Tag Archives: life

Someone To Rely On

This time last year, a friend of mine was breathing with new lungs. His life was held in the balance, and it was yet to be seen if his body would accept someone else’s organs or if he would die. (I wrote this short story in his honor.)

My friend/former teacher has cystic fibrosis, and medical science said he should have died a long while ago. But he was lucky enough to live in a part of the country where researchers were actively studying CF, and was employed as a teacher with understanding bosses who made it work even when he was struggling.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder where the lungs slowly, inevitably, fill with mucus and fluid. Essentially, it’s drowning from the inside out. It was terrifying to watch. Just over a year ago, my friend was knocking on the pearly gates. His skin had a grey pallor; he hauled an oxygen tank around with him everywhere he went and had a bone-rattling cough; he was so thin his pants sagged where the belt was tied and his bones showed under his skin.

But David received a miracle: he was given the gift of new lungs, via a “risky” lung transplant.

And the reason he got those lungs, those incredible, life-saving lungs, was because he had a community.

This Sunday he told the members of the church we attend that it was our contribution that helped get him the lungs. See, there are a lot of people who desperately need a second chance, but for some stupid reason you have to opt-in to be an organ donor, rather than the much more logical and efficient opt-out method (seriously: sign up to be an organ donor. You won’t need those parts after you are gone, and you could literally save a life). So to pick who will get lungs, in this case, there is a long list of criteria, and those on the list are ordered in terms of crisis. You can’t get on the list unless you will literally die without a transplant, but you have to be really close to dying to actually get it. It’s crazy, and frightening to watch.

But one of the criteria was a support group. And my church was that support group for David. Even though his family lives out of town, our church was there to help him. After a lung transplant, you can’t do a lot. They pried his chest apart and took out organs, then slapped some new ones in there. It’s not an easy recovery. But the hospital is too dangerous a place to stay, since David has to take a battery of drugs just so his own body won’t attack the new lungs. Basically, it was all too easy for David to get sick.

So David needed someone to care for him but couldn’t be at the hospital. His parents did eventually make it to town, and they did a lot of the day-to-day stuff. But members of our church filled in the gaps, provided meals, provided company, wrote notes, prayed, sat with him in the hospital, and–recently–took him to and from his 1-year anniversary checkup (he has 103% lung capacity now!)

It really hammered home, for me, how important it is that we build a community for ourselves. It’s so easy–so incredibly easy–now to live in isolation. Self-imposed isolation where we connect mostly online and don’t have a lot of face-to-face interaction. And I get it: I’m home alone now as I write this, and I’d be annoyed as heck if someone else where here. I need space to think.

But we need balance, too. Because someday, God forbid, we might need help. We might need that community. And that’s the kind of help you can’t find at the last minute. You have to plant those seeds early.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always good at that. But I am grateful for David’s reminder: not just that there are miracles in this world, and that we can’t take a single breath for granted, but also that we need other people. I’m going to work on my community. I hope you’ll take a moment to show your appreciation for yours.


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Food For the Spirit

Maybe this will sound stupid, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we eat. I mean, we have to, on some level of course, to live. But I started a diet (yay New Years’ resolutions!) and it is affecting a lot more than just the numbers on a scale.
In diet world, you only eat because you have to. (Some crazy people will claim that this isn’t necessary–those people are liars.) You eat at regularly scheduled times, in quiet, with only you and the food you must eat. You eat therefore to provide building materials for muscles and bones, to keep your brain singing (unless you’re on a “cleanse,” then you’re breaking your brain long-term), to keep basic processes basically processing. If food tastes good, it is either evil and trying to destroy you or it is merely incidental to your need to eat it.
This, of course, it’s completely wrong.
As real people, we know that, but diet world is sometimes overwhelming, a palpable intensity that you MUST, MUST lose weight, no matter what, no matter how weird it is.
Incidentally, that’s why a lot of diets fail.
Because eating also provides an excellent excuse for socializing. My church has a joke that our symbol should be a covered dish, we have so many potlucks. And you know in college you can’t host an important meeting without buying pizza. It gives you something to do with your hands while you chat; it allows other engagements to last longer, because you’ve got built-in pitstops to refuel. It’s a way to build friendships, as you learn what you like about each other and maybe share a dish.
It also helps us express our feelings. Sure, sometimes we can go overboard with a pint of Bluebell when we’ve had a bad day, but making a cake for someone’s birthday gives me great joy, and it feels like I’m actually transporting that joy to the eater in the process. And we all know that the thing to do for funerals or prolonged illness is make a home-cooked meal, something hearty. These foods sate the body while providing a vehicle for our sadness, which we as a culture are so terrible at expressing. Making a special meal for my fiance wouldn’t be as significant if the act of feeding him didn’t also say something about our relationship, how I want to nourish this thing we have together, make it grow up big and strong.
Cooking is a skill, and it’s a hobby that you are always going to need to spend more time learning: there is always something more. It not only feeds the body, therefore, but it feeds the spirit and the mind (and in my kitchen, the arms. Kneading dough is tough!)
Food also carries its own significance. Sometimes this is a religious significance, such as the sourdough my church has used lately in communion. There is wine at weddings, and Sprite makes me feel a little woozy because it is my I-don’t-feel-good drink of choice.
Food has meaning. Much more meaning than we commonly allow it.
You could (and should, probably) work significant or at least meaningful foods into your work (lembas bread, anyone?), but also take a moment to appreciate the  many things your meal is giving you in your daily life.
Then break bread with someone you love.


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Things Are Interesting in Spamalot World

While I’ve been waiting to hear back from HarperVoyager regarding their open submissions (just two more weeks! Oh the email-checking anxiety!), I’ve been feverishly inspecting my spam folder, just in case something slipped into the wrong folder. And boy has it been interesting.
I seem to have a fairly solid spam-catcher, and that means I have been missing out on a wealth of bizarre emails.
Now, it used to be easy to disregard spam as spammy–everything was just churning out viruses disguised as viagra. Nowadays, though, boy howdy they have gotten diverse. I’m starting to question my understanding of the spam-bots, too, developing a more earnest and empathetic relationship. Sure, it used to be low-AI robots who assumed only men existed on the internet (and only easily fooled, poorly literate, horny to distraction men at that).
But they’ve stepped up their game, and I’m mildly impressed (not sufficiently impressed to, you know, click them, but still!).
First, we have our tried-and-true category of spammers trying to convince netizens to click a link that will lead them to an attractive and desperately sexually deprived woman to talk to. That’s nice, really doing a service for all the lonely housewives out there, right? They’ve gotten better at their human-like come-ons, too; now I have fake Facebook messages, fake Ashley Madison solicitations; fake “I saw you on the subway” messages.
Basically I think we’re seeing the first steps to an AI that can successfully replace our prostitutes. (Oh noes, they be stealin’ our jobs!)
Now we also have the “exotic investment” category. This is traditionally propelled by the “long lost Nigerian prince” type of scam, but the scammers are hip and with it: they now offer to sell me Bitcoins at a low rate, and sometimes they even have a treasure trove of gold and silver they got from someone’s basement. What a deal!
In light of the Target debit/credit card breach, it’s also relevant to highlight the “I’m totes a legit business” type of spam. It’s not just Target, though; these guys cleverly disguise themselves as all sorts of companies. Banks, Starbucks, Kohls, random online dealers I know nothing about. These aren’t particularly convincing, though–spammers, you may want to take a hint from fake-Facebook-friend-Adriana and get more human.
Dear Spammers: It’s nice to see you’re evolving. Keep up the good work! But…don’t be so good that my filter can’t detect you. 

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A Few Suggestions To Help You Complete Your Resolutions

I said on Tuesday that I’m one of those “make a resolution” people. I totally am. I just printed off a list of 5 goals, some with sub-goals to help me achieve the main goals.

But what are these goals? I’m not telling.

Why? A TED Talk told me not to.

Basically, the speaker says that we get such a mental “hit” from talking about our ambitious goals that our brains get confused and feel like we have actually achieved those goals, making us, weirdly, less likely to actually complete them.

BUT! It’s still a good idea to have goals, even if they are tiny. I really love this talk about SuperBetter, a “game” that helps you improve your life.

So that’s pretty cool.

How do you make resolutions that actually stick? NPR can help you out with that.

And then, if you need a little burst of inspiration, check out long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad.

I mean, your resolution probably doesn’t involve sharks, now does it?

Just keep swimming, folks. And good luck with all those goals!


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2013 Unresolved

I am one of those people who makes resolutions.

I think most people “become” a resolution person for at least 2 hours around New Years’ Day, and stop being a resolution person, definitely, but January 3.

But I make resolutions and actually try to do them; at least, I have for the past few years. I contemplate the year ahead, write out some goals, and stick them on the door to my closet, where I’ll be forced to look at them every stinkin’ day. For the most part, this keeps me on track and I feel like I’m accomplishing something, so I like it.

Last year, I made a swath of resolutions, but three are particularly pertinent.

  • Build a website.
  • Send out queries for my most recent book.
  • Devote 4 hours a week to personal writing or editing.

The first one,  you’ll note, went pretty well. I launched this blog on February 12, 2013, and I have more or less stuck to a schedule of publishing at least two posts a week since then. WordPress tells me I’ve written 138 posts this year. Not too shabby, and I’m still proud of my little self-made blog. Not too bad at all.

(As a corollary, I launched my official Twitter presence at about the same time, and I’m up to 629 followers, utilizing my “don’t follow any particular strategy” strategy. However, this factoid is depressing when I realize that literal spambots have more followers than me, by the thousands. At that point, I start to hate humanity, give up on counting followers and go eat some chocolate or something.)

For the second goal, I … I was doing pretty well until May, then it came to a screeching halt. But I swear that is for a good reason. In May, that book I was sending query letters out for received two full manuscript requests. Courtesy says you are expected to stop trying to solicit other agents when this happens, so I stopped, completely. Which…maybe I shouldn’t have been courteous, because one agent declined the manuscript because she was switching agencies and the other, even now, hasn’t responded to me. Ah well. Perhaps next year.

However, I did learn that all the massive failures of my query to attract attention was, most likely, not because my book sucked, but because my query did. I had gotten a little overeager and tried something “different” in my query, which seemed brilliant at the time, but I found, at DFW Con, that it was getting me insta-rejected. So have heart! It may not be your book that’s the problem; just your query.

Finally, the writing goal. I was inspired by Stephen King and his dedicated blocks of writing time every week. Four hours a week was pretty ambitious for me, but I “allowed” myself to count blog-writing time as that personal writing time. At first, I was doing pretty well. In fact, here’s the chart I used to keep track:


Each little X after the first two columns (used to track a different goal) represents 30 minutes of writing time. Each row is a calendar week. So from my helpful fridge chart, we can see that I did a damned decent job of writing or editing for myself for… half a year.

And then it’s blank.

I got some bad and stressful news in June, and basically lost the willpower to keep up with this fairly difficult goal. But I didn’t entirely quit writing (after all, blog posts continued to flow!). I lost the gumption to keep track of my writing, and to motivate myself to try more personal work, more flash fiction, or working on my novel. If I had to guess what the remaining six months would have looked like, had I bothered to keep track, I’d guess there would be a few blank weeks, but most of the weeks would be at least partially filled in. (Especially November. I wrote like a demon in November in order to win NaNoWriMo).

Even though I did an impressive pratfall on my writing resolution for the year, I found it to be a very helpful goal. It was too hard for me, regardless of what Stephen King manages to do, and I’ll have to recalibrate for next year, but having that little chart to remind me was a good way to get that “butt in chair” part of the equation going. I’m still figuring out what I want to focus on for my already-busy 2014, but I know that should be in there somewhere.

What are your writing/publishing goals for the coming year? How will you keep yourself on task?


Filed under Publishing, writing

The Battle of the Sexes Will Be Won By Robots

A dude promoted his book last week by publishing a long, bloated, purple prose opinion piece in The New York Times Sunday Review that set out to solve the gender gap in who has to do the housework.

His brilliant “answer”? Men don’t want to do housework because housework sucks, so women should just not care about whether the housework gets done or not. No one wants to do it, so women should just do enough and then stop whining.
Unsurprisingly, that answer didn’t sit well with a lot of folks.

Rosie the Robot Poster by Tim Goldman

Beautiful poster from timgoldman.com

But I’m a fan of speculative fiction, so I have the answer: Robots.

Obviously we aren’t quite there yet, but pretty much everyone can agree that basic, boring house chores are both essential and absolutely craptastic to have to do. If men don’t want to step up (plenty do, book-selling NYT guy!), and women are sick of doing it, we need a third option.

If you haven’t yet seen “Robot & Frank,” head out and rent it/Netflix it pronto. That’s the kind of robot I’m talking about. Or basically a non-sassy Rosie. Or a super-powered Roomba. Something that will clean the floors, remember to do the dishes, wipe down the countertops, dust the shelves, maybe water that peace lily you cherish. Nothing fancy.

Sure, we’ve made some art/movies/books about how these domestic robots would be a problem, but really, I think they’re the answer. They wouldn’t replace many jobs — in fact, it may elevate those butlers and housecleaners to a higher-pay position, because having a human housekeeper would become a status symbol. And we’re a really long way off from autonomous robots, so the first tiers of these helper-bots would be pretty limited, and therefore not a serious threat to human jobs.

But if we want that — and I think we can agree, we ALL want that — we are going to need some clever lady engineers to get on that for us.

Why lady engineers, do you ask? Before you cry sexism, just look at history: most of the time-saving housekeeping products we rely on today were invented by women (even if they themselves didn’t do much in the way of housework).

  • Cannister Vacuum, Nancy Perkins, 1987
  • Cooking Stove, Elizabeth Hawk, 1867
  • Dishwasher, Josephine Cochran, 1872
  • Electric Hot Water Heater, Ida Forbes, 1917
  • Mop-Wringer Pail, Eliza Wood, 1889
  • Refrigerator, Florence Parpart, 1914
  • Washing machine, Margaret Colvin, 1871
  • The Practical Kitchen layout, Lillian Gilbreth, 1920s
  • Scotchguard, Patsy Sherman, 1952
  • Improved Ironing Board, Sarah Boone, 1892
  • Vacuum canning and oil burners, Amanda Jones, 1880s
  • Gas heating furnace, Alice Parker, 1919

Really, I don’t care who invents our perfect butler-bots, but history implies it’s going to be a woman. Ladies, just let me know when I can place my order, okay?


Filed under Feminism, Science

They’re Just Not That Into You: Ego vs. Humility

I was reading a publishing forum the other day and was appalled by one commenter. She had just gotten her rejection notice after months of waiting, and was (obviously) disappointed. But rather than just expressing her disappointment, she went sassy, saying she wasn’t going to bother to thank anybody because they didn’t give her a real chance anyway, and she was going to self-publish this one and all the rest. You could just hear the “so there” implied in her rant!

It’s one thing to be disappointed. That’s completely normal! Expected, even.

It even is perfectly understandable to think all of those things: nanny-nanny-boo-boo, I can get published without you!

But it was just nasty and mean-spirited to do so in a public forum, and, really, all I think she achieved was making people not WANT to work with her (I wouldn’t want to). And that’s really the opposite of the message you want to be sending with your internet transactions; the next time a publisher or an agent comes along, they might Google you, and the way you act online might — fairly or not — influence their decision to take you on.

It’s a tricky thing for sure. To write a novel and begin the publishing process, you have to have a bit of an ego. It’s an egotistical thing to think “Oh yeah, I have a novel in me. I should be published instead of all those other people.” That’s a powerful drive, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get published, so that kind of ego can keep feeding that drive, even when things are hard and the wait is long.

But you also have to be humble. As special a snowflake as you may be, the agents and publishers out there are in a blizzard. It’s a competitive market, and it’s only getting more so. It really is a miracle that some people get plucked from obscurity (the slush pile, or the deep dark dregs of the ebook list) and become authors with a decent market. That is downright amazing. But, unlike any jolly red elf miracles, it just doesn’t happen over night. It takes work, and it takes some skill, and it takes a lot of luck.

And try not to embarrass yourself with the gatekeepers too badly. That helps, too.

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Community: Hope Against a Crisis

I’ve written before about how, despite my interest in dystopian subjects and new ways to destroy the world, I am not anything remotely like a “prepper” because I don’t want to live my life motivated by fear.

And I still feel that way. But we just had a wicked ice storm that paralyzed north Texas, and it made me think.
I was fairly well-prepared for the storm. My mom’s a worrier, and had alerted me to it well in advance. I’d followed the weather, made lots of hearty foods and ran out to buy extra wood and supplies the night before it hit. I have an ice scraper that looks sort of like a wizard’s staff and two cans of de-icer, blankets and a nice winter coat.
But things did not go according to plan. At all.
First, when I got home, my water had been turned off. There went my plan to fill a few pitchers before the storm really hit, and it was too late to try to get any from the store, which was overrun by panic-stricken shoppers. A miserable-looking work crew was on it, though, and it was restored by 9 p.m., just in time for me to enjoy a hot shower (and fill my tea kettle).
Then, overnight, my power went out. About 100,000 people lost power, all together, and the power company had no timeline on when it would be up. My plan to work from home was out the window, so I had to trek in to work. By the time I got home, it still wasn’t back, so I had to go stay with family for the weekend. Alternative sources for heat and light just hadn’t been part of my preparations.
TL;DR: Ice storms are unpredictable.
But it made me realize the most important part: I had somewhere to go. Even if my parents hadn’t lived in town, I would have been able to call a number of folks who would have let me stay with them while I waited for the power to come back.
And that’s why I’m not afraid.
When faced with a crisis, we (humans) tend to help one another. In addition to the people I knew would let me stay with them, I saw folks working together to clear downed trees, carve cars out of the ice or pull them back into the road, share resources. (I gave some neighbor kids a few board games to keep them entertained while they waited out the power problems.)
People help. Sure, sometimes people cause harm or damage, but by and large, people help.
A coworker who has a “prepper” bent and is new in town was surprised that there wasn’t any looting. The thought literally never occurred to me. How sad that fear of others was his first concern. (I guess he would say how sad it is that I wasn’t worried about my stuff…)
I think I’m not the only one thinking more about community lately. Our self-imposed technological isolation from other people is starting to have ramifications, and we’re starting to talk about it. More and more, it’s becoming clear that people NEED people. It’s considered socially acceptable to be very close to your spouse, but what happens when your spouse dies?  We need more than one person, or two people, or three people in our lives. We need a community, and that takes time and effort to build.
I need to do it better. This week, I started by being nice to a neighbor who has lived nearby for six months. I shook her hand and said hello.
It’s a start.

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Filling Buckets

It’s been an emotional year. I’ve attended two funerals, and wasn’t able to go to two more. These deaths were all unexpected, even for the elderly man and the friend who had cancer. No one was ready.

I’m not very good at talking about what these deaths have meant to me. Even though I know I should have gone to the receptions to support the families of the deceased, I couldn’t make myself do it. What could I possibly say? Instead, after accepting the well-intended but poorly timed greetings of those I hadn’t seen in a long time, those people who were brought back into my life only by our mutual sadness over the life of a friend, I retreated to my car, where I cried big hiccuping tears until my heart stopped hurting and I could breathe again.

I wasn’t particularly close to any of those who died this past year, but I cared for them, and those who loved them, deeply, and sometimes that empathy was like a knife to my heart. I continue to mourn for the sadness of those families still trying to recover from that pit of grief, some nearly a year later.

I don’t know if I am alone in this, but the thoughts of those who have, to put it euphemistically, passed on linger always on the edges of my mind. Sometimes I close my eyes and can see, perfectly clearly, my cousin, who died in an unnecessary and completely preventable drunk driving accident several years ago, lying unnaturally still in the coffin surrounded by perfumed white flowers. I’m starting to feel crowded in by thoughts of those who have passed; I think of them in the grocery store, in the morning as I get ready for work, in idle and unexpected moments.

I say all of this by way of explaining that I’ve been thinking about death a great deal this past year, about what causes it, whether we can understand it, what it means.

My Netflix DVD of “The Bucket List” arrived the same day that I was notified of the death of a family friend. Considering the content, I put it on a shelf and ignored it until I could wrangle my feelings.

As movies about an impending death go, it was pretty terrible. (Last Holiday was excellent, though, and I highly recommend it.) It was trite and predictable and completely lacking heart. But it, coupled with the weight of the funerals I’ve recently attended, did make me think about what things I want to do before I shake off this mortal coil.

One of those things was “write a book.” By now, fueled forward by NaNoWriMo, I’ve written three. I find it curious that, while I would like to be published — I would definitely like to be published! — that doesn’t make my list. I don’t feel like my life will be any less fulfilled if that doesn’t happen. Other things matter more, like seeing Ireland or getting married or controlling my career’s path. Writing the stories, that was the important thing.

I need to keep working on my bucket list; so much of it right now is very vague and undetermined. But I’m curious as to where ‘publishing’ falls on other writers’ lists?

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll change my mind about the importance of publishing when I’m not as melancholy. Maybe.

Is publishing an important life goal/bucket list item for you?


Filed under Publishing, writing


Happy Thanksgiving, Americans! In addition to being a time for ret-conned history parables, overindulging on the gobbler that could have been our patriotic bird, watching football, hanging out with family, and making good use of our sweatpants, today is a day for being thankful, so I thought I’d take the time to remember things I am thankful for.

Thankful in 2013

  • I am thankful I am born in a country and in a time where food is abundant, the quality of life is good, where I have the right to vote, where my life is not threatened, where I have access to healthcare, and where I can pursue my dreams. (Sadly, this is not true everywhere. And yes, several of those points could be improved, but this is the thankful list, not the complaining or political list.)
  • Turkey feast. With mashed potatoes. Extra mashed potatoes.
  • I am grateful that my family and dearest friends are in good health and have good nutrition available.
  • I am blessed to be able to spend all my free time writing my third novel.
  • I am shocked beyond imagining that I found a good partner, with a good heart and strong mind, who wants to spend the rest of his life with me. This is an incredible blessing.
  • I have two fuzzy critters to keep my days interesting.
  • I’m thankful for the lifesaving medications I can access that make my life easier and better.
  • I am grateful that I have the freedom of expression, and can speak out against political injustices as I see them…or just write weekly blog posts if I so choose.
  • I have a stable job that allows me to use my background while remaining energized for my side business and writing.
  • We live in a time of wonder, where we can interact with each other, wherever we are, and even with some of our icons. This is an incredible power, unthinkable to generations before us, but it’s easy for us to take it for granted.
  • We live at the intersection of a new era in publishing. It’s hectic now, but I look forward to the many opportunities to come.
  • I can get themed shows on Netflix.
  • I am thankful for books. All the books.
  • I have the internet. I can look up things in an instant, or spend hours learning new things or just watching cat videos. All Hail the Internet.

What are you thankful for, today and every day?

(Also, happy extremely rare Hanukkah, everybody!)


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