Family and writing

I am on vacation in central Oregon with various family members. This is our annual get-together. We hang out, float the Deschutes river, ride bikes, hike, eat dinner together and generally enjoy each others company and the woods. It’s very relaxing and enjoyable. I just caught myself logging on to my work email and stopped. There’s nothing in there that can’t wait until I get home. So, just stop. The one thing I don’t want to stop is writing, but that gets put aside at times for the outdoors. Which is a good thing. It’s too easy to sit inside and spend a beautiful day in the house. That is not the point of this vacation.

There are a number of story ideas that are coming to me, and I have been writing those down. I plan on working some of these into short stories and a couple would make great longer novellas or even novel length books, and the beginning of a series. I collecting a backlog of story ideas and it’s very exciting. This means I have a lot of material and gives me confidence that I have a good number of stories to tell. The other good thing coming out of this week is that my cousin’s wife is encouraging me all along and telling me to write these ideas down. It feels great to have a cheering section that is more than just my husband. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great cheerleader and support, but then, he’s my husband. It helps to have somebody who really has no skin in the game to be giving support.

Sometimes family members are less than enthusiastic about things such as writing fiction. “Oh, that’s nice.” “So, are you doing this on the side?” “Is it a real book?” I get it. It’s not what most people consider a “real job”. And, the finances are dicey. One thing I have noticed is that there are (obviously) many similarities with academics. More specifically, the failure to understand that simply because you are not heading into an office or job site every day, that you are still working. I get that a lot. “Oh, well, you’re off for the summer, so can you do this that or the other thing?” No. I can’t. I’m working. It can get annoying, but I’ve learned to either not respond to text messages or answer the phone. That helps a lot. I love my family. I just don’t need them interrupting me all the time!

But again, this week it’s all about family and relaxing…so interrupt away.

We’re off to a short hike and then some quality time at the pool. Enjoy the 4th of July holiday. Happy Independence Day!

Opinions and balance

Hanging out with a friend and former student this weekend. He’s been in the Middle East and Europe for a few deployments and just got back from a nice long trip with his mother exploring castles in the UK. I am always amazed at how many students I stay in contact with over the years. It’s been 17 years since this one graduated and we’re still in contact. Pretty cool. He’s definitely more conservative, or I guess charged up about the current president than I am. We have some agreement points and some disagreement points. The funny thing is that when I hear some sort of less-than-accurate comment and call him out on it, the professor-student relationship re-establishes itself. I don’t mean to do it and I don’t think I’m overbearing about it, but it just happens.

My teaching philosophy has always been to give students the tools to think for themselves and think critically. I have never told them what to think (unlike some of my colleagues). Nobody does well with somebody else telling them what to think. Facts and events are subject to interpretation. That’s how we work as humans. We all have our own lenses and we interpret through those lenses. As the meme goes, you are entitled to your own opinion, however you are not entitled to your own facts. I would add that if your interpretation of events leans to the conspiracy side of things you might want to review your lenses. Conspiracies of hundreds or even just tens of people are usually spectacularly unsuccessful.

Confirmation bias is another problem we all have. We engage in confirmation bias when we take those stories that confirm what we know to be true and ignore those facts or other interpretations that contradict our known truths. People who self-identify as liberal/progressive and only read or watch MSNBC are engaging in confirmation bias; same goes for those who self-identify as conservative and watch or read only Fox News. Confirmation bias doesn’t just happen with politics, although that has become more evident recently. We engage in it in many different areas of life. We want our preconceived notions to be supported. It provides a sense of order and stability in a confusing world. Knowing that we are not alone in our opinions also feels supporting. Most humans do not do well psychologically or emotionally in a world of constant confusion and chaos or in a world where we feel we are alone in our opinions.

Identifying and breaking your own confirmation biases is difficult, but not impossible. It means admitting that you have biases first of all. (We all do; anybody who tells you that they are completely bias-free is lying or lacks any level of self-awareness). Once you admit to biases, you have to either own them or work at overcoming them. It’s OK to have biases (I don’t like fried eggs and I will never eat them no matter what. No way, no how. Yes, I’m biased.) Parents are biased in favor of their own kids; we’re human. Humans are flawed, but we are also good (when we want to be) at recognizing our flaws and working to fix them (assuming that fixing them will not lead to some sort of self-destruction).

I’m always working to identify my biases, note when I’m engaging in confirmation bias and figure out why. I’m not always successful, but I keep going. I think that my training as a researcher and experience as a professor has forced me into those considerations.

How about you? What confirmation biases have you noticed? Do you try to change those?

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

Detours

So, we’ve hit a snag in our escape plans. Shockingly, that snag is money (I know, you’re totally surprised, I was too). Last night hubby and I came to the realization that our initial plans were conceived in anger. Righteous anger, but anger nevertheless. After a long conversation that stretched in fits and starts throughout yesterday and into the night last night, we spotted the detour (finally) and have turned on to it. A detour doesn’t mean our plans have been derailed. Not at all. It means that it will take a bit longer to see them carried out, and the path to carrying them out is not the path we originally started down.

Basically, life happened. Last month another cat died and that cost a good deal of money. The credit cards are stretched for a variety of reasons. And, living on one salary, even in a low cost-of-living state will still be less than easy. But, we have a plan to get around those obstacles. And, so we will continue on. We’ve slept on it and I think that both of us are much more accepting of this change than we perhaps were last night. Sleeping on a problem, letting it float around in your brain, really does help with perspective and with finding solutions or paths to solutions.

I will continue writing and publish my book this summer. Mid-August at the latest. There. It’s out in print. Can’t back down or procrastinate now. The plan change did fire up my motivation to finish. I WILL get this out and I WILL have the second moving by the time the first hits Amazon. My side-hustle will generate real, livable money by the end of the year. That is my promise to myself. I’m not sure how I’ll work it, but I will.

Interesting that all this happened on our 20th anniversary. Almost as if the universe is testing our commitment to each other. Believe me, Universe, that will never waiver. We took vows and we are committed to each other in perpetuity.

So, gimme about six weeks to get the book finished, back from beta readers and up. Keep an eye out here. In the meantime, I’m going to write today, run some errands, and make ready for a weekend house guest. Go enjoy your own weekend all!

Image by sdmacdonaldmiller from Pixabay

Writing and real life

I was just reading over on Mad Genius Club a post about real life interfering with writing. And, damn does it ever. Clear evidence…I started this post yesterday. Sigh. It’s interfering with fiction writing as well as blog writing. Although, with the blog, I suppose that could be seen as a good thing. I’m not staring at the screen all day. Plus I’m too busy to get all verklempt and angsty over what’s going on in life. I’m just dealing with it.

This week, as I mentioned before, I’ve been editing Book #1. That’s still ongoing and actually going well. The other day, I got tired of editing and went back to find other things I’ve started and ideas I’ve jotted down. There are a lot of them. Who knew I had all these ideas floating around in my head? Not me! I’m grateful I’ve found them. I’m also planning on cleaning up my desk so that I can actually find things and ideas when I want to. What a concept! I have a bad tendency to stash things away where “I’ll remember to go back there” and of course never remember. Today, after this, I will clean the desk and then return to editing and new writing. The new writing in between lets my brain percolate over some of these ideas. I also have to do some housecleaning as a friend is coming up tomorrow for the weekend.

It’s a good month for friends this month. We’ve spent time with local friends at the pop-up beer gardens here. Those are always nice. There’s just something about drinking in a park. Very summer. Last night an old, old friend of mine came over for dinner. He lives in CA, but his mom lives out here so he drops in when he can when he visits her. He and I used to work together in aerospace ages ago. Worst job ever. I got laid off, he managed to skip around just ahead of the layoff fairies. In the end, he resigned. We’ve kept in touch over the years, even after hubby and I moved out here.

Then, a college friend comes up this weekend, and next weekend, a former student who is now a friend comes in for the weekend. Then we’re heading to OR for our annual visit with my family. I’m enjoying all of it and looking forward to all of it. But, it is real life and it does interfere with writing. Oh, well. It’s worth it.

Now, back to the writing! OK, clean the desk first. Sheesh.

Image by Brian Merrill from Pixabay

Friends

It’s been a week. In that time, I’ve done…what? Write, edit, read. All good. We did have to say good-bye to our feline buddy, Fritz. He was one of those cats who, when you looked at him, nodded his head and gave a silent meow, as if he was saying “s’up? How you doing?”. He was a totally cool dude and I will really miss him. Hubby was hit hard. Fritz is buried in the back yard along with Junior Basement Cat (a.k.a. Junior), and Little Bit. Just between us, don’t go into the back yard on Halloween!

It’s also been a learning week for me. I have al ot of friends who understand what it’s like to lose a pet. Not only that, there are an equal number of people I’ve only interacted with online who also understand what it’s like. The support both groups have given is simply amazing. You’d think that people might be less than supportive when you say your cat died. I know that I sympathize, but I’m always astonished that others feel as strongly as I do about losing a pet. It’s always eye-opening for me. I’m not sure why, but I guess I always expect people to say “well, it was just a cat…” but they don’t. They tell me stories about their cats, tell me that when their pet goes they will be equally devastated, all sorts of things. It’s always amazing and always leaves me feeling much better about humanity in general.

Another thing Fritz’s death has given me is more awareness of my quirks and supposed coping mechanisms that isn’t all that successful. I’ve realized that when I’m stressed I mess around and don’t do anything of any consequence. I was upset about losing Fritz-man. I procrastinated on Facebook and played Candy Crush. i did do some work, but not as much as I should have or wanted to. I couldn’t seem to concentrate enough to get anything done. There’s no real excuse for that. Working for myself, depending on my writing means I have to write even when I don’t feel like it. There’s no getting around that.

I did do work later in the week and I’ve been reading some useful stuff this week. I highly recommend Janice Hardy’s books “Understanding Show, Don’t Tell” and “Understanding Conflict” for anybody doing any writing at any point. These are invaluable. I read “Show, Don’t Tell” I’ve started back through my book and I’m rewriting sentences and paragraphs. I can already see the difference. I’m working my way through with all of Hardy’s key words/red flag words. It’s time consuming and tedious at times. But totally worth it. I just started “Understanding Conflict” and already I’m getting some good ideas on how to rework some scenes and some general story arcs to up the tension for the reader and the conflict for the characters. This is hella lot more fun than revising academic work, that’s for sure!

This post started out about friends. We psent this afternoon with friends hanging out at the beer garden/food truck spot/whatever, on the river bank. It was a nice day for hanging out with the dog, drinking beer, and watching the leftover Pride Parade folks wander by. Everybody was in a good mood, the sun was shining, and my friend’s dog got a lot of attention so we were quite popular. We all got to catch up, and talk to other people. A good way to end this week and begin next week. I’m very grateful we had this afternoon to catch up and hang out.

Tree trimming people coming tomorrow which means the day will be interrupted, so I need to be organized early in the morning so that I don’t lose too much time. I will lose time, but since I know that’s going to happen I can figure out how I’m going to make up for it. I’ll work it out.

Have a good week all!

Image by Sarah Bolden from Pixabay

Lazy Sunday

Lazy Sunday afternoons are great. Until you start feeling guilty that you aren’t doing anything. But, really, a good sluggish Sunday can be rejuvenating and even fun. I was up at 6:30 so that must count for some level of activity? Right? We did go for a long up upriver this morning (late morning really), so maybe “lazy” isn’t quite accurate. Following my general process of writing something or at least doing something related to writing every single day has been eye-opening. The more you do something, and discover you’re actually pretty good at it (or at least don’t suck at it, as is my case), the more fun it gets and the more time you want to spend on it. Okay, so maybe cleaning the bathroom doesn’t fall into that category, but I wasn’t thinking about odious chores. I was thinking more along the lines of ‘things I like to do or want to do’.

We had a long conversation about process vs. goals on our walk. I’ve talked about this before, but it is so relevant to my life these days that I keep coming back to it. Writing isn’t a goal. It’s a process. Through the process of writing and revising and editing, I will have a completed book. And, it will be good. I have bought into this notion that life improves when you look at a process for getting and staying healthy, getting and staying financially comfortable (however you define that), getting and staying happy (not just content, but happy). Mike just sent me a link to an interview with Nick Saban (winningest college football coach). And he talked about how he impressed on his players that their job is to run the route, know what they’re supposed to be doing each play, and do that. If everybody on the entire team does their job every play, they will win football games. It’s that simple What’s not simple is keeping everyone doing their jobs. Quarterbacks get rattled and step out of the box a few counts before their supposed to, wide receivers think they see a chance to play the hero and miss the catch instead. Saban said his goal isn’t winning football games, it’s making sure that everybody is doing their job and doing it correctly. After that, the game will take care of itself.

Process not goals.

Process means that if you hit a snag or bump in the road, or fall down or whatever, you simply get up, figure out what happened, and keep following your process. Part of the process is learning from your mistakes and failures. What went wrong there? Why? How can I avoid having that happen in the future? Or if unavoidable, how can I mitigate the effects? What makes me happy? What do I need to do to get there? At the very least, what is making me unhappy and how can I eliminate that thorn from my life.

It’s not all going to happen at once, but if you take things one issue at a time, you will be surprised at how success there will generate good feelings and keep you moving through your process towards even greater success in all things. Above all, be sure to acknowledge gratitude for those things or areas in life that are doing just peachy. I can say from experience that expressing gratitude leads to more things to be grateful for. A virtuous circle is created.

One of the ways I’ve managed to make my life happier and less stressed is to stop watching or reading or obsessively following the news. It simply stresses me out and for about 99.999% of it, there’s nothing I can do to change the situation. So, why stress about it. One of the best ways to stop obsessing over the news and/or politics, for me, is to stay off of Facebook. I allow myself 2 days a week to go on to FB. I keep in touch with a number of people I know in real life and with whom I want to stay connected. Twice a week allows me to see what they’re doing, respond, chat, etc. Then bail out until the next FB day. This has reduced my procrastination significantly and lowered my stress levels as well. I can highly recommend it!

So, a lazy Sunday afternoon is not a bad thing. I will read Janice Hardy’s book on writing conflict and continue editing my own book. It’s all part of the process of working at something writing related every day.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Image by Jörn Heller from Pixabay

In Defense of All We Hold Dear

I just posted a short story…it’s free! In Defense of All We Hold Dear was inspired by my Memorial Day visit to Washington Crossing National Cemetery. It’s an…well, I don’t think I’ll tell you. It’s more fun that way. I’m curious to hear what folks think, so please do leave comments if you are so inclined. I just ask that you don’t get rude or unnecessarily nasty. The link is here or above in the main menu. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy it!

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Writing and Procrastination

Yesterday’s post was rambling and a tad incoherent. Today’s post comes to you courtesy of my HUMONGOUS ability to procrastinate. I should be typing out a chapter, but instead I’m typing out this post. Although, I can justify this by saying writing is writing. And, (this is actually accurate), writing here does allow my mind to digest and think over what I need to write for the book and it allows my characters to catch their collective breath and figure out how to tell me what they’re doing and thinking.

I am simultaneously scared and excited for the future. I found myself, again, last night wringing my hands while trying to explain to my husband why I needed him to move faster on the job hunt. He’s doing the best that he can and I should not put any more pressure on him. I have learned that I have the insanely powerful ability to get him to drop everything and make sure that I am happy and or safe. That is a great deal of power and misuse leads to overly stressful reactions on his part. I cannot do that to him. I love him to much to destroy his health and well-being.

So, today, I’m writing here. I must get myself into the right frame of mind for writing a chapter. I’m petrified of not writing and having this go by the wayside. I know that I am the one with the power to decide if it goes by the wayside or if it becomes what I know it will become…a good book in a good series that gives people some small means of escape and a bit of fun along the way.

I feel like I’m heading into the large, dark, unknown wood. Well, I am. I’ve never relied solely on my skills to make a living. I mean, I’ve had jobs (obviously), but this requires me to make my own schedule, set my own rules, be my own supervisor, and generally be in charge of everything. There’s no complaining about bosses or administrators or management. I’m all those people. I truly have nobody and nothing to blame by myself. Abso-freaking-lutely frightening.

OK, then. Into the woods we go! It’s not quite as dark as I’d imagined. Look! There’s a path!

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Memorial Day

Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, Memorial Day is not the same thing as Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day is the day we honor those who have served (and we’ve added those who are currently serving). Memorial Day is the day we honor and remember those who gave their lives for this country or who, having served with honor, have passed away.

I am an Army brat. I used to say that as something of a joke or an explanation for some tic or habit that I had. Now, it’s something I’m truly proud of. I have not served in the military, but I grew up in it and developed a deep and abiding respect for it and those who choose to join. Many of my students are ROTC cadets. When they find out I’m an Army brat they tend to relax a bit more around me; I have an understanding of and respect for what they’re doing.

On Sunday (yesterday), we went up to Washington Crossing National Cemetery where my parents are buried. National cemeteries are sobering on the most ordinary of days. They are doubly so on Memorial Day weekend. There were far more people up there than on other days we’ve visited. And flags lined the drive into the cemetery and through it.

Every time I visit, I am reminded about how much I miss my parents. My dad died in 2013 and my mom died in 2016. My dad died from a heart attack brought on by the stress of caring for my mother and then, right before he died, the stress brought on by my sociopathic cousin. She tried to take him for all he’s worth both financially and emotionally. Needless to say, I don’t speak to her any longer.

On Memorial Day I put out my little flag and remember my father and all the others who have passed on having completed or in the middle of their service to our country. It doesn’t, or it shouldn’t, matter when, where, or why they served. They did and we honor them for it.

Photo by Becky Jones, 2019. Washington Crossing National Cemetery

Total Control

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “totalitarian” to denote those political systems which were created to control not only the political life of a state, but the cultural, social, and even personal life of its citizens. George Orwell in 1984 described a state where the government decided everything for its citizens and changed the language in order to fit the circumstances it wished to portray. Both authors, one in fiction and one in non-fiction were describing and predicting the consequences of what was coming to pass in the then-new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, particularly under the rule of Josef Stalin.

Control of language is of utmost importance to a state. With that control the state (and those running the state) is able to force citizens to accept its view of issues, policies, and ideas. One consequence of such control is the public shaming of those who do not use the accepted terms either out of principled refusal or simple ignorance. Public shaming is very effective in silencing dissenting voices in the public square. It is also very effective in silencing any discussion or debate around any issue or policy. Disagreement with state conventions, policies, and issues is viewed and described as traitorous and those guilty of such treason must be silenced at all costs. The state and those in control cannot afford to have any of their positions questioned as that will bring to light the contradictions and hypocrisies that exist in the interior of those positions.

These contradictions and the very loud and very strong attempts to bury them is becoming clear in the rising debates around transgender athletes. Weightlifting has had the most public controversies. A transgender woman in New Zealand competed in and won a gold medal in the Australian International in 2017. Another transgender woman had her record expunged from the Raw Powerlifting Federation female records. Both of these women were and are biological men who have taken hormone treatments, but have not had surgery. Under pressure from international advocacy groups, the international sport governing federations have changed their requirements for testosterone levels in female athletes. Testosterone usage has long been an issue in the Olympics dating back to the days of East German female competitors. Testosterone boosts strength in those who take it or have higher amounts of it in their systems. Like men do. Biological men are competing against women and winning. Quelle suprise,

Be aware, none of the controversy revolves around anybody’s right to identify themselves however they wish. What is does revolve around is whether self-identification creates reality. A transgender person is not a biological male or female. Here’s where language comes into it. The word “sex” is used by biologists to denote the physiological differences within a species that allow for that species to reproduce. Without those differences appearing at some point, the species will die. Only amoebas are able to reproduce via self-separation (and even there separation is involved). Higher order fauna (e.g. not plants) must have two sexes in order to continue the species.

The word “gender” was first used as a synonym for “sex” as it was considered less racy. (I’m not kidding. I’m so old, I can remember being told to use “gender” when explaining biological processes.) Now, however, gender is used to describe the outward appearance and self-identification. That’s fine. However, changing the language or insisting that biological sex and self-created gender are one and the same is naive at best and totalitarian at worst.

The insistence that gender and sex be viewed as the same brings up a whole host of other issues. Many of these can be filed as resulting from the “Law of Unintended Consequences”. For instance, if gender and sex are indeed the same, then there is no longer any need for sex/gender segregated sports or organizations. No need for “grrl pwr” or giving girls an extra leg up in science or any other endeavor. If there’s no difference, then all kids and adults can compete for all things without regard to any differences. Language usage will tell us there is no difference. If you see a difference you are guilty of treason and wrongthink.

This is a long and involved topic. I’ll be posting more in the next few days as I continue to mull over the implications and arguments. But, hey! It’s Monday so let’s start the week with some complex, higher-order thinking!