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.”

 

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?