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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Time Travel

Okay, I haven't really traveled through time (except forward, obviously), but it's felt a bit like I have. I had a book signing last weekend. It was awesome, but as many of you know it's a book about a past experience, and I discussed it at length. Truth be told, it was pretty cool and the folks who showed up were pretty great. Interestingly enough, The book is doing really well. Well enough that I can look into my future with hope, and have to do some financial maneuvering in order to assimilate my shiny new income without wreaking any havoc on my overall financial...stuff (for lack of a better word).

Of course the past is gone, and the future is yet to come, which means it is still the present which can be the most troublesome. So I have one leg in the past, one in the future and one in the present. I'm no math whiz, but I'm pretty darned good at biology and I know three legs are just not normal. No wonder I'm tired. It is what it is, and all the great stuff that's going on keeps me buoyed and optimistic most days. I'm uber grateful for that, and for the surprising (and kind of wonderful) amount of support I have been getting. Some days, the gratitude is overwhelming in an awesome way that is entirely new to me.

Having said that, I have been dealing with something unbelievably frustrating and dehumanizing the last few weeks. I won't go into it because it's all solved now and the "what" is less relevant than the effect it had on me. I've felt like I was in a nightmare where I was screaming for help but nobody could hear me. For weeks. I'm happy for the insight the situation provided to me: it gave me some clarity around where I would someday like to put some of my energy in the interest of helping to make the world a better place. Nobody should have to deal with what I've gone through the last few  weeks. And make no mistake; I am an assertive person who has no trouble at all advocating for myself or persisting until a problem is solved (if that weren't the case, the problem STILL wouldn't be dealt with). I am actually tenacious as hell. Not everybody is, and some people could sorely benefit from somebody advocating for them. There needs to be something in place for that purpose. Something to think about.

I'm grateful it's over and grateful for the insight provided, but it has still left me feeling, oh, I don't know. I guess the best way to put it is injured on a psychic and psychological level. I'm exhausted and it feels a bit like there's still a hole in my soul. How very dramatic, lol, but I know some of you will know what I mean. Essentially, I've had the psychological sh** kicked out of me, and it left a mark. I had a boss many years ago that created that sort of feeling, like a psychic vampire who made me face every workday with a dread so intense it caused physical symptoms. Yeah, like that.

Anyhoo, the point is to heal, I suppose. It would be much easier if the winter would relent and I could spend more quality time outside. I'm kind of an "outdoor kitty" and the long confinement of winter can really make me feel a lot more vulnerable to the shenanigans of the way of the world. My natural springiness is a bit compromised, and that means I'm internalizing more. Scary thought! It's getting better though. I have work, and walking a little close to the dark side certainly helps that, lol. I also have prayer, chocolate and Rescue Remedy, a fairly infallible combination :-)

To those of you who have ever felt like I have these last few weeks, who have ever felt like nobody could hear them screaming for help, don't resign yourself to taking it. Never do that. You're worth fighting for, so do it! Remember, if people treat you like crap, it isn't because you ARE crap, it's because they don't know how to treat people. Feel bad for them, and hope that they learn what they need to so they can become decent folks.

On that overly dramatic and emotional note (I really resent it when I feel compelled to emote. I'm an Aquarius, dammit!) I will leave you with a bit of shameless self-promotion in the form of a shiny new updated book trailer :-)

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Why of it

I get a little crazy when I'm writing.  Okay, I'm not sure that crazy is the right word, but oddly enough I can't come up with a better one. Some writer I am :-) I suppose "lost", "focused", "down the rabbit hole" would all be apt descriptions. I need not be working on some epic masterpiece (and to date have never attempted such a lofty pursuit), but it doesn't matter. I certainly go somewhere.

I'm writing another book, which looks to be the first in a three-book series. It's funny how these things seem to happen: I start out with a very clear picture of where I want it to go, and then it sort of takes on a life of its own. I wonder where it all comes from, this "other" life. I'm sure much of it lurks in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind just waiting for the opportunity to be brought to light. A scary thought on many levels. Even scarier, I write horror. One can't write what one can't imagine. But even on those rare days free of distractions and shiny things, the days when things flow most easily, writing is consistent work. I've been asked more than once why I do it, especially considering the financial uncertainty and the time commitment. For that, I have no good answer, other than because I have to.

Okay, maybe that doesn't apply so much to books (I don't think), but that's not all I write. I write a lot, and have for years. I've had a journal since I was young, and then I wrote poetry. Most of it was dark and troubled like my thoughts at the time; life hasn't always been kind, but some of it was still beautiful. I wrote in school: creative writing, English, humanities. And then I discovered (eventually, after many years) the world of online media. I wrote on Myspace, about everything, all the time. And it was such a relief. Some days (and maybe you feel this too) my head is just so filled with thoughts and my soul so filled with...I don't know, that if I didn't have an outlet I might burst. Does that give me a right to make my outlet public? Or to have the audacity to believe that I can make a living at it?  That remains to be seen. But my inner magic 8-ball says "Signs point to yes" on most days. The good days, when everything feels possible, like I'm being pulled like a magnet forward to some as-yet-to-be-determined place where I belong.

But what the hell does that mean? I guess that part of the picture isn't so clear. I've been told that my name means clarity, so maybe that's forthcoming. In the interim, I'll just fumble around in the dark like I always have, bumping occasionally into something that might be good fodder for a horror novel. Write what you know. That's the rule, isn't it? A strange thought from someone with a generally positive and overly optimistic outlook, don't you think? Blame it on the moon; it's glow creates shadows. We all have our darkness.

Maybe 'crazy' is the right word after all?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Channeling Stewart

Al Franken as Stewart Smalley
I know I write about this sort of topic with regularity bordering on obsession, but I can't help but think that if the right person 'gets it' that something good could come of it. If just one person frees themselves from the shackles of their pre-programmed inner-dialog, it's worth it to me. The reason this topic is so important is because it's something I struggle with daily. I think I'm winning for the most part, but maybe my whole life would have been different had I come to certain realizations sooner. Or more likely, I had to deal with all the kaka to come to the appropriate realizations. I can accept that. In any case, I feel like I'm always trying to channel my inner Stewart. If you aren't old and aren't a Saturday Night Live fan, you may have to click his name on the right to go to his Wiki page to even know who the hell he is, but it's worth if for no other reason than a good chuckle.

It's not his self-affirmations that are so hilarious (though they are funny), but his constant struggle with self-doubt, which is easily brought about by a word or two from the people around him. Who does THAT sound like? Pretty much everybody, right? It kind of makes his self-affirmations useless and futile, since he entirely misses the point, which is to ultimately become a confident, self-contained entity. Now THERE'S a goal. You know, I don't think any of us is really ever supposed to be entirely self-contained, and that's...okay (a little Stewart humor for ya), but I think if we can summon even a shred of autonomy and self-belief, great things can happen.

What brought on this meandering and random post? It's silly, really. I just happened to pick up Marguerite Henry's book, "White Stallion of Lipizza ", which was one of my favorites when I was a child. This particular copy was my daughter's but it was sitting on a shelf at eye-level so I grabbed it. Yes, it's a kid's book, but written with enough nuance and impeccable research for an adult to enjoy it too. It immediately took me back to when I was a horse-crazy child and could identify immensely with the main character, a boy named Hans. I won't re-write the book for you, but let's just say that Hans was passionate about horses and was told by almost everyone that it was a waste of his time and out of his reach. He would do better to focus on more sensible pursuits more suited to his station in life. Fortunately for Hans, his heart spoke more loudly than any of those voices of "reason". I knew, even then, what Hans knew: You can't choose your passion, your passion chooses you. You can listen to the nay-sayers and take on their pessimistic point of view, and in fact that is the easiest thing to do. Especially if you are a child and have no power of your own. You're more or less at the mercy of folks who believe they know better, like teachers who think the box they want to put you into is more relevant than what your own heart knows. But that's a whole 'nother story and not really the point.

The point is this: Your life WILL follow your inner-dialog. Make it YOUR inner dialog, and make it a hopeful one. Have the audacity to think you can do outrageous things, and you'll do them. Start today. I'm not saying I'm some uber-successful person who followed my own path and now all is hunky-dory in Kristel-land (yet;-). But I DID notice something really cool: When I started listening to myself and believing that I deserved good things as much as the next guy, my hard work started paying off. The bleak sort of desperation, the idea that everything meaningful to me will be forever beyond my reach while I struggle to keep things afloat, it started to melt away as the Universe began to cooperate with me and show me the way forward. And this is real, not a fascinating work of fiction that I identify strongly with, but LIFE.

I'm not suggesting anarchy here, and there are lots of you out there saying "Well, SOMEBODY has to be responsible". Responsible to whom? Yourself, or your family? I get that. Why does following your passion preclude being responsible? If you look up responsible in the dictionary (which I did for you because I'm that awesome), it says nothing whatsoever about being miserable, unhappy or trapped in drudgery from which there is no escape. So there. No excuses. Channel your inner Stewart (or who Stewart is trying to be!) and mean it, because you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it PEOPLE LIKE YOU! On that note, I leave you with a song that used to resonate with me when I was a young teeny-bopper and my mind was just absolutely beginning to rail against years of confinement (which could be yet another story that I will probably never tell you, lol). There is no "official video" so I chose a version with good audio that someone (not me) had done a really nice slide-show for. Enjoy :-)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Year's Revolutions

I don't how I feel about the idea of New Year's Resolutions. I have a pretty good record with them; last year I resolved to get my book published and I did. But I don't like the implication that I have to change something about myself because something is wrong with me, and I have to be particularly resolute about it because well, it's January 1st, dammit. It reminds me a little bit of Lent. I feel kind of guilty if I don't give something up and eat fish on Fridays. It's a thing. The reality is, I have nothing to give up. I already quit smoking several years ago, and coffee isn't optional. But as a woman of a certain age, I do particularly appreciate that all my junk email assumes (naturally!) that I'm desperate to lose weight and to sort out my wrinkles via some miracle cream, creme, serum, etc.

Newsflash, junk-email generators: My resolutions tend to run on a deeper level. The things I would really like to sort out have nothing whatsoever to do with my lumpy little body or my (well-earned!!) wrinkles. I am happy to share these things publicly, and in fact have an innate sort of belief in the idea there's magic in sharing. There's power in words and intentions, and if you put them together and make them public, it leaves room for possibilities that may otherwise just be a wistful sort of inner longing that never amounts to much.

My resolutions this year are all about resources. For starters, I would like to develop some better inner-resources. I'm not a "people person", or an extrovert, and I'm not going to be. I'm okay with that. But like many sensitive people who have been emotionally sucker-punched a time or two (thousand) too many, I tend to avoid all-things-emotional. It doesn't mean I don't feel or don't care (for those of you who openly enjoy harboring that delusion), but quite the opposite. When things get emotionally intense it's overwhelming and I panic, which manifests outwardly as logical objectivity (weird, right?) or me actively running away. Like sometimes literally. Also weird. I know I'm at an age where most of the people I deal with should have the maturity to not emote forcefully at people, but it's not always the case. I think there's some erroneous belief that forceful emotions will somehow get through to me, when in reality the opposite is true. This year, I would like to work on my response and my ability to cope with this sort of thing. I realize that the behavior of other people is really about them, but it still really gets to me in a "please pass the Klonopin" sort of way, and that means it's having a toxic effect on me. It would be much more helpful if, instead of shutting down or running away (or taking Klonopin), I could simply ask that people use their words like grown-ups. THEN I could feel okay about exiting the situation until that is possible. Maybe I could eventually be less avoidy, and more comfortable in social situations? Crazy, right? Something to work on, anyway.

But it's not just the inner-resource thing I'd like to deal with. I have been given a perspective in the last several years that I never would have had just based on my upbringing. I had no idea how sheltered I was or how little information I really possessed about the world around me, and would have remained blissfully ignorant had I not been through hell myself. I used to believe that people who struggled financially were lazy, or that they brought it on themselves somehow. That life is all about the choices we make for ourselves, and if we're struggling it's our own damned fault. Personal experience has taught me that that viewpoint is, well, a crock of sh** if I may be blunt. Perpetuating this fallacy amounts to abuse of the most vulnerable people, and yet it remains acceptable in some circles.  Sometimes, doo doo happens that is beyond our control and it's outright hubris to believe otherwise. Now that I know better, I can't help but believe that I went through all that for a reason, and I resolve to work hard enough to have the resources and the position to do something about what I know. The idea drives me. The idea that I might someday be able to do something tangible to help, inspires me. How? I don't yet. But the book is feeling like a good start. It could have a decent run and fade into obscurity.  Or, it could inexplicably (with a bit of a nudge) go viral and get made into a movie. Who knows. That's the cool part: Anything is possible, and the odds are much more favorable than buying a lottery ticket. For the first time in a long time, I don't feel like the best days are behind me. I have faith in my future. I want more people to feel that. There's no bad there.

Okay, and the rest of it is to be expected, I suppose. I want "home". For me, that means roots, both literally and figuratively. Something that's mine. And a horse. Always a horse.

So, I won't be buying a gym membership anytime soon, or purchasing some kind of $20 melon-based facial-miracle-in-jar, but I suppose if that's what you're into it's okay. It's just not for me.

Thank you for reading! Wishing you ALL a joyful, successful and HAPPY 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas List (post 100!)

Norman Rockwell
So, this isn't going to be my best Christmas ever. I miss my family, we just got hit with an ice storm, my daughter and I have the flu and my ex is trying to shoe-horn a last-minute person into our "family dinner" at Kotos. I have usually spent hours making gifts and ornaments to send to family members, and am enjoying the knowledge that they are done and sent by now, but not this year. Have I mentioned we've had the flu? Nothing is done. I just spent the last 20 minutes or so walking/sliding/falling down the same 20 feet of sidewalk with an under-exercised (98 pound!) dog trying get him to "do his business" before I coughed both my lungs free from my chest, ejecting them forcefully onto the icy sidewalk. So no, not the best Christmas ever.

But so what? Christmas isn't our only chance to be happy, to get it right. Through this understanding, I've reached a level of acceptance and even the ability to laugh at what a monumental mess things are this year. It has freed me from any and all expectations, and I'm going to call it "The Blessing of Freedom from Expectations" and turn it into a good thing instead of the real f***arow that it has actually become. Come on guys, this couldn't have gone more pear-shaped if I had planned it! It really IS kinda funny.

How would things be if my Christmas wishes were granted?

First of all, my parents would be here. I would have a house to host the festivities and I would have spent the last few days enjoying their company, making cookies, drinking hot chocolate and the like. I think it goes without saying that my daughter and I wouldn't have the flu. Our dogs would take themselves out into their yard, where they could get their frolic on without taking down any people. My gifts would all be sent, and I would be really excited to hear about what folks thought of them. My tree would be surrounded by gifts for the loved ones enjoying Christmas at home.

Dinner would be a fun meal cooked with love by those of us who were sitting down to enjoy it. My ex would still be there, but would have some social perceptiveness. Christmas would be a day to look forward to, not a day to grin and bear it and remember my manners (my new mantra; be polite, remember your manners).

Gifts for me would be simple: a gift card to my favorite clothing store or book store. A Vermont Teddy Bear (silly, REALLY silly, but I've always wanted one. This one, actually, with honey colored fur and blue jammies). A pair of LL Bean Wicked Good slippers. And you know, a pony. Some things never change :-)

But there are days that come after Christmas too, and in fact, endless possibilities to make good things happen all year round. The flu is going away, and the ice storm is behind us already. There's a start. I can do this. WE can do this. Please refer to my previous post about gratitude, because it's still true.

I hope everyone has a blessed and wonderful holiday, and that at least one wish comes true for you this season!

Friday, December 13, 2013


Yes, I know the photo is of "grapefruit" and has nothing whatsoever to do with being "grateful", but it's a device. "Grateful" is one of those words I habitually misspell (I want it to be "greatful", which is like "grateful", but with aspirations) and the word "grapefruit" is how I remember to spell it correctly. Just work with me here. Trust me, it's a good device, and furthermore I couldn't find a single photo of "grateful". But I digress...

As always this time of year, I'm struggling to maintain a cheerful demeanor.  I love the season, but it's incredibly painful too. Last year was okay because our mom visited from Florida between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it really took the sting out of it, but it's back to the crushing longing for home and family this year. Oh, I have a place to live. But a place to live and home are two very different things. If you don't know the difference, you can consider yourself a very lucky individual. I haven't been "home" for a very, very long time. No visit from the parental units this year, so it's back to Koto's for a Japanese Christmas for us.

Okay, well, this can go one of two ways: I can succumb and just melt into a pile of gelatinous goo until after the new year (tempting!), or I can take a long hard look at all of the things the past year has given me, the pretty terrific people in my life, and the things I have to look forward to, none of which are dependent on having a magical holiday. I think I'll take what's behind door #2.

I've had a pretty incredible year. I had my book published, at long last. The way it happened was pretty cool too; the right opportunity came up at exactly the moment I was ready to go. How often does that happen? And the feedback has been pretty awesome! I think most writers have moments of doubt. I know I had more than a few days of thinking that everything I wrote that day was useless garbage. Most often, the next day it all seemed okay, but in the moment I was convinced that every word sucked. The reviews have been pretty great too. So far, so good, and if I get a bad review I can handle it because of all the great ones I have to fall back on. I even had my picture in the local paper, which was a pretty neat experience too :-)

The thing I am most grateful for though (and considering what an anti-social being I am it may come as a shock) is all the people who have supported me and buoyed me to where I am now. I have a long way to go yet, and it's my own initiative that I need to rely on for that, but I am overwhelmed by how many people supported me through this journey thus far: friends, family (mostly) and even complete strangers have been there, promoting, encouraging, buying my book, liking my fan page, and generally just being THERE. It's meant the world to me, and I'm still in awe. I've become very used to "Little Red Hen-ing" it (please note there is no political nonsense implied by this statement) for the most part and with rare exception, so the overwhelming support and positive feedback has been...just wow.

THAT will be my focus. Yup, I'm still going to feel sad. But I'm so grateful to have had (and to have) people in my life who were/are so amazing that it hurts this badly to miss them. I am grateful to have hope for the future, to know what "home" really means, and know that someday in the not-too-distant future I will finally be able to put down roots again and feel like I'm home. It's what I'm working my derriere off for!

So THANK YOU, dear folks, for helping this lumpy, middle-aged Weeble along her path. My gratitude is sincerely eternal:-)

On that mushy note, I leave you with a mushy video (I've become a video embedding MACHINE). It's a song that makes me cry because it reminds me so much of my dear grandfather and his wonderful tenor voice, but it's a good memory, and it means Christmas to me:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Apples and Oranges

I have been asked to clarify the difference between working and show line dogs. I would be happy to! I will use Dobermans as my example, because they are "my" breed :-) I have often said that the two dogs are so different that they might as well be separate breeds and that's true. They should both be love bugs with their families, stable and safe (especially applies to working line, for reasons you will see!), and neither of them should be inherently aggressive. They bear some resemblance to each other too, of course, but that's where the similarities end. Once upon a time, Dobermans had a well-earned reputation for fierceness. Even the show-dog Ferry had such a bad reputation that no judge would touch him. Sadly, he was eventually killed in self-defense by a kennel hand. Breeders subsequently decided that stability and at least some degree of tractability were important assets, and today's Doberman, both show and working lines, reflect that emphasis. In my experience, Dobermans are some of the kindest (if the most cheeky!) dogs out there.

I like nice examples of both working and show lines, so my intent here isn't to show a preference for one or the other (though Murph is primarily of the "working" variety) but merely to highlight the difference. I think the best way to do that is through videos. The first video shows a well-know and quite lovely show Doberman named CJ strutting it out in the ring. CJ will show you a great of example of a show line dog, doing what show line dogs are bred to do:

She's really quite a beautiful dog!

The next video will show a working line dog doing what working line dogs were bred to do. Because so few people understand Schutzhund, I feel like I have to qualify a few things first. This isn't a mean sport where dogs are forced to attack people and become dangerous. Quite the opposite. For the dogs, this is a fun game that they've learned through careful training (about 95%  or more +R, btw) over many months to a few years. Schutzhund trainers are some of the best in the world, and their dogs are almost always beloved family pets. The dogs aren't "attacking a person", they are going for the sleeve which they've come to know as a reward for obedience. The high prey drive inherent in these dogs means that a toy is often more of a reward than food. The stick is NOT for hitting the dog, but is known as a "clatter stick". It is usually hollow bamboo slit lengthwise, and its intention is to make a lot of noise. The example I'm going to show is the "protection" phase of competition, but know that a Schutzhund-trained dog is also highly proficient in obedience and in tracking. I don't know the woman or the dog in the following video, but I chose it because the pair of them approximate Murphy and I proportionally (I think Murph might be a smidge taller), the dog looks a lot like Murph's dad, and his gormy mannerisms are very "Murph like" :-) Please take note of the amazing obedience on this dog, despite his obvious power and energy:

 As you can see, they are very, very different animals, each having a very different mindset and impact on the world around them. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges (ergo the title of this post, lol).  I hope this helps, and feel free to ask questions!