Losing Robin Williams—The Dark Side of Those Who Make Us Laugh

 

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Suicide. It’s a topic that’s been on most of our minds as of late. I was BROKEN when I found out about Robin Williams. It’s like this bright shining star just snuffed out, leaving only a black hole of crushing emptiness behind. I feel terrible for taking him for granted, selfishly assuming he’d always be around.

I haven’t yet cried because I’m afraid I might not stop. My fondest childhood memories involve Mork & Mindy. Growing up, I’d watch Williams’ comedic acts over and over and over, studying his timing and how he could do what he did, because to me? It was MAGIC. In fact, I can honestly say he was my earliest mentor. I learned to laugh and make others laugh, and, since home and school were living nightmares, laughter was my lifeline.

I’m no expert aside from having suicide issues in the family. Also, years ago, I suffered horrific depression after being on the phone with my father when he unexpectedly died. No one realized he had cancer until after the autopsy, because he was always making everyone laugh, always smiling and making us smile…until he was gone.

While I won’t get into a discussion regarding suicide and depression, I’d like to address some reasons many were so sideswiped when Robin Williams took his life. Obviously I can only speak from my own perspective as a humor author and chronic class clown.

Humor is Birthed From Pain

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Ever notice the high mortality rates among comedians? Self-destruction is common. One reason is that humor is an amazingly powerful defense mechanism. I switched high schools six times and was poor, thus the target of every group of Mean Girls (which come standard). In my freshman year I turned inward and fell into terrible depression. Then I learned how powerful humor could be. It could be a weapon.

The right turn of phrase could decimate an attacker.

Humor can also be body armor. Funny people use laughter to minimize pain so we can cope. Maybe we come from a background where we aren’t allowed to express hurt, pain, sorrow, disappointment, and so making jokes becomes a way of staying sane. Or maybe there is so much pain that humor is the only way to keep from overloading. This is common among police officers, soldiers, doctors, and any profession bombarded with tragedy.

Gallows humor.

Never Let Them See You Sweat

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Yep, my family, LOL.

I’ve been guilty of this (being the comedian of the family). I love making others laugh and never lose my sense of humor. When I was admitted to give birth to The Spawn, the attending nurse crashed every single vein trying to get an IV in me (until I politely asked if my mom could do it—she is an RN). The nurses missed inserting my epidural (the needle that goes into the spine) seven times. Yet, to the end and through every contraction, I had everyone laughing, even though I was in agony.

When I was 22, I finally had to have four impacted wisdom teeth removed. I couldn’t afford an oral surgeon and so the dentist gave me the anesthesia and proceeded to chisel all four teeth out of my jaw. My roommate who brought me said all she could hear from the room was the staff laughing to the point of tears. Apparently through gauze and anesthesia I was still a riot.

Laughter has been there to help me contend with the fear and pain, but this coping mechanism has a dark side.

False Assumptions

S-E-X-Y!

Making light of my broken nose. Hey, it was kinda funny…

I know it’s my own fault others don’t necessarily take me seriously when I’m hurting. How could they? I’m cracking jokes and making everyone happy. I’m a giver. I don’t know if life is worth living if we aren’t laughing. And if we’re going to be in pain, why not bear it with a smile? People & circumstances can take away anything but our attitude, right?

The problem is that others see that smile and might not understand that we do need help and likely aren’t going to ask for it. Or us being “funny” might make it seem we’re not in as dire of a situation.

Just ask the people who tried to get me to an ER last week when I had my first violent reaction to peanuts.

Givers love to give. Comedians live to make others laugh. We love it so much we’re often blind to when we are empty and the darkness is there to pounce when we’re at our lowest. As a community, one of the things we can all do is learn to be better at actively listening. WANA was built on this principle—WE ARE NOT ALONE.

I’ve been doing this myself. Talk less, listen more. Joke less, hear more, be honest. Listen for subtext. If we ask someone, “How are you today?” at least stick around long enough for an answer. Ask the next question.

Lack of Boundaries and Rest

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I find it interesting how the corporate world expects to be able to reach us 24/7. Meetings and “work” creep into our Saturdays and even Sundays. But how would our job feel if we showed up with our kids to work? What if we read a novel or took a nap?

Oh, what? No quid pro quo?

My husband gets business calls before we are even awake. 99% of the time, it’s over matters that could wait. We’re interrupted at dinner, on weekends, during church. When are we going to say NO? I now turn off my phone on weekends. I just…can’t.

Most of us—even the funny folks—are running around on fumes. This is when depression sets in even if it isn’t clinical. Humans were not designed to run fill tilt 24 hours a day. Those of us with a gift for making others laugh likely just don’t show symptoms as early or at all. A lot of us “don’t want to bother” anyone.

Also, a lot of us jokesters have set up expectations in others that we will always make them smile. When we can no longer do that—when we are too spent or hurting—we retreat. We don’t want to disappoint.

Situational Awareness—Take It To H.A.R.T.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

Are we hurting, alone, resentful, or tense? In this go-go-go-go life, we should be mindful to stop. Take a break so we can check our condition. We wouldn’t drive a car and ignore red lights flashing. CHECK ENGINE. FUEL LOW. NEED AIR. Why do we do this to ourselves? And for the other funny folks out there, joking about the CHECK ENGINE light is no laughing matter.

This is why I’m so tremendously grateful for all you. I might hurt, but I’m never alone and you guys keep me company so a lot less tense.

The hurting? Yeah. Covered in hives and want to scrape off my skin with a carrot peeler (go to doctor in an hour). Resentful? Benadryl kinda making me resent everything, including sounds, light and those annoying air particles that insist touching me. PERSONAL SPACE! And bugs farting. How are the spiders and fruit flies so flatulent?

What are your thoughts?

Do you do tend to minimize by joking? Maybe laugh off things you shouldn’t? Do you retreat if you can’t be entertaining? Do you feel desensitized to pain because of coping so long with humor? Do you have friends of family who are like this? Maybe that you need to watch more carefully?

I miss Robin Williams. The world is a far darker place without him. I hope he’s somewhere he can see how much we all loved him and how devastated we are to be without him.

 

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55 Comments

The Kiss that Nearly Killed Me–Why Peanut Allergies are DEAD Serious

I am reticent to write this blog, namely because a lot of the content I’ve shared lately has involved a string of injuries. I am a 40 year old woman who practices Brazilian Jui-Jitsu and it’s a contact sport. Stuff happens. I’m also the mother of a 4 year-old. Trips and falls over the hidden Matchbox car or lurking Legos happen. If fact, I’m not particularly worried about burglars. If they can make it through my living room in one piece?

Feel free to have the ten-year-old television. You earned it.

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But, despite this being embarrassing, I felt it was a vital topic to address. Recently, I blogged about empowering my little one to do things on his own. A big step? Making his OWN PBJ sandwich. Since I already know I have a zillion food allergies and intolerances, I’ve avoided eating peanuts, because I know that people with current allergies are far more likely to develop others.

I’ve been very grateful that my allergies—gluten, dairy, soy—are fairly easy to monitor. I cook most of my own food. Also, these allergies might make me miserable for a few hours or days, but getting into gluten isn’t life-threatening.

The Deadly “Peanut”

I’ve heard the “urban legends” about how dangerous peanuts in particular can be. It did seem odd that schools and airplanes were banning them and that responsible restaurants began posting warnings. I respected that because, an allergy of that magnitude? Better safe than sorry. But it’s one thing for a concept to be in our head and quite another to experience it first hand.

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For the past two weeks, I helped Spawn with his sandwiches. I never ate any of the peanut butter and would wash my hands. Then, about a week ago, I started getting these weird itchy bumps on my left ribs. I assumed a mosquito had tried to escape my cleavage and was pissed off after being smothered by the underwire in my bra.

What struck me as odd was that normal itch creams or lidocaine didn’t dent the itch. Another weird thing was that HUGE patches of skin lost all feeling.

Then a day might pass and no itchy bumps or numbness. But, each time the bumps came back, they were worse…and on the left side on my bottom ribs. The odds of catching a mosquito or lost fire ant on the same side stretched believability. Thus, I relegated this odd phenomena a heat rash or perhaps the washing machine hadn’t removed all the soap. I changed detergents and made sure to increase the rinse cycle.

Yesterday morning, I awoke and helped Spawn with his sandwich and Hubby called me for something. I skipped that vital step of scrubbing my hands and just did a half@$$ rinse. I took Spawn over to my friend Shannon’s house feeling fine. I kissed him goodbye to go to my bible study. On the way to church I began to wheeze, cough and sneeze.

Okay, I’m in Texas. Allergy Capitol of the WORLD. Pollen.

By the end of bible study I was really coughing and my side was in terrible pain. I went to the restroom to check my side in the mirror.

 

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Then this (above) quickly became THIS (below).

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My whole left side and part of my back were covered in massive angry hives and I couldn’t feel any of the skin around the hives. Most of my mid-section and back were completely numb. I scrubbed my hands thoroughly thinking maybe I’d left some of the peanut butter on my hands and that I’d be fine with some Benadryl.

As I was driving Shannon home, the wheezing increased, the hives spread and suddenly I was missing turns and completely disoriented and confused. My blood pressure bottomed out. I didn’t know where I was. Shannon guided me to pull over and drove me to her house where I took a megadose of Benadryl and a couple puffs of albuterol.

I was slurring my words and still very disoriented. They wanted to call an ambulance, but the Benadryl was kicking in and, though I still felt like crap, I was improving. Shannon called Hubby to come get me and take me to a hospital.

By the time he arrived, I could breathe again and the swelling had diminished, but I was loopy and talking like I’d had a stroke or a few shots of Jaegger. Since anaphylaxis is the main concern for this kind of reaction, I refused a hospital visit.

Good thinking. You took Benedryl and used an inhaler. You’re fine now. Here’s a prescription for an epi-pen and that will be $1000.

Since I was finally breathing and throat was no longer swollen, I asked Hubby to take me home (and I plan on following up with an allergist to get an epi-pen).

Here is The WEIRD Part

I staggered inside and sat at the table. Though moments earlier, I’d been feeling a lot better, I suddenly began to wheeze. The peanut butter sandwich left on the table three feet away from me was causing me to react. I took more Benadryl and went to the bedroom until Hubby could decontaminate the kitchen of all the peanut butter.

Today, I’m fine (aside from a SERIOUS Benadryl hangover and really, really itchy hives).

But what kicked off the first part of the reaction? Pecking a Mommy Kiss on her kiddo (who’d just eaten a PBJ). The second phase? Touching my skin that was itchy and blowing my nose with hands that still had some peanut butter on them. The last phase? Sitting only a couple feet from a sandwich.

Ok, I am NOW a believer and can attest that this is NOT urban legend.

Why the Hate?

Something disturbed me when I was researching about this allergy. There is a terrible animosity toward those with peanut allergies. Numerous blogs dripping with venom and ranting about how their kid shouldn’t be deprived of a PBJ at school because one sissy@$$ kid has an allergy. People have found it funny to spread peanut butter inside the door handles of places that post warnings about peanuts. Flick peanuts at kids they know are allergic.

Sadly, THIS seems to be a very common sentiment:

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And what bothers me is that most of these allergies have been created due to gross irresponsibility of the food and medical community. For YEARS, doctors overprescribed antibiotics in situations where they weren’t required, thus creating a generation of people with penicillin allergies or antibiotic resistance. Doctors not poor genes created superbugs requiring Godzillacillin.

The food industry is not held to a strict standard of truth in labeling. Gluten hides under a lot of names. Europe refuses to buy American wheat. I have family members who live in Europe and eat bread all the time. They can’t eat our bread or pasta without getting ill.

There are good reasons for this explosion of food allergies.

First, I believe GMO is not as “safe” as scientists claim. And maybe I’m a jerk, but these “super smart scientists” were the same folks who claimed that hydrogenated oils were so much healthier than butter, olive oil, or coconut oil (even though ROACHES wouldn’t touch it).

Oh wow, trans fats? Oops, our bad.

Also, even if I am wrong about the GMO thing, in our modern society we eat out far more often and rely more on packaged and processed foods than ever in history. I’m old enough that I had a mom at home who cooked our meals. Eating out was a treat.

Yes, I ate PBJs, but the only time I ingested peanuts was when I was eating peanuts. Now that cookies are bought off a shelf instead of homemade? And more and more foods are all processed in the same place, on the same equipment? The general population is regularly being exposed to all the MAJOR allergens at a far higher rate. This means over time these allergens build in our systems and suddenly BOOM, we have an allergy.

In 1950, you got “gluten” in your bread. People knew they were eating wheat. People didn’t have to check the spices, soups, salad dressings, and lunch meats. In 1950, ham on your sandwich was HAM.

The Message from the Mess

Just know that when people get uptight about a food allergy, they aren’t meaning to be high-maintenance. It is a real hassle to have allergies. And to some of us is IS a matter of life or death.

I’ve been poisoned at conferences, stranded at airports for 15-20 hours with nothing to eat (I now bring supplies). I’m the “pain in the @$$” to the waiter (though I am kind and tip extra). People resent you because you can’t go to the restaurants they would prefer, or you when don’t order anything to eat, you’re then judged and treated with hostility.

I hate having allergies. Sometimes, it would be nice to just eat where I want and what I want to and not read every label like I am researching for a dissertation.

I’m very happy that discovering my peanut allergy happened as it did. I could have been on my way home with Spawn in the car when it hit full-force. Or at home alone with a 4 year old. OY! I might not be here to write this today.

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

But, I’m still here. I have a newfound respect for those with the serious allergies and just want to let people know just how dangerous this allergy is. This allergy really scares me because it’s beyond my control and relies on others respecting how deadly this allergy can be.

It isn’t a joke or us wanting attention…though Hubby did do the dishes and clean the house :D. If you have allergies, I totally feel for you. But maybe this trend will make the food industries start being more responsible and the same peanut allergies they created can be eliminated (FYI—peanut allergies have risen almost 20% since 1997).

I also found this COOL site for those with allergies. It also has a section for parents. Since little ones don’t have the same vocabulary as an adult, they have a list of common things a small child might try to tell an adult when they are having a reaction.

What are your thoughts?

Yes, I am a delicate flower. Sigh. Do you struggle with allergies? Do you find people are flippant or even rude in regards to your allergies? Have you ever had a scary experience with an allergy? Are you a parent of kids with food allergies? What are your experiences? Suggestions? Tips?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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139 Comments

Making Writing a Priority & When Helping is Hurting

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The weird thing about the new paradigm of publishing is the Digital Age Author is a very different creature. She might be a single mom trying to squeeze in a couple hundred words before the kids wake up or a husband struggling to fit in a writing burst during a lunch break. It can be a dad striving to finish his book while still caring for his family. Maybe it’s a retired person balancing FINALLY pursuing that dream of writing…while caring for grandkids.

Which is to say that a lot of part and full-time writers are also caregivers. Many of us wrestle with guilt. I do. I love writing SO MUCH and it is SO FUN.  But if I write instead of finishing laundry I am “bad” :( .

I’ve learned a rather weird lesson lately and I believe it’s worth pondering. We talked about workaholics the other day. It is no great feat for us workhorses to take on MORE WORK. The true challenge is when we’re given the choice of a great opportunity and a nap and we are directed to take the NAP.

AAAAGHHHHH!!!!!

I am learning the same thing with givers. WANA is truly unique and I don’t say this because I started it (because frankly, I didn’t). WANA was actually birthed by people who took my classes. They were natural givers. The only “special” thing I did was spot this phenomena and then nurture it. WANAs are SO generous and kind and supportive and it is the greatest collection of amazing individuals one can find.

But lately I’m starting to see the dark side to giving. Every strength has a blind spot. Remember this when creating characters ;) .

And the easy blind spot for givers is that we overdo it and wear ourselves out. Yeah, I saw that too. But one that snuck by me is that giving is not always good. NOT GIVING can be the greater gift.

I grew up with a Scandinavian mom and Norway is the motherland of OCD. Work was what we did and we made it fun. But I recall being 4 and making my bed. Mom would praise me, then remake my bed so it didn’t have all the lumps and the bedspread was even. Later, when I was 8, I loaded the dishwasher. Mom would thank me…then rearrange the dishes to wash more efficiently. I’d organize a closet and she’d be THRILLED…then redo it. Finally, in 2009 I made a Christmas dinner and Mom tasted it, and then reasoned everything and I snapped.

Why must you redo everything I do? Why isn’t what I do ever good enough?

My mom was speechless (which she’s like me so that’s actually a HUGE deal). In her mind, she’d been “helping” me.

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I have family and friends who are in real rough spots these days, people I sacrificed A LOT to “help.” In retrospect, I should have left it alone. By helping, I didn’t allow them to fail and learn lessons when the lessons were far smaller and the consequences for failure far less painful. I also stole the possible victory they might have enjoyed if they’d accomplished “whatever” on their own.

I didn’t mean to. I was “helping.”

So what I’m challenging all of us to do is to look for ways to give by NOT GIVING. Write the book. Don’t “fix.” Don’t “do” beyond the writing. Once the words are down, have at it.

The other day, I sent Hubby to the store instead of doing it myself. Did he shop the way I would have shopped? No. I can make a penny scream. Hubby pays retail *twitches* But he did it and I kept my mouth shut when I SO wanted to tell him how he could have saved money by doing this or that or go to this store instead of that one and NEVER THAT one, they gouge!

I also asked Hubby to help Spawn with his martial arts in the evening so I can write. And this is excruciating because I taught martial arts for years. I need to mentally duct tape my mouth shut and not correct how Hubby’s teaching him and show a “better or easier way.”

Me doing everything is not a gift. It’s control. It can disempower others. It also steals the joy of contribution and the thrill of accomplishment.

When a friend has a problem, resist the urge to fix. Instead, say, “Wow, that’s a huge challenge, but I know you can figure this out. You can do it!”

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This morning, I let Spawn make his own PBJ sandwich instead of making the “perfect” sandwich served on an adorable clean plate with decorative garnish. I even said nothing when he piled on half a jar of jelly. I merely smiled and exclaimed, “Great job!” ….then walked away before I scraped most of the jelly lump back in the jar.

Writers crumble at building a brand or doing social media and writing. Why? We fail to see we have help. Outsource. Maybe see if there are ways that we can make our family part of our publishing team. Let the teenagers find the funny memes or videos to use on a blog. Let them be part of the success instead of shouldering everything alone. Let Hubby go check out book covers and see which ones catch his eye. Maybe let a family member do some research for you. Also, let them know that when they leave you to write, they are helping write the book. They are helping the creation process.

This is a lot to ask. Of you of me…and OH DEAR GOD SPAWN IS NOW MAKING A JELLY SANDWICH WITH NO PEANUT BUTTER! HOLD ON! ….*breathes* I’m cool. Still here.

What are your thoughts? Do you suffer from Compulsive Helping Disorder? Are you struggling to let others help YOU, to ask for help? GASP! Did you ever think your helping could be hurting? I didn’t until recently so it’s okay. We are all friends here and I have jelly in my curtains and I am OK with that.

****Please pray for me *head desk*

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Will announce July’s winner later this week.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

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93 Comments

To Win We Must Lose—Sacrifice, Boundaries & Reaching Our Dreams

Image via "Fight Club"

Quote via “Fight Club”

This post is not a Plate of Cupcake Lessons. It’s a Bowl of Spinach and Kale Lessons. These lessons/habits are probably going to feel very un-fun for a while, but they’re essential for any kind of success. So many want to make success more palatable with sugar-coating and sprinkles. We live in a world of “effort-free, guilt-free, payment-plan options that require no work or pain on our part.”

And like P.T. Barnum once said, There’s a sucker born every minute. 

First, we need to define a few key ideas before we dig in.

What is Our Definition of Success?

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Before we can apply any “lessons” we have to accept a castor oil spoon of TRUTH. If we don’t make our own decision, we’ve still made a decision by abdicating making our own decision. If we don’t define success or happiness or what’s important, we leave a vacuum that other people and things will fill and they’ll be happy to define what our success should be.

A common result of abdication is we end up “living by default” which generates stress because it’s coming from a place of perceived powerlessness.

“Success” is all around us. We see it in magazines, television, on-line. We have more choices than any other time in human history (*cough* publishing). One of the reasons I hate going to Central Market is I can’t just buy SALT. There’s Himalayan Pink Salt, and Grey Celtic Salt, and Hawaiian Black Volcanic Salt, and White Truffle Oil Salt and…*head explodes*. While it IS a blessing to have a lot of choices (especially if one has as many food allergies as I do), all these options can put our brains in a knot.

On top of the plethora of choices, there’s another factor many of us might not appreciate. Due to the interconnectedness of our world, there is far more peer opinion about our choices. Peer pressure is at an all-time high.

The same factor that can be a positive force for selling books can be the same force that keeps us from finishing them, too ;) .

Back to success. What does it mean to YOU? What does it look like? In fact, in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spend an entire section having readers succinctly define what their success would be. Your vision of success is as unique as you are. Being specific in our goals is what’s going to make building a brand simple.

Remember Our Definition of Success Can Be Malleable and SHOULD Be

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Baby Spawn. Cutest priority EVER.

Life situations change. We go through seasons of growing and seasons of drought and seasons where it seems that life is trying to KILL US.

Before I was a wife and mom, being a NYTBSA was the epitome of success. That goal stayed paramount for a long time. Then Hubby had orders to deploy to Afghanistan and we would be without his income. Starting a small business took priority over being a NYTBSA. But, The Spawn was in nursery school six hours a day so this was doable.

Now that I’m homeschooling? I have to revisit “success” yet again. For me, there is NO SUCCESS that can take precedent over my mental, physical and emotional health. PEACE, for me, is paramount. If I cannot have peace, then everything will fall.

I’ve lost sight of this in the last 18 months, largely because of a lack of rest which will scramble discernment. When we aren’t rested, we’re reactionary. I’ve been trying to do what I did back before other responsibilities were on my plate. This is akin to trying to weed 1000 acres of an industrial farm using a garden hoe because, “Well, it worked fine in my backyard’s tomato garden.”

This is why it is so vital for all of us to clearly define success. Then we can more easily define priorities, which makes it simpler to discern when to say yes and when to say no. Also revisit those goals. They will evolve. And when life stacks more on top of us, we can give ourselves more grace because we’re viewing life from the appropriate lens.

I’m not a failure because I’m no longer writing 4000 words every day. Life is different. I’m no longer single and writing full-time. I’m a Mom with a high-energy child and a small business. And maybe I can still get in 1000-2000 words a day, but where am I willing to sacrifice?

Ah, sacrifice, that dirty word. Yep, despite what Madison Avenue says, we cannot have it all.

Choices

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I have a nice home, but many of the rooms still need to be painted and bear murals done by Baby Spawn. My furniture is old and my clothes are tattered and mostly from Walmart. I cook almost all our meals and “eating out” is usually a trip to In-N-Out Burger or maybe a pizza. It’s hard sometimes when I go to church in pregnancy pants under a nice top, when I’m surrounded by so many women who look like they fell out of a North Dallas boutique.

But, we have very little debt. Very little (and I am working on NO debt). We work hard to pay cash for everything or simply learn to do without. The only extra expenses we’ve been willing to take on cost far less than Spawn’s Pre-K tuition and they are only activities that will strengthen us as a family. Martial arts and the gym.

We have a neighborhood directly behind us. HUGE, GORGEOUS homes with unbelievable landscaping and back yards straight out of magazines. Deliveries from high-end furniture stores are the norm. It’s easy to feel the niggle of jealousy, but I have to remember…

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Funny thing is that often Pippa will wake me at three in the morning because she has to go outside to go pee. There are at least four homes behind us where it is extremely common to hear knock-down-drag-out fights until the wee hours of the morning, which saddens me greatly.

I have no idea what the fighting is all about, but I find it tragic that these families aren’t even enjoying a home most of us would love to have.

There Will Be Trade-Offs and Pain

One lesson I’m learning is to “count the cost.” Yes, I can press on and become the biggest NYTBSA EVER, but if I do this at the expense of my relationships, health and peace? Is it worth it? To me? No. My child living in a peaceful home with love and play and joy is a bigger priority. To warn you, this is NOT easy. I love to write. I could stay at a computer for hours, but now I have to work on being more fruitful with less time.

This morning, I told Spawn to let me get my work finished by X time and then I would take him to the pool. I hold to my word even when it hurts. But the pain of not finishing a chapter is less than the pain of Spawn being neglected.

There Will Be Push-Back

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Boundaries are really tough these days. We’ve been trained to be people-pleasers. Standing up for ourselves is “being mean.” I’ve learned the hard way to just put down boundaries early. There is no winning with toxic people, so save the energy.

Cases in Point…

I remember being in a writing group many years ago and no one was attending. I believed that by being president I could change things and make the group stronger. It was a nightmare. I had entire folders of hate mail. Never once in e-mail or person did I respond emotionally or even hatefully to the constant attacks. I simply set boundaries. I had people in meetings scream some of the most cruel and vicious things about me and to me, and I never responded in kind. I think once I cried and left the room (and resigned soon after).

But, when I no longer wanted to be president because the constant mental abuse was too much? I was “mean” for quitting. When I didn’t want to keep driving 90 minutes both ways every single Saturday for 95% of the group to no-show? I was mean.

I had the same thing happen in a community service group where (again) I was made president. *rolls eyes* Yay.

Though our membership had dropped so low we almost lost our charter, I received nothing but venomous e-mails calling me everything but Kristen. Often they attacked me in person and in front of guests and speakers. And while it seems I was a glutton for punishment (and perhaps I was), I’m grateful for those experiences.

These tough times honed my ability to remain professional when I was crumbling inside. To maintain peace. To stick to something even when it was extremely uncomfortable until my term was up.

As the saying goes, A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

Anyone can quit when things aren’t fun. Pros keep their word. If I signed up for a year, then a year was how long I would remain. On the other side of that coin? If things don’t change, let go. If the horse is dead? Dismount.

Most importantly, these experiences helped me hone discernment. Just because someone asks us to be in charge, doesn’t mean we should say “yes.”

Most People Want it ALL and DO NOT WANT Change or Sacrifice

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

If we accept this reality, relationships and boundaries become simpler. Reality dictates we can’t have or do everything, but plenty of people will be there to tell us we can.

When it came to the civic group, our membership numbers had dropped off a cliff because we’d been meeting in a hospital conference room for roughly ten years. Originally, the room was easy to access until a major hospital remodel.

Then guests needed a team of sherpas and a GPS to find the room. Membership plummeted from about 45 to around 12. If I suggested moving? I was a jerk. If I made ways we could stay? I was a jerk.

If I said no to 20 different projects we’d once done and tried to pare it down to 5? I was a jerk and a dictator. No one wanted to give up doing what had once been done with 45 members and accept we only had 12. We could do A LOT of things poorly or a few things well. Again, I spent another year filling my folder with hate mail and eventually left an organization I once loved dearly….and was a jerk for leaving.

Why was I a “jerk” in these groups? No one wanted boundaries. They didn’t want trade-offs.

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They couldn’t understand that if they wanted the writing group to continue, we needed people to attend. If they wanted this civic organization to regain members, we had to move. 

Toxic People Use Guilt

When we decide to become writers, we must 1) define success 2) set priorities, then 3) enforce boundaries. All three of these work together. If one falls the others do too. While most humans shy away from change and sacrifice, toxic people do this to extremes. This said, when you decide to make writing your main work priority, you will get grief when you set a boundary. Stand your ground and feel good about your choice. You aren’t being mean, you are being a professional.

If your critics eventually understand and respect your decision, they’re worth having in your sphere. If they’re bitter and hateful and still resent you five years later? Dead weight. Be happy that setting that boundary early culled them out before they could do more damage.

You matter. Your dreams matter. Your peace matters.

And notice I used the word simple through this post, not easy. Simple is NOT easy.  It can, however, become easier with practice.

What are your thoughts?

Do you find yourself chasing your own butt only to realize you haven’t rested? That maybe you need to take some time to redefine priorities? Are you struggling with learning to set boundaries? Are you learning to say “NO”? Are you struggling with feeling guilty that you can’t be and do everything? Have you been through some tough and toxic times where you learned to let go sooner?

Is it tough to not be jealous when you see others who look like they have it all?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Will announce July’s winner later this week.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

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43 Comments

The War on Fun—How Modern Culture is KILLING Creativity

Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig...

Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig…

Since homeschooling The Spawn, life has shifted dramatically as I struggle along this uncharted learning curve. For instance, it is a gorgeous summer this year. I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and never witnessed weather so balmy and beautiful. This morning, I step out to let the dog go bark at every thought scuttling through her brain (instead of going pee) and it’s oddly quiet. No kids. No squeals of riding bikes or rollerskating or plundering trash piles for construction materials for some ramp or fort or weapon.

When a Kid Could Be a Kid

When I was Spawn’s age, the second cartoons were over, we’d have been out the door for the entire day…willingly. Even though it was always triple-digit heat. Weather like THIS? We might have skipped the cartoons.

Okay, we’d have watched the good ones and not hung on for the crappy kiddie shows.

I’ve started to pay more attention now that I have my son home all day. The other mothers? Working moms have kids in daycare full-time. But even the Stay-At-Home Moms befuddle me. It’s as if they’re the Carnival Cruise Activity Director all summer. They take the kid(s) to the gym to play two hours, then gym camp, then swimming lessons, then karate, then multiple play dates across the city then church camp and voice lessons and Sylvan….

My head is spinning.

And so much of it is college-prep stuff. Like, preschool isn’t just playing and learning lessons like “hitting and eating glue is bad for one’s social life.” PRE-K is preparation for “real school”, which is part of why Spawn was fired. His imagination was far less valuable than reading retention. HE IS FOUR.

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Every other game out there is “educational.” Summer is no longer even summer. We used to have THREE MONTHS off to simply be kids and play. Now? There are learning centers lurking on every corner chanting things like, “You wouldn’t want your kids to be behind, would you? You aren’t a BAD parent. Not YOU….”

In the early 80s, my mom could keep a clean home, cook all our meals, cultivate a beautiful garden and sew our clothes because my tail was outside and I had little brother in tow as soon as he was close-enough-for-government-work potty trained. My mom spent time with us, but not every waking moment. We played our guts out every day after school for hours and solidly for three months a year. Sure, after vacation, we had to catch up some in September, but I still graduated college with honors and so did Little Bro.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the literacy rates were higher back then.

What Happened to PLAY?

Play comes naturally to humans. Just watch the glee on a baby’s face when he discovers OMG I HAVE TOES! THEY FIT IN MY MOUTH!

I recall all the things I used to do as a child for FUN—write, read, draw, color, roller-skate, dance, play make-believe, do cartwheels. And I’d just bust out dancing or doing the splits anywhere and it was okay. I was a kid.

I’m no longer allowed back in Home Depot *hangs head*

EPIC WIN!

EPIC WIN!

I really was kicked out of a Toys ‘R Us one time for racing through the store aisles on a Hoppity Hop.

Remember ME?

Remember ME?

My art and writing were all encouraged until I hit about the age of ten. Then I needed to start being serious. I had adults asking me where I wanted to go to college, what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up. Teachers asking me this.

Of course, me being me, I said I wanted to be a rich man’s wife. And Mom was promptly called up to school. Sarcasm wasn’t appreciated then either.

But WTH? I was TEN and that was a dumb question. Most adults still don’t know what THEY want to be when they grow up an yet they put that off of a kid? And there is an “acceptable” answer. When I said I wanted to be a writer, that was cute.

Now what was I going to do to earn money?

As we grow older, play is demonized, called trivial and labeled foolish and unnecessary. Yet, studies in neuroscience have demonstrated that play, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity…Nothing fires up the brain like play.” ~Stuart Brown, Play is More than Fun, TED Talk.

I’m reading a cool new book called, Essentialism—The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (and am learning a lot about what I’ve been doing wrong or even right).

The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet, our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed much of the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning. ~Author Greg McKeown, Essentialism, page 84.

We’ve talked about this on my blog before, how our public schools were designed for the main purpose of training future  factory workers. The Industrial Revolution was all about efficiency and mass production. Educational institutions patterned much of their structure from the military. As McKeown points out, we even see military vocabulary in our workplace. In the trenches. On the front lines. Even the word company is a military term for a military unit (McKeown, page 85).

A Changing World

So here we have this school structure that is designed to produce a force for manufacturing when most manufacturing has largely been outsourced to developing countries. If we are to have any economic future, it will come from fields requiring imagination—computers, programming, art, writing, design, etc.

Yet, most of the school activities that foster imagination are the first on the cutting block—art, music, drama, band, recess. We even have new schools being built with no playgrounds.

Even when there is play, it seems it is never just for the sake of play. Kids are learning piano or playing football not because it is fun, but because “they could one day use that to pay for COLLEGE.”

Many of the greatest human innovations have been birthed from leisure and play. Shakespeare played constantly with iambic pentameter. DaVinci was known to be a flake who’d run off chasing butterflies or tinkering with machines instead of finishing his paid “job.” Newton uncovered the Law of Gravity while resting.

Our most successful companies—Google, Pixar, Apple—encourage play and rest. So why then do we have SO many companies who measure keystrokes and phone calls and enslave employees to metrics?

And while we are doing everything possible to kill imagination and play and vilify vacations and rest, we simultaneously wonder why we’re losing our edge?

The Power of Play

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Play has all these great benefits to the brain. Why? One big reason is play is AMAZING at reducing stress. When we’re stressed, our body defaults to reptile brain. It’s impossible to use higher thinking centers because the brain is in survival mode.

Yet, instead of doing some cartwheels, we chug energy drinks and coffee and work later into the night to “catch up.” We sacrifice sleep and play first. Then, we’re foggy-headed and disorganized. So we drink some more caffeine because naps are anathema and play is a pariah.

And the cycle continues…

We’ve created this culture that prides itself on getting no sleep and taking no time off. Even our words reflect our values.

I LOVE cleaning house, because I make everything a game and always have. I set timers and see if I can clean ALL the dishes before the buzzer goes off. I dance with the mop. I “race” Spawn picking up toys.

But we call them “chores” and wonder why everyone groans. We go to the gym to “work out” then are befuddled why we resist. I do Brazilian Jui-Jitsu because it’s FUN. I used to wrestle and play-fight as a kid. I’m not at a dojo to eventually make money competing in the MMA. It’s simply…FUN. Maybe one day I’ll get a black belt, more likely I’ll get a black eye.

But will I have STORIES to TELL!

Writing, Social Media and Blogging, Oh, MY!

I wrote this book to help writers…but mostly so I cloud finally be a CYBORG.

I wrote this book to help writers…but mostly so I could finally be a CYBORG.

Often, when we decide to become writers there is a LOT of social push-back. We don’t have a “real” job. Why? Because we actually have FUN. Is this what makes others itch with envy? When I created the WANA methods for blogging and social media, the goal wasn’t to sell books or measure algorithms. WANA is simple. HAVE FUN and others will be drawn to you. You will ENJOY it, so you’re more likely to DO it. Others gravitate toward the light so be the light.

Blogging? Have fun! Invite others in. That’s it. No gadgets, plans, gizmos or algorithms.

Facebook is FUN (maybe it’s why people get all snooty about it). Social media is recess for adults. It’s Show-And-Tell. “Hey, check out this cake I baked!” We share jokes and funny memes and smile and laugh…a lot.

Oh, but how is this directly impacting your book sales initiative? Are you targeting the right demographic to gain click throughs and meaningfully drive the curve of boring-as-hell?

No idea. And don’t care.

Play is anything we do for no gain other than we enjoy it. Is this why we have such a hard time being writers? Why are we swayed from fun to factory so easily? Everyone assumes the second we’re writing a novel, our goal is to become a NYTBSA. WHY? Can’t we just write something for the sake of fun? Maybe put it up for sale because we want to share our art project? Why do we need to monetize everything?

Children are investments, adults are assets and the elderly are losses and there is something terribly, horribly wrong with that.

The Play Challenge

Do ONE Thing Silly Per Day

This morning, I stepped outside to the cool soft grass and…did cartwheels. I’d forgotten how fun those things were. They added nothing tangibly to my word count and my laundry was still here when I returned, but cartwheels were strangely…liberating. Since Spawn has been home, I’ve been doing a lot of silly things. Chasing zombies with NERF guns, clearing rooms. Swimming. Tickle-fighting. And I was fretting over all this “wasted time.”

Pthththththt to that.

Last night we watched Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark. Why? Because it is FUN. It’s so bad it is AWESOME.

Pay Attention to Words

I’m going to stop using the phrase “working out.” Makes me stressed. Maybe call it “recess”? We ran and ran as kids and didn’t need to slot time to do it. We jumped rope and walked everywhere and not one of us counted how many calories we’d burned before we could stop.

Seek PLAY and FUN

This is NOT goofing off. It’s good for you, so watch. I guarantee you the next minute and fifteen seconds will improve your day dramatically….

I am actively working to seek rest and fun. It’s good for the imagination. Go write a story you have no intention of marketing. See if you can combine things that don’t go together. Put a cup full of genres in one jar and nouns in another then draw—sci-fi, knitting, nuclear device. Whatever. Go color, do a cartwheel, play a video game. It IS work. Workaholics aren’t challenged by working more, they are truly challenged working less.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think our culture has gotten a collective stick up its hind end? Are you vexed that kids don’t get enough play? Are you annoyed that everything has to be “educational” or “college prep” and that we seem do frown on anything that doesn’t make “business sense”? Have you had a hard time playing, napping, having fun? Do you feel guilty that you should do more, but the list never stops? Do you find that your creativity improves after rest and fun?

Have you worked fun into your life? Are you guarding your fun and recreation and rest? Do you get pushback? Do you MISS having THREE MONTHS OFF with nothing to do but PLAY? What would you do if given that opportunity as an adult?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

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96 Comments

Reduce Stress, Increase Joy & Productivity—Why Is Simple So HARD?

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Funny how we get the same lessons in life over and over and…over. Maybe not you guys. Maybe y’all are sharper than me. But the thing I keep returning to is “essentialism.” Boil everything down to the basics. Focus on one or even a few key areas with all you have. THAT is the key to success.

So why is simple so hard?

Last week, I blogged about what writing and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu had in common. Much of any martial art is mastery and focus on the BASICS.

Which is why I am no longer LOSING EVERY round. I’m even winning a few *happy dance*.

But I know my life goes through these crazy times. You’ve been there.

The Transition

It happened when I went from being single to married. I am a tad…ok, more than a tad OCD. I once moved and the movers called me, “The House that Rubbermaid Made.” Everything was organized and labeled and it took less than five hours for them to move me and less than four hours for me to completely unpack.

***Note: This phenomena hasn’t happened since *whimpers*.

Why? After that move it was no longer only ME.

I had to adjust to being a writer living with my mom who keeps EVERYTHING, then a wife of a man who is adorable but KEEPS EVERYTHING. Then I became a mom of a newborn and then a toddler, and now that he’s a preschooler? Yeah, I’m happy if I can keep the floors virtually hazard-free and my house not smelling like a crime scene.

But am I happy?

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

The Trouble with “Happy”

Am I happy?

I’ve had to ask that A LOT lately. In the end, happiness (in my opinion) should never be our goal. Why? Well, because the word is tethered to “happenstance.” It’s too wonky. Rather, I choose to do what is right knowing it will eventually produce joy which has a much longer shelf life. Am I happy being up at 3:30 in the morning because the cat coughed up a hairball on me in the middle of some weird dream about The Golden Girls and a money-laundering scandal?

No idea. That was a weird-@$$ dream and good reason not to eat too close to bedtime. BUT, I do know that I’m up for some reason…even if it is to make you feel totally sorry for me :P

Happiness and Joy

I am a NAZI when it comes to language. Seriously. Since we have lost SO many family members in two years, I finally went to a grief counseling group at our church and while it IS awesome and I have made a lot of progress (like finally CRYING) I nitpick about the Scripture. And not to be preachy here, but if you aren’t a Christian, just work with me and roll with it.

We use a lot of the Beatitudes. The translation they use in the group makes me nutso. It isn’t, “HAPPY are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Happy? That makes NO sense to me. I prefer other translations that are closer to the original text, which tell me, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I am NOT going to feel “happy” mourning. It’s awful losing people you love. But, if I learn to cry, let go, remember the good stuff and latch onto the gifts that those people’s lives gave me? I am definitely BLESSED.

Many times we are blessed yet miserable. 

I can think of a lot of super tough times that made me howl to the heavens, WHY ME? Looking back? Those were the times I grew the most. Though I was NOT happy, I needed the lesson. I needed the growth. I needed to let go of baggage, people, situations that I didn’t realize (at the time) were toxic.

I needed to realize my purpose wasn’t selling industrial paper.

Like, seriously.

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

So, I do think semantics are key. We live in a world where everything is supposed to make us HAPPY. Well, kiddos, I hate to say it but most of the stuff that is good for us in the end will NOT make us happy. “Happy” is fleeting, joy is far deeper.

Letting Go

I like to believe I am an Essentialist at heart. I lose sight sometimes. We all do. Don’t believe me? Look in your closet O_o. But life isn’t static. We are slaves to entropy. We are changing and growing and shifting and we are wise to stay on top of what is going on. I cannot DO things the same as a Mommy-Writer with an infant who slept most of the day as NOW when I’m homeschooling a zombie-obsessed preschooler who abducts Cheerios in the wee hours and sprinkles them in my couch.

The goal is to always focus on what is essential. DO NOT COMPROMISE. And you will, but you can regroup. Breathe.

WANA has always been essentialist in nature. What is the point of social media? When we realize the core point, it’s clearer that we don’t have to rely on gimmick, automation or camp on top of “our brand.” The CORE of all social media is simply to create relationships. Takes away a LOT of pressure.

The weird paradox is that the more we let go, the more we can hold. We live in a world that tells us we can have it all. We can’t. Not really. There HAS to be a trade-off if we hope to do anything well (and remain sane).

For instance, I can have an immaculate home or a happy child. My son won’t remember that the house was dust-free in his childhood. He WILL remember playing at the pool with Mommy, or wrestling and playing “Attack of the MOMBIE.” He will remember the times at the park. He will remember Mommy suiting up with him in a gi to go learn martial arts.

The dishes? Eh, not so much. And if he does and this scars him? Well, shrinks need to eat too.

He can talk to his therapist...

He can talk to his therapist…

Choose Wisely

Okay, if you are anything like me you will likely goof this up and need retraining. Why? Because in our New-And-Improved-World, EVERYTHING is important. So give yourself some grace if you get it wrong the first couple tries. With all the options flying at us telling us we can HAVE IT ALL, we might struggle with discernment. That’s OKAY. Remember, life is not static. Just change direction. Make a different decision.

Go AROUND the leaf….

But, if we can look to the CORE of life, what is it? Health, Wealth, Relationships (not in any necessary order), priorities become clearer. As a fun fact, the word priority came from the Latin word a priori which was SINGULAR. It wasn’t until close to the Industrial Revolution that the word was ever pluralized into priorities. What this means to me it that most companies have their collective heads up their butts I need to work on discernment.

What is WANA’s priority? Empowering Writers of the Digital Age. Simple. We have classes, conferences, our own social network and all the tools to do ONE thing…empower. We give low-cost and digitally accessible classes and conferences, then we provide social media outlets so anything we can do can be magnified. Anything that does not align with Empowering Writers of the Digital Age? Not even a consideration.

Not that everything’s been seamless, but it’s sure been simpler.

With my life? Which things are priority? I can make a list—oh, can I make LISTS—but I’m better off focusing everything into a singular CORE a priori.

What is my GOAL as a mother and wife? As a writer? As a teacher?

Believe it or not, it’s all the same. Empowering. I can’t do Hubby’s job for him, but I can make our home a place of respite and peace that empowers him to do the best job he can each day. I can’t force Spawn to learn any faster than he does, but I can empower him to learn the best way for him.

Sigh, yes, even if it involves…zombies.

The Spawn LOVES "Mommy School"

The Spawn LOVES “Mommy School”

I can’t write your books for you or do your social media, but I can teach you all the craft and publishing stuff that tied my brain in knots for years. I can empower you to write faster, cleaner and better and also have a social media brand without going crazy. I can empower you to make the best decisions for your personality and book(s).

Something To Take Away

I am a Work In Progress. We all are. WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have to battle this entropy thing until we die, so what are some tips to keep life simpler? I’ll give a few and maybe we’ll expound later.

No Meddling!!!!

We all have family and friends who seem to collect disaster faster than black pants gather cat fur. BE UNAVAILABLE. I can’t even measure the time I’ve wasted trying to solve other people’s problems when they weren’t interested in solving it themselves. You know who I’m talking about. The people who cry and wail and want advice…and then do what they were going to do anyway and then it BLOWS UP and they need help?

No. JUST SAY NO. Back away. This is just never going to end well.

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When we meddle, we are NOT HELPING. We’re stealing this person’s power. We are stealing the lesson failure provides as well as the feeling of victory they will have by solving their own problems.

And, because most of us stink at priorities and think everything is an emergency, it is likely those around you do as well. So while they’re screaming FIRE!

…it isn’t.

Put down the firehouse and back away.

Take a Day Off

Sunday is my day of rest. Period. I’ve actually only fired a couple of people, but one? She couldn’t follow instructions. Every Sunday she was e-mailing and calling and wanting to talk business despite many times being told DO NOT CONTACT ON SUNDAY. Everything was a priority!

Failure to prepare on your part, does not constitute an emergency on mine.

Rest is WORK

In fact, rest is the hardest work we will ever do because we live in a world that frowns upon it. We’re supposed to be doing a zillion things all at once 24/7 and be available all hours all days. And then others wonder why quality suffers.

We have no problems putting gas in our car, plugging in our phones or laptops into a power outlet. Why are we last on the list? We need JUICE, TOO. Recharge and stop running on 3% battery.

Just so y’all know, I have one finger pointed at you and the rest pointed at ME. Lately, I’m learning to say no, turning off phone, doing more yoga and taking more power naps. I NEED for my brain to just chillax.

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle and have too many “PRIORITIES”? Do you lose your focus? Do you struggle with energy vampires who always have some new drama? Are you learning to put down boundaries with yourself and others? Do you feel guilty resting, taking a nap or even—GASP—A VACATION! YOU SLOTH! Have you gotten better at making you and your WRITING a priority? THE PRIORITY? What tips or tools could you share?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

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56 Comments

Why Are Zombies Consuming Our Culture?

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 8.07.00 AM

This poster for sale HERE.

Eh, it’s Friday, so we’re going to have a little fun debate. ZOMBIES. I never actively intended the undead to be part of my author brand, but strangely? It fits. Just take one glance at an author trying to make deadline (hmmm, word choice?) or someone who’s been through Revision Hell? The term “Walking Dead” fits. These poor souls shamble around moaning. They wear stained clothes, coffee mug in hand and have that creepy thousand-yard stare.

Don’t shoot! Well, unless it’s a tranquilizer gun because that is the only way many writers in these stages are going to get any sleep.

Jokes aside, why have zombies invaded pop culture?

The Spawn and Zombies

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It started out kinda cute. It was Halloween and Spawn was three. But first, a tad of backstory so y’all have context.

When Spawn was slightly less than two, he began to speak…beautifully. His third word was “dinosaur” and it was as clear as if an adult said it. I was so excited. He was talking! And just like every child I’d cared for in the past, he was speaking early, intelligibly and articulately. Then he was in a terrible accident and knocked his four front teeth into the maxilla. $20,000 of emergency maxo-facial surgery later? I had a baby bat who rarely spoke and hid his face.

Back to Halloween, 2013.

So Hubby and I were thrilled when all of the sudden, from the back seat, we hear this tiny voice say, “ZOMBIE.” That is SO OUR BOY!

Everything became about zombies and we’re still not exactly sure how since it wasn’t like we’d done anything to actively introduce him to the topic. I was addicted to documentaries about physics at the time.

Anyway, Spawn began making up zombie songs.

My husband loves heavy metal. All the sudden, I hear a growly toddler voice “singing”:

Zombies and BABIES

Zombies and BABIES

Meet you in the dark. Eat you in the park.

ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! ZOMBIEEEEEEE!

….ohhh-kay

I confess, I laughed. I encouraged it because at least he was talking and singing. Then one day I hear him singing the Zombies and Babies tune, but the lyrics changed.

New song?

Zombies and Pears

Me: Zombies and pears?

Spawn: Yep.

Me: What kind of zombie eats pears?

Spawn: *matter-of-factly* Vegan Zombies.

And HOW do you argue with THAT?

And the ZOMBIE SAGA Continues…and CONTINUES

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At first it was cute, then adorable. But after almost a year of nothing but zombies? I’m a bit weary. But, the only time I can even understand half of what he is saying is when he talks about zombies. He tells stories, makes up songs, asks lots of zombie-related questions, makes zombie rhymes.

And for those who have followed this blog, my four-year-old son was fired from preschool for his love of zombies. No, he didn’t bite or attack anyone, he just liked to wander around the playground with a blank stare and moan. Clearly the school didn’t see he was BORN to run for government office.

So now Mommy is homeschooling (unschooling actually). What I’ve decided is if he wants zombies, that’s what he’ll get. Think of all the topics! ZomBIOLOGY 101.

Prevention, pathology, epidemiology, history, plagues, prions, viruses, the CDC, ethics, and on and on. Either I will burn him out and he’ll find something new, or at least I can have fun, too.

But it does beg the question…

Why Are Zombies SO Popular?

My friend Kevin Lucia is a horror author who’s taught for WANA International and guest-posted here about this often misunderstood genre. One particular Lucia post was fascinating because he spoke about how “horror” often reflects much of what we’re facing as a society. For instance, after the invention of the A-Bomb, radioactivity was all the rage. Movie theaters and comics offered up all kinds of radioactive spiders, lizards, superheroes, super villains etc.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre came on the heels of the Vietnam War, a war which decimated accepted rules of combat and exposed authorities as flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy.

Now we exist in a world where we are no longer fighting countries or governments, we’re fighting ideas/behaviors—The War on Drugs, The War on Obesity, The War on Terror.

War of Words

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Most of these “wars” are rife with ambiguity. Which drugs are the enemy? We’re Janus-faced. Our government burns poppy fields while doctors hand out Oxycotin like candy. The DEA torches marijuana fields, but then we can order “special” brownies in Colorado. Meth is evil, but then elementary schools are swimming in amphetamines (ADD meds).

Talk about confusing.

Then there is The War on Obesity. Sigh. I’m close to 170 pounds, but I wear a size 8. I fired my last doctor because he kept sending me for tests to figure out why I was so “morbidly obese.” Despite the fact that all my tests came back the picture of optimal health and my diet is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, soda-free, low in sugar and no processed carbs, organic, non-GMO and I work out constantly, I was “fat.”

Ironically, if I wasn’t a white female, I’d be “curvy.” The African American nurse was my strongest ally and thought the doctor had four holes in his head. She made it a point to tell me I was beautiful and to ignore him.

But this is a fair question. What IS fat? In a world where J.Crew is offering up the NEW Size 000? Who the hell knows anymore?

The Shapeshifting

The terrifying part (for me) is that ideas are malleable and can be redefined. “Terrorist” is all about perspective and personal value systems. I’ve had people on Facebook call gun-owners domestic terrorists and viscously attack me for having guns. Of course, the interesting part is many of them live in major metropolitan areas. Politics aside, a large portion of these detractors don’t live in places where their definitive position at the top of the food chain not is static.

Image courtesy of Texana

Image courtesy of Texan

 

We’ve had nests like these (above) at our property, even beneath the HOUSE. I’ve nearly stepped on a rattlesnake countless times. Also at our ranch, we’ve been battling a MAJOR wild boar infestation. Wild boar can weigh hundreds of pounds. They’re viscous, invasive, aggressive, territorial and have long razor-sharp tusks that rival a French chef knife.

Cell phones rarely work out there, and even if they did, it would take at least 30 minutes for outside help to arrive.

New Kinds of War

Also, these days there is NO way to really know or see the enemy. The enemy (like Vietnam) can be anyone and everyone. It isn’t a soldier dressed in a blue or red or green uniform. Men, women, children, babies, elderly are all potential killers in many parts of the world.

Interesting how this parallels with the idea of zombies. However infected, the zombie is just as much a victim as its prey. A virus “recruits” universally and doesn’t discriminate.

A Universal and Politically Correct “Enemy”?

Original "Red Dawn"

Original “Red Dawn”

I was a child of the 70s and 80s. We were a seriously un-PC generation. We fought the Russians daily in our backyard and all watched the 1984 Olympics with more enthusiasm than any Olympics since. Our goal? BEAT THE RUSSIANS. Then the Iron Curtain parted, the Berlin Wall fell and a world with two major axes of power crumbled.

Also, with an increasingly globalized world most of us live in very heterogenous populations. I live in a relatively small satellite community in DFW. I see Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians, Muslims, Africans every time I go to a grocery store. This notion of we are ALL in this together? Clearer by the day.

Sure we witness human-against-human war all the time on the news, which is why I limit how much I watch. But my opinion? The biggest threats we will face in the future are not people, but biology.

Beat the Russians Bugs

In the 80s and 90s, doctors threw antibiotics at EVERYTHING. We’re seeing all kinds of superbugs emerging. I was an early adopter and contracted Swine Flu the year before it paralyzed the US. I’ve never been so sick in my LIFE. I had a boiling fever (104-108) for two weeks and it took THREE MONTHS to fully recover.

Add in SARS, Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, MRSA, Flesh-Eating viruses, Tuberculosis, The Kardashians and Honey Boo-Boo?

It makes sense that zombies would be part of the national consciousness when every time we get sick we need GODZILLACILLIN to tame a simple ear infection.

Zombies—A Social Observation? How We Feel About Others

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Zombies. Mindless. Unaware of anything but their own hunger.

A couple posts ago, I mentioned going to yoga to decompress and have quiet time away from the noise of our fast-paced world. The woman next to me texted THE ENTIRE TIME. She couldn’t set down the cell phone for an HOUR.

REALLY?

Fifteen years ago, if a car was going 20 mph in a 50 mph zone and weaving through lanes? Probably a drunk. NOW? Likely texting or looking at a phone.

I was at a 7-11 trying to buy water to bring to the park. I happened to be behind this young 20-something with his pants nearly to his knees….on a PHONE. The poor clerk kept having to redo the transaction because this guy was chatting away and kept hitting the wrong buttons on the swipe pad.

It took everything for me not to rip the phone out of his hands and yell, “I’m happy you are wearing underwear, but don’t need proof. Please pull up your pants, hang up the phone and give this person working to HELP you the respect enough to be present. You are not the only one in this world and there is a line of people behind you who’d kinda like to buy stuff too and not stare at your @$$ any longer than necessary.”

How We Feel About Ourselves

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I can’t speak for all the world, but I can speak for Western culture. Every time they give us a new “time-saving” tool, they just pile on more stuff to do on our heads. When I was in the corporate world, there were people who bragged that they hadn’t taken a vacation in a decade.

Please do, because you are a worn out jerk and everyone HATES YOU.

If you took a vacation, it was frowned upon and not-so-subtley punished. Even taking SICK DAYS was punished. When I worked in paper, I got pneumonia. They forced me to come to the office (loaded with paper fiber) and we were located next to a concrete plant so the air was full of concrete dust…but then had NO IDEA why I wasn’t getting better.

Many of us deal with workplaces that would rather us lumber in with 103 degree fever than take a day off.

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Thanks for infecting the rest of us.

So why ARE we fascinated with zombies? Many of us spend a lot of time burned out and surrounded by stupidity. We’re medicated, caffeinated and indoctrinated. I don’t know about you, but I seriously miss my BRAAAAIIIIINS. I also miss when Spawn loved NASCAR. Sigh.

What are your thoughts? Why have zombies taken the place of Godzilla and Giant Spiders from Outer Space? Do you think the zombie craze is a reflection of our social angst? Or maybe we relate to the poor zombie more than we’d like to admit?

It’s Friday, let’s have some fun and be Armchair Anthropologists and Sideline Sociologists!

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform (HINT: Start as EARY as possible) here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

TOMORROW!!!!!

SATURDAY is my ANTAGONIST CLASS. NYC Time 12:00-2:00. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Have an idea for a book? Stuck and can’t move forward? Keep starting books you can’t finish? THIS class is the cure! You get two…okay usually more like three hours of instruction, the recording, detailed notes AND you can upgrade for personal consulting to help you repair or construct your masterpiece.

 

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