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Monday, July 28, 2014

Games I Don't Play

Photo: www.facebook.com/kristelsmartsbooks
My daughter wants me to date. Okay, if I'm being perfectly honest, I've even been lectured by people who barely know me about how important it is to "find that person". I get it, I hear it, but I guess I'm not sure how to fulfill that wish for them. I'm happy alone, genuinely happy. I think I used to believe in the importance of that other person too, once upon a time, but years and experiences change a person. Even so, I'd be open to the idea if I could find a human being who was looking for a human being, to relate as human beings. I'm an Aquarius. That doesn't just make me odd, it means that friendship is the most important thing to me. It means if someone can't connect with me on a mental level and be my friend, it just doesn't work. Astrology aside, that really IS the magic formula for me. And brains are HOT. Seriously.

What's the difference between a friend and a boyfriend? Think about that for a minute; think about the difference between how a person would relate to one vs. the other. It would take a man bordering on magical (Yes, magical. That's exactly right.) to get that difference and even more so to find it appealing. I'm not saying friendship as in a platonic sort of friend-zone friendship, I mean a relationship based on two people actually liking each other as equals, respecting each other, on a human level. It doesn't sound like much, maybe, especially to folks who are happily enmeshed, but for me that connection has been as illusive as Bigfoot. And hey, at least Bigfoot leaves footprints and such to allude to his existence.

I'll admit that growing up in rural Vermont is enough to leave anyone jaded in the dating department. It can be a place where scantily-clad women draped over motorcycles (gross) are actually considered an appealing choice. I have actually had someone say to me "You're pretty, you don't need to be smart" and they were sure it was a compliment. I suppose in a land of cave-dwellers it might be, but in the world where I live (which, admittedly, is somewhere between Shangri-La and Middle Earth most days) it is disrespectful, marginalizing and attempts to diminish the light that dwells within us all regardless of gender. And therein lies the other half of the problem: The way I want to be seen also tends to be the same filter I look through when I see others. I don't even want to begin to tell you how much "bad" has resulted from that situation. It's one thing to strive to always see people as their best incarnation of self, quite another to do so with reckless and hopeful abandon, and a lack of common sense. Yeah, I'm over that. I take full responsibility for my part in the resultant issues there, but will admit to a learned-reluctance to engage because of it. And I haven't seen the need. I also have zero-tolerance far all things patriarchal and misogynistic. And why wouldn't I? I have had to do EVERYTHING alone, and now I'm going to let someone step in and direct how I live my life why? Some guys really frown on that, but they aren't the ones who are for me, anyway. So now we have what? A magical and very secure guy? Hmm.

I'm on a trajectory. I have this very clear picture of where I want to go and I'm working very hard to get there. Do I even have the energy to date anyone? I don't know. The right person could be worth the distraction. But I don't have the energy for games, or for the nonsense I've already dealt with. I'm not going to fight with someone to be who I am, and I'm not going to apologize either. The right person would understand that being an important part of my world does not necessitate monopolizing my time and attention. He would also know that I like shiny things, but that a really neat rock collected from a river just for me would mean more to me than something polished and expensive. That I prefer the joyful, upturned faces of sturdy sunflowers to the ephemeral and exotic beauty of orchids. My favorite sounds are of wind through the trees, the rolling of a river and the steady sound of hoofbeats on a dirt road. The moon and the stars are more beautiful than any city skyline; and silence, long and comfortable, can be the most meaningful form of communication.

I know exactly what you're thinking: I should probably just look for Bigfoot. Hey, you never know. Bigfoot might actually find me :-)



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fiber and Middle Age

Photo: infographiclist.com
Well, it happened. One of the most awesome songs by one of my favorite bands was used in a commercial. For FIBER. Well okay, for Fiber One cookies, but still. I know all about how advertisers work, how they choose songs and images to appeal to a target market. It can only mean one thing: MY generation is now the generation that needs fiber. Maybe I'm being silly (not unusual), but it seems MUCH too soon. I mean, I'm not an AARP member yet or anything (not that they aren't already starting to send me emails. *Sigh*).

Once upon a time, the Scorpions were considered edgy and bad*** (and in my opinion they still are), as were we leather-clad fans who liked to listen to their music at ear-shock decibels. Yes, I AM deaf as a post as a result of all my loud music and years of dancing in front of the speakers at my friends' gigs. But it was SO worth it.

I remember when I first got the single that they are using in the commercial (Rock You Like a Hurricane). Actually, my grandmother bought it for me at Ames store in Newport, Vermont. She saw the record (yes, a little 45) and saw that it was new. She knew I loved the band so she bought it for me. Nothing got past my grandmother, not even my raunchy taste in music ;-) I spent the rest of the afternoon laying on my bedroom floor with my head between my ginormous speakers (back then, bigger was better. Mine were about 3'x2', and about 1' deep), listening to the song over and over again until it was time to go feed my horses. Bliss!

And we were cool, I swear! We still are, dammit. Back then we actually were too busy DOING things to take pictures of ourselves (though we did look amazing;-). We had very little on the TV, no cell phones, no computers. We left the house and spent lots of time with our friends. Okay, sometimes the things we would get up to were naughty (like my sister setting someone on fire in a pile of leaves, but I digress...), but it was all genuine. There just wasn't the duality of who you were verses your online persona. We lacked the apparent narcissism of today's online world. Not a bad thing. It was a challenging thing to overcome when I first started needing to market myself over social media, but I'm still REALLY grateful that there aren't hundreds of posed pictures of me making weird faces posted all over the place.

From a musical standpoint, people HAD to have talent. I miss that. Everybody played instruments, everybody sang. It was all REAL, and so...organic. You could go to a concert and hear the abilities of the musicians coming through (and often get one hell of a contact high, but that's a whole n'other story). I like some of today's music, but not much. I feel like my mother when she used to say "That's AWFUL, turn that noise DOWN!" But of course, every generation has their music, and it's something that will always speak to them and bring them back to 'that' place. Now, my music is being used to sell me fiber. It was sort of inevitable, really. But it's still a great song, and hey, COOKIES!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The New Normal

Photo: weknowmemes.com
Let me tell you a story. It's sort of what I do. I don't make any promises about it's entertainment value, but here goes nothing just the same. Okay, I'm going to make a confession: It's 11:30 AM, and I'm a little (just a little), um, tipsy. I don't drink. Like, ever. I get high on life and the weird sort of awesome of other people and I don't want to miss a single second of any of that. Ergo, I stick to non-alcoholic beverages. But this morning, at a most crucial, time sensitive moment, my printer died. Okay, lame as AM drinking excuses go, but for today it will suffice. In the big scheme of things it's not such a big deal. Yes, there is a bunch of time-sensitive stuff that needs tending to fairly immediately, but what they hell. As my Mom would point out, as long as I can still move my arms and legs all is right and good with the world. I'm doing that right now just to prove to myself that I can and it is, indeed, the sh**. Who needs a printer when you can just get down with your bad self, right?

Oh, but I promised a story. Once upon a time there was a writer who very badly wanted to make her living doing what she loved to do. It seemed quite far fetched; very few are fortunate to be in such a position. But wait...is that really true? I mean, if you WANT to do something badly enough, can't you just DO it? Are we not only limited by our imagination and the strength of our will? Or is that Green Lantern? I forget. Either way, it works for us mere mortals as well. Or so it would seem. So once upon a time I was stressing about car repairs, a roof, food. Yes, boys and girls, sometimes even food was a scarcity in a past so recent I prefer not to think of it. And while I'm not exactly out of the woods yet, I can feel the tenacious tendrils of scarcity losing their grip and getting ready to fall away while I keep my eyes trained steadily (albeit a bit blurrily, currently) forward in my characteristically stubborn way.

So, YES my printer failed me at a crucial moment. YES I need it for some TV related stuff. The point is I NEED IT FOR TV RELATED STUFF. It is a new problem, and one that is indicative of my impending freedom, tangible proof of accomplishment. Even better, I am getting paid to do what I love. Holy Sh**, when did that happen?!

So go ahead Mr. Printer. Do your temperamental thang. You can't throw a damned thing at me that I haven't already survived, for you are merely a tool. Yes, I called you a TOOL. Don't worry, I still love you. I'm just annoyed. And I plan on having a spectacular day just the same!

FIN

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org
Yesterday, all social media was a veritable smorgasbord of Father's day gratitude and wishes. While I'm grateful as hell for my step-dad, and my grandfather was the best dad ever, it's not my bestest day ever. Interestingly enough, my daughter doesn't jump for joy on Father's day either. I like to think that I'm far beyond my past experience, that we make our own future in spite of ourselves. I will always believe that we choose who we become, and that at a soul level nobody can influence who we choose to be. We are in charge of ourselves.

It's tough, though, to overcome some ideas. If, in your experience, almost every man you know has lied, cheated on you or bailed out entirely, trust is not wildly abundant. I dislike my mistrustful nature, it's something I struggle with and am trying to overcome. But at the same time, it's pretty difficult to dismiss a lifetime of experience. I wish so much that I could have provided my daughter with something better, a different understanding, but you can't make people be compassionate, connected or responsible, even when they appear to be all those things (well, as long as they are getting what they want, anyway).

I was already feeling somewhat bummed out when a friend posted an aggressively ignorant (and over-the-top offensive) comment about "lazy single mothers". I won't use the language I would like to here, but I hit the delete button pretty quickly yesterday. If a person can believe for a moment that a single mother has the luxury of being lazy (job, no job, either way), then that's a special kind of ignorant. The kind that doesn't take into account the MAN who is 50% of the equation. Women make mistakes. Some of us start our lives believing only the best in people. We believe the words we are told, we believe "I love you" means just that. Sometime we make ourselves sick believing it, we so need to find that human compassion in another person. Is it OUR fault then, that we were lied to? That we were left holding the bag? Please, explain to me how? How is it our fault that we can't read the deception when someone lies with sincerity to our faces? Should we just assume all men are cheaters and liars, then?

I won't do that. I won't judge an entire group of human beings based on the egregious behavior of a few (unlike my ignorant "friend"). All the same, the things I've learned stay with me. I have learned that if I want it done, I have to do it. That in a pinch, I can count on me. I have learned not to give my trust away. Now it has to be earned. I have learned that my strength and resourcefulness is unlimited. I learned the hard way. Unfortunately, so has my daughter. I know what it's like to fall on my face while others thrive at my expense.

We're okay, my daughter and I. Better than okay because we're careful and smart. Neither of us is the sad "If I don't have a boyfriend I'll just die" type. I feel sorry for those women, always depending on a man to define who they are. I love that we can stand on our own two feet. I learned how to do that from my "lazy single mother". The one who raised two children without child support (I only raised one child without child support), and yet still managed to give us her time and her love. She didn't run our father down, but told us the good things about him so that we may feel good about all parts of ourselves. Our "lazy single mother" encouraged all our endeavors, even if it meant working more hours to support them or finding more hours in an already-too-short day to make things happen. She did it all with a sense of humor (she wrote her master's thesis on the health benefits of having a sense of humor) and in spite of the struggle our house was warm and full of laughter. She never said "you can't do that, you're a girl". We believed we could do anything, because she showed us we could.

So, to my aggressively ignorant "friend", and to those dads who are whining about single moms getting Father's Day cards, deal with a dose of reality, if you please. While I'm certain of the value of a good dad, there are many of us out there who know that sometimes, men bail. We women won't take the blame and we DO deserve the credit for picking up the broken pieces of the family left behind.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rant Research

Orcas
So yeah, that last post was ranty. It happens. I try to stay positive and all warm and fuzzy, but sometimes things p*** me off and my thoughts go pear-shaped. There are worse things to be than human, I suppose. Before I get much further, first let me apologize for any grammar/spelling/typos. I'm having a carpal tunnel episode from hell, and my wrist is all bound up and in pain. Truthfully, there will probably be my usual amount of grammar/spelling/typos, but at least now I can blame my wrist ;-)

So I did some research on the things I was ripping on so I don't have the excuse of pleading ignorance. Ignorance makes me angry, especially when it's willful and there's no real excuse for it. So, let's start with rope halters since I've ripped on them on more than one occasion. I found this quote: "Rope halters convey a "message" to the horse. A typical flat halter is very difficult to train with because a horse can lean on it - making training difficult. Rope halters work because the relatively thin rope causes the horse to yield to their own pressure -- teaching them not to lean." (Site here).

Ah HA! I get it now. They are essentially prong collars for horses. No more, no less. As such, leaving them on during turnout, trailering, etc. is not the norm, but abuse of the tool. In fact, they can be much easier on the horse than a nose-chain (which any of us who has worked with large or hot horses are very familiar with). It would appear that the whole "Natural Horsemanship" thing is loosely based on Vaquero traditions, or at least that seems to be where it finds its origins. Vaquero horsemanship is actually pretty interesting, and a system that seems to turn out very capable working horses suitable for all ranch-related duties. That's pretty darned respectable. As far as it relates to the classical system that I'm accustomed to, it's a completely different goal, but approached slowly and systematically in a way that sounds very familiar. Okay, cool.  I guess my problems with "Natural Horsemanship" is that I've encountered so many horses trained in this method that were behavioral nightmares, owners who were afraid to ride, techniques that I don't get at all (the whole "shaking the rope" thing makes me crazy. If an experienced horse person doesn't know what the horse is supposed to do, how is the horse supposed to guess? I'm still not sure it's a real 'thing' in NH, but I've seen so much of it) and the crazy notion that buying a few expensive CDs and special equipment is the key to understanding and working with your horse. That's not just wrong, it's dangerous. I also do NOT dig how every fellow with a system has a bunch of glib sayings and sounds suspiciously like a snake-oil salesman, selling the idea that their system is all you'll ever need. If you dig past all the nonsense (and cult-like following), use your common sense and work with an experienced horse-person who is in line with your goals, NH can be a nice enhancement and provide some direction. On it's own? not so much. If a person is into "Natural Horsemanship", they may want to go all the way and check out the real Vaquero system. Update 6/5/14: In my research, I found a cowboy that I really like. Seriously. You can find out more about him here: brannaman.com What you won't get: Slick patter, catch-phrases and a flashy website selling lots of outrageously-priced goods. What you will get: Compassion and common sense from a hard-working person who seems way too focused on "doing" to be spending a lot of energy on "selling". Respect.

I look forward to looking deeper into that system myself, as one of my personal equestrian goals is to trail ride like it's my job, see the country and maybe write about it (and make my sister go with me and take LOTS of pictures). Contrary to popular belief, a trail horse isn't simply a horse that isn't suited to a sport (and they can totally BE a sport horse, for that matter), but a fit, specialized animal trained to cope with all manner of shenanigans. Yeah, new, non-job-related research!

My opinion of a strictly behavioral approach to dog training hasn't changed though. I recently watched the documentary Blackfish, which did ZERO to change my mind on that score. I won't spoil (okay, a bit of a spoiler) for you, and in fact I think everyone should watch the movie. It's a commentary on what the twisted lifestyle of a wild animal in captivity can do to the psychology of that animal, and it's really tragic for all involved. Add to that a training system that focuses on training behaviors without any understanding of the animal they're actually working with (who needs to know anything about orcas when you know all about behavior modification, right? *Headdesk*), no management (precautions taken) because of the HUBRIS of thinking behavioral training is all you'll ever need (even though it's a system that relies entirely on the cooperation of the animal. But hey, animals are programmable robots who react the same to the same things all the time. Especially large, predatory wild animals. Everybody knows THAT). Add to that a lot of withholding info, complete denial, and the blaming OF TRAINERS for accident and deaths, and you pretty much have yourself a recipe for disaster. The trainer-blaming (even though filmed footage doesn't support trainer-error as a cause of ANYTHING) and complete denial are, unfortunately, familiar themes. In Blackfish, it was deadly to the trainers. In the world of dog training when things go wrong, it becomes deadly to the dogs. Okay, so strict adherence to a sliver of scientific theory as the end-all be-all is always going to be a rant for me. It's like "Hey, train these killer whales blind-folded and with one hand tied behind your back", and if you fail, OF COURSE it is your fault. Fortunately, OSHA stepped in and imposed some barriers and safety standards, but it took a court battle. Of course it did. In an ideal world, there would be no wild animals held captive and trained for our amusement. Hopefully, we evolve and develop a compassion-bone sooner rather than later on that score.

Re: my electronic issues? My computer updated itself again. I think it did it just to spite me. It was all "Neener neener" while it wasted my time, taking forever to make changes to itself that I didn't need or want. Uncle! In revenge, my font size has gone wacky for no apparent reason, and I can't fix it.See...I'm not imagining things!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cult of Newer is Better

Photo: wallpapers.fansshare.com

Some days I feel old. I know I'm not, really, but things can change rapidly. Some things that went away come back again. It feels like I'm constantly dealing with some update or another with my electronics. You know, the ever-shifting landscape of the average, first-world Joe's life. I'm not that old, but in many ways the world is a completely different place from the one I grew up in and was prepared for.

Okay, let me be clear; I am very much like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. I don't handle change well, I love my routines, I'm socially awkward and I have a 'spot'. While I look forward to happy changes, the unhappy ones (or even the neutral ones) are generally devastating and send me reeling for some time.  Hell, even happy changes that I've sought out and pursued can take a long time to assimilate and accept. Having said that, I think I do okay. I like new information, I love to learn new things and I love to study the hell out of the things that interest me. New information is brain-fodder; it keeps the flames of intellect extra flamey (which is sorely needed) and sometimes new IS better. Having said that, I know all too well how fads and trends come and go, so I try to apply common sense and a bit of objectivity to all new endeavors. I think the older you get, the more this approach makes sense. Unfortunately, you can't really apply this to electronics.

One example of things that have changed a lot for the better is dog training. There was the popularity of the Koehler method, then we had The Woodhouse Way, and of course, we cannot forget the Monks of New Skete. Each one of these systems had strong advocates (some still do), a closed-minded adherence to method over all and almost a cult following (sound familiar?). Each was based on experience and learning theory. Things changed for dogs when John Fisher came along. To this day, if I could be said to have a dog-training guru, it would be this fellow. He was the first one who said "Hey, wouldn't this work better if we tried to understand what motivates dogs and tried to understand them a little better?" The first dog-training book I ever bought was "Think Dog" and it was awesome :-) He introduced the reader to pack theory, the idea of positively-motivated behavior change, how food/nutrition can influence dog behavior (he advocated Eucanuba), and how a dog's behavior could be positively influenced by the right combination of Bach flower remedies. And he was the SHIZIT. I'm not saying that with sarcasm either (in spite of the fact that most of what's on the aforementioned list is largely irrelevant now), he really was the best. I even still have a set of Throwing disks. When Mech recanted everything we knew about pack theory, Mr. Fisher didn't just go away with his tail between his legs. He did what no well-known dog trainer has ever done before or since: He admitted he was wrong, dug into the research some more, and came away smarter and better for it (and WE benefited greatly for it too, as did our dogs). These days, the owner gets blamed, the dog gets blamed, EVERYTHING but the method gets blamed. 'Cause, science (and everybody knows we've never applied science to animal behavior until just now, of course). Speaking of, I think it would be interesting to do a study to determine how many systems involving living creatures of ANY kind are actually infallible. I'm guessing not many. It's a sad commentary on egotism, but highlights what a special sort of man John Fisher was. Mr. Fisher was more interested in the dog in front of him than in promoting a specific protocol, and for that he will always have my respect (even though he passed away some time ago). Most importantly, he changed the system for the better, and then he changed it again. I'm noticing a cultish sort of trend occurring around training theory again, but I've been around long enough to understand how this works.

Speaking of things coming around again...so, rope halters for horses! Yup, they made the rounds in the 70's. I even remember seeing the ads in the old magazines. They were touted as being "the cool and lightweight alternative". They fell out of favor because they were kind of dangerous and irritating to the horse's face. Now they're back, and they have knots. We put them on, connect a heavy rope, and then SHAKE the rope to get the horse to...I'm not sure what. Then we call it natural.  This is one of those things that falls into the category of "things Kristel doesn't know enough about to speak from an educated viewpoint", so I can only opine based on observation. Is Natural Horsemanship a humane alternative to 'cowboy breaking'? To tying a horse to a sturdy post and flogging it until it gives in? Saddling it up and riding it until it stops fighting? Ah, yeah. I think that goes without saying. But as an alternative to a centuries-old system that always put the feelings of the horse first, always left the horse's temperament and personality intact and never put the horse at risk of physical or psychological damage? Not so much. There are hacks in all systems, and lots of different ways to get the job done. I guess my point here was "Hey, rope halters are back? Didn't we already decide we didn't like those? Maybe we forgot. Part of getting old is that we forget a lot of things, then somebody repackages it and markets it as something new and we get all excited again. C'est la vie.

What set off this mini-tantrum? You're going to laugh. Seriously. It's simple: My computer updated itself. It does it a lot, it does so without my permission, and every time it does it I just want it to go back to the way it was. Sometimes, new is better. I know this, as highlighted above. Sometimes, it's complicated as hell, and new for the sake of new is crazy-making. Sure, I took a computer course in college. It was MS Dos. How many of you even know what means? I don't know what that means. My I-pod is now obsolete and I can't play Dragonvale anymore. Do you know how upsetting that is? No, you probably don't. You probably have new ipods, or ipads, or you don't give a rat's furry bottom about dragons. I miss my dragons. The solution is to get a new device (which is totally what they intend!!!) but then I have to learn how to use it. It reminds me of the time I found my mother sitting on her couch in a quiet house, staring at a basket full of remote controls that was sitting in her lap. When i asked her what was wrong (she looked mildly distraught), her response was "I just want to watch channel 3, and I don't know how". I know how you feel, Mom. I'm right there with you. I know the demoralizing pain of having to ask my child to sort out my electronics. It shouldn't have to be that way. As fun, innovating and interesting as new information and new things can be, they are much easier to take when I seek them out. They are far less appreciated when they are thrust upon me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reviews

Photo: www.digitalvisitor.com
What is this? Yet another blog post? Why, yes indeed it is! I've had a bit of time to myself, and yet have been too distracted to get any REAL work done, so the end result is, of course, a blog post. Today I thought I might address the touchy subject of book reviews. I Know nobody talks about them. It's kind of like fight-club that way. But I am GOING to! I wasn't really going to address it at all, but when things float around in my head unchanneled they tend to go a bit wonky. Ergo, blog post about book reviews.

Until I became a writer myself, I never really gave much thought to reviews. I am learning that they are nearly the equivalent of a tip for waitstaff. Every time I see a good one I'm all "Whoo hoo!" all over again. Fortunately, the vast majority my reviews have been very good. I knew when I published though, that there would inevitably be some bad ones, and there have been ( I got one bad review because somebody couldn't download a sample. Facepalm). I prepared myself by reading the most horrid reviews for my favorite books by my favorite authors, and there were a LOT of them. It's shocking, really, that someone would actually sit down and take that much time to spew that much venom (some people writing lengthy paragraphs!), almost always behind some mysterious user name, or even more often "Amazon customer". I understand the nature of the internet, and I know there is no shortage of people who can't wait to have the opportunity to criticize, but some of what I read was SO over the top. It made me realize that a writer can tell an amazing story, but if the reader has no empathy or imagination it won't matter. And of course, different people just like different things. Those guys certainly aren't losing any sleep over the minority of mysterious strangers who didn't like their work, nor should they. And the criticism certainly didn't stop them from becoming very successful (far more successful than the critics, I would wager!). So why should it bother me? Why is it that, after getting a ton of great reviews, it's the very few bad ones that get under my skin? It's not stopping my progress either, but it's human nature, I suppose. It certainly explains to me why you almost never see a successful writer ripping on another writer's work. There's support and understanding there, and it's very much appreciated.

So, let me start by saying that I'm grateful for how shocked I am by some of the hateful things people say. It means that I'm not assimilated to it, that I don't think it's okay, and my own "compass" is intact. I would never say the things that I've seen written, not in writing or in person. I'm also grateful for the insight; I will always make sure to review every book I read from now on because I know how important it can be to the writer. I love it when folks message me and tell me how much they love my book, but if they don't post a review, they give the haters all the say. I'm grateful also, that my good reviews far outweigh the bad and that I have so many exciting things to look forward to as a result. Hell, I'm grateful that I took an idea and had the stones (lol) to make it a reality. I am the MOST grateful, though, for all the folks who took the time to post all the wonderful reviews! You guys ROCK :-)