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Friday, December 26, 2014

The Time In Between

Photo: christmasstockimages.com
The time between Christmas and New Year's Eve has always felt a bit awkward. There's that melancholy sadness of another Christmas come and gone, and yet another celebration in the works. I usually toast the New Year with my daughter, pouring sparkling grape juice into obscenely expensive German crystal wine glasses to make it extra special. Then, she is off with her friends, and I usually find something interesting on the telly to keep me awake until midnight, at which point I say "Happy New Year" to my dog, and go to bed. As routines go, it's a simple one.

I don't like crowds. I find large, social gatherings exhausting, so though I love to wear sequins, I rarely find myself in a position to do so. It's all good. I value the quiet, the ability to complete a thought and the relative predictability of not-a-party. As I get older, I appreciate that quiet even more.

It's funny though; this year is absent the anxiety I usually feel about another year going by. As much as I like predictability, I like to feel that I'm making progress, that there is hope and that I'm moving toward something meaningful. It's not hard to understand why a person would feel a bit out of sorts in the post-Christmas-hype state of overeating and undersleeping. For somebody like me, just messing with the routine can send me a bit off the rails. But this year, I realized that my best years AREN'T behind me. There are things to work on (always), but the time period I'm in right now is filled with sparkly goodness, and the kind of joy that makes me laugh until my cheeks AND stomach hurt. I am doing things. I am learning things. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but to someone who has become accustomed to having to focus on coping with the way the Universe acts upon her in unpredictable ways, it has been very nice to be the one doing the 'acting upon".

And it works. I act, things change. It hasn't always been the case. Sometimes I've felt like negotiating my life was something akin to driving with the parking brake on. Sometimes it's still like that. But it's changing. My personal impatience makes me want it all and right now. But I think things happen the way they do for a reason. I have time. Interestingly enough, that used to be my horse-training mantra, and then it became my dog-training mantra. Now, it's just a mantra. I'm okay to be in the moment. Even the challenges only serve to reinforce my commitment to the things that are meaningful and important. The Universe says "How bad do you want it?" My answer has to be an unwavering "THIS bad!".

So, on to the new year. I have a new book to finish, and so plenty of work to do. I'll "do my best and surrender the rest" (thank you, Nadiya!). I'll do so knowing that what's for me will not pass me by, that I don't need to control (and in fact can't) every element of everything, and I'll look forward to learning and moving through the lessons of the year to come. I have rarely had such a decent attutude about anything. Progress!

I hope you all have a safe, joyful and magical New Year's Eve, and a very blessed and wonderful year to come!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What I want for Christmas

It's funny how my Christmas list changes and doesn't change yearly.  What a crazy-awesome year it's been for me. I can't say that all my problems are solved by any means, but the gratitude I feel is immense. I feel a little funny writing a Christmas list. I mean, the season really shouldn't be about this giant greed-fest that it's become. I saw Chris Rock on SNL talking about this very subject; he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of Jesus' birthday, and Jesus was one of the LEAST materialistic people to ever walk the Earth. So HOW did it get to be the season of mad materialism? A HELL of a good question.

Having said that, topping my wish-list this year (as always it seems) is a pony (a horse, actually!). Horses and dogs are the two areas of my life where I can get happily spendy, and I'm largely okay with it. I seem to lack the materialism gene in every other way, so I forgive myself this indiscretion. I was raised by depression-era grandparents, so my philosophy is very much one of "buy the best you can and take care of it". I recently replaced my 30 year old washer/dryer set because I could no longer find parts to repair them. Seriously. As you can imagine, this time of constant 'upgrading' seems like an uber-waste of resources to me, but I digress.

So, aside from the prerequisite pony, what would I like for Christmas? If I could have anything I want (and this IS my list, after all), I would wish that my family could be together for the holidays. It was the one time of the year (and sometimes two) that I was overjoyed to be ensconced in noise and chaos, because it was the loving noise and chaos of my family. I'm so grateful to have had those memories. On the upside, Christmas with my friends (the family I chose) is pretty great too, and I do have that to look forward to.

On a grander scale, I wish we could better see the humanity in each other. I think it begins by eliminating the sponsored-brainwashing of the media, and coming from a heart-centered place. Yeah, the individual is important, but without the support of each other it's a pretty lonely place to be. Together we can make HUGE things happen. We're starting to see that, and as the light begins to shine on ugly things once hidden, we can collectively make things better for ourselves and each other.

I wish that when I tuck myself into my warm bed at night, I could do so knowing that everyone has a warm bed. That I didn't have to know that, on a cold night, someone is sleeping in a tent because they have nowhere else to go. I wish that when I sat down to a good meal, I could do so knowing that nobody else is going hungry. We have been both homeless AND hungry. The lie is that people do it to themselves. The truth is that sometimes, people need help. Do you want to believe the lie, or show compassion? I wish I had the voice and the resources to do something tangible for those who can't do for themselves. I'll get there.

I wish that all domestic animals would be in the hands of competent and knowledgeable caregivers.  I wish that none of them would be given as Christmas gifts, nothing more than a trinket among many other trinkets. They deserve a special homecoming all their own.

I wish that children could become human beings before they 'plugged in', that school was an enriching experience, that the education of the soul was at least as relevant as the education of the mind. I wish that children could be grounded in the world, with dirty hands and pink cheeks from playing in the fresh air. We are beings of the earth, and as such the value of of fresh air and the outdoors will never be obsolete.

So, I guess I don't want anything outrageous or unreasonable then ;-) And if you can't give me one of those things, I'd also really like an L.L. Bean gift card :-) In any case, I wish you all a wonderful, magical holiday, whatever you celebrate this time of year. I wish you good health, happiness, fulfillment of dreams, ambitions and wishes. Thank you all for being a part of my journey!

I leave you with my favorite Christmas song:


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reasons for Giving

It's that time of year again. As mentioned at length in my previous post, I LOVE the holiday season. I'm super stoked this year because I love the plans I have lined up: A large turkey-day with family and friends at my cousin's house (there will be an OBSCENE amount of food there) and an expanded 'orphan's' Christmas with lots of friends who are like family. There may even be a cameo appearance by my Mom in there somewhere (which would be awesome!!!!!). I have so much gratitude this year it's coming out of my ears. Even so, I can't help but think of the less fortunate and wish there was something more I could do.

Whenever I've envisioned my ideal future, it involves me miraculously coming into money (via a book/movie/work deal) and having enough land to grow food with plenty to share. I fantasize about setting my life up in such a way that money has less importance (living frugally, making a lot of things myself, going solar, growing a lot of my own food, etc.) and thereby having enough money to do something tangible about the things I see that hurt my heart (especially the homeless problem). I'm not a people-person at all (and in fact am quite agoraphobic) so the hands-on approach isn't something I can do, but it doesn't mean I don't care and don't see the need. I'm so fortunate, especially this year, but it wasn't always so.

I am so lucky to have had my grandparents to set an example for me. They always emphasized that helping another person should be about that person. It should be done in a way that allows that person their dignity. It's why, on the rare occasion that I can help financially, I give money. I do it quietly, and move on. I can almost hear the collective groan from my readers: "What if they spend it on drugs/beer/whatever?" What if they do? But what if it's the first opportunity they've had to do laundry in a long while? Or the first chance to get a hot meal? The point is to give without strings or expectation. Another person's life and choices are none of my damned business. My choices are to help or not. If they spend it on beer, they do. I recently discovered that my daughter does exactly the same thing for the same reasons. Have I mentioned that she's an awesome human being?

People have this idea of the poor as dysfunctional, uneducated, mentally ill addicts who were teen parents and probably ex-cons who did something grievous to bring it all on themselves. First of all, poverty is about nothing more complicated than not having enough money to sustain oneself. Being a single parent, in and of itself, can be all it takes to get there, unfortunately. It's true that some of the aforementioned issues can run concurrently with poverty or even be a primary cause, but they are all separate issues, and issues that folks who don't have money-problems can have too. We need to stop vilifying the poor and making them 'other'. We are all human beings on this planet. I know there are folks who are all about the individual and me-ism, thinking they can just set some kind of example. I'm familiar with the erroneous belief-system that assumes that all people need is a little motivation. In that vein, I'm certain that a man with no legs is not likely to be inspired by how fast YOU run, literally or figuratively. No man is an island. Nobody has omnipotent control over even their own circumstances. It is absolute ignorance to believe otherwise.

Think about it: Person A and person B are born into similar circumstances. Person A's parents pay for their education and sign off on all the big purchases. Hell, person A might even have a credit card in their name that mommy and daddy pay for. Person A starts life in pretty great shape: No educational debt, a house (equity), and even a little good credit courtesy of Mom and Dad. Person B has to work their way through school, but even so, has a mountain of debt dogging them for life. Person B also has to rent (nobody to sign off on the big purchases+school loans=rent) and is pretty much stuck. Both can do okay, but if something unforeseen happens (like cancer), person A is in much better shape to absorb the financial repercussions, but person B is screwed. Unfair, but true. And many, many folks start life with far less than even person B.

I think of my grandparents again. My grandmother especially was full of little verbal gems :-) She loathed greed and always emphasized people over money, especially family. She used to say things like "It's nice to be seen in church in your nice clothes putting money in the basket, but if members of your own family are going without it's not piety, it's hypocrisy".  Another favorite: "If you have to take credit for it, you're doing it for yourself". I miss "Nana-isms". I miss the straightforward (and occasionally relentless) wisdom that my grandparents possessed. They didn't just say it, they believed it and lived it.

Maybe that's why I get a little crazy when I see folks on TV talking about how they are helping the poor, the poor inevitably milling about in the background. Maybe people don't want to be on TV for being poor. Why has that not occurred to anyone? Why do we have toy drives instead of just quietly giving needy parents the cash to buy toys? What is the harm in letting the parents be the heroes?  Or in letting the children choose the toys they want instead of being surprised with 'whatever' on Christmas morning? Why has none of this ever occurred to anyone? It's as though the assumption is that a lack of money somehow makes a person instantly stupid or unable to make any of their own choices, and it's not fair. And it starts with teaching children that they should feel lucky to get anything at all. What most people don't (and don't want to) understand is that needing and asking for help is humiliating.

I'm more about empowerment. You don't empower people by taking their choices away and throwing them crumbs. You don't empower people by using them and their suffering to lift yourself up and talk about what a great person you are. You don't empower people by telling them that if they don't have money, there must be something wrong with them. What IS that? Nobody wants handouts or crumbs. what people want are opportunities, real ones. Not the opportunity to struggle and be treated like disposable crap at a low-paying job, but REAL opportunity. I would have given anything for the opportunity to save myself. But I'm person B, and a single parent. I fully understand the shock of discovering that daycare costs more per hour than I can make and all the fun little shenanigans that follow that discovery. I feel that my perspective is unique because I fell from one world straight into another, and it was one I was completely unprepared for. The difference in the way I was suddenly treated was shocking and frankly, unacceptable. It was my fortunate upbringing that helped me to survive and pull myself out, but I didn't forget a thing. But how are people supposed to have any hope?

So clearly, this post got away from me. Even so, I hope that what I've written here gives you something to think about. I'm not saying don't donate to the food shelf and don't buy toys for the toy drives (in fact PLEASE DO! They are really in need!!). Right now, that's what there is and it's preferable by FAR to doing nothing. But please keep in mind that the folks who are struggling do so all year round, that they are not struggling because they want to. Many of them work and have children, many are veterans, are disabled, are elderly. All are human beings, each one a soul with value and purpose. Please don't let the media lie to you or the few who abuse the system convince you that the poor are somehow undeserving of your love and respect. While it's true we are all responsible for our own lives, we are here for each other too. We all need help sometimes, and I'll value human beings over cash any day.

On that note, I hope you have  an awesome turkey day!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I'm Part of the Problem

I've come to a startling revelation. When folks gripe about the season of scarymerrythankmas, it's people like me they are griping about. Okay, I admit it. I LOVE the holiday season. LOVE it. Halloween is the best, I love all things spooky! But I have to suppress the urge to run out and buy myself an ugly Christmas sweater the morning after Halloween is over. No kidding. I think there is a place for such garishness, and that it can even add to the festivities :-) One ugly Christmas sweater, please! Oh...my friends are going to hate me...

So here we are, aaaalll the way into November (the 4th, actually) and I'm already thinking about updating my Christmas card list, and making patterns for all the homemade Christmas things I'm going to make this year. I feel like I'm so far behind! I didn't get ANYTHING done last year because both my daughter and I had the flu. But this year I am all over those crafting projects.

I think part of the excitement is my updated point of view. I've historically had a tough time during the holidays. It's a time of year that emphasizes the loved ones I've lost and the ones I always miss. It's a time when I'm reminded of everything I've lost. But this year, this amazing year, I've had a chance to look around and see my friends in a whole new way. Friends are the family you choose, and mine don't ever seem to let me down. In fact, they regularly seem to go above and beyond. Yes, I've lost loved ones, but I've got a lot of new ones (or "new-ish") in my life. That realization alone is cause for celebration!

Nothing is the same. Nothing will ever be the same. I get that now, more than ever. And yeah, there will always be sadness attached to that and there will always be holes. But I'm not alone, not at all. I AM supported and loved. I don't need to go looking for that where it isn't on offer because it is offered in SO MANY places. I'm looking forward to making plans for our 'Orphan's Christmas' with friends (and hey guys, if you're reading this, let's wear ugly Christmas sweaters. Like for real. And take LOTS of pictures), I'm excited about getting gifts done, about sending out my cards. I can't wait for the cheerful lights, the fresh smell of pine, and the sound of Christmas music. Yup, I've become THAT person. And why not? What's wrong with a whole season of joy and gratitude and cheer? I have so much to celebrate this year, and so many people to celebrate with. Let's get this show on the road!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Stop the Bus

When life would get to a point somewhere past ridiculous, my friend Dawn (AKA "Donna") used to say "Stop the bus, I want to get off".  It was silly, but somehow, nothing was quite able to sum up that particular state of mind quite so well as that statement. It just fit. I am currently experiencing one of those days. I wish there was a bus to stop. Figuratively, anyway, the bus I'm currently riding feels like it's careening down some random embankment, driven by a zombie, and I'm its hapless, helpless passenger just trying to hang on until it comes to a stop. My greatest hope is that when it does, it's still upright. Ahh...there are few things I like better than getting overly dramatic about bad days, so if you don't have the stomach for that sort of thing, you may want to get off this particular bus now.

I don't know where my car is. My daughter took it to work last night, and both the car and kid are still AWOL. Some days, I don't even feel like I actually own a car, unless it's time to pay one of the many car-related expenses. I said "You can use my car for work" She heard "You may take over my car, and my need for it will always be secondary to whatever you have going on". This is totally my fault. I hate playing taxi SO MUCH that it was a relief. But it has now reached the point of sublime ridiculousness. I don't like bringing the thunder, but if I don't I'm going to explode. Badness. I just have to keep reminding myself that yes, I actually DO own a car. MY car. MINE.

Don't get me wrong, my daughter has been in touch. This morning, at 4:00 AM. Then again at 6:00 AM. Then again at 9:00 AM. Ask me how fabulously I get on when I haven't slept. To say I feel prickly today is an understatement (and what an adorable little euphemism prickly is). I have decided to remain in my apartment for the safety of others. Well, except when I have to take my dog out, which happens. I will do my level best to NOT unleash the tides of doom on whichever unfortunate neighbor I happen to encounter en route. No promises though.

Did I mention that today was also 'sprinkler-test' day? That means the the sprinkler company is here all morning, setting off the alarms over and over again at random intervals. If that noise isn't enough to do in that last nerve that I hope I have, my screaming Doberman might just do it. When the alarms go off, the dog screams. AWESOME. Dobermans are a big dog and most people will tell you that they have a big, booming bark to go with their large size. But, (and all Doberman owners are very aware of this) they also have what I call 'tea-kettle' mode. They have a high-pitched, piercing shriek in their arsenal of sounds that is simply not to be believed until you experience it personally. It almost has a paralyzing effect on the nervous system in some odd, apparently supernatural way. My preference would be to get in my car and maybe take the dog somewhere until they are done, but ya know, I don't know where my car is.

Today is also one of those days when the folks I need to hear from are not getting back to me, and the folks I DON'T need to hear from won't leave me alone (and somebody keeps leaving voicemail messages on my cell phone, which is kind of new, and I don't know how to retrieve the messages). It's not a super day for chit chat. Trust me, you are SUPER psyched that I'm not answering the phone ;-)


Okay, so here's the game-plan: I'm going to hole-up until the storm passes. I can do this. I know that with a little bit of something chocolate and maybe a mocha latte, this day need not be an utter crisis. I promise I will not call you today, and I will not call my Mom. Her nerves and my nerves have a similar intolerance for utter madness. And yes, you may laugh as I am sure to do myself in a day or two. Until next time!



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Q&A

I can't believe it's been almost a year since my first book, "In Stone" was published. And what a wild year it's been! I am so beyond grateful for all the awesome folks who have gone out of their way to support me, all the folks who have read the book and all the kind words coming my way. Thank you, SO MUCH for putting out all that wonderful, positive energy! Not a day goes by when it's not appreciated.

I thought I would commemorate the book's almost-one-year anniversary by answering some of the most popular questions. I actually really like it when people ask questions, and I notice the same ones popping up with some frequency. I normally reserve this space for mind-wandery, whatever's-in-my-head stuff, but it seemed like a Q&A was long overdue. So here goes!

1) Why didn't you just leave?

This has got to be, far and away, THE most popular question I get. The short answer: We didn't have the resources, and we had nowhere to go.

The long answer is much more complex, however. I tried my best to provide some context here by highlighting how we grew up vs. where we suddenly found ourselves. When we rented the house, we were not in a great place emotionally or financially. I describe that time in my life as feeling like I had been pushed down a hill and I couldn't stop falling. Renting this house was supposed to be healing, and we desperately needed it to be. Letting go wasn't just financially impossible, but it was like an emotional last-straw that we didn't have. There was also a part of us that, in spite of what we were seeing with or own eyes, never could come to grips with the reality of what was happening to us.

2) When is the movie coming out?

Haha...the second most popular question! There has been some interest shown in making "In Stone" a movie, but I still don't know if or when it will happen. I wish I had a better answer, but this bit is out of my hands. I will definitely keep you all posted though!

3) I don't believe in ghosts.

Okay, not really a question, but for reasons I don't quite understand, total strangers have walked up to me and said this very thing. My response is usually "Okay...?" followed by me walking away confused. It doesn't matter to me who believes what. For me, it changes exactly nothing. Frankly, it's a little bit like a color-blind person walking up to me and saying "I don't believe in the color red".  Whether or not red exists isn't dependent on any individual belief. I've seen it, so I know it's real.  What would be foolish would be ME not believing in the color red. Am I making any sense? Wishing/hoping something isn't true doesn't make it so.

4) When you noticed things happening, why didn't you research the house?

I have had folks get REALLY angry about us not doing any research while we were living in the house. There were so many reasons for this! First of all, you have to keep in mind that this was rural Vermont in '97-'98. We had no computers, no cell phones and all the ghost-hunting programming was long into future yet. We didn't even have a cordless phone. Any contact information could only be found in the yellow pages, and since none of us had ever even heard the words 'paranormal investigation', we didn't look. If we had, we would not have found anything. It was a different time, a different place, and we were just normal people trying to go about our lives. On the very rare occasion that we summoned the bravery to say "our house is haunted", we were met with laughter and ridicule, which is exactly what one would have expected then. Also, we were TERRIFIED. We were in survival mode, and we innately felt that the more we acknowledged what was happening, the worse it would get. We didn't even talk about it with each other; our fear was that intense. Digging deeper was the LAST thing on our minds. We were just getting through the day. Most people who have lived in a genuinely haunted house totally get it, and for that I have been grateful.

I DID do some research when I wrote the book. What I learned is that it's really difficult to find anything relevant, BUT the Hinesburg Historical Society was able to provide me with some juicy historical tidbits that are included at the end of the book.

5) Are you Catholic?

This is one I get a lot but I don't really understand why. I am, but it didn't seem to have any bearing whatsoever on our experience. Maybe folks ask because Catholics believe in exorcisms, but since none was ever performed (or even considered/discussed), I guess I'm not really clear on the relevance.

6) Are you writing another book? And will it be paranormal?

That would be a 'yes' and a 'yes' :-) The next book is going to be a fictional story built around true accounts. It's been slow going because "In Stone" continues to pull focus (a "problem" I'm happy to have!) but I'm having a blast! There's something exceptionally liberating about writing fiction. "In Stone" was a true account and it involved so many people that I really had to keep things truthful and above board. Those who were there said I did so successfully, so YAY! But book two is just between my characters and me, and it's a much simpler path in many ways.

I would be happy to answer more question if you have any, so don't hesitate! If you're local, I will be at the Milton Public Library on Monday night at 6:30, so I hope to see you there!

So much LOVE AND GRATITUDE!!!!!!



Monday, September 22, 2014

Productivity

Photo: desktopbackgrounds.biz
Productivity means different things to different people. Some folks take it uber-seriously, breaking down each hour in the day for some active task or another. Some bosses ride their employees relentlessly to make sure that every minute they pay for is used in service to something. Some people drive themselves, pushing the limits of their own endurance because...well, I guess I don't know why. I think there is something a little masochistic to that mind set. I've had helicopter-bosses too, but not for very long ;-) It's not that I don't handle nagging/whip-cracking/nipping at my heels well, it's more like I don't tolerate it at all. It's the surest way there is to get me to bail entirely.

Don't get me wrong, I will work like a dog and respect deadlines, I can even work like that for awhile for a specific purpose, but I don't do well with someone standing over me. But long-term, it's like, something short-circuits in my brain and all I can think of is getting away. I get all weird and avoidy and NOTHING gets done. I used to think it was strange, because I've observed people with an (apparently) extreme tolerance for this sort of thing, but I've learned it's actually fairly common. Does that make me feel better or more "normal"? Better, yes. More "normal"? Well, that's a whole n'other topic.

My personal productivity peaks when my mind is quiet. Some of the best ideas I've ever had were in those moments when it appeared that nothing at all was happening. Some of the other most productive moments have occurred when I was going for a walk, or doing some easy but repetitive chore (like mucking stalls). My friend Autumn called those moments of brilliance "muckpiphanies" and it's one of the better words either one of us has made up (and we've made up a few!). I NEED that quiet. without it, I can do nothing. For me, being busy is not at all the same as being productive. For me, it's the quiet that's important.

It's something to keep in mind as I look forward to some of my fondest wishes coming true. I'm grateful for the time between being able to acknowledge the possibilities, and the actual manifestation. I feel like it's not an "if" but a "when" (when, oh WHEN?), and I feel it in my bones. I know that feeling, and I know what it means. So what do I want? Home, of course. But a home that's not a chore-factory. I will never be okay with spending an entire weekend devoted to mowing the lawn. That's just stupid, unless you LIKE mowing. I HATE it (probably because of all those weekends devoted to mowing the lawn!). I will never want a house so big it takes me all day to clean it. I simply don't see the point. What do people do with all that space, anyway? And for me, a lot of space would just make me paranoid. I write HORROR. My brain can conjure up all manner of things hiding in various corners. Do people get big houses to collect belongings? Why? I kind of like the idea of getting a few quality things (or even better, having them made) and then take really good care of them. Like, forever. To hell with what's fashionable. I'm not fashionable. It's not something I think much about. I just like what I like. And how much stuff does a person need? I will admit, I rent a storage space. I rent a space for us, and a space for my stuff. It would seem really stupid to me, but my storage contains outdoor furniture that my grandfather made. it doesn't work in my teeny apartment, but I won't let it go either. Okay, so THAT I get. But otherwise, what's the point?

I always thought I wanted so much but as it turns out, home and a horse would get it done. Lots of folks have both. I (we) deserve to as well. For some, a horse is not a want but a need. That's what keeps me productive and moving forward. Sometimes, when results are less tangible, or time goes by and I feel like I have to take everything on faith, I keep those basic needs in mind. Then I try to find some quiet moments to be productive, and lose myself in the (mostly) peaceful world of the story I'm working on.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Empathy

Photo: rapidlikes.com
I'm in an uber-weird place today. I blame the moon. I like to be funny, but today I'm just not feeling it. I've been a bit hyper-sensitive to the "ugly" in the world lately, and I don't like it. I know it exists; it always has and it always will.  Most of the time I choose not to focus on it. There's a lot of things in this world that are exceptional and amazing too, and I think the more we look at those things, the more we can shape our outlook to something positive. Even so, sometimes I feel like I live in a world devoid of empathy. I don't want to be part of that. Easier said than done.

I know what it's like to be around unsympathetic people. I know what it's like to be humiliated and judged. I think we all do. I know what it's like to be marginalized, verbally abused and physically assaulted too. It's a smaller group that I belong to, but not small enough. I know what it's like to be so betrayed by people I've loved and trusted that I was never the same again. I know what it's like to grow up and realize that nothing I believed in was true. I know what it's like to be told, over and over and over, "You need to figure this out by yourself." I've heard it when I was having the rug ripped out from under me, I've heard it when I was drowning emotionally, I've heard it when I was desperate and asking for help. I drove myself to the hospital in labor. I raised a child to adulthood without a dime of child support. There have been times in my life when just the smallest gesture, just the most minute amount of faith from another person would have made a world of difference, but it wasn't there. I have had to "...figure this out by myself" so consistently that my challenge these days is learning how to trust and work with other people. I'm not complaining! It's new, I've earned it, and it's kind of awesome. But nobody should have to "figure this out" by themselves. That's not why we're here.

But I know what it's like to be angry. Okay, not just angry, but so angry I thought I could be eaten alive by my own rage, and almost was. I can almost understand why people hang on every word of the "news" that tells them who to blame, who to hate and how to feel. And of course it works. If someone is "other" and we get to hate/blame/whatever them, then not only do we get to feel "better than", but it absolves us of  any responsibility for our fellow human beings. We can watch people struggle and feel nothing. We get to be selfish, and feel perfectly justified. Of course it's easy to hang on to that, to believe the lies, to be 'us vs. them'. To develop and cling to a paranoia so intense that we arm ourselves so that we are able to put fatal holes into other human beings as we see fit. Into them. That other created by the hate-factories called "news". How are we okay with this? I mean, HOW ARE WE OKAY WITH THIS?!

I know I'm not the only one who sees it or feels it. I am so grateful for that. But what if we all woke up tomorrow, and decided to trade in our judgement and hatred for empathy? What would things look like then? What if we could be human beings instead of Americans, Canadians, Russians, black, white and brown? What if we recognized that ALL religions (well, maybe not satanism) are, at their heart, based on love? What if we embraced our differences instead of using those differences to kindle fear and paranoia within ourselves or others? What if we saw people struggling, and instead of blaming them, we offered a hand? I know it's possible. In my very own life I have met people who do just those things. Some of them for me. Sometimes, that person has BEEN me. That's how I know we have a choice.

I have been angry and blamey. I know what it feels like. I know how easy it is to just exist in that. But the good people (my mother especially) who have come into my life have allowed me to see something else. We can all be that person for somebody if we want. I choose to be the kind of person I can have respect for. For all of us, it's a choice. You can hate and judge; you can turn a blind eye. It will be your sin to live with. No matter what other people do, the behavior we are responsible for is our own, always. How we treat people isn't about them, it's about who we are. We don't have to be the same to have empathy for one another. If we all had empathy, all the problems in the world today would disappear.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Significance of Sunflowers

Photo: amoreint.com
Monday was the Monday-est Monday I can remember for a long time. This week, they're doing work in my building too, so the space invasion is feeling extra invade-y Yet somehow, I remain somewhat philosophical about it. Perhaps it's because I'm fully and properly caffeinated, or maybe because I know it's temporary. All thing in life can't be cool and groovy all the time. Not only would it be boring (though I will admit to being all set with nail-biting, tooth-grinding events. ALL set) but there would be no contrast. There's lots to look forward to, not the least of which is "spooky season". I get giddy just thinking about it. Besides, (okay, awkward and lumpy segway) I hail from the "sunflower" tribe. I didn't always, but I surely do now. It's all good.

People often overlook sunflowers. They aren't popular in bouquets and when you think of beautiful things, sunflowers may not immediately spring to mind. But they actually ROCK.

Whenever I could, I planted giant sunflowers somewhere on my property just to have them around. Just looking at them made me happy, so why not? A few years ago, I had five of them growing in front of my home. It was August, and they were tall and strong and AWESOME. In an exceedingly unusual turn of events, we had a small tornado (an EF-0) kind of stroll right past my property (on rt2 in Grand Isle to be more specific). It was TERRIFYING. My dogs were glued to my legs and I could hear the ripping and tearing sounds of siding and shingles being forcibly removed. I saw all kinds of greenery flying past my kitchen window horizontally at an alarming rate, and hear the sounds of hail threatening to break glass. I had enough time to think "Holy crap, I'm going to die" a few times when it all suddenly stopped. Everything was a mess. It was kind of surreal. But my sunflowers still stood in my front yard. Their heads were bent over and their leaves were shredded, but they were the only thing I planted that year that wasn't just gone.

It was sad to see them looking so forlorn, and I was sure they were dead too, but I waited a few days to pull them up. Well, I never DID pull them up. Within a few days, their upturned faces were looking resolutely towards the sun again. They were renewed. From that time on they became my favorite flower.

There are flowers that are much more beautiful to be sure. But as a reason for existing, beauty alone doesn't mean much. When I think of beauty for it's own sake I think of orchids. They are delicate and unique. But when their exotic and ephemeral beauty is gone, there's nothing left. Some folks think of roses when they think of beauty, and they ARE beautiful. They are not quite as delicate as an orchid, but they have thorns. Some say the thorns are worth it for they joy the flowers bring, but long after the blooms are gone the thorns remain. Something to think about.

I want to be a sunflower. I want my beauty to be about my strength, a determined kind of joy and a desire to keep my face turned to the sun. I know that life's tornadoes (and forgive this clunky metaphor) have beaten me around and torn me up, but I was not left destroyed with my head hanging, at least not for long. I love the happy yellow petals of sunflowers, they are the color of joy. I love that when the summer is over, they aren't just dying and done, they have more yet to offer. With maturity they feed the birds, they feed us. They have something yet to offer beyond the way they look.

Last year, I was going through a bout of uncertainty. I was just about to finish my manuscript and I didn't know what would come next. What if I had done all that work for nothing? What if I had experienced all those sleepless nights, relived that nightmare, for no useful purpose? Then, inexplicably, I saw that a giant sunflower was growing in the small patch of grass near the dumpster behind my building. I don't have a yard anymore. I live on the 4th floor of an apartment building. As grateful as I am for manageable expenses and a safe place to be, I am really out of my element here. But there was a familiar sight sight in such an unlikely place. It was like seeing an old friend just when I needed them most. I felt a sense of reassurance as I watched it grow in such a inhospitable place, it's happy yellow face turned resolutely toward the sun. True or not, it felt like a sign just for me. The rest, of course, is history. I published my book and it's been a whirlwind of crazy-awesome since! It seemed unlikely (bordering on impossible) that a sunflower would just grow on that small patch of grass, and just as unlikely that my book would sell like it has, that I would get my picture in the paper, that I would be on TV and have a chance to think of my book being turned into a movie, and yet there it is.

Sunflowers, to me, represent resilience in the face of impossible odds and a fierce and determined joy. There's no bad there. Who know what's to come, but whatever it is, I bet it's good!


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 :-)


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lost and Found

Photo: www.wikipaintings.org
I've had more than a few conversations and circumstances this weekend that reminded me of the past. For the most part, I look back with fondness on my childhood. School was tough (though I did well academically and was treated well by other students) but everything else was pretty great. The older I get and the more familiar I am with the world and people in it, the more grateful I am for such a nurturing and grounded start in life.

One of the cool things about social media has been reconnecting with all those sweet and familiar faces that were such an important part of my youth. Best friends from childhood, people I went to school with and even folks I didn't know all that well but took for granted. I cherish what social media allows in terms of seeing how all these wonderful people have grown up; I love sharing their successes, seeing their children and being a part of their lives even if only in cyberspace. I know some people view it as some twisted sort of competition (I've seen countless memes alluding to that) but I don't. I think we all get to win, and that we are doing just that in our own unique ways. Sometimes I miss those times, the innocence and simplicity, so much it hurts. There have been some really tough days in the not-so-distant past (or more accurately, not-distant-enough past!) when I believed that all my best times were behind me. That all I had to look forward to was struggle, and that all that was good had been taken from me in one way or another. Pretty darned dismal way to think, I know. But when you're mired in what feels like an inescapable muck, it isn't hard to go there. There were days when I felt like somebody had pushed me down a hill and I just couldn't seem to stop falling.

Okay, before I go any further (and bum the hell out of everybody in dramatic fashion) let me first acknowledge that have boat-loads of hope for the future, I am an optimist, an idealist and an unrealistic-as-realist :-) Even so, I could never quite shake the feeling that something valuable had been lost; like some intrinsic piece of me was damaged and gone forever.

But here's the thing: No, it isn't. It's all still there. Just because it isn't happening now, doesn't mean it didn't happen. I know that's probably a big "DUH" but it hasn't felt like one. The truth is, nobody (not even time) has the power to rob me of all the beauty, wonder and joy I've experienced. It's all mine, and its mine forever. Even my scars are mine; they don't require permission, validation or approval to exist. I may have lost things, some of them very meaningful, but the experiences, the love and the connections are untouchable. undeniable, indelible. Knowing that (and I mean knowing) has shored me up and helped me to develop a sense of purpose and strength that I can use to create a future that I'll like very much. Everything that came before is a foundation that I can build the rest of my life upon. All this time I've been looking for solid ground, only to find that I'm standing on it already.

Cool beans :-)

I couldn't resist posting a video of a song that some of us remember fondly! Not my video, but very well done :-)