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Monday, April 8, 2013

My Secret Superhero- A Tribute

Superheroes are all the rage these days. And who can blame us? Superheroes have everything-- power, charisma, the ability to affect real change AND a clear villain to fight.  Who wouldn't want that? They are symbols of hope, the idea that no matter how ordinary we may seem that there is a spark of greatness in all of us.
Oh, and they can fly. There's that, too.

After my last blog post, I received several positive comments and questions via email, Facebook, and Twitter. My favorite was "How did you get to be so legit?" As much as I would like to answer, "natural awesomeness" it would be much closer to the truth to admit a high level of "nurture awesomeness." 

Because you see, growing up, I had a superhero. I was not one myself, but I had one, and I was in on the secret. Like Lois Lane to Superman, Alfred to Batman, and everybody who knew him to Ironman I was the normal who knew both the secret identity and the super identity of my hero. 

My hero was Rock and Roll Man. He was also my dad. And in keeping with the gold standard superhero formula, he had a mild-mannered alter ego, an everyday persona of kindness and meekness. He's easy to talk to and a good listener who always treats everyone with an automatic respect and courtesy, no matter their age or status. I can count on one hand the times I remember him raising his voice and not use all my fingers.

But put a guitar in his hands and plug it in, and prepare to be blown away by the sound and fury. Music is a huge part of my life and I've spent decades studying it, playing it, and listening to it. I can say without equivocation that my dad is the BEST guitarist I have ever heard play with no exception. It's incredible. It's awe-inspiring. And it's almost unbelievable if you know my dad from anything other than his music, because the man who does a million little services every day in quietness almost cannot be the same person who hits you with the wall of sound and brillance that Rock and Roll man does.

Don't believe me? Check out his YouTube channel. For a specific example, check out this video of him playing a Gibson Flying V.

But for how super his guitar playing was and is, that wasn't what made him a hero. Like all great heroes, he has an origin story that's full of heartache and trial. You see, my dad has loved guitars and rock and roll and music for his whole life. He taught himself to play in high school and was a member of a couple different bands, but the other people in the band started making choices that were more in accordance with what we would think of as a "rock 'n roll lifestyle," than with someone we would want our own kids to grow up to be. I've never gotten the full story, but I know he made his own bad choices at the time and moved out because he and his parents weren't getting along. 

So like Peter Parker he lived with relatives other than his own parents. He moved in with his grandma, his own sweet and nurturing old woman, who consistently and lovingly nudged him towards turning his life around and serving an LDS mission. Very much a "With great power comes great responsibility" relationship. He pushed back, but decided to give God a chance to tell him what He wanted. But my dad had to be sure.

So he made a deal. If he was supposed to serve a mission, then God would let him know by having his car start on the first try. Sound simple? His car was the old, beat up, falling apart kind that in the best of conditions would maybe start on the third or fourth try. To add to the proposed miracle, this deal was struck in the middle of a Northern Utah winter. Freezing cold, tons of snow and ice, the kind of day in the kind of place where the best German engineered cars kept in loving garages only start on the first try about half the time. So like the warrior Gideon, like Jacob at the well, he asked for a sign. Not to give him faith, but to provide a course of action.

Early that next frigid morning, the ancient engine in his duct-taped car turned over on the first try. And true to his word, the direction of his life changed forever. (Incidentally knowing this story is what prompted me to ask for my own confirmation before I got married, and because of it I married the best husband in the world. Sorry everyone else, I got him.)

He served that mission and came home and got married in the Provo Temple to my mom, an incredible person in her own right. Then he dropped out of college to go to work when my mom had my older sister. He didn't do anything with his music at this period or for the next several years, and I'm honestly not sure he even owned a guitar while my sister and I were little. He still loved the music and the guitar was a passion that lay dormant, pushed down because he associated it with all those bad choices early on. That wasn't who he wanted to be, either for himself or for us.

All growing up my dad worked awful, stressful jobs in fields he didn't care about to provide for us. He'd moved around a lot as a child because his father was in the military, and he'd hated all that constant uprooting and swore he would never do that to us. So when better offers or promotions came his way, he'd decline if they meant we had to move. He wanted to give us that stable home, and a place we could call our hometown. No matter what it cost him.

My dad believed in Jesus Christ, and while I can't say he never wavered or had doubts because I don't know if he did or not, I can honestly say he always acted as though he had faith. All the time. Whether or not he thought anyone was looking. I've never been a morning person (finding out I had narcolepsy was actually a huge relief, because I didn't like mornings the way that some people don't like being shot) but every weekday, no matter how early it was when he had to leave, he'd wake us all up for family prayer and scripture study.

I'd like to use this moment to publicly apologize. I was a brat about it. Sometimes a pretty horrific one. I'm sorry for that, and you were right, dad.

I was bitter about the waking up early, but I remember very clearly one specific morning. I wasn't feeling well at all, and I woke up around 5:00 a.m. Scripture study was in 45 minutes, but at that moment I needed a drink more than I needed sleep so I went downstairs to the kitchen.

I stopped midway down the staircase. I could see into the kitchen and I saw my father there. He was on his knees, praying with his scriptures open in front of him and used cereal bowl on the counter. I didn't say anything and he didn't see me. Instead I crept back upstairs and got a drink from the bathroom sink, then went back to bed.

That moment had a profound affect on my life. Not necessarily because of what he was doing, specifically, but because he was already showered and dressed with his breakfast eaten. He wasn't leaving for work for at least an hour, but he had gotten up that much earlier to have time to do his own quiet scripture study and prayer. That moment didn't change me because it gave me faith in the scriptures or in the doctrines of the church. It moved me because here was conclusive evidence that my dad really lived the things he believed. He walked the walk, so to speak. 

The lesson I learned at that moment was that my dad wasn't kidding or being a jerk or just trying to fake it when he woke us up all early. It was because he truly believed. It made me take him more seriously and although I'd love to stay I stopped being a jerk myself about early morning study, I was better about it.

The lesson I've learned since is that for us to be taken seriously, to be believed by our friends, our co-workers, and our children, we must actually DO the things we talk about. Whatever they may be, whether we're taking about religion or exercise or following our passions or giving each other a break, we have to do it ourselves. And it must be both. Words without example can be taken as hypocrisy, but example without words can be misleading. We aren't perfect and we're not going to be great at it all the time, whatever it is, but we need to live as close to the ideal we set as we possibly can.

It was somewhere around this time that my dad picked up the guitar again. At first it was just for family parties or in other "safe" environments. But with the support of my mom, who knew he loved music and from whom I've gained much of my people skills and directness, he started playing again.

He still loved rock and roll, but he didn't like the angry or dark feelings that could come from a lot of the music with the most blistering guitar solos. So he started to write his own. He wrote fun songs, funny songs, happy songs all with incredible guitar and can't help but dance beats. But it was just a hobby; he still worked for those bosses who screamed at or belittled him. He also worked for over two decades as a member of various bishoprics (unpaid clergy) for family and single congregations. He's a bishop right now for a university singles ward, and I'm pretty sure if I bothered to do all the math it's likely been closer to three decades.

I think I've talked a little bit about my passion for writing before. I may have even stressed about how little time I have left of use in my hands and how much I want to get done before that. All this is maybe a third of what Rock and Roll Man feels. He's had a passion for playing guitar like my passion for writing which he's put on the back burner for nearly my whole life because he didn't believe he could make money at it and so instead worked to provide for his family. That is heroic. 

And now he's nearly 60, and he still plays like a superhero. And since we've all finally grown up and moved out he's been able to dedicate more of his time to his music. So much so that he even put out his very first album! (It's a link if you click it- buy it to enjoy with your family!)

He doesn't know how to promote it, though. He's not on Twitter yet and hardly ever uses his Facebook page. He has no agent or advertising company in his corner. My secret superhero is ready to not be a secret anymore, but there's no trumpet or fanfare. There's just him and his music and his Rock Happy! album. Some songs are silly, like Cheesecake Blues or Gettin' Older, some are just fun like Goodnight with a Kiss, and some are unexpectedly poignant like Burst Into a New Life or even What I Want in a Woman.

So I'm asking. This is my favor to ask from everyone, because I know how hard self-promotion can be. I know how many hours you can spend on social media sites and on relevant blogs and get nowhere, because everyone everywhere (even me!) has a mental resistance to being "sold" anything. Share this post and help me do one small thing to thank my dad for a lifetime of sacrificing his dreams to take care of my siblings and me. You can even post your own comments about how awesome your parents are or how much you appreciate their sacrifices for you, and sharing this for my dad can be a thank you to yours from you.

And dad, I promise, if I get famous from being an author I'm taking you with me. Don't forget. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

If You Panicked Less I Would Talk to You More

Dear Friend,

As I'm sure most everyone has noticed, it's been over a month since I've written a blog post. That's largely because I've been focused on writing my next book and meeting those deadline goals, and I'm not writing this now because I'm ahead. I'm writing this because of you. I hope you know who you are once you've read through this and know how important you are to me and how I want this to help.

I also hope everyone else reads this because there are things I want to say to the people you interact with. There are important things I want people to understand, and this is a great forum for that because blogging is both intensely personal and almost totally anonymous. Not because you don't know who I am, but because blog posts can be shared by anyone for anyone with the bonus layer of protection, i.e., "I shared this because I thought it was interesting, not because I agree/ was trying to attack you/ can't find the words to say on my own."

I love my car. It isn't something I talk about a lot, because it's such a small, frivolous thing but sometimes it's the most unimportant stuff that gets you through another day of all the crushing responsibility. So I love my car. It's a cute little Scion TC with a sun roof and a moon roof and (my favorite) a kicking sound system. I have a narrow window of time for when I could have a car like this. It's two door, so I need my kids to be old enough to not be in super buckled carseats, but it's a pretty small car and my kids are going to be crazy tall so I need them to be young enough to fit inside it.

I am right in the middle of that window, and it's awesome. Sometimes I drive around with my music turned up to 50 and my sunroof open and I pretend for a few minutes that I am not a responsible mother, homemaker, housewife, etc., but just a person who likes music and is driving. I would definitely road-trip in this car, which is why I bring it up at all. Over the past few weeks in talking with friends, other writers, and other parents I've had the same part of a conversation four times. It isn't always exactly the same, but it boils down to this sentiment: "Sometimes I just want to get in my car and drive away and never come back."

Can I mention something? I love that people tell me these things. I love that they trust me enough to tell me they want to drive away and abandon everything and know that I'm not going to freak out or ask them if they're depressed. Friend, I know what you mean. Everyone else, DON'T OVER-REACT. The desire to be free of responsibility is 100% understandable and expressing that desire out loud does not mean they're going to do it- in fact, it makes them, it makes us, less likely to act out. Being able to talk out our feelings means they're not rattling around inside, getting bigger and more intrusive until they push us over an edge. So my friend, please tell me these things because I want you to be able to talk to me and because I know exactly what you mean.

Language is often an imperfect medium, because taking the time to be exact isn't always practical and for all the life we've lived in our own minds, we rarely take the time to get to know ourselves well. Usually I understand what I'm feeling because I've been giving the words to express the what, "I feel sad/ tired/ overwhelmed" but not often the WHY. For example, "I want to get in my car and drive," does NOT mean, "I don't love my family and I want to leave them all behind." It's more likely that you're experiencing pressure in several aspects of your life and the compound large stress from all that is activating your fight or flight response. And flight is easier than fighting a battle on several fronts at once.

Or, my friend, you're feeling the way I've been feeling for the past few months. That you can't live like this any longer. And that statement terrifies people, because instead of focusing on the "like this" part they hear the "I can't live any longer" part and that activates their stress fight or flight protocol. Which sucks because then they try to either fight you about it or hide from it and therefore from you. So not helpful! When I say, (and this won't be true for you because you don't live my life, but maybe something in it will resonate, friend) "I can't live like this any longer" that means I am ready to look for a new solution. That something has got to change, and I'm giving the people in my life a heads up on looking for change or asking for your on how to make things different.

And see, now everyone I know who's reading this is clutching their chest with a hand over their heart thinking, "I had no idea Angie was feeling like she couldn't live like this any longer! There must be something really wrong and she's dangling over the edge of a cliff by her fingernails and I should call her or call people who care about her or have responsibility for her and fix this!"

My friends, take a deep breath. I am fine, in that I am not about to fall off a cliff. I don't need to be saved, I need a little support now and then and I need to figure out what the reason for me feeling like this is and how to fix it. Myself. I'm not dangerous, I'm not in danger. Breathe and relax. We're going to be okay, you and me. My friend and I don't need people freaking out on us because we're going through hard trials, especially since everyone is going through hard trials. Not all at once; all you my other friends who have found balance for this moment, you have gone through hard things. You will go through hard things again. Think back on them and remember what helped you most- little daily victories and supportive friends who listen without being judgmental.

Personal example: (I can give these because it's my blog). I have fibromyalgia. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia I talked to my family about it, and my sister asked me, "Is that even a real thing?" She wasn't trying to be mean or condescending! She was honestly asking, and I had to make sure I wasn't transmitting my own inner fear of this not being a real thing onto what she was actually trying to learn. And my sister wasn't the only one who reacted that way; I had to recognize that part of their questions was their desire to make this not true for me because they care about me. But again, language is imperfect and our use of it makes it more so, and questions like, "Are you sure?" and "Don't you think they could've misdiagnosed you?" were the result of their feeling, "I don't want this to be happening to you because I love you," and me hearing, "I think you're making this up."

Stop. Re-read that. How completely opposite is what they meant and what I heard? Is it any wonder that it's so easy to fight with and be hurt by the people you love the most when any statement is that open for interpretation?

Fibromyalgia IS a real thing, yes. It is a diagnosable disorder and is recognized by medical health professionals and by the US National Institute of Health. It is a disorder of the central nervous system, meaning that the signals for things that you feel and experience can get mixed up. Here is the key to fibromyalgia that I think most people don't understand. When a person feels pain, it is the body's method of alerting the conscious brain to a problem. The greater the problem, the greater the associated pain. The pain DOES NOT come from the injury or illness itself, it is something your body generates to get you to deal with the injury. If this were not the case, pain medicines would have no effect. All this pain is controlled and transmitted through the central nervous system.

When you have fibromyalgia, your central nervous system responds to cues other than injury. You can feel like you have a broken arm without any actual injury to the bone, and here's the point that I need to stress with fibro that everyone needs to understand: the injury may not have happened, BUT THE PAIN IS REAL. As real as pain ever is, anyway. Remember, pain is the body's way of telling the brain something is wrong. And fibromyalgia is something wrong with your body that it doesn't know how to deal with or what to do, so it sends pain to the brain as a signal to "fix it."

Some days there are things going on with my body that I don't understand. It doesn't understand either, so it sends the problem to the brain. As pain, or weakness, or a myriad of other dysfunctions as a plea for help that no one knows how to give. I have a whole Pinterest board about fibro, if you'd care to see it.

One of those pins says I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it. I've been talking a lot about miscommunication, both from person to person and from body to mind, and things weigh so heavy on us when they're burdens we put on ourselves. It's easy to make negative assumptions when people speak, because negativity is almost always easier and because once again, we're bad at language.

My dear friend, when you're feeling really upset I recommend one or two of the following things:

1. Give yourself permission to feel crappy. Life is hard, and it is supposed to be. Refiner's fire and all that. But don't let life being hard make you feel bad about yourself because life doesn't get hard if you're failing at it- it's when we're succeeding that we get brand new tests.

2. Don't be afraid to talk it out. You can tell me "I just want to run away," and I know you mean "I wish there was a way to get away from this because I feel trapped by circumstances," not "I want to abandon my family and fake my death and invent a new personality." Although sometimes circumstances are hard enough that even faking your own death seems appealing...

3. Listen to awesome music. I mentioned my car's stereo system earlier- I really do love it. Music has a way of penetrating the barriers of our conscious mind and lodging itself in our hearts. It carries messages of hope or power or love, and you should listen to some of that power music. Or wallow in music that feels as depressed as you may feel, because then at least you are not depressed alone!

4. Take time to identify what's really bothering you. This is obviously more mental than physical, but I'm serious. I once spent nearly two weeks feeling edgy and upset before I finally sat myself down and analyzed what my problem was. Turns out I was worried that my friend was mad at me over something I posted on facebook (political, not personal) and I spent two weeks worrying about it and unable to relax instead of just talking to her. She was mad, and we didn't talk for a few weeks. Strangely knowing that and talking it out with her made me feel better, even though the result was what I had been afraid of. We both got over it. We're still best friends.

5. Do something every day just because you like it. Who cares what it is. Read, dance, be silly, take a nap, watch a favorite show on TV, meditate, be outside, whatever: if it makes you feel more like you, it's worth the time.

6. Stop beating yourself up about it, and stop caring if other people are judging you. Seriously, mom on the iphone blogger? BACK OFF. (You can read my previous post about that particular article. That made me more mad than I've been in a while. Usually mad takes up too much energy). People judge you. People have opinions and make mistakes and are always much better at looking at other people's lives than their own. So what? Let them carry those burdens. And if they try to pass them on to you, thank them for caring and tell them to drop it, because it isn't worth it. Life is hard enough on us. We are hard enough on us. Can we please just stop being hard on each other?

Doing these things doesn't fix my chemical depression (or make me listen to "My Chemical Romance," that's a choice). I have burdens. You have burdens. It's okay to admit our burdens. It isn't okay to add guilt to our burdens because we feel badly about them. My friend, you're awesome. I don't know if you ever saw the movie, "Return to Me,"  but there's a line that the Irish Grandpa says that I've always loved: "It's the character that's the strongest that God gives the most troubles to." Wear your trials on your heart like a badge of honor- they mean you are strong.

And for those of you who don't have trials or burdens as heavy as the rest of us, don't be jealous. It'll all be okay in the end, and if it's not okay, it's not the end.

And if you'd like a little fun in your day, Danielle Young over at Yellsworld did an interview with two of the main characters from my book, and she did a great job. My health and wellness may be hit and miss, but I get to LOVE what I do, and that's even better than my car stereo with the sunroof open.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Dear mom on the iPhone," A Response

Now I know I told you this would be a continuation of the Mental Health topic, and it will be, but I just want to pause for a moment and talk about a link I've seen going around Facebook. This blog post, called "Dear mom on the iPhone: Let me tell you what you don't see," has been getting shared by my friends who, I notice, largely don't comment about the share. Now I was curious about it so I read it.

Oh. Wow. Okay, now I agree wholeheartedly with the basic premise, the "we need to let our kids know that they are more important than our smartphones." Yes. Absolutely. But I do not agree with this blog post at all. In fact, reading it made me angry and annoyed because it is exactly these kinds of blog posts that are feeding into our neurosis. It is bad enough that weigh ourselves down with layer upon layer of guilt; we don't need to do it TO EACH OTHER.

Last time I was talking about all the different pressures that women have in America today, to work and to stay home, to keep a clean house and to play with our children, to be strong and productive in society without losing our femininity while at the same time not being a slave to false stereotypes about women. I was talking about us forgiving ourselves and was going to get to focusing on the good things we do and how talking about it can help, and why learning cognitive behavioral therapies can help us balance our lives and like ourselves.

And then we get smacked with judgements like these. "You are doing a great job with your kids: You work hard, you teach them manners, have them do their chores. But Momma, let me tell you what you don't see right now..." and then the post proceeds to say that by taking the kids to the park and then not responding to their desires for attention you are damaging their self-esteem. Like this one, "Your little boy keeps shouting, "Mom, MOM watch this!" I see you acknowledge him, barely glancing his way.
He sees that too. His shoulders slump, but only for a moment, as he finds the next cool thing to do."

And we pass it around because we don't want to be the one to argue with it, we don't want to be that "Mom on the iPhone." But we don't comment on the story when we share it, either, because secretly we're resenting it. We don't have to secretly resent it. The author of the blog post does say, "I am not saying it's not OK to check in on your phone, but it's a time-sucker: User beware!" so we have permission to check our phones but not to use them. And after we're given permission we get this smack in the face, "You've shown them, all these moments, that the phone is more important than they are. They see you looking at it at while waiting to pick up brother from school, during playtime, at the dinner table, at bedtime."

Why are we doing this to each other? Why do we think it's okay to be down on other women, other mothers, like this? Again, yes, I agree with the premise of the article. I even agree with the caution the author is trying to convey- your phone shouldn't be more important to you than your kids. But you need time to be yourself, and being a parent is harder now than ever before. Generations before us would drop us off at lessons and go do something; we're expected to wait, and watch, the entire time. Kids used to be sent out to ride bikes or go play without parental involvement. Now, tell me you've never seen a group of kids playing and thought, "Where are their parents?!" because parenting has become a 24-7 thing. We center our lives around them and take them everywhere with us. Sometimes we need a break from each other so they don't become dependent on us for their self-worth and so we can be reminded that there is a person inside the job description.

I have something to say to that mom on her iPhone. Good job for taking your kids to the park. Thank you for going with them. Thank you for looking up to check on what your son is doing, dressing your daughter in dresses she can twirl in and combing her long hair so that it shines in the sunlight. Well done pushing your baby in the baby swing. I don't know what's going on in your life; you could be checking your email because your mom wrote all about the serious surgery your sister just had and you want to make sure she's okay. You could be looking for a new home in a nicer neighborhood with better schools for your kids. You could be networking for the business that you run from home so you can be at home with your kids. Or you could be playing Angry Birds, because you've been with your three small children all day and need a mental break so you don't have a mental breakdown.

I don't know why you're on your phone. But you know playtime at the park won't last forever, so you brought them to the park where they can be outside and with other children while you take a mental break instead of parking them in front of the TV. Don't feel bad about yourself. Being on the phone at the park doesn't mean you're on the phone during dinner or texting while you're driving.

And for everyone else at the park, good job for taking your kids to the park. Isn't the sunshine beautiful? Pat yourself on the back and enjoy the day. We need to give ourselves a break and extend that same courtesy to others. Remember that I agree with you, that we need to live in the moment and not through our phones, but we need to cut each other some slack. Our mental health and well being depends on it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Who needs therapy? You do. Me too!

Someone I follow on Twitter said that it's National Mental Health Awareness Week. Since I hear that four or five times a year in different contexts, I'm not sure if it is or not. But whether that's true doesn't matter. Whenever people hear the phrase "mental health" they immediately begin to think of all the different diseases and syndromes that people who have "poor mental health" are labeled with. And all the stigmas that go along with it.

Because there are still a lot of stigmas. There are still a lot of people who think that unless you're certifiably insane, you can just get over it. Move on. Stop wallowing. My favorite is the phrase, "it's all in your head." You know what? They're right. It is all in my head. Because my head is where I keep my brain, and that's the organ with the problem.

And that, right there, is the cause of all the issues and problems people have in dealing with those who have a mental illness. They don't consider the brain as being just another organ, subject to the same frailties and imperfections as any other organ in the body. Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. And yet no one tells a person with diabetes, "Suck it up. It's all in your pancreas." Would you tell someone with a heart defect, "You don't need those pills, just exercise more," or anything like that? Then why on earth does anyone feel qualified to say, "It's all in your head?"

I have been diagnosed with three different "It's all in your head" conditions in my life. When I was 19 I was diagnosed with depression. At 28 they added mild panic disorder. When I was 30 fibromyalgia was introduced into the mix. I've been told to, "just deal with it," "calm down," and "suck it up," by uninformed people who truly cared about me and wanted me to get better, but had no idea what was the matter. Thank heavens for my parents, who wanted me to get help.

And as if my heart had a murmur and I had to be careful with how I worked out or what I ate, with depression and anxiety and fibromyalgia I have to be careful with getting into bad habits and watch what I eat, and what stress I invite or avoid, and some days I have bad days anyway.

Which is why my chosen profession is so dangerous.

I entered The Darkest Lie in a contest for self-published or as yet unpublished books. The contest is called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and they accept 10,000 entries. I feel like I may have talked about this before. I'm bringing it up again now because I entered my novel last month and they have already announced the 2nd round. My novel is really good- I'm very pleased with it and it's something I feel proud to share with others and I think I've mentioned before on this blog how passionately I would like to be a writer as a career. But for this first round they aren't judging my novel; the entire cut is based on a 300 word blurb you write about your novel.

If you've read my blog before, you know brevity isn't how I manage to make my point. I meander around it being repetitive for a while until I find the exact phrase I was looking for, or make it back to my original argument, and voila, I'm done. My talents lie in eloquence or my unnecessarily large vocabulary because they allow me to be exact. 300 words is hard. It's limiting. But it's done.

In the end, I wrote 3 blurbs. Then I allowed a small and easily accessible group of people to read them and vote on their favorite. This was the favorite:

He's electrocuted two grown men. He's knocked down a seven story building. He shoved a grenade into the mouth of an unconscious daemon and was ready to pull the pin. He's screamed defiance at the sky in the company of a jungle panther and a red imp, and done anything he needed to survive. But the thing Thane fears most is his sophomore chemistry class.

At 15, all Thane wanted was to be invisible for three more years. His one cardinal rule was, "If they don't see you they won't hurt you." And then one thing changed, and that was the catalyst for his chemistry teacher framing him for attempted murder, opening a door that led halfway around the world, getting drugged, getting shot, being imprisioned, getting shot again, and finding out that there's a hole ripped in the fabric of our reality where magic is seeping in. 

That one thing was, of course, a pretty girl. 

Now Thane is fighting to keep his humanity and questioning his sanity while everything he's ever believed is being proven wrong. He isn't invisible and he isn't powerless and he can hear the song that holds the universe together, but knowing that science and magic are two sides of the same thing isn't going to save him. The most powerful magic and the most advanced technology will fail and worlds will fall unless Thane can do one thing. He has to believe in a power that doesn't come from magic or machine, and let go of the darkest lie he's ever been told.

Of the 3 I wrote, this was the third and it was my favorite too. Surprisingly it clocked in around 250 words, making it not only the last pitch I wrote but the shortest by 50 words. Re-reading it now my stomach is clenching and the agitated shaking is revving up. I'm nervous because they're only taking 400 entries to the next round. That's 4%. Conversely, 96%of the people who entered this contest three weeks ago will not be making it to the next round. 

The first order of business for me is to stop freaking out about it. Entering this contest was one of those rare scenarios where I had everything to gain and nothing to lose, because the entries are confidential and there were no barriers to entry: no fee, no promises, nothing. If I check the website tomorrow and my name isn't on the list I lose nothing and I gain nothing and my life continues. The extreme emotional roller coaster comes from what the potential gain is- there are 5 categories and the winner of each category gets a $15,000 advance and a publishing deal with Amazon. But those 5 novels then go head to head, and the "Grand Prize Winner" gets the same publishing deal, but with a $50,000 advance.

Then there's the intangible: I'd be a writer as a career for the rest of my life. As a job. And I wouldn't ever have to worry about finding a different one. Job security in my lifelong ambition. 

What's the danger? Oh man, everything. And, by they way, when they announced the 2nd round I wasn't in it. That may have been because I entered it in the wrong category, and it may have been just because the blurb wasn't good enough. But the book review I received on the same day took the sting out of my loss a little bit. I've posted it on Facebook and on my author page before, but it said two things that really made my day. It said, "[The Darkest Lie] is the best contemporary fantasy book ever," and "... made this book my favorite read since 'Enders Game.' Sorry Orson, this woman's got serious chops." It helps that the book review was posted by a university reading professor, aka someone who reads books for a living. So I had a bright spot to balance the disappointment: I lost to people who didn't read the book and was given that praise from someone who did. 

Whereas I have several friends right now who are going through huge life-changing trials and wretchedness that are going to drastically alter their lives. I've found myself on the phone with one or the other of them several times over the last months and I've discovered that when I say my heart aches for them, I'm not speaking metaphorically. There is an actual pain in my chest. They talk to me about what's going on in their lives and what they have to deal with and I am grateful that they talk to me. Because of that trust, I'm not going into any specifics about who or what or anything. I want them to talk to me. I can't do anything to help their lives actually get better, but I can listen and sympathize and love. I am good at being reasonable and trying to see things objectively, and sometimes I help them feel a little better for a while. That's my win. That's what I can do.

But I find myself repeating to several of them the variations on the same phrase. It's a simple sentence, not insightful or eloquent in design. It's only, "(Insert Personal Pronoun) needs therapy." 

And let me also specify to any of those friends who might be reading this that you'll read something and you'll think I'm talking about you. I AM NOT. If you think I'm talking about you, then you're already wrong. I am giving personal thoughts on depressingly common situations, and I have not in the past two years had a conversation with someone about issues and trials and grief that isn't markedly similar to another situation I've heard or written or spoken about. If you find something personally applicable in this, hooray I've done my job as a writer. But I love my friends and my family passionately. Don't bother being offended because again, these are generics.

Enough caveating. 

He needs therapy. Sometimes I feel sorry for men, especially here in Western society where they're taught to bottle up emotion. Don't share, don't be weak, don't drag others down. Men generally are the providers for the family and they work increasingly long hours in our more and more competitive economy. Men form friendships and other personal bonds through time spent together doing the same thing, whether it be having dinner or playing a sport or watching TV. But they spend 60-70% plus of their waking hours at work. If he's unhappy or feels oppressed invariably he'll be told, by others or by himself, to man up and just get it done. If he doesn't have an outlet for that, for all that pressure from bosses and co-workers and spouses and children and himself, eventually he'll burst like a balloon that your cousin won't stop blowing into and just give you even though you asked him to please blow it up for you. 

People who care about him will talk to him about being unhappy in terms of action items, "If you'd just do this and this and this then you'd be fine." Okay, when someone is hurting and you respond with things they could improve on, you are telling them that they aren't okay and that they're right, they're a failure or weak or whatever. And can I take this aside for a second and talk about a personal pet peeve? A really big personal pet peeve, more pettish and peevey than almost any other peeve that I keep as a pet?

ULTIMATUMS ARE THE WEAKEST FORM OF NEGOTIATION. Mostly because they give no room for negotiation. Ultimatums are the dominion of the villan in a story. The good guys aren't the ones saying "Batman, you either give me your mask or I'm going to blow up this bus full of sick orphans." Ultimatums are also the purview of bad teenage relationships, "it's me or your friends." But when ultimatums are introduced into a relationship, any relationship, not just romantic but family or friends, you have to understand that you have crossed a line you can never take back. You are, at that moment, asserting that your will and desire are dominant over anything the other person could say or think or want. If you have come to the point where you see no other possible step but issuing an ultimatum, your relationship has deteriorated past any healthy point already. And it means that you've lost control and you're lashing out, desperately trying to get it back. 

There are absolutely situations where someone has lost control and needs to get some back. But any time you are seeking to control someone else, you are treading dangerous ground. Don't take it lightly and never in the heat of the moment.

Here, there's a whole wikihow on How to Give an Ultimatum. My advice though, is just don't. The moment you do, you're the bad guy. I'm much more in favor of co-operation and negotiation, where you give and take. But I do understand that life spins out of control sometimes and you have to take drastic measures to spin it back.

Anyway, tangent ended. Take away? Sometimes we need therapy just because we need someone to talk to who doesn't have any skin in the game. Someone who isn't going to be affected by our choices and so can afford to be objective. And someone we can be totally honest with without worrying about hurting their feelings or our words getting back to whomever we are talking about.

Honestly, how nice does that sound?

She needs therapy. I just finished reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy again. I don't recommend it, honestly I don't recommend any Tolstoy unless you have a passionate curiosity about the condition of Russia and specifically the Russian peasantry during the last few reigning Tsars, because Tolstoy was passionate about it and his characters discuss it at length every few chapters. However, the point of the story is Anna, a beautiful woman in a loveless marriage who leaves her husband to become a mistress. And all of her mental devolvement afterwards. She is terrified of losing her lover and becomes convinced he doesn't love her anymore, and if that's true, what can she do? She is lost. She can't go back to her husband and no one else will have her, and there is no work or position she can hold. And in the end (which means SPOILER ALERT but I'm only mentioning it at all because there was a movie based on the book that came out last year) she kills herself.

I can't speak for women everywhere, but I know that I'm plagued by insecurities. And sometimes I obsess. And usually the thing that I'm harping about the most inside becomes more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our insecurities can drive us crazy and drive the people around us over the edge too.

Most of us won't do anything that drastic, however, every woman in America is in the center of a maelstrom of emotions. We are pulled in every direction by our ever increasing responsibilities. If we're at work, we should be at home raising the children. If we're at home, we're lazy and not contributing to the economy. When we're at home, if we're doing laundry and washing dishes we're not paying attention to our children. If we're playing with our kids, then the housework isn't getting done. And then add to all that the pressure of being educated and intelligent and finding time to make and keep friends and reading books and having dinner ready and being a good wife while still finding time to volunteer and haven't you ever just wanted to scream, "Shut up and leave me alone!" to the world in general?

Never ever wonder why someone is crazy. Be impressed that they've managed to stave it off for so long. Therapy is again an outlet for emotions without repercussions, but it can also be something more.
Something a lot more. I think I've gone on long enough this time, but stay tuned for part two: You need therapy. I need therapy. Why does therapy work?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where I Was When I Was Gone

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
            --J. R. R. Tolkien, "The Fellowship of the Ring"

I've recently returned from my very first book tour! It was my first individual adventure in a long time. The first time in a decade, in fact, that I've gotten on a plane without either my husband or children and not going towards either of them. It was just me, oh solo mio, and after I got over the initial weirdness and stopped jerking my head around looking for my sons it started to be fun. I sat next to the editor-in-chief of The Natchitoches Times (and his sweet wife!) and gave a small interview and bam, my book tour was officially begun.

When I woke up at my house, it was 73 degrees outside. Then I got on a plane and flew to Salt Lake City, Utah, where it was 14 degrees. Then I got in a car and drove to Green River, Wyoming, where it was NEGATIVE 17 DEGREES. I lost 90 degrees of warmth between when I woke up that morning to when I went to bed that night. The sacrifices we make for our art. And I did pack an electric blanket.

And I've been asked about the presentation I gave and what I talked about so many times that I'm going to post it all here. That way I know which of my friends read my blog. ;-)

The first school I went to was an alternative high school in Wyoming. I was taken to the library and introduced to 45 teenagers who'd been expelled from standard high school for one trouble or another, and I was thrilled. These were exactly the kids I wanted most to talk with, and the ones I thought could really benefit from what I had to say. Because my presentation wasn't as much about the book as it was about why I wrote it.

I began with my adventures in temperature, and they all groaned in jealousy about how warm it is here in southern Texas. Then I segwayed into talking about trials, and for me the cold is a tough one. It sets off my fibromyalgia and makes my arthritis worse, which of course is startling to people who don't know me. I look so young and healthy, after all, and aren't those things old people get? But I'm not the only one with problems. Who's heard of Gandhi? Mother Teresa? Some hands. Albert Einstein? Tom Cruise? More hands. Jim Carrey? Oprah? Almost all the hands in the room went up then, which put these students right where I wanted them.

"Has Jim Carrey always been rich and famous? Were his parents rich?" I asked. They don't know. Truth is, he wasn't, and they weren't. Jim Carrey's father died when Jim was 12, and his family lost their house. They lived in a van, and 12-year-old Jim worked a full time 8-hour job every day after school to help support his family. But who is he now? A multi-millionaire comedian known the world over.

In high school, Oprah wore clothes made out of potato sacks because that was what her family could afford. Now she's the richest woman in the world, when you base the financial worth off of personal earnings. There are plenty of heiresses and widows who have more money, but you wouldn't recognize any of their names. Oprah you know.

Albert Einstein, the father of physics, we all know failed math during his school years. Did you also know that he failed at getting into college? More than once? But now he's the guy we think about when we think about science, or how to shoot a ball at a pool table. He's also the man who said imagination is  more important than knowledge, and he imagined himself an entirely new branch of science.

These people started out at the bottom of the hill. But they didn't give up, and more importantly, they made their own choices and didn't accept the choices that other people made for them. One of the biggest reasons I wrote this book was because I work with teenagers, and there were things I desperately wanted them to know. To believe. Things I wish I'd believed sooner, that I wrote in this book so I could tell as many teenagers as possible. The first theme of my book is that you get to choose. No matter what's going on around you or the situations other people may put you in, you have the choice how you're going to react and what you're going to do.

Then I read an excerpt from my book. My main character, a 15-year old sophomore in high school named Thane, is having a bad day. Frankly he's had a bad life. His parents are abusive and all he wants to do is get through the next three years without being noticed so he can graduate and get away. But his plans of invisibility have been thwarted by a pretty girl who's new in school and his possibly insane chemistry teacher, who has just set him up for attempted murder. Thane's on the run from the police when Brennan, an enigmatic thirty-something who knows more about what's going on than Thane does, finds him and talks to him about it. Brennan has also just lost 3 fingers of his right hand in a fight.

Brennan paused, and Thane heard him take a deep breath. "Losing my fingers didn't make me happy, but it isn't going to stop me from doing what I want to do. You're losing something big right now too. Bigger than my fingers. You're losing your confidence in what is real in the world and what isn't. All the ground you thought you had under your feet is being pulled away. I get that. I went through it. But it's up to you what you're going to do about it." The red haired man leaned back and Thane turned his face toward the ground, thinking. "Would you rather not go to jail?" asked Brennan. Thane's head whipped towards him, fear making him angry.

"What do you think? Don't patronize me," he shouted, smacking away the hand Brennan tried to lay on his shoulder. "Don't tell me it's going to be all right or that I can decide what to do. I can't--"

"You can." Brennan's voice cut through Thane's tirade. "And you do have somewhere to go, if you would shut up and listen." Brennan waited but Thane stayed silent, hands trembling with cold, fear, and anger. "You aren't going to jail. You're fifteen, this is your first offense, and there will only be charges if Mr. Hoffman decides to press any. I don't think he will. What’s going to happen is that the police will question you and then remand you into the custody of your parents. Then you'll go back to your life and Ms. Rasmussen will be free to take another crack at you. That's your first choice."
There was a long pause as Thane mulled over everything Brennan had just said. It wasn't jail. It wasn't even that bad, just a few weeks of more embarrassing attention for his family and then everything would go back to normal. Oh, and his chemistry teacher might try to kidnap or kill him. That was a factor too.

"What's the second choice?" Thane asked, his voice raw from crying, vomiting, and getting sand in his throat. 

"The second choice is that you stand up and take control of what's happening to you. It requires that you acknowledge that you are not a normal teenager, and that you accept the world is not as you always thought it was. The second choice says you start taking responsibility for things that happen to you, and because of you." Brennan had been looking up and away, but now he turned his gaze to Thane and met his eyes. "The second choice is Sanctum."

The first theme of my book, the first thing I wanted to tell every person everywhere was that you have a choice. Life isn't about what happens to you, it's about what you choose to do with it.

After my first presentation (and this is only the first 3rd of it, but I'm going to keep interrupting to talk about some of the different schools) I thought, "This is easy, 45 kids in one room. I can do this!" My next presentation was for a middle school of 7th and 8th graders, also in Wyoming. It was only a few hours after the first. They took me into an auditorium, gave me a mic, and introduced me to 400 kids who were just waiting to be entertained. 

I decided to be a little more interactive. I pulled some kids from the audience and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, and inserted their names into my list of the rich and famous who've overcome their humble beginnings. "The point I want you to take away," I said, "Is when I list these names-- Mother Teresa, Tom Cruise, Meagan Halloway*, Jim Carrey, Oprah Winfrey, Korey Johnson*-- your names do not sound out of place there. 

At the end of my presentation, they rushed the stage to get my autograph and meet me. It was an epic feeling.

Skipping forward a bit to my favorite presentation. This one was a bit compressed, as the full talk is about 45 minutes long, but I only had 20 minutes at this school. It was an elementary school and I was speaking to about 60 kids in the 6th grade. There were two special things about this school, though; it was the elementary school I had attended, and my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Hansen, was still teaching there.

If you've read my book you already know why it's called "The Darkest Lie." Talking about that is the second part of my performance and the most important. If you read the dedication you know that Mr. Hansen is in there, as the teacher who taught me to write. He is also the first teacher I ever had that I never faked sick to get out of school, and the one who helped me start believing in myself.

The book is called "The Darkest Lie," and when I started sending it around to agents they all thought the title sounded depressing. Change it, they said. No, I said, and moved on. Because it's called The Darkest Lie for a very important reason, and it is in fact the reason I wrote this book. It may be the second theme but it's the strongest, and the one it took me the longest to learn.

I read another excerpt from the book here, a conversation between Thane and a man named General Gage. General Gage is one of the leaders of Sanctum, the clandestine pseudo-military organization that knows magic exists and tries to protect the magic users from the non-magic users and vise versa. The motto of Sanctum is "The only burden we carry is the fate of all worlds," and in the few days that Thane has been in Sanctum and training, he managed to drop a seven-story building on General Gage.

Thane goes to the hospital to apologize, but also to ask General Gage where Thane's ability to use magic comes from. This is an excerpt from their discussion.

"Haider sent me copies of your x-rays," General Gage began in a conversational tone. He took another bite and chewed. "In almost every image there is evidence of remodeling from hairline fractures. Your bones are thicker than pure humans. It would take someone significantly larger and heavier than you to have done this damage, and based on the remodeling, the fractures happened over the course of years. You can look, if you want." 

Thane took the infopad General Gage offered and used his finger to scroll through the images. Every image had at least one part circled with a note written next to it. "Hairline fracture. Remodeling indicates at least 6 years old." "Significant bone bruising. Thickening of bone indicates injury is 9 years old." "Multiple radiating fractures from a single impact point. Injury occurred no less than 11 years ago." 

Seeing this journal of his life was like a hand squeezing around Thane's heart. He couldn't reconcile these images with his last memory of his... of Bert. The man who wasn't his father. Thane wondered if Bert even knew, or if he suspected that Thane wasn't his son. That could explain some of the animosity. But if he had known, he didn't remember anymore. Thane thought of the last time he'd seen the man, standing in the kitchen with his head bowed and apologizing. He had broken that man, in a more complete and thorough way than any of the x-rayed injuries he carried had damaged him.  

"Have you talked to anyone about this, son?" Gage asked. "These bones didn't heal evenly, which tells me they weren't seen by a doctor. And your body language, the way you speak, and your refusal to look me in the eye tells me more. Thane," and the man waited until Thane looked up at his strangely sympathetic face. "This is not okay. Being treated like this is not okay. You didn't do anything to deserve this and it isn't your fault. Things like this," and he indicated the x-rays, "usually come from people we should be able to trust. When we can't it makes us feel like we can't count on anyone, like we're completely alone in this world. That's a lie. Do you know why I joined the Shaerealm Mercenary Guard?"

Thane shook his head.

"I was in the Air Force as a Captain, with an excellent career ahead of me. When Sanctum approached me I refused, thinking that I had everything I needed where I was. I thought their motto about carrying the fate of all worlds was self- aggrandizement. Then I met Meagan Quinn." His eyes took on a distant look, and his mouth curved in a strange little smile. "She was... unique. She was the one who explained to me that Sanctum has one motto, but the SMG has another. Have you heard it?" Thane shrugged, unsure.

"Nigerrimus mendacium nos semper nuntiavit est ut solus. The darkest lie we’re ever told is that we are alone." General Gage focused on Thane, his intense brown eyes demanding Thane's full attention. "You are not alone. Not every person can be trusted, but that does not mean no one is trustworthy. Your instincts will tell you, and when you feel the urge to open up to someone, do not hesitate. Sometimes you'll get burned, but sometimes you'll find a place to be safe. And that's worth getting burned now and again."

Thane had been carefully still during the general's speech, unsure how to respond. But as General Gage turned back to his food Thane's mouth opened against his will. "How do you say that again? The SMG thing?" 

The man turned back and smiled, and Thane was surprised at how much kindness and wisdom Remi's father smile could have. "Nigerrimus mendacium nos semper nuntiavit est ut solus; in English, 'The darkest lie we’re ever told is that we are alone'."

I gave Mr. Hansen a copy of my book in front of all his students. I read them the dedication out loud, and then I also read what I had written on that page in pen: "To Mr. Hansen, I have been through college and beyond and you are still the best teacher I ever had. Thank you for making me feel not alone," and I signed it. He got teary. So did I. And I finally got to give him a hug and tell him thank you.

For me, that is the most important part of the book, the thing I want everyone to think of every time they see the title. We are not alone. Alone is the lie, and the lie we have to let go of to move on. There are people all around us who want to help and who care about us, but we have to make the first move. To open up. To help the people around us feel not alone too.

I got to give the same presentation later that day in my old Jr. High School. I hated Jr. High. There was a group of popular kids who told me on my first day it was their mission to make my life miserable, and they did a great job. But there was still a silver lining there, and it was the third teacher from the dedication, Mrs. Staheli. She was also still at the school but had transitioned from teaching to being the librarian, and she didn't make me believe in myself. She made me believe in my writing. I've wanted to be an author since I was in the 2nd grade, but I can pinpoint the moment that I believed I could be an author, and that moment was with Mrs. Staheli.

I got the cry from her too, when I presented her with a copy of my book.

I went to more schools and every presentation was different. Getting to the third theme of my book and the third section of my constantly varying time allotment was fun every time, and the students were always responsive. I got to spend a little more time with the students of PG Jr. High as there they gave me an hour and a half to talk, double what I was expecting, and yet somehow I still managed to fill every minute. (wink).

The last part of the presentation begins with two student volunteers, and I always had kids who wanted to volunteer. I love teenagers. I set one of them at one end of the room and asked, "What do you want to be?" The answer was different every time, but I would always point out a specific place or person in the room. "There's your goal. That's where you're going." Then I would set their shoulders and tell them to take 3 steps. And I'd do the same with the other student with a different goal and a different personal objective.

After 3 steps I'd ask, "If they keep going, will they get what they want?" Yes. "But what if they make a wrong choice, even just a little one," and I would move their shoulders so they were facing slightly off course. And I would always be very clear than in this scenario, "right" and "wrong" choices were determined by whether those choices got them closer to or further from their goal. And I'd take the second student, the one still facing where they wanted to be, and turn their shoulders a lot. "What about now? Are they going to get there?" No.

Wrong. One wrong choice, or even two or three, cannot prevent you from forever getting to where you want to go. Theme three: You decide. No choice you make in the past can forever determine your future. No step you take is so powerful that you can never change course again. And we all make wrong choices, every day we make decisions that point us away from where we want to go. The point is we can always, ALWAYS make another choice that gets us back on goal. Getting from where we started to where we want will take longer with each wrong choice, but it does not mean we can't get there from here.

Book excerpt three, a conversation between Thane and another character, this one called Usiku Paka. She's called that because it's Swahili for "black cat," and she is one. Paka is a jungle panther, a cat person who walks on hind legs and speaks her thoughts and is a creature of the Shae, those who use magic instead of science. She's also been a slave most of her life, taken from her village and her pack as a cub and raised to do the bidding of others. Sanctum freed her, but she keeps the name they gave her as a reminder.

Paka grinned at him. "I am the richest slave in all the worlds. But you, Thane," the 'th' sound of his name was emphasized in her feline mouth, "you are not a slave. You have earned a name and have found your power. Why then do you still seem as one in chains?"

Thane was caught off guard by the question enough to answer honestly. "I don't want to be this."
She cocked her head at him while Jaeger studied the bug. "To be what?"

"A--" he almost said 'freak,' but looking at her, changed it to, "someone so different."

"Different from what?"

"From everyone else. I don't want to be a dragon," the word was hard for him to say. "I just want to be me again."

"You never stopped being you," Paka observed. "This dragon blood in you is not something that has just happened. There is nothing different about you than there was three dark moons ago. Why does knowing make it harder?"

He blinked at her. "But I feel so different," he reached for the right words, trying to explain. "I feel... trapped by knowing. Like now I have to be someone else who isn't me."

"You were trapped," Paka stated. "You were a child and led by the hand. But you have found your Song, Thane dragon son. This cannot be the first time you found your deep self, or the result would not have been so dramatic." She looked at him, and Jaeger flew behind her head with fireflies between each of his fingers. The imp was giggling. "Where was your deep self, Thane?"

"Bioluminescence," Jaeger was beside himself with glee, catching fireflies with his toes now that his hands were full. "Aye can build with this."

Thane thought back to being in the desert. The viper faced him, a deadly animal, but only an animal. He'd felt something primal and powerful move within him then and saved himself from the snake. 
"I captured a viper that was about to bite me," he confessed to Paka. "We stared at each other, and I knew I was going to die. Then I felt something inside me that was strong, and I caught the snake. I think," he hesitated, never having said this out loud before, "I think it was afraid of me."

"The viper would've seen the dragon. That's why it waited to attack," Paka confirmed. "So why cannot you do this again?"

"People are harder," Thane said. "I can't... I don't want to disappoint anyone."

The panther woman made a sound between a growl and a hiss. "Do not live because someone else wants you to. That makes you a slave, too. The viper would bite, and kill. The person can only talk." She rose on two legs and stretched. The set of drums behind her rose into the air, shining.

"Bioluminescence!" Jaeger yelled. "Aye haf made music glow!"

Paka's human eyes glittered in the light of the drums. The greenish glow lit her fur from one side, and again Thane could see delicate patterns woven through the black. The panther woman saw him looking. 

"I wear my name on the outside so I do not forget what I have not yet earned," she said, with the air of someone who is telling a deep secret. "I must re-dye my fur every cycle until I have avenged my parents and my people. You wear your name on the inside, hidden deep where only you can see it." She enunciated each word carefully through her fangs, the green light shining off them strangely. "Stop apologizing for living. You destroyed a building under your own power. You faced down the viper. You sang the Song of lightning and made it stronger with your heart's blood. You survived the training of the Omega Team, and you can outrun a standing panther. Thane, dragon son, you have power in your own life." She bent down until her face was level with his, all her teeth bared in a snarl. "You decide." 

There wasn't much to the presentation beyond that. I talked about writing, the process of it, and how to start writing a story you need to have a story to write. You need three things, and you can start with any one of the three to determine the other two, plot, setting, or character. In my hour and a half long final presentation the teenagers and I wrote the entire arc of an urban fantasy book and in my favorite moment of the entire week I had to convince them all that even though the magic in my book was fictional, the string theory it was based on is a real thing. And we talked about the Higgs Boson particle and why that's really cool and had a great time. I promised to come back after the next book in the series, "The Sound at the Edge," comes out at the end of the summer.

I've been invited to speak at schools around Houston, and I'll be doing that next month. I've also been asked to speak in Oregon and Virginia, and I need to plan those trips, but I don't think I'll be gone a whole week again. I love being an author, and I love that I got to share my message of why I've been writing with so many incredible people. I'm glad, in a way, that I've had so many challenges and illnesses in  my personal life because it means I have some credibility with and empathy for other people facing challenges. So when I tell them they can overcome obstacles, I can show them how my hands always shake because of the arthritis and fibromyalgia and then talk to them about the book I wrote. Or about the crippling depression and loneliness I used to feel and how it's still part of me but neither defines me nor limits what I can do. Or the narcolepsy that for all it's craziness and many annoying or nerve-wracking symptoms, does mean that I am supposed to take a medically mandated nap every day.

I got to share my message with nearly a thousand teenagers. Now I get to share it with you. Remember that you have the power to decide how you act and what you do. You can always change and get back on course. And the darkest lie we're ever told is that we are alone.


I found Mr. McMurray, the 3rd teacher from the dedication! He was a little more tricky and I'll have to mail him his book, but he's working at Utah Valley University as a councilor and teacher. He more than anyone will understand the whys behind the book, as he's the one who first believed I would be a writer and so gave me permission to believe it too. I've found them all!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Arbitrary Dates and Inappropriate Goals

Firstly, I find it humorous that even typing the word "inappropriate" made me cringe a little. "Oh no!" my inner monologue screams, "what will they think you're talking about? Are they going to judge you? Maybe you should change it." Have I mentioned at any point previous that my inner monologue seriously needs to chill out and calm down?

Today is January 9th, which means that 9 days ago it was New Years Eve, the traditional time for making resolutions to improve myself and promises that I would do better throughout this new revolution around the sun. Did I make goals? Yep. Did I write them down? Sure did. Was it on New Years Eve, or even New Years day? Nope. Not remotely. It wasn't even in December OR January. And have I followed them? Not so far. Not even a little. There has not been one day since I wrote them down that I have even tried to meet them all.

Most calendars are based on astronomical events. From our perspective on Earth, the two most important astronomical objects are the Sun and the Moon, which is why their cycles are very important in the construction and understanding of calendars. The new calendar year, this 2013, is based on the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar (or Christian calendar) is centered around the sun, so even though the length of a month is roughly determined by the cycle of the moon, the placement of the months has nothing to do with the moon.

In fact, the placement of most things on the calendar seem arbitrary. Why is January 1st the beginning of the year? There's no reason for it. Some people will argue and say that it marks the length of one rotation of our planet around the sun. Sure, yeah, that's true, but WHY did we decide that Jan. 1 was the beginning point and ending point of the trip? It isn't when we're closest to the sun, or furthest away. My brief internet research shows lots of countries moving to Jan. 1 as the beginning of the year, but not why. The Julian calendar, predecessor of the Gregorian, was ratified by Julius Caesar and that had January as the first month seemingly just because they all started with the same letter. 

As a side note, the names for September, October, November, and December mean 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th respectively, NOT 9-12. 

My point being, January first being the date of all new resolutions and new years is entirely arbitrary. No reason or abiding logic, no rule. Just centuries of conformity. And you all know how well something like that would sit with me. But I agree that there should be A beginning, some point in time designated as things being new and old burdens dropped and outdated chains sloughed off. That idea I am completely in favor of honoring and upholding. 

And I do celebrate New Years, I participate in social conventions. I like any excuse for a party.

I made my goals, my resolutions for a new me, back in October. That makes sense to me because it's when I have my birthday, a very definite start-and-end point for each of my revolutions around the sun. Goals are a personal thing and should not be subject to the censure or even opinions of others. Not that you can't share them- quite the opposite. Do share them. Telling people about them makes them more concrete for you, and also provides you with a sense of accountability for them. These are my goals world, and telling the world the world may respond with, "So, how's it going?" 

My goals that are currently 3 months old are as follows:

1. Exercise 4x per week- running, yoga, 30 Day Shred
2. Write 2 more books before my 33rd birthday
3. Go to the temple once a month
4. Read scriptures every day

There is a second set of goals, but those are family goals and are therefore not mine only and not mine to share. And about these goals I can say unequivocally that I have completed none and been consistent with none. 

Each goal varies in the limit of time. Daily, weekly, monthly, and in one year. In the past three months I have not read my scriptures daily, I have not gone to the temple once I month (I think I've been once), I have barely written anything on my next book let alone the next two, and I think I've worked out 6 times. Total. In 3 months. Clearly I'm failing in meeting my goals. Either I lack will power, or my goals were inappropriate for my life and/or lifestyle. Right? No other way to explain such epic failure.

Except that I don't think I'm failing. Not at all. Have I met my goals? Nope. Do I feel bad about it? Not really, which is surprising considering I have a guilt complex about most things that could put 7 psychologist's worth of children through graduate school. And this is because in my head there is a fundamental difference between the way my goal is as written and the way that I meant it in my head. 

For me, a goal is not something I do and check off a list. It's something I want to become, a habit I want to form to shape my personality. It is a verbal representation of the way I want to grow as a person. I don't want to have exercised 4 times a week. I want to be a person who exercises frequently, and as a result of that habit is a healthy, active person. If I exercised once in October after making these goals then no, I didn't exercise four times per week. But if I exercised once in October because of these goals and hadn't exercised in September because I had no goal to do so, then I'm making progress and even if my goal isn't "met," neither have I "failed."

The same is true for the rest of them. I have not yet read my scriptures "every day" but I am up to several days in a row now before I miss one, and that's going in the right direction. I'm writing more because hey look, blog post, and this gets my mind in the right frame for writing in my books. And even though that writing goal is fairly concrete, "Write 2 more books before my 33rd birthday," even that is more because I want to be a prolific writer than because I feel that those books would be best served by that time table. And in my head, writing 2 books means having "The Sound at the Edge" written, edited, and published and having the rough draft of the 3rd book done, not having both out for public consumption. Just so you know. 

It's January 9th, which means you've had approximately 9 days with your goals, your new years resolutions, staring you in the face. You've had at least 8 chances to work on them. But you have not, friend, had the chance to "fail" at any of them yet, unless they were things like "learn to make a chocolate souffle before my cousin Danielle's birthday on January 6th" (Happy birthday, Danielle, you're beautiful and awesome and I did not make a chocolate souffle, I had a book sale). And even if you failed to meet that specific date goal, you didn't fail unless you've decided you failed. If you're goal was to make my cousin a chocolate souffle, there's still time. There's even still time to give it to her for her birthday (but again, Danielle, you rock and you're beautiful and yours is one of the only cousin birthdays I can ever remember but there's no souffle I could get to you from Texas). The only thing you can't do now is do it on January 6, 2013, but if that's what you've decided then you're trying to disappoint yourself and seeking out failure, in which case you need to start helping a psychologist put his kids through graduate school.

Which reminds me of a scene I've been working on for my book, because although I haven't completed my goal having it sitting in front of me is keeping my book on my mind. There have been many other awful things going on adjacent to my life, meaning they haven't been happening to me but they have been happening to people I care about deeply and therefore matter to me as if they were mine. Therapy has been brought up and some friends are resistant to it because of social stigma. To them, and for them, I submit this bit of dialogue between Iselle and Remi in "The Sound at the Edge."

Iselle continued with her work, not looking up or making eye contact. Thane could almost feel her refusing to be offended by Remi's cold remark. "Don't ever let anyone tell you that you don't need therapy," Iselle still spoke carefully, trying to minimize the French influence on the English words. "We all need therapy. We all need someone to talk to who we feel is an unbiased listener, and who we don't see at school or at home to judge us." She finished the careful placement of each tool before looking up into Remi's face. "Your honestly can never be brutal to someone who won't be hurt by it."

Remi gets a little snarky after that, but given the stress of their circumstances at the time, it's forgivable. And wow are they in trouble here. But the reason I put this here is to shout at you all, stop being ashamed. Stop worrying about "failure" or "success," just keep trying.

I have a Pinterest board called "Quotes I Love," and even though most of them are from C. S. Lewis, there is one by Walt Disney that always makes my throat feel a little tight and my tear ducts prick.

"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we're curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

Don't be held captive by the concept failure. I've always HATED the saying, "Failure is not an option." Of course it's an option, it has to be an option, because if failure isn't an option than neither is trying. I much prefer this: