I’m a Piranha!

Image from pixabay

This phrase popped in my head one day, while tidying the kitchen. It took me a few minutes to place it, then I remembered it came from Finding Nemo, proudly announced by a character known as Darla, the fish killer. It does make one wonder why someone would give a child, who identifies as a Piranha, a gentle little clown fish snatched from the Great Barrier Reef.

To do this post, I researched Piranhas. It turns out they may not be as fierce as their reputations, after all. They’re members of the Tetra family. If you have spent a significant amount of time in an aquarium store, you’ll notice the resemblance to smaller Tetras sold for freshwater tanks. Granted many species do have sharp, scary teeth. But they are sometimes omnivorous rather than carnivorous, meaning they’ll eat whatever is available; and they’re just as likely to scavenge as hunt. Rather than a hunting tactic, they seem to school for protection. Piranhas are not apex predators. That honor goes to larger animals, like caimans, a relative of crocodiles and alligators. Native to the rivers and lakes of South America, like all creatures, Piranhas serve a function in their original habitat. Including providing a food source for people, depending on the culture. Those who do eat them have some favored preparations, including Piranha soup. Apparently, it’s considered an aphrodisiac.

Well. Perhaps aspiring to be a Piranha is not so desirable after all.

Edna Mode is My Hero

I guess this post could be considered a character study. I’ve mentioned previously the Pixar movies usually impress me with their story telling and character development. The Incredibles movies are near the top of the list, not just because I can identify with the villains, but because Edna Mode is my one of my favorite characters. (Followed by Elasta-Girl and Frozone. Mr. Incredible grew on me a bit more after the stay-at-home dad stint in the second movie.)

Why Edna? Technically, she’s a secondary character. Rather like Q from the James Bond movies. (Those movies/books would not be the same without Q’s gadgets.) Only Ms. Mode is a bit more eccentric than Q. She’s also something of a mystery. Just how did she become a lucrative super-suit designer anyway?

It seems safe to say she’s incredibly smart. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) I would image she was the type of child who stood out in school. Was she the shy, quiet kid bullies singled out, because they knew she would hate the attention, or was she equally flamboyant as her adult self? Either way, she most likely always won first prize at science fairs.

Usually, smart people end up becoming some sort of villain or side-kick. Why is that exactly? Those who skew toward villainhood are often the victims of bullies, who develop a chip on their shoulders. Or their brilliance simply isn’t appreciated by others. The side-kicks, on the other hand, don’t necessarily suffer from a lack of appreciation, though they are often relegated to the background, out of the public’s eye. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s Igor, and Alton Brown’s dungeon keeper. Edna Mode is anything except invisible with her big house and super-hero statues.

Personally, if I cast Edna as a villain, she would be the really sneaky, underhanded kind. Sure, she would still create those super-suits. Seems like a far more efficient way to pick off the Supers, than Syndrome’s convoluted inventions. Eh, he behaved true to type for someone who suffered from a lack of appreciation. Our villainess from movie 2, possessed a more compelling reason to be angry with the supers; though it was really an unfortunate case of bad timing, since their government support ended right before her parents were killed. She came really close to succeeding with her googly-eyed take-over-the-world glasses. Only to be out-maneuvered by children. Got to give it to Violet. The girl is a smart cookie.

What prevented Edna from becoming a villain, instead of “designer to the gods?” It is difficult to say because she has no backstory. We don’t know anything about her origins, or what truly motivates her. However, she does have a way with Jack-Jack. If the world ever succeeds in upsetting those two, it better look out. Only which one would be the side-kick? I’m betting it won’t be Edna.

Captain Unobvious

The “Captain Unobvious” hat is a Saturday afternoon panster project made with a freebie baseball hat and left-over chenille upholstery fabric. Could be a yacht captain or airplane captain hat. Depends on my mood at the time.
(Or it’s just a Maytag repairman hat.)

I will often write down several potential blog titles at a time, often with the expectation I will remember what I planned to do with it later. Ha, ha, ha, ha… Pardon me while I wipe the tears of laughter from my face, because that’s not always the case. This clever item is “Exhibit A”.

Most of the time, I could be classified as a planster. I’m comfortable swinging both ways. If we’re traveling on a long-distance road trip, you better believe there are often plans with days of preparation before we leave. However, since we do have some challenges here, it’s not uncommon for a monkey wrench to disrupt my well-oiled machine. The only way for my sanity to survive is by being flexible. Pantster skills do have their uses, and like anything else, improve with practice. (Not to mention age. There had better be some perks for getting older, gosh darn it!)

I started this blog with a somewhat nebulous idea. In fact, I didn’t really have any plans to return to blogging while wrapping up my first book. Only a crazy person would take on additional writing tasks while preparing said book for publication, establishing a legitimate business, and trying to decide how I was comfortable promoting “my brand.” For a few weeks, I managed to be at least two posts ahead of schedule. Now, I’m caught up. When looking at my list of inspiration I came across “Captain Unobvious”. An intriguing title to be sure, but what had I planned to do with it? I couldn’t remember, so I wrote “Resolution Re-evaluation” last week. That one wasn’t even on my list. Pantster skills at their finest, to be certain.

For my mid-week post this past week, I released a sneak-peak of my book cover. (The Big Reveal) Like any needy writer/creative person, I’ve been seeking approval for my work before making it widely available to the big, wide world. My next-door neighbor and two of my critique partners received beta copies. (Thank you for your time Casie, Kathie, and Michelle.) Kathie sent me her notes several days ago, including her impression of the cover. She noted it didn’t suggest a historical romance. Kathie, if you read this, I am by no means upset with you. The beauty of being an indie author is the ability to take risks. Including with your cover art. The design choice is in fact deliberate.

I know I have been meandering down the Yellow Brick Road for a while now, and it’s time for the Wizard to pull back the curtain. At least a little bit. Yes, technically I wrote a Regency Historical. It is what I started with 30 years ago. The story is set mostly in London, England 1816. However, once I got through my first draft, I realized “traditional” just wasn’t working for me. Meaning a trade publisher probably wouldn’t either. From that moment on, I took more than one risk. Starting with the fact, the large star sapphire on the book cover became a pivotal character. In my original draft, way back when, it was just an object in the story. Where would I get such a nutty idea for a “Regency” romance? The Orb from David Eddings’ The Belgariad and The Malloreon. I read both series in high school and my early twenties. They obviously made a lasting impression. It’s only fair to warn die-hard Regency fans my characters don’t attend many fancy parties, and clothing is only described if it matters to the scene. Otherwise, this book is very much about the characters themselves.

When I say a good story is a good story, period, I’m not kidding. I find it a bit frustrating when other authors mention they want to try writing a different type of story from their usual genre, or whatever trend they’re trying to capitalize upon. Sure, you may have some readers who prefer not to be “challenged” by something different. That’s OK, to each his own; but you shouldn’t let them keep you from finding your joy. That leap of faith might yield some new friends, like myself, who prefer not to be contained by a single genre when I read.

Which is all part of my evil plan when I write and design my books. I’ve read many books with compelling love stories, not classified as romance novels. And I have a tiny little problem with labels. They do occasionally have their uses in helping us identify stuff, like say, a bottle of poison. Unfortunately, the large majority of the time, they are used to keep us apart. Not to mention the pesky practice of denoting some types of work as less valuable than others, because of the label affixed to it. (Women’s literature, I’m looking at you.) As a multi-discipline creative, I find that idea highly insulting. I do not, nor have I ever, considered any type of project I undertake as less valuable than another. They all require a great deal of thought, planning and faith to make them reality. That goes for anyone who has the courage to create works of art they are willing to share with others. Even if it doesn’t suit another’s taste, it should still receive respect, period.

I’m at the point where it’s time to release my first book and commit to the second, which I have already started. The downside of self-publishing can be the level of investment the author makes upfront. It all depends on goals. I have more IP identified in my projects than the writing, meaning it’s in my best interest to form an LLC as a production company. Starting with the fact my production work is performed “in-house”. This is a high-concept operation with corresponding support tools. I already have expenses related to the software I use. Initially, continuing to pay for it was an investment in myself, to keep my skills current. (Because one never knows when your circumstances may change.) Now, it’s a legitimate business expense, and it won’t be the only one. Besides the fact this first book has been eight months in the making, I’m not in a position to give my books away in order to find an audience. If any business is to succeed, it can’t begin by operating in the red. Look at it this way. If I didn’t do my job properly, I don’t deserve the privilege of having anyone buy my second book.

Personally, I don’t think any creative, regardless of discipline, should be expected to give their work away to grow their business. Professionals invest a great deal of time and money in education, equipment and the work itself. (Those big boxes of crayons, people.) It may seem to others like we magically produce stuff, much like Unicorns pooping sprinkles. Except there is a great deal going on behind the scenes; including projects which don’t always work out, yet still cost money to produce. I have worked in other fields, including healthcare. I believe it would be safe to say none of us would show up for a job, if a new employer tells you there will be no paycheck until you prove yourself. For those of us born to create, we pay our dues daily and throughout our lifetimes, often starting on our journeys while still very young. We are not second-class citizens whose work is less valuable until someone else owns it.

I made it clear early on in this blog (This is My Brand), why I decided to get serious about taking a chance on myself. I chose Patreon for early public access and behind-the-scenes peeks at my work. It’s a chance for my potential readers to get in on the ground floor. The R&D department really, since I have no problem being honest. They will get opportunities to interact with me in a manner which wouldn’t be possible if I simply throw my first book on Amazon as a loss leader. When all my ducks are in a row, I plan on a wide release, including being available oversees. I am aware some of the visitors to this blog are outside the United States. It would be foolish of me to exclude them from the opportunity to read my book, if they are interested.

There are two current Patreon offers at the moment. How I produced a multi-media book cover, and the first three chapters of my book. Both are available to the $3 tier, and higher, of course. Those who like making things, might want to become a Patron in the higher tiers to receive exclusive opportunities to complete projects from my books with me. (Like your very own Heart of a Star.) At the very least, there may be a few items which might appeal to Cosplay folks or aficionados of Renaissance Fairs. Not to mention exclusive offers for members when my books are officially published. Such as early full releases, discounts or autographed copies which will be available to all tiers at varying levels. (If you want to know a bit about my “hobbies” and potential activities, see the post “The Year of Being Extra”.)

Those interested in supporting me on Patreon can click the link below. I will be adding polls, not behind a paywall, to get more information about how potential Patrons wish to interact with me, and whether or not they want to be part of a community that interacts with each other. Just to name a couple. In case you have doubts about trying it, the polls will allow me to customize an experience which allow you to enjoy your membership. There will be no expectations for anyone to support me for a given length of time. If you try Patreon for one month and don’t enjoy it, there will be no hard feelings. The occasional, fun freebie might appear as well, which won’t be on this blog. Like my playlist of inspiring writing songs and a chapter from my book, which are available now.

For those people who only want to read my blog posts, those will still be available to the public here, no strings attached. Right now, there are 26 posts. If you haven’t read them all, there is enough here to keep someone entertained for at least a few days. This is the work I’m doing to prove myself, and I appreciate the time any visitor gives, to spend it with me. It’s OK to leave a comment. I’m happy to hear from you, and if you’re a fellow blogger, I don’t mind reciprocating. All I ask is that you make it a bit easier on me, since I have a lot of work on my plate. (Including our older daughter’s wedding in April. My husband does want me to spend time with him occasionally, too.) Please provide me with a link to one of your favorite posts. (Real posts, not advertising. I do inspect the links of anything which lands in the spam folder.) I know, they’re like our children, and we’re not supposed have favorites. Though I’m willing to bet you have at least one or two. Unfortunately, I will have to adjust the number of posts I publish here. Writing a book is a very intensive process for me, and number two hasn’t proceeded as far as I would like. However, I do get notifications for comments which aren’t spam, meaning if someone takes the time to communicate with me, you won’t be ignored for very long.

This is your invitation to join Captain Unobvious on her inaugural flight to destinations of wild imagination. These skies will always endeavor to be friendly and inclusive.

Kristal DeJong

https://www.patreon.com/kristalrdejong

The Big Reveal

If you have been paying attention, the cover artwork for my first book has been lurking in a blog photo or two. There is even an early post which shows the necklace just after I finished making it. (I am a Project Person) For those interested in getting a behind-the-scenes peek showing how I created the cover, you will find a post with more details on my Patreon page.

Become a Patron!

Resolution Re-evaluation

I took this photo a couple of years ago while playing with a used 50mm MF lens on my camera.
Did I know what I was doing? No, not really, but I still took a beautiful picture despite myself.

Now that we are a couple of weeks into 2020, I imagine some folks who made resolutions are starting to rethink them. Being successful always comes back to mindset. Why did you make a resolution in the first place? Is it a “have to” or a “want to?” Since life is full of “have to”, I say make your resolutions “want to”. Is that cheating? No, not really. Self-improvement can take many forms; including learning a new skill or making an effort to carve at least five minutes out of your day for meditation. You’re far more likely to succeed when you look forward to doing something.

I generally don’t make resolutions, not so much because I don’t believe in self-improvement or making needed changes.  I just don’t see a reason to put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the year. The definition of evolution is change over time, and it’s more user friendly than resolutions. Change is easier when it’s done in small, incremental steps as part of a daily practice.

The same is also true for situations or circumstances one has allowed to get a bit out of control. We have such a situation here, in dealing with clutter and disorganization which has been allowed to run amok. It can be easy to make excuses, especially if someone in a household is dealing with less than ideal health. Unfortunately, that’s the worst time to lose control. Sooner or later, there is going to be a day of reckoning, and it rarely comes at a convenient time. For years, I’ve been telling the man to tackle the mess in small doses, since we have a garbage day two days a week. We’re finally starting to clear things out, in a manner which doesn’t make us feel so overwhelmed. This week was a little harder. Overall, we haven’t had much to complain about this winter. We’re actually a bit behind in rainfall, only this week it’s been damp and gloomy. Though it wasn’t cold, motivation skedaddled. (I don’t know what it is about cloudy weather that makes one want to hibernate, or cuddle under a blanket with a cup of tea.)

We’re at a cross-road, being parents of grown children. Down-sizing certainly has its appeal. We bought our house nearly 20 years ago. With all the new development around us, home values have gone up in this area. We probably could sell our house “as-is” and still walk away with something. However, I feel like it’s in our best interest to tackle the issues we have here and leave with a sense of accomplishment, rather than defeat. Mental baggage had a major effect on all the other “baggage” we’ve accumulated. Addressing it isn’t easy, but is one of the most rewarding when you succeed. If we don’t conquer it, those problems will continue to follow us, meaning a different address will have no true benefit, other than escaping the stairs in our current house.

So, why start writing again in the midst of all our issues? I’m still trying to figure that one out. It wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution. Finally finishing that novel I started 30 years ago, wasn’t even on my radar last January. I started it at the end of April. Returning to blogging wasn’t in my plans until October, and I’m pretty much panstering it. I was getting close to finishing my book, and following the advice of others, started the process of creating my author home base. I opted for a paid plan to begin with, to give me some room to grow up front. Once I had it, the clock started ticking to do something with it. Now here I am, showing my particular brand of crazy.

Creative writing is a reward activity for me, like any of my other pursuits. For the most part, I did enjoy the process of tackling and conquering something which defeated me years ago. There are days the words don’t come so easily, or I discover I’ve written myself into a corner. Like most “artistic” types, I do have doubts, something I’ve poured my heart and soul into may not be good enough. While a few people have read my first book and given positive feedback, it’s still scary to think about releasing it into the world at large. It helps I have a lot of practice with critical evaluation of my work and survived it just fine, even if I didn’t always agree with another’s opinion.

The same thing goes for this blog. The only way I’m going to continue writing posts is if I’m actually enjoying it. I learned a long time ago playing the popularity game doesn’t suit my personality. I’m a non-conformist rebel type, and stressing over how many “followers” I have here, or anywhere else on social media, doesn’t bring me any sort of pleasure. In fact, I find it counter-productive to my creativity; especially when there are so many people out there who think the unprecedented “access” we now have to each other, gives them a license to attack and tear down others about whom they know absolutely nothing. Sadly, it seems like the only thing “social” media has really accomplished is showing us how immature, insecure and vulnerable we are as a species. There’s a lot to be said for keeping one’s poo-poo undies covered with adult britches, especially in today’s hyper-connected world. (Come here if you need a “hug” or someone with whom to be silly. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.)

It is possible to make friends over the internet. I have one, met over a forum a few years ago, who is an “old school” email pal. How did we make a connection which has lasted more than four years so far? We have some things in common. There are also some differences. Being respectful of the differences is the only way we will continue to be friends. Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet in person a little later this year. She recently moved to my home state, Colorado. I also have a relative there I haven’t seen in a long time, and I’m overdue for a visit.

How does one learn to get along with others? You start by liking yourself just as you are, which is the most “extra” way to live. Take it from a rebel who rarely allows anyone to twist my knickers, I’m much happier that way. I find it counter-productive to be in conflict and competition with everyone around me. And what is true success really? Most of the tools we use to measure it, do nothing except cause stress and jealousy. Why are we so gosh darn needy to receive recognition for our achievements from others? What is really missing? That’s the billion-dollar question, isn’t it? The answer is inner peace. Elusive, and often fleeting, yet sublime when we find it. It’s most powerful when your life seems at its lowest point. (Yes, I like the Kung Fu Panda movies. Never underestimate the power of an uplifting underdog story.)

If you find yourself at a cross-road, re-evaluating your evolution, jump-start your progress by first eliminating those non-essential things which bring you no lasting pleasure. Make at least one new friend who is “different” from you, by finding the things you have in common. Do not let others tell you what to think, or give them the power to make you angry all the time. Afterall, the educated person shouldn’t be so easily influenced. Most importantly, never underestimate the power of small changes to accomplish big things. That also includes doing things for others without the expectation of personal recognition. We only get one day at a time. Each day is a clean slate.

Quote of the Week

Set small daily goals, and when you look back at your life, you may find yourself surprised at the grand things you accomplished.

Kristal DeJong

Misdemeanors Against the English Language – Bite (?)

My first post in this series took a look at a now common misuse of the word, Listen. One commenter asked if the following sentence is a misdemeanor as well.

Have a bite.

Nope. Bite is in fact both a noun and verb, making its use in this manner perfectly acceptable. In this instance it’s used as a noun, inviting someone to take a mouthful of food. However, it can be tricky when applying rules of tense as a verb. Sometimes, you drop the “e”, such as past – Bit. “The dog bit him.” (In this form, it also becomes a word with other definitions. Such as an object, like a drill bit. Or, “I will do my chores in a little bit.” A reference to passage of time.) Then there is a past participle, where the “e” gets relocated, “He was bitten by the dog;” and a form of present particple which also drops the “e”, “He is biting the dog.”

Object Lessons from Some Rabbits

Lola Rapunzel, taken on her fifth birthday, Dec. 31, 2019.

If you have read this blog from the beginning, you are aware I have four rabbits. Each one of them got a post within the first month of going live.

I’ve been fortunate enough to share my life with many animals over the years; several dogs, a few cats, pigeons, doves, parakeets, love birds, fish, ferrets, and even a horse for a little while.

What catalyst caused me to bring home bunnies? Angora wool. It’s soft and nearly weightless, not to mention seven times warmer than sheep wool. What’s not to like if you’re a spinner/knitter/crocheter? Yep, that’s how those folks become “extra”. They bring home livestock. The lucky ones who live in the country can get sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas. Suburbanites, like myself, settle for rabbits. Though I wouldn’t exactly call it settling. Did I say bunny wool is soft?

My two English Angoras are pretty much retired from fiber production now. Angus is getting old. Every once in a while, he gives me a scare that he may not be with us much longer. While I wish I could keep him forever, there is no cure for age. He deserves a break from constant brushing. In fact, he’s being trimmed again. Between him, and the 5 yr. old doe, Lola Rapunzel, I’m set for life with bunny wool.

Bunnies generally have a hard time as pets, because most people don’t want to take the time to understand them. Unlike dogs and cats, who are predators, rabbits are prey animals. They require a different approach when attempting to make friends with them. Unlike a horse, which can literally knock you on your butt, when they’ve been spooked or upset; rabbits don’t have quite the same power. Though they bite hard enough to draw blood and can leave some nasty scratches with their strong back legs. One must be willing to learn rabbit language to gain their trust. A hand on the head is a sign of respect, and generally calms a rabbit who isn’t certain they want anything to do with you. You can’t be an emotional basket case when working with rabbits. Calm and patience are the order of the day, before you even get close to them. Their radar is always going for signs of threats, which indicate something might be about to attack and eat them.

They are also ruminants, not rodents, meaning they are grass eaters and strict vegans. Their systems are not designed to process sugar. (When I look at my waistline, I’m not so sure I am either.) My rabbits do receive a piece of dried papaya at bedtime, but it does dual duty. Besides being “candy”, it serves as a digestive aid to prevent wool block; something even short haired bunnies can get, if the loose hair isn’t kept off them. Rabbits can’t throw up, so everything which enters their digestive track only flows in one direction.

Most rabbits, with the exception of German Angoras, blow their coats four times a year. So, if you don’t like animal hair in your house, don’t bring a rabbit into your home. The stuff floats and will reach places, like light fixtures and the highest corner of a vaulted ceiling. (Angel hair) Daily cage cleaning is a must, as well.

Besides the uber-soft bunny wool, there would have to be other trade-offs to make the work worthwhile, wouldn’t there? It probably helps I didn’t get my rabbits until I was in my forties. After raising two daughters, and working with a variety of people from different backgrounds over the years, I learned patience. But my rabbits still had plenty to teach me, and were actually a major part of working my way through the grieving process after my mom died. Four hours a day, I had to put it aside and concentrate on my obligations to the bunnies. Since they wouldn’t cooperate with me while exhibiting strong emotions, they provided a bit of rest, even though I was doing chores. Taking time to earn their trust when I first got them, paid off. They have been bonded to me for several years now, and rabbits are actually playful, affectionate critters when they have confidence in you.

Other than being fed regular meals and being given a safe environment, rabbits don’t have high expectations for life. They’re pretty humble. Of the four rabbits I own, my sassy rabbit, Benjamin, might be the only exception. They don’t worry about changing the world or leaving a legacy behind them. I will always have fond memories of all four of them. Angus and Lola, however, will leave heirlooms behind them, even though it was never planned by them. All that wool I’ve saved up will last well beyond their lifetimes. It gives me an opportunity to provide blessings to others, while still having plenty to make something for myself occasionally. Provided a recipient of an item I’ve made with their fiber, gives it just a bit of care, they would be able to pass it on to another for their enjoyment someday.

Quote of the Week

Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days grew warm and sunny, the Boy went out to play in the wood behind the house. And while he was playing, two rabbits crept out from the bracken and peeped at him. One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed through. And about his little soft nose and his round black eyes there was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself:

“Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!”

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.

The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real, by Margery Williams https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html

I call Angus and Lola my Velveteen Rabbits after they get a haircut.

Kristal DeJong

Misdemeanors Against the English Language – Listen

Still a verb, made into a sign.

This may become a regular feature, along with other posts concerning the mechanics of communication. I’m still mulling it over.

I’m beginning with Listen because its misuse on television news media outlets has been driving me crazy for a few years now. (Mrs. Buchanan would not approve, people!)

Can anyone tell me what is wrong with this sentence?

Take a listen.

The noun here is “you”. Since this sentence is being used to address a whole bunch of “you”, leaving it unspoken is fine. What you have left are two verbs. Proper sentence structure is usually a Subject (noun), Verb (passive or active), and often another noun (object). The object is either by itself in simple sentence structure or embedded in a prepositional phrase. Action verbs indicate the subject is doing something. To determine whether a word is a verb, both active and passive verbs always have a past, present or future tense. Active verbs are the same word, with “ed” added for past tense and sometimes “ing” for present tense. The last I knew, Listen is an active verb. It is something one does, which is usually the brain interpreting sounds collected by the ears. The following examples illustrate its use in all three tenses. “I listened to my favorite song.” “I enjoy listening to my favorite song.” “I will listen to my favorite song.”

In the offending sentence, Listen is being used as a noun (object). Every time I hear someone use it in this manner, I ask myself “Where am I taking it?” or “Who am I taking it from?” The proper way to use it would be, “Please listen to the following story.” Yes, there are twice as many words in this sentence. Wow! Six in total. Instead of drawing my attention to something a reporter or anchor wants me to notice, all they’re really doing is distracting me with the misuse of a verb; and being impolite by demanding I do something. Instead of asking me nicely to pay attention. Yes, there are some words which can be both nouns and verbs. There is even at least one in this post, but it isn’t Listen.

A Different Perspective

Many eons ago, people used to make friends with those who lived close to them. Learning and developing friendships often begins when we’re very young and have no preconceived ideas about others. We just like them, for no other reason than they are fun to play with.

Then we start growing up and much of that precious innocence starts disappearing. Whose fault is that, I wonder? If children are born empty vessels, who really fills them? Parents are usually the first answer. Which is true until you send that child off to school. Perhaps from kindergarten until second grade, most of them get along pretty well. Though if you’re really paying attention, you might begin to notice slight cracks in their innocent shells. Small signs of selfishness, if you will. Perhaps name calling or bit of physicality against another child, because someone is playing with a toy they want. As anyone who has ever raised a child can tell you, the little darlings are not born patient. The only way a baby knows how to communicate their needs is by screaming in your ear until you figure it out.

Eventually, children start encountering the mysteries of public image. At that point, they are often faced with choices they aren’t always mature enough to understand, unless they have been given guidance which has been provided from a loving heart and always in their best interest. That guidance is sometimes wrong, because those providing it don’t always realize the lens guiding their compass has been compromised.

When I started this blog a couple of months ago, I made no secret of the fact I recently rejoined RWA (Romance Writers of America). Not long after, its board got drug into the middle of a mess created by some people who forgot they were part of the organization’s public face. (Published authors). It apparently got ugly from the beginning and involved the media darling word of the moment, Racism.

Let me point out right here and now, any word which ends with an “ism” or “ist” isn’t allowed in my vocabulary. Why? Because every single one of them comes from one source, and one alone; Selfishness. They are all covers, or excuses if you will, for what truly motivates every single unfavorable decision we make against others. (They have a toy we want, or we have it and they’re not going to get it). Both those that seem insignificant (using that blasted cell phone while behind the wheel of a motorized weapon); and ones which cause horrendous events which echo through history. (You know, wars which destroy millions, most especially the seemingly innocent. Gives new meaning to “He who has the most toys wins,” doesn’t it?)

The RWA members involved in their middle school tit for tat, forgot they were engaging each other in the modern equivalent of the village square, because they thought they were safely hidden behind their electronic screens. They not only overlooked the importance of protecting their professional images, and any previous good work they may have accomplished; they jettisoned the reputation of an organization whose core values are supposed to be about supporting each other’s successes, and providing the tools for achieving success. A very rare thing in this world. When another’s achievements are celebrated, we often sit back and pout because we weren’t just handed that big “***” toy chest. Sigh…

Due to the original intentions of the founders, the organization is made by the complete sum of its parts, whether we like it not. In other words, it goes beyond the board and extends to every single member. All members are expected to understand an organization’s core values and uphold them, otherwise why bother joining in the first place? That not only applies to what we do on social media, but the stories we choose to tell. There is nothing wrong with venturing into unfamiliar territory, as long as it’s being done for personal growth and greater understanding. An occasional gut check by the creator, for an honest evaluation of motivation, is never a bad thing; and shoddy work is problematic. At the very least, it opens up the door to erroneous interpretations.

When I joined RWA in the late nineties, I didn’t live anywhere near close. My nearest chapter was almost four hours away. Naturally, I couldn’t attend meetings every month, but when I did, I looked forward to the long drive. Why? Because those “local” ladies were fun to play with. Yes, RWA was all “women” at that time, and some of them seemed sexist, against men joining. It doesn’t bother me to see they’ve become more inclusive and men are also members, too. Afterall, they are half of that romance formula many of us like to write.

I don’t remember now, it’s unearthing in relation to when I started writing my book again; but that mouse pad sitting next to my computer is actually a 1999 issue of Romance Writer’s Report. Why did I keep that one only? I believe it was because of an article about tightening up those sagging middles. Still apropos and a darn fine bit of writing, if I may say so. Image my surprise, upon rediscovery twenty years later, to encounter a letter from Bertrice Small, answering a letter to a gentleman named Arnold. She suggested he would need to do a “sex change” if he wished to be a romance writer. Publishers wouldn’t give him the time of day otherwise. She even provided examples. Do the names Jennifer Wilde and Leigh Greenwood ring bells with anyone? Well, they might if you’re old enough. Double sigh… (No, dagnabit, I’m not a baby boomer. Just at the oldest end of Gen X.)

When I first received the apology letter from the board the day after Christmas, I initially thought. “Huh, that’s too bad, but it has nothing to do with me. As my day continued to pass, and I laid awake in bed until 3 a.m., I came to the realization I was involved whether I liked it or not, with an organization whose core values no longer seemed to align with mine. It had dissolved into something unpleasant, instead of being a joyous group of people united in a common cause, the promotion of “women’s literature”. Darn thing caused a huge pit in my stomach and gave me a nasty bout of acid reflux which lasted almost 24 hrs. I ultimately ended up leaving a comment on another blogger’s post pointing out the true infractions of everyone involved. I really didn’t want to write or leave that comment. Since he moderates like I do, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least if his eyes had been the only ones to see it. Otherwise, I knew there was a very good likelihood I would be in put in a position of needing to provide more clarification.

There were some who responded. I must thank them for taking the time to read the ramblings of a crabby woman crying her eyes out at 3 in the morning. Even if some of them didn’t fully understand the message, or didn’t want to because it may have unintentionally come a bit close to home. I even got accused of defending a racist. Did they make that comment because I said that person’s true crime was laziness? (One of the seven deadly sins, also known as Sloth) Or did they see the picture with the cute, fuzzy bunny being held by a white woman and make a judgement based on appearance? As I mentioned to one of them, one must consider carefully before making accusations, including our own motivations for doing so, especially when you aren’t personally acquainted with someone. And never name names. Those people don’t have to come out in public to defend themselves, but if they do happen to visit, and need a friend who is willing to listen on occasion, I’ll figure out a way to do so in private. In the spirit of any possible new friendships, I will let them know up front, I consider laziness a deadly insult; and I might forget myself enough to slap anyone who calls me lazy.

So, why did I bother wading into the middle of any of this? Like it or not, it was high time to for someone to speak up. Not just over the immature behavior of a few writers, but the immaturity many of us indulge on social media. The minute we think no one is looking, we believe it OK to revert to childhood. Not the good, nostalgic kind either. There is a reason why parents who care about the characters of their children, call them little heathens until they finally start figuring out the true value of respect. Not just for themselves, but everyone they encounter. Don’t forget this timeless adage, either. “Never hang your dirty laundry out to dry.” Poopoo undies are the least attractive thing to expose for all the world to see.

(Sorry, I had to do it. If that’s not an image guaranteed to make someone think twice, I don’t know what is. Dirty laundry exposed in the “real” public sphere is even worse. Anytime my brother and I forgot ourselves and used certain speech, my mom reached for a bar of soap. Not to mention it exhibits a lack of vocabulary and true creativity. Why would anyone want to color with one of those dinky boxes containing 8 crayons? Unless you are well versed in the science of color.)

Like or not, fixing RWA’s “mess” isn’t going to occur at the national level. It’s going to require a whole bunch of disheartened members rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on the local level. If you are an RWA member who happens to read this, support your local chapter and board members. They were actually the ones I thought of, when the first thing I encountered while searching, were news media stories, who caught wind all wasn’t well in the land of happy endings. (I believe that came from the New York Post)

Right now, I wish I was in a better position to do more for my local chapter. Our president, Jenn, tells us at every meeting, “This is your chapter. Tell us what you want.” I’ve been to every meeting since I rejoined. Having access to a physical writers’ group is the real reason I rejoined RWA. You are required to have the national membership to join a local chapter. My local chapter is now only five minutes from my house. I’ve had no complaints, since they seem like fun people to play with. I’ve also learned from them, and the book I’m readying for publication wouldn’t be the same without them.

Frankly, if there is going to be any rebranding going on, I would far rather be known as a relationship novelist (notice I did not say Guru.) Romance has the dubious distinction of being somewhat fleeting. Yeah, yeah, I can hear some of you now, “I don’t know, that seems like a rather broad category…” Not really, it’s existed all along. (See, divide and conquer has been going on for eternity. Even in the publishing world.)

If you have read all of my posts, I’ve mentioned reading lots of stuff, from many so-called genres. I’ve noticed something kind of odd about all of them. At their cores, they are ALL about relationships. In fact, there would be no story at all, without a relationship at its heart. For everyone who has ever read an epic fantasy series, you know full well those relationships will be tested to their limits, and not everyone will make it to the happy ending. Those characters watching each other’s backs, will be the only ones who will pull their friends to the other side. (Frodo Baggins never would have completed his mission without Samwise Gamgee.)

My dream in a book store? Two sections. The really interesting “Look at all the Cool Stuff You Can Learn” Side; and “Really Good Stories” in the other half. Not necessarily in alphabetical order. That way readers have to explore a bit, and “Gasp!”, occasionally discover something new.

What’s that? Three sections? Fine. The kids still get their section, too. I am all for fostering reading at a young age, after all.

Looking at the World Through a Broken Lens

I’m sure many of us have experienced a broken or smudged lens at least once in our lifetimes. If it wasn’t a pair of eye glasses, it may have been attached to a camera. It’s an annoying experience, isn’t it?

You’re using that lens because you need to see something clearly. Such as what you’re reading or where you’re going. The purpose of a photograph is to catch a fleeting moment you likely will never see again. Taking time to clean or replace a lens often means you will miss it.

But there is one lens which should matter to all of us. Sometimes, it’s also called our internal compass. Actually, they are two separate things and one informs the other. Just ask the seafaring folk of old who didn’t have GPS on a cell phone. You need both tools in order to reach your destination. With a dirty or broken lens, your compass can’t function properly. (Hey, that is doubly true for all those satellites we now rely on. They are equipped with both, you know.)

Let’s take a look at the moral compass. It’s really the only one we possess. Who are we allowing to influence our lens? Are they smudging or distorting it? If we are allowing others to touch our lens, who? Do you truly know who they are or understand their motivations for “informing” your lens?

The hardest part of using a clean lens is when we turn it on ourselves and take a deeper look at who we really are. It’s the very rare person who takes an honest look at themselves and comes away feeling that they are already perfect. The most annoying thing about achieving perfection? You can’t obtain it on your own, and it is pretty much a given few of us will even come close to achieving it during our lifetimes. (Yes, that includes me.)

I mentioned in my last post, who influenced me. My mom was a quiet person who tried to overcome her insecurities through a really good friend. Because he was her friend, she would never dream of misrepresenting his true character, in public or private. She met this friend as an adult, after she married and had two kids. (I was four at the time.) She doesn’t seem like the kind of person whose life would end by suicide, does she? I’m still not certain that’s exactly what happened. I live more than 1,000 miles away from where she did. During the last month and a half she was with us, I found myself fighting a growing sense of unease each time I spoke with her. My heart literally broke during our last conversion two days before she died.

Since I was too far away to do anything in person, I told her at the end of that conversation I was still there for her, despite any wrongs she thought were committed against me during my lifetime. I promised I would keep checking on her. The next morning when I called, I got someone else. Someone who should have been profoundly concerned over her state of mind. Instead, he blew me off. His way of trying to reassure me? “There’s nothing to worry about. She’s only been going off the deep end for a while.”

I wish I could say his attitude surprised me. Only, throughout my life, my lens had been under the influence of my mom’s very good friend. I never had a difficult time identifying this person’s true character, because he often subjected me to it with snide remarks and put downs. He had the same opportunity my mom did, to be included in the special friendship. It’s the best kind of threesome, after all. Instead, he allowed jealousy to keep him from something truly meaningful, because he was self-centered and believed he was no longer the center of her world. After all, he was the hot, popular guy who settled for the quiet, shy girl who didn’t think she was pretty. She spent more than 50 years with him. The entire time she tried to bring him into that special friendship. Her reward for it was a lifetime of mockery and disrespect.

Even so, my mom still reached out to others and made it clear her special friendship was never exclusive. She loved everyone, no matter where they came from or what mistakes they made during their lifetimes. Always, always with a spirit of humility. Which is the true reason I still love her, despite the grief and lack of understanding why I lost her the way I did. I admired her so very much for the way she represented her special friend. Because I didn’t think I had the courage to do the same. What hurt me the most, during our last conversation was when she said “My life’s not right with God.”

From that moment on, the Holy Trinity and I have had to do some hardcore relationship rebuilding. I seriously questioned if my entire life had been a lie. To say I have been angry is something of an understatement. What really happened? Someone finally managed to break the lens which allowed my mom to clearly see her special friend. In the process, he shattered mine too.

The whole reason I’m uncomfortable with the notion of building my brand? It’s not really mine to build, not if I claim to have a special friend. Yes, that friend is Jesus. I’m not ashamed of him. In fact, I don’t call myself a Christian. (There’s a “branding” issue there.) The master lens maker is my friend. For the past 4 ½ years, he’s been quietly rebuilding my lens. I’ve recently discovered he gifted me with the clearest, most beautiful wide lens; whose colors and clarity will never be matched by anything I could ever make on my own.