An Epiphany Before I Go…

That FaceFunny, it took an internet gif to save my life from the internet. I was watching this funny gif on Tumblr, in which a young man keeps getting photobombed by his dog. Apparently there are a lot of these gifs out there because it keeps happening. I’m scrolling through the comments, which were along the lines of how this dog was ruining everyone’s life because of the cuteness, and I caught myself irritably telling my own dog to go lie down.

To go lie down so I could look at a gif of a man interacting with his dog with love and joy. WTF is wrong with me?

In that instant, I got an entire snapshot of my life for the past seven years. Working too many hours, spending too much time on the internet. Hopping endlessly from Live Journal to Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr looking for someone to have a conversation with. Incidentally, these last seven years corresponds to the time my dog has been on the planet. His life is half over and I have spent a good bit of it telling him to go lie down because Mummy’s tired and she needs to chill out on the internet for, I don’t know, the next four or five hours. When the hell did I become that person? When the hell did I become my mother?

Baby HawkeyeWell, fuck that shit. No, seriously. I’m done. Sure, I’ll pop up on a semi-regular basis to post updates or share some thinky-thoughts like this one. I’ll wave at my friends on the internet and I’ll RT someone else’s good news. I’ll fulfill my current commitments to blogging and touring.

But I can’t be a writer if I’m always online. I can’t be a writer if I have put my life on hold. Writing is about living on paper–but you can’t do that if you haven’t lived in person. And I am not going to be the person who shoves aside the dog when he only wants a piece of my attention. A being who wants me to interact with him. I only have THIS dog once, and like a bright meteorite blazing across my night sky, I’ll only have him a little while. This dog. This horse. This man. None of whom care if I’m successful or how much I weigh, or if my hair is falling out, or anything–as long as I’m happy. And by God, I’m going to go out and grab my happiness by the horns, wrestle it to the ground, and bring it back to the ranch.

Because I’m DONE being the internet’s bitch. 😉

D_H_beach

Why We Need to Celebrate the Small Successes

I recently came across a post being shared on Facebook. The blog post, written by a former competitive ice dancer, was titled Yes, My Thighs Touch (And I am Absolutely Fine). That post really struck a cord with me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The world of competitive skating places a lot of importance on personal appearance and weight as being major factors in how well you will succeed, so it is not surprising to me to read that blogger Jamie Silverstein has recovered from an eating disorder. I grew up in a household with someone who had anorexia. I know intimately what that is like, what havoc it wreaks not only on your body, but also on everyone around you, too.

What struck me was how healthy and reasonable Silverstein’s attitude was toward her body now. That is something I still struggle with myself, even though I was not the one with the anorexia. I don’t often post pictures of myself on the internet. A) I think that’s asking for unwanted commentary and B) I only have about four pictures of myself that I do not utterly loathe. In fact, one of the few things that can make my boyfriend angry with me is if I go through the photos on the camera after one of our trips and delete all the ones of me. “Those are my memories,” he said once, when I had deleted every picture I was in.

I see his point. That doesn’t change the fact that I have always believed myself to be an unattractive person and inherently unphotogenic. So I am posting this picture here taken of me in my twenties to prove a point. At the time this photo was taken, I was convinced I was the ugliest girl on the planet.

Beach 3_croppedI’m posting this picture because, while I could never lay claim to Super Model status, I obviously was not a troglodyte either. But you could not convince me of that. I’d grown up my entire life hearing how plain I was. How I would need to work extra hard to make friends because I wasn’t attractive. How I would need to be tough and independent because I couldn’t count on some man coming along to take care of me. I wore glasses and braces, therefore, I was ‘doubly handicapped.’ I was as ‘homely as a mud fence’; something I’d never seen but it sounded dirty and disgusting. And I once overheard a neighbor comment to my grandmother how beautiful my sister was, but that I ‘grew on you after a while.’ Like I was mold, or something.

I’m sure the messages I received were not intended to be hurtful. I suspect my mother simply wished for me to be a strong individual and to aspire to be more than an extension of a husband. In many ways, I’m glad I learned this lesson. I do *not* let my self-worth depend on the presence of a man in my life. I studied hard in school, got a professional degree, and work in a challenging career. I have a wonderful relationship with a man that I love that is based on mutual respect. I don’t expect him to ‘rescue’ me. We take turns taking care of each other.

But I do not think I am an attractive person. I’d reached a sort of resigned peace with my personal appearance until the last couple of years, when health issues began to erode my trust in my body. This has also been compounded by the fact that I am getting older. In fact, if there was such a thing as Aging Anorexia, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had it. Every fine wrinkle, every new ache or pain, each tiny suggestion that I am not as young as I used to be is magnified in my eyes. I can go from “Damn, my knee is bothering me a bit,” to “I’ll have to give up horseback riding” to “I’m going to lose my independence” in a matter of minutes. I know it’s not rational. That’s the insidious thing about these wild misconceptions we hold over ourselves–even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the belief, we persist in holding on to it. When I was younger, I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough. Now that I’m older, I am not successful enough. I’m packing twenty extra pounds I don’t know how to get rid of, and I would give anything to look like the younger me again–the one I thought was so ugly. And my irrational fear of losing my independence? Well, my independent self was the only thing I was taught to rely on.

Bridge_Abbey resizedKind of ironic, eh?

So this post by Jamie Silverstein really resonated with me. Because here she is saying, “You know what? I’m not perfect–and I don’t have to be. What I am is pretty darn good as it is.” What she is, by the way, is not defined by her body or her appearance. It is who she is as a person.

I do see the value of such self-acceptance, much as I see the BF’s point about not deleting pictures of his trip simply because I don’t like them. But up until Silverstein’s post, I couldn’t really buy into the self-acceptance thing because it has always felt like an excuse: a reason to toss up your hands and stop trying to be better than you are.

It wasn’t until I read this post that somehow a little light bulb clicked on and I realized that if you truly accept yourself for who and what you are, you’re going to try to take better care of yourself. You do this because you care about your body and what you put into it and no, Goldfish crackers and a can of Sprite doesn’t qualify as a decent breakfast by anyone’s standards over the age of twelve.

You know what else I got out of this post? It’s the little goals that count. You know why? Because there are more of them in our lives than the big ones. You might never win an Oscar, or have your book turned into a movie, or be awarded a Nobel Prize. But every day is filled with little goals hard-met and won, and for some reason, because we live in this mindset of Mega-Success or Go Home, we discount the little things as not being meaningful. Not being worth mentioning

Snow_Casey resizedThey are the only things that really matter.

Because the problem with only celebrating the Big Goals, of only valuing the Big Goals, is that we use them as an excuse not to attempt anything. If I can’t lose twenty pounds in two weeks, then attempting to get healthier by making better food choices and getting more sleep and making time to exercise, well, that’s just pointless, isn’t it?

If my next release isn’t the breakout novel that puts me on the top of the bestseller list on Amazon, then why bother writing? If the horse has to be retired from competition before we ever made it to a Three Day Event, then why bother riding her anymore?

The truth of the matter is that most of us will never be bestselling authors with Hollywood banging at our door begging to turn our story into a movie. We’re not going to the Olympics. We’re not going to be Super Model thin or Super Model pretty and we’re not going to be ridiculously wealthy.

But I wrote and published a novel within the last six months–and I really don’t know many people who can say that. The Boys of Summer is my first independently published novel. Yes, I made mistakes, but I am damn proud of that work and it is getting some fine reviews. I might not have ever made it to a 3-day with my mare, but I have participated in a riding clinic taught by an Olympic coach with her. And tonight, I climbed the ridge behind the house with the dog trotting alongside. The sun was setting behind me, and the pale ghost of the moon was rising in front of me, and there was row upon row of mountains in varying shades of purple and blue all around as far as the eye could see. I felt as though I was looking at a photograph of the ocean, and the mountains were waves caught on film. That made me one of the richest people on the planet.

redbud resizedYou know what else celebrating the small successes does for you? It keeps you here in the moment. It anchors you to the present. It’s what makes you feel accomplished when you crank out 1500 words at the end of a brutally exhausting day–and count that as an achievement instead of berating yourself for not having written more. It’s recognizing that the most important thing you could be doing right now is acknowledging the dog that just placed his head in your lap to be petted. There is no room for regret or fear for the future when you are living in the moment. Animals do it all the time. The walk that the dog is on right now is the best walk ever. I want to learn how to hold such moments in my heart for longer than a few seconds.

Denying ourselves the value of the small successes sets us up to be disappointed again and again. Because it’s like saying that unless you can climb the sheer cliff face without using any finger or toeholds, without pausing on a ledge to catch your breath, that you’re not really a mountain climber at all. We’re lying to ourselves when we discount the small successes. We’re telling ourselves that the Photoshopped image of success is the real one and that if we were without imperfections, we could have that life too.

The best part about celebrating the small successes is that they are different for each of us. Everyone of us has the potential for a small success. Maybe you went for that walk after dinner when you are normally too tired to get off the couch. Or you finished that home improvement project you’ve been working on for weeks. Maybe you walked away from that doughnut. Maybe you ate the doughnut. It could be the thoughtful gift you mailed off to a friend who’s been down, or you said no to that drink, or you decided to see a counselor, or your gif is being reblogged on tumblr, or you called your mother, or you’re just having a Good Hair Day.

Recognize those moments for what they are: a great beam of sunlight breaking through the clouds. They are what life is all about.backlit clouds resized

Because I could spend the rest of my life mourning what I am not. I’ve already wasted a lot of time doing that. To continue to so so will only prevent me from being what I can be.

A writer’s most important job is to write…

The view from the barn

The view from the barn

For the first time in I don’t know how long, I had three days off in a row. Three days off with no other obligations. Under normal conditions, I would have been working those days. A freak winter storm blew through here and gave me the adult equivalent of a Snow Day–as well as a long weekend. Power outages at work meant I had to cancel appointments. Conflicting schedules meant that I had no weekend plans for a change. The horse and dog both were recovering from injuries–which meant no temptations into long meandering walks in the woods or a frigid couple of hours riding around in circles in the indoor arena.

I could write to my heart’s content and not feel guilty about it.

Not just a little snow, either!

Not just a little snow, either!

I’d been champing at the bit (no pun intended) for a while now to find a little ‘me’ time and indulge in some serious writing. I’d been looking over some old projects and I’d been taking a hard look at the viability of current ones. Every chance I got, I would complain about how I didn’t have time to write–and suddenly, I did. Only, and here’s where the universe laughs, not really.

By Thursday evening, I was one of the lucky ones in my area who still had power. Over 200,000 homes lost power in the region, and almost 10,000 in my immediate area. Heavy rains for days had weakened branches and trees–when the skies suddenly dumped heavy snow to boot, trees bent under the weight of the wet snow. Some snapped, taking down power lines with them. Mine didn’t *quite* do that. What happened was that the trees pulled the lines down sufficiently to break the neutral ground cable from the pole–but not the rest of the power lines. So because I still had electricity, I innocently went to turn on the dryer Thursday night, and probably blew out half the wiring in my house.

The laundry room light brightened to a white-hot intensity, as though the MotherShip was hovering overhead and they were waiting to take me to their leader, and then went out. The dryer made a terrible grinding noise. I turned off the dryer, and the overhead light came back on–but dimly. I could smell a chemical, burning odor, so I shut the breaker to the laundry room and tiptoed away. I had no idea what had happened, but vowed to call an electrician in the morning.

Friday morning, I get the call that work has been cancelled, do the happy dance, and take the dog out into the yard. I took a ridiculous number of photographs, a few of which turned out well.

Snow time is the best time!

Snow time is the best time!

On our return to the house, I blithely start breakfast, turning on the stove and opening the fridge to get the bacon and eggs. As I watched, the fridge light dimmed. So did the lights on the stove. Saying some very bad words, I turned everything off, but I realized that the damage might have already been done by whatever happened to the dryer the night before. I got an electrician out, and that’s when we discovered the leaning tree limbs and the pulled cables. The good news is the electric company will have to fix that. The bad news is the wiring in the house may be damaged, and I won’t know until the electric company fixes the cable. Oh, and I have to leave the main breaker switched off in the meantime. Which means no heat, no water, and worst of all, no internet.

I dealt with it pretty well last night. I put on all my cold weather riding gear and sat with a camp lantern, reading from the well-charged Nook. I had pocket hand warmers in my bedroom slippers and was wearing hand-knitted fingerless mittens given to me by a friend. The dog slept by my side on the couch. It was peaceful. In fact, by 8:30, I was seriously thinking of bed.

I slept in a sleeping bag rated outdoors for 30 degrees, and with Alexander The Great snuggled in the bag by my side, who needed a hot water bottle?

Writer's Little Helper

Writer’s Little Helper

This morning, it was only 49 degrees F in my bedroom. Getting out of bed took an effort. I hurriedly put on warmer clothes, took care of the animals, and headed off for the day to the BF’s place to do laundry and, yes, write.

Only what did I do instead? I spent the day catching up on emails, on Facebook, on Twitter, on LJ…before I knew it, the day had gotten away from me and it was time for me to go home and feed the animals again. Ironically, one of the discussions I had today was about how the recommendations of social media are sometimes in conflict with what is best for an individual writer. At some point, I dropped this little gem:

“Sometimes social media gurus forget that a writer’s most important job is to write.”

Out of the mouths of babes…

Here it is, quarter after nine, and I still have as yet to crack open the WIP. What’s up with that? Haven’t I just said I was panting and pawing to get to it for days now? Well, the truth is simple. Writing when it was just for me, when it was just for fun, was easier. And as new writers, I think it is far too easy to get sucked into the mindset of how important social media is to our success. Don’t get me wrong, it is important. In just the last few weeks alone, I’ve met a group of really nice authors with all kinds of useful information to pass along, and this kind of networking is invaluable. You know these people, and then when you see something good happens for them, you signal boost happily. That’s why going to conventions is so great, why networking works.

But what doesn’t work for me is huge chat lists, and the overwhelming numbers on Twitter and Facebook that I can’t really put names to, or have a real conversation with. And I think it is tempting to spend all your time making and maintaining these connections and chatting about nothing in particular because it is a damn sight easier than working on your next novel. Somewhere along the way, the naive new writer gets scared. You realize that you’ve been doing it all wrong. You backpedal and spend time building your platform and you sign up for chats that are filled with the sound of crickets chirping in the background because no one knows who you are–and that makes you panic and promote yourself even more.

When you just need to sit down and write. Because bottom line, having another story for people to read is your best promotion ever. And, to be fair, the social media gurus do tell us this. But telling someone how to write a great story is harder than telling them how to promote themselves–just like writing the story is harder than the chit-chat, or the blogging, or the Tweeting.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve become addicted to the internet. I compulsively check my social networking sites, I go around and around in circle: checking email, then LJ, then Twitter, then Facebook, and then opening another browser and doing it again under my other (new) pen name. And it will all be for naught if I don’t have anything for you to read.

So while there will be regularly scheduled broadcasts as newsworthy things come about, and guest blogs, and random musings from my rambling mind, my most important job here is to write the next story. For me, and for you, too.

 

 

Aging Gracefully…

Today, I think I might finally have accepted the concept of aging with grace. For you to fully appreciate how astonishing a moment this is for me, you have to understand a couple of things: first, if there is any such thing as ‘age-anorexia’ then I suspect I have it. You know how anorexics look into the mirror and are incapable of seeing that they are a rack of bones? Trust me, I lived with one, I know to what extent the mind is capable of playing tricks on your health and sanity. I used to watch with varying degrees of shock and disgust as my sister would litter our room with the detritus of uneaten meals, food that she pretended to eat, only to slip it into the cuffs of her clothing in order to dump it later in her desk drawer in the room we shared.

I’d find it weeks later, green with mold or dessicated into unrecognizable forms. At her lightest, my sister got down to 88 pounds, so thin she could push a bracelet up her arm and over her shoulder. I can recall with perfect clarity the day she proudly announced that all she’d eaten was an apple and a cracker. I was aghast. “All day?” I asked.

“No!” She was indignant. “All week!”

I knew it wasn’t normal, and I knew my parents were trying to deal, and I even knew that they’d decided for the two of us to share a room because in some way, I was supposed to be her keeper after a fashion. But I was twelve, and could only shake my head at such strange, self-imposed restrictions. Later, when Karen Carpenter put a name to my sister’s condition, and the media began posting pictures of skeletal women and the distorted images they saw in the mirror instead, it began to make a little sense to me. A little.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I discovered I had my own form of anorexia–only it involved aging instead of weight. My mother had always had a mania for not looking her age and refusing to let anyone know the exact date of her birth. I used to think it was rooted in vanity, but that was only part of the story. My father, who developed dementia in his later years before the cancer set in, required full time caretakers. He was on my mother’s insurance policy and her organization had a mandatory retirement age. She lied about her age to her employers to retain his insurance. Her elaborate efforts at hiding her real age stemmed from a need to keep her job so she could take care of him–and a deep fear that she would not have the financial resources to do so.

My father frequently told me that getting old sucked and to not do it. (As opposed to what? It’s not like there are many other options…) As a late bloomer myself, I found that I constantly perused my reflection for signs of aging–and was guaranteed of finding them. It wasn’t fair, I thought, to finally start putting my own needs and desires first in my life, only to be faced with the fine lines of crow’s feet, the sagging of skin around the lips and eyes, the hair that grayed early and refused to hold color. My friends jokingly said I could look into a mirror and see an old woman looking back at me–and I know that the joke wasn’t really that far off.

I’ve blogged about this before, I know. I deeply resent the fact that I put my life on hold for good, altruistic reasons, yet when I finally starting living my life, that time where I could really enjoy my relative youth was pretty fleeting. Not that I put my life on hold, mind you. I made the only choices I could live with. But that when it became ‘my time’, that time flashed by in a nanosecond. These days, like most people I know, I deal with chronic health issues. I struggle with pounds that refuse to drop and neck pain that prevents me from getting a decent night’s sleep, and I can no longer eat my favorite foods. In short, I’m becoming the cranky old woman I’ve always feared.

Oddly enough, it was during the time I spent coloring my hair this afternoon that I began drafting this post in my head. Despite my best efforts, my hair is stubbornly refusing to take up dye these days. Double or triple the time, it doesn’t matter; when I rinse out the dye, you can scarcely tell I’ve applied color. I foresee a day where I will just have to give up and accept the gray, and I’m not ready to do that yet. Sure, I can pay someone to get it right, but with the price of a professional dye job these days, and the fact that in less than three weeks the gray skunk stripe is evident again, it’s just not worth the cost.

And yet today I was strangely okay with that.

Many years ago, I saw an episode of Oprah that made a big impression on me. An incredibly beautiful woman had just turned thirty-six. Her husband threw her an elaborate party, pulling out all the stops to make sure she knew how much she was loved and adored. Instead of spending her special day celebrating with family and friends, she spent the entire day in bed sobbing because she’d turned thirty-six. I was in high school at the time, but this woman was more beautiful than I would EVER be in my entire life and I thought she was being incredibly stupid. I also thought that some day soon, her loving spouse would probably find someone who would appreciate him more.

So today, as I was cursing my ineffective dye job, I found myself thinking back to what I was like at twenty-five, the age that seems to be the magical one in my memory. The one that I would revert to in a flash if I found a spell book and a wand. You know what? At twenty-five, I was a lot like the woman crying in her bed–I thought I was ugly, so I acted like I was ugly. I assumed I would never find anyone to love me. I did not have the faith in my talents or abilities to pursue my dreams. I wasted those years because I thought I wasn’t good enough to have the things I desired. How stupid is that?

Yeah, so I can’t eat anything I want anymore. I strongly suspect a diet that consisted largely of Pepsi and peanut butter crackers wasn’t exactly balanced anyway. And yes, I’m carrying around a few extra pounds. But I woke up this morning beside someone I love, someone who tells me in a thousand small ways every day that he loves me back. The day was unseasonably sunny and warm, so I set up fences and jumped my horse. My trainer shook her head and told me that most people can’t go six months without riding over fences and retain their form the way I can, and that I should value that. Later, I walked my dog across stubbly grass fields, the stalks of the last cutting of hay crunching under my boots, climbing until I could see the Blue Ridge Mountains in all directions.

No, I’m no longer young. I’m not a huge success in my chosen career, I’m not financially well-off. Sometimes, the thought of my future old age scares the crap out of me. But I am very wealthy just the same.

I’ve been discussing with various people lately the difficulty in accepting compliments with grace and what that means (and I will be blogging on this later), but one of the things that kept coming up is that when you reject a compliment out of a false sense of modesty or feelings of unworthiness, you are in effect insulting and rejecting the person who gave you the compliment. I’ll have much more to say on this subject when the time rolls around, but suffice to say that it occurred to me today, as a direct result of this online discussion, that when I look in the mirror and reject my years, wishing I could turn back time to when I was twenty-five again, I am in effect, rejecting me. Me, the person I am now and everything I’ve achieved since that time.

At twenty-five, I said I could never be a published writer and set aside my passion for over a decade, calling it impractical and childish. It would never have occurred to me to submit a story for publication. Hell, I had never even finished a story. Trufax. I didn’t have the slightest concept of how to carry a story to completion, develop characters, construct a plot, write believable dialog.

At twenty-five, I sold myself short. No, I couldn’t have published anything then, but I assumed that because I couldn’t get published, that I shouldn’t waste my time writing either. I shut myself out of my passion because I didn’t think it would be a profitable use of my time.

What I’ve learned since then is that life isn’t always about making the decisions that are the most practical or profitable. Life is more than mere survival. That there is nothing wrong in doing something that makes you happy. Life is too short for a lot of the bullshit we think is important and necessary when our youth is like a fat bag of gold to be spent at will.

And somewhere along the way today, I realized for the first time that my twenty-five year old self wouldn’t have appreciated this fact. Because it takes losing things that are important to you, and fighting like a lioness to keep things you cannot bear to lose, and in general just plain living to make you truly appreciate life. My twenty-five year old self wasn’t the writer she wanted to be because she had nothing to say.

Every single one of the lines on my face has a story.

It’s a trade-off I’m willing to accept because I have stories I want to tell. That’s my fat bag of gold now.

That doesn’t mean I’m ready to stop coloring my hair. Dyeing my hair is something I do because it makes me feel better about the way I look, like wearing eyeliner or buying a rocking pair of boots. And that’s okay too.

While I’m here, I want to let you know that I have a guest blog with Nessa L. Warrin coming up later this week, and that Dreamspinner Press is closing out the year in fine style! From their website:

Dreamspinner Press is celebrating the end-of-the-year holidays in style! All in-stock paperbacks and all audiobooks are 20% off through Dec.5. All holiday ebooks will be 25% off Dec 6-12. All short stories (Daydreams and Nap-size Dreams) will be 20% off Dec. 13-19, Everything in the store will be 25% off from Dec. 20-25. All series will be 20% Dec 26-31!

Congratulations to all our winners at the 2012 Rainbow Awards! All winning titles will be discounted 25% through Dec. 8.

In addition to our sales, we’ll be giving away a Kindle to one lucky customer during the week of Dec 2-8, a Nook to one lucky customer Dec 9-15, another Kindle Dec 16-22, and an iPad Mini, Dec 23-29!

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for a daily opportunity on one site or the other to win a Gift Certificate!

 

My last political statement of the campaign…

Because you’re all tired of it, right? The hype, the rhetoric, the ‘distortion of the truth’ (heck, they can’t even come right out and say the word “lies”).

Everyone has pretty much made up their minds anyway. The level of frustration in this nation is high–believe me, I sympathize. Here I sit on a glorious autumn morning, waiting to meet a client instead of going out and doing the things I enjoy on my one day off. I’m not out walking the dog among the fall foliage when it is at the height of its color. I’m not working on my story-on-a-deadline that I will probably miss.

No, I’m working on my day off because that’s par for the course right now. That’s okay. I’m glad for the increase in work. After the last five years of not knowing how I was going to make ends meet, after borrowing money from my mother to make my health insurance premiums (why yes, Mr. Romney, borrowing from your elderly parent is indeed a perfectly acceptable way of paying your bills, thank you for suggesting that as a permanent solution to my economic woes), and even seriously considering dropping my health insurance altogether in favor of paying the mortgage instead, I’ve seen things pick up dramatically in the last year.

I work in what is essentially a luxury industry. I don’t think of it that way myself–I think pets are vital to the health and happiness of many people, and my pets are members of my family. But like dentists and eye doctors, business falls off when times get tough in favor of paying bills for things that you simply can’t function without, like a working car or the well pump in your house. Sure, eyes, teeth, and pets are important, but they are things people will let slide for more pressing debts and concerns. So I feel my profession is a sensitive indicator of economic recovery–and I’m telling you, business is booming. After a long dry spell, people are coming in again. They are still picking and choosing services, they still have to defer expensive, non-lifethreatening procedures. But the day is packed with appointments, and I am meeting clients at night after work and on my days off to get everyone seen. Why? Because after five very lean years, I can’t afford to turn away ANY business right now. I’m so deep in the hole that I don’t know I’ll ever get out. And yes, I write smutty stories on the side because a) I enjoy writing them and b) the royalty check from them usually pays the mortgage.

But right now, I am so swamped, so over-extended that I come home too tired to write, too exhausted and drained to walk the energetic dog, too apathetic to do dishes, laundry, cook dinner, etc. etc.

So why am I supporting President Obama’s re-election? Because the upsurge in my work is proof positive to me that his gradual reconstruction of the American economy is working after the eight years that the Bush administration had to run it into the ground. You can’t build on a crappy foundation. When the basic foundation is rotten, you have to tear down the existing framework, dig out the rot and decay. and lay new footers on solid ground. That takes time, people.

But I’m writing now because I’m angry with the President. I’m angry because we have more at stake than we’ve ever had before and I’m sick with fear that he will lose the re-election. As I drove to my appointment this morning, once again, I noticed the placement of political yard signs–more this year than I can ever recall seeing before.  I’m sad to say I live in a red state and that the overwhelming number of signs have been for Romney. (I’m sorry, but my brain sees that wavy R on the white background and auto-corrects his name to R-MONEY.)

The signs aren’t just flat out supportive of their candidate either–they are also ugly, anti-Obama signs with a level of meanness that I’ve never seen in a campaign before. In fact, when I went looking for a photo of the newest Obama yard sign to post in this blog, I found more hateful anti-Obama signs than pro-Obama signs. NOBAMA seems to be the most common one, but I’ve also seen in blaze orange (from the sportsmen, presumably) DEFEAT OBAMA and more recently, a stylized figure of a star spangled woman on the new, light blue background: Sluts for Obama.  Seriously?

So why am I angry with the President? I’m mad because he needs to fire his campaign designers and re-draft his message at the eleventh hour. The pale blue sign with “obama for president” in tiny letters comes across as anemic and self-deprecating. You can barely read it from the roadside–it makes it seem as though the people posting the sign are ashamed to support President Obama. I can see the yard signs for the opposing side 50 feet away as I approach them–their names are emblazoned on my retinas by the time I pass the house displaying said sign.

Fire your marketing guy, Mr. President. Seriously.

Oh, yeah, and while you’re at it–you’re not mean enough. You’re too educated, diplomatic, and erudite. Sure, these are qualities we value in a President, but not in a Presidential candidate. Your pauses to carefully respond to the outrageous rhetoric of Mr. Romney make it look like you are uncertain of how to respond. You need to take a page out his book and ignore questions you don’t want to answer by bulldozing over them with the main message you want to hammer home. Heck, it’s like subliminal advertising without being subliminal about it.  I know that you are more polite and respectful in general, but if it is woman reporter, try bulldozing your way over her speech, like Mr. Romney here:

Take a page out of Mr. Romney’s binder, Mr. President. You can go back to being diplomatic and a responsible, effective, thinking leader of this country after you are re-elected. After all, apparently a good portion of this country has no problem with backing a candidate who will not state clearly what his policies are, only what he intends to do.  Well, I intend to be an international best-seller of outrageously sexy romances, but without, you know, a plan, then I am just hand-waving and bullhorning.

Sure, that’s what CEO’s of companies do. Mr. President, you would do well to take note. Company CEO’s are the masters of misstating the facts in such a way that put them in the best light. Of keeping the truth about the safety and efficacy of products from the consumer. Of outsourcing to China so that the overall bottom line of the company looks good on paper, but the employees are looking for another job. I think it is telling that Massachusetts is a blue state, don’t you?  The state that Romney governed isn’t supporting him.

Mr. President, I wish you would state more strongly what’s at stake here. I wish you would tell Mr. Romney that Back to the Future called and they want their DeLorean back: because we will not willingly go back into the 1950s. I wish that you would tell seniors like my mother straight up what Mr. Romney’s intent to abolish the health care reform act will do to people like her–and me, for that matter. She’s voting for Mr. Romney because her church has been telling her that only a Man of God can restore this nation to the greatness that it once was, by abolishing Godless organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and reversing Roe v. Wade, and by demonizing homosexuals.

When she tells me these things, I counter with the fact that Mr. Romney still defends putting his Irish Setter in a crate on the top of his car for a 12 hour drive during a family vacation. God verses Dog is a tough one in her house, so it is usually the winning argument for me. Sad that this is what the election is coming down to. Not the fact that trickle down economics doesn’t work, or that Mr. Romney is so out of touch with his constituents that he thinks windows should open on airplanes (I’m guessing he hasn’t flown commercial in a very long time, else he’d be getting those ‘pressurized cabin’ speeches from the airlines).

Lest you think that a print article can be skewed to favor the liberal left, try interpreting this video in any other fashion that what it is–a blatant lack of empathy for a living creature they profess to love.

My mother thinks a vote for Romney is a vote for Religion, America, True Believers, the Righteous, and Patriots. Mr. President, I am deeply distressed that the Democrats have let the far Right co-opt these terms as their very own, with the implication that if you don’t follow their side, you are none of these things. I’m sure the Sanhedrin felt the same way about their place in politics. Funny how they saw Jesus as a threat to their political base, eh?

Mr. President, I wish you would tell the young people of this country, those whose apathy has them deciding not to vote this election, how very much is at stake here. The undermining of the entire civil rights movement. The ability of young women to have access to birth control.The implication that women should either be married and producing babies or not having sex at all. The education system that allows people to rise up out of their backgrounds and succeed despite the odds being against them. The declaration to cut funding to Public Television is not just a talking point to make fun of Romney attacking Big Bird–there are children everywhere who learned to READ because of Sesame Street. Romney’s goals are nothing short of keeping the poor ignorant and hamstrung, incapable of changing their lives or fighting as a group to demand a better system. Romney’s goals are to keep the wealth among the upper 1 %, his supporters among the 48% of his choice, and the other 47% can go hang.

Or borrow money from their parents to pay their bills.

Right. Enough said. As soon as my appointment is over, I’m going to take my dog out for a nice, long walk. Oh, and look, Mr. Romney: his crate is in my car.

Cooper West: Fall Changes

Cooper West, author of Dawn in the Orchard and Mixed Signals, among others, is my special guest blogger today! She’s written on one of my favorite subjects: autumn and the changes that it brings. I know many people aren’t fond of the season, but for me, it is personally my favorite time of year!

Do make Cooper welcome today, and share with us all what this time of year means for you!

Fall Changes by Cooper West

This is not actually a post about Halloween. I love Halloween, it’s probably my favorite holiday by far, but to be honest this year I don’t have much energy for it.

The thing is, 2012 has been a rough year so far. Not just for me; pretty much everyone I know has been hit by health problems, financial crises, family tragedies, pet calamities and relationship difficulties. So now it’s October and officially Fall/Autumn and I’m ready for the change in the weather.

There is a reason we have holidays set around the turning point of seasons, either their start or their deepest point, and that’s to mark the passage of time. To honor it. And so I’ll light some decorative candles to mark Halloween but what I’m really anxious for is the change that it represents.

Over at my own blog I talked a bit about how 2012 started out for me: with whooping cough. That illness is no joke, in fact it is catastrophic (get your booster!) and it forced me to make difficult decisions. The most difficult of them was to suspend my writing career almost completely: no writing, no editing, no marketing. But my priorities were to get well and get my master’s degree, and I could not do everything.

Nine months later I’ve graduated with my masters and I’m working on getting my health back, but it has been one hell of a slog. Those difficult choices were necessary, though, and I can’t live my life regretting them.

The good news is that I really do believe change is coming. It’s here, in fact – cooler evenings, drier afternoons (do not underestimate the power of high humidity to make you droop) and, for me, time to spend writing. Not a lot of time, but some. I’ve also managed to format and release my free ebook, Henri’s War, which is something I originally intended to do back in, oh, April. *sigh* As I wrote above, I knew what stopping would mean to my writing career, but it was a choice I had to make and I refuse to carry regrets about it.
Hard choices never end, though. I’m looking at a professional career field that is chock-a-block full of unemployed people looking for work. Even for experienced, highly credential people, job hunts are taking six months to three years. It is so discouraging.

But then I step outside into the beautiful, blue-skies 70F degree morning and I realize: life is too short to belabor these things. It’s too short and too precarious – the whooping cough and subsequent broken back (yes, I broke my back coughing so hard; get your booster!) made me realize: I am not here on Earth to check boxes of social expectations.

The hard choice being marked this month for me is the decision to cut back on job hunting. There is only one perfect job for me, and that is being a writer. It would be great to find a high-paying position in the field I went to graduate school for, don’t get me wrong, but my very valuable free time is so very limited. I can spend all my time looking for a job, any job, that might kind-of sort-of be okay…or I can spend most of that time writing and making my dreams come true.

And quite frankly, it hasn’t been a hard choice to make. It will be financially difficult for me for a while, but that was going to be true no matter what (barring winning the Florida Lottery). In the end, it was not a hard choice because of what I was choosing between but because of what I was having to acknowledge about myself: that checking a box saying “academically and professionally successful in my chosen field” is something that would require a higher price than I’m willing to pay in time and personal investment. It was a very profound moment when I let go of that goal.

Yet it was an easy choice because I have a vision in mind of what constitutes my perfect day, and that day has nothing to do with a respected, 9-5 job in a cubicle farm. It was a choice about what changes I want to see happen this fall, along with Halloween and cooler temperatures.

Maybe you are also in a position to make this kind of decision, and maybe you aren’t. But I encourage everyone to use the onset of autumn to examine what kind of changes, if any, you want to make. When the next holidays hit, those mid-winter ones full of busy chaos, gift giving, and piles of sugar, what changes will you have made happen? At what point along the path towards your goals will you be then?

My plan is that I’ll have a couple of books submitted to Dreamspinner, and another I’ll be self-publishing by January. I’ll be regularly writing 1000 words a day (right now I’m at about 300). I might have found a better job than the two low-paying ones I’m juggling right now, or not, but that’s not very important to me. I’ll keep job hunting just in case, but as I light my (bright orange!) holiday candles this month, I am focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel they represent. Join me!

 

The Quiet Observer

This morning dawned as a perfect September day. I don’t know if I can convey to you just what it feels like after a summer of oppressive humidity, the air so wet that your glasses fog when you step outside, and even when the temperatures drop in the evening to what should be a reasonable level, it is still like trying to breathe underwater.

So when I woke up this morning to temperatures in the fifties (the FIFTIES!) and the air so clear and crisp it was like biting into a Red Delicious, it was a no-brainer as to what I would do this morning. Laundry? Uh, no, despite the fact that if I don’t do some soon that is not dog-related, I will be reduced to wearing my PJs. And I don’t own any PJs. Working on the presentation I’m supposed to give next week? Ugh. No. I need to do that, I know, I know. Working on my expanded version of Lightning in a Bottle, the novella that is part of the Going for Gold Anthology? Yes, definitely, I know I need to do that today. I will find the time somewhere.

But hands down the winner this morning was taking the dog out for a run in the National Forest. How could I resist? Lately H has lost both of his regular exercise activities, as the move to a new barn meant moving to a no-dogs barn, as well as losing access to a dog-friendly swimming pool that decided to close. When you have a 95 pound German Shepherd that needs to run until his brains come out his nose every day in order for you to live with him (otherwise it is a bit like having a 2 year old racehorse living in your house), finding the time and place to exercise him safely is challenging. Fortunately for us, a friend told me about a little used access road that takes me to a part of the forest that is not as well traveled as some. The paths are still well-marked, but they are more like goat-tracks with long winding climbs up a ridge and ankle busting rocks at every step. Not a favorite for joggers and cyclists, but perfect for me and the dog.

It occurred to me as I was huffing and puffing my way up this trail today that a change in routine might not be such a bad thing. I’d been pretty upset about the no-dogs policy at the new barn and stressing about how I would carve out yet ONE MORE activity in the day, given how I used to combine running the dog in the woods with my barn activity at the old place. When you are as pressed for time as I am on a routine basis, even small adjustments to the schedule are tough. Finding an extra hour and half to take the dog some place safe to run off lead–well, let me tell you–I thought I was looking at a future in which H never got to run off lead again. And I’m sorry, but I simply cannot run enough myself with him trotting alongside me to keep him fit and sane.

What I realized this morning though was I’d gotten complacent. The goat-track was tough; more of a workout than I’ve been doing lately. It was also beautiful, and there was an exhilaration in being in a different place for a change. My senses were on alert, my brain was not simply on autopilot. I gloried in the play of light and shadow on the path before me, the excitement of a happy dog running ahead. I even noticed the tiny little flying bugs that would light up from within when they flew into a sunbeam (and recall how Ridley Scott, a talented director in many ways, got that so very wrong in the little remembered Legend, filling the screen with so many golden gnats no one would have been able to speak in such a forest without eating them).

I am quite the shutterbug. I don’t have any real gift for it, and I have a pretty simple camera, but I love taking pictures. I think part of the reason I like taking pictures is because I have this insatiable need to ‘capture the moment’. I want to remember clearly how it felt to walk the sun-dappled path. To watch my dog come to a halt in front of me, a laughing grin on his face as his breath curls in a vapor around his panting mouth. To look at a picture of this morning six months from now and remember how great it felt to be in the woods on this September morning, the clear blue sky visible through the trees at the top of the ridge ahead of me. I have tons of pictures of my dogs, my cats, my horses in the sunlight. Pictures that are meaningful to no one but me. Pictures of the same scene over and over. Because I want to capture it.

Even as I was walking, I was thinking about writing this blog. I found myself comparing my out-of-shape walking muscles with my out-of-shape writing muscles and telling myself, “Oh, that’s good, you need to write that one down.” I realized that I’m much happier as an observer than a participant in most cases. I love taking pictures–I’d rather be the photographer than the competitor at the horse shows (though sadly, I wish at least ONE person of my acquaintance was any good with a camera because I don’t have a decent picture of me doing anything with any of my animals…)

I write because I want to capture moments with words. I want to put feelings into situations, to work out problems on paper. Even when I am going through some traumatic event in my own life, there’s a part of me in the background, quietly documenting my reactions and thinking, “Oh, this is soooo going in a story some day.”

Sometimes, though, you need to participate rather than observe. How else do you get more grist for the mill?

My latest release, Lightning in a Bottle, part of the Going for Gold Anthology, let me tap into my experiences (albeit on a small scale) into the world of eventing. I’d say more on the subject, but there is a very big horse waiting for me at the barn now, and I’d rather go ride her on this gorgeous day instead. 🙂

Going for Gold now available on Amazon!

I can’t help it–I always get a thrill out of seeing my name on a book that is offered for sale on Amazon! This time I get the joint pleasure of seeing my name along with some really wonderful authors in this Olympic themed anthology full of smokin’ hot male/male romance.

 

Going for Gold is now available on Amazon!

I’ve been without internet, so I missed out on the fact that Going for Gold was jessewaves free read the other day, so I want to make sure I get the word out on this now! Of course, you can get it direct from MLR Press too!

What are you waiting for? Last night I took up a friend’s offer of staying at her cabin with my dog while I was in town. No internet, but a secluded cabin in the woods where I could just open the door and let my dog run. After a long walk with the rumble of thunder in the background, I settled in for an evening of writing (I’m working on a sequel to my entry in the anthology, Lightning in a Bottle) and began reading reading Going for Gold myself. I was immediately drawn in to the storytelling and characterization of my fellow authors and I had to force myself to slow down so I wouldn’t whip through the series! These stories are too good–they need to be savored. 🙂

Dealing with Disconnect

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with an increasing sense of disconnect in my life. Funny, how were are more connected than ever, what with Facebook, and Twitter, and various other social platforms–and yet there are times when I wonder what the heck I’m doing spending so much time connected to a device rather than the people and things that I love.

I said as much to the BF last night, after noting how he waited patiently me to stop participating in a chat so we could watch a movie together.

“Why do you say that?” His tone was wry. “Is it because you reach for your cell first thing in the morning to check your Tweets before even getting out of bed?”

In my defense, Twitter is the main way I keep up with some of my friends, and one of them has been very ill recently. I began looking for an update each morning (because of the time difference) ever since I’d missed an important message from her because it had been snowed under by the hundreds of promotional tweets I’d received.

Since then, I’ve thinned the Twitter nest and learned how to make lists, so I can check for the really important stuff every day and filter out the crap. Even so, my phone is constantly vibrating in my pocket. Hell, even when it doesn’t, I think it does, suffering from what Craig Ferguson calls Phantom Phone Vibration Syndrome.

No joke, I get upward of 100 emails a day, and that’s with me being on digest for 99% of my lists. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking people to stop emailing me–I LOVE it when you guys email me and give me feedback on a story, or ask me questions. I love, too, making internet friends and having nice thinky discussions either here on the blog, or via email. Please keep doing that!

What troubles me though is that my need to stay connected to the internet is almost an addiction. I circle through the same social networking sites looking for something to respond to, to ‘like’, to ‘retweet’. I check Twitter at stoplights. I find myself pushing my dog away and telling him I’ll take him out later–not because I am in the throes of a current chapter–but because I’m in the middle of a chat, or a blog hop, or answering 40 responses on Live Journal or a Goodreads thread.

So the irony here is that I’m more connected than ever–and yet increasingly isolated from everything that really matters to me. There’s got to be a better way of balancing things.

Initially when I began writing professionally, I quickly became overwhelmed by the degree of social media connections I was supposed to make and maintain. I rebelled, fighting the rallying cry to blow the self-promotion horn. I lurked on lists, I avoided live chats like the plague (I’m still not super comfortable with them), I wrote silly, self-indulgent blog posts titled “Are Blogs Dead?” and “Shut Up and Write.” I still believe there is merit in shutting up and writing, you know. I look at the time I spend in social media and the current level of productive writing and it makes me cringe.

So I think the key here is doing it effectively. Not the all-or-nothing I’ve been swinging back and forth from lately. I’ve been following Kristen Lamb’s blog for a while now, and she has some good things to say along these lines. What finally tipped me into buying her books, however, was taking a webinar on social media success that touted all things I hate most about that mentality–how to use automation, how to gain huge numbers of followers all with the idea of how they can best help you, presenting a fake persona to the public eye so as to never, ever offend anyone.

I spent the first 40 years of my life never offending anyone. I was practically sewn into a Cloak Of Invisibility. So it goes a bit against the grain now to be told to air only benign, generic opinions for fear of alienating people. I know, I know, I believe that a negative internet presence is more damaging than none, but I also believe in stating what I think and not being mealy-mouthed with my opinions. Anyway, I was so annoyed with the teachings of the webinar that I broke down and bought Kristen Lamb’s books:” We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” and “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.”

I say ‘broke down’ because my purchasing these books was akin to someone with an eating disorder being told they needed to keep a food diary. However, I found these books to be extremely useful (as well as easy to read and entertaining). Oh wow, nothing like discovering you’ve been doing everything wrong–and worse, that you were PROUD of it.

Okay, I still maintain that obsessively reading reviews and watching sales rank on Amazon just messes with your mind. But a lot of the other stuff I have defended–such as not blogging, or chatting, or promoting–well, let’s just say I was wrong and I was right.

I was right in that the methods I was being taught, the ones that rankled with me, were indeed counter-productive and off-putting to most people. And simply not effective. The key to social media is the social part. If you are acting like a spam-bot, people will treat you accordingly. Worse, you will actually make a negative association with your name.

Where I was wrong, however, was in my stance that social networking and self-promotion was unnecessary. Okay, I knew this on some level, but I still kept resisting the idea because putting myself out there is not really my thing.

So where does this leave me? Seeking balance. Finding a way to balance doing the necessary bits of being a writer with the important bits that give my life meaning. Taking the dog for a run in the woods. Riding my horse. Hanging out with my boyfriend. And yes, writing.

In that vein, I will be blogging more here. I will be doing more blog hops (because I love them) and fewer chat/promo/excerpt lists (because they make me squirrely). I invite you to email me (there’s a link on the side but I’ll give it to you here too: akasarahmadison at gmail dot com). I’ll post updates via Twitter and Facebook, but will spend less time there too.

Because I really want to get back to writing. After all, that’s the whole reason why I’m here.

Two guest blogs you might want to check out: I had a spot on QMO (Queer Magazine Online), where I talk about being ‘just’ a supporter of the GLBTQ community and a spot on E.m. Lynley’s blog (the editor of Going for Gold, the new anthology from MLR Press, in which I have a story) where I share a bit about not giving up on the dreams that really matter.

Going for Gold is now available on MLR Press.

Do contact me and let me know what you think! I really enjoy interacting with people online and my path to balance doesn’t preclude emails!