The Drudgery of Genius

How to fly a horseI’m traveling around Scotland lately, and being away from home and office routines has meant I have some time to read. Right now, I’m making my way through, “How To Fly a Horse,” by Keven Ashton. The subtitle is: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery.

I’m enjoying the heck out of this book, even though it’s not a romance–it’s not even fiction, but the author is concerned with certain fairy tales that most of us buy into early in life. These fairy tales contend that creativity happens when geniuses like Einstein and Mozart take long walks in the woods, and then the Good Fairy of Inspiration taps them on the shoulder with her magic wand, and gifts them with a Big Bright Idea.

better mouse trapWe believe, says Ashton, that the person with the better mousetrap is going to clean up on the stock market and be long and fondly remembered for their contribution.

We believe that two heads are better than one, and brainstorming will result in more ideas, and better ideas for how to tackle a problem than we can come up with on our own.

Turns out… not so much. Ashton cites one peer-reviewed, replicated study after another to show that everybody has the ability to create. Creativity does not rely on having a high IQ or on bolts from the blue; and rather than being lauded and celebrated, dyson vaccuumthe person with the better mousetrap is often resented and ridiculed. Ashton also demonstrates that brainstorming is a pretty non-productive way to tackle a problem. We generate more and better solutions (at least initially) working individually, NOT in a group.

People come with differing levels of ability certainly, but the factor Ashton points to that distinguishes those who contribute new ideas and inventions from those who do not is, for the most part, persistence in the face of doubt, and an ability to view setbacks or failed experiments as a source of insight.

James Dyson, who invented those spiffy, bagless vacuum cleaners, tried more than 5000 prototypes before he hit on a cost-effective model. Judah Folkman, who figured out that cutting

Judah Folkman, MD

Judah Folkman, MD

off a tumor’s blood supply can kill the tumor, labored for more than 30 years before his contribution was recognized. For most of that 30 years, he was ridiculed and disrespected by the surgery-chemo-radiation “experts,” whose treatments come with devastating side effects.

I’m getting a lot of inspiration from acornthis book, about the value of persistence and solitude, about the myth of a creative elite. Einstein and Mozart were geniuses in their fields (also complete doofs in other regards), but most of their achievements came from persistence and hard work.

I can persist, I can work hard. Whew!

When has your persistence in the face of adversity paid off? When have you wished you threw in the towel sooner? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of “How To Fly A Horse.”

From the Land of What If

cooSo here I am, in Scotland!!!

I’m so happy to be here, too! For a little while, I can leave the lawyering on the other side of the ocean (Yippee!), get away from my routines and some of my responsibilities, and go sniffing after new story ideas.

Travel is tiring, but it also wakes me up. Traffic moves in different patterns here, which means even in something as simple look rightas crossing the street, I have to be alert and look the “wrong” way, lest I get flattened. Because accents are thick and varied (lots of Eastern Europeans working at the hotels in Scotland), I have to listen to everything everybody says more carefully.

What are the rules on the trains for eating and drinking? Where are the handicapped seats and is it OK to sit in them if nobody needs them? Gads, which coin do you need to get into the loo at the jack nicklaustrain station? In Heathrow airport, I walked into the mens by accident, because I wan’t paying attention and the signs are different.

Walked out at about Warp seven, though the only guy I’d surprised was laughing at me as I did.

Being away from home gives me a chance to try on some things that aren’t possible at home. Last night I popped up to Dundee from Edinburgh to train_1618801chear a concert. I could go door to door from the hotel to concert hall–more than sixty miles–without sitting butt in automobile. Took the train and walked, which might be part of the explanation for why I see so few obese people here.

And as I stood around on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, I could try on this one too: Nobody here has a waverlygun they can carry around wherever they please. Nobody. Not the cops (except a few and in extraordinary circumstances), not the robbers. I can be stabbed or clobbered with a tire iron, but not shot, much less shot with a high powered rifle or semi-automatic weapon legally obtained by the owner. Do I feel more safe, or less, and why? Is the sense of community stronger or weaker? Interesting, and nowhere in America could I investigate those same realities.

YES voteThere are problems here. Scotland voted in September by a very narrow margin not to become independent, but the last minute promises made to ensure that outcome haven’t been kept. We hear talk of succession back home, but this was a national referendum that nearly, nearly passed, and probably will pass in the future.

US voter turnoutHow are the Brits dealing with that discussion? Why is Scotland’s voter turnout nearly 90 percent while we–who have twice the percentage of population living in poverty, far more elderly and children living in poverty, ghastly infant mortality statistics, far worse savings rates, and mediocre-at-best health care (France has the best)–can’t get out half those numbers for our by-elections? What is going on?

goodiesI wouldn’t ask these questions if I had stayed home. It’s a bad reflection on me, but I probably wouldn’t even THINK these questions. I’d putter around in my little life, writing my little stories, managing my little cases, and seldom consider a larger context.

So travel is broadening my horizons, and I’ve barely been here 72 hours. If you could travel anywhere, cost no object, logistics no object, where would you go, and why?

To one traveler–commenter!–I’ll send some Scottish goodies. (Might have to do some comparison shopping first, aye!)

 

 

Fear of Crashing

airplaneI am afraid to fly.

I am afraid to fly for reasons. Bad things happen to some airplanes and the people in them, though from a probability standpoint, those bad things aren’t very likely. Flying, is, in fact, the safest form of mass transportation.

I’ll tell myself that when I get on the airplane later this week, and hope it lands safely in Edinburgh. My fears aren’t irrational, though. This is not a fear that a ten-foot shape shifting alligator will crawl out of my potty pipes when I’m engrossed in Kirsten Callihan’s Soulbound.  (Writer’s imagination strikes again!)

Crockodile-Clipart_3The t-word aside (please don’t anybody say it or write it), pilots make mistakes. Malcolm Gladwell has a lovely essay on this topic, about how something as hard to see as cultural deference norms can bring down a plane, because the co-pilot won’t sass the pilot. A long time ago, I dated a guy who worked for the National Transportation Safety Board. He was afraid to fly, too.

Seems that many aircraft maintenance schedules were developed on the assumption that planes would fly mostly at 80 percent capacity. Nearly every flight is 100 percent full these

steamertrunksdays and has been for years, but the maintenance schedules haven’t been updated. Never say that major corporations would put profit for the shareholders and CEOs above the safety of employees and passengers.

 I’m scared, and when I’m scared I’m more likely to be snarky and mistrustful. I do realize, though, that part of my fear is not about the airplane, whose physics I understand well enough. Part of my fear is because in other situations–as a

sir richardvery young child, as a single woman, as an employee, as a student in the compulsory education system, as an employer–I’ve put my fate into other people’s hands and It Has Not Gone Well.

So when I pack for Scotland, I’ll be tempted to bring along those old fears. Might not have room for them, though, if I’m to bring Sir Richard and enough clean socks. Sir Richard will help me keep those fears at bay, as will the example of every romance hero and heroine I’ve ever read.

Often, to find our heart’s desire, we have to walk through fear, and usually our courage is rewarded or at least not penalized. We can live safe, earthbound lives, and for the most part, I’m hacastleppy doing that. But every once in a while, it’s good to soar… and land safely.

What are you afraid of? How do you cope when you can’t avoid it? To one commenter, I”ll send a set of my MacGregor Scottish Victorians on audio book–so you can listen to them on the plane.

 

Portable Home

unicornLater this month I’ll take off for a few weeks in Scotland. My plans are to hang out for a bit in Edinburgh, catch a Dougie MacLean concert (bucket list!), take a Gaelic short course, take a photography short course, see lots of countryside, and connect with some friends.

All lovely, lovely stuff! I hope to recharge the story idea well, rest, make new friends, sing, dance, learn, and get some perspective on my life–what should I be writing, what has worked writing-wise, where is the lawyer stuff in my plans?

I’m looking forward to this trip, it’s keeping me Ghiradelliefocused on finishing a happily ever after for Lady Susannah Haddonfield and the Hon. Mr. Willow Dorning. The upcoming travel is forcing me to get organized in terms of finances, and to tidy up some loose business ends.

And yet, travel is stressful. In Scotland, if you don’t look the “wrong” way before crossing the street, you can end up stepping off the curb into oncoming traffic. The money is different, and it takes me a while to get on my “Scottish” ears. Hotels are not home, and for much of the trip, I’ll be in the constant company of people (Introverts, represent!), and people I don’t know.

So I’ll pack a few portable pieces of home. First, I’ll take some solitude, because I thrive in solitude, and I need it to function. Fortunately, Scotland has a lot of this particularly commodity to offer. Second, I’ll take some Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares. jasmine green teaThese little 40-calories bliss bombs have seen me through many difficult, even dieting, days and until I get my tablet stash provisioned, they’ll be my emergency energy treats.

I’ll take my jasmine green tea, because this is probably my equivalent to a nerve tonic. One cup every few days soothes and cheers me, especially as a way to start the day. I’ll take my lavender sachets, because the scent alone settles my feathers and reminds me of home.

I’ll take my computer, and probably a pen and pad of paper, because tapping memos into the phone just doesn’t capture moments for me the way cursive
writing does, and because my computer is my writing office and my primary connection to loved ones and readers. I’ll wear my comfy socks, and probably bring a pillow case from home too.

tartan_450-130x215I’m bringing some good books–Julia Quinn’s “The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy” (signed to ME!!!!), Kirsten Callihan’s “Soulbound,” and Deanna Raybourn’s “Silent in the Grave.”

What am I forgetting? Or what do you keep around you–whether you’re at home, traveling, at the office–that comforts and grounds you? How do you keep a little bit of home with you all the time? What would you like me to bring back?

This week’s giveaway is a signed copy of Once Upon a Tartan, one of my favorite Scottish historical romances.

Spring Forward

dreary dayI’m looking out at a combination of sleet, rain, and snow. The ground is covered in white, and the temperatures rose above freezing exactly once in the past two weeks. I’ve often thought that much of enduring rough patches in life is a matter of having something to look forward to, and somebody to look forward to it with. Time to channel some Sound of Music and list some favorite things I’m looking forward to about Spring:

Spring-peeper-tree-frog-135081) Hearing peepers (which figure in Kiss Me Hello, by the way)

2) Seeing crocuses

3) The silence in the house after the heat stops running and before the AC starts

4) Robins and other song birds

robin5) Longer daylight

6) Going through the day without two pair of organic wool socks on my feet

7) The sun on my closed eyelids

8) Sleeping with the windows open

9) Taking walks somewhere other than the tread desk

cat-in-sun10) Waking up with the sun.

Your turn! To one commenter, I’ll send a spring bouquet.



Seeing in Silver

blue kittyIn many regards, my life has been solitary. I was a single mom from the moment of my daughter’s conception. I’ve owned my own law practice for more than twenty years, and except for the people who work for me, I’m the only attorney in my jurisdiction who does what I do. I mostly have my house to myself, and more often than not, when I travel, I travel alone.

Even if I’m touring in the UK with a group, I’m usually sitting by myself for much of the day, walking by myself, and rooming by myself. I’m happy this way. While I enjoy most people, being around others drains me of energy, which is simply the definition of an introvert. Solitude recharges me.

rose croppedOne of the by-products of this much self-determination is that when I get down or daunted, there’s nobody on hand to cheer me up, or even to distract me by throwing a bigger pout than I have going. (My siblings are married, you’ll recall.) If I get stuck in a ditch, I have to tow myself out. I know this is true of many people who live in full houses, too.

I expect those same people share with me a willingness to look for silver linings. After I’ve groused and grumbled and shaken my fist at the sky, I often come around to seeing if not a bright side, then a constructive side.

candlesAs I write this, the old winter storm is raging. I keep a three-gallon bucket of water on the living room hearth for the dogs. When I got up this morning, that water had a crust of ice on it, and because the cat door had blown open, snow was collecting on my carpet. I’d let the wood stove go out to conserve wood, and thus I could see my breath in the living room.

woodstoveLovely! First cheering thought: I can use this in a book! Imagine how typical this would have been in days of yore, when somebody might have forgotten to bank the coals, or the bedrooms were closed off from lit fires to keep the rest of the house warm.

Second cheering thought: When it’s winter storming, we stay home, and thus spread fewer pathogens, and this cold snap will do wonders to keep the bug populations in check–we all know about me and bugs, right?

Third cheering thought: Not like I ever want to do anything but stay home and write anyway!

Fourth cheering thought: Perfect day to send all that cardboard I’ve been saving for kindling up the old chimney. Take the chill off in a hurry and reduce landfill waste.

Fifth cheering thought: It’s a potpourri day, for sure. I’ll toss some of that essential oil of lavender into the steamer pot. Love me some lavender.

lap-catI could go on, but that’s enough to provide a sense of my internal patter. The less I’m on social media hearing other people rant, the more I’m Winnie-the-Poohing my way through life’s little ups and downs, the happier I am.

When you land in a ditch, how do you get out? Friends? Family? Time alone? A little of all three? Music? Books? Flowers? To one commenter, I’ll send Neil Oliver’s “History of Scotland.” (Because Scotland knows a few things about climbing out of ditches.)

 

My first, last, and forever Valentine

chocolate valentineLast week I wrote about my brother Dick, who is the person in the family with whom I share a love of animals, a love of the outdoors, and a need to be my own boss. This week, I want to acknowledge my dad, who at age ninety-four remains the most important guy in my life. (Sorry, Westhaven.)

Stuey is from the generation that knew how to work hard and drink hard, but not always how to put a name to what he was feeling. His parents divorced before it was popular, and his reaction was to insist that his own domestic situation be stable and tranquil. Ha. No marriage that produces seven children (starting off with twin boys), will be tranquil, but I never EVER for an instant entertained the fear that my parents would split up.

10_Patton_FHe supported his wife and seven kids, single-handedly providing the necessities for all of us, despite migraine headaches, university politics, and my mom’s generous streak. All of his children have college degrees, in large part because he taught at a university that gave a tuition discount to faculty dependents. He was a keen and creative researcher, and would have made more money outside academia, but he wanted his children to have an education.

He came home at the end of the day, and ate dinner with us every night. For us kids to be home to eat dinner at 6 pm was a Starfleet directive, and Dad walked the talk. Not all parents do.

10_Patton_BHe could be silly. I love this about my father. He can still flirt with my mother, delight in a stray tomcat singing to the lady cats, or enjoy Joann Castle playing boogie-woogie piano on a Lawrence Welk re-run. He and his friend from Radnor High School, Ben Snyder, had a running cribbage tournament for more than fifty years, and to hear those two teasing each other (“Read ‘em and weep, fella! Been nice knowing ya.”) was a revelation to me as a kid. What do you know, grown ups can have fun?!

In the general case, Dad was serious, and he had a temper, though his sons caught the brunt of it more than his daughters. I came to understand that Dad also had a tender heart, though he hid that from us, and often from himself. I once saw him tear up to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway,” but I never heard Dad complain about all the people depending on him.

mount nittanyDad has handed me some of the most timely and comforting advice I’ve ever heard. He told me more than once, “You don’t want to be around people who don’t want to be around you.” He pointed out to me when I was dithering at a crossroads, sometimes I could make a choice based on what I knew for sure I did NOT want to see happen. Once when I was at daggers drawn with my mom, Dad didn’t exactly break parental ranks, but he intimated the problem might not all be me, and to give it some time.

milk bookNow, Stuey has congestive heart failure, about which he does not care. I suspect of all the gifts he’s given me, this dignified dismissal of death will be among the most useful. His life speaks for itself, and, scientist that he is, he’s interested in seeing what comes next, when he is, as he put it, “Subsumed into the general wonderfulness.”

I will be without my first, last and forever Valentine then, but I will never be without his love, nor he without mine.

Do you have a first, last and forever Valentine? Did your dad get some important things right? To one commenter, I’ll send that Scottish Comforts basket.

 

Play On!

brother dick (2)I notice two things about the guy on the right. First, he’s dressed kinda funny. Second, he’s happy. This is my brother Dick, a PhD nutritionist who’s consulted on five continents, worked for Fortune 100s and many foreign governments, given scholarly talks all over the world, and…. played dress up since he was a kid.

Dick is blessed with a big capacity for passion, whether he aims it at work or play. Here he’s in his Mountain Man attire, meaning everything he’s wearing he a) made himself, and b) made with materials and tools available to a hunter/trapper/explorer in the American West prior to 1840.

For decades, Dick has organized and participated in “rides,” periods of days or weeks when he and his buddies re-enact the life of mountain

Dr. Patton, consulting in Ireland.

Dr. Patton, consulting in Ireland.

men (and women), disappearing into the wilderness to make do, get tired and dirty, see magnificent scenery and (I suspect) drink firewater. They’re playing in other words, with the exuberance and focus of fortunate adults.

I’m getting happier as I age, and I think most people do. Why should this be, as our bodies and minds slow down, we come closer to death, our options shrink, and our losses accumulate?

Dr. Patton, MFH (Master of Fun and Happiness)

Dr. Patton, MFH (Master of Fun and Happiness)

I think part of the joy of maturation is that we develop the time, skill and determination to play again. Some of us are lucky to play as my brother Dick does, with tons of planning and preparation, friends of long standing, and a breathtaking intensity. Others are more comfortable with a monthly bowling night.

The hallmarks of play are that we do the activity for the sheer joy of it, not to accomplish a goal, and the benefits are nearly limitless. Enhanced creativity, stress reduction, better relationships, increased problem-solving ability, greater energy, greater resistance to disease… Play is such wonderful stuff that savvy employers build it into the work place, and it benefits EVERY aspect of childhood development.

This tends to get lost in our discussions about the educational system, but the research is clear: Kids need recess (I suspect teachers do too!).

Dr. Patton, world renowned animal nutritionist, pictured with colleagues

Dr. Patton, world renowned animal nutritionist, pictured with colleagues

I’ve been anxious lately, in a pattern of all work, too much time reading about death and destruction on Facebook (which is why you’ll see me less there), and not enough play. I relax–with a book, with a massage, with solitaire on the tread desk–but I need to play. I play in Scotland, wandering around being amazed and happy, trying new things, seeing new sights, but Scotland is far away and expensive.

Still, this is part of the reason I want to take a bunch of writers and readers to Scotland–to PLAY. Last week, many of us said clutter is a pea under the mattress of our happiness, and I wished we could get together, to talk books, to haul junk to a roll off dumpster, enjoy some good food, and laugh.

two_kittens_from_behindIf you could set up a play date for yourself, maybe not entirely for fun, but mostly for fun, how would you spend the day? Who would your playmates be (if anybody), and what would you love about the day?

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

Now See Here

eve_450-129x215So much about being an author is sheer wonderfulness. When I write a story, I find pieces of myself I might have orphaned without knowing it. That scene where Lady Eve and the Duke are at the back of the church, and she’s emotionally clobbering His Grace, telling him how much he means to her? Cried my little eyes out writing that, and realized that as a woman with no sons, no husband, no brothers near by, and no son in law (yet), my father is still the main man in my life, even though he hasn’t set foot in my house for decades and sometimes can’t recall what day it is.

Writing gives me gifts like that.

Gabriel

Gabriel

Writing gives me great friends, intelligent, intuitive, courageous and kind people among my READERS (THAT’S YOU), and among the other writers.

Writing allows me to make a living and yet still have great chunks of solitude–how I love that!

But there are downsides, and one of them is searching for cover art. You’d think pouring over thousands of images of “portrait attractive man,” at the stock photos sites would be like taking five consecutive meals from the dessert buffet… but try it some time. Google “stock photo images” and you’ll come up with the same three or four sites, and I vow and declare they haven’t rotated inventory under the search tags, “portrait handsome man,” for years.

Andrew

Andrew

I see good looking young fellows devoid of body hair–I’m not keen on this. The guys will do just fine as God made them, as far as I’m concerned. The last thing I want is for the objectification and sexualization that has plagued women for centuries to be inflicted on the guys BY THE WOMEN. I see a guy with a gorgeous smile flashing it in one image, but grabbing his parts in twelve others. Well, parts are all very interesting, but are they TWELVE TIMES more interesting than a winning smile? Than a tender gaze?

I’ve tended to save the cover stock exercise for the end of the day, when I’m finishing up the last mile or so on the tread desk. I didn’t realize how much I disliked the task until I was given a different assignment.

Gareth

Gareth

For upcoming refreshments to the website, I’ve been tasked with finding images of flowers that flourish in the UK. My mood at the end of these searches is completely different. Looking at lavender, lily of the valley, tulips, rhododendrons, roses (pink, white and red ones), and pansies left me feeling sweet and relaxed.

Looking at pics of carefully sculpted, hairless, handsome young fellers trying to look alluring left me tired, conflicted, and bored.

So… I’ve kept fresh flowers on my kitchen counter, and I look at them frequently. Bright colors, light scents, no fancy arrangements. I know flowers make me happy, but I hadn’t realized how happy, or photo (2)how simply looking at them can turn my mood switch.

What do you keep around you that turns your mood switch? Is it visual? Is it aural? Is it a fragrance? All of the above? What do you have in your environment that you don’t enjoy and can you get rid of it?

To one commenter, I’ll send flowers!

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.”