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.

Once more on Mother’s Day

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I am thankful, finally, as I approach Mother’s Day this year. Generally I’m known for being a little, let us say, cranky, about the holiday that Hallmark made. I have historically set expectations high or set too low or have ruminated too long on the past or the future of this Mother’s Day thing.

This year I’m approaching the struggle from another direction, trying to stay rooted in the present and in gratitude. I think it’s possible I might be maturing but don’t hold me to that.

I’ve been spending some time on a little social media platform called Prose lately. It’s kind of a sweet way to get writing prompts when I need ’em and to see what other people are coming up with out there. I’d say it’s like Twitter for writers. You should check it out. I’m MrsMetaphor over there (and everywhere, really.)

In honor of Mother’s Day I’ll post a short poem I started on Prose one day. Be ye warned, though, it’s so far from my normal curmudgeon-y self where this topic is concerned it’s almost scary.

🙂

….

Pulling Focus

to judge by the images
on television
i might expect
soft focus flowers
long, languishing in white blankets
and clean sheets-
crisp bacon
black coffee
eyes wrinkling at the edges
while smiling

and yet
here we have
sloppy kisses upon waking
a kind of pancake breakfast in bed
glitter doused cards
and syrup spills
i’ll clean up later

if the images on television
are to be believed
i might be led
deep into discontent
deep into disillusionment
deep into doubt
I might forget
to be
here
now

thankful for this moment

For those who have fallen- Lenten Regrets

Paschal thoughts on this (eastern) Good Friday

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“Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.”
-St John Chrysostom

It is always here, in the dark of Good Friday just before Pascha, that I find all the regret I have stored up over the years. It’s a pressing lie, heavy and persistent. It sounds right to me in the dark. It sounds reasonable and clear, repeating over and over,
“I should have…”
-given more
-prayed more
-attended more
-listened more
-fasted more

I’m always falling short. This is the reality of it.

And yet as I sit here struggling to put together some thoughts and make some weird sense of it all, I find I am at a loss and maybe that’s the right thing. I type and backspace and type again only to delete the whole mess later. Perhaps it’s right that there are no good words…

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The myth of the interrupted life

I spent all day at the Apple Genius Bar because my phone sputtered a bit then died last night just before bed. I cradled it against my heart for a moment before shuffling to my laptop to make the appointment I hoped would cure it of its ills. I rearranged my schedule. I shifted my focus. This was the day I was meant to really get stuff done, you know. I’m certain that if it were not for this wicked thing that happened to my phone I’d have kicked the butt of the universe of paperwork and house upkeep I’ve let pile up around this joint.

The first 20 minutes or so I was just waiting. The next 30 I was trying to explain what happened and waiting while the tech did everything I had done at home. After that it was kind of a blur as I tried to figure out how to contact my lunch date to tell her I was stuck in what was either the waiting room to Heaven or to Hell.

“I have no phone” I kept thinking. I tried to see it as a gift of some sort. I tried to be all Zen about that and breathe the moment as it were. I went over to Starbucks and got me a latte while I was waiting for the angels (or demons) at Apple to fix my little beauty. Everyone had bent necks, looking down at their devices, laughing and maybe grimacing from time to time. I felt the way I had the day that Dave and I took a trip to Alcatraz on a tour boat. We all wore headsets at first to hear the recorded tour guide give tidbits of information. We took our headphones off, Dave and I, just to allow ourselves to watch what was in front of us. At various prescribed times the entire load of passengers would turn to the left or to the right. Heads nodded all together. Smiling at the same time. Gasping when appropriate. It was mesmerizing.

So I sat in that Starbucks and I watched everyone, fascinated and yet still lacking something. This lacking was not so much the constant entertainment my phone offers but rather, the connection, the ability to check my parking meter before it expired, the ability to text my kid at school to say I couldn’t pick him up, the ability to shift more things around that afternoon so that I could sit and wait patiently for the tech to finish up.

When I did finally retrieve my phone I treated it with great care and concern, not checking too many things, not asking too much of it. I kept it charging and comfortable and then I sat and lamented the interruption of my life. I wasted that whole day in the Apple store. By the time i sat down to write I felt overwhelmed. I felt blurry and dizzy. I felt as though I just needed a nap. I did everything I could to avoid doing much of anything, doing laundry, finishing up paperwork, gathering tax forms, working on the essays that have deadlines approaching…I felt had no words, save for these.

What’s interesting to me though as I sit here and lament 1)my addiction to my phone and 2)the interruption of my life today with getting it fixed, is that believing that my life was interrupted today is a myth. Life isn’t interrupted. It’s just life. This is it. The texts and the appointments and the cuddles with kids after school, those are all life. The broken ceiling fan and the furnace or iPhone that died this week, those are also life. This is all a varied and glittering assortment of life I got going on here. It’s all my life, all of it. To steal a phrase from Richard Rohr, “everything belongs.”

So, I’m resting in that and in this humble reach at getting words on the page today. It’s all life.

Better answers to “What do you do?”

There have been a number of articles up lately about the question of “what do you do?” in polite society. I’m pleased that Elephant Journal decided to publish mine on their site! If you get a moment, take a look and tell me what you think. If you dig it and have another moment, share it!

tanks!

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Regrets of a crunchy parent…

I don’t usually give caveats before posts. I try not to because in a way it’s like when you say to someone, “Not to be nosy but…” or “don’t take this the wrong way but…” which only sets you up to appear nosy and have them take it the wrong way. The reason for this caveat is that I do have a number of friends who I like a whole lot who choose not to vaccinate. They do it for a variety of reasons and I do respect that. I felt the need to put this up this week though in light of the recent measles outbreak. These are my regrets. I can only speak to my own experience and my own reasons for doing what I do as a parent. Make of that what you will.

I am a little crunchy. I admit this.

I had my kids at home, on purpose. I home schooled my kids for a number of years. I eschewed the norms where processed food and standard parenting was concerned, letting my children “be children” for as long as possible, letting them run “Lord of the Flies” like at times and explore nature and learning and life. We were free spirits! Life was good, until the lack of structure and oversight started to me into the controlling and fearful person I had always hoped to avoid becoming. We made some changes- big changes- and we’re all catching our breath again, getting into the rhythm of things and enjoying the absence of the stress that plagued us while we were homeschooling in those final years. All that said, I don’t regret the homebirths, the homeschooling or the alternative parenting.

There is only one part of my crunchy history that I do regret. I regret not having my kids immunized sooner.

The decision to avoid immunizations was one that bothered me more often that it comforted me. Our health providers back then were also crunchy, always putting the ball back in my court about the shots. They never pushed one way or another where immunizations were concerned and I appreciated that. I do think it is important for the parent to have some degree of control over this. Ultimately, we are responsible for the care of our children, after all.

It was the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and the grass-roots, crunchy movement against immunization was growing strong. Studies were cited in groups I attended about connections between autism and vaccines, chemical contamination and vaccines, government plots and vaccines and while I didn’t buy into all of the hype, it had an effect. Becoming a parent was difficult enough, making far-reaching medical decisions for each child and the battery of shots they needed was overwhelming and frightening. After a great deal of research and thought and worrying, we opted to wait on the shots. Because we were homeschooling there was no outside source (i.e. the school system) pressing in on us to immunize.

We changed our health care provider because it was no longer a part of our insurance network after our youngest child was born. Our new doctor looked at the children’s charts and asked about the absence of immunizations. As I tried to explain my position to him he listened attentively. He was affirming and understanding even as I struggled to articulate my objections to the shots. He did not argue the points with me but rather offered insights into the research. He also offered medical studies and articles I’d not seen before. “It’s up to you,” he said, “but really, there’s no research that supports your fears about immunizations.” That information combined with my children’s’ entrance to “real” school prompted us to get caught up on all the shots finally.

It was the words of a close friend that finally drove home the reality of how my decisions affect the people around me. Her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. She is more susceptible than other children her age to disease. The lack of immunizations on the part of other parents is not simply an “alternative choice” to her family. It can mean life or death to her daughter.

I regret that part of my crunchy parenting. The thing is, that I don’t regret waiting on the immunizations because something awful happened to my family as a result. It didn’t. My children to date are quite healthy and have remained healthy. I regret the decision to wait because it will always make me wonder if I was, at that time, part of the problem we see rising now- measles in New York, mumps in Ohio, polio or something like it, in California and now the recent breakout of measles that stems from a trip to Disneyland. With new outbreaks of diseases we thought were held in check it makes me now question everything I believed when I was a newbie, crunchy parent.

And this is the hard thing, choosing to reexamine previous strong held beliefs and let myself shift into a new perspective. The hardest thing about changing my view on this vaccine thing was the blow I took to my ego as a parent. I admit that. It is hard to say that maybe I got it wrong but in the long run I can only subscribe to a path toward becoming wiser for it. In the long run I have to be able to be open-minded about how I understand the way the world is shaping up and I have to pay attention to how it’s shaping up. I am a part of that shaping. On this point, where immunizations are concerned, I now believe I had it wrong.

We are responsible to our children to do what we feel is best for them of course, it’s important to remember though, that we are part of a bigger picture, a larger community. What we do affects us all.