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I’m Not a Follower

The problem with being a follower? You don’t always know who’s doing the leading and where you’re really going.

I mentioned in my earliest posts, I’m relatively new to social media, though this is my third blog. Otherwise, I’ve mostly avoided it as something not particularly essential to my life. I especially don’t like big corporations using it to pick my pockets when they already make enough money off me. Staying mischievously out of focus has been a point of pride for much of my adult life. (See the post “The Year of Being “Extra”)

Then I went and finally finished a book I started thirty years ago. Of course, I would like other people to read it and pay me for the privilege of doing so. Afterall, I’ve spent seven months working on it. Recognition is nice. However, I’m not particularly concerned over making any high falutin’ lists or winning awards. It is a matter of personal pride to set very high standards for any project I decide to complete, and I like being different. I’m getting old and cranky enough, it doesn’t bother me in the least to say, “I’m doing it my way.” If someone else appreciates my hard work, they do have my gratitude. Otherwise, I learned a long time ago, I don’t need the approval of others to feel as if my life has validation. While I do enjoy spending time with real people, I’m actually comfortable in my introverted skin.

Here’s my main issue with social media, especially the word “follow”. Blindly following someone simply isn’t my M.O. Whenever I get recommendations on social media, the first words out my mouth are, “I don’t know that person.” I’ve also seen other things which make me scratch my head, like a new app being advertised by a certain food channel, using the word win for preparing holiday meals and cookie swaps. When did those occasions become contact sports, instead of spending quality time with those who matter to us? They also push the opportunity to learn during real time with their celebrities.

Granted, those people arrived where they’re at due to hard work. I respect that and even like watching some of their shows. But I don’t need to spend personal time with any of them to feel like my life has meaning, maybe because I’ve been learning in the kitchen on my own for a few years now. I also associate my love of cooking and baking with some of my favorite people, like my grandmothers. The people who have loved me, and took the time to teach me because of it, are my influencers. My mom was my most important influencer of all, because she taught me to treat others with love and respect no matter what. Her influencer was Christ.

There are all kinds of suggestions and rules concerning the utilization of social media if you want to sell something. The notion I need to “build my brand” still cracks me up. Reality and I have a long relationship with each other. Frankly, I find ignoring it counterproductive, along with trying to convince the rest of the world my life is perfect. Life is short, and my brain is packed with ideas I want to create before I die. Sadly, there is no such thing as a perfect life for anyone. If you want true freedom, or secretly consider yourself a rebel, be at peace with your imperfect life. Just don’t allow it to hold you back.

When I was putting out a rather large fire in my backyard a few weeks ago, it certainly wasn’t my first impulse to write a blog post about it. (“Building my Brand”) By the end of the day, I was asking myself, “Why the heck not?” I didn’t do so because I wanted anyone to feel sorry for me. (I needed a blog topic. Really!) People do make “ass”umptions though, that I have a lot of time on my hands because I no longer work outside the home. Again, no I don’t. Perhaps because I’m a mother of grown children, whom I still see holding themselves back because they’re making excuses, I decided to put my foot down and give the two of them a proverbial kick in the backside. Only, it has to start with me, doesn’t it?

Since I dug my book out of my memory bank (sort of), I’ve frequently asked myself, “Do I really need others to read it that badly?” In the grand scheme of things, the answer is “no”. Resurrecting, and actually finishing, after setting it aside 20 yrs. ago, is a major accomplishment. One which I will always have, whether others read it or not. Granted, the idea of self-publishing and being an independent business owner is scary, not to mention an awful lot of work. I have not hidden the fact there is already plenty on my plate and privately questioned my sanity more than once. So, why do it at all?

The answer is joy, my friends. The true difference between the book I began, and the book I ultimately wrote was that it brought me joy this time. Even though I tapped into some difficult emotions to put the conflict thumb screws on my characters, I gave them moments of joy too. Those moments were a pleasure to write. There were also some significant changes to some of the characters, especially the hero and his mother. I knew, deep in my heart, I couldn’t create a “hero” whose values were the opposite of mine. His mother was my biggest surprise, and she became my favorite character. She’s wise and funny. (Not like me, at least the wise part.) I firmly believe writers can only take a true position of authority when they’ve experienced something themselves. Just like my children, I discovered I’ve grown a lot since I first started writing.

Writing, in particular, seems to require a whole host of motivational tools. Why? Probably because most people who claim to be writers think it’s a chore. Nothing is a chore if you truly enjoy doing it, and doing it for yourself before worrying about others. That’s the only motivation I’ve needed. Since I’ve begun seriously writing again, I have no idea how many words I’ve actually written, though my slightly arthritic hands might know. I haven’t been keeping count, except for the length of my book. Even so, it’s been through several revisions. I write every day, at least a little bit, because it brings me joy.

Not compromising my standards to fit a mold, or meandering in the opposite direction of everyone else, brings me joy as well. I prefer the word visit when I check out another person’s blog, or engage on other platforms. If I’m listed on someone’s site or social media account, do me the courtesy of considering me a regular visitor, not a follower. You will get the same treatment if you visit me. I’m not interested in out-hustling anyone or competition of any kind. If someone discovers and chooses to read the book I’m releasing soon, I want them to do so, because they expect it to give them the same joy it did me while writing it. Not because I ran an effective social media campaign. (Since I read for pleasure, the joy factor is how I’ve always evaluated what I want to read.)

Quote of the Week

True happiness comes from freeing yourself of the expectations and judgements of others. It’s the hardest form of freedom to obtain, but the only one which really matters.

Kristal DeJong

The Year of Being “Extra”

Angus isn’t high maintenance. He’s extra!

It came to my attention recently, receiving “Extra” is considered a good thing. (Thank You Great Day Houston/Princess T and Princess Pham – 2019 Hot Toys) It seems reasonable giving extra is a good thing too. But what about being extra?

Someone else started me down this rabbit hole first. I have to give credit to Louis at the blog, Learning to Write and his post “The Institutionalization of I – 90”. He found a new interest and wasn’t spending as much time on his blog. He mentioned the saying “jack of all trades, master of none.” I’m just going to come out and say it. I hate that saying. Why? Because I’m one of those people. My younger daughter told me not too long ago, “Geez Mom, you’re so extra!”

My husband calls me Rick, after the proprietor of the Las Vegas pawn store featured on the History Channel. Yeah, so? (Karl’s saying. I think I’m going to start using it on him each time he calls me that. Nothing personal against Rick.) I like knowing stuff. Why? Because there is a world (and a universe) out there full of interesting things, and I’m curious. I’ve also learned as I’ve gotten older, trying something new, even if I’m not good at it, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Growing isn’t just for the whippersnappers you know.

How Extra am I? Let’s just throw it all out there this one time. Take a deep breath before you read this. I started off drawing then grew into oils, watercolors and mixed media (fine art); discovered reading and read lots of books; enjoy history; played steel guitar and piano in my youth; like more than one genre of music (at least 6 of them); sew, knit, crochet, make jewelry and play with resin; cook and bake; dabble in photography; worked for more than 10 years as a graphic designer; have a telescope on standby for amateur astronomy; and last but definitely not least, I write. Are your eyes glazed over now? I’m sorry. I tend to have that effect on folks, and that’s without giving them the full list of things I like to do. People seem to think I have lots of time on my hands. No, not really. I’m also a caregiver, remember? This is a lifetime of accumulated skills and interests. Because I was driven to do these different things, I made time for them. I also descend from people who do/did some of these things. (My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook, sewed and reupholstered furniture for a living.)

So, what’s wrong with being Extra, really? Since I hope we’re all friends here, let’s be honest. “Extra” people scare the crap out of everyone else. They’re ones who got burned at the stake for being witches, and persecuted by the church. I hesitate to call myself a genius, but I can certainly identify with some of them. (I remember being given an IQ test in school once and didn’t do that great. Eh, I thought the questions were stupid nonsense totally lacking logic.) Let’s start with genius #1, Leonardo di Vinci. Dude liked both art and science. Was he recognized as a genius during his lifetime? Not so much. Being burned at the stake and other unpleasant punishments were still a thing during his lifetime, if you made others feel inferior. Galileo got put under house arrest for inventing the telescope and having the nerve to report his observations, that the solar system doesn’t revolve around us. Nicola Tesla weirded out many with his out-of-the-box ideas, unless he allowed others to use his crazy to line their pockets. Einstein’s father and educators thought he was as dumb as a box of rocks. Didn’t stop him from coming up with the Theory of Relativity or becoming the Father of Modern Physics.

I’ve mentioned my habit of spoiling movie plots for my family. I figured it out pretty quickly while watching The Incredibles 2. Why? Because I could identify with them. Same with Syndrome in the first movie. The kid had a superpower. It was his brain. Let’s see, what was his favorite saying? “If everyone is special, then no one is.” Here is the conundrum for those who are Extra. None of them asked to be that way. To quote Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I was just drawn that way.” But since we make others uncomfortable, we have to hide a lot of it, or have very few friends as a result. Perhaps introverts aren’t drawn that way. It’s a choice they’re forced to make if they want to be true to themselves. Like Sasquatch, we learn early on to hide behind rocks and stay mischievously out of focus. (Futurama) No wonder a few of us become super-villains!

That list of things I like to do is long. However, I don’t know how to do everything. I did consider a career in Astronomy while in high school. What stopped me? Fancy-pants math. I don’t have the patience for the complicated stuff that takes pages of paper to solve. It’s not my language, and I’m OK with that. Unless I happen to get bored with my current interests. I might reconsider at that point. Trying extreme sports? Breaking a Land Speed Record? Are you nuts?! Then again, writing this post might be the equivalent of jumping off a cliff in a flying squirrel suit, without a safety parachute as backup. (Yeah, those folks are Extra, too.)

We’re approaching the end of the year, and everyone knows what that means, once the frenzy of holiday shopping is over. New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, you can try to achieve the usual goals of self-improvement. (Heck, I’m might do one or two of those, like getting back to walking the dogs first thing every morning.) I’m throwing down the gauntlet, here. I dare the rest of you to be Extra, too. Want to be special? How about earning it? Get outside your comfort zone and try something you don’t think you’ll be good at. You might surprise yourself. If not, keep at it until you are good. Then pick something else, and start over. Notice, I didn’t say “master it.” In my humble opinion, if you get good at something, you mastered it. To be truly Extra, take the Yoda approach. “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Afterward, put down the electronics and try some real social media. You know, a conversation with real people. Tell everyone you meet about your new interests and revel in the perverse pleasure of watching their eyes glaze over. Be prepared to listen politely when they get their turn, then vigorously debate why your interests are as good as theirs. You might both come away with a new hobby, and a new friend. Hey, don’t leave the kiddos out of this. When they get tired of playing with their “Extra” toys, encourage them to be Extra as well.

(Did y’all notice the word politely a moment ago? Might not be a bad idea for most of us to add the goal of being Extra Polite more frequently. Until it becomes an ingrained habit.)

Of course, since this is technically a writer’s blog, I’m also going to throw a challenge out there for both writers and readers. If you’ve never written a book over 50,000 words, dig deep and come up with at least one epic. Only write epics? Try a short story or novella. Developed your writing chops with fan fiction? (Jane Austen, Star Wars) Great! How about playing in your own worlds, with your own characters? Don’t worry about chasing trends, or if it’s your usual genre. Write that one story that has been calling to you and put everything you have in it, including excellent craft. You know, the technical stuff like grammar; extensive vocabulary, also known as coloring with the big box of crayons; proper sentence structure and punctuation; excellent plot (surprise me!); well-placed hooks and cliff-hangers; characters with depth; show, don’t tell; a satisfying and well-earned ending. That’s how you attract Extra readers to your work.

Readers, try something new. If you have never done so, read something challenging. I highly recommend Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. I read it 3 times in high school, for fun, starting my Freshman year. By the third time, I fully understood the story. It’s a classic for a reason. After you read it feel free to engage with me in a book discussion. Let’s see how much of it I remember after more than 30 years. For those of you who have watched Outlander on Starz, did you ever read the books? (I did, in the 1990s, when they first came out.) Don’t think you like to read? Whatever you do, don’t shortchange your children. At the very least, read with them and make sure they see you reading every once in a while, too.

Happy Extra New Year!

Kristal DeJong

Small, But Mighty

This is a variegated Kumquat tree I brought home a little over a year ago. It had five fruits on it when I bought it. It’s turning out to be a champion fruit producer, despite the Sun being a bit hard on it over the summer. (The curly, misshapen leaves were sunburnt.)

Last winter, I made an upside-down cake with the fruits I harvested. This year, I’m going to have a few more fruits. Kumquats are relatively new to me. If you have any favorite recipes for them, I would love to hear from you.

Is Suffering Necessary to Produce Great Art?

This sunrise photo was taken at a campground an hour west of Oklahoma City, OK, not a tropical island. It’s one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen, and it was gifted to me a little over year after my mom died. Remember, spectacular colors in the sky are only given to us right before and after nightfall.

This is a loaded question, one which has fueled heated debates with art historians for centuries. Many of the world’s most famous artists are well-known for being tortured souls, while others like Bob Rossi, were mocked for painting with Happy Blue. Being a life-time creative myself, this is hard one for me to answer.

Once upon a time, I would have replied with a resounding “no!” Because I considered myself a relatively well-adjusted person, who was reasonably happy and still felt capable of being creative. In fact, my creative outlets are my happy place. I can confidently call myself an introvert, the type of person generally believed to gravitate to the arts, but I am not going to claim it’s a requirement. However, I will say this. Introverts are attention seekers, like everyone else. Producing art is simply a means for us to say, “Hey, look at me!”, without others staring at our shy selves directly. (Banksy)

If you are blessed to live long enough, you will experience plenty of highs and lows. Alas, the lows seem to be more memorable, a bad mental habit most of us should work on more frequently. We took a hit in more ways than one after Karl suffered his back injury. It was a bruising experience for our entire family, and took several years to resolve. Something I’m certain a few too many Military families have been forced to endure. Not long after we finally settled matters, my mom died. Though I’ve lost other loved ones, like all my grandparents, nothing which came before compared to that loss.

Did it change me? Hell yes, it did. Now I have a choice, deciding if or how to wield the new tool in my emotional art supplies. I’m a Romance writer and not the least bit ashamed of admitting it. Being a reader of many genres, I’ve said it before and will say it again. “A good story is a good story, period.”

Going back to my fine art background, I’ve taken art appreciation courses. Personally, I think they’re bunk, asking questions like the differences between “art” and “craft”. Usually, art is given precedence as being more valuable, but the two usually overlap each other. Being a practitioner of both, I don’t differentiate between them. What I choose to produce at any given time depends on my emotions. Sometimes, I’m in the mood to challenge myself and will create something complicated. It’s nice to prove to myself, yes indeed, I can do it. On other occasions, I find quick projects equally satisfying. The robe I wore in last weekend’s blog photo, I made the previous week. (“Reading is the Gift That Keeps on Giving”) Yes, that photo was planned specifically for this blog, but making the robe was also a bit of stash busting. I’ve had the fabric and vintage sewing pattern which produced it for a few years now. Wanting to use it for my goofy photo gave me the motivation to finally finish it.

How does this help the writer? If you’re not certain, visit my post “Creatives are Whole Brain People”. Like all art, writing is a complicated discipline with many components which make it a complete work. And what is art? Human beings expressing their emotions, turning the most frustratingly intangible part of our existence, into something tangible, to which others of our kind can relate. The light, fluffy stories have just as much value as deep, dark thrillers which scare the pants off us. What resonates with a reader will depend on what we need emotionally at a particular time. After a difficult day, a light romp which makes us laugh might be a better choice than the deep, dark story. I guess it depends on one’s ability to differentiate between reality and entertainment.

Artists, regardless of the discipline they pursue, do it because they are seeking to leave a legacy behind them which says, “Look World! I really was here!” How long it lasts and how many it reaches, depends on how much of ourselves we are willing to give to the end result. I’ve mentioned more than once now, the book I started at the age of twenty-one is not the book I ultimately wrote at fifty-one. Yes, my dream is to make a living writing, but I’m not a book factory. I’ve always taken my writing very seriously. If it doesn’t meet my criteria as a picky reader, I don’t make it available for public consumption until it does. I would far rather leave behind a small body of work, which becomes a part of those who bless it with their attention; than to entertain them for five minutes, only to be forgotten just as quickly. Even these blog posts are revised and edited several times before I publish them.

I adore humor, and I’ll be the first to admit I like the snarky, irreverent stuff. (Mel Brooks) I watch TV shows and movies for the fun of mocking the premise/plot, or making predictions about the plot which often come true, much to my family’s frustration. Ancient Aliens and Star Wars, I’m looking at you. SpongeBob explained the whole alien thing when it comes to monolithic structures. “Oh, it’s a rock! The Pioneers could ride these babies for miles!” (Carnac, France is a Pioneer Parking Lot, people.) Out of the Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back tends to be the one which most people agree is the best, but it is that dark moment which upped the stakes and made Return of the Jedi’s celebratory ending much more satisfying. Out of the recent trilogy, I’m withholding final judgement until I see the last one. I’m a big fan of most of the Pixar movies. My older daughter and I watched Frozen II last Friday. I finally watched Coco this past weekend, and was very impressed with both. They got me with plot twists I didn’t see coming. Ultimately, the best art, the stuff which stays with us the longest has depth. Depth is achieved by using contrast, both light and dark. Otherwise, you have a work whose aspect can best be described as flat.

I wrote a 90,000 word book, give or take a few words, and I had to make some hard choices. Though I would have preferred it, there is no way a light romp will sustain a story that length. It meant tapping into parts of myself I usually try to ignore most of the time, just so I can get through my day. I’m generally a private person, and my mom’s death is not something I talk about much with others, outside my immediate family. Even amongst ourselves, we don’t talk about it so much now, because we’re still trying to move forward. Without that pain, I couldn’t have written the book I recently finished. There were a few scenes I was crying so hard, I couldn’t see what I was typing. So, to answer my original question, “Is suffering necessary to produce great art?” After some reflection, I’m going to say yes, it is. There are just some occasions when imagination simply isn’t enough. (Sorry, SpongeBob) Writing to express and touch emotions is one of them. Embracing life’s dark, painful moments highlights how rare and special the joyful, peaceful gifts truly are. Both reflect the reality of the human experience, and together create something which stays with others for eternity.

Quote of the Week

I live light, dark and all the shades in between; therefore I am.

Kristal DeJong

It’s a Dog’s Life

Misty and Alexa

Though there are two in this photo, it’s actually the life of three dogs at our house. I know it seems the rabbits have top billing here, but the dogs have been around longer.

Our Queen Bee is Alexa. She’s almost 12 yrs. old, and had her name well before Amazon released its digital assistant. When our younger daughter got us the Dot for Christmas, we had to rename it. Otherwise, it was going to wake up every time we called the dog. Alexa is top dog here, not just because of her age. She’s bossy and territorial, except when it comes to the rabbits. I’ve mentioned before they freak her out. Most of her quirks are part of her breed(s) personality. We believe she is a Texas Heeler, usually a cross between Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd. Whatever she is, there is some Velcro mixed in as well. (True for all of our dogs, actually.) If she’s not laying on me during the night, she’s under the footrest of my recliner. These days, she’s not necessarily in any hurry to get up. I’ve gotten very good at getting out of my chair without putting the footrest down. I guess it’s her way of keeping me limber.

Belle, the Labrador Retriever, is nearly 10 yrs. old. Technically, she’s Karl’s dog and does spend a lot of time with him. It depends on hour of the day, or her mood. Sometimes, she just wants to be part of the pack. The rest of the time, if she’s with me, it’s because I’m doing something food related; getting close to afternoon pet feeding, cooking or eating something. While none of our dogs have been allowed to get overweight, they aren’t starved by any means. Belle’s existence is still very much motivated by food. In her mind, anything which comes in plastic packaging must be edible. She’s also never outgrown her tendency to swallow socks and underwear. Meaning we can never lose track of that stuff. Her little quirks drive me crazy. Even so, she’s a pretty mellow character most of time.

Then there is the Special Princess. Misty, our smallest dog (23 lbs.) is also the youngest. She’s going to be 9 yrs. soon. Unlike Alexa, she likes the rabbits. She wants to play with them. Unfortunately, there’s a language barrier, though Benjamin has no problem giving her some sass. Both she and Alexa are shelter puppies, meaning we don’t know their exact birthdays. Also like Alexa, she is a mixed breed, possibly a short-coated Toy or Boston Terrier and a Shetland Sheepdog. She is the Frack to Alexa’s Frick. (Or the Gilligan to Alexa’s Skipper.)

The two of them follow me all over the house most of the time, including being my writing buddies. However, since they’re getting old, they’re developing more of an appreciation for being on the bed with Karl. Every once in a while, I look up from whatever I’m working on and discover I’ve been abandoned. Oh well, it’s nice on occasion to put my chair’s footrest down, instead of climbing out of it.

Having senior pets is not new to us. During 31 years of marriage, we’ve owned a total of 7 dogs. Like everyone else, things have changed for us with the passage of time. After our current pets are gone, I’ve debated the possibility of not having any more. If one includes the rabbits, plus a couple of birds I had years ago, I think we’ve met our quota. Being without pets is a bridge we’re not in a particular hurry to cross since we love our fur babies, and did our best to give them long, healthy lives. Pet ownership is always a long-term commitment of several years in most cases. (Like my Energizer Bunny, Angus.) It should never be undertaken on a whim. We’ll just have to see what our circumstances are like at the time. Like many folks whose children have their own lives, we’ve had many discussions about down-sizing in one form or another, including being full-time RVers with our travel trailer.

My dream? If someone actually does build a house of the future which cleans and maintains itself, we and our future pets will be there the moment they finish it.

Reading is the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Besides being a writer, why would I be concerned over society’s trend toward a shorter attention span and not making time to read?

When I was growing up, my teachers, especially those in middle and high school, always put an emphasis on reading. According to them, it was reading which made the difference in understanding and retaining knowledge. I can personally attest reading opened and expanded my world, something I can appreciate because it took me a few years to discover those possibilities. (Busy with my horse acquisition program, remember?) While writing Heart of a Star, I discovered all kinds of interesting trivia, much of it random yet surprisingly useful, lurking in my noggin. The only reason much of that stuff is there is due to reading. At the very least, it gave me a starting place to do what I like to call lightening research.

I don’t have anything against audio books or podcasts as a concept, except my attention tends to wander. My brain is usually packed with a host of ideas it’s pondering, so I’m not usually lacking entertainment when I’m doing something else, like chores. That’s my version of multi-tasking. Otherwise, I feel giving my undivided attention to something is the height of efficiency. I can finish a project much faster when it has my undivided attention, and it is far less likely to have mistakes which need to be corrected.

“Knowledge is power.” Many of us who are supposedly educated have heard this saying. Yet those of us who receive education as part of our societal structure often take it for granted. However, human beings seeking power frequently restrict access to knowledge and information, when they are attempting to take control of a country or society.

Let’s look at the Romans. Their civilization started as a bunch of tribal backwoods rubes. (Folks often called Barbarians by those who thought themselves better educated and more sophisticated.) They gained advanced knowledge through the Democratic Greeks, due to a library system set up during the Hellenic period. The Romans themselves were anything except democratic. At the height of their power, they were all about enslaving those they conquered. Romans did value the written word, but not everyone had access. In Rome, reading and education were only granted to the privileged. The contents of Alexandria, Egypt’s famous library probably interested a few prominent Romans. I’m going to point you to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninis.

Ordinarily, most of us would like to think Daddy would stand up for us, and punch our jerk husband in the face for stepping out on us. (Remember Cleopatra?) I believe I can imagine exactly how the conversation went between these two, before Julius went on his diplomatic trip to Alexandria, for the purpose of inventorying its treasures for conquest. I’m all for fostering imagination, so I’m not going to spell it out for anyone. Just consider this. Lucius had a library of scrolls (a very large library) in his fancy vacation home in Herculaneum. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few scrolls from Alexandria landed in Lucius’ library.

Wherever they came from, Lucius ultimately did a very bad thing by hoarding and keeping all that knowledge to himself. His villa was covered in ash by Mt. Vesuvius, during the same eruption which destroyed the neighboring working town of Pompeii. (I learned about Mr. Lucius from the TV show “Unearthed” on the Science Channel. Who says educational TV no longer exists?) While his library has been discovered by archeologists, the scrolls are so fragile, due in large part to the volcanic heat treatment, it was difficult in the past to do anything with them. Some new technology may finally make it possible to see what information they contain.

True freedom comes from knowledge, and knowledge is best gained and retained by the written word. Supposedly, this theory was proved and supported by real science, according to my teachers. Who thought we weren’t reading enough in the 1980s! There is also still value in the printed page, as a means of resting the eyes and brain from all the electronic glare and noise, to which we constantly subject ourselves. Society has allowed itself to be manipulated and stressed by electronic devices to the point it should make us ask ourselves, “Who really owns who, here?”

Having worked in print as a graphic designer, the other senses can be engaged as well when you read. I may be a bit weird that I enjoy the smell of ink, but there are many kinds of different papers out there, in varying shades and textures. While digital may be able to capture color, I have yet to see it satisfy the sense of touch. A physical book is a total sensory experience which keeps us connected to our humanity. (I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Ps. 139:14)

Do you consider yourself a rebel? Are you a freedom fighter? No? Have you ever considered the possibility you may have to become one someday? (It’s rarely a path we choose, but thrust upon us instead.) Alexandria’s ancient library was world famous for its approach to scholarship and collecting knowledge, though its fortunes rose and fell over the centuries, until it finally disappeared. It’s nice, a modern version has been created. But just like the ancient library, it’s located in an area which is unstable, both geographically and politically. Humanity itself is the true Library of Alexandria. Are you really too busy to read? What will happen when the day arrives that you need the knowledge of the ages, only to discover your mental library shelves are empty?

Quote of the Week

While jam is tasty, it becomes a faint memory once it’s gone. However, a good book will stay with you forever. (Yes, this is a reference to Christmas Vacation’s Jam of the Month Club.)

Kristal DeJong

Please note: The image at the top of this post is not a stock image, nor is it public domain. It was taken by me for use on this blog, and may not be used elsewhere without my permission or proper credit.

I am a Project Person

Besides writing, I have mentioned knitting as one of my creative outlets. It’s actually one of many. Before starting a project, I often have a complete picture in my head of the final outcome. The appearance of my book was no exception. When I started writing again, the cover art was floating about in the background.

These days 100% digital production is quite common, especially for e-books. Not that I have a problem with it; but I have a fine art background, one that took years to develop and I don’t wish to lose my skills. (Use it or lose it is very much true for any number of disciplines.) I took a hybrid approach for my first cover. The above photo shows part of the process. Right now, I’m working from a table rather than a desk. One half of it is usually has another project occupying it. If the writing slows down, or needs a break I often work on something else during the time I allot myself for this endeavor.

This is My Brand

This was a pile of stuff which reached halfway up the fence. Fiberglass kayaks and plastic deck boxes make a big fire.

Two weeks ago, I started a fire. It’s the biggest one I’ve started to date and what you see in the photo is the aftermath. While I would have loved to take a more effective marketing photo, I was too busy trying to calm my heart attack, and put the fire out before it burned down the fence between our house and the neighbors. Or worse, one of our houses.

(In case you think I’m a pyro, I usually limit my activities with fire to camp ground fire pits and our BBQ pit here at home.)

So, how does something like this happen? It’s a long story. If you have not read any of my other posts, I strongly recommend you go back to the beginning. This one will still be waiting when you return. For those of you who have read them, and wonder why this one wasn’t posted sooner? I’m a storyteller, people. I have a schedule and placed this one where it belonged for the best effect.

From the outside looking in, it may not appear so obvious I have a riding horse with rubber band legs. It’s called my life. What’s wrong with it? Anyone who has been reading this blog about pursuing dreams or finding your tribe, and thought “Someone’s life story told with wit and charm. How sweet! Oh look, pretty pictures and cute bunnies…” Yes, that’s some of my life, but I’ve only scratched the surface.

I’ve mentioned my husband who is a disabled veteran. He struggles daily with pain and depression. Unfortunately, it made an underlying problem he never quite conquered even worse. It’s called PROCRASTINATION. When you add pack rat tendencies to it, you have an ever-growing problem which takes even longer to fix, and affects the well-being of others. Until they accidentally set fire to the mess. (Lots of fuel. Burns quick. I have first-hand experience now.) At least, I think it was an accident. I was thinking about the next post to follow “Finding Your Tribe,” while pondering the duel personalities of fire as both destroyer and agent of cleansing. Ironic, isn’t it?

Ok, Ok… You’re wondering what I was doing when I set an old fiberglass kayak, with a bunch of stuff piled above it, on fire and sent it to Valhalla. (Yes, some of my ancestry is Scandinavian.) Waging war on squirrels, that’s what. I’m certain there is someone out there who will be more than happy to tell me I’m wrong; but I’m reasonably certain the uptick in the squirrel population, to our older neighborhood with established trees, comes from all the rampant development around us. Over the years, developers have ripped out pastures and large stands of trees ever closer to our subdivision. Seems like they’ve been going crazy recently.

I get it. Human beings keep producing new generations who need places to live. If I have to put up with hundreds of displaced squirrels ripping my property apart, in order to have lots of apartment complexes and more shopping nearby, maybe some of you should take a leap of faith and get out there in the real world. Build your own stinkin’ nest with your resources. You might surprise yourself and find you reached the other side when you open your eyes. I can promise you the safety net doesn’t last forever. Mine died (spiritual and inspirational) when I was 46, supposedly to suicide. I’m now the safety net, though there are many days I’m not certain it’s as strong as it should be.

This is why I started writing novels again. This is my motivation. Nano-whato? Pfft! I believe I have mentioned my obsessive personality. I can easily write a few thousand words a day, and when I don’t feel like it, all I have to do is look around me. My house needs a new roof; a total plumbing re-pipe; a remodeled kitchen; new flooring downstairs and some upstairs; new stair treads; a stairlift for the hubs; new windows; possibly taking down the oak tree… I think that’s enough for now. I’m pursuing my dream to become a published author with an in-house graphic production company, because I already have the skills to do my support work, as well as the software. Initially, I thought about hiring myself out as a copy writer, then concluded I was exhibiting a lack of faith; in both myself and the God I believe provides for us. I’m not waiting for anything to be perfect, the right time, or to have enough time. My life will probably never be perfect. Big deal!

The right time doesn’t come. You have to make it happen. (The Lord helps those who help themselves.) I got tired of telling myself “no.” I certainly will not allow anyone else to tell me “no” either. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work because I don’t want handouts, or for someone else to clean up our mess. I’m not laying all the blame at my husband’s door. I allowed myself to let things slide, using the excuse if he didn’t care enough to deal with it, why am I getting my knickers in a twist over it? All our problems are fixable. It means acknowledging there is a problem first, then setting a deadline to address it. The biggest problem here was not setting deadlines, which are a way of creating accountability and maintaining motivation.

Obviously, I’ve reached a breaking point, where instead of burning all the oak leaves, along with the acorns which attract the squirrels to our yard, I accidentally set a toxic fiberglass kayak and a few other things on fire. Did it solve a problem or two? Surprisingly, yes. Though I don’t recommend taking such action in the first place, nor do I plan to try it again myself. (For a few days, I couldn’t talk without coughing.)

The name of this blog is “Confessions of a Middle-Aged Writer”, though maybe it should have been “Middle-aged Drama Queen.” Just sayin’. Still, what you continue to see is what you will get here. This my brand, my leap of faith. I have no idea what it will look like on the other side, but I’m taking it anyway.

Quote of the Week

So what if you set the world on fire? It’s what you do during the aftermath that counts.

Kristal DeJong

Life’s Little Miracles

I took this photograph a week ago. It’s a branch on our Red Maple tree. I could be mistaken, but it seems this tree is changing color a bit early this year. I don’t recall it dropping leaves until December, not entirely unusual for Southeast Texas. So, it seems like something of a miracle to have it change in time for Thanksgiving, and that one branch is extra special. It has the reddest leaves, right at eye level as you traverse the crushed granite walk to our front door. In fact, it hasn’t dropped any leaves yet, making me hopeful they will stay there through the holiday weekend.

The maple tree which produced these leaves is a miracle itself. We planted it in 2009, when it was about 6 feet tall. It took us half a day to dig a hole big enough for the root ball. Then, in early May 2012, we thought we lost it. I was out of town, having traveled to South Dakota. (Our younger daughter, who was a student at USD, was driving home for the summer.) The next morning, after I arrived in Sioux Falls, my husband called to inform me a storm with high winds snapped the tree trunk completely. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Besides the hours it took us to plant it, it was a much nicer tree than the two pines which were originally in the yard. (One tree lost half its canopy during Hurricane Ike in 2008.)

However, the maple did have one naughty habit which ended up saving it. It had a tendency to produce suckers at the base of the trunk. I told my husband to leave it be until I got home to look at it. There was no way I was going to remove the base of that tree until I knew for certain it was dead. In fact, it still had a few suckers I had not removed before leaving town. We cut as much of the old trunk to the ground as we could, thinned the suckers out to the two which looked most likely to grow straight trunks and observed for a bit. Before the weather grew too much hotter, I made my final choice.

Our maple tree is now as tall as our house. Periodically, it needs pruning to nudge it toward a more symmetrical shape. Our dormancy period is sometimes less than 3 months here, meaning I need to do it shortly after the last leaf falls if I’m removing larger branches. Last year, the tree needed to have a big branch cut from the trunk. It was only 1-2 feet above the ground. It made the tree look like a giant shrub and prevented branches higher up in the canopy from growing longer. Now that it’s gone, it does make the tree look a bit one-sided at the moment; but little by little, it’s balancing itself. With a bit of patience and care it will eventually be one of the most beautiful trees in our neighborhood, since it is the only Red Maple in our vicinity.

While our maple has ascetic value, it’s even more important for another reason. It’s a survivor who has lived through at least two years of drought shortly after it was planted, not to mention torrential rain storms which caused flood events, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. At this time of year, when the leaves begin to change, we have the most stunning example of resiliency just outside our front door.

On a day when we’re taking time to give thanks for our blessings, I challenge you to look beyond the obvious ones like family, friends, a good meal and home. While those things are important, they’re also easy. We need to learn to look deeper sometimes, in order to understand how truly blessed we really are.

Happy Thanksgiving

Kristal DeJong

Finding Your Tribe

Since I’ve started novel writing again, I not only had to brush off my story-telling skills for a longer format. I also need to figure out how to build my brand, and touched on it briefly in the post “Meet My Buns.”

In the interest of getting myself educated as an authorpreneur, I rejoined Romance Writers of America. At the same time, I also joined the Alliance of Independent Authors. Recently, I watched one of their live videos about finding your ideal reader. Now, this is not the first time I’ve heard the term “Find your tribe”; but when you’re socially challenged, as I’ve become, the first question you ask is, “Where do I start?”

I actually have a rather long list of interests. I may eventually join at least a few tribes, including a Caregiver tribe, when I find one. Caregivers certainly need tribe members who understand the personal sacrifices they often make daily. It will ultimately depend on how many tribes I can reasonably manage and still be productive. Since the name of this blog is “Confessions of a MiddleAged Writer”, I believe I will start there.

Personally, I think its past time to dispel the notion you have no chance of being successful if you don’t achieve your goals while you are still young. (Besides the “young goal post” keeps moving. I’m really 21 again.) Dreams and goals may not be achieved for many different reasons while we’re in our 20s’ or 30s’. Often in our youth, we don’t always have a fully formed picture of who we are, or who we will become. It also doesn’t help when the over-riding message in which we’re indoctrinated says failure is bad. While I wouldn’t recommend doing it constantly, it does have value in the learning experience. The most important is perseverance.

There are some folks who are naturally goal driven and perseverance may come easier to them. It can also be learned with age and experience, provided we’re open to utilizing it. One of my favorite examples of someone who started a very successful mid-life career, is Julia Child. We should never stop learning, growing and challenging ourselves. She loved France and its food. After having a career in the OSS during World War II, she needed a new challenge and took classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris during the 1950s. Being a curious person who wanted to know everything possible about a subject, she pushed to join the classes taught to professional chefs; who were primarily men at the time. While in France, she made friends (a tribe) who shared her interest and helped her produce an iconic two-volume cookbook set called “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Eventually, her tribe grew and helped her produce a series of cooking shows, starting with “The French Chef” on PBS during the 1960s. Naturally, she didn’t stop with French cooking. Over the years she took an interest in a variety of food related subjects, including a show about baking a few years before she died. (I have “Baking with Julia”, co-authored with Dorie Greenspan, on my cookbook shelf.) Nor was she afraid to share the limelight with other experts in her field.

Finding a tribe with similar interests is always beneficial to the human experience. But even more important is finding one who will challenge us to get outside our comfort zone, and support us while taking that risk. Julia was a pioneer in more ways than one. Besides being a woman in a man’s world, cooking shows on TV were almost non-existent (James Beard had one of the first). Now we have whole channels devoted to them.

Time flies ever faster, something I have been becoming increasingly aware of over the years. My mom died at the age of 68, four and half years ago. She was only 22 years older than I am. It made me start asking myself, “What am I waiting for, if I really want to pursue a dream?”

Last December, we were forced to clear out our garage due to a corroded water connection on the washing machine. (A case of procrastination which bit us in the ass.) Guess what I found in one of the boxes? It was a chapter from my original book manuscript which had been mailed to my critique partner. (This was the 1990s. Dial-up internet didn’t do much in the way of attachments.) The darn thing was still in its mailing envelope. I took a glance, said to myself, “I’m never going to do anything with that,” and threw it away with the rest of box’s contents.

A few months later, at the end of April, I was cleaning rabbit cages. I do all kinds of interesting thinking while taking care of my rabbits. Suddenly, the thought came to me, “Why shouldn’t I finally finish that book? Afterall, I spent close to ten years on it.” For the first time in my life, I now have a full manuscript which is probably about as polished as it’s going to get. Is it the same book I started 30 years ago? Ha, ha, ha, ha… NO. What made the difference this time? Some of it is age and experience. Being curious about a variety of topics helped too. It gave me a lot more material to utilize. Most importantly, motivation and perseverance made the biggest difference. They will continue to make a difference in eventually putting it in readers’ hands.

It doesn’t matter to me if your dream is writing, or something else entirely. I would be happy to nudge you into at least trying it. Dreams only have value when we attempt to make them reality. Another blog I follow, recently had a post about living in the moment, reminding your life is today. Not yesterday, tomorrow or somewhere else. Regardless of anyone’s age, I can’t think of a better tribe to belong to, than one that pushes us to achieve things we thought beyond our reach.

Quote of the Week

The possible can be done immediately. The impossible takes a bit more time.

My husband’s favorite quote from the US Navy Seabees – Kristal DeJong