Joy Is Mine

joysAs I was maundering about on about the nature of addiction, dead rats, and social change, the quote to the right caught my eye. It’s attributed to Rita Schiano, and this week, I’m taking her advice.

Ten things I love about my life (my daughter and my family goes at the top of the list, of course, so here are ten OTHER things):

1) My writer job. I LOVE using my imagination to create tales of love and courage triumphing over fear and hurt. THAT is the human narrative I believe in, and I get paid to sing it.

dante heather rainbow2) My readers. Writing has put me in touch with some of the most wondrous, delightful, thoughtful, kind, interesting people in the world, and I would never have met you otherwise.

3) My animal friends. They are my companions, a significant source of amusement and affection, a source of security. They’re also beautiful, generous and warm. They’ve given me a way to stay connected to my daughter, even to this day, even when she and I are living 1600 miles apart.

4) My schedule. For the most part, I’m the boss of me. I get to organize my days and evenings for maximum efficiency, and that is SUCH a delight.

UK Spring of 2011 0065) Where I live. Yes, I’d like to spend more time in Scotland, but my part of Maryland is beautiful, has delightful seasons, big trees, plenty of water, and even a huge woods ten minutes away from my door. This is… wealth beyond measure, to be within sight of the woods and living where I can plant all the flowers I want.

6) Writin’ buddies. If I’d known how wonderful the romance author community is, I would have started writing 25 years sooner. The most good-humored, creative, compassionate people you’d ever want to meet, and their Prime Directive is, “You will never hurt your career by helping another author.”

highland cow7) The freedom to travel, especially to the UK, where many of my books take place. That I have the means, the health, and the time to pick up and go is such a gift. I’m also free to visit my big and widely scattered family (and that nephew in Sweden had better be on the lookout for me, too).

8) Well of course my health brings me joy. I’m not going to win any iron woman competitions, but I’m healthy enough to do what I love, and I’m healthier than I was a year ago.

Voltaire9) I love language. I love that we can connect with each other through words, written and spoken, and that through language we can even communicate with people long gone or very far away.

10) A good night’s sleep. I’m not as accomplished at these as I once was, but the bliss of laying my head on my cat on the bedown pillow, in my own beddy-bye, with my own Cosmo kit-teh purring at my side is profound.

Your turn… talk about your joys! To three commenters, I’ll send an audio version of “Darius: Lord of Pleasure.”

 

All Together Now

beagle-behind-barsNot long ago, somebody reminded me that an abuser’s strongest weapon is not his (or her) fists and not harsh words. The tactic every abuser can use with devastating results is simply to isolate the abused.

The effects of being pushed off in a corner by yourself are appallingly negative and long-lasting. You doubt your own judgment, you doubt your value, you doubt dog started itthat things can change, and begin to see yourself as a victim, even if the only thing keeping you from associating with other people is a threat of disapproval. When you’re prevented from being around other people who approve of you, your spirit dims, and depression beckons. This is part of the reason why locking up so much of our population hasn’t made us any safer, but that’s another discussion.

Isolation has been on my mind as I’ve decided to pull back from some of my social media associations.

fightingIn my FB feed in particular, I’m seeing some hateful, nasty stuff. Part of me wants to counter-comment, to splatter links all over those posts, to get up on my hind-lawyer-legs and yeah-but the nasty people into being nicer. What entity claiming to be a Deity of any stripe wants us hatin’ on each other, fer cryin’ inna bucket?

CuddleI worry about why the media wants us to feel isolated and powerless, about who thinks they’ll step into the void created by fear and skewed journalism. “Knock it off,” I want to say. “Stop the self-interested spinning, ALL ya’ll.”

But a rant from me (or you, or you) won’t work. Once fear gets hold of us, we’re very hard to reach. We isolate ourselves, clinging to those who fear what we fear, and agree to hate what we hate. We get cozy with our real or imagined victimhood, and burn up all our courage just looking for more news stories to scare ourselves with.

world peaceWell, pooey on that. I believe in love. I believe love can inspire us to grow in ways we never dreamed we’d be brave enough to grow. I will keep writing the books that say what I believe to be true, and I will try to model the values I hope will keep us all connected:

Respect,  particularly as it relates to open-minded and open-hearted listening.

Kindness, for everybody, not simply toward the people I like. We’re all scared and tired, and in need of compassion.

Patience, because we didn’t get into the present swamp overnight, and we’ll not win free of it easily either.

Darius use this oneHonor, because sometimes I will get it wrong, offend, step on toes, and I need to take responsibility for my mis-steps.

I will delete posts that try to scare me out of my ability to reason for myself, or that offend my sense of decency. Other than that, I believe in love. So that’s how I’ll try to act.

How to you keep the values that sustain you front and center? Do you feel like they’re under attack, and what would make you feel less besieged?

To two commenters, I’ll send the new AUDIO version of Darius: Lord of Pleasure.

 

 

How sad, though, to neglect the bonds of love and good feeling, in favor of the utilitarian

The Subjective Truth

wolf-doveAuthors are often asked what book has influenced them most, and the reply usually gives a nod to Kathleen Woodiwiss, Judith McNaught, or a more recent bestseller. My reply is, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Dr. Thomas Kuhn, Ph.d. Despite its hifalutin’ title, this is a small, very readable history of science book, written by a guy who was interested in the difference between what’s good science, and what’s funded, successful, accepted science. The book came out in 1962 and caused quite a rumpus.

My dad’s a scientist, and like most of his kind, wants to believe that if you come up with a clever, elegant experimental question (how do we cure heart disease, for example), you test it with sound experimental trials, you get results that can be repeated by others, and you can write up what you’ve proven, then no matter how radical your findings, you will be published, supported and your research respected.

flame and the flowerScience is rational–right? Science supports objective truths–right? That’s why we call it science–right?

Wrong. Kuhn looked at the big changes in science throughout history, like when Galileo came up with a version of the solar system that had the planets revolving around the sun, not everything revolving around earth. Galileo was right, the Egyptian system was wrong and also not doing a good job of explaining things any more (comets, for example), but Galileo’s system threatened the version of reality that put earth at the center of the universe. He was given the choice to recant or die. He recanted.

Kuhn drew several conclusions. First, it doesn’t matter how good your science is, how much betteGalileo use quoter it explains observed phenomenon. If your findings fly in the face of established interests, truth takes a back seat until society catches up to the insights you’ve found. He coined the term “paradigm shift” for this. Second, the big breakthroughs tend to come from people who are new to the field, or working outside the fields in which they were educated. Those folks have no vested interested in the status quo, but they also don’t have a lot of preconceived notions.

When I wrote The Heir, I had no idea you can’t get a book of more than 100,000 words published. It’s 113,000 words and was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. I was a debut author, I didn’t know any better. Beginner’s luck, or freedom from accepted limitations?

Structure-of-scientific-revolutions-1st-ed-pbWhat I take from Kuhn’s findings are several conclusions. First, doubt everything that’s handed to me as “we’ve always done it that way,” wisdom. Second, treasure my ignorance–or innocence–as a source of insight and progress. Third, treasure the people at the margins, the ones who are passionate about their silly ideas, who won’t stop talking about solar cars (GM started buying solar car patents in the early 1980s) or green roofs, because from them might come the advancement of us all. (And if you want to reverse your heart disease, you might want to read this.)

What book has stuck with you across the years, made you think, or changed how you view life? To three commenters, I’ll send a copy of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Happy–or something–New Year

peace-and-quiet-SSI hope everybody had lovely holidays, whatever that means for you. For me it was peace and quiet, lots of writing, some time with friends, and some time to think. In my holiday felicitations, I wished people a safe, joyous, happy, healthy, prosperous, and possibly nutritious new year.

But that list isn’t complete. I also wish you a meaningful new year.

2013-0510-mother-theresaTurns out, happiness and meaning are not necessarily joined at the hip, though you’d think they were. You’d think a life that makes a difference for others, that puts our highest goals and most noble aspirations into action would make us happy. For most of us, nope. Meaningful effort is hard, and while rewarding, doesn’t necessarily make us happy-happy. Might make us feel alive, connected, important, honorable or empowered… but sheer, giggly, joyous happy…. nuh-uh.

Most of us grasp this intuitively. Mother Theresa did a lot for a lot of people, raised awareness of dire poverty, served as a role model. Nelson Mandela lead a movement for equality and racial justice while spending decades in prison. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saw the mountaintop, gave speeches that still inspire us–and gave his life.

STO_OB056009puppies.jpgTheir lives were heroic, and hard. Really hard. Scary hard. Life-on-the-line hard. I’m not suggesting you live in the slums of Calcutta, spend decades in prison, or risk death to address social injustice (unless that’s your preference). For right now, just pick something that’s meaningful to you–literacy, homelessness, world hunger, stray cats, public art, clean air, stray teenagers–and do something about it.

green_wall_feature_09Giving money is nice, but you will feel a greater impact if you DO something. Adopt a cat, write to your legislators, plant a tree, take a box of clothes to Goodwill, bring vegan donuts to the office, babysit for the overwhelmed mom at church. The result will be a warm fuzzy, empowered sense of having made a difference, and enough small differences can make a very great difference indeed.

tiny-house-floor-plans-front-cover-300x450And we need that warm fuzzy. It’s proof that the media–who seem to have nothing better to do than emphasize all that’s wrong, sad, and frightening–doesn’t have the whole story. Proof that we each make a difference. Proof that we’re still a species capable of hope and kindness. We need this too, as individuals, as families, as communities and a society.

So in addition to all that other good stuff–health, safety, happiness, good food and enough of it, loving friends and family–I wish you a little meaning.

When you were growing up, did anybody around you evidence  belief in a cause? How did you know it? If you could give one day to any cause, what would it be?

To three commenters, I’ll send signed copies of Tuesday’s release, “A Single Kiss.”

 

 

Write On

Samuel_PepysLately I’ve been reading Samuel Pepys’s diary. He was an interesting, learned, curious, and often naughty fellow (by our standards, not by the standards of his day) who lived from 1633 to 1703. His diary provides one of the most important records of London life in the 1660s. Lest you think this was a dull time, Charles II had just been recalled from exile to re-establish the English monarchy after Cromwell’s “Protectorate” decade. Theaters for the first time had women playing female parts, literature and music flowered, and fun was back in fashion.

Darcy-writing-at-desk-400x260Though all was not frivolity. London was visited by a plague epidemic in 1665 (the last major one before the rats became immune to the disease), and endured the Great London Fire of 1666. Then there was the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which Pepys, as an administrator of the Royal Navy, watched with keen interest.

jane-writesWhat strikes me about this guy’s life is his great energy and enthusiasm for everything around him. Pretty women, good food, interesting politics, companions boring and delightful, pleasant gardens… he writes about it all honestly and energetically. He was not a well man, being plagued with painful kidney stones throughout his life, and losing significant eyesight before age forty. And yet, his diary is full of energy and optimism.

austen bench writingTurns out old Mr. Pepys might have been onto something profound. Expressing ourselves through writing is powerfully good for us. Regular self-expressive writing, even in small doses, can reduce stress, reduce symptoms of depression, improve our immune functioning, and–this really got my attention–help us heal wounds more quickly.

darcyletter-writingTo quote the article linked above: “People with asthma who write have fewer attacks than people who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.”

why aren't you writingYou might think, “But I’m not much of a writer, words aren’t my thing.” Doesn’t matter. What matters is getting down on paper (or screen) what’s going on with you, especially the tough stuff. When we write about it, we take a minute to see the picture instead of feeling trapped inside of it. A few moments of scribbling about our perspective, and we’re reaping big benefits.

bleedSo as we come up to the winter holidays, with the New Year right behind them, would you consider getting yourself a journal, or creating a journal document on your computer? Your life is interesting, and worth ruminating on. You will enjoy reading those reflections in years to come (well, mostly), and you’ll be healthier and happier for your jottings.

This will be my last blog post for the year, and I’ll resume posting on January 4. With that in mind, the give away will be a $100 Amex gift card. The question is… if you had to write about one incident from your life for people to read about 350 years from now, what would it be and why?

Forever Beginning

Carol Dweck is a Stanford researcher who has looked long and hard at the differences between students who are taught with an attitude of “we’re all learning all the time,” versus an attitude of “here’s your grade, and it’s a reflection of your inherent aptitude for this subject.” She’s pretty much proven that in the elementary classroom at least, mindset is EVERYTHING. (For a TED Talk on her work, click here.)

LearnChildren who think their abilities are fixed give up on hard material much faster than children who are taught with an attitude of endless possibilities. This is true even when the children objectively test as quite bright. Your smarts apparently don’t matter as much as your attitude toward your ignorance does.

In the sciences, big discoveries are usually made by people who are either at the beginning of their careers, or by people working outside the field they were educated in. Not knowing where the limits are can result in enormous creativity and brilliant insights.

double helixMy ignorance–or maybe we should call it innocence–has often been my best asset. I didn’t know you’re not supposed to write twenty manuscripts before you attempt to find a publisher. Conventional wisdom says stockpiling manuscripts is dumb, because what if you’re writing a product that nobody wants? Then you’ve made the same mistake twenty times over.

Erm…. I didn’t know that. As a consequence, I had a lot more product to offer an editor than most other hopeful authors do, and when I did start looking for a publisher, I found one without too much trouble. I didn’t know you need a critique group (still don’t have one), and I probably had four books on the shelf before I came across the notion of “word count goals.” Why would I need goals for something I look forward to doing every chance I get?

vatican staircaseWhen I was in college, I wanted to get degrees in both music history and political science. Nobody in the School of Music had ever pursued two degrees at once, I just went and did it, double-degreed rather than double majored. Why not? In junior high (back when there was such a thing), I didn’t realize no girl in my entire country had EVER taken shop before. I just put it on my schedule, and became the first. Why not?

Strawberry conchOnce you’ve had a taste of coloring outside the lines, the lines begin to fade, and you get better at seeing the whole world as your coloring book. There’s no reason on earth why somebody who has the time and inclination shouldn’t pick up two college degrees at once, and every reason why girls who will rely on automobiles for transportation should learn the theory of the four cycle engine.

Was there a time when you either didn’t know the conventional wisdom, or disregarded the rules, and ended up ahead for it? A time when you wished you had? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amex gift card.

 

 

 

The Prime Directive

starship_enterprise_2I’m not a Trekkie, but I did watch a number of the early episodes of “Star Trek,” and have since appreciated the show’s forward thinking treatment of a lot of sociological  issues.

So there’s the Enterprise, boldly going all over the place, beyond the reach of Star Fleet’s whiz bang communication gadgets. Never fear, though, because our friends have guidance from Star Fleet available at all times in the form of Star Fleet Directives, and even–somebody was thinking ahead–a Prime Directive, also known as General Order No. 1 or the Non-interference Directive.

better than kirkIn other words, Captain Kirk (I’m more of a Picard fan myself) and his merry band were not to interfere with the development of the civilizations they contacted. The interesting notion to me is that there was one, tippy-top, tie-breaker rule: Do not mess with the LOCALS.

Clans have mottoes, the US Constitution has a Supremacy Clause, and most faith traditions have a short list of do’s and don’t somewhere in their catechism. Often a romance novel hero or heroine has latched onto what they hope will be the last big rule they’ll ever have to memorize, and that rule ends up outliving its usefulness.

captive_295w-274x450Gilly, from The Captive, was certain that violence did nothing to solve problems. Not one, blessed, blasted, perishing thing… until her loved ones were threatened. Oopsie!

Hannah, in The MacGregor’s Lady had organized her life around protecting her loves ones and thought that’s the only path she could honorably walk. Then she fell in love with Asher, and saw that selfless sacrifice can veer into enabling. Oopsie!

Valentine Windham had nothing in common with his stubborn, close-minded, self-righteous father. Not the smallest, coincidental iota of common ground for the shortest instant, you hear me? Because he didn’t. Ever…. Oopsie!

trutful gentle fearlessThese characters have to switch that rule they put in the top slot. Gilly will never be a fan of deadly force, but her prime directive becomes “Don’t mess with the people I love or you’ll have ME to deal with.” Hannah learns to do unto herself as she’d do unto others. Valentine… well, he learns to see with his love rather than with his fears, even when looking in the mirror.

They don’t give up on the notion of a prime direction, they just trade up (after 363 pages of struggle and having it darn near cost them True Love) when the one they have no longer works. Maybe this is human nature, to want one be kind alwaysoverarching rule to fall back on.

I have such a rule: Be kind and tell the truth. That right there is enough of a challenge to keep me busy day in and day out.

Do you have a prime directive? Have you ever had to turn it in for a newer model? Who handed you this rule and how well did they live by it?

To one commenter, a $50 Amex gift card.

To Leave or Not to Leave

Home is my personal “land of the fairies,” where I lose track of time, and even of what

Needs a few cats...

Needs a few cats…

day it is. I’ll often wake up and think, “I’m not sure whether it’s Saturday or Sunday. How lovely! But I still have 147 pages of revisions to do for Tremaine and Nita, and when did I become so addicted to the verb ‘to sport?’ I should do a global search. Lordy, I hope it’s Saturday, because the manuscript is due Monday…”

Happy thoughts. I can hear Winnie the Pooh singing, “Rum Tum Tiddle Dum, Rum Tum Tiddle Deeeee” as I pother around in my writing world.

Winnie-the-Pooh-HumBut I’ve learned that I need to get out, to drop in on my readers via social media, to write this blog, to occasionally meet a real, live, human friend in person for a bowl of soup, or a hot chocolate. In the land of Today is Tuesday, I am refueled in a way that home, with all its wonders, can’t do for me.

grow tubbyI’ve also learned that I need to move, physically, to GET OUT OF THE CHAIR, though everything in me rebels at the very notion. I’m happy when I sit in my writing chair, rum-tum-tiddle-dumming away. Happy, do you hear me? I’m also significantly overweight, and at risk for early Alzheimers.

So I get out of the chair, even if it’s only to toddle for a bit at the treadmill desk. I hate every minute of that exercise, but I will hate more being unable to recall my daughter’s name.

day without a friendAnother lesson that I know, though I must relearn it often, is that I have a tendency to hang on too long to relationships that aren’t working. I suspect the day job falls into this category–twenty years of child abuse law is enough. I’ve kept other jobs too long, kept relationships too long, and kept congregational affiliations for too long. “Too long,” means I’m spending way too much of myself on a situation that’s not giving enough, and I’m the only person to whom this imbalance matters.

Me, at Glencoe in Scotland, proving that I do Get Out occasionally...

Me, at Glencoe in Scotland, proving that I do Get Out occasionally…

I’m getting better about this, though, and what has helped is an uncomfortable insight: I want to be loved tenaciously. I want to be worthy of other people’s committed devotion, even when I’m lost in the land of Rum Tum Tiddle Dum, even when I’m obsessing over the verb ‘to sport,’ as if that really matters. I want what I’m giving away.

In my reluctance to cut loose what’s not working, I have my priorities inside out. I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on.” I need to move on more readily than I do, not because I’m strong, but because that’s the way to be the most honorable in my regard for myself.

What lessons or decision points seem to circle your life? Do the upcoming holidays present any quizzes or tests that you intend to face differently this year? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amex gift card.

The Invisible Year

Lonely teddy bearBefore a household can be licensed to accept foster children, the parents must complete hours and hours of training. They learn about foster care law, about the physical requirements for a foster home, and how the child welfare system works. Not until they’ve had a few children come and go, or possibly come and be adopted, do the foster parents pick up on the child’s invisible year.

bear-cub-playing-with-teddy-bear-bigIf a child who has seemed to make a good adjustment to the home starts running into inexplicable troubles, I’ll ask the foster parent, “When was the child originally removed from Mom or Dad?” Often, we’re coming up on the anniversary of the day when the child was taken from all he or she knew–for better or for worse–and placed with strangers, perhaps never to go home again. Maybe we’re coming up on the time of year when Mom or Dad was sent to prison, and the child hasn’t seen that parent since.

polar bear and cubOr the day approaches when a sibling, formerly place with the child, went off to a psychiatric facility. Even with children too young to know how a calendar works, these milestones can create annual behavioral and emotional problems.

I’m no different. I’ve concluded I perk up in the fall because I sleep better in cooler weather, but it’s also the case that when I was five, six, eight and eleven, my entire summer was spent away from familiar places and people. My dad did visiting professor schticks during those summers, and thus mom and the kids schlepped along to places with very little for the kids to do except watch the summer slip by and miss friends.

many cubsMaybe I perk up in the fall because some part of me still associates fall with “when I get home, my very favorite place to be in the whole world, and away from this wasteland of my father’s choosing.”

I raise this topic as the winter holidays approach. Is there any one among us who doesn’t have some powerful memories of the holidays, or the dark days, or cold days? One friend lost her husband holiday bearwithout warning shortly before Christmas. I can’t imagine, even twenty years from now, that December won’t occasion some very mixed feelings for her.

The heck of it is, for me, I’m often unaware of the landmines buried in the calendar. My daughter was born in early February. Three days of induced labor, followed by more fatigue and anxiety than I knew I could manage, and every year… I get a little testy when everybody else is ordering flowers and picking up their fave dark chocolate assortment. Then I’ll realize I need to get Beloved Offspring a card (at least), and some crankiness, inability to focus, and weepiness abruptly makes sense–in hindsight. I’ve had twenty-five years to pick up on this pattern, and I can still be surprised by it.

pooh and eyore at ChristmasSeparations–death, divorce, children disappearing to college–and traumas can pepper the year with quagmires we don’t see until we’re stepping in them. Similarly, we’re uplifted by the robins or daffodils, though their arrival coincides with when we began dating our present spouse, or when we conceived a long-desired first baby.

The year is divided into months, but it’s also divided into memories. Are there any dates or times of year that have particular significance for you? Any with associations that catch you by surprise? If you were going to add a personal holiday to the year, what day would you choose, and why?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amex gift card.

 

A Christmas Wish

blog world peace One of the many things I like about the holiday season is that we’re encouraged to think of our unmet needs or dearest wishes. Usually the prompt is innocuous, “So what’s on your Christmas list?” But how often are any of us asked what we really, truly want at any other time of year?

If you’re like me, your usual response to that question goes one of two ways. I want peace, prosperity and good health for everybody—I do mean EVERYBODY.

But if you catch me in a more practical moment (though I think world peace is very practical), I’ll probably tell you I’d love a pair of nice, warm organic wool socks, or that anything small, handmade and pretty will blog organic socksalways be welcome in my home. Sachets, soaps, dried flowers, cottage-decoration stuff gladdens my heart when I think of the person who made it or gave it to me.

As an author, my version of world peace and heart-made crafts is slightly different. I want my books to find their way into hands and hearts that will love them, and I want my books to stay away from the people who will be disappointed with them or upset by them. If that means I have fewer sales, then I’m happy, as long as the readers are happy.

blog Taz tieThere’s a catch with that Christmas question, though. When somebody asks, “So what do you want for Christmas?” You will get another Looney Tunes tie unless you say what you really, honestly, truly want. So here’s an author’s Christmas list, in case you’re ever wondering what an author–any author–would like during the season of appreciation and goodwill.

If you like a book, talk about it. Share it, lend it, recommend it, post about it on social media. Review it if that’s your inclination, drop the author an appreciative note. Let the librarians and book store owners know the book is by one of your keeper authors. Sign up for the author’s newsletter, and connect with him or her on social media. That’s at least ten gifts you can give your favorite authors that cost you nothing, and will mean the world to them.

blog wish listReaders are bright people. They know a recommendation from a friend or family member when it comes to books is likely to be a better match for them than even the much respected Amazon also-boughts. The author has to write an excellent book, but by and large, the readers are the ones who find the right hands for those books.

Lady Needs coverI feel selfish for putting this in a post, because I’m abundantly blessed with lovely readers and a big store of organic wool socks. (World peace might take a while, I get that.) But as somebody pointed out to me recently, sometimes, to have your heart’s desire, you MUST ASK FOR IT.

So I’ve made my list, and taped it on the fridge for anybody to see. What’s on your list that’s hard to ask for, or that might take a while?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amex gift card. Christmas IS coming, so is the cold weather, the heating bills, the holiday food bills…