You probably think this is about you….

Naming characters, for some writers, is a complicated process. They want an original name for their original character. Perhaps they want something that describes strength and power, or maybe they want something that will tell a reader this person is a nerd. Maybe an old name, from their grandmother’s era, to say something about the character or their family.

For other writers, they log on to baby names and search through for the perfect one. The perfect one might be based on sound, consonants and vowels, rhyming, colors, meanings.

For me, sometimes, characters name themselves. The character develops and the name comes. For Our Gentle Sins, Jack’s name came to me like that. But some of the other characters were actually named for the students in the class that I mention in my acknowledgements. I was inspired by that class.

it was January 2017. The world was changing and people, some of my students, were afraid, others were angry. That semester, I was asked to teach the History of African American Literature. The students were expecting another teacher. When I walked in – they weren’t certain what to make of me or what this class might become.

I said – I love literature and we are here to learn together. If I say something or do something you don’t like – you tell me. Later, I was evaluated by our expert in African American Literature. He said, “never have I seen a class so open to talking about gender, race, culture – and being respectful about it!”

That was my rule – we don’t have to agree, but we should learn how to respectfully disagree.

It was a wonderful class.

Our Gentle Sins began just before the semester, I was so inspired that I would write before class as the students walked in and after class as they walked out. They asked me what I was working on – I told them. At one point, they asked me to read them a section. I agreed.

What I told them is that I’d been so inspired by the class that I’d named some of my characters after some of the names in class. Not after the students themselves because I didn’t match up characteristics between real person and student, just their names. They loved the idea.

Many, many times, I’ve had people think the story was about them or that the character was somehow inspired by them. I had, at least, one person (maybe more) stop talking to me because of a character name. I didn’t realize it right away. It was only when I looked back on our messages that I saw the dates and the topic – the story they were about to read. The name had NOTHING to do with them or the friend they believed the character to be named after. It was just a name and it felt right in that place.

The truth is – if I really disliked a person, I would never use their name, not for good guys or bad guys, not for the character who might die or a stray dog gracing the pages. Why would I want to be reminded of someone I disliked? The name might be similar – but it was never about them. It was a character.

Although my students appreciated I used some of their names, none of them felt I’d used them personally as the inspiration for the character.

Our Gentle Sins is about people finding their way in life – recovering from past mistakes. Aren’t we all?

Secrets can be Deadly

Secrets, at first, seem so harmless. Yet, when you find the person you love is keeping something from you – something that could damage your relationship – secrets can be deadly.

Secrets can be the lies of omission. When someone doesn’t tell another something or includes it after it’s been found out or questioned. Lies of omission are the gaslighter’s favorite game. This way they allow their victim to fall into a trap – the gaslighter will question their trust. “I was going to tell you. I thought you trusted me.” There’s no easy way to get out of the advanced manipulation tactics.

“I do trust you.”

“Then why are you questioning me?” or “Then you should know I intended to tell you” insert “at the right time” or other. The manipulator will then pout or become angry – or start with one and end in the other. Whatever it takes to throw their partner/victim off balance, leaving them uncertain of how to respond or rushing to correct the situation, which is what they want. Power. Control. Over the other person’s emotions, ideas, opinions.

Another hint for my upcoming release:

BUT THERE’S MORE –

More secrets….

and more to come.

Cover reveal – coming soon!

Wellness Writing Prompt

When I first came to yoga, our instructor made fish pose a regular part of our sequence. And for so long, I disliked it. It was uncomfortable – and I thought possibly unsafe.

matsyasana or fish pose

Fish pose, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a pose in which the person lays flat on their back, but then lifts their upper back and head to place the crown of their head on the floor.

This pose, or rather the dislike of this pose, inspired a story titled Matsyasana. It is the very things which make us uncomfortable, which may (or may not) be connected to other, deeper things, that we must explore.

When I started looking at Fish Pose from a different point of view – thanks to the story – I understood what the pose could be. For me, it became about looking at life from a different point of view. Sometimes we get stuck in our discomfort. If we don’t or can’t move past it, we will never find what is on the other side. And nothing is as bad as being stuck – anywhere or in any way.

The first writing prompt for the group Writing to Wellness is to approach this topic in some way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a yoga pose, but consider a position which makes you uncomfortable and write about it. If you’re perplexed, begin by attempting to describe the pose or position, then delve into the part of it that makes you uncomfortable – either in a fictional or non-fictional way. The point is just to start thinking about it and writing about it. This group is a safe place. We will support one another in our individual journeys. Feel free to share or ask for feedback.

Self Care and Writing

This year is a year of self care. The people I’ve met and those I’ve chatted with are seeking self fulfillment, searching for growth; it is a year of healing.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish. We are a well. Empty wells can not serve or help others. We need to refill our wells, take care of ourselves in order to be any good to our children, our spouses, family, or community.

We can heal through writing. We can find ourselves and our purpose through exercises meant to expose our deepest desires and inspire our motivation.

Many years ago, I met a woman who was in so much physical pain, she could barely walk and used a cane to get around. Through our semester together, writing exercises, guest speakers, and the process of opening up, she found what was eating away at her. Once exposed, her physical pain began to resolve. She walked with much more ease and moved with more freedom than she’d felt in years.

We can heal through writing. We can resolve our deeper issues. We can discover our purpose. I’d like to invite you to a group Writing to Wellness . The group is on facebook for the moment as that seems the platform where we can not only post and respond to writing prompts, challenges, and answer each others’ questions, but we can also do live writing groups, which I’d like to do at some point. We can also welcome speakers and post videos there.

Please feel free to join. I invite you to respond to prompts, receive writing feedback, and take part in a community dedicated to healing and wellness. Negative comments, trolling, and other uncivil behavior will not be tolerated.

Covid-pression

Covid has changed so much of our lives and, sadly, not much for the better. I have to be honest and say some polly-anna part of me thought we would come out of this better people; it appears many have not.

I thought we’d value friendships more, find beauty in the small things, experience next level gratitude. Some have, I suppose; but not without their own trials.

Covid tested all of us. At some level or another we have experienced depression, compression, oppression and it’s all erupted into violence, sadness, selfishness, thoughtlessness. When the going gets tough – I thought the tough went shopping; however, it appears the tough are few and the whiny little bitches of the world have amplified their shitty little messages.

But let us not wallow in the negative. As I tell my students, we can only fix our own little corner of the world. And that is what we must do. If we were all working on making our own little corners better (instead of joining the jackasses), then we are making a difference and that difference will be amplified. Remember that commercial, you tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two…. That is what we have to do – but spread good, positive, loving messages.

I’m shaking off my covid-pression (whatever one I’m experiencing this week – cuz it’s always different) and taking back life.

I was looking for a place to volunteer on Thanksgiving. The best thanksgivings I’ve spent have been serving at shelters. At one place I volunteered, families got all dressed up and came together. They sat and chatted with strangers like they were old friends. It beat the hell out of stuffing our faces and sitting back with a belly ache watching the tube.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been painting, baking, hiking, planning trips – and it feels great! It just takes breaking the ice in some way. And the rest will follow. I think it was the idea of volunteering and the memories of our previous years spent serving others which lifted my sense of covidpression.

We have so much to be thankful for – still! We have so much power within ourselves to change our own story and to be part of changing others’ stories.

Wishing you love and contentedness during this season.

Squid Game and other Social Issues

Given the hype of Squid Game, I couldn’t be behind the curve, so I gave in to the propaganda and clicked play.

(SPOILER ALERT)

I sat to watch the first episodes and became mortified as Red Light/Green Light turned into mass murder. I suspected something of the sort. I am savvy enough to know no one offers strangers money for easy, peasy games.

Shocked by the horror, not only of that episode but the following episodes, I fast forwarded through the majority of those scenes. I did slow for the other scenes, what I would call the important ones – the relationship building, the psychology behind playing the games, but that was slow to come, hard to understand with the dubbing, and lack of real emotion in the actors or the voice-overs.

Besides being horrified that Netflix would buy such a series, I’m sad for our society. We, in literature, know this to be a fact: Literature affects society and society affects literature. Literature, in this case, includes media. It’s the consumption of entertainment.

When Julia Roberts appeared in Pretty Woman and was driven away by her prince charming in a white limo, thousands of girls across the country ran away from home thinking their hero would come in the form of a john.

When Gatsby was re-released, a flood of inspired fashions, jewelry, and Roaring 20’s parties came to the market and was still going strong before the pandemic.

Our society, right now, is in trouble. The shootings, road rage, assaults, and airline passenger incidents have increased dramatically. The mental stress of the threats to home and family from the pandemic, the lockdown, as well as the continued confusing and changing informational messages create anxiety for people already stretched to their limits.

Our society does not need a series about murder games. Our society needs healing.

After 9/11, the media sold the red, white, and blue. Products, shows, and news stations – American Pride elevated. In addition, shows and movies about angels and healing were released. Our country slowly healed.

We have choices in what to watch, but I see more negative than positive available across the streaming channels. While we have some comedies, some sci-fi, the vast majority of available shows and movies seem to involve guns and violence.

Hulu canceled Dash and Lily, a sweet show. Netflix did away with Love – a show about relationships. Shows which might offer a reprieve from the violence and horror are done away with while companies use our dollars to buy content they then convince us to watch. I would have never watched Squid Games – it’s not that good! – had it not been for the hype.

Perhaps, right now, media is reflecting society. But media also has the power to offer and influence our society with more wholesome, more loving, and productive content.

I’ve sworn off my crime and mystery shows for the time being. I’ve sworn off any show with guns and violence. If I want that, I’ll watch the news.

Our society needs healing and media has the power, and perhaps the responsibility, to give us more of those choices.

What Pain Teaches Us

While cleaning up my yard, I twisted my ankle on my half finished garden pathway. I paused, my arms still full, ankle still smarting, wondering if I could still walk on it. For the moment, it was okay and I finished my chore. I’d been meaning to get to that pathway for awhile now.

I had a lot planned that day. I had errands to run, the yard to finish, things around the house to take care of and to finish a big project planned for that evening- but my ankle swelled and canceled my plans.

I did what one is supposed to do in these situations. I whined about it. No, not really. I elevated my foot and iced on my ankle.

*The philosophy in yoga – listen to your body.

*An idea from the military – push yourself to stretch your limits.

*Some believe – train your mind to not feel the pain.

*Others feel – the Universe is sending you a message

So, I’m sitting in my bed, my foot up on a pillow, notebook in hand, wondering which I advice I should follow.

Then I consider my own take on pain: The learning curve. Pain is meant to teach us something.

Physical and emotional pain, without a learning curve, is a waste. People continue to commit the same errors over in their lives and continue to be hurt in the same ways because they have not learned what they needed to the first time.

Healing, real healing, must come with a lesson for us to not re-injure in the exact same way. I spent much of my young life experiencing those lessons over and over without the understanding of what I was to learn. Once I began to learn from my pain – I didn’t allow the injury to happen again.

Emotional pain can last longer and hurt more than physical pain. Emotional pain can take up residence in our bodies and even cause physical pain. We must work out emotional pain in some way – therapy, talking to friend, or just writing it down to free up that pressure.

Physical pain can affect us emotionally. Some experts believe that to be free of physical pain, we must deal with what is really bothering us.

Some years ago I injured my back in kickboxing. I engaged in physical therapy which didn’t completely alleviate the issues. I still caught myself wincing in bed, carefully moving throughout my day, unable to wear my favorite shoes and sometimes unable to bend to even put my socks on. I thought I might end up like so many whose movement is limited due to their physical pain. I mourned my previous active, kickboxing, yoga, hiking self.

I sat myself down and really asked myself – what is going on, Miss Yogi-pants? Yogies heal. Your mind over matter works. Your stretch beyond your limits has never caused this much pain – so what is happening?

In meditation, I realized that I so feared the pain, my body would tense up with any little movement which MIGHT cause the pain. It wasn’t that I couldn’t bend over – I was afraid of that pain and my body would tense up to save me from the hurt and then I wouldn’t be able to bend over.

Little by little I worked to release that tension, release that fear of the pain. In almost no time at all – the pain was gone. I still took some things slow. And I have to admit, my body (or mind?) decided my back did not like the repetitive jerking and twisting of gym kickboxing, so I limit that – but I’ve been able to do everything else.

Emotional pain works the same way – don’t you think? We are so afraid of the pain that we actually work backward and hold on to the pain by holding on to the fear.

We’re afraid of the unknown, so we make the same mistakes over and over. We fear being hurt, so we don’t try to move beyond it – we stay stuck because that’s safer than whatever is beyond this moment or this position.

What did my ankle teach me? I’m not sure. Not to procrastinate and finish the walkway in the garden? To take it easy before a big project? Or to push through to finish that big project – which is what I ended up doing. I wrapped my ankle, neglected my chores, and focused on the big project that I’d procrastinated on.

Maybe my ankle pain and momentary limitation was a wake up call to stop procrastinating PERIOD!

What Does Writing Mean to You?

It was suggested to me recently that I give up writing for awhile.

My mouth fell open and my eyes widened. “Give up writing?”

I was in shock. I jumped to defense, ready to tackle, grab the ball and run for the 50 yard line.

What would I do with all the voices in my head? All the characters who wrangle for a voice, the scenes that require breath to be brought to life? These are real things in writer’s heads. People, places, stories. Non-writers don’t readily understand that.

(I wonder what it’s like to live in a non-writer’s head? What goes on in there if there are no stories? Is there math? *Shudder).

Who in their write/right mind would “give up” their passion, their purpose.

She asked, “What does writing mean to you?”

I realize my defense is not really an answer. What does writing mean to me? I know what is used to mean – it was a survival mechanism. But it was more than that too.

I’m still working on it by the way – a current, present answer to what writing means to me. I just know I can’t not write.

Share with me please – what does writing mean to you?

Empathy and the Modern Human

Earth has been a pretty terrible place to be in the last few years. Only we can make it better. Each and every one of us can do our part in our little corner of the world. Because when we are better humans, it makes the world a better place.

I read an article recently in which Valerie Bertinelli was trolled – by another woman – who fat shamed her. Really? WTF is wrong with you that you have to troll one of the most beautiful humans on the planet?

Bertinelli says she uses empathy to deal with comments such as that.

Empathy is the answer, truly.

Empathy is the high road.

I have been dealing with some harassment on top of the death of a few family members. Recently, I received vicious snail mail by trolls I have had to block on every other platform.

When I consider the effort these people have taken to reach me, it makes me believe they are seriously unhappy in their own lives. I know I have not said or done anything to them to incur or engage their wrath. They’re just unhappy and need someone else to focus on. And that is truly sad.

Burt Bacharach said it best: What the world needs is love, sweet love. And empathy.

Empathy has been my inspiration. How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party is filled with stories of empathy.

Sending you love.

Can we be real honest here for a moment?

2020 was traumatizing, yes.

Then the spring culling of faculty was horrifying.

The death of friends and family,

then continued torment by people who are unhappy and unhealthy.

The past 17 months have been horrendous.

We’ve all been in some type of survival mode. We’ve all been hurt and scared and scarred. We haven’t reached out enough or we reached out and didn’t received a response.

We’ve been told over and over, this is the new normal, this is normal, now we’re getting back to normal.

The world is an angry place. Karens rule. Mass shootings. Building collapse.

Nothing is right. Nothing is normal. And it’s okay to be upset, to feel dismayed, confused, unsettled. Nothing about the last year and a half has been comforting.

And you’re not alone.

But

hang in there

we

will

all

be

okay.