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J. M. Butler Posts

Some Thoughts on the Election and Moving Forward

The election results are in, and to say that they took most by surprise would be as big an understatement as saying that 2016 has been a bizarre year.

Personally, I was not thrilled about either of our two primary candidates. (Part of me still wonders how it is that we reached this point, but that is another conversation for another day.) Since last night, I have received dozens of messages from people on all points of the political spectrum, many relaying fears and concerns. I’ve been thinking about these conversations and trying to break down what all this means.

I am a cynical idealist who chooses to be an optimist (though sometimes cynicism wins the day). I rely on my faith to give me hope, and, in fairness, I would probably be writing something similar if Hillary Clinton won with the exception of maybe a couple paragraphs. I don’t believe that the sky is falling nor do I believe that the world or even America is ending.

These are some thoughts on how we can move forward as a nation. (My apologies for the length. As Joan Didion said, “I write to know what I think.”)

If you don’t want to read all this, I understand, so the headings/overview is below:

  1. Abandon Fear
  2. Listen
  3. Act
  4. Grieve or Celebrate But Don’t Burn the Bridges
  5. Hold Assumptions Loosely
  6. Don’t Demonize the Independents
  7. Look for the Helpers
  8. The Burden is on Us (Regardless of Party or Voting Choice)
  9. Remain Aware and Active

Abandon Fear

We shouldn’t spread fear and terror, and we should be careful of the “what ifs.” (That includes what we tell our young children; they don’t need to bear all the burdens of the world though it is good to keep them informed.) Even if it should be revealed that we are right about that which we fear, what have we gained? Nothing. (Now this is not to say that we should do nothing or that in abandoning fear we become complacent, docile, or inactive, but more on that later.)

Fear is a natural response and an instinct to dangerous and unknown situations. In a survival situation such as a snake attack, the adrenaline surge combined with fear can, in some cases, make you fast enough to avoid getting bit. (And in some cases, that adrenaline surge triggers the freeze response, resulting in death.)

However, in social situations such as this latest election, fearful responses rarely lead to good results. And this is because fear makes us easier to control, easier to manipulate, easier to defeat. Mob mentality is borne most often out of fear or anger. Neither are good.

Fear alone does not make us smarter. Left unchecked it leaves us demoralized, weakened, and vulnerable. We react, lash out, and leave ourselves more vulnerable than when we started. It can also feed into other narratives and lead to further destruction, less communication, and more slipping.

Instead, we must be vigilant. Aware. Awake. Active.

The reality is that we should be this way no matter who is running the government and no matter where we are. Politicians are rarely the people we hope they will be even when we most deeply support them. They make back room deals. They wield influence, trade favors, deceive people, manipulate outcomes, and oh so much more.

I am of the belief that none of them should be trusted. They should be watched, regarded with caution, and held accountable, regardless of the affiliations they proclaim. The same is true for businesses large and small. I suppose that while I have hope for the best in people, I also recognize the worst.

Now for many, this fearful response is churning even now. It’s hard to control, and some are already comparing Trump to Hitler and engaging in high levels of hyperbole just as others are proclaiming the start of a new and wondrous world and some are certain it will be business as usual and possibly the majority are just not sure what to expect. (In fairness, I suspect both extremes will see these beliefs challenged, moderated, and shrunk when they are actually tested.)

And if the fearful response isn’t riling up inside, we should encourage our fellow Americans and friends from around the world.  Many are genuinely terrified and even more don’t know what to expect. This is a good time for compassion, mercy, and kindness.

So if fear cannot be stopped from cropping up, what can we do? We can take that fear we feel and channel it into motivation. Not letting it cloud our senses or creating worse situations than what already exists. We need our wits about us, and we can prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Listen

We do have to listen, and that is one thing that we don’t do particularly well. On most points of the spectrum, many of us said what we wanted and avoided listening as much as we could. Or when we did listen, we translated what we heard into something that made sense to us based on our ideologies. This isn’t really listening, though it should be noted that listening, truly listening, does not mean necessarily agreeing.

In talking with people on all sides of this election, I can say that it isn’t so simple as racism, sexism, or any of the isms. I suspect there are some people for whom that was a deciding factor, but not all, and I would venture to say not even most. And I do see why some fear that this is the case. But if we ask what this is election is about (what is the core issue), we get vastly different answers from different groups, some of whom are unaware of the other issues or are unable to see their importance. In fact the general suspicion about the media has led to a general disbelief among many against just about anything it reports, which makes the results even more convoluted. (Again what people perceive to be the truth and what they thought was a smear campaign as well as the overall media involvement is best saved for another discussion.)

It is all too easy for people at all points to write all the others off with some simple phrase that we feel captures the entirety of their situation. But when is life really as simple as that?

There are many possible reasons for the choices that we have witnessed in this election. As time has passed, I have learned that it is often a matter of priorities and differences in interpretation. It isn’t as simple as saying “hate won” or “love won.” That sounds nice for the soundbites. But it horrifically oversimplifies it and inevitably results in at least one side feeling as if it isn’t being heard or understood.

Additionally, when we truly listen, we can find, when dealing with most, the points on which we agree and build connections from there that may lead to greater unity and understanding. Those connections may in turn lead to the construction of a stronger foundation on which to act in the future.

Act

Social media and the Internet Age makes talk cheap and easy. The reactions I’ve seen online far outweigh what I’ve seen in the physical world around me, and people in general are far more inclined to vent or rant or express themselves with hyperbole online than in person.

The subsequent release from such venting may make some of us feel as if we have been productive, but it’s not really as effective as actual action.

It is important that we are aware of what actual steps are being taken against our freedoms and against our people, and then we ourselves must act. The power of the people is enormous, and most do not realize this.

If there is something that you see or know is unjust, do what you can to fix it and bring awareness to it in the most constructive way possible.

Grieve or Celebrate But Don’t Burn the Bridges

I am saddened at the enormous rift that is apparent within this country. If reports on social media are not just hyperbole, then a lot of families are not speaking to one another. Communities are ripped apart. Declarations of rage, unforgiveness, and grief surge through the social media channels like ripped open veins. Friendships have been sundered. People demand that all those who did not act in alignment with their convictions leave them alone. It isn’t a pretty sight. Hopefully these wounds will mend sooner rather than later.

I admit I have been surprised at some of the things I’ve witnessed myself. There are some things, some statements, that I wonder if I will be able to move past.

I want to. I need to. I believe I will. But it will likely be hard.

This has been a heated election. The most turbulent and bizarre I have ever seen (which in fairness hasn’t been that many). But we are still family and neighbors. The emotional repercussions of this will continue to be felt, but we do need to move toward healing and forgiveness. (Even if the people we disagree with don’t apologize or ever see what they did.)

Some of us are going to be in disagreement because of where we wanted the nation to go and some because of what we believe this election represents. But at the end, we cannot let the government or politics tear us apart. A people divided is a people more easily controlled and more easily distracted.

While the family we get to choose is quite dear and something to be treasured, the family we are born into and the immediate community that surrounds us is not something to be taken lightly. Disagreements and conflict may be unpleasant, but understanding and positive change may come through those interactions and lives may be changed. Living with those who agree with us may be comfortable, but it rarely creates positive change in a nation so large and diverse as this one.

Hold Assumptions Loosely

What this election means is still being shaken out. Was this a response to President Obama’s policies or a rejection of Hillary Clinton for her politics or her policies? Was this an embrace of Trump’s ideology or a mandate to shrink government? Was it X or was it Y?

We can make all kinds of assumptions. We can make assumptions about why this happened and about what it says about the people who voted in one way or another. But these assumptions are not necessarily correct, and relying on these assumptions may in fact make matters worse.

Don’t Demonize the Independents

The one thing that seems to be acceptable is that independents may still be attacked, blamed, and generally have inferred upon them that all the ills of this election are their fault. While I do respect that there are other opinions, I would point out that when we tell this segment of the population that they are to blame or that their votes are wasted, we are only alienating them further.

Belief in a two-party system is not essential to the effective running of our government. It is something of a fiction created by both parties to retain control and allow them to focus on a few “key” issues, essentially wedging voters into one camp or another even if they only agree on one or two points. Other nations have multi-party systems, and they function.

More importantly, an incredible aspect of our election process is that people are able to vote based on their convictions (even if we do not agree on the types of convictions or the priorities of those convictions). For some of us, the demand that we choose between one of the two main parties (the lesser of two evils, so to speak) is unacceptable. Most would agree that the system is corrupted and broken. For some of us, that means we work within the two-party system to hopefully uncover a solution, and for some of us that means we must work to challenge the two-party system by supporting third party options.

Look for the Helpers

One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers) is “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

There are still people who will be working, ministering, and serving in all areas of life. We should look for them, encourage them, and…be them. Who sits in the White House does not eliminate these people, and we can always find ways to be one of the helpers.

This country is not going to turn into some dystopian nightmare overnight. The Purge is not coming. I don’t know what all the future will bring (and who can actually know), but this is not the end, and we can still do great good.

The Burden Is On Us (Regardless of Party or  Voting Choice)

Regardless of which side you are on in this election, even if you chose not to vote, the burden is on you to do your part to make this country better. (And make no mistake, it has always been this way.)

Some of us believe that we need less government involvement. If we get that, this means that there will be people who have depended on services and opportunities from the government who will suddenly be without these programs. Whether that is merited is another discussion. What matters is that there will be pain and withdrawal and loss if those programs are cut. And this means that if we are saying that the government is not needed to take care of these people, then we have to step up.

(Christians, this applies especially to us as Scripture is quite clear on our duty to care for the downtrodden, the homeless, the orphan, and the widow. And if we are going to say that this is for the church to assist in as many have, we must remember that we have to take action in this regard. We cannot sit on our haunches and wait for others to step up to the plate, and we cannot save our aid, compassion, and services only for those with whom we agree.)

Some of us believe that we need more government involvement. That may also happen, but with that runs the possibilities for abuse and the possibility that it may not be the sort of involvement desired. And if we don’t get it, then we still have to be prepared to wade in and provide the support that the government is not.

Additionally, we must all be on guard for abuses of power, violations of rights, and do what we can to prevent and stop those, regardless of who they are against.

Remain Aware and Active

This may be somewhat repetitive, but I cannot emphasize it enough. We must not grow complacent. Regardless of how we feel about this election, we can’t become docile or so discouraged that we abandon everything. Now, certainly, for some of us, there will need to be a rest period, but for the rest of us, for all of us who can, we must not weary of doing good or refrain from it.

This is the world in which we live. We all have differing roles to play, and we are all responsible for what we have been given.

At the end of the day who is president will impact most of our day-to-day decisions less than it might seem on this day and the upcoming ones. But we can make a tremendous impact by how we treat our friends, family, neighbors, and people within our communities.

I won’t let any candidate or leader or person steal my hope. And no matter who is in office, my responsibility remains.

I had intended to write about Hillary Clinton, the glass ceiling, etc., but this post has gone on long enough. I’ll tackle that one later.

Anyway, much love to you, my friends. Talk to you soon.

My Actual Writing Goals for November 2016

So I have already discussed that my goal during Nanowrimo is to post actual content rather than just writing it. And I won’t be counting my Wattpad chapters as contributing to this total. (It’s rather interesting that posting to Wattpad is not at all difficult for me. I get at least two chapters published there at a minimum each week.) 

But I am, of course, also working on various projects this month. And, as usual, I have one main one and several that I want to complete. (Some of these titles contain links to where the stories are posted.)

where-gryphons-mournWhere Gryphons Mourn — this is another dream story that I have been meaning to get out there for quite some time. So I am finally getting it done. In fact, my darling and wonderful friend, Stef, created a cover for me, so it looks like I will be writing it and posting it on Wattpad. Isn’t she massively talented? (Seriously, this woman is amazing! Check her out on her website, at Deviant Art, and Wattpad.)

Through the Paintings Dimly — this one is actually almost entirely done so I won’t be increasing my word count much through this, but there is probably about another 3 – 5k that needs to be added in addition to the overall editing. But it will be done and off by the end of the week.

The Insurgent Queen — another book in the Tue-Rah Chronicles, and so, of course, it will get a substantial portion of the word count. I write about 5 – 10k on the main series once a week. In a sense, this is my easiest and most difficult project, but it is the one I adore the most. My soul is always in this series no matter what else I am working on. I really hope that Amelia gets her voice back before the end of this month’s writing. It’s been a good long time, and the poor girl needs to start talking again. (Note: if you haven’t started this series and would like to, you should probably start with Identity Revealed.) 

In Darkness, Cower — now, once again, this story is mostly completed. In fact, it appeared in the Tenebris Somnia anthology on Wattpad. I plan to enter it into the TNT competition, but I want to expand it a little more to reach the 10k word limit. I had to trim it a bit to make it meet the anthology’s criteria. So that will be about 4k. It’s due by the end of the month.

thecelebrityThe Celebrity — this story is mostly completed, but I want to enter it into a competition on November 15 (can’t remember the name of the competition right now). It’s just about 8 k too short though and then it will be up to the required standards.

Untitled Story — I have been tossing around some titles for this story, but I haven’t settled on one. Cruel Frost, Frost Wolf, and Frost Strain are possibilities, but none of them really hit the horror genre nail on the head. The proper title will come eventually. This story is going to be approximately 8k. Another dream/nightmare story that I just want to have done. I may submit it to the TNT competition as well. It may also expand beyond the anticipated 8k.

Just a Kiss — a sweet romance for an anthology. It’s probably going to be about 5k, and it is due by the end of the month. I just have the ideas down for this one, and, in fairness, if another sweet romance story presents itself that fits in with the Christmas season, I will likely go with that. I’ll consider this goal satisfied so long as I have a sweet romance story down.

The Nameless One’s Plea —  This is another story for an anthology, and it’s great because this is part of the Ragnarok Undone novel or perhaps Ragnarok Untold, depending on where the end of the novel comes. It’ll be about 8 k. It’s going to contain some spoilers for the story but nothing too major, and hopefully it will help to draw additional readers to the Ragnarok series.

The Nightwalker Before Christmas —  a dark holiday/horror story that will hopefully stay short and sweet. (I’m really hoping that with this short story focus this month I will be able to do a much better job of keeping stories short and tight.) Hopefully about 3k. The title is a little off for me, but I’ll find a better one later.

Serpent’s Kiss — a fantasy adventure for another anthology that will be approximately 5k. It has to be done before the end of the month, but I have a fairly solid idea of where I want to take it. And if that idea doesn’t work, I’ve got another one that can work for the same title, which is good because I like having a good title.

Aquanos Feratu — a tight short story in the horror genre utilizing the breath vampire concept among other aquatic horrors. Probably about 10 k. If I have to prioritize and run out of time to finish projects, then this is going to be set aside until next month. (If I’m not careful with this one, it’s going to get a lot bigger a lot faster.)

Escaping Nowhere I started this novel last year for Nanowrimo, got to the required word count, and it was all quite great. But I didn’t finish it. I’d like to wrap it up, which will probably take about another 20 k. On the high end. It’s fairly easy to write though, and I have good notes to pull me the rest of the way along.

Parnimo’s Prize — oh yes, please, please, let me finally find the right ending for this novella. I have written the ending so many times, but it never quite seems right. I think I’m going to be done with this one within about five chapters at the most.

Now if I get to have my druthers this month, I would also add these. I’d love to also complete 5k SoulMates Pendanteach on The Red Dragon, Cursed, and Ragnarok Undone. 10k on Of Cruelty, Elves, and Sorcery would be fantastic along with completion of Of Course Not, Silas, I Know Best.

I’m also planning to send off my application for the SFWA, query letters for Lunar Realms, and send off a couple other short stories to some other professional markets.

These aren’t all my goals for the month, and I doubt that I’ll make them all. I make my goals difficult to reach and usually almost impossible, so don’t worry. We’ll just see how far I get on this.

In terms of my actual Nanowrimo writing, I’m doing all right. It has been a bit slow because I’ve had to do more editing and legal work than usual, so as of yesterday, I only wrote about 14k. I’m getting ready to settle in for a batch of fiction writing here after dinner. Hopefully that goes way.

My One Little Habit That Banishes Writer’s Block

Recently I attended a teleseminar put on by Jeff Goins, “Four Critical Keys to Making a Living as a Writer.” As per usual, there was lots of good advice woven throughout as well as some points I am still mulling over and determining how to apply. One point that has stuck with me most consistently though is the question, “what is obvious to me that may not be so obvious to others?”

Obviously the basic concept behind this question is that we are all knowledgeable in something that we can share with the world. Bill Nye said “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Sometimes the biggest challenge is to see what that is.

In light of this month’s challenge, I decided to look at the questions I am most often sent. Short of actual story questions, the one I hear most often is “how do you avoid writer’s block?” and “how can you write so fast?”

Now I haven’t had writer’s block as most people would define it (i.e. inability to write for days at a time, no desire to write, no ideas to write about, and so on) . I’ve had periods where the words didn’t come as easily or they weren’t good or when they felt soulless and wooden or when particular stories wouldn’t work. But ultimately there have always been words.

And maybe this is part of how I am wired. Or maybe it’s because of one of my rituals.

The tyranny of the blank page stops many writers from moving forward for a number of reasons. And while I am often able to push past it, I push past it because of one thing that I do. As soon as the words flee my mind, I write or type this:

I have a story to tell, and I am the only one who can tell it just like me. This is the story I must tell…

Then I move into writing the actual story. Just the sight of those words on the page encourages me. It does two things for me:

  1. It reminds me why I am doing what I am doing and the act of writing that drives that point deeper into my subconscious
  2. It keeps the page from being utterly blank, and you can transition into any story from that point.

You can make up whatever phrase you would like to write out or you can use mine. The point is that you just start getting the words out there. You can revise it later. For many writers, it seems easier to revise than it is to write that initial draft.

Hopefully that helps. How is Nanowrimo going for you if you’re participating, and, if not, how is life? (Those in Nanowrimo generally don’t get to have much of a life outside of writing. 😉 )

My Nanowrimo Declaration and Challenge Goals

This is the first day of Nanowrimo November 2016. I’ve been participating in Nanowrimo officially for about ten years (maybe one or two years unofficially in between). It’s one of my favorite times of year, and I love the energy that comes from so many writers striking out to reach their new writing goals.

And this year, I will be participating again. I am so excited.

Hitting 50,000 words in a month isn’t as much of a challenge for me as it used to be. So I have decided to focus on an aspect of writing that is quite difficult for me in addition to writing the 50,000 words. I’m going to have to post to my blog or on Youtube 30 times over the next month. It might not be every day because I am going to be doing some traveling around Thanksgiving, but 30 times should be a good challenge.

With that in mind, I may not just be posting new content. I have a bad habit of writing blog posts and then never posting them. So, while I will be writing lots of new content and stories this month, I will not necessarily be posting all of it here.

For the writing portion of this, I have a number of short stories that need to get done. Quite a few anthologies with submissions due either at the end of the month or the start of December, and if this December is like any of the others, I will need to make sure that those stories are done as fast as possible.

And, of course, I’ll be continuing to work on Tue-Rah. That just goes without saying until it’s done. I sometimes wonder what I’ll do when this series is fully done. Probably write more novellas. I suspect that it is a world I will never fully leave.

Anyway, what about you? Are you writing for Nanowrimo? Remember that it doesn’t have to be fiction. You can write poems, plays, scripts, stories, blog posts, even greeting cards. Your goal is just to reach 50,000 words to officially win, but you can set the goal for yourself to whatever you need it to be.

If you are participating in Nanowrimo, feel free to share the title of your book. And if you are sharing it on Wattpad or some place similar, feel free to share a link.

My Blood Donation Experience and How It Went Much Better Than the Last Times

The past couple times I’ve donated blood, it has gone…well, shall we say it has been interesting. The first time I lost time. The second, I passed out and was down for a whole weekend with deep bruising and a massive headache.

This time, I wanted it to be different. And it turned out to be good timing as I saw

Here’s what I did:

Drink Lots of Water

I always drink a great deal of water. Typically about 70 ounces a day. I’m almost always thirsty, and sometimes I have to stop myself from drinking too much (yes, folks, you can indeed drink too much and put yourself in very bad shape). But for the couple days leading up to the donation, I drank as much as I wanted and avoided everything with caffeine. That wound up being about 140+ ounces.

(Also, please don’t worry. I don’t have diabetes or pre-diabetes. I’ve been tested for that. I’m just constantly thirsty. It’s a side effect from something else.)

Eat Foods Rich with Iron

I also figured that it couldn’t hurt to boost my iron by eating iron rich foods. So I prepped and consumed great quantities of leafy greens, particularly spinach. I found that chicken breasts stuffed with cooked spinach are absolutely delicious as is spinach salad.

Let Them Know if You Have Had a Bad Experience

I went ahead and let the admissions nurse that the last two times I had passed out or lost time, and she told me that I should mention that to the nurses and technicians who would be working with me. When they put me in the chair, they then lowered my head more than usual.

Cough at Regular Intervals Throughout the Donation Process

The last time I became nauseated and passed out in what felt like a slow descent into ear ringing darkness. After the nurse coaxed me back awake, he had me cough several times to help redistribute the blood. He said that the next time I went, I should cough at regular intervals. This time I did that, and it seemed to work.

What I’ll Do Differently

The next time I do plan on making a couple minor changes.

As much as possible, I’m trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup as well as refined carbs. All of the snacks that were available at that time were along the lines of gold fish crackers, peanut butter crackers, and so on. So I’ll just bring my own snacks.

Also I had planned to just read on my phone with the Kindle app. Always before I’ve donated in the mobile units, and this was my first time in the actual clinic. Cell phones have to be turned off in there. So next time I’ll bring a physical book. They did say that an actual e-reader wouldn’t cause a problem.

As a side note to authors with good books, you might consider stopping by your nearby blood centers and seeing if they will accept book donations. There were a few people there who also had nothing to read, and some of the procedures can take awhile. They may not, but you can always check. And while you’re there, you can donate blood as well.

Anyway, it all went quite well. I was a little woozy and a little weary for most of the rest of the day and had some faint bruising. But not the pounding headache and not the exhaustion and nausea.

How about you? If you’ve donated blood, what have you found helps to ease the donation process?

Regardless I hope you had a wonderful day. Much blessings and love!

The Tendency Toward Silence (The Quagmire of Mental Questioning and Self Paralysis)

cropped-Old-Typewriter1.jpgI wonder how many people silence themselves because they think their words have no value.

Some might say not enough people consider this possibility. The world is certainly a chaotic place, particularly in certain locations. Twitter and Youtube come to mind along with almost every site that includes politics and social commentary. In some places, a bit of silence would be more than welcome. It would be a great blessing. And there is certainly much benefit to choosing words, tempering responses, and sometimes simply allowing the silence to sit.

But the need for silence in one place does not mean that silence is needed in all places at all times.

Perhaps less anger. Perhaps more listening. And perhaps silence while gathering thoughts. Perhaps silence while contemplating the next step. Perhaps silence while choosing. And certainly not every thought must be spoken or every idea followed.

But those unspoken words and unfollowed ideas can swell inside us. They come to mind, and when we swallow them down, they lodge in our chests and smolder. Sometimes they choke us. Other times they vanish.

And there can be, I think, just as much a regret for not saying certain things as there can be for saying the wrong things.

I might be projecting.

Despite my recognizing that I have a bad habit of pouring out words and then locking them away, I have made limited progress in dealing with this bad habit (recognizing there’s a problem may be the first step, but it cannot be the only step). It’s difficult because so often I find myself holding back, and within minutes, I become mired in an intensive cycle of questioning.

keyboard-909156The same series of questions runs through my mind. “What value is this bringing?” “Are you really the right person to say this?” “Why should you say something?” “Are you sure this is the best way to say that?” “Is this really important to say right now?” “What if it comes across the wrong way?” “What if it’s misinterpreted?” “What if there’re errors that you missed even though you keep going over it?” “What if I’m showing off?” “What if I could do it better?” “Is this Christian enough?” “Is this anti Christian in some way?” “Am I Jesus juking?” “What if this comes across as insincere or inauthentic?” “Is this cliché?” “Does this really have any value?” “What if someone else has covered this and done it better?” “Is this taking away from someone else?” “What right do I have to say anything?” (Humorously enough, I go through the same agonizing cycle of questions when it comes to sharing posts, pictures, memes, and the like though sharing often adds a few additional questions to make the process even more fun.)

Add to that the people who police language and parse out what is acceptable and what isn’t and how wrong it is for some people to speak at all and how self indulgent the culture as a whole is. (Sometimes I can just hear the teeth sucking and tongue clicking.) And then I wind up with a massive slop of paralysis that typically results in abandonment.

The funny thing is that these questions and even an awareness of these individuals are not bad in and of themselves. In some cases, these matters can actually make the project stronger.

This sort of introspection becomes problematic when it results in paralysis and projects cast aside, particularly when those projects are finished in all but the finishing touches or the publication.

It is a sucking silencing spiral. As soon as I finish a post or a tweet or a story or a video, these questions form in my mind in rapid succession if I don’t send or publish fast enough. Wattpad has proven to be an anomaly but perhaps it also has the answer. I, for some reason, feel fairly free to post stories there.

Part of that is also driven by my fans and the fact that I know I would let them down if I didn’t finish the stories. But I am amazed that I was able to start writing on there at all. The fact that people are waiting for updates to the stories helps silence the questions and make me realize my mind’s foolishness when I get bogged into this mental quagmire.

Still I often find myself wondering who I am to speak. Particularly in the larger world or even on social media. Constantly measuring the value of what is to be said and then often dropping it for one reason or another.

It becomes easier to see how negative this is when I look at other people. When speaking with fellow heart-792179writers, students, artists, creators, and the like, I find encouragement falls from my lips easily because what I want so deeply is for them to create and share. To pour out and expand. To hone their skills and ply their trades. I want to hear their voices even when I don’t agree with them and even when it isn’t the best. It’s quite hard to have a conversation if they don’t speak because, even when silence speaks volumes, words and creations still have value, and it’s easier to connect when there is a combination of words, actions, and pauses.

I can’t think of anyone I would tell to be quiet forever. (Maybe a few whom I might ask to calm down or at least stop screaming.) Yet so often I shunt my own work into a drawer and decide what I have to say is irrelevant.

Silence can be a choice. It can be beautiful, beneficial, and much can be revealed within it, but we are not meant to always be silent.

No one has stolen my voice except those to whom I gave the power. Far too many times, I am the one who steals my own voice with incessant questions about my own value. I am my cruelest enemy. The harshest things my enemies have said of me reflect the worst fears of myself, and because I fear that it might be true, the words sting and have their power.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter much. It’s only in the moment that it seems so massive. Despite all the questions I inflict upon myself, I want to speak and to write. It’s easier when I have a justification, but sometimes the desire alone may be sufficient justification. (Perhaps desire paired with recognition that people are free to respond and further dialogue may be necessary and that no one is required to listen or participate.)

We will never be perfect, but for some of us, there is a need to release our works to the world. And, more importantly, you are the only you that exists, and while you should strive to be your best, you cannot wait until you feel ready or perfect to share that voice with the world.

The fact is that I will always be able to find a few thousand reasons why I shouldn’t do something. Whatever that might be. I had hoped that my other habits and tasks would make it easier. But it hasn’t. What can be done I suppose is to recognize when the questions become irrelevant and then refuse to be silent when silence is not actually the best or necessary course. How well that works, we shall see.

Bold Kindness and Gentle Words

It all started with my mother. It is her habit to speak kindly and gently to everyone, even though she is excruciatingly shy. Talking to strangers used to send her into panics though now she manages it better. But that terror, despite it being a powerful force, has never stopped her from being compassionate.

girl writing a letter with ink penThe other thing it has not stopped her from doing is sharing encouragement with people. Sometimes it is with handwritten notes. Other times, it is just the spoken word. And always the truth. She has the ability to see beauty in practically everything and to find even the smallest germs of goodness and praise them. Most don’t realize what strength it takes for her to do this. Some call her naive or a Pollyanna. But she is always sincere. There is life in her words, and it seeps into the soul.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone receives her kindly. While this has happened on more than one occasion, I remember one incident quite vividly.

There was a church event of some sort around Easter. Perhaps the Mother Daughter Banquet. After the event, I saw my daisies-1373075mother step up to the speaker. She thanked the woman for sharing and told her what a beautiful job she had done and precisely how it had affected her and what a gift it was. The woman’s eyes welled up with tears, and she thanked my mother.

As I stood there watching, it seemed to me that all my mother had done was notice little things that the speaker had woven into her speech and shared how it had affected her. It wasn’t much, yet it made such a difference. And then my mother gave the speaker’s hands a quick squeeze.

Other women stood nearby. As soon as my mother and the speaker were out of earshot, they just shook their heads. Some of them laughed into their hands. And then they started making fun of my mother. Because of what she had said. Because of how she said it. Because obviously she had only said it to get attention. Because she was such a silly foolish woman. On and on they went.

What they didn’t know was that I had heard every word they said as I stood around the corner of the painted concrete wall. And just as my mother’s words strengthened the speaker’s spirit, these women’s words poisoned mine. To see how they mocked my mother who had done nothing but speak tenderly to another human being and encourage her on her path was devastating.

I didn’t tell her what they said. That would have only furthered their cruelty. But some small part of me hated those women.

vintage-1029413Yet it turned out that these women had not responded atypically. Again and again, I have heard people speak words of kindness and then others stab them for it, almost always suggesting that there is another agenda or that the person is false or foolishly naïve or silly in some way. As if the mere fact that one is kind is proof of weakness.

These people dragged her down in their discussion, nitpicking her words and the way that she said them along with her accent and her mannerisms. It was beyond despicable.

I even lost a friend over it when I was in college. This friend was an artist who came from a very tragic home. She poured her emotions into her art in vivid watercolors and oil paintings as well as charcoal sketches.

When my mother visited, she looked at this friend’s artwork and said, “you are such a preciously gifted woman. Don’t ever forget that.” She continued on, pointing out the things that my friend had done well. When my friend mentioned something from her past and some of the horrible things people had said to her, my mother said, “Don’t believe them. You are a lovely woman, and I mean that sincerely. Please don’t ever doubt your value.”

blue-925209When my mother left, my friend then looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, “Your mom is so fake. Can you believe she’d say something like that? What a c***” She then proceeded to mimic my mother in an even more offensive manner.

(It should not be surprising that this friend and I parted ways permanently within minutes of that conversation.)

As before, I did not mention this to my mother, not wanting to burden her with these odd displays of cruelty and mockery. Of course, as it turned out, she was aware of far more than I knew. Apparently the bullying was something she had endured all her life with many believing her to be false, stupid, naïve, or just too much of a Pollyanna. She knew that speaking kindly and offering generosity often led to people assuming the worst in some form or another. Yet she never let that stop her because she knew that what she did made a difference to those who received it, and she could not control how it was perceived. It was hard, she admitted when I asked her about it. But she wasn’t going to let cruel or misguided people change her. So she carried on in her own shy and gentle way, serving the Lord and ministering to all He put in her path.

Apparently there is a certain measure of kindness which the rabbit-913550world expects from people (and for the record, it’s precious small). Display that and nothing more, and you will pass by without much scrutiny. Indeed, you may even be rewarded with assertions that you are, in fact, a good person. But show too much, and the world may grow suspicious. Do it consistently, and you make yourself a target with some.

It may not even be the majority. As I think back on it, those who did respond harshly or cruelly were far fewer than those who were genuinely touched. It just felt so much larger at the time. And there will always be those who just live to put others down for their own enjoyment and self-validation.

But it has taken me so long to extract that poison splinter. And there have been far too many times when I am ashamed to say that I have stowed away my words and locked them up for fear of being thought insincere or naïve or some other silly thing.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized something very

What we say is a reflection of ourselves.

important and actually knew it in my heart. When those people spoke, they were not reflecting what my mother had done nor any true reality of what was within her soul. Instead, they shone light on what was inside themselves and reflected it out for all to see.

Not one of them could point to anything my mother had done to make them believe she was false or that she didn’t mean what she had said. Their words were merely said in a moment, perhaps because her kindness made them feel guilty. Perhaps because tearing down someone made them feel good. Perhaps because they just wanted to laugh at someone’s expense.

So often the charge to act without care to what others think is used in reference to bold or frightening tasks or even things that just seem rather impractical or out of the ordinary like wearing dragon wings out at the park while you sketch your imaginings. In church, it often includes sharing the Gospel or letting it be known that you believe in Jesus in a public setting. In high school, it generally involves not taking drugs and standing against those who offer them. This charge takes many shapes and forms, but it is often something portrayed as being quite large and rather frightening.
water-830374But this charge does extend to encouraging people, including strangers and acquaintances. It takes courage to be kind and believe the best. To reach out and brush the hand of another and say, “It’s all right. You’ve got this. Now keep going. You did that so well.”

Over the years, I have become bolder with my words and more confident in the sharing even when I have received my own share of mocking responses in return. My mother’s example is a fine one, and her consistency and tenderness is something I admire. She epitomizes that lifestyle of grace and compassion that I so often struggle to live out.

This world is cruel. Whether one is a tall poppy or a low lying moss, it seems that something or someone always wants to cut you down and grind you up. If you can speak kindness and life into another, then you should because I can guarantee that many others, sometimes even their own minds, will be telling Depositphotos_48612307_originalthem the opposite.

So speak, share, and love. Encourage and build people up. Don’t let the fear of mockery or derision keep you from sharing words of kindness and encouragement.

Indeed this world could use a lot more bold kindness and many more sincere but gentle words.

 

Tips for Staying Safe and Being a Good Citizen While Pokemon Going

Pokemon Go LogoYou’ve probably at least heard about Pokemon Go if not seen folks out and about playing it. It’s been massively popular even though it’s only been out for a relatively short time. Business Insider reports that it has surpassed Tindr’s participants and may soon exceed Twitter’s participants.

It’s popular for a reason, and it’s getting people out of the house and connected. As with all things, it’s important to remember to exercise common sense and courtesy. (Most of the issues I’ve seen related to over excitement with the game and a lack of awareness, but those can be corrected.) With that said, here are some of the common issues I have noted and that, if you or a loved one is playing, you may want to bring to their attention.

Trespassing is Still Illegal

This has been the question I’ve received most from local teens and even a few off the Internet. Many hope that there might be a rare Pokemon exception. But trespassing is still trespassing even if there’s an uber rare Pokemon on the other side of the fence.

If you cannot get to one of the Pokemon, and it is on a piece of private property, you can’t go in without permission. Same thing goes for crossing private property to get to another location. This means that you can get the cops called on you if you break in, and, in some locations and under certain circumstances, it could even become a felony, particularly if you are opening up sheds or entering garages in search of Pokemon.Keep Out Private Property

 

Be Respectful of the Locations You Enter

Pokemon appear at random in various locations. However, you have to remember that they are not always going to appear in appropriate places for Pokemon hunting. The game itself uses landmarks, historical points, and so forth as Pokestops and battle zones. This unfortunately includes locations like the Holocaust Museum in D.C. The Holocaust Museum has formally requested that they be removed from Pokemon Go because people keep showing up to hunt Pokemon, which is disrespectful to the victims of the Holocaust and the purpose of the museum.

Many Pokestops and Pokemon can be found in churches, mosques, gyms, libraries, public service buildings, landmarks that may include tours, and businesses. It’s not entirely clear how these are chosen, but if you do go to one, be respectful of the location. Don’t interrupt a meeting. Don’t climb the statues. Think before you do. Chasing Pokemon is not a legal defense in any location.

Most of the time, you can access the points from outside the building and move on. Battles take longer. Hunting may take you inside. But rest assured that the Pokemon will return again and in other locations, so even in that case, you should avoid bursting into a children’s reading, interrupting a funeral, and so on.

Your Awareness of Your Surroundings Will Be Diminished

Yeah, yeah, I know a lot of people think they can multitask without any problem, and sometimes it’s true in limited circumstances. I’m usually a pretty good multitasker myself. I read and walk all the time. But Pokemon Go is much more absorbing. I did a couple tests with some teens and my own playing of the game, and I have to tell you…the results weren’t good.

Stay AwareNot only was I unable to see anything until it was pretty much on me but even my awareness of sounds was significantly diminished. Focusing in on the game is quite absorbing, which is how most games are. If you are playing, you must make a conscious effort to pay attention to your surroundings. Pokemon Go even encourages this every time you load it up (otherwise you’re going to get eaten by a blue dragon).

Remember that the game does not require that you always look at it. Your phone will vibrate or buzz when a Pokemon is within your radius. So while you are walking, regularly look away from the screen and take in your surroundings. Pay particular attention to the streets.

Under No Circumstances Should You Drive Anything While Playing

This is closely connected to the above point, but it is such a huge issue that it deserves its own section: do not, under any circumstances, play Pokemon Go while driving!

People often have misguided beliefs in their abilities to multitask, and this becomes especially problematic with driving. Most people understand the dangers of drunk driving or buzzed driving. However, driving while on your phone is actually worse than driving drunk or buzzed, and it can increase the risk of crashing by 23 percent. More importantly, this focused on texting or talking on the phone in incidents that involve you taking your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. Pokemon Go will easily absorb more of your attention.

So just don’t do it. Understand that this extends to golf carts as well as bicycles and motorcycles.

If you can’t get a friend to drive you around and can’t walk, you can look for eager entrepreneurs who are willing to chauffeur you. But do not, do not, do not drive.

If You Are An Adult, Act Like One

There have been lots of stories put out about all the adults behaving badly with this game. This isn’t Pokemon Go’s fault, nor does it seem to be the majority of the users. As with most things, it’s a few annoying folk who are making the rest looking bad.

One thing that you should do though if you are an adult playing around kids is that you are, in fact, an adult. While at an amusement park, I watched a grown man leap into the middle of the playground to get to an ultra rare and shoving past a bunch of tweens who were also trying to get it. As hard as it may be, consider stepping back and letting the little ones have the ultra rares. Or at least don’t knock them out of the way if you decide to try and snag it.

Keep the Noise Down

It’s common knowledge that some Pokemon are only available when it’s dark out, but remember that some people are sleeping. This goes back to exercising common courtesy. I know it’s easy to forget, particularly when you’re coordinating. Some noise is expected during day, but many towns and communities have expected quiet hours between 10 am and 7 am. Even if yours doesn’t, it’s a courtesy you should extend.

Always Check Pokemon Go Stories

This should go without saying for everything we share. But most people don’t verify the articles they read online. Over the weekend, a number of awful stories about Pokemon Go broke out, ranging from tales of kids killing one another over it to gang attacks to even the discovery of dead bodies. As it turns out, the majority of these stories came from places like Story Cartel, which is a satirical site. In other words, they never happened.

Sometimes the stories are based on facts that subsequently become distorted. For instance, the game allows you to log in using your Google account information. A bug appeared on the iOS version that allowed for greater access though Niantic claimed that they did not take advantage of that. That report, however, was greatly exaggerated as articles started breaking out, claiming that Niantic was able to mine every bit of data about you from your Google account, failing to account for the fact that this was a limited bug that is in process of being corrected.

With that said…

Understand that You Are Sharing Data

When you play Pokemon Go, you are releasing a lot of information about yourself to the game and in some respects to the world at large.

Now as far as the “access to all Google data,” Niantic has confirmed with Google and reported that that glitch will be fixed and no extra information beyond basic profile information has been accessed even on the iOS where the glitch occurred. This was confirmed on Macbook, and the update is currently available.

With that said, understand that you are still sharing basic information, probably more than you know. This is true for most apps. Always read the fine print (I know it’s a pain) and look at the specific permissions you are granting.

In this case, the app will be accessing your basic information as well as your camera and your GPS, which means your location is being tracked. Again. This isn’t uncommon, but before you give up your privacy, you should understand what that means.

Avoid Going Out Alone or Into Dangerous Locations

Some of the stories circulating revolve around predators using incense and other in-game tools to lure in rare monsters that in turn lure in players, allowing them to mug or kidnap them. These stories have been particularly popular because they are well within the realm of possibility, and some, Pokemon Go Pedo Bearsuch as the case in Missouri where robbers used the game to target victims, are true.

Again, you must remain aware of your surroundings. Before walking into a part of town you don’t know, check it out. Take a friend with you. Don’t go anywhere alone at night. And if it looks sketchy, then don’t risk it. Do not get into a stranger’s car or enter a stranger’s house, even if the stranger says it’s fine.

So there you have it. Some of the things that you should keep in mind if you or a loved one are playing. All in all, while the game is working out its early issues, I think it has a lot of great potential to it. I love seeing people out and about. I haven’t seen this many teens in the park in all my time here, and even in this heat, they are out having a great time. The game does require that the players be careful and use commonsense, but, in fairness, even old classics like hide-and-seek and tag require the same thing.

 

The Thrilling Ride Continues

Life often seems like the world’s most terrifying rollercoaster ride. Sometimes when I look ahead, I cannot see how all of the moves will complete without severing limbs or chopping heads. Yet somehow, each time, all that must be done gets done.

Why Yes, Bluebeard, I’d Love To was completed on time. Those last 500 words (which ironically were scattered throughout to connect the scenes rather than in a single spot) were among the hardest, but after I got feedback on it, I wound up having to revise the ending almost entirely. But it became much stronger. Between my friend, Debbie, and my husband, James, I realized that the ending needed a stronger tie in with the beginning.

Having those trusted people whom you can rely on to give their honest opinion are invaluable. I am so grateful for them.

In the revision process, I realized that I have at least two other stories that will come from this. The first is what happens from Silas’s perspective with his djinn friend, Hupomone. The second is what happens when Hupomone intervenes and what happens to Peter after she finishes with him.

Until then though, I need to locate the final draft of Parnimo’s Prize. I wrote it in a notebook while in Reno, but I can’t find the notebook now. It’s somewhere. It has to be. Worst case scenario though, I’ll just rewrite it again. I’ve rewritten this ending almost twenty times. Only seven chapters. How many times can it be rewritten? Apparently at least twenty-one.

The time isn’t wasted though. Multiple rewrites used to frustrate me. Each one has value. And each draft gets saved. There are many ways to end this story, and I can’t use all the ideas. Playing with them to see which one works and which one has the best flow has been time consuming but invaluable. The ones I don’t use will get woven into another story. Or perhaps they’ll get their own spin off.

On the bright side though, I am nearly done with my Wattpad Block Party Summer Edition II. This will be my fourth party, and  my readers, once again, have given me insight into what they want. Diamond Dust also went live on Sun Kissed Romance today, and I can’t wait to wrap up that novel. It’s different writing a spy novel, but I’ve always wanted to, and I’m finding it delightful. Now, in addition to the other novels, I’ll need to find time to finish my fantasy story for the Sun Kissed Fantasy anthology.

Anyway, I hope to have an exciting announcement soon. We shall see. Have a beautiful day regardless!

Sauntering Through the To Do List

I have concluded that at this point in my life, there is no such thing as being ahead or all caught up. Certain areas may be successfully managed and perhaps kept to a certain standard, but in general, there will always be something nibbling and whispering or shrieking and begging for attention.

As it stands, I have less than half a week now to finish off Why Yes, Bluebeard, I’d Love To, and despite having set aside time for writing, the law firm among other things has become quite demanding. It’s as if the other tasks can sense that this one must be done, and so they now all clamor for attention.

It doesn’t matter though because in the end, the story will be finished. I’m becoming quite adept at shuffling tasks around and squeezing out usable moments wherever possible. I wonder if perhaps this is part of what it means to turn 30. It’s not that one has life figured out but that one better knows how to manage what it is.

So I am not panicking. I’m just sauntering through the to do list, keeping focused and on point, taking one task at a time except in the cases when I can efficiently multitask (there are a few instances where that’s possible without decreasing effectiveness). If there’s one thing to give up when I reach my thirties, I’d like it to be stressing over what must be done rather than doing what can be done and making do with the rest.

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