Monday, January 23, 2017

Look Up!

I’m a terrible person to take on a tour because I always hold everyone up. It’s not that I walk slowly or that I’m uninterested in what’s going on. It’s just that inevitably, there is always something going on not on the tour that interests me. Maybe it’s a dress in a store window we pass, or an interesting looking building we walk by. When I see it, I stop and all of a sudden I realize the rest of the tour has continued and I’m all by myself.
That’s also true, apparently, when I’m in lines waiting to enter places. This past weekend I was in Trenton waiting to enter the War Memorial. As we filed up the stairs, I paused to look up. And I saw incredible ceilings.



I noticed the quotes carved into the buildings.



And I’m pretty sure the people behind me grumbled as I stopped to take pictures.
So to them, I apologize. Just like the tour guides who lose patience with me while waiting for me to catch up, I’m sure none of you appreciated having to wait while I oohed and ahhed and photographed. And I totally understand if you never want to walk near me because it will happen again.
Because I'm a writer, and noticing comes with the territory. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

When Twitter Works

I had the most amazing Twitter conversation with someone. It was amazing because we were able to have a civil, respectful discourse about politics. There was no talking at each other, no screaming and no accusation. On top of that, we were able to get our points across using groups of 140 characters or less, which for two writers, almost never happens.
I don’t know how she feels about my writing this, so I’m not going to name her. But she’s a best-selling writer I’ve admired for years. She’s an Iraqi war veteran, an officer in the Army and she brings that experience into her books. She’s currently getting her PhD at Duke. She’s been featured on PBS and has written widely about her military experience. In other words, she smart and powerful and mighty.
While she’s not sure we’re on different sides of the political aisle (we didn’t actually label ourselves), if we’re not, we definitely don’t agree on everything. But that didn’t matter. And it shouldn’t, because it’s possible for people to disagree to still have meaningful conversations (I would have said “expected,” but these days, I can’t.).
She tweeted her dismay at people potentially boycotting LL Bean because of a board member’s support of Trump. Because I am familiar with her, and have never seen her tweet anything disrespectful—that’s not to say she’s not passionate about things—I responded.
While my knee-jerk reaction is to boycott any company associated with a message of hate, after speaking with her and thinking about it, I’m not sure one board member’s association is enough to warrant it—if you think about it, it’s quite a high standard to start requiring and one which I’m confident would result in failure all around. And although it does leave a bad taste in my mouth, I’m pausing before making a decision that is right for me. I think I’m going to have to do a lot of that for the foreseeable future.
We talked about the need to balance support for companies that bring jobs to the US versus making our displeasure known when those companies show their support for hate. I talked as a civilian, Jewish woman. She talked as an Army officer from a small mill town. We both talked about our intolerance of hate.
In the end, we both agreed with the larger picture, we both expressed fear for the future, and we both appreciated our being able to discuss things clearly and rationally.
There’s a huge risk to starting or entering into these conversations on social media. You don’t know what kind of Pandora’s box you might be opening. And I’m not sure that someone else won’t respond angrily to something either one of us said. Freedom of speech is a scary thing right now. But we were careful with each other and we kept a common goal in mind—hatred, regardless of who it’s directed at, is never okay. And with respect, we can find our similarities even among our differences.

Monday, January 9, 2017

When Facebook Goes Bad

Being my friend on Facebook does not give you license to berate me for an opinion*.
I attended high school with approximately 1,300 other students. Just because you were one of them does not make us good friends (the same goes for any other association you and I might have—college, work, town, organization, etc.). It makes us have a location in common. If you were outside of my immediate friend group in high school, chances are, I had very little interaction with you, as I was a new student freshman year and I had a small group of friends. Since that time, I’ve gotten to know a lot of my fellow high school students better on Facebook than in school, a fact that amuses me greatly. Some of you I really do think of as friends, and I'm grateful for this social media platform that enabled our relationship. Others are mere acquaintances. Most of you make Facebook a fun place to be. But please recognize the boundaries.
If I’m not someone you’d choose to have a conversation with in real life—you know, face-to-face, in person, over coffee or chocolate—then chances are, we shouldn’t be having a potentially contentious conversation on Facebook. If you don’t like something I post there, you can simply continue to scroll down your phone or computer screen. If necessary, you can “dislike” it. If you absolutely can’t let it go, you can respectfully offer an alternative opinion. But there’s no need to make a nasty comment. I don’t do it to you, and believe me, it’s not because you’ve never expressed an opinion I disagreed with.
Social media gives us a false sense of security. It makes us feel as if we’re in a safe place and can say and do what we want with few consequences. It gives cowards a shield and idiots a platform. It gives us a microphone to reach a larger audience—without the annoying audio feedback and the incessant “Is this on?” It can also make us feel more important than we really are, thus giving us a license to say whatever we want, without thinking about the consequences.
Let me be clear. I’m not a huge fan of argument because I don’t like conflict. However, I am happy to put aside that dislike and enter into discussions with someone who disagrees with me if the discussion is civil, respectful and polite. You might change my mind, I might change yours or we both may agree to disagree. Those conversations are often interesting, educational and eye opening.
Disagree with my politics? Great, that’s what makes this a diverse nation. Tell me you disagree. Tell me why. Offer me an intelligent idea I haven’t considered before. Dislike my posts or don’t find my status funny? You’re entitled to your opinion and I believe your opinion is as valid as my own. We’re all different and that’s fantastic. Tell me your opinions nicely.
But--and this is a big one--my wall is my safe space. And it is a safe space for others as well. I will not tolerate anyone berating me or anyone else I might happen to be friends with on my wall. I will not allow bigotry or bullying or anything else that might offend me or make me wonder if your comment might offend one of my friends. I will delete, unfriend, unfollow or block without a second thought, and I won’t miss you being part of my Facebook world.

*99% of my Facebook friends don't cause issues--this post is for the other 1%. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Welcome 2017

It’s 2017.
I’d like to say I’m glad 2016 is over, because there was a lot about the year didn’t like—our country’s behavior, individuals’ behaviors, the loss of important celebrities from my childhood, my disillusionment with work I was doing and the people for whom I was doing it. But there were also things about 2016 I loved—learning who my true friends were, the support of my writing community and great times with my family.
I’m not convinced 2017 is going to be much better, but I’m determined to tackle it differently. No, I’m not making New Year’s resolutions—those are too easily broken, and to be honest, I put a bigger emphasis on the Jewish New Year than the secular one. But the Jewish New Year inspires me to work on myself and how I treat others. Moving into 2017 is inspiring my actions.
I am no longer letting other people’s opinions about me negatively affect me (yeah, good one). I try to be a good person and to treat others well. I’m not perfect and I make mistakes. But if other people don’t have the nerve to talk to me about it and instead, want to carry a grudge, that’s their burden, not mine. I have enough baggage of my own, I’m not carrying theirs too.
While I will go out of my way for others, I will not lose myself (there is no GPS in the world that can save me). There is only so much effort I can put into something before it becomes a lost cause and I’m not dealing with the stress.
I am dedicating myself to the people and the things that make me happy. No, I’m not becoming a selfish “you-know-what.” But I’m readjusting my focus and listening to my body. Chances are, if something is making me miserable, I probably shouldn’t do it. There will be a few exceptions, but very few.
I am exchanging fear for focus. The world is entering a scary place right now. I’m not going to overreact, but I’m not going to blindly accept things either. And I will support the causes that stand for justice and equality, regardless of what our leaders may do.

I think that’s enough for now. I hope it is. And I wish everyone a year of love and hope and peace.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Chanukah Miracles

The sunlight is reflecting off of the metallic Chanukah decorations hanging from my windows, creating jewel-toned prisms on my walls. Every dreidel we’ve ever owned is piled into the ceramic dreidel bowl, waiting to be spun. The electric menorah, which I hate, sits in the window ready to be lit, where it will compete with the blue and white Jewish star lights our neighbor down the street has already lit. Chanukah snow globes and music boxes and candles—who decided we needed decorative candles for this holiday and why do I have them—are placed on display strategically around the house. Decorative plates are stacked, waiting for the homemade gelt, latkes and fried Oreos to be made. The only thing left to do is to put out our personal menorahs and candles when Chanukah actually arrives.


There is a fine line between decorating for this holiday and making my house look like the Chanukah fairy threw up in it. No, there’s no Chanukah fairy. Chanukah’s miracle is the oil that lasted eight days, rather than one. It’s the victory of the Maccabeas over the Greeks. And for me, it’s the fact that no matter how much people have inflated the holiday in an attempt to compete with Christmas, it still remains a non-commercialized fairly minor holiday.


That’s not to say I won’t insist on celebrating it with my family. This year, it falls over winter break and we’ve already had the discussion about whether or not the Princess can go out with her friends at night during Chanukah. My response? Of course, as long as you’re home to light the candles first. Because there’s a difference between a minor holiday and an unimportant holiday. And if we let the celebration slide, the miracles disappear.


I think we’ve taught that lesson well. It was the Princess who asked me last week when we were going to decorate for Chanukah. Sure, the “we” really meant “Mom,” but even she wants the decorations up. The wish lists were made, but it’s the traditions we’ve established that the kids talk about: making latkes from scratch, making fried Oreos, decorating, inviting friends over to celebrate with us—this year, the Princess even wants to invite her non-Jewish friends.



So I’m going to add to that list of Chanukah miracles. I’m going to add my children’s desire to celebrate the holiday, when so many other things have fallen by the wayside. That even though there aren’t a lot of gifts being opened, they’ve separated out the gift-giving from the holiday-celebrating, and they still want to participate. They’re growing up, but not out-growing, this holiday. And that’s what I will be thankful for these upcoming eight days of Chanukah.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Amazing Critique Partners

As a writer, I tend to live in my own private bubble. It’s a lovely bubble, where chocolate and coffee and tea flow freely, the people I create in my head are as close to perfect as I can get (even when they are completely imperfect with flaws), and there are no negative influences from the outside world.

But in order to make sure my books are readable (and sellable), at some point in the process, I have to step out of my bubble and show people what I’ve written.

Gulp.

That means letting people into the scary world that exists inside my head and hoping they come out unscathed.

Luckily for me, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several amazing critique partners along the way. And from what I understand, that’s not a normal thing.

My first critique partners, Jan and Paula, were absolutely amazing. They pointed out errors in timing, showed me where things didn’t make sense and most importantly, taught me that opening myself up to others and allowing them to read what I’ve written wasn’t nearly as horrible as I thought it would be. Beyond the benefits of being able to improve my writing, I learned that there is community to be found when sharing with other writers. I will forever be grateful to them.

My critique partner, Laurie, is a plotting genius. I tend to have a vision for one character—since I write romance, I need at least two, though. I usually have some idea of what psychological motivation the character has, but she helps me flesh out the rest of it, as well as external motivation as well. I’m geographically challenged, which apparently also carries over to writing, so I depend on her to help me get my characters from Point A to Point B, without getting lost in the weeds or forgetting about something I mentioned in chapter five. Usually a discussion over a strong cup of coffee or a thirty-minute phone conversation solves all my problems. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Then there is my critique group. When I received a call from Miriam to join her, Lisa and Nancy as a member of her critique group, I looked at the phone, convinced she’d dialed the wrong number. These women are GOOD and I couldn’t figure out what I could possibly bring to the table. But all four of us have unique ways of looking at the same story and our critiques add dimension. Additionally, being part of a group that meets in person helps me develop a thick skin. Trust me, there is NOTHING more embarrassing than hearing parts of your sex scene read out loud and realizing they rhyme (if you can think of something more embarrassing, PLEASE tell me). Or worse, you’ve created a Gumby-like contortionist.

I still like living in my bubble and disappearing into my world that I create. But there’s nothing like writer friends who take our craft seriously, who lift each other up and who truly understand how crazy this whole process is.


Thank you to all!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gratitude

I love Thanksgiving, but I’m not a big fan of going around the table and announcing what you’re thankful for. It seems a bit contrived to me, and I hate having the spotlight on me. No matter how grateful for things and people I might be, when it’s my turn, my mind goes blank.

I tried for a while to make it into a group craft project—everyone got a turkey feather and a pen, they wrote what they were grateful for, we tried to guess who said what and afterwards, I put the feathers on the turkey and had a holiday keepsake (thank you, Donna, for the idea). But this year we didn’t do it and the holiday passed without any gratefulness ritual.


However, now that Thanksgiving is past, I’d like to say what I’m grateful for (in no particular order, other than the first, I swear!)—blogging it is so much easier because no one is staring me down. J

  • I’m grateful for my husband and kids—for driving me crazy in all the best ways and never failing to make me laugh.
  • I’m grateful for a stainless-steel teapot I can’t melt (yet) and a Keurig the Princess thinks she bought for herself—both of these items keep me caffeinated, calm, warm and functioning.
  • I’m grateful for family and friends (and friends who are like family)—for the support and love they provide, even when I don’t expect it.
  • I’m grateful for beautiful sunsets—for giving me something to be grateful for when I’m convinced (temporarily) there’s nothing else.
  • I’m grateful for my writer buddies and critique partners—for never letting me give up and for completely understanding why hearing voices in my head does not necessarily mean I’m insane.
  • I’m grateful for moments of silence in the car and Monday mornings—for allowing me to rejuvenate temporarily so I can be personable and back “on” when needed.
  • I’m grateful for Twitter—for keeping me entertained during the political ruckus.
  • I’m grateful for the words of Maya Angelou, Cory Booker and Madeleine L’Engle—for always seeming to say the exact right thing at the right time.


Here’s hoping we remember to be grateful now and always, not just around the Thanksgiving table.