Saturday, January 28, 2017

Less Walk, More Talk

In my Rehearsal series, I have two young women who debate the biggest current event issue of the month. I wrote the scene/book years ago when it was less of a hot topic, but it is set in 1974 and it was a hot topic of the time, as well.

This month on following weekends, there was a "Women's March" on D.C. and a "March for Life" on D.C. Surprisingly, or what should be surprising, the two groups have been presented as polar opposites. The big question going around appears to be, "Do women have rights to their own bodies or do they not?"

Well, that's what the media is putting out, anyway, and how it's coming off. All over social media, women (and some men) are at each other's throats about the issue and breaking up friendships over differing opinions.

That's a real shame.

The thing is: We all want the best for people as a group. We simply disagree on what the "best" is or what's "right" or not.

But, we're looking at people as groups, not as individuals.

During all of this polar opposite left vs. right arguing, maybe we should take off our shoes, put down our signs, and talk to each other like the individual people we are. No yelling. No name-calling. No stereotype shaming. Just talk. Look each other in the eyes. Look past the political issues and at the person to whom we're speaking.

That can be hard on social media, particularly when we're talking with people we've never met, arguing with people we know nothing about, and assuming a heck of a lot we don't really know.

What's really sad, though, is the friendships I see breaking up. People who formerly respected each other, who have laughed at the same jokes, mourned at the same events, enjoyed the same music or books or movies, suddenly turn on each other based on one political issue. Suddenly, we're putting the issue first instead of each other and we refuse to see common ground.

There is common ground. There is. The biggest is that we all, honestly, are trying to do what we passionately feel is right. We are.

That's a good thing. Passion is good. Caring enough to fight for a cause is good. It is. What isn't good, and isn't helpful, is looking over the person to debate the issue. Issues are about people. Individuals. Once we look past that, nothing can get solved.

The two characters begin their fictional story at 19 and 23 but they go way back to childhood. The older has helped protect the younger for years, and as they grow, that starts to turn the other direction. They do disagree about what to do when there's an unwanted pregnancy. They each have their valid reasons to feel as they do. During some point in their discussion, one tells the other she's always been more moral than most people and most can't live up to her standards. The second young woman thinks about this a bit and argues the point. She says it's not about morals. It's about what you can deal with and what you can't.

Through it all, the ups and downs and disagreements and different outlooks, these two young women listen to each other. They consider the other viewpoints. They are respectful and willing to bend somewhat, enough to remain friends. They can agree to disagree and let it go when they can't bend. And they do that. They remain friends.

We all have plenty we're dealing with on a regular basis. We all have different and similar obstacles, different and similar viewpoints. Some of us need a constant challenge while others shy from too much challenge whether because we're already overwhelmed or because it's not in our nature. We can all only do what we can do, and we need to respect that.

There is never only one right answer.

The important thing is to stop looking only at sides and issues and start looking at each other as vulnerable, loving, caring, passionate, concerned individuals with valid points and opinions. Disagreeing with an opinion does not make in invalid.

Within all of my books, I have dissenting characters. There wouldn't be a decent story without it. We're not all supposed to see things the same. We're supposed to listen to each other, help each other grow, hold each other up through our struggles. We cannot help one thing through attack and slander and rudeness. It will never work. We must listen to and respect each other.

Or leave each other alone and go on with our own lives. I have characters who make that choice, as well. It's often the only possible denouement to a climax that ends in stalemate.

It's often only about what we can handle and what we can't, and that's different for each of us.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him march to the beat which he hears,
however measured or far away."

Henry D. Thoreau

The Rehearsal Series is an epic musical saga beginning in Spring, 1974 and running into the mid-Eighties over a series of six books. Family, parenting, and friendship mix into a story of lingering and passionate romance.
A Different Drummer is the first book of the series now split into sections for easier download. Overture is the prologue and it is a free download.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Journey Forward

Change can be tough.

Some people love change; they love the sweeping movement of whatever comes next and look forward to it. They move their furniture around just for something different with what they have. They may even update their wardrobe once a year because wearing the same old things more than one season is abhorrent, or at least boring.

Others of us, though, don't deal with change so well. We're comfortable with what we know and are likely to hold onto something just because we have it. We keep our furniture in the same positions and our cabinets in the same order. Last minute "Let's go do this just because" plans don't generally go over so well. We need time to consider, to reroute what we thought we were going to do, or we say no thanks, I'm good here.

You can probably guess by now which one I am. I like familiar. I try to park in the same aisle in whatever store I frequent and I tend to stay with the few stores in my routine. My furniture, as much as possible, has been where it landed when we moved in here over nine years ago. Okay, it moves for cleaning and then moves right back, but you get the idea.

When you marry someone who moves and travels for a career, that can cause a problem for those of us who need stability. But, because something is uncomfortable, that doesn't mean it's not the right choice.

We humans are made to adapt and overcome. We are. Even the most unwilling of us can learn to be more flexible, can at least sometimes say "Sure, let's go" to last minute plans, and we can pick up and move to an area in which we've never been, complete with small kids and dog, and resettle every couple of years or so. We may not ever learn to like it, but we can do it.

It's good for the soul to learn to do things you don't like to do. It is. That's where growth happens. That's where humility happens. That's where strength happens.

There's nothing better for building self-esteem than in doing what you thought you couldn't and getting through a hurdle you believed was unbreachable. They aren't. Those hurdles are meant to be breached. They've only been thrown in your path to help you grow.

The other day I was browsing the jewelry on a local business American made right here down the road site [Wendell August] and ran across the bracelet you see above. Journey. With a compass. That was made for me, I thought. I have a whole series subtitled "It's About the Journey." The compass also reminds me of a ship's navigation through rough seas.

I had to have this beautiful bracelet as a reminder of who I am, a writer, and a hearty soul on a not-so-easy journey who has had to face a whole lot of fears and trepidation. Because life is about the journey. It's about what we do with it while we're here. It's about how we affect those around us. It's about what we leave behind.

A journey would be plenty boring, indeed, if not for the changes, the last minute detours, and the hurdles. We can complain about them, or we can spend that energy considering how to breach them and come out stronger.

And in between, we can reach for something soothing in order to recharge, to unwind, to prepare for the next hurdle. That said, I'm off to restart my yoga.

PS. Yes, that is paint on my hand. I've been painting Black-eyed Susans behind a wood fence. Creative relaxation is always nice, too.

What is your favorite way to unwind and what challenges have you been proud to overcome?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Snap is only the Climax

The point someone snaps is not the big story. That's only the climax. The real story is what happens before then, and after.

How much of what we hear is only the climax? How much of what we judge is only a fraction of the story?

I'll have to tell on myself here. There's this person I've had a professional relationship with for a few years, and from the beginning, she rubbed me wrong. It's very possible, and likely, that feeling is mutual. That's fine. We can't be buddies with everyone just because life throws them in our path. It does make things professionally awkward at times, however. This little issue has been a little thorn in my side, only a little thorn since our paths only occasionally cross, but a thorn.

I immediately found this person rather arrogant, sometimes flat out rude, abrasive, too in-your-face (which matters a lot to an introvert like myself), and highly competitive (I'm only highly competitive with myself. I want us all to achieve as much as we can, fairly). Needless to say, I've avoided interactions as well as possible.

And then something odd happened. I found out what was tripping her easily-tripped trigger. Since I believe in privacy, although said person is very unlikely to ever read this post, I won't go into the root causes for those things I found disturbing. Let's just say she's had some things to overcome, starting early in life, and much of her resulting actions are defensive. I feel for her. I feel for that little child who grew up needing to be defensive. Most of us do to different extents, but that's also something to remember. We all have things in our backgrounds that make us think and act and believe as we do. We would do ourselves better justice to remember that, to not be so self-focused due to our own issues that we don't stop to see we're all just little children who had to grow up the best we could despite the odds, be they light or heavy or somewhere in between.

How many years did I spend avoiding this person when she probably could have used a better listening ear and more understanding heart? If she's still defensive, she still has things she's trying to work out. Avoidance doesn't help that. Not bothering to talk about more than the job and the weather doesn't help that.

We're so flooded with information that flies at us from all sides and we're so busy arguing our own points that maybe we've forgotten how to truly connect to another. Where they are now is only a tiny bit of their story. Maybe we could stop and ask why. What's happened that makes you feel that way? What end goal are you trying to work toward? What's preventing you from reaching that end goal? Do you need a hand?

Yes, I'm as guilty as anyone for seeing an opinion I find ridiculous and unfounded and rolling my eyes instead of pausing to ask why. Of course we can't do it with everyone. No one can keep up with the inside story of all of the people we run across in these days of 500 "friends" and 2,000 "work acquaintances. But if someone's opinion matters to you, maybe it should matter to you to find out why they feel as they do.

If it doesn't, there's always the scroll on past option.

Maybe we can move away from the center of the bridge, start back at the beginning, and then move forward to the other side together rather than to keep standing in the middle going nowhere like Dr. Seuss's Zax.

If we do this more often, maybe, just maybe (as Dr. Seuss would say), maybe we could keep that snap from happening just a little more often than we do today.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A Humble Rabbit

“Well, I've got an idea," said Rabbit, "and here it is. We take Tigger for a long explore, somewhere where he's never been, and we lose him there, and next morning we find him again, and--mark my words--he'll be a different Tigger altogether."
"Why?" said Pooh.
"Because he'll be a Humble Tigger. Because he'll be a Sad Tigger, a Melancholy Tigger, a Small and Sorry Tigger, an Oh-Rabbit-I-am-glad-to-see-you Tigger. That's why."
"Will he be glad to see me and Piglet, too?"
"Of course."
"That's good," said Pooh.
"I should hate him to go on being Sad," said Piglet doubtfully.
"Tiggers never go on being Sad," explained Rabbit.

― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Sometimes, we are indeed our own worst critics.

Other times, we find it impossible to see things about us that we really should see, the not so shiny and bright things. It can be hard for those who care about us to tell us what we should know; they don't want to be critical or make us feel bad. And yet if a stranger tells us something maybe we should hear, it's too easy for us to think, "they don't know me" or "they don't get it" or "they're just being mean" and brush it off. Yes, sometimes those things are true.

Sometimes they aren't.

Defensiveness is a survival trait and we need it. Some of us, though, take it too far. Generally, the most defensive among us have very real reasons they're so defensive. We need to try to realize why we are if we are and try to work on that, for our own good. Journaling is a wonderful way to discover hidden parts of ourselves. We can't fix it until we understand it.

Realizing our faults can be a long battle, and once something happens that makes us see something we wish we hadn't seen, it can feel a bit earth-shattering, or at least a bit soul-shattering. We all go through it, at least any of us who are trying to grow and learn and bloom rather than shutting ourselves off in our "I don't care what anyone thinks" defensive stance. Many will never come out of that stance. I find that sad, because although it's hard to do the work of growth, the results are pretty incredible. The benefit of the hard work and sometimes soul-shattering acceptance of faults is well worth the end result of self-individualization.

We're not supposed to be perfect.

Repeat: We are not supposed to be perfect. We're not even supposed to try to be perfect. Like a character in any good novel, we're supposed to grow between point A and point B. If there is no growth from the beginning of the book to the end of the book (generally only a small part of one character's life), the reader is left wondering why she bothered to read it. Growth matters. Even if it only matters to that character, it matters.

How often do we all hop around like Rabbit thinking about how others annoy us without stopping to look at how we annoy others? Or about their faults without looking at our own faults? It's a humbling thing when you do bother. Of course we all have them and we all know we all have them, but do we stop to seriously take a look at them? Instead of spending the energy to get someone else lost in the woods so they'll learn a thing or two, maybe we should, now and then, let ourselves get lost in the dark, murky, scary woods of our own thoughts or actions or quirks or faults.

My own humble Rabbit moment came just yesterday. Actually, it's been building, but it whacked me upside the head yesterday. How many times have I read someone else's book and considered what was wrong with it? That's partly the downfall of the trade; it gets hard to read just for pleasure when you're constantly trying to critique in the guise of learning and improving. But I'm a tough reviewer. I am. I'm not mean about it and if I can't find more good than bad to say, I won't bother. Still... I remember thinking some time back that an author with several books, with the later books not being nearly as good as the first, needed to step back and slow down and renew the basics of what made her a good author in the first place rather than pushing the publication dates due to contracts and expectations of the industry.

Hm, well, yesterday it came to me that I've been doing the same lately. A book a year is the standard. Two books a year for the romance industry is fairly common. I've been doing one to two a year, even with having my work time cut in half the past couple of years. But I've had a lot of heartburn and soul-searching with this most recent book because it's "ready to go" and yet my gut said it isn't. I couldn't figure out why. Until yesterday. While I was reading someone else's contemporary romance and was drawn right into the scene from the imagery.

Ah. Imagery. Somewhere along the line, I lost that in favor of getting the story out.

So, the WIP is on hold until I can reclaim my former enjoyment of just the writing itself, of playing with pictures through words rather than considering how long it's been since the last one was out.

I'm a humble rabbit right now. If you don't see new books coming out for a while, know I'm still working. I'm just not pushing. Pushed art is no longer true art. They will be ready when they're ready.

Did you know callas need to go dormant for a few months in between growing seasons? No wonder the two I've been trying to coax along "back to health" aren't cooperating.

Sometimes you have to sit below ground and just take a break.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Rising Together

My husband and I visited Phoenix, Arizona in November. We were actually visiting my daughter and her family as they welcomed the newest member of their household, our third grandchild. Since Baby was in no hurry, we had time to roam a bit and take our 2 year old grandson to a couple of parks in the area before she came.

He has one he loves, and he tells his mom where to turn to get there when they're in the car, but for a bit of a change, we took a different route and ended up at this little park. It's actually in Glendale rather than Phoenix, and it's a small park with a pretty nice small playground that includes drums. I had to love that. I even got a photo of Little Boy playing the outdoor drums similar to one I have of my son playing outdoor drums at an amusement park way back when he was little.

I was most attracted, though, to the little pond with a water fountain. So, we took a walk around the pond where there happens to be a statue:

From this view, it looks like a little girl perched on a rock as she looks out over the pond and fountain. That, in itself, would be charming, but when you move to a different angle, this is what you see:

It's actually a little girl pulling a little boy up onto the rock with her.

The thing about the park that took most of our attention were the inhabitants of the picnic tables scattered around the area. Four or five of them held adults sitting under shade of shelter or trees, complete with their belongings. Now, being from a small rural area, this isn't a normal sight for us. It was a bit of a shock, actually. Everyone hears about "the homeless," but how many of us see them? It was a beautiful day for November, quite warm, and the fun of our park time with the grandson we only see on occasion was sobered by sympathy for these people who had no comfortable home to go back to after enjoying the park. What can we do? we wondered.

As we were getting ready to leave, I was charmed by a group of older men that claimed the nearby table and sat down to play cards, like in the movies you see so often. That's also not something we see anymore. Way back when in my little hometown, there was a group of older men who used to sit and gossip on the bench in front of what used to be the hardware store. They're long gone now and I expected so were the days of card and checkers and gossip (yes, men do gossip) in a public gathering place. It was nice to see and I had to snap the photo.

If you look at that photo closely, you will also see the other inhabitants of the tables, not there to play games.

Just before we left, a small car pulled into the parking space and three boys barely in their twenties got out and scouted the area. I'll admit it made me a bit nervous. They were walking quickly and went around the perimeter of the park space pretty fast and I was glad we were leaving, wary of their intent, especially having the 2-year-old and our very expectant daughter out there.

Then, those boys returned to their car, open the trunk ... and pulled out bags of bottled water and plastic zip bags full of snacks and proceeded to take them around to all of the picnic table inhabitants.

Not what we expected. The news is full of stories that can't help but make you wary. But when we saw the scene from another angle, the story was fully different.

Because the news is also full of racial strife stories, I'm going to add that the homeless and/or mentally challenged (since it's impossible to tell the difference without talking to them) were black and white, male and female, and the group of boys were both black and white, working together to help their neighbors. There was no strife. None of them feared the others. They were only making a simple acknowledgement of what the statue plaque says: we must rise together.

It was a lesson well learned, and I post it here in hopes that we can all look beyond the stories flooding us, the one-sided stories full of strife, and start seeing it from other angles. Who was it who said: Look for the helpers in a catastrophe? They're always there. And remember there are far more helpers and helpful spirits than those who mean harm. There are. We only have a harder time seeing them.

I wish all of us a beautiful and more peaceful 2017. That will only happen if we help make it happen.

art credit: Rising Together [1994, bronze, Dennis Smith at Bonsall Park, Glendale AZ].