What I Really Want

I’ve been reading a lot of craft books. Things that tell me books should be all about plot, and tension, and making characters miserable until the very end. But maybe, just maybe, that’s not what I want to read.

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Please let it be a kissing book!

Yeah, I know. Kind of a revelation to me, too.

But the deal is life has been pretty stressful.

There’s hurricanes like Irma and Harvey, issues with North Korea, Las Vegas shootings, NYC terrorist attacks, trade concerns, Russia investigations, debt ceilings, border walls, and whatever else is gobbling up the news. It feels like a constant stream of ugliness and negativity. Maybe it’s always been there, and I was better at not noticing.

There’s family and work and health issues and . . . Well, you get the idea. You probably suffer from all of it, too.

So maybe, just maybe, when I slip into a fictional world, I’m not looking for heart wrenching agony. I’m not looking for Game of Thrones level treachery, betrayal, and angst. Maybe, I just want a nice romance with a few obstacles to overcome and then a happily-ever-after.

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Yeah, that’s kinda ugly to admit. But it’s true.

I have a rather large stack of books to read. Most of them romance, so I should get my happily-ever-after. Yet, I don’t want to read about a lot of things in them. I never have the stomach for rape. I’m really not looking for characters that keep making bad choices as we watch the suspense build.

I don’t really want to be on the edge of my seat. I just don’t have it in me to care. Or, if I do care, I’d rather save it for something else.

I want to slip into a book and let it be a nice ride. Give me some bumps and challenges to overcome, but that lets me escape into it. I don’t find fear or horror relaxing. Or suffering.

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While maybe it’s not good storytelling and doesn’t follow the rules of craft, this is what I want right now. What I’ve been reading. What entertains me. And for me, that’s all that matters at the moment.

Maybe I’m alone. And that’s okay. It won’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last.

 

How about you? Ever find yourself too wrung out for high-intensity fiction? Am I the only one that watches reruns of Bob Ross to relax some evenings?

Moms Taking Time for Themselves

Why are there so many articles about moms taking time for themselves? You can’t walk through a magazine aisle (yes,those are still a thing), or go through a grocery checkout line without seeing something about it. You find it on mom blogs, in the online journals, and on Facebook.

So why is this so prevalent?

Because it’s so hard, and it’s important. Like anything that’s hard, lots of people have written about it. This tends to be because what worked for one mom didn’t work for another.

Let’s start with why it’s important for moms, or anyone, to take time for themselves.

  1. It’s really hard to help others until your own needs are met.  Think about it. There’s a reason the airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else.

2. Kids learn by what you do, not what you say. If you tell them that it’s important for all members of the family to help out, and they see dad helping do dishes and fold the laundry, they see that. If you tell them exercise and eating right are important, then get take-out most nights and plop down on the sofa, they see that, too.

3. Stress is bad for everyone. We all need less of it, and as being a mother is a job that never really ends, sometimes you need to take time that is yours.

We’ve all been there.

 

So, we know that it’s good for us, but why is it so hard?

  1. Because kids need us. Maybe less than we want to believe, less than we think, but they need us. We’ve been hard wired by nature to respond to those needs. There’s a reason why you can’t ignore a baby’s cry.

2. Societal pressure. There is most certainly a lot of pressure on moms to be “perfect”. To throw kids the perfect birthday party, to make sure they have all the right activities, to nurture them so they have the best start in life. Looking at my own checkered childhood, I feel like I turned out fine in spite of it. Or maybe, just maybe, because of it. That is a post for another time, but the pressure to give a “perfect” childhood is very real.

3. Because we love them. Kids are the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced.

They are frustrating, annoying reminders of all the worst parts of myself. They are also amazing little creatures capable of making my heart melt with a single spontaneous hug or “I love you, mommy.” We want to do things for them. We want to be there for them. We want to give them all that we can.

4. Fear of Regret. For me, this is a big one. I don’t want to regret the time I didn’t spend with them. I work full time, and now that the oldest has started official school, she has obligations, too. I only see them for a few hours each work day, which, yes, can sometimes be too much, but it still makes me feel like I’m missing so much. I have to make use of whatever time we have together as I don’t get much of it.

 

Trying to make time for myself has definitely been challenging for me, especially as I’ve been trying to juggle a full time job, spouse, and kids.

And writing!

So yes, it’s hard to take time for just myself when there is so much more I feel like I should be doing. So many more things I want to be doing. I haven’t yet figured it out, and maybe I never will. But at least I understand the dilemma.

 

How about you? Are you able to find time to yourself even if you have other obligations? How do you do it? Do you ever fear you’re going to miss out on other things? Do you worry about not meeting other societal demands because of it?

Facing Rejection

I hear myself telling DD1 all the time that it doesn’t matter if she succeeds or fails, I’m proud of her for trying her hardest. For really putting in the effort. She sometimes believes me, and other times I get the annoyed preschooler look.

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I totally don’t deserve it.

But, I have to walk the walk now that I’ve written, edited, rewrote, edited, rewrote again, and finally polished Crowned Prince.

I decided I wanted to try getting an agent and go the traditional publishing route if possible. There are pros and cons to both indie publishing and traditional, but I at least wanted to try traditional. Partially for their experience, but mostly for their amazing editors.

I know, I know, but one is not in the budget for us right now. While I take my writing seriously, I also take paying for two kids in daycare seriously. Don’t know if it’s like this everywhere, but where I live, my daycare bill is about twice the cost of an average mortgage payment. So, yeah, not much else is in the budget right now.

If I’m going to find an agent, I need to either meet one at a conference or query one. As a mom with two small children who works full time already, finding time or money for a conference also isn’t in the budget. So that means querying.

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Not this kind of querying.

And being rejected A LOT.

I have a feeling your chances of getting in to Harvard are probably better. After all, they accept 5.2% of their applicants. But, if I want to get an agent, I have to query them.

This is like a lot of things in life.

  • Maybe you don’t like your job, but that means putting yourself out there to find a new one.
  • Maybe you’re single and want to meet someone.
  • Maybe you want to be an actor, but that means showing up for the auditions.

Everything is life is scarce. And the more you want it, the more of yourself you have to put out there to get it.

That means facing the very real risk of rejection. Of failure. Or not being good enough. Talented enough. Just not enough.

The platitude of at least you tried your hardest feels less genuine then, though, really, that’s when it matters most. Trying. Not giving up.

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Persistence in the face of rejection is especially hard when you put so much of yourself into something. Like a job. Or a relationship. Or writing a book. Because this feels like a personal rejection. And we’re a heard animal. It’s ingrained in us to be part of the pack as those that weren’t usually didn’t have a happy ending.

But, I must face failure. I have to try, as I tell my daughter she must.

So I started the process. Looking up agents, trying to see who they represent and what they sell to see if I’ll be a fit. I even queried a few.

And got my first rejection.

It hurt less than I thought it would. But it still hurt.

 

How about you? Ever put yourself out there for something? Maybe a new job? A relationship? A book query? How did it go? Did it go better than you thought? If it didn’t, was the rejection or failure as bad as you thought it’d be?

 

What to Do When Faced with Night Terrors

Per Kid’s Health, our pediatrician, and a child psychologist, “A night terror is a sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but with a far more dramatic presentation. Though night terrors can be alarming for parents who witness them, they’re not usually cause for concern or a sign of a deeper medical issue.

Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep. Unlike nightmares (which occur during REM sleep), a night terror is not technically a dream, but more like a sudden reaction of fear that happens during the transition from one sleep phase to another.”

 

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A much cuter version of what we’re facing.

Night terrors are caused by the over-arousal of the central nervous system, but science doesn’t know why.  The best hypothesis is that this area of the brain is still maturing, especially as the night terrors seem to fade as a child ages.

Doctors think it may be hereditary as most kids that have this condition have a family member who experienced them or who was prone to sleepwalking (which is apparently similar in nature to night terrors).

*Glares at DH*

Guessing it’s hereditary as the other things, like taking a new medication or sleeping away from home, don’t play into it.

Night terrors are rare – happening in only 3-6% of kids. Lucky us.

Our daughter has them regularly. Almost every night. We’ve talked to the doctor and a child psychologist. There is very little we can do.

Our pediatrician has told us the best way to combat them is to make sure she has a solid bedtime routine and is getting enough sleep. Of course, the child suffering from night terrors would love to stay up until 10pm  then sleep until 9am. It’s too bad our life doesn’t permit her the schedule she wants as I have to be to work at 8am.

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Actual footage of me at bedtime.

So, we do our best. Every night is a challenge, as she hates going to bed and usually wants me to be next to her when she falls asleep. I know, Ferber Method, etc. etc.  But I’m not sure I buy into the Ferber Method (also known as the cry-it-out method).

If my toddler is scared and alone, crying for me, I need to go to her. I need to hold and console her. Especially as I am there when she cries out at night. I’ve heard her fear.

Seriously. Until you’ve heard your toddler scream in terror in the night, begging some invisible something to “STOP”, it’s hard to understand. The night terrors are awful, and she is hard to wake up from them even if we want to wake her. She’s not in REM, so she doesn’t awaken easily. And when we do wake her, she’s shaking but doesn’t remember what happened.

Maybe I’m spoiling her, or maybe I’m showing her when she needs me, I’ll be there for her. Even if I didn’t hold and comfort her, I wouldn’t be able to sleep hearing her cries anyway. Better to follow  heart and gut on this.

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But it does explain why I’m not sleeping. Why I’m a little crabbier. And why I’m burning out.

At this point, I have no idea how to make it better. I’m rolling with the phrase I heard somewhere about raising kids, “This, too, shall pass.”

I hope it does. She deserves a good night’s sleep, and so do I.

 

How about you? Anyone in your family ever have night terrors? How did you deal with them? Did they ever go away? If so, when did they go away?

Practicing Empathy

I recently wrote about empathy, about giving people the benefit of the doubt, and how we really need more of it.

I thought of this as I read an article recently that talked about Trump’s travel ban, and it’s impact on three people. Sadly, this article was taken down shortly after I read it, but I’m assuming it was done to protect the man in Alabama I will discuss shortly.

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Mobile, Alabama

You don’t have to look very far to hear the stories of people affected by it in a negative light, up to and including a US-born NASA scientist. As with many of the news stories about the ban, this article began with the heart-breaking tale of a woman who had aided the US in the Iraqi war, was targeted by terrorists because of it, and trying to get to the US for her own safety. It talked of an American man who’d married an Iranian woman and couldn’t get her and his daughter into the US even though they had green cards.

Remember, if it bleeds, it leads.

Empathizing with these people is easy. The news makes it easy. But none of those events are unique to this story.

What was different, however, was the article spoke of an Alabama man who was happy about the ban. After hearing all the stories of terrorism, he was relieved that something was being done to protect him.

This man hadn’t felt safe at baseball games or even the store. He feared any area where large groups of people congregated because that’s where terrorists struck. He didn’t give up going to his favorite sports events because he thought that would be caving into the terrorists, but he felt truly afraid.

Let’s remember that in fiction, no one usually sees themselves as the “bad guy”. The books on craft drill that into our heads.

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I doubt this gentleman from Alabama saw himself as a “bad guy” either. He truly felt afraid. He wanted to be safe, and he cited the events in France and Belgium as reasons for his fear.

What he didn’t know, what the news hadn’t informed him of, was that the total number of American citizens that died due to terrorism from 1995 to 2014 – that’s twenty years – was 3,503.  That includes the 2,910 people that died on September 11th.

In 2014, 42,773 people died by committing suicide. The really scary stuff?  According to the CDC, in 2013 approximately 610,000 Americans died of heart disease. Yeah. One in four American deaths was due to heart disease.

Had the news given as much weight to things that posed the most threat to this man, terrorism wouldn’t be his top concern. He’d be demanding roasted kale and orange slices (two foods known to help in the battle against heart disease) as he watched his sports games while jogging on a treadmill.

Was this man genuinely afraid?  I think he was. It’s possible this man has never met a man or woman from any of the nations impacted by the travel ban. He may not have ever met a Muslim. Only 0.2% of Alabama’s population is Muslim. It may be difficult for him to separate out “bleeding” new bites from reality.

While each person is accountable for their emotions and how they respond to them, I think the news media also needs to accept some accountability. How many images of terrorist attacks have filled our screens? How many times did we watch the planes hit the towers? See the aftermath of bombings?

And it happens every time there’s an attack. We’re bombarded by images. This becomes our reality, what we fear, rather than heart disease.

I’ve seen some accuse the media of being accomplices to the attackers by helping them spread the fear that their attacks were intended to generate.

I doubt this is intentional.

You see, fear sells. If it bleeds, it leads. And what is more terrifying to us than terrorism? Thinking you’re going to punch the clock like any other day, but instead, a plane is flown into your workplace.

Fear sells.

Not only does it sell, but we’ve become addicted to fear, and for-profit news companies know it. They know how to get us to tune in and keep us coming back.

If you think about Maslow’s Hiererchy of needs, safety ranks as more important than sex. So if sex sells, you better believe fear does. Our ancestors knew this. Go back and look at those original fairy tales if you don’t believe me or the research.

News capitalizes on this, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m avoiding the news.

Was this Alabama man practicing empathy for the people this ban affected that weren’t terrorists? Doubtful. But, I’m betting he was afraid, and if he votes, I’m betting that fear influences his vote.

I know fear can influence me and make me do things I regret or keeping me from doing things that I regret not doing.

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What about you? Do you let fear influence your decisions? Do you watch the news? If so, do you find it be full of fear-mongering?

What Common Household Item is Killing Your Children?

We’ll tell you, tonight at eight.

Except, if it really is killing my children, shouldn’t I get a news flash across my phone telling me what it is and how to get rid of it, much like an Amber Alert?

I have ignored traditional news media for years, getting most of my news from the Economist.   Yes, it’s a paid subscription and an expensive one. I’m fortunate that my company is willing to reimburse me for it. Still, it’s some of the best and most in-depth analysis I’ve seen. Positions are well thought out, and their research is impeccable.

For those of you shaking your heads thinking it’s an ultra-conservative news outlet, you may be surprised at how liberal many of their social views are. Why? Because allowing things like gay marriage, religious tolerance, and immigration are actually good for the economy.

Remember who is writing it.

They care about making economies prosper and the generation of wealth. In a recent piece, they actually call for allowing people age 16 and older to vote rather than 18.    Why? Because we need to teach this habit like any other. And people must vote or you undermine the very concept of democracy. It’s an interesting article. I recommend it.

As I’ve been entering the social media sphere because authors “must”, I started getting caught in the news cycle. The drama. The “end-of-the-world” mongering.

The fear.

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I decided to stop following people on Twitter or Facebook that post a lot of “news”. I stopped clicking on any and all links to news articles. I stopped looking at anything that remotely resembled click-bait.

Yes, I know a lot of things are going on right now, bad things, but the constant stress was making me crabby and interfering with my sleep.

If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking I’m a snowflake, here are six reasons why research says you should consider changing your news consumption habits.

 

1. It’s Here to Make Money, Not Inform

With the wave of “fake” news lately, this hardly needs explanation. But we need to remember that news doesn’t usually cover what’s important anyway. They’re looking for the “human” element, the element that sucks you in and gets you to keep watching or clicking.

If it bleeds it leads.

If a building burns to the ground, what do you think the media is going to focus on? The building. The people in the building. Injuries. Fatalities. All of which is relatively inexpensive to produce. They don’t actually have to dig to get to the guts of the story. Do they ever tell you why the building burned? Changes to the fire code that should be enacted to save those lives?

No, because those don’t get clicks.

Because of this emphasis on the dramatic, we focus on the wrong things, and those things are then overblown in our minds. We all fear terrorism, but no one thinks too much about chronic stress. Total US deaths, worldwide, due to terrorism from 2004-2014 was 112.  Think about that for a moment. 112 people in ten years. That’s 11.2 people, on average, per year.

How much news did it get?

But how many people die each year of heart attack? Stroke? Cancer? Yet, how much emphasis has any of this gotten?

Stress, on the other hand, affects 143M Americans and 81M are under extreme stress.    The causal connection between chronic disease and stress is growing .

So why don’t we hear more about this? Reducing stress is something we might actually have control over, and it can have a direct impact on our lives. Imagine if reducing stress could reduce the number of people with heart disease or cancer by 10% or even 1%.

The news doesn’t cover this because it doesn’t get clicks.

News is a for-profit organization. They are not here to inform. They are here to make money.

 

2. Doesn’t Really Matter to You

How many news stories have you watched or read in the last year? The last month?  What did you do because you read or watched it? What decision did it help you to make, particularly about anything of consequence? Did you become a better parent? A better spouse? Did you make a serious financial decision? Do something to improve your career?

I ask this is all seriousness. If it is meant to inform you, it should be doing so in a meaningful way. We’ve already established that it’s not really informing you. Rather, it’s telling you things to get you to tune in, and we should be challenging the value of tuning in.

I can honestly say consuming news did little to engender action from me. News stories didn’t even help me make a decision on the candidates I voted for. I got that from their stated positions on their websites.

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3. Teaches You Not to Think Too Hard

This article really says it all. News programming is designed to make you think you’re seeing both sides of a story and getting the low-down, but you’re not. Most of what we get are news bites, little pieces of information meant to fit into an allotted amount of time. Deep, complex subjects require time to digest. Truly difficult concepts can’t be understood in the five minutes of time they get.

We’ve all heard “climate change”, but how many of us have actually taken the time to understand what it is and why it’s happening? What are the macro effects? What does it truly mean to the planet and to us? (Give you a hint, the planet doesn’t care. It’s already survived numerous mass extinctions.) What are we really sacrificing by not dealing with it, and what would it really take to reverse it?

You see this superficiality with a lot of “news” reports.  They are interested in giving you bite-sized pieces, but nothing too meaty. They don’t make money informing, remember? They make money on you tuning in or clicking.

Yet, without this deeper level of understanding, you lose sight of the bigger picture. Events become singular and contained instead of part of the broader view. Hard to make truly informed decisions when you see a very small piece of the whole issue.

 

4. Seek Conforming Opinions

With the sheer volume of news out there, we no longer have to expose ourselves to ideas that don’t conform to ours. If we don’t want to believe in climate change, we can find plenty of articles denying it to fill our screen.

As Warren Buffet said, “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”

If this is true, then we’re really not seeking information or enlightenment. We simply want to be told that everyone already agrees with us. That we’re right.  That’s called confirmation bias, and it’s very detrimental.

It means you never hear the other side, you never have the chance to understand their way of thinking. You can’t find a compromise because why would you compromise when “everyone agrees with you?”

But what if you’re wrong? Even Albert Einstein was wrong on occasion.

 

5. Induces Stress 

News, particularly what’s splashed across our networks, triggers our  fight or flight response. The same stories that tend to get clicks, tend to activate this center.

When you hear about a family dying in a fire, you have a very different reaction than if you’re hearing about alternate routes to avoid a fire. That’s why so many of us felt panicked and twitchy after all of the 9/11 stories, particularly as we watched people, human beings, plummet from those upper stories.

That’s one image I will never, ever forget.

The “human” side of these stories release glucocorticoid  which has a whole slew of effects on your body. It’s the fight or flight response. And what does this constant fight or flight response bring? Remember that stress we were talking about and how we know it contributes to heart disease, stroke and cancer? Yeah, that. 

It’s like being constantly told there’s a monster under your bed, and knowing there is nothing you can do about it.

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6. Crushes Creativity

I’m not sure if news in general does this, or just bad news.  I won’t say this is an unbiased or researched article, because I couldn’t find any with hard facts, but it states what I’ve seen myself.

The more news I consume, the less creative I am. Or, perhaps, the less time I have for creativity.

Not sure, but I do know that switching off the news, even for a week, made it much easier to work on my novel. I completed as much in a week with it off as I had in three with it on. I felt more relaxed, more able to focus, and able to bring more of myself to my writing.

Why?

Not sure, but I figure the reduced fight-or-flight response is part of it. As is not allowing the news to snatch at my already divided attention. Of course, tuning out the world burning may not be ideal, but there is very little I, personally, can do for the suffering people in Syria other than donate to the White Hats.

 

Yet, despite the stress, lost creativity, and lack of information, we keep coming back to the news. Makes me think they’re in the same camp as social media. They’ve figured out how our brains work and how to keep us coming back for more. How to suck our precious time from us for profit.

I, for one, am done.

I will continue to read the Economist, and I will never know what household item is slowly killing my children until they send me an Amber Alert to my phone.

 

How about you? Do you watch the news? Do you get anything out of it? Does it inform your decisions? Has it ever affected your sleep or given you nightmares?