Essays, general essay

Post Re-Visit: Born on July 4

fireworks[This is actual a re-post I wrote two years ago, but since today actually is July 4 and trust me, nothing’s changed, I thought why not re-post it again. Enjoy and have a happy Independence Day.]

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle, do or die;

A real live nephew niece of my Uncle Sam,

Born on the Fourth of July.

(George M. Cohan)

Yeah – that’s my theme song, at least this time of year. I actually hesitated to even mention my birthday because, frankly, I’ve already gotten my share of good wishes from the Facebook crowd. But then my mother said I needed to write about it.

Well, it is both a blessing and a curse to have a birthday on a major holiday. It can be kind of cool and distinctive to be born on July 4. I have never worked or gone to school on my birthday. People always grin when they hear what day my birthday is.

But there are also some significant downsides. Like, birthday parties. Ever try to do a princess party in red, white and blue? I did get the Cinderella cake when I turned 6 (or was if 5?), but the majority of the cakes and decorations were fireworks, flags and buntings. Mom said there wasn’t much else available.

Worse yet, while my school mates and friends could have their birthday parties on their actual birthdays, I never got to. Everyone was celebrating with their families. Even now, when most adults have to wait for the weekend to celebrate their birthdays, I seldom get a birthday party. When am I going to have it? Folks still celebrate holidays with their families. And if I do get invited to a party, it’s about the holiday. Which is fine. It just makes the few parties I’ve had that much more special.

I think the jokes are the worst, though. Any idea how many times I’ve been called a firecracker? By my parents? (Thanks for dropping that one this year, Mom.) One wise-ass even suggested my pigtails looked like fuses – so should have blown up on him. And, yes, it is true that I briefly thought the fireworks were for me, but I was four. That’s four years old, barely old enough to understand the concept of a birthday, let alone a whole nation. It’s been a few years. I’ve figured it out.

It could be a lot worse. I have a friend whose birthday is on December 25. Now that one seriously sucks, with all the two-for-one presents, and talk about your birthday getting lost in all the celebrating. She turned 50 before she got her own birthday party. Blech!

So, I’m not complaining. Just pointing out that having a distinctive birthday is not all sunshine and lollipops. Ultimately, being born on July 4 is more fun than not.

In fact, I’ve got a song about my birthday. Cool, huh? This is from the movie they made about composer and songwriter George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney as Cohan. And I’ll leave you with the YouTube clip from the film:

Essays, general essay

My Latest Novel Came Out…

Actually, it came out two weeks or so ago. I was going to do an ad campaign. A special post with a big cover reveal (ooh-aah). I was going to be all over social media.

I was going to be a good little author and do the whole Blatant Self Promotion Thing. I was going to be confident but pleasant, letting folks know without being annoying about it. I did do a couple author events, which fortunately cropped up right around release time. But otherwise, I dropped the ball and let it roll into the street and under a bus.

I know – the wags say that if you’re not confident in your work, no one’s going to be for you. And everytime someone does, I realize just how utterly screwed I am.

It’s not that I’m not proud of The Last Witnesses. It’s the third in my mystery series set in the 1920s and featuring Freddie Little and Kathy Briscow. Freddie’s sister, Honoria, finds a body in her apartment and plunges all three of them into a conspiracy so unbelievable it almost gets them killed.

I’m actually very pleased with how it turned out. There’s enough action. The story is interesting. The characters came to life really nicely. The history is sound, well, except for the parts I played with for the sake of the story. And the conspiracy is based on a real conspiracy theory going around at the time.

But, see, that’s bragging. And the last thing on earth that I want to be is a braggart. Seriously, this is one of those childhood shame-based lessons foisted on me by the rotten little monsters I went to school with. Which was plenty long ago, and certainly long enough ago that I should be over it. Except that the only difference between grown-ups and kids is how we express those same attitudes. Because, trust me, the attitudes don’t change as we get older.

Worse yet, I’ve run across some pretty aggressive self-promoters and I really, really don’t want to be like them. They are so annoying.

So I’m out here trying to find a balance. If I still don’t have it right here, would you mind doing me a favor, please? Forgive me and buy my book anyway?

Essays, general essay

The Lie of All Happy, All the Time

Last week, I looked at how I have to face and work through my anger to get to the point of being able to forgive. And one of the things I pointed out is that we, as a culture, are really uncomfortable with anger. We don’t have any really solid ways of dealing with it, which is really a problem because anger drives a lot of negative thinking.

I’m not a big fan of negative thinking and struggle with it constantly. It’s not fun. I assume people hate me. I mentally call people names who don’t deserve it.  I assume the worst motives in everyone who crosses me. This is not healthy or good or anything like the person I want to be. But how to stop it? Aye, there’s the rub.

So, I’m reading this article by someone I won’t name, a) because I tossed it already and b) the author was a freaking idiot (which I will explain). The good points this person made were that negative thoughts have a nasty way of happening, whether you want to think them or not, and that one of the best ways we can deal with them is to confront and analyze them. And he suggested asking whether the thought is true and then reframing the thought if it isn’t.

The first problem is that he insisted that at the moment a negative thought occurs (and he was very insistent about this next bit), the reader should stop immediately and write it down, along with the analysis. I don’t know about you, but negative thoughts don’t hit me when I’m at my desk with pen, paper and several minutes to spare to think them through. They come at me in the shower, in bed in the middle of the night, while I’m driving or walking. In short, when stopping to write the frickin’ thought down is next to impossible, let alone analyze it. And it didn’t occur to the author of the article that this might be the case for most people? How stupid is that?

The second problem is that in the examples he gave, the thoughts were all untrue. Well, gang, there are some people out there who really don’t like me. There are plenty of people who by their actions give me good reason to assume that their motives are the worst. There are certain social situations (thank God, not many anymore) that if I didn’t go into them mentally armed to the teeth, I was going to get kicked and kicked but good. And there are people out there who do deserve the names I think up. Like the idiot who wrote the article.

The author wrote multiple times in one article that if we keep thinking negative thoughts, they will ruin our lives. I admit, negative thinking is not fun. I want to dump a good bit of it. But my life is not ruined by a long shot and I do have good relationships. If you have to use that kind of hyperbole to make your point, my first thought is that you don’t have much of a point to make.

But, see, this is where the author and a lot of the other folks out there who want to help us form happier thoughts fall into a trap. They create the impression that we’re supposed to be happy all of the time. That if we’re feeling sad, fearful or especially angry, that there’s something wrong with us. That we shouldn’t feel these things or that we should be able to control it and get back to happy.

Folks, All Happy, All the Time is a big, fat, freaking LIE. When somebody hurts you, you are supposed to feel angry and sad. In the real world, shit happens and you don’t have to rationalize your angry feelings. In fact, rationalizing those feelings can lead to you being hurt even worse. For example, women in abusive relationships will often explain away their hurt and anger by excusing their abusers. Instead, they need to be angry so that they can get the fuck out of the relationship. Sometimes the problem really is that your boss is a control-freak sociopath and your angry feelings are a vital clue that you need to do something about getting out of that workplace or reporting the jackass or whatever.

The bitch is that there are far more people who genuinely like me than who hate me. Most people I meet are fairly intelligent and at the very least do not deserve to be called idiots. The vast majority of people out there are not trying to actively cause me harm, even if, occasionally, their behavior is pretty trying. I don’t need to be obsessing on the few people who are a real problem. I just need to find a way to deal with them effectively. Or, if there is nothing to be done, then find a way to use the resulting angry feelings to fuel something else good and holy.

Because even if it were good for me to scream at people call them names, which it isn’t, calling someone an idiot, no matter how much that person personifies the label, is not going to get that person to change the behavior. However, there is one thing that can and that’s forgiveness. I just have to get through the anger, first, and that is not easy.

Essays, general essay

The Path to Forgiveness – Through the Anger

This started because I got sick last fall. Literally. And if our bodies’ illnesses reflect our emotional states and/or needs, then it became readily apparent to me that I was hanging onto shit that I need to let go of. With me, it’s easy to figure that part out. I’m angry. I’m pissed off, enraged, fed up, you name it.

So why write about being angry here? Well, I suspect I’m not the only person on this planet who is dealing with anger issues, even if we’re reluctant to admit it. Most women I know are. We’re trained to be nice and being angry is not nice. Which gives a lot of us tremendous incentive to hold onto and suppress our anger until it turns inward on us and becomes depression.

Also, as I began to sort out the issue of anger (not necessarily what’s pissing me off), it occurred to me that one of the healthiest ways to get past the anger is to forgive. But how many of us really know how to forgive someone? We know how to say the words, but it doesn’t always play out in our lives. We are freshly wounded again. We don’t believe it’s possible. I’ve heard and read all kinds of different things. So, maybe, if I share my own struggle to learn to forgive, really forgive, then maybe we can struggle along together. Maybe we can build each other up, even when we’re so angry, we’d love to do some serious tearing down.

And that’s kind of where I’m at right now. There is a whole boatload of people in my life right now that I’d just love to slap around. Yeah, I know the standard advice is to keep those people out of my life. Well, that’s not going to work here. Some of them I’m related to, and they’re not so bad that I’d want to take that drastic a step, at least, not yet. A lot of them I have no direct relationship with – as in they are the masses of fucking idiots out there whose combined stupidity is conspiring to fuck me and mine up royally. You know, self-righteous, knee-jerk reactionaries (liberal or conservative – they come in both flavors); tech support people; doctors who can’t take their noses out of their formularies long enough to see me as a whole human being and understand that I don’t always conform to their medical cookbooks. (Seriously, three months of telling them I don’t react well to psyllium and they kept telling me to take it.)

Actually, it’s not the stuff that I can do something about that tends to get me all riled. It’s the stuff I’m powerless against. I can’t even write about some of it because of certain people, who will assume I’m writing about them when I’m actually writing about someone else. Of course, I won’t hear about it until years later after a suspicious silence and since they’re not going to admit anything is wrong, I can’t do anything to fix it.

This is about me learning to deal with things. I am not interested in outing anyone else’s neuroses. So, if I write about something, kindly assume it’s not you that I’m writing about. And if you do think I’ve misunderstood something, for God’s sake, TALK TO ME!!!

Because here’s the thing that makes forgiveness so insanely hard. You have to deal with the anger, first. You can’t gloss over it. You can’t pretend that whatever didn’t hurt. You have to stare it in the eye and admit you’re pissed.

The problem is, I do not believe that in our culture, we have any good ways to deal with this most unpleasant of emotions. Ranting doesn’t work. Hurting other people back doesn’t work – trust me, I’ve tried that one. Brooding about it doesn’t help. It doesn’t really matter how many times I admit I’m angry, there has to be something I can do with this boiling up of emotions.

In fact, maybe it’s not letting go of the anger that I need to do. Maybe I need to find a way to let it fuel something good, something Holy. Oh, by the way, I will be coming at this from my perspective and a Catholic and a Christian, or someone who is trying to live out those ideals. That does not mean that I believe that’s the only perspective, just that it’s mine and that I find a great deal to appreciate in this tradition. Not necessarily in the way a lot of folks practice it, but that’s yet another thing that I am angry about and powerless to fix.

Uh, back to the problem of anger. I hope this helps in some small way. As it happens, I can only write what is in my heart. I want good to happen. And I want to find a healthy, purpose-filled way to move through this crap, forgive the assholes and focus on building up my fellows.

Essays, general essay

My SmartWatch

smart watch, smartwatch

My personal smartwatch (with well-worn and stained wristband.)

I have a Moto 360 second generation smartwatch. Now, this is the sort of gadget that only a geek would wear. And while I do have to cop to the geek label, I have to concede that I scoffed at them. Scoffed, I tell you, because they were a solution in search of a problem. Then I got one last year for Christmas. After almost a year of wearing one, I must conclude that a smartwatch still is a solution in search of a problem. But it’s a really cool solution!

Today being the original feast of St. Nicholas, the precursor of Santa Claus, I thought it might be fun to share this. After all, everyone else is getting out the gift guides. And you might want to know if a smart watch is worth giving someone. Or buying for yourself.

It’s a good question to ask. I suspect that one of the reasons smartwatches aren’t catching on faster is that they really don’t do a lot, per se. The utility of a smartphone was pretty obvious the moment they came out. In fact, most technology is like that. Video calling has actually been around for decades and even as it’s gotten easier and more trustworthy, the only two applications I regularly see for it are video conferencing and calls between loved ones separated by distance. On the other hand, it seemed like overnight, everybody was getting a smartphone, once the prices came down.

A smartwatch can’t do a lot. It’s mostly an accessory to a smartphone, and you do need a compatible smartphone to make the watch do anything. Some can make calls, although I can’t see having an extended conversation with my wrist to my mouth. I can see, however, being able to tell my watch to call somebody, then talking to that person through my phone’s headset. And I can do that (and have) with mine.

In fact, I was surprised at how much I can do with my watch. And how much I actually use it. The few times I haven’t been able to wear it, I’ve felt a little lost not having it.

Things I can do with my smartwatch

I can text someone or dictate a quick note. The watch tracks my steps and cheers me on like a fitness tracker. I can set a timer or an alarm on my watch. I can pull up a generated code for some of my web accounts that require one. Citymapper, the app I use to tell me when the bus is coming, can put my directions on the watch if I’m using it to figure out how to get somewhere. Google Maps does the same and it’s great when I’m driving, since I can look at my wrist on top of the steering wheel, rather than down at my phone. I can start a workout on my walking app (and when it’s working) track my mileage from my watch, which is a lot easier than digging the phone out of my pocket. I can supposedly use the watch to start listening to music on the watch, but I don’t.

Most of my notifications come through the watch and I can read texts and, while it’s a little tricky with long ones, I can read most of my emails and even respond to them. The nice thing about that is that I can be working or walking and something comes in. I can see right away if it’s something I need to pay attention to or can ignore.

Of course, I could just look at my phone. And I can dictate texts and other stuff on the phone. But I have to say, the watch does make all that easier. I can also customize it – I tend to keep pictures of past and current pets on my devices, and my watch lets me see my beloved and recently passed dog, Clyde, on the face.

Oh, and it tells time, too.

Essays, general essay

#ImWithHer and Sick at Heart

I am sick and hurt, and even physically ill over this election cycle. I keep thinking I need to write about what’s going on in this country and all I feel is fury.

Just this morning, I was complaining about the Republican Party in what I thought was a safe, though public, environment.

“I’m a Republican,” said the woman behind me. “I’m a Trumper. I’m a business woman and I want him to run the country like it should be.”

And I almost told her that if she was a business woman and found Trump a good model, then I absolutely did not want to do business with her. I almost called her an idiot, too. Actually, I did later, behind her back.

The trouble is, that’s not me. I do not aspire to that kind of meanness. My values are firmly entrenched in live and let live. In respecting perspectives, values and ideas different from my own. I believe in being kind and understanding. I try to choose love over anger and fear.

And yet, right now, I am so angry and hurt and frustrated. I’m sure there are folks out there who cannot fathom how anyone could vote for Hillary Clinton and feel at least as frustrated as I do. But I cannot understand it for the life of me. I’m trying, folks, but I just can’t.

Maybe it’s because I know what it feels like to have people constantly assuming the worst of you. I’ve been hurt by that kind of thinking more times than I care to count and have only recently found some safer people to hang with. So when I see Mrs. Clinton being routinely vilified on no evidence, called evil even by people who are supposed to be on her side, yeah, that hurts. It hurts badly.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Mr. Trump in person, at at least two different press conference, back when I was a TV critic. I found the man’s values so skewed, I felt like I needed to take a shower after each conference. His greed, arrogance, and contempt for anyone who does not think like him, those are the kinds of values writers assign to villains. They are traits that are universally labelled bad or even evil. And yet, there are people who find that kind of evil a better alternative to Mrs. Clinton, who is no saint but still works for things like childcare and justice and other things that most people find admirable.

This boggles my mind. Worse yet (and this is why I was cursing the Republican Party when I met Trumper lady, not Mr. Trump) certain Republicans are already saying that if Mrs. Clinton wins the election, they will not work with her. Oh, that was bad enough when President Obama was elected. But even worse, these Republicans are going to keep investigating her and attacking her on all fronts. Never mind that in 30 years, they have failed to find anything on her. Like it would kill them to work with her? What is wrong with people who have to stay so stuck on their own rightness that all they can do is find fault and attack others when maybe compromising would be for the greater good?

I know that love is the answer, and I feel like I’m failing badly, which also hurts. I want to be compassionate, to assuage the fears of people on the Right. But they are simply not listening. They refuse, and that hurts, too. I am willing to listen. I am willing to consider that maybe I’m not right, that I don’t necessarily have the one best answer. But you can’t work with people who only see one perspective and that is their own. You just can’t, and I don’t know what to do about that. Except pray.

 

Essays, general essay

Labor Day

Thanks to all that hard work I did celebrating unions and workers in America this past weekend, I’m taking a week off from blogging.

See you next week!

Essays, general essay

Time for Dog Pictures (or Not Bashing Who I’d Really Like To)

Seriously. When you’re annoyed with the world and don’t want to run around bringing everyone down by calling out all the idiots, then you need dog pictures. Dog pictures are soothing. And it just so happens that there’s a new dog here at the Old Homestead.

We started out fostering Toby, a 3-year-old mostly basset hound mix. But the little stinker got into our hearts and we couldn’t let him go. It’s been a while since we’ve had a dog that didn’t qualify for senior citizen status, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment. He is a curious little guy, too, and has earned his official name: Toby Wan Is Nosy.

So for your viewing enjoyment, some dog pictures of Toby:

Dog pictures, basset hound, pet adoption

Toby Wan Is Nosy – a rare treat, he’s actually sitting.

 

Dog pictures, basset hound, pet adoption

Rocking his pretty new harness

 

 

Dog pictures, basset hound, pet adoption

We haven’t forgotten Clyde. He’s in the foreground with Toby Wan in the back of the bathroom. It was a hot day and the bathroom floor was the coolest spot in the house.

 

I’ll be back next week with more Stray Thoughts. However, I am avoiding the elections and all of that unpleasantness. I think it’s pretty clear that I back Hillary Clinton because I find her an unbelievably excellent candidate. I might post more, should the situation warrant. But at this point, it’s really about… How to say this? Getting away from the ugliness, the misogyny, the general meanness. One simply must, and having some sweet dogs and cute pictures of them to celebrate. Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Essays, general essay

My Mystery Novel Bring Into Bondage is Due July 31

Bring Into Bondage, cozy mystery, Historical mystery, romantic mystery, mystery fiction, mystery novelIt’s here! Well, almost. My mystery novel Bring Into Bondage is finally ready and will be officially released on July 31.

This is the sequel to my Roaring Twenties novel Fascinating Rhythm, which features socialite author Freddie Little and his editor Kathy Briscow. In Fascinating Rhythm, the two meet and realize they really like each other. In fact, when we leave them, they’re deciding to go on dates together. (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler)

As we begin Bring Into Bondage, Freddie’s setting up a very special date with Kathy, but it does not go as planned. Turns out, Kathy’s mother has summoned her home to Hays, Kansas, because Kathy’s father is seriously ill. That’s not the only bad news. Vandals have been attacking the family farm. Freddie talks Kathy into letting him fly her home in his airplane, and once there, the vandals strike again. So Freddie and Kathy decide to try and figure out who’s out to get the Briscow family and put a stop to the trouble.

There are lots of secrets in the tiny town, not to mention an orphaned boy with tell-tale bruises on him. Some of the attacks almost turn deadly. But there’s even bigger trouble afoot. Freddie and Kathy get caught spooning behind the barn and Pa gets the shotgun out.

The fun part about all of this is that the ebook version is available for pre-order both on BarnesandNoble.com, for your Nook or other e-reader, and on Amazon.com. If you haven’t read Fascinating Rhythm yet, you can get it at both places (including a print version) at both sites.

Finally, I want to thank all the nice people who weighed in on my book cover concepts. This is what my designer did with the winning choice. I really appreciated all the input. I think the cover rocks. Special thanks to Helen Kim, of The Think Farm, for all her hard work.

Essays, general essay

Mother’s Day Gifts Suck

Mother's Day Gifts suck, gender roles, gender stereotypingIt started with a press release for scotch. What annoyed me was that it was about buying gifts for Dad. And it really reminded me of just how badly Mother’s Day gifts suck. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen ads and press releases touting pink standing mixers, flowers, chocolates, fashion accessories, and all sorts of ephemeral, often purely decorative stuff.

Whereas the stuff for the guys tends to be useful and/or substantial. Even the scotch. Premium quality scotch is not something you drink in one sitting. It’s something that hangs around a while. Ties may be decorative, but they’re usually worn when you want to be serious about, say, a job interview or an important meeting.

When we honor mothers at church, the women get a flower, which is usually half dead before we get it home. At our church, the guys get a pen, which is useful.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mother’s Day gifts, in general, or against Mother’s Day. If we’re going to truly stand behind the idea that parenting is the most important work we do, then we should be honoring mothers, however defined. And fathers, too. I’m not even bugged about the gender distinction of the honor, because each gender brings something unique and necessary to the process of parenting and helping our kids build their identities. Please note, this is not a knock on same gender parents or single parents – they do even more work to help their kids build healthy gender identity.

What bugs me is how our advertising community and the larger society insist on reinforcing rigid gender roles, particularly the ones that present women as decorative and insubstantial. We get the flowers, which last maybe a few days. We get the chocolates, which also last a few days. We get kitchen appliances, because we’re the cooks, and we get them in “pretty” colors, especially insubstantial pastels.

In my household, I’m the scotch fan. My husband doesn’t like grain-based spirits. I’m the household geek. My husband puts out the fresh flowers. I may be the primary cook in the family, but my husband cooks almost as often as I do. My dad is the chocolate hound in my parents’ household.

And then there are the power tools. One time, years ago, my husband and I were waiting in an insanely long line at one of those home-improvement centers. I left to find some light bulbs and took quite a while to do it. When I got back to the line, the neanderthal in front of us began poking fun at me for going off and drooling over all the wallpapers and window treatments. My husband just grinned and said, “She was drooling over the power tools.”

And that’s exactly what I want for Mother’s Day – a power sander. I’ll have to wait ’til June, of course, because that’s when power tools go on sale. For Father’s Day. And I’ll probably buy my husband’s Father’s Day gift now, while the standing mixers are on sale. Assuming I can find one that isn’t a pastel color. Because it’s the assumption that’s so annoying. I don’t care if you want a pastel standing mixer for Mother’s Day. That should just mean you need one to do what you do and you happen to like pastels. I simply resent that all women are assumed to want one and that it’s assumed that what we want is largely decorative and insubstantial.

Because the bottom line is, I’m not decorative or insubstantial. And neither is my husband. We worked hard to bring up my daughter to be a responsible adult. We both deserve honors that reflect that work. I’m just saying is that the honors accorded me do not really reflect all that women are. And I’m more than a little tired of it.