Nearly Orthodox #AmazonGiveaway

It’s the time of year when the kids are headed back to school and I am headed straight for my writing chair. I’m set to deliver a draft of my new book in the next couple of months and that got me to thinkin’ that it’d be nice if I gave away a copy of Nearly Orthodox to some lucky duckie.

Are you that lucky duckie? Well check it and see. All you need to do is click the image below and give it a shot.

Don’t cost ya nothing ;)

Nearly Orthodox #amazongiveaway

Enter to Win!

Leveling Out

Leveling up

If I ever meet you in person and give you the “distracted brush off” I want you to tell me to knock it off. You know that look, don’t you? It’s the “I’m standing in front of you and nodding at semi-appropriate intervals, but really I’m looking around for someone else to talk to” look.

I’m willing to admit here and now that I often read social cues incorrectly. It’s a thing for me, always thinking I stayed too long in a conversation, expecting that my conversation partner is bored and hoping to move on as it were. Sometimes, though, I think I have it right and having had this experience again recently while in a large group of people I’m here to tell you that it feels awful.

I leave those conversations feeling vulnerable and generally I blame myself for that feeling. I think, “I’ve said something offensive” or “I’m the least interesting person ever.” But most likely it has nothing to do with me at all, at least that’s where I’m hoping to land these days. This constant berating myself– questioning every word I spoke, questioning whether I forgot to wear antiperspirant or needed mouthwash– all points to a preoccupation with me, myself and I. That’s no good. I’m 48 years old (almost) and it’s probably time I cut myself some damn slack for a change.

Backing away from the experience for a moment I’m able to place some new thoughts into the pigeon holes of judgement I use to catalogue and store those rough conversational transactions. I think it has a great deal to do with positioning. My wise friend, Jude once (more than once) told me that relationships have levels and that we tend to work in those levels. She’d use her hands to show me the level she intended to meet other grown-ups, which is equal, at the same height, adult to adult. Then she said that when we lower ourselves below people we meet, or lower other people it sets up a different dynamic.

If I’m your boss, maybe that lift is merited. If you’re my mom, I’ll gladly move you up a few notches (or more, my mom is awesome.) But for the most part, her point is that we need to meet grown-ups at equal levels to keep the relationship right. She’s very smart and I think she’s right especially in this.

When I walked up to this person and introduced myself in this most recent interaction I felt intimidated, I felt “lower than.” In her defense, I set up the dynamic. In my defense, she did nothing to alleviate it. We were set up for that crazy eye darting, ‘get me the hell out of this conversation’ trap. No wonder I felt both relieved and dissed when we both finally wandered out of that conversation. See how complicated we are?
Humans. Pfft.

So this is why I am just telling you that if we ever meet in person and you ever feel me instigate this odd tension between us, I want you to tell me to knock it off. In fact, you can just hold your hands up, side by side, showing us as equal and that will remind me. I need this because I forget and I imagine the older I get I’m bound to land on one platform or another, above or below, if I don’t spend some active time leveling out. Let’s do this thing.

On Moving and Standing Still

mrsmetaphor:

News from my “other” blog, Nearly Orthodox :)

Originally posted on Nearly Orthodox:

IMG_4582This morning I am pleased to be sitting in a quiet, sunny living room in Middle Tennessee. The vacation house is intimately familiar as I lived in this log home for five years when my children were very young. We turned it into a vacation home a few years ago, when we moved back to Chicago. I cannot remember it ever being this quiet. In those years, they would wake me up in the mornings, early. We were transplants from Chicago, homeschoolers, maybe more than a little bit isolated. We did not intend it that way.

When we bought this house in middle Tennessee we thought we were meant to form an artist community here. We thought that “if we built it they would come” but though we gave it our best shot, it never really worked out the way we’d hoped.

From our five years in this house, however…

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Racism 101

mrsmetaphor:

I wrote this a couple of years ago. In light of the recent tragedies in South Carolina, I am reposting it. I wonder how many times and for how many years or decades yet it will still ring true and still feel reflective of the times.

Originally posted on Mrs. Metaphor:

The first book of poetry I owned was “Those who ride the night winds” by Nikki Giovanni. It’s safe to say that the reason I began writing poetry was because that book was given to me. My early poems sounded an awful lot like a 12 year old German Catholic white girl from Cincinnati, Ohio trying to sound like Nikki Giovanni. It was not pretty. I think I’ve gotten a little better since then or at least I sincerely hope I have gotten a better.

When the AWP conference chose Chicago as its location for 2012 and I saw that Nikki Giovanni would be speaking it sealed the deal for me. I try to keep my “conference” and “workshop” attendance well spaced for the most part but I made an exception for this one. I’ve never heard Ms Giovanni read her work in person and there is something magical…

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Thank God, I don’t have bitchy resting face.

How awful would it be to have people telling you that you have bitchy resting face?

Yeah.

Ouch! Right?

I can tell you from experience that it’s worse than having a passerby on the street say, “Cheer up!” or “Smile!” I can tell you that, from experience, because it happens to me more often than I care to recall. Having someone tell me I have bitchy resting face is actually even worse than my kids asking me if I’m mad when I’m not mad at all. It’s worse to be told I have “bitchy resting face” because it automatically puts a judgment on me I’m not sure I like all that much. Let’s be honest here. It’s a judgment that makes the viewer of my face feel better about themselves while making me feel sort of horrible.

I’ve seen the video that sparked all the BRF comments and I guess I thought it was funny at the time. There are some very funny moments in it, I admit, and yet at the same time I had trouble connecting to what exactly was funny. It felt familiar, that’s for sure. It felt on point. And so I started to say it too, trying to make light of something about me that clearly makes other people uncomfortable. I suppose what makes people uncomfortable is not being able to read my emotions just from the look on my face. Or more specifically, reading them (incorrectly) as angry or sad. Anger and sadness make people uncomfortable. I get that.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my daughter in the car and I asked if she was feeling all right that I questioned the label. She looked sad to me. She said, “Nope. I feel fine!” then smiled. I responded with, “Oh, you’re like me. You just have bitchy resting face!” She was offended and said. “No. This is just my face.”

There’s nothing like having my 16-year-old daughter school me on good thinking. I knew immediately she was right and I knew it because I felt this surge of relief run through my body. I don’t have bitchy resting face! Whew!

If you’ve never been misread like this then it may be hard to understand why I was relieved. It may be hard for you to understand why having someone tell you to “smile” or “cheer up” when you feel perfectly fine already is such a burden.

The thing is, when I’m deep in thought, or tired, or walking down the street, when I’m writing, when I’m concentrating, when I’m making grocery lists in my head, even when I’m thinking of butterflies and sunflowers, I am resting my face. My lips are turned down a bit. My brow might be pressed together. Maybe I’m squinting. Sometimes even when it feels like I’m smiling, it doesn’t look like I’m smiling. I’m not bitchy. This is just my face.

I feel as though I have spent my life trying to fit into someone else’s definition of what it means to be a fully functioning member of polite society. Maybe we all go through this, but I have often, if not always, felt outside the norm, outside the box. And you know what? I’m finally fine with being outside of it for the most part. It’s taken most of my adult life.

After years of struggle and identity seeking and random comments from strangers about my perceived emotional state, that comment from my teenage daughter hit me like an arrow to my insecurities. In that moment those insecurities burst and scattered like water from a filled balloon and I realized that I don’t have to play that game. Those people who need to label my resting face to make themselves feel better can feel free to call it what they like, but I don’t have to subscribe to it. And if you’re like me and have a face that operates like mine? You can call it bitchy resting face if you’d like. That’s your own call. But I don’t have to label myself that way. Labeling it that way just paves the path to my feeling awful about myself. I don’t have to do it. I can just love my face the way it is, free of the “bitchy” label.

So thank God, I don’t have bitchy resting face. This is just my face.

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The author and her resting face.

Your lucky day!

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I’ve been blogging so long now I have to say that coming up with great titles to posts has become somewhat difficult. You’d think it’d get easier right? Not so. The competition is steeper round these parts, people. Everyone has new content going up every single day, sometimes twice a day. I’m lucky if I get words on the internet to update my status update these days.

I do have some words up though at Ruminatemagazine.com and I’ll say they are nice words. Mostly, they are Luci Shaw’s words which means that they are far sweeter and much more luscious than anything I’ve put down lately.

If you have a moment and perhaps, even if you don’t, you should read them…and then you should read Luci’s work. Ruminate aims to make that a whole lot easier for you in fact. If you simply leave a comment on the blog post over there at Ruminatemagazine.com you can win a copy of her book.

And you should want to do that because the book is wonderful…and Luci is wonderful…I want to be Luci Shaw when I grow up.

So go, my feisty friends! Go and read and make merry that this is indeed your lucky day! But go FAST! The drawing is tomorrow.
:)

Click the image below, what are you waiting for?
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Lessons in publishing…

NearlyOrthodoxI’ll start with a caveat- I’m not saying that I have this figured out. I’m just saying that the struggle is real.

When my book was published I spent far too many clicks of the refresh button checking out the sales ranking. I felt like the rats in those experiments we read about in High School, the ones who had their pleasure centers stimulated every time they pressed a certain button. The rats would forgo food and water in order to press that button hour after hour, day after day. Sometimes they would die from it. I pressed the button. Sometimes the reward was there, sometimes it was a punch in the gut. That’s hard to take on an empty emotional stomach, I’ll tell you.

Now that Nearly Orthodox has been on the shelves for almost a year I don’t refresh as often but I do still refresh, hoping for the stimulation of the pleasure center, more often getting the punch in the gut. My publisher is happy with the progress of the book. I am happy with the quality of the writing and the effort I took to make it beautiful. Mostly. I suppose if we, as writers, are completely happy with the finished product always and forever then perhaps we’re doing it wrong. So, there’s that.

Being “post publishing” has lead to more angst that it took to get me to the editor’s “in” box. It’s more than it took me to wait those months for a contract to come and more than the angst that comes when the book first releases. As time wears on I wish I could say that good sense has led me to not care how anyone else’s book is doing or how often someone else gets an article published but alas, I’m not quite there yet.

That being said, I have learned some things (in theory, at least if not yet practice)

1)Keep writing, all the time

Whether it’s your blog, your status updates, your stream of consciousness journaling, your novel in progress, keep writing. All the time. Your work improves with practice. Do it. Stop worrying about what other people are doing at that moment. Write.

2)Keep reading, all the time.

While I advocate not worrying about what other people are doing, I do not mean to imply that we ought to seal ourselves off. Reading excellent work leads to writing excellent work. Join a writer’s group, read a classic novel, pick up the latest best seller. Whatever it is, keep reading. All the time. Read.

3)Keep your eyes on your own submission pile.

When a friend has a piece accepted I have to work hard to not be jealous. I admit this. I’m not happy about it but it’s true. When I also get a rejection that same day (and that does happen, bleh) I have to work even harder at reaching in toward gratitude and reaching out with congratulations. It’s a worthy struggle. Don’t quit the worthy struggle. Find an authentic place in your writerly heart and reserve it only for well wishes for fellow authors whether you know them or not. We’re all in this together, truly. Keep that space nice and clear of envy or jealousy and when that fails in a weak moment (because it will sometimes fail) take a deep breath and see numbers 1) and 2) then get back to 3). Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Keep your eyes on your own submission pile because jealousy and envy are creativity and relationship killers. Those killers will lie to you and tell you that you’re better or it’s a travesty but don’t listen. Just wish well to your fellow author and get back to work. 

That’s where the good stuff is. That’s where the reward rests. That’s what we’re meant to be doing, right? Keep on keepin’ on, friends. ;)

Better questions than “What do you do?

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“What do you do?” might be the worst question to start out a conversation with a new person and yet it’s the one we all seem to ask at the outset. It’s our default question. It’s our “go-to.” It’s frustrating to ask and frustrating to answer so why do I keep falling into that trap every time? I suppose it’s easy and it cuts through that lengthy silence right after, “Nice to meet you” or maybe it’s just a matter of habit in modern conversation. It’s what we do.

It’s been hard for me to answer the “what do you do?” question over the years because I’m self-employed, because I’m a stay at home mother, because I “do” a lot of things, who knows. When it’s asked of me I find a way to muddle through eventually. Usually I just say, “Laundry. I do a lot of laundry.” But no matter how well I answer the question or how much of a chuckle I get from my conversation partner, I find I am still unsettled by it.

Worse than that, I find I am still likely to ask it in response. It’s like a knee-jerk response for me. It got me to thinking about what we are really doing by asking what someone “does.”

Recently there have been articles floating around the interwebs dedicated to the psychology behind asking “What do you do?” Some say it’s a leveling maneuver, some suggest that it’s elitist and demeaning or that it’s all about positioning. For most people though, I’d say what we’re really asking is “who are you?” and then “how are we connected?” I like to think to ask what a person does isn’t merely a function of placing them into a box or jockeying for position but rather a desire to understand how we can best relate to each other.

Unfortunately, the question itself as an opening to a conversation is more likely to lead to stalled answers and the awkward shuffling of feet. So while learning how to answer the question better is one step in the process of evolving in this whole “get to know you” dance I’d say that what we need to do is learn to ASK better questions. Otherwise, we’re just part of the social status quotient problem after all.

So rather than continuing to further that awkward shuffling of feet, here are 5 things I thought might be better questions than “What do you do?”

  1. How do you know (insert name here)?

When we ask what someone does we’re trying to figure out how we’re connected and so asking about the human relationship in the room can be a great way to know that connection without relegating someone to their job.

By defining “relationship” in the first few minutes of a conversation, we bring everything to a human, personal level. Another way to put it might be “what’s your connection to (this place, this event, this pep rally) if you don’t actually have a personal connection at that moment. Even this question develops connection rather than setting up a job-based hierarchy.

  1. What’s a nice girl/boy/person like you doing in a place like this?

This one has a bad rap and perhaps you’d frame it a bit differently depending on your circumstances and location, but it still gets across the more rude version, “Why are you here?” Another way to phrase this well would be “What brings you here?”

This gives people a chance to place themselves rather you placing them according to their vocation. And at the same time it opens the door to a smorgasbord of follow-up questions related to this place, this setting or this location. What we’re after in asking about the location and a person’s connection to it is to build some connection through a sense of “place.” This can be a great foundation for the rest of the conversation and help people to connect at deeper levels.

  1. I love that scarf (hat, coat, eyeliner) where did you get it?

Now, this question is a little tricky. First off, don’t give a compliment that isn’t true, that’s like offering someone a counterfeit quarter. Choose something that really does strike you about that person and pay that compliment with real sincerity.

Asking more about a trait or fashion choice shows you are taking an interest in them and, of course, that’s what we’re aiming for when meeting new people. What works well with this question is that it might begin as a surface observation but again, it opens doors to other topics to discuss and that can help to bring about more engaging dialog.

  1. That was an amazing speech (concert, pep rally) earlier. What did you think?

This works best when you’re having a shared experience. The danger is that your conversation partner might not think it was an amazing speech (concert pep rally) at all, certainly but it’s worth the effort to at least test the waters and get a conversation going.

And even if they don’t agree with your perception of the event, it may help you to expand your own perception of what’s going on. Asking what people think is a good way to get to know them but also a way to keep an open mind in general and that’s a good thing especially when getting to know new people.

  1. What do you do?

Okay, I admit this works against the premise of this article but honestly, at some point in the conversation this will most likely surface. It’s not ALWAYS a bad thing to ask about someone’s work, it’s just not always the most expedient way to know him or her better at the outset.

So that being said, it’s not a question to be completely taken off the table; it’s just a better question to save until after dessert. Most of the time starting with one of the other four questions will answer this fairly easily and in a more natural and authentic way but if it flows with the conversation, this is a perfectly fine thing to ask someone new.

So for those of us who hate “what do you do?” let’s make a social pact to stop scratching the surface of conversation and find the deeper connection waiting underneath. Why not? Let’s walk into new situations and new introductions with an eye toward knowing more than we knew when we walked in. We might learn something amazing. We might realize the person before us is like lost kin or a potential best friend. Maybe they have hiked Mt Everest. Maybe they have swum the English Channel. Maybe they know the secret to the very best chocolate chip cookies. These are important things, people.

The best way to discover all of this is to be interested and curious. Don’t fall into the easy trap of simply asking first where someone fits (or doesn’t) into the workforce. Take an interest, channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and learn to ask better questions. It’s worth the effort!

Times Change and Sands Shifting

10446489_10152106237197035_592801096653710064_nI’m going to pretend that after my daughter winds up her last days of High School this week that nothing will be different. What’s nice is that she’s decided to take a year off before starting her study in Animation at a college in New York. It’s nice because we’ll both have a year off in essence. I won’t have to launch immediately from the shifting time sand spot straight to shopping and prepping for shipping her off to college. It’ll come on gradual-like.

Still, I’m going to pretend that after my daughter winds up her last days of High School this week that nothing will be different. I’m going to pretend that everything will be the same and life will always be this sweet in between time. Rather than opening the front door in August and finding that huge pile of time-sands waiting to cave in on me I imagine I’ll be sweeping it away daily as we track it in on our shoes and dump it from our pockets.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s possible while using this strategy (some might label “denial” ha!) that when the shifting of the time-sands really starts to pile up at my front door it’ll come as the shock it is intended to be. And maybe that’s all right. Maybe that’s what finally gets the blood pumping and the excitement running. Maybe the adrenaline of it all will be what makes the lengthening of our lives bearable at moments like this when a kid gets ready to go out on her own.

In any case, I’ll set myself up for the big sweep when the time comes, when it catches up to me, when the tears come at last but in the meantime I’ll take this sweet in between. I’ll take it with both hands, holding tight.