committed suicide.   I was writing The Poet Heroic at the time, and I constantly thought of my friend as I wrote because he was a twin and my main character is a twin.  This book affected me emotionally in ways I wasn’t expecting as a result.  It was only fitting that I dedicated the book:

“In loving memory of Jeff, and for anyone else struggling to find the light.” 

No one knew my friend was struggling.  As far as we know, he never asked for help.  His loss hit us all very hard – for many reasons – but one of the hardest things is that he never asked for help and so we were never able to help him.  Many of us were left with this feeling that we just wanted to DO SOMETHING.  We wanted others who might be struggling to know it’s okay to ask for help.  We wanted others to be able to get help.

So, this is something I can DO.  In the few weeks I’ve been working on this month-long event, I’ve heard touching stories from many people who have suffered with depression.  I’ve heard touching stories from people who have a loved one struggling with mental health issues.  I’ve had many people join me because they too want to DO SOMETHING to help.  I’ve been very touched by all of the support and donations, and we’ve got a few weeks to go!!

If you’d like to be part of this event, join us at http://bit.ly/MentalHealthAwarenessEvent

If you’d like to enter a raffle for 50+ ebooks! and help spread the word, enter at https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/5acd3f201/

If you’d like to add to my donation to the Patient Assistance Fund, (THANK YOU!), see http://bit.ly/ThePoetHeroicBonusGiving

If you’d like to buy a copy of The Poet Heroic and donate that way, go to http://bit.ly/ThePoetHeroicPurchaseDonation

Please, use this month to raise your own awareness, maybe ask for help yourself, and be especially supportive of those struggling with mental health issues.

Writing about Talking about Writing

12977219_812672861431_378475512593826059_oLast week I went to my alma mater twice to talk about writing and Sci-Fi/Fantasy.  I also did an audio interview for a friend’s website.  So, since I did all this talking about writing, I had a lot of notes and points I naturally forgot.  Here’s the gist of everything I’ve been thinking about writing lately.

A sum-up of my writer’s journey:

I self-published my first book, The Kota, my senior year of college.  I had no idea what I was doing, really, I just had this story in my head that I’d been working on since I was 9 and I wanted it in book form.  That was 2004, before eBooks had really taken off and certainly before Kindle Direct Publishing was even a thing.  I didn’t care about being traditionally published, and I knew I’d want to get a lot better before the public read my stuff, so really I just wanted a tangible BOOK of this story in my head.   So, when I opened my first box with my book inside, it was a great feeling – it’s so far the closest thing I’ve experienced to having a kid.  I hear that comparison from tons of authors, and it’s completely true.

After graduation, I was busy with “real life.”  I’d basically set myself up to get a degree for my hobby, so I had to make some pragmatic decisions about what to do with myself.  BUT, I had 4 books planned at the time, so over the next couple of years I followed the same pattern – wrote in my spare time, self-published with the only company familiar to me at the time, and in the end I had 4 books that I could hold and sell/share with people, and I had the fulfillment of knowing I’d written a series.

Again, real life took over.  But if you like writing, you find an outlet.  So I blogged, I started a book reviewing service, I tried for the zillionth time to like poetry and published a few but still hated it (sorry, Professor Stevens).  Basically I was just writing to continue growing and get better and keep myself entertained, plus the bonus of entertaining anyone else.

Then came the social media boom of Goodreads and Facebook and Twitter.   (To any students reading this, this is the world you live in AND WRITE in now, so I’m kind of jealous you get to start your writing journey with all these resources for writers, authors, poets, etc.)   One day on Goodreads, I “met” an author guy who was just starting out, and he was like, “Why haven’t you made your books eBooks?”  That re-started everything for me, and I started doing more research on what it meant to be an author nowadays… I sound old.

So, basically I’ve spent the past decade or so learning how to be an author.  I re-published my first 4 books so that they’re now suitable for public consumption, I made eBook versions, an eBook box set of The Kota Series, I have 2 short stories with several more in the works, and I have 1 audiobook with 1 on the way.   I have a website, blog, Facebook Page – in total I have a decent 4,000+ followers.   I’ve won some awards and special honors, and I sell at least enough books every month to cover my HBO bill – which is a weird goal to set and a low bar certainly, but it keeps me optimistic and elated when I sell 100+ books a month.

How do I stay focused on writing?

I write as a second job, which is how I’ve learned to treat it.  It’s not just a hobby anymore.  If I think of it as a hobby, I just go, “Meh, when I get to it.”  But if I want to have any success as an author, I have to treat it more like a business.  And if it’s a business, writing is the product.  If you don’t WRITE, there’s obviously no point.

I’m not a person who can schedule x-amount of time at x-time every day to write.  I can’t force it.  I write when the mood and muses strike.  And I’ve learned to listen to that pull – if I’m in the zone, I let myself write and write until it’s all out.  Sometimes this means 8 hours of nonstop writing.  For me, that’s just how it works.  It might not be healthy and sometimes I forget to eat, but I think when you’re doing what you love time flies, and I never experience that more than when I’m writing.

If you write, it might be completely different.  You’ll always have people tell you how you “should” write, but that’s kind of crap.  Everybody works differently.  Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction or whatever, writing is a creative process.  Take advice and instruction and apply what rules work for you, but you have to find what works for YOU.

(That was a tricky thing to say in front of professors who taught me how to write, btw.  Again speaking to students here – I’m not about to definitively counter anything they’ve told you.  But I’d bet even they don’t want you to write like everyone else has always written.  For fiction writers in particular, the whole fun is finding some new way to say something new.  And YOUR voice and YOUR originality can only come from you.)

What DID I learn at college?

I honestly don’t know if you CAN teach creativity, but you can be taught where to look to get ideas.  You can be taught ways to use those ideas.  While at college, I definitely benefited from professors’ guidance as I experimented with my writing.  I always knew how to put a sentence together and I come from a family of Grammar Nazis, but professors made me get better and sharper and sometimes forced me out of my writing comfort zone so that I grew and wasn’t just regurgitating my old writing style.

Interesting thing:  I still have a folder of old notes from Colonial Lit and Intro to Philosophy and World Lit, etc.  They’re covered in side notes about The Kota, the book I published my senior year.  Those classes should NOT have given me ideas for Science Fiction novels, but they did!  It’s amazing where ideas come from.

So, even more than learning how to write, college benefited me because of all the reading.  Writers who only read in their genres are doing themselves a disservice, I think.   I still look back on my time at college as invaluable for the exposure that I got to different writers and perspectives.  I know the variety of books I read made me a better writer.

Everyone always quotes Stephen King:  “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”   That’s absolutely true.

Obviously reading good writing can sharpen your brain.  Alternatively, any BAD writing can do the same thing, I think.  I know some people think reading bad writing will rub off on you, but when I read crap books I take note of the things that are bad and make sure I DON’T DO THEM.  Or – this might be bad to share – when I’m in editing mode with my own writing, I read books I know are crap because it keeps me critical, and that carries over to my own work.

But in general, reading stirs your “writer brain” more than anything else I can think of.

Oh, and writers who don’t read IN their genre are seriously missing out.  I recently did an interview with an author who said that he knew a science fiction writer who boasts that he never reads books or watches cinema in the genre.   He claims that this allows him to “be original.”  That’s horrifying and disrespectful, in my opinion.  First of all, if you don’t read or watch science fiction, why would you even like science fiction?  Same goes for Romance or Thrillers – if you’re going to be a part of a genre, know the history of the genre and writers who paved your way.   The author I interviewed brought up the point that “Literature is a conversation, a dialogue between the reader and writer.  If you haven’t been listening to the conversation, how can you contribute anything?”

I think that applies to all writing – you need to read what’s out there to be a part of it.

And as far as being a part of the literary community, if you want to write, you need to find people (whether in real life or online) who GET IT.  Your mom might love your writing, but she probably doesn’t get it if you want to talk about publishing opportunities.  You need to find a community of like-passioned people to help you grow and offer objective feedback on your work.  Via Facebook I’m part of an international group of authors, the #Awethors, and engaging with that community is the single best thing I’ve done as an author.

For those of you in college now, you’re never going to be more surrounded by physical, real life people who share your interest in writing.  You might never again have direct access to people literally TEACHING you how to write.  Take advantage of that and write now if you have any interest at all.

About the current state of publishing: 

(This was the most interesting thing to talk about, considering I’m not sure students had heard it before.  And it was surprising and exciting that they had so many questions specifically about this topic.)

Here’s a thing to remember:   At the end of the day, publishing is a business, and traditional publishers – even ones who genuinely love literature for the pure sake of loving literature – sometimes have to prioritize potential sales over even quality.  I mean, Snooki has a book published by a Big 5 Publisher…let’s all think about that for a second.   Does that mean her book is better than yours?  God, I hope not.  YOUR book could be absolutely amazing but still get rejected by publishers simply because they don’t have a place for it in their marketing system.  They might not think it will sell to their audience.  Does that mean your book is crap?  No.  Just keep trying.

Or, publish it yourself!   How you publish these days is a choice.  There’s still this lingering, outdated, elitist perception that people self-publish because their books aren’t good enough to be traditionally published.  That is simply not the case anymore.  My favorite book that I read last year was self-published (Jason Greenside’s The Distant Sound of Violence).   Some big name authors have even gone the self-publishing route because – believe it or not – there are benefits to self-publishing over traditional publishing.  Royalties and percentages and all of that are highly speculative depending on what study you look at, but it’s no longer necessarily true that being traditionally published will sell more books or make you more money.

Side note:  Really, any good English Major knows that if you’re getting into writing for the money, you’ve made a huge mistake.  It’s a shit-ton of work and luck if you want to make it big.  But, as I talked about in my interview, we don’t do this creative thing for the money – we do it because creating is what fulfills us.  I think the approach of writing on the side or as a second job is a very healthy way to go.  If you HAVE to make money off your writing, that puts a lot of pressure on this thing that is supposed to be enjoyable.  When you HAVE to do it for $$ to survive, it might not be fun anymore.  (This is why I’m marrying for money.  Just kidding! …Mostly kidding.  My fiancé jokes that we’re retiring on my royalties.)

Of course, some students raised valid criticisms against all the self-publishing out there, no doubt echoing at least one professor I can think of.

Don’t all these free and $0.99 books out there cheapen Literature?

I see this a couple different ways.  As for the financial “worth” of art, I think expecting art for cheap/free is just how consumers are in the digital age – ask any musician.  Yes, I wish our work was valued/rewarded financially at a level that makes it worth our time and effort.  But, by making so many books cheap (in order to compete, but that’s a whole other thing), more people can afford to read, and that’s never a bad thing.  More people can get our books whereas at higher prices those same people might not be able to afford it or might not “risk” it on us unknown artists.

As for suggesting that lower prices = cheap “bad” books, I again refer to Snooki’s book.  Or a certain popular vampire series.  Or dozens of other traditionally published works that I would argue cheapen literature and dumb it down.  (However, this argument is an example of the elitism of “Literature” that I try to remind myself not to have.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying ANY book – art is subjective and I understand why some people enjoy the escapism of aforementioned popular vampire series.) All I’m saying is that the price tag does not necessarily reflect the quality of the writing.

Some say that having so many (“too many”) books out there cheapens Literature.  They long for the days when the gatekeepers of traditional publishing held most of these books back.  Honestly I don’t get this argument because I will never say that having MORE books out there is a bad thing.  Having more stories to consume is never a bad thing.  Even if it’s not a story you or I might enjoy, someone else probably will.  And whereas a traditional publisher might think a story is too weird to sell and therefore tweak it to conform, self-publishing that same book means a whole new kind of story/writing might be introduced.  That, for me, is exciting.  It doesn’t cheapen “Literature” at all but just might evolve storytelling and take us in new directions.

Isn’t it true that a lot of self-published books ARE crap? 

It’s true that some authors don’t know enough about what they’re doing and SHOULDN’T self-publish, yes.  And believe me that the rest of us wish they wouldn’t because they make us look bad and validate this criticism.  But, there’s also that saying about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  To say that “all” or even “most” self-published books are crap is just plain wrong – and you might miss out on some amazing examples of writing.

This gets back to what I was saying about how you publish being a choice.  With all the resources available to Indie authors now, there’s no reason anyone who takes writing seriously should make a bad book.  If you care enough to write a book, you should care enough to do it right.  And that CAN be done without a traditional publisher.  You can get beta readers who’ll help you work out your book’s kinks, you can get edited by a professional, you can hire a professional cover artist, you can even properly format a book yourself very easily if you can follow instructions.  Nowadays there’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, DraftToDigital, and crossbreed companies like Booktrope – there are a ton of resources available!  I think that most writers are seeing the value of doing a book right, and that means fewer and fewer crap books being out there.

Isn’t it crazy hard to be an Indie author, so isn’t it better to be traditional?

I know other authors who’ve taken both routes – some love one way, some will never do the other.  I know editors and publishers who’ve told me about the pros and cons from their perspective inside traditional publishing.  Like I said earlier, there aren’t many differences anymore as far as what can be guaranteed – one way might have success for some, the other is more beneficial for others.

Traditional publishers often have to go by what they think will sell, and they know their markets.  If you fit, great!  But even then, sometimes you have to do a lot of marketing leg-work yourself if you want to really branch out to an audience.  As an Indie, all that work is a given.  BUT, as an Indie, you also reap all the royalties/rewards of your efforts, and you get to keep complete control over your work.  (There’s a lot more involved here, but those are basic widely-acknowledge factors when considering this choice.)

I myself am sticking with the Indie route because, after over a decade of being at it, I know generally what I’m doing and what I would want.  It helps that my genre of Sci-Fi/Fantasy is a bestselling genre and there’s an established audience for my books.  I love having full control of my own work and being free to do whatever I want with it.  I’ve been approached by a few traditional publishers, but none of them could offer me anything I couldn’t do for myself, so that doesn’t make sense FOR ME.   (Granted, if I’m ever offered an Andy Weir kind of deal, I’ll jump on it.  And that IS an option – you can always start Indie, prove your marketability, and then accept a deal with a traditional publisher.  I know more than a few authors this has worked very, very well for.)

At the end of the day, you need to figure out what’s best for YOU.  Either way you go, the #1 IMPORTANT THING is to write the best book you can.  Then, good luck if you want to get an agent and/or go the traditional route.  If you want to go Indie, PLEASE do the work of making your book the best product it can be.  Then, good luck with marketing.   Either way, there’s a lot of work involved.  But if you love writing and want to be an author, just do it.  You gotta start somewhere.

The Problem With Being Comfortable

There’s a downside to being encouraged too much as a child.  Growing up, I was always the Golden Child, although I think I was only eager to please because I found it so easy to please.  I could get by with little effort and even excel in some areas without trying.  I was always told I could do anything I wanted, be anything I wanted.  And I knew I was smart enough and talented enough and driven enough that that was true.

But here’s one of the internal hiccups of being me:  I get option paralysis.  When any and all roads are open to me, I can’t pick.  I was always told and believed that I could do/be anything I wanted…but what did I want?

What I’ve always ended up doing is just settling into whatever is good enough.  I slip into the comfort zone of what I’m good at so that I’m satisfied to a passable degree and don’t feel like some kind of floundering failure.  I make myself comfortable with my surroundings, my regular activities, the people I regularly see, etc.  And I just kind of… accept that comfort zone because it’s good enough without having to try, even if I have no idea if it’s what I really want.

Fortunately, somewhere along the trail of growing up, I whack-a-moled the Golden Child reflex to please everyone.  I know perfectly well by this point that I meet expectations without trying, so woo-hoo for me.  Except, not woo-hoo for ME.  Internally, I know that settling for what’s good enough is still settling.  Is my comfort zone really what I want?  This question has always, always plagued me – What do I want?  I don’t think I’ve been able to answer that question for myself at any point in my history.

So what do I do?  I stick with my comfort zone.  I DO like my life, don’t get me wrong – if I was miserable, I’d change things.  I have a pleasant life.  Close family.  Good friends.  Beaches within a reasonable driving distance.  More local breweries than I can possibly visit in a week (I’m sure some could, but I’ve apparently become a lightweight).  I’m generally content.  Comfortable.  But is this all I want?  Or have I gotten so comfortable that I’m a bit in denial about being…satisfied?

It doesn’t help that I work at home, alone, with buckets of time to think.  As generally content as I am with my life, still questions of “What if” creep in to fill the hours.  What if I’d made an ambitious pursuit of a vocation at…something I’d wanted?  What if I’d said “yes” any number of times, maybe making mistakes but maybe not?  What if, at any point, I’d wanted something so passionately that I’d been driven to aim for it?

I’ve always been a quietly restless person, probably exactly because I’ve never known what I want.  I’m just not comfortable with being comfortable.  I need to be shaken up semi-regularly.  I need stimulation from the norm.  I hate feeling stagnant.  I hate ruts.  I go through periods (now, obviously) where I get restless and twitchy and question every life decision I’ve ever made.  But still – what do I want?  I have no idea.

I’ve always rolled my eyes at people who adopt the personal mantra of “All who wander are not lost.”  I’ve known people who can’t settle anywhere and “want to see the world” because they think that’s going to solve their problems that they’re carrying around with them everywhere they land.  I’m self-aware enough to know drastically moving or traveling is not going to be a cure-all.  At the same time, some of my best decisions were drastic, made on a whim, and excellent examples of my inability to control my impulse-control issues.  (I’m looking at you, move to Detroit.)  There is something beautifully freeing about hitting some kind of reset and throwing yourself into new surroundings.  There’s something wonderfully freeing about being surrounded by nothing you know.

I’m pretty sure this possible solution entered my brain because a friend recently pointed out to me that I would “never move.”  This bothered me because:

A) It’s frustrating when someone knows you disturbingly well in so many ways that you have to wonder if they’re right about you all the time.

B) A John Locke (LOST) voice in my head always yells, “Don’t tell me what I [won’t] do!”

Also, it got me thinking.  In the back of my mind, I know that moving is always something I’m quite open to if presented with a good enough reason.  In fact, I think that’s why I rent.  So IS that what I want, right now?  A drastic move (literally), a shake up from this comfortable, pleasant little life I’ve settled into?  Or would that just be a quick fix?

I’ve never been comfortable being comfortable.  Maybe that’s all I want – to not be so damn comfortable – although that’s a terrible wish for a pessimist to throw out into the universe.  But I am restless constantly, and I can’t blame it on winter anymore.  I need…something.  I think – I think – I should find baby steps to shake things up where I’m at rather than some drastic move (say, Iceland, for example…Iowa is easier to resist), but I don’t know.  I guess I’m just trying to stay open to possibilities (good ones, please, universe) that I can jump on if they’re what I want.

#YesAllWomen

I haven’t really properly blogged in a long time, but I’ve been asked my thoughts on the whole #YesAllWomen movement, so I figured I’d write my response here.

 First, a few reactionary thoughts…

 I’ve read a lot of grumblings against #YesAllWomen, saying that it seems to be blaming all men.  Many of us have loving brothers, fathers, uncles, male friends, etc. who are NOT assholes.  Well, good.  Of course not EVERY man is the problem.  I don’t think the point of #YesAllWomen is to imply that all men are the devil.  The point, it seems to me, is to bring to light what IS the problem.  And there IS a problem, even if the men in your life are all saints.  If you don’t identify with this, that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t.  There are things men do that are offensive which they might not ever realize are offensive.  There are things we women do that men don’t understand the reasons behind.  The point of acknowledging all of these things is to strengthen both sexes’ understanding and work towards solutions…at least I hope that’s the goal.

 I’ve also read the arguments that #YesAllWomen is a media trend feeding off the tragedy from Santa Barbara.  Some say that it’s belittling actual victims of real abuse – like women stoned in Pakistan or enslaved Nigerian girls.  Okay, some guy smacking my ass as I walk by is not on par with either of those situations. But it’s a part (granted a very small part) of the overall problem.  Different women in different places experience different symptoms of the same sickness.  I would assume most of us realize that we have it better than many, many others.  But, again in order to work towards understanding, talking about our individual experiences can contribute to finding solutions.  And when you tell any woman that her problems and fears and painful experiences don’t really matter, HOW THE HELL IS THAT HELPING?

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 Anyway, here’s a brief overview of my experiences and opinions about this whole issue:

I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a feminist.  I grew up as a tomboy, as a daddy’s girl, as “one of the guys.”  In a weird way I guess I always was a feminist, even if I didn’t realize it – everything I did and everything I believed about myself stemmed off of an assumption that I was just as good as my male companions, just as full of worth, just as important and equally deserving of respect as a human being.

This underlying belief of equal worth (what I think feminism should be about) was passed onto me by my parents.  I was a daddy’s girl, so in a large way I owe my “feminism” to my father.  I don’t remember him ever telling me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.  He taught me to think for myself.  He taught me to stand up for myself.  My mom also played a big part in my self-confidence, and I learned from her example that you can be kind, loving, generous (“feminine,” in short) but also have biting wit and an internal drive that spurs you to succeed in whatever you’re tackling.  I blame my hyperactive self-esteem on too much good parenting, honestly – I was encouraged constantly by their belief in me, and there were never limitations because I was a girl.  (Growing up, the only way I was treated differently from my brother was that I wasn’t allowed to run around with my shirt off or pee behind trees.  Whatever.)

I will say that even my “perfect” childhood was tainted by a very minor episode of what so many more unfortunate girls have experienced.  I thank God that I’ve never been truly abused, raped, assaulted, etc.  But there was a time when a creepy older boy wanted me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, and I tricked him and ran to tell my mom.  My parents never spoke of it again, I’m sure hoping/assuming I’d forget about it, but I remember even then realizing how scared other little girls must be who didn’t have anyone to tell. This episode, however minor, at least taught me sympathy for girls who found themselves in situations where they had no control.

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Growing up on a hunt club, with scores of men around all the time, was an interesting education in how men treat “the fairer sex.”  I truly believe that a lot of men from older generations honestly don’t understand why women get offended.  To them, it seems natural that women do the cooking and cleaning.  It never enters their minds that it makes us uncomfortable when they put a hand on our back to guide us through a door.  I don’t know what can really be done to change older men’s understanding of “feminism” honestly.  My deceased grandfather (whom I did love dearly despite infuriating moments) would be horrified to know I’m still single at 32, and he just never understood that a girl could be happy and alone…for example.

  •  I remember the first time a man didn’t believe me about something and thought he should ask my little brother. (I immediately thought of that part in “The Boxcar Children” where the one sister isn’t allowed to use a knife and instead they give it to her little, 5-year-old brother, because he’s a boy.)
  • I remember the well-meaning assistance when men assumed I couldn’t lift something heavy, which always made me feel put in my place…and a little defiant.
  • I remember older men telling me I was pretty when it had absolutely nothing to do with our discussion, which I always thought ridiculous because my brother’s looks never had anything to do with anything.  (I still get annoyed when interviewers comment on my looks…as if that has anything to do with how I write sci-fi.)
  • Then I turned 18.  Some – and I must stress that this was not the majority of hunt club members – started treating me differently.  I remember a few times out on the Sporting Clays course when I was honestly very uncomfortable. Once I was wearing shorts and a tank top, and so they laughed at me when I said I wasn’t interested, telling me I must “like the attention” – never mind that it was 95 degrees outside and I was doing physical labor.  Sometimes I would be a little afraid to be out in the middle of the woods with these men.  If they ever wondered why I walked so quickly back to the clubhouse (where my dad was), that was why.

And here’s something:  I’m a tough girl.  I grew up on a farm so that I’m strong enough to usually feel I can defend myself if I have to.  Still, there are times when I’m afraid around men.  If I feel that way, I can only imagine how powerless some other women must feel.

Another thing:  I read in another #YesAllWomen post about how men submit and back off when another man is involved.  I never thought of this as a pattern, but it makes sense.  Back with those creepy hunters, they would back off and act like they didn’t even notice me the second my dad was around. (I think THAT is actually a big part of why I’ve always preferred the idea of eloping, honestly.  I hate the idea of my dad giving me away – I’m not HIS.  No one should have to ask his permission to have me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but it’s all a part of the same thing in my head.)

 ****

In Detroit, I worked for a while as a model scout.  This whole time period was a personal experiment to study people anyway, and the ways men treat women was certainly a key part of that.

In another #YesAllWomen-related blog, the female writer talked about how she and her boyfriend were watching a woman at a bar.  A creepy dude sidled up to the woman and talked to her, obviously making her uncomfortable, but the woman gave bare minimum responses and chuckles. The writer’s boyfriend said something like “I can’t believe she’s putting up with him. You’d never do that.”  The writer admitted to thinking, “I do it all the time.” There is so much truth in this.  As a woman who’s been hit on at bars by many, many creepy men, you learn that the safest and easiest response is to…put up with it. It’s awful and feels like you’re encouraging bad behavior, but the truth is that sometimes you just don’t know how a guy is going to react to a flat out “no.”  Putting up with it until he takes the hint, gets disinterested, or goes away is quite often the safest way to go.

Also during model scouting, I again saw the truth that unwanted “suitors” (the most polite term I can think of at the moment) would back off if another guy was around.  A good friend of mine knew my “get over here and help me” face.  Whenever I couldn’t get rid of a guy, I would give my friend that look and he’d come over and stand by me protectively.  Every single time, the creepy suitor would bow out immediately.  I HATE needing a guy for that.  But it always works – men will hear men say “no” every time.  It’s infuriating to not have that kind of power yourself, as a woman.

Here’s a problem:  We women do like SOME attention.  Being told you’re pretty is nice when it’s said respectfully. We do not, however, like to hear “You’re hot!” when shouted from a dark alley.  This doesn’t mean girls are fickle or teases or leading you into some kind of trap where we’re going to shut you down after you buy us 3 drinks.  I have been accused of being an Ice Queen, but I’m perfectly willing to give someone attention who treats me like more than a piece of meat – WHY IS THAT SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND?

 ****

Here’s the pretty basic bottom line:  Respect people.  Respect women, not because they’re women, but because they’re people.  Respect men, not because they’re men, but because they’re people.  If we want equality – acknowledging that there are differences, but equal – then just treat everyone with the same level of respect and decency.  And understand that women put up with a lot that we can’t control.  Sometimes men can be offensive without even realizing it.  Sometimes we’re outright afraid of men, and there IS male behavior that is sick, misogynistic, and needs to be addressed.  Some of my favorite feminists are men who are working to change the way men understand their behavior in relation to women.

I for one choose to see that as the purpose of #YesAllWomen – acknowledging that we all need to work to fix the gender issues that affect all of us.  Even me.

Rabbit Trail Drift Off

It’s that time of season when this:

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Stormtrooper (my car), where he hasn’t moved for days.

 leads to this:

Just watched...

As a result, here’s what happened in my mind last night as I was trying to fall asleep:

This book’s fun.
Gosh, my bed is warm.
[hears gust of wind outside]
No, I’m not letting you in!
What would I do as a vampire?
Who’d be my role model – Aidan or Lestat?
My ears have been ringing for over an hour.
Someone must REALLY be gossiping about me…
Is that an old wives’ tale or just something my mom made up?
I don’t know who’d be up at-
[checks clock on phone]
-3:14 am, anyway.
Did I have caffeine today?
[thinks through everything I ate/drank]
Nope.
Scary that I can do that.
What day is tomorrow – Wednesday?
These are normal questions when hibernating…hermitting…hibermitting.
Nailed it.
This is going great.
Count sheep.
No, boring.  Count Almosts… What am I at – 46?
Hmm… No, not thinking about THAT.
Galcon is Welsh.  Evant is French.  Hack is Colombian.  Matsuri is, what, American?  Poor guy is so uninteresting.
Well, he IS based on-
[edit omission to protect myself]
Did I email everyone back today?
No, I will NOT email/text at-
[checks phone]
3:20.  Great Sky, this is ridiculous.
Coke!  I put Coke in my rum!
Er, you know what I mean…  I know what I mean.
Am I talking to myself?!
This is how it starts.
Well, crazy Aunt Dora lived to be over 100, right? Decent trade off.
I wonder if she was an artist/writer/whatevs.
Gosh, darn, heck – did I just THINK ‘whatevs’?
Not okay, brain.
But I DO wonder if she had journals.
I would SO follow the blog of a crazy person.
Like that poet who writes the conversations she hears the voices having.
…I should write this down.

Is My Nerd Showing?

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A common lesson of mothers everywhere is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is bunk.  You ALWAYS judge a book by its cover and really should only NOT use this method in regards to people.  Failed metaphor, in my opinion.  Where was I going with this… Oh, yes – judging people.  I don’t know when it started for me, but at some point I developed a weird reaction to people’s covers.  I have a friend who admits she feels uncomfortable around rich people, and I think I’m this way with pretty people.  It’s not that I feel inferior or anything – I’m secure enough with my cover and am reminded I should be just often enough.  It’s not that I’m bitter and assume you’ve been gifted with blessings we mere mortals cannot hope to attain.  My real reason for not being crazy about pretty people is this:  I assume they will be boring.

I should clarify straight off that by “pretty people” I mean people who obviously care a great deal about their physical appearance, their projected persona, their level of cool.  Having worked with models, I’ve trained myself to look at people and figure out how much time they spend on the way they look. Tip: Shoes are always a good indicator.

Anyway, there are fortunately exceptions to this “rule.”  Some pretty people manage to be both cool and interesting.  One 6’5” model guy and I were once really good friends for about 10 minutes as we talked about his philosophy degree.  This is not, however, what I have come to expect, and I don’t find it true the majority of the time.  Take the girl I met a few summers ago who, while wearing an oversized scarf…in June, told me that she was a nerd because she had seen Star Wars.  Not liked Star Wars.  Not loved Star Wars.  Not memorized Star Wars.  Seen Star Wars.  Umm, thanks for playing; move along.

There are probably all kinds of studies on how class, schooling, genetics, success, attractiveness, etc. are all related to what a person is interested in, but “pretty people” are generally not interested in the things that interest me.  I don’t care what car you drive.  I don’t care how much your apartment costs.  I don’t care how many touchdowns you threw in college.  My eyes roll up into my head a little bit whenever I’m with a group of people who can’t talk about anything deeper than the last party they went to.  And, more often than not, when I find myself in these situations, I’m surrounded by pretty people.  So, I blanket judge the lot of them.

Hypothetically speaking (translation: not hypothetically speaking), I have no interest in that pretty guy at a party who only wants to talk about how much money he makes while eating Twizzlers and accidentally flicking spit at me as he gestures with said Twizzler. However, I am VERY interested in the conversation going on across the table about the Avengers vs. the Justice League.

These are my people.

This is my language.

I was summing up this story with a friend last weekend, and he laughed at me, “So being smart and interesting means being a nerd?”  I blinked and realized that, yes, this is exactly what I mean.  So, I guess I judge in the opposite way that most people view pretty people vs. nerds.

To be clear, I’m not saying that being ugly or socially awkward is a prerequisite for being interesting or vice versa.  And I’m not limiting being interesting to only a quality of the nerdy.  What I’m saying is that nerdy people tend not to care about exteriors.  They’re much more all-inclusive.  With pretty people, appearance is everything.  With nerdy people, interests are everything.

I think this whole dynamic is much better as adults than as teenagers, obviously.  Bridging the gap is attempted more often.  At that party, for example, the dude-bro was welcome to sit and talk about comic books – even if he did eat his Twizzlers in boredom and play on his phone.  And he did invite me to the basement where the pretty people were playing beer pong. I went as a kind of experiment, and I was at least pleased to find that they were nice. They seemed confused why I was there – sheep in wolf’s clothing that I was – but they were nice.  (Sidenote:  The dude-bro made an honest mistake in assuming I was one of them.  On the rare occasion that I go out in public, I do take the opportunity to wear the better part of my closet – i.e. nothing from the sweatpants section.  I can care, but the majority of the time I forgo makeup and end up walking around the Knapp Meijer being judged by the natives.)  Anyway, nice as the pretty people in the basement were, I just didn’t fit down there.  I wanted to get away from the discussion about their last party and back to the convo upstairs about making homemade movies.

As an author bud told me recently, “You’re unique.  You don’t have to be pretty.” …I’m really not sure how to take that, but I think I thanked him.  I guess I like not worrying about being a pretty person and instead letting my nerd show.  That is what I want people to see of me.  That’s the interesting part of me that loves connecting with other people’s interesting, nerdy bits.  I guess it feels more real to me to get to know what a person loves.  Can you be a nerd about football? Sure.  Can you be a nerd about iPhones and the GAP and breweries? Certainly.  I’m not limiting my interest in what people love – just have interests that matter to you more than how you present yourself.

So.  Maybe I do judge people by their covers.  I’m delighted when I’m wrong.  But I think maybe it’s healthier for me to focus on being unique rather than pretty, and that attitude is certainly something I gravitate towards in others.

Apologies to Twizzlers Dude.

Top 25 Favorite Books List

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Recently I was faced with an interview question of “If you’re stuck on an island, what three books do you have to have with you?”  I brought this up with a group of friends, and of course we wondered about all kinds of qualifiers – are you ever going to see people again, does a collection/series count as one selection, is there wi-fi on this island, etc.  It’s a toughy.  One of my friends and I agreed on a bigger problem, however – we don’t reread books. 

And that is making my New Year’s Resolution very difficult to stay committed to.  Back in (okay, I was late) February, I decided that I would reread my top 25 favorite books to see if they still meant as much to me now as they did when I first read them.  As of this moment, I have about 8 left to go.  And it’s killing me.  Not because I’m finding I don’t love them after all, but because I just do not enjoy rereading books.  I have a freakish memory anyway, and so rarely am I finding that I’ve forgotten anything about these stories.  I don’t get much new out of them.  And so, as I’m reading, I’m finding myself glaring at the pages yet to go in my right hand and just wishing to be done.  Which is bad, because I do love these books.  Rereading is proving to me that I kind of wish I could just hold onto my memories from the first time I read them – my initial loves, surprises, fascination, etc.

However, so far there is one book from my Top 25 List that I’ve discovered does NOT mean as much to me now as it originally did, and so I guess this is accomplishing what I originally intended.  “My Name is Asher Lev” is the book I’ve most drifted from loving.  At the time (in college), I got a lot out of the book because it was about an artist trying to break from his familial/religious mold to find his artistic identity.  Now, I just don’t connect with that anymore.  It was a very important book to me during that particular time in my life, but now maybe I’ve just outgrown it.  Odd, considering I reread “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” and don’t feel I’ve outgrown that one at all, but whatever.

Fortunately, all of the other books (so far) that I thought were my favorites really are my favorites, so there’s that.  And (again as a lover of lists and checkmarks), I’m finally able to commit to rating these as 5-stars, because now I’m sure.  I’m also sure this is making some of my friends happier, since I used to have a very gymnastic-scoring-eque approach to rating books, proclaiming there’s no such thing as a perfect 10.  But I guess a perfect 5 I can commit to.  Go me.

So, anyway, here’s my Top 25 Favorite Books List:
The Time Quartet (L’Engle)
Jane Eyre (Bronte)
The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Poe)
Twelfth Night (Shakespeare)
Freedom in Exile (Dalai Lama)
The Demon in the Freezer (Preston)
I Was Told There’d Be Cake (Crosley)
Young Kate:  The Remarkable Hepburns… (Andersen)
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Dahl)
The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis)
Through the Looking Glass (Carroll)
Agent to the Stars (Scalzi)
Pastwatch (Card)
The Dark Tower (King)
The Raw Shark Texts (Hall)
Kane and Abel (Archer)

 Still to read:
The Vampire Lestat (Rice)
Speaker for the Dead (Card)
Shadow of the Hegemon (Card)
Shadow of the Giant (Card)
Dune (Herbert)
A Game of Thrones (Martin)
The Cosmic Trilogy (Lewis)
Possession (Byatt)

Out:
My Name is Asher Lev (Potok)

Out of curiosity:
Has anyone else done this?  Does anyone else have this problem when rereading books?

“Summer of Heartbreak”

My brother and I labeled this summer “The Summer of Heartbreak” because so many people we know broke up, got divorced, or just had their hearts pummeled in general.  It’s to the point that I’m so jaded about romantic relationships that even if He-Against-Whom-All-Others-Are-Compared showed up and confessed his undying love, I would probably run in the other direction.

But, on the uncharacteristically optimistic flipside of all this, I also realized, this cooling side of summer, that I have many great relationships in my life which are incredible blessings to me.

I often learn via the compare/contrast method.

I have not always had great friends.  Quite frankly, many of those from school days left me with issues which I’m realizing will probably never go away no matter how many different ways I try to stomp them down. I also seem to have a sign over my head proclaiming, “Tell me your problems.” A depressing pattern has emerged in my friendships were I try to help and end up having the emotional energy sucked out of me without getting much in return.  As my brother put it earlier this summer, “I honestly feel like a lot of it comes down to your not having a whole lot of experience bringing the ‘right’ people into your life ~shrug~  I think most of your training in relationship-building has resulted in… not entirely constructive, long-term-healthy relationships.” One close friend echoed, “How do you keep getting yourself into these friendships?” It’s at least reassuring that it’s not all in my head.

Anyway, all of these awful friendships have been a blessing, in a way.  By comparison, my good friends seem absolutely amazing.  Often when sitting/drinking/laughing/talking with my main group of friends, I find myself thinking, “Huh, I love everyone here.” Or, I’m constantly surprised when my friends do things for me. Or show concern. Or care enough to give me wise counsel.  It’s kind of pathetic but also refreshing to constantly re-remember that I have people who love me.

And not all of these relationships are the same, which is another Autumn-realized blessing.  I tend to want to know everyone as well as possible and be as close as possible to everyone in my life.  But sometimes this can be exhausting and I end up draining myself.  Sometimes I work too hard to make a friendship work – as my brother pointed out, from bad training.  I have to remember that not all relationships are created equal.  I can’t be intimately close with some, because those friendships will not work that way.  I also can’t be anything but intimate with others, because those friendships won’t work if I’m not.  I need to get different things from different people, and I need to give different things to different people.

Fortunately, a great mix of peeps have been thrown into my life:

  • I have a friend I can rely on to talk about Halloween costumes one minute and our deepest personal aches the next.
  • I have a friend who this summer was going through similar “WTF?” friend crap, and we oddly reconnected by getting outside our own situations while simultaneously empathizing with each other.
  • I have a friend who will stay up way past her bedtime and FB Chat me through my crying, knowing me well enough to end on a goofy note:

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  • I have a brother who is also a best friend who knows he can stop by at 12:30 a.m. to talk about his crap because he knows I love him.
  • I have a circle of friends who actually enjoy sports.
  • I have a friend who will text me absolutely incoherent nonsense because it’s common knowledge that I find this amusing.
  • I have a friend who, after 20+ years, will still offer to tell off someone (a stranger to her) who has hurt me.
  • I have friends who are like siblings to me even if we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives and we don’t see each other as often as we would like.
  • I have friends who could talk seriously but mostly enjoy comparing notes on TV, movies, and books.
  • I have somewhat-lost friends who still reach out and remind me that I have people in my life who care about me.

 SO.  In all of this, I see the hand of God gently and not so gently turning me to see – through the pain and heartache – the blessings in my life.  I will inevitably get annoyed with my friends and nitpick, but I really did, through this summer, greatly appreciate those who prove that I have relationships that save me.

Bring on Autumn.

“Single-Serving Friends”

“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.”  — Anne Lamott

“So when we meet as strangers, when even friends look like strangers, it is good to remember that we need each other greatly you and I, more than much of the time we dare to imagine, more than more of the time we dare to admit.  Island calls to island across the silence, and once, in trust, the real words come, a bridge is built and love is done –not sentimental, emotional love, but love that is pontifex, bridge-builder. Love that speak the holy and healing word which is: God be with you, stranger who are no stranger. I wish you well. The islands become an archipelago, a continent, become a kingdom whose name is the Kingdom of God.”  — Buechner

For my own sanity and well-being, I try not to base too much of my life philosophy on Fight Club.  However, the idea of single-serving friends is something that I appreciate.

Probably the biggest difference between the Sunny of Mother Superior Era and Sunny Version 2.0 is that now I like people.  Love ‘em, even.  As a writer, people are good sources of quirks that aren’t from my own head.  As a slightly better-adjusted human being, people are just fascinating for their own sake.  I love meeting new people, which is something I learned about myself during the model scouting period.  I’ve always liked opening people up, finding what makes them tick, finding what passions drive them.  Sometime the people that are in our lives every day get comfortingly boring, and we forget to ask new questions, discover new things.  With new people, it’s much easier and natural to ask about who they are.  And it’s great how new people can completely surprise you by being exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I think the shock value of a complete stranger getting you can do wonders. Sometimes you run into someone who is so much you that it’s wonderful (or awful).  Sometimes you run into someone who teaches you something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Here are a few of my favorite single-serving friends:

  • Garage Sale Kindred.  During a family garage sale, my brother and I had an encounter with one of those people who I know God throws in my path just to get my attention.  We were almost ready to close down the garage sale for the day when this blue car slid to a stop just too far of our driveway.  Slamming the unenthused car into reverse, this old lady pulled into our driveway and got out to inspect my brother’s drums.  Immediately, we both got the sense that she didn’t think she was old – you could just tell that about her.  Her hair was white and she wore wide-rimmed glasses, but she carried herself like she was my age.  She wore this beautiful sari that fluttered in the wind like a flag.  The woman – I don’t even think we got her name – had attitude, spunk.  It would be no stretch to say that she was interested in whatever she came across that she didn’t know about, I think.  It was like she knew a secret that only she and life shared.  Christian and I both agreed after she left that she was awesome.  All the time we talked to her about her Sunday school kids, her yellow house down on the corner, my brother’s drums, and our own lives, she talked to us like we were her equals.  That really was a great unspoken compliment.
  • Smiley Asian Guy.  Do you ever notice that simple, seemingly coincidental run-ins can change your outlook on a day? One morning at college, I was stressing over the problematic people in my life.  I was walking down the sidewalk when I crossed paths with a little man who was obviously a visitor to campus. As I walked by him, he greeted me with a serene grin and asked, “Are you enjoying this morning?” It was just funny somehow, and it surprised me because it wasn’t the monotonous, “Hi, how are you?” I perked up immediately.
  • Meijer Lady. During grocery shopping on a busy day, I found myself stuck in a funnel where this silly girl with her boyfriend was clogging the aisle as she tried for 3 minutes to decide which kind of ketchup she wanted. A lady in a scooter and I were the next up for crossing paths if the girl moved, and we made eye contact and exchanged smirks. Finally the exasperated boyfriend shoved his cart to the side enough for the scooter lady to get by. As she went by me she said with an eye roll, “Your word for the day is, OBTUSE.” I started laughing but tried to cover it as the boyfriend also rolled his eyes. Great.

So, yeah, I enjoy discovering fresh people.  But what about people who are in my life daily and who have been in my life forever?  Obviously we can always seek to know people better, and we shouldn’t forget to continually try.  This leads to another favorite quote:

“We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we ‘understand.’ Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word every now and then.” – Orson Scott Card

But the thing about people you know well – in many ways, it’s harder to be surprised by them.  You know each other’s histories.  You know their favorite foods and movies.  You know what makes them angry.  You know so much about them already that you can get lazy about pushing for more.  However, even old, old, old friends can surprise you and be exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I’ve found that the trick is to fake myself out, to be just as interested while conversing with a friend as I would be with a new, single-serving friend.  You see things more freshly that way, and sometimes your eye-motes go click.  Sometimes you re-meet someone you’ve known for years and they’re a blessing you never saw coming.

 A few times old friends/family/acquaintances have really mattered to me:

  • Shaaaaaaane!  The summer between high school and college, I was a mess, to say the least.  One of my cousin Randy’s friends, Shane, happened to be up for the Fourth of July at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on the lake.  Everyone pretty much acted like normal, asking me the usual questions about my upcoming departure for college, but I remember sitting on the beach with Shane and him asking me similar questions.  For whatever reason (I’ve convinced myself it had nothing to do with the fact that I was at last 18), Shane treated me like he really cared, like this next step in my life mattered.  I’m not sure we’d ever really talked before, but for some reason this was completely refreshing to me and meant a lot, maybe simply because he was a new person and I needed so very badly to be reminded that I needed new.
  • Rachel K.  A great thing about people who know you well is that sometimes they know exactly which of their own experiences you can learn from vicariously, even if you never saw it coming.  When I was having problems with a particular mutual friend, Rachel was a surprising source of comfort as she explained a similar situation with another mutual friend (yes, I’m being vague).  It was one of the first times we connected about things more serious than books and movies, and her response to her situation made me realize I had a better way to handle my whole thing.  Her advice really helped, and I’d never seen it coming. 
  • Second-Favorite Hunter.  I think I’ve told this story before.  Chris H. is really probably my favorite hunter (don’t tell!) because I like a person who will jab at me playfully and know I won’t be offended.  Chris for years would say, “What is that smell?” whenever I would enter a room.  Anyway, during one fateful Haymarsh Sporting Clays Pig Roast, I broke my hand.  Everyone asked what I’d done and looked sorry for me and all that.  My family of course knew I was a klutz and so helped me get a plateful of pig and other assorted potluck food.  BUT, much to my surprise, Chris was the one who brought me a piece of the dessert his wife had made.  I didn’t ask for it, he didn’t ask first, he just brought it over.  It was oddly kind and memorable, and it reaffirmed my love for my weird little hunter family of adopted-uncle-types.

Now here’s the flipside.  What happens when I am that person who has the opportunity to matter in someone else’s life? How can I contribute to the people in my life – whether strangers, single-serving friends, people I’ve known forever, whatever?

For starters, I really do try to smile more (stop laughing, people who know me! I do!).  I learned from that man above that this simple thing can matter to people.  And I can be more cordial and kind in general to random people whenever our paths cross.

Strangers actually are easiest for me to be charitable towards.  It’s the people I know well, the people who I’ve spent perhaps too much time with, the people whose flaws/strengths I know inside and out that I have a hard time with.  (Apologies all ‘round.) But obviously these are the people I’ve invested in, the people who are most part of ME, and I should work to be…better.  I should have the decency to dig deeper and not assume I know everything about them.  I should be more forgiving of faults.  I should seek to help them open up and grow. I should be encouraging.  I should…I should…I should.

Sometimes I even do.  I really do try to give more than I take.  I try to be whatever a person needs from me.  It’s that 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people” idea.  The problem is that I somehow usually end up draining myself – yes, I realize how self-righteous that sounds.  Often I will invest so much in trying to help someone that I lose myself and feel like that person is sucking me dry.  So, yeah, a happy medium would be good.  But, honestly, I always know God is trying to teach me something as I try to help whoever He’s put in front of me.  Patience. Compassion. Abandonment of self.  Etc. Etc. Even in mattering to other people, we end up getting a lesson ourselves, I think.

There are obvious things I need to work on.  I’m not good with criers.  Hypothetically, I will pat a crying person’s head if I don’t know what else to do.  And I’m not good with not poking when I see something is wrong – I want to fix everything and often don’t have the patience to go at someone else’s pace.  I’m not good at letting down my defensive shield if it means I might get hurt, if it means I might have to be so honest that I could lose that friend.  And, again hypothetically, when a person requires more vulnerability from me than I’m prepared for, I’m not good at letting go of all my little mechanisms for controlling the situation, and instead I will segue with something like, “Say, did you hear about that killing spree?” …Hypothetically.

So, yeah.  People sometimes surprise you and can change you.  And you can sometimes surprise people.  I think the key thing – whether with strangers or best friends – is to treat each meeting as an opportunity to know someone better. You just never know who might turn out to really, really matter.

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