FACEBOOK AND FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS

If you are a Facebook fan (I am not) you’ll notice that everyone is shouting and no one is listening. When did hate and fear solve anything? When did we stop listening to each other?

I believe Facebook was originally created to send happy messages, post pictures and generally keep up with you friends and family. Lately, it seems to have taken on a dark side. Some people are getting into long diatribes about their religion, their politics, negative statements about race and sexual orientation, causing others to defend their side of things. It upsets me to know that we have lost our reasoning skills when it comes to these world problems and that we have forgotten how to just sit and listen to each other. We can agree to disagree but without hate and threats to the opposing party.

No one agrees with everything you say. They are never totally on your side. And sometimes you might be wrong in your thoughts. But to work up such a lather about what the other party is saying is a loss of perspective on what is really being said and why it is being said. We get so wrapped up in our own beliefs and defending this knowledge that we forget to look at the underlying causes of these conversations.

These people who spew forth misinformation and hate are probably just sad and lonely, waiting for a reaction from others so they have contact. What they really need is real contact with the outside world. I really wish they would think about what they say before they fire it off in their anonymity. Or, maybe they should just join a group or something outside of their house.

Weird Al Yankovic may be right in his song, First World Problems. Some people fixate on all the little things that are wrong in their lives: WiFi reception, not being able to order off of the Breakfast Menu after 2 pm because we got up too late, having a big house so we get lost, having gluten-free food, and all of the woes not understandable to a Third World person. We tend to forget that we have shelter, food, safety, and way more disposable income than the majority of the world. We can’t expect someone whose lives are at stake every day in a war zone to understand us. We can’t understand what it is like to live like that. We forgot to care.

So, what’s the solution? How do we get the happiness factor back in our lives and share it with others? How do we color our lives with a caring personality? Is all of this negativity an external force? Did someone create a presence on another planet and send all these negative vibes down to our earth via the media. Was it planned like we saw the movie Tomorrowland? Can we get over the blaming and get on with the doing?

I am committing to try a little harder to understand others and at least listen, even if I don’t agree with them. I am committing to do a good deed each day, even if it’s just a smile for a friend or customer, and laugh at a good joke, and enjoy each moment. Maybe people will think I’m being a d…k sometimes, when I talk to them about something uncomfortable, but I certainly won’t be an a…hole. (Thank you, Peter Quill, or Star Lord, for that sage advice. OK, seriously, you didn’t get that? From Guardians of the Galaxy, of course!)

HAPPINESS AND THE HOLIDAYS

Last week was crazy, wasn’t it? We tried to fit it all in: the baking, the cooking of a bountiful meal, the Zoo Lights, the cozy feelings, family being ever-present, and of course, the shopping. And we were happy, right? Well, most of the time.

How are we supposed to maintain that frantic happiness that the media hypes for the holidays? The answer is we can’t. We do our best, we try to be grateful for what we have. But, when everyone gets cranky, we bundle up, get everyone out of the house and take the dogs for a walk (in 15 degree weather-yes, the dogs have sweaters, and coats, too). When we return home, we encourage them to take a nap afterwards, or watch a stupid movie. And, when they’re all asleep or otherwise occupied, we run. We escape them for a few minutes to regain a sense of peace. We leave the house and go to the gym, away from all of them.

We come back with a sense of perspective. We’re thankful for having a cozy home and a loving family. We’re thankful for peace and not having a war raging in our backyard. We’re thankful for all the food we’ve stuffed ourselves with.  We go out and do some good deeds for the less fortunate. And, we stop worrying. Or at least, that’s what I do. After all, happiness is a state of mind created by me.

Happy Holidays everyone!

WRITE WEIRD – BECOMING A BETTER WRITER AND BEING LESS CONVENTIONAL

Today’s thoughts are all about writing using any method or style. I am learning about transitioning and advancing into the age of the millennials. I am creating new pathways to my brain and learning to be young again with a new keyboard and machine.

I just bought a Microsoft Surface Pro4 Tablet, with a keyboard (and no, I don’t get paid by them to advertise—I wish!), and it is certainly different than what I have been used to. I transitioned to a laptop a long time ago, but this change was not as much of a brain freeze as I thought it would be. Tablets, smart phones, and eReaders are very similar in how they work. With a few bumps and zig zags, you can master one of them, and then it’s a matter of simple iterations for the rest of them. I have decided that as a writer, I must embrace these changes without becoming OCD about it. I believe new technology can make my life different, and hopefully, easier. Once I have mastered the Zen of this change, I can then turn to the creation of text. Will a tablet choice be the right choice? I’m not sure, yet, but the portability is simply amazing. Now, instead of lots of little notes on scrap pieces of paper, I can whip out the tablet and type my thoughts.

In the old days, writers had to write until their hands cramped, with pen and ink, or pencil. Then, they had to, or someone had to, type it up into a manuscript. Then, an agent had to be found so they could submit the author’s work to a publishing house. Today, writers are the master and commander of their universe. With On Demand publishing, you can write what you want and publish what you want. You may or may not sell as many books as others, because you don’t have a huge marketing department. Big publishing houses want to make money off of you, so they select only what they think will sell big. They set the price and you are lucky if you get 5% of sales. Less than 1%, or something small like that, of new authors gets selected for publishing in those big houses. So, you may never get selected using the old traditional way. Instead, it will sit on desks throughout the publishing house, waiting behind thousands of other books or thousands of celebrities who have submitted ghostwritten books. Sad, isn’t it?

What is convention anyway and why do we need it? I don’t want to read boring plot lines from the 22nd book someone famous has published. It gets old. I love series but sometimes you have to let the character die. I write weird, I write less conventionally. I take a risk, and sell it on Amazon and Create Space. Before I even think about pushing that publish button, I go through a long series of editing and rewrites, and let a few readers in for comments, and then I re-edit and rewrite once again. Once I am satisfied with its contents, I format and send it on its way. I am not fast, but I am proud of my work and whether sales are good or bad, I own my book and all of its contents. It will never go out of print. It is my contribution to the world. I am writing not formulaic, but what I love.

So, throw convention out the window, and take a leap of faith. Research well. Don’t be afraid to contact the sheriff’s or coroner’s office (my new mystery has murders and gory bits). They won’t think you’re too crazy, well maybe a little, but they actually enjoy talking to you. Describe scenes simply and beautifully. I recently took a class where the speaker talked about describing colors and their meanings to the characters, especially in film. Cool, huh? Keep in mind that you have the whole story in your head, so try to be coherent with the questions you have. I confused an evidence tech the first time I talked to him because he didn’t know the story (of course!) when I was asking about evidence retention techniques, especially in multi-jurisdictional cases. Remember, they are giving you details based on cases they know. Write plausible plots, and have fun with it.

 So, buy a cool machine, learn some cool software, (or have your nerdy friend help you learn it) and jump in. Don’t be afraid of it. A book is as good as what you make it. It must be enjoyable or thought-provoking to the reader no matter what publishing choice you make.

BUT MOM! ON COMMUNICATION AND AGGRESSION

I know a lot of my readers may not have children. I know that many may not care about this post. But, what I’m about to tell you will apply to adults as well as children. A wise person gave me some sound advice the other day after I told him about my struggles with getting my son to do homework. His son, who is now a 4.0 student and a baseball player at the University of Hawaii, struggled in the fourth and fifth grades with homework, especially writing assignments. He talked to his teacher many times, about the fights they got into over homework. This teacher was a very strong woman who loved teaching. One day she told him, “Don’t worry about it. This is what I’ve learned over the years:

“Boys do things shoulder to shoulder.”

“Girls do things face to face.”

WOW!!!!

This statement hit me like a ton of bricks. I never thought this would work until I tried it one day. We sat down side by side at the table and actually got through homework without any fighting. He was able to take instruction and remain calm. So, apparently, face to face communication with boys is a confrontational stance which causes aggression.

So, I tried it with other men and standing next to them instead of in front of them seemed to work. No arguing at all!

My friend told me he told him wife things that he would never say to her while sitting in the driver’s seat. See? Shoulder to shoulder.

I remembered that I learned this when I was in law enforcement. If I took more of an Aikido stance – a little sideways, right leg back, left shoulder turned towards the person, hands in front of me – the situation would de-escalate. The offender tended to re-think what he or she was about to do. Amazing what one little step can do.

I’m going to try this with every encounter and see what happens. I’ll keep a calm attitude of peace, but be ready for any action.

What’s Up With This Fog? And, Why Are People Shooting Each Other?

Colorado has about 300 days of sunshine, and only about 30 days of completely gray skies. So, when we get overcast conditions and fog like we had these past two days, people seem to be a little bit nutty. It’s eerie when you can’t see the mountains. We are so used to seeing them in the background, guiding our every move, and that when we don’t see them in our line of sight, we are afraid of being lost. Maybe it’s simply a matter of the fog enveloping our brains so we can’t think straight.

Do you think that’s what happened to that young man when he decided to shoot all those people at his college in Oregon? Was it so gray out there that his brain shut down all logical thought? Was he that depressed?

Should we blame his actions on his poor mother? Should we blame it on the world as it is today? Should we blame it on the media for showing these incidents over and over and over again? Should we blame the shoot ‘em up gaming? Should we blame the fog?

It saddens me to think that young twenty-somethings seem to have a harder time coping with the times. We older adults seem to cope with things differently; not always the right way, but we cope. Maybe we lived in a simpler unconnected time, not having computers, cell phones and texting. We actually had to call on party lines and when the long-winded Aunt was on the phone, we had to go over to someone’s house to talk to them face to face. Wow! (Today, however, I do communicate with text to stay in touch, so I’m not completely out of touch, but I still insist on meeting the parents of the children my son hangs out with.)

Maybe the answer for these violent events lies in the fact that we have become so isolated from human contact. Maybe it is the violence we see in movies or TV, or even online with all these realistic shooting games. Maybe death isn’t real to young people. They haven’t come face to face with death. Living humans don’t have a reset button. But, is all this an excuse for violent reaction to things that have gone wrong in one’s life? Do they not have a sense of place in the universe, a profound sense of belonging to something bigger and better? Are they not held responsible for being productive and kind human beings in society? Are they so isolated and self-absorbed that they don’t feel responsible for creating a better world? Why are we so afraid?

I know it’s hard, but somehow we need to teach our children these life lessons. We all need to get out of our own fog and live and create a better world.

Today, as always, I will hug my child and tell him he owes me to become a productive, loving, kind and beautiful human being who cherishes life.

HOPE AND POST-APOCALYPTIC READING—OR, DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

You’ve heard these quotes at one time or another in your life:

“Hope springs eternal….”—Alexander Pope

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words: wait and hope.”—Alexandre Dumas

“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”—Robert H. Schuller

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”—Martin Luther King

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”—Desmond Tutu

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.—Jonas Salk

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”—Albert Einstein

There always seems to be hope, after any major war, in a futuristic dystopian society, even up until the meteor crashes to the earth. Lately, I have been reading a lot of novels and short stories from the World War II era (All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, 2014), and in the dystopian fiction genre (The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and World of Trouble, Ben Winters, 2013-2014). Perhaps it’s because fall is here and plants are dying or going dormant. Maybe it’s because that’s what I needed to read to understand my place in the universe. Or maybe it’s just because I see so many people sweating all the small stuff.

People in these book scenarios never seem to give up, even though tragedy is occurring in their lives. They are brave and full of hope for their futures, even though a catastrophic event is about to occur. Are they crazy, holding onto something that will never be? Is this what we want out of our lives? Are we as a people brave enough to accept the inevitable? If we died tomorrow would we be happy with our accomplishments?

Why is it that we can’t learn that all of the little daily distractions aren’t important?

Why is it we can’t learn to look at the bigger picture even when all the little things keep getting in our way?

Is it possible to focus on the world around us without getting sucked into the negative?

Why do we always need someone to blame?

Why does it matter what other people think? Is it being afraid of isolation?

So what’s the answer?

Can we communicate without revealing way too much information? Can we enjoy a conversation in public without others butting in and needing to tell them their story? And, is it our obligation to listen to their stories?

I think it’s possible to have a balance, enjoying the company of each other as adults without sharing too much information or being distressed by their stories. I think we can take lots of time for our family and kids and have a decent life. I think we can make it in the world without blaming and being angry at all the external forces. The world goes on and we have to raise our children in the safest and nurturing environment possible.

We are responsible for our children. But, we also have to teach our children responsibility. We have to teach them that they are accountable and must accept the consequences for their actions. Children have to learn hard life lessons from the beginning so they will become great citizens and great parents.

As parents we also need to learn to relax, but we can still be a force in our children’s lives without being overbearing. And sometimes that includes discipline and accountability. Each year we tend to give kids more choices, but these choices must come with more responsibility for their actions. We hope that these life lessons we have taught them will build up in their minds, overlapping into a positive driving force. This driving force helps shape their personalities. It is the choices we make as adults that influence the choices of our children. And, as a result, it is the choices our children make that will influence them to become better adults.

As adults we know our brains and bodies are aging. It is inevitable. But, we can keep them active and sharp if we learn along with our children.

A great young author recently wrote these words of wisdom and I have embraced these thoughts:

“Nothing in life is certain, nor is it guaranteed. There is no certainty; there is no guarantee. There is only the mountain peak on the horizon, shrouded in clouds and curious majesty, waiting to be explored.” (quoted by Martin Fullenbaum, in Emails from Heaven, by Sam Neumann, 2014.)

So, as the saying goes: “Don’t sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff.” (Richard Carlson, 1997.)

There is always one more hill to explore but live in the present moment with the hill you are currently climbing. Live for learning side by side with children and seniors. Sympathize with others when they are going through something. Be patient. Get rid of negativity. Live to give and receive hugs. Live with hope.

 

A MATTER OF BALANCE: OR THE LIST CHANGES … BY THE SEASON

Summer is ending. How we loved being outside.

I am a crazy do-it-yourselfer and I spent hours in the sun: sweating, digging, mowing, weeding, moving rocks, and yes, building a Colorado red flagstone path around the new deck. Finally, fall is here and I am reaping the rewards of my labors of love – my toil in the sun.

I am aware that most people don’t understand how I can get my bliss from this labor of love. But, for those few precious hours, I am alone in a world of toil and peace. I don’t have to worry about what’s happening next week. I don’t have to worry about self-imposed deadlines. I’m just in the moment.

Last weekend, after I finished placing the last of the big rocks (I recovered from other beds I had outlined in the yard) to make a new kitchen garden (near the kitchen and off the deck, of course!), and placing all of the dead limbs we cut from the trees into the compost bin, I finally went inside. I showered, got some cold tea, walked outside and sat in the swing. I looked around and admired my handiwork. I should have been happy with my accomplishments. But my brain wouldn’t stop! I saw all of the things I still needed to do. I was obsessed with the “Fall chores” – getting back to writing the novel, school starting, the outdoor cleanup, the leaves coming, and what I wanted to do next year. I couldn’t stop thinking about the new list! As I was obsessing on these thoughts, my ten-year-old son came out and sat down next to me. We sat silently together, sipped our drinks and looked out at our handiwork. Finally, he broke the silence and said, “We did good, huh Mom?”

I smiled and nodded and gave him a hug, the crazy new list fleeing out of my head. It will be there tomorrow, I thought. We kept on swinging, and enjoyed the silence, the birds, the freshly mowed lawn, and the last of the flowers showing their colors. We only had that moment. But, it was enough.