Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Feature: Sometimes, Good Enough is Good Enough

This week, I've been perusing materials for the first year seminar I'll begin teaching in a few weeks. I've already taught the course several times, but I'm always on the lookout for updated materials to keep things interesting and current.

Ironically, it wasn't until I typed that last paragraph that I realized I'm doing exactly what today's article is about -- straddling that line between good enough and perfect.

What I started to say is that perfectionism is a topic I cover, and one that causes me to re-assess my own tendencies every time I teach it.

Like when the materials I already have aren't good enough and I go on a quest for newer, better information.

In life, there's always room for improvement, but it's also easy for us to exhaust ourselves trying to make everything perfect -- which is when it comes in handy to consider when we should aim for good enough rather than perfect.

While I'm reluctant to accept good enough most of the time, there's still wiggle room between good enough and perfect. In the case of my new materials, chunking my time so that I don't fall down the hyperlink rabbit hole helps; so, too, does figuring out what I'm looking to replace ahead of time. And, as Greene-Zapier points out in her article, sometimes, good enough is step one -- like the first draft of a blog post, manuscript or novel. Other times, our imperfection gives others permission to be imperfect, too.

So, why should we settle? Well, mostly because perfect is out of reach for we mere mortals but also because sometimes, good enough really is good enough.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Back-to-School Chatting on the Porch Swing

kreatikar via Pixabay
Today, many of my teacher friends went back to school. Although the kids won't start until next week, professional development meetings and prep work will fill today and tomorrow as they ready themselves and their classrooms for another year of teaching and learning.

Although my classes don't start for another two weeks, I've been chipping away at syllabi, class prep and other school-related stuff since last week. Although I'm sad to cut into my writing time, I enjoy the creative process that both accompanies and feeds this planning and preparing process. 

All of this got me to thinking about my characters, so I thought I'd invite them to the porch swing and get their thoughts about school. 

First question: Who's ready?

Charli: I am, kinda. I'm not looking forward to homework, but I'm looking forward to seeing my friends. Although there are a couple of people I'll be avoiding.

Bets: I'm not! All those buses mean I have to get up earlier to get to work on time.

Marita: I'm not either. I like having Charli around for the summer.

Charli: Mom, you're not even home during the day!

Marita: Yeah, but...never mind.

Angel: You like knowing she's there? I get that.

Pixabay
Okay. School. Love it or hate it?

Angel: Oh, I loved school!

Bets: Of course you did. You probably got straight A's.

Angel: No, not straight A's....

Bets: Me, I loved school supplies but not school. I liked the whole getting ready part, but I hated that I couldn't get back-to-school clothes like my friends who went to public school. And school itself was boring, which is why I had to make my own fun.

Marita: I hated those uniforms, too. Remember how we tried to personalize them? And then we'd get  in trouble for that.

Charli: I can picture that. Did you like school, Mom?

Marita: I did. I was always pretty good at school -- except for the fact that I talked too much -- so that made it tolerable. Until high school, anyway.

Charli: Uh oh.

Marita: You don't need to worry. You're too smart to make the mistakes I did.

stux via Pixabay
Favorite subject?

Charli: Math.

Angel: French.

Marita: Spanish.

Bets: Drama club.

Charli: No offense, Bets, but isn't that any class you're in?

Bets: Ooh, she's good.

Marita: And drama club isn't a class.

Bets (shrugs): Okay, then. Whatever class had the cutest boys.

Favorite teacher? Or least favorite?

Marita: My favorite teacher was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Stein. My least favorite was Sr. Mary Rose, my 11th grade English teacher.

Bets: I didn't like her either. But I loved my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Evans.

Angel: I loved my kindergarten teacher, too! Miss Garrety.
Pixabay

Charli: I dunno. Mr. Pizzetti's pretty cool, I guess.

Bets: Oh, summer. I'm gonna miss you.

Charli: Yeah. Me too.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Accommodating Accommodations

naobim via Pixabay
Two weeks ago, I attended a writing conference. It was the second year I was going, and I was excited to be splurging and staying at the hotel.

I couldn't wait. Last year, I'd been impressed by the facility, falling in love most with a spacious and well-appointed lobby that promised to be perfect for writing sessions after hours and between workshops.

The first day, all was well. I checked in early in the evening and had a pleasant first night. The next morning, things were a tad noisy outside my room, but I didn't give it much thought. A placard on the nightstand warned that the hotel was doing some remodeling and there would be some mild disturbances between 8 AM and 5 PM. I got ready for my sessions and headed out. All was quiet in the meeting rooms -- construction-wise, that is.

About mid-afternoon, I went back to the room, hoping to take some down time (and maybe even a nap) before the reception and book signing that night.

Ha.

The drilling overhead was so loud that I had to leave the room.

As the parent of a college-age young adult, I've spent a fair amount of time in hotels over the past few years. From the college search time when she was still in high school to the campus visits to our trip to join her during her semester in Ireland, I've seen the insides of a lot of hotel rooms of various sizes and qualities, but I've never had to leave the room because it was too noisy for me to hear myself think.

One of the perks of staying at a hotel when I go to a conference is being able to seek time all to myself at any point in the day, whether to write, to nap, to read, to relax or even watch bad television. This benefit is one of the things I'm paying for, and I don't take it lightly. I've done some of my best writing in hotels (and on trains) and I love knowing that's an option when I go away. And, when it's not, I become somewhat cranky.

There are other amenities I look for in a hotel -- features that make me want to book again, even if the price is a little higher than other places. The rooms have to be clean, of course, and I've come to expect a mini-fridge (although they're not standard); my favorite hotel even has a little microwave in its suites. Feather bedding options might be upscale, but they're a disappointment to me. Allergies mean I need to call the front desk, ask for non-feather options and hope that's what I actually get.

I don't care about the mini toiletries -- if they're nice, that's a bonus but (allergies again) I pack the ones I like from home. I do care about the shower, though. More than once, I've been sad to check out of a hotel because their shower was better than ours at home.

Traveling with a teen, we've gotten into the habit of booking suites, which means we have room to spread out. While my husband is happy to camp out on the bed with his iPad, I prefer to read on the (usually pull-out) sofa or work on my laptop at the desk. I've also been known to hang out in the lobby if it's nice. I vividly remember working out a scene in the forthcoming Marita/Angel/Charli book in the lobby of a hotel in Connecticut. It was summer, but the stone fireplace was really pretty and there were lots of comfy places to sit. The change in scenery added something to the writing experience.
Lobby of the Eden Resort Inn

In those open spaces, it's always nice to have knowledgeable and courteous staff. I don't remember ever running into problems here; most of those in the hospitality business do hospitable quite well. It's also nice if there's a restaurant on-site -- preferably one that doesn't break the bank. Wifi is also a must, preferably in the lobby and in the room. And a decent place to make/take a phone call matters, too. "Can you hear me now?" is not my idea of good phone service.

Picky? Maybe. Or maybe I just know what I like, and what I'm willing to pay for.

Not long ago, I learned that another of my favorite writing conferences will no longer be held at my favorite hotel. I was disappointed enough to consider skipping the conference, or even staying at my preferred hotel and driving across town to the hotel where the conference will be held.

I have almost a year to make up my mind. And, it's likely that my daughter's graduation will be held that same weekend, so I won't be going to the conference anyway for reasons completely unrelated to the venue.

This is good. It gives the conference planners two years to come to their senses and choose the right location next time around.

Hey. I'm from Jersey. I know what I like.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Friday Feature: Smiles and Confidence

When I worked as a counselor, I had a smile file. A simple file folder filled with thank you notes, pictures from students and things that made me smile, it stayed tucked in my file drawer for those days when I needed it. For me, it was a mood booster on those days where things weren't going well. It reminded me of the times when things had gone right and helped me to believe things would go right again.

As I read this article in Fast Company by my friend Gwen Moran, her advice to "remind yourself how awesome you are" brought my smile file to mind. I thought of the contents of that file as a way to bring some light into a drab or disheartening day but, as Gwen points out, its contents could also be a source of confidence, and a means of overcoming our anxieties. When we're in the midst of a day where it feels as though nothing is going right, it's great to have a way to remind ourselves of the times when things did.

Need some suggestions for boosting your confidence when nerves threaten to take over? Gwen's article is a quick read, but offers great advice.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Who, What, When, Where, Write

Haven't used one of these since college, but I
still think they're pretty cool. If only they
came with a delete key.
(Photo: Pixabay)
I have been writing professionally -- or endeavoring to -- for more than 25 years. In that time, I've been a school counselor, a fiancée, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a cast member, an adjunct professor, an almost-empty nester and probably a few other things as well.

I wrote at the dining room table in our first apartment and at a roomier dining room table in the house we've lived in for 25 years, as well as three different spaces in my home that we've classified as offices. I've written in my car, while waiting for my daughter to finish a class or a practice, at a table while eating lunch at Subway or Panera and in a wide array of Starbucks cafés, including the time I spent a couple of hours on my laptop at the Starbucks at the beach while my husband went to outlet stores that would have bored me silly.

I've written on our back patio and -- my favorite spot -- the screened-in porches of many condos at the beach. As I was editing a scene in the latest Marita/Angel/Charli book, I was reminded that I've also written in hotel lobbies. Insider info: when you read the celebratory Italian restaurant scene in the latest book (when it comes out later this year), picture me sitting in a hotel lobby in Connecticut trying to get the details just right.

I've written by hand, on a word processor, on several PCs, on my iPad and on my MacBook Air, the last of which is by far my favorite. I've written in snippets of time from a few quick notes scrawled in the dark when ideas pop up as I'm falling asleep to writing conferences and weekend writing retreats.

My output has been as varied as my roles and my venues. I started out submitting articles to magazines "on spec," sending self-addressed stamped envelopes along with my submissions and hoping my postage would be spent on good news, rather than paying for the delivery of a rejection letter. I still write articles but, these days, everything is submitted via email, including the invoices that ensure I get paid for my work. I've written both fiction and non-fiction, and don't foresee a day when I'll choose one over the other. I love my characters, but I also like writing about topics like organization and assertiveness, and I love it when people tell me my books have been helpful.

And then there are the blogs. Four days a week, I share my thoughts and organizational ideas.

Although this is my story, it's not entirely unique. Many writers write in multiple genres, and most juggle "real" jobs and families and, when they succeed in getting a book out into the world, find they need to ad promotion to the calendar as well. It's all in the job description.

Right now, I'm spreading the word about my latest book while making plans for another non-fiction book. In addition, I'm working on a new cover so I can re-release Casting the First Stone, while simultaneously revising the third book with the same set of characters. On deck are two more novels, along with the middle grade novel that's in the drawer, trying to snag a spot on my to-do list.

I'm not the same person I was when I started this journey a quarter of a century ago. For a writer, this
is an advantage. Every word, every day, every adventure sparks new ideas and new connections so that, with any luck, the writing stays fresh. Because inspiration is everywhere, I can stay in the same genre every time or take the leap to something new, forging new paths to keep things fresh.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.


Monday, August 5, 2019

Now is the Time to Act

Profile via Pixabay
This morning, as I contemplated this post, lots of fun, mostly humorous apolitical topics ran through my mind. Last week's conference. My new desk chair, which I'm finally getting a chance to break in after a busy week and a half away from the office. How turning the page on the calendar is problematic for me.

And then, this morning, on the way to drop some papers off, I heard the President's response to the shootings that occurred last weekend. And I was, once again, horrified.

The man who spews hate condemned hatred. Which Trump are we supposed to believe?

He once again pointed to mental illness as a factor and this is where I lost my cool. White supremacy is not a mental illness. Hatred is not a mental illness and, although the President lumped them together as the impetus behind the pulling of a trigger, mental illness and hatred do not, as a rule, go hand in hand.

The fact is that most people who struggle with mental health issues are not dangerous. People who are depressed or anxious do not, as a rule, go out and buy handguns, let alone assault rifles, and shoot at innocent people in shopping centers and night clubs. And to use the death of innocent people as a means to increase the stigma that those who struggle with mental health issues already bear is irresponsible and shameful.

I'm baffled by the fact that we still question a need for sensible gun laws in this country -- the only first world country that regularly has mass shootings plastered across the front pages of its newspapers. Let me explain what I mean by sensible gun laws. I don't want to see legislation that takes away rifles from hunters, vintage guns from collectors or even handguns from responsible citizens who can prove that they fit that category. I do not, however, see a need for any private citizen to have an assault rifle. I recognize that a bipartisan gun law will have loopholes that allow some people who should not have guns to continue to buy and own them, and that loopholes are potentially necessary for continued freedom when it comes to owning and bearing firearms. I would, however, much prefer loopholes to the gaping chasm that is our country's approach to the purchase and possession of guns.

If you're still reading this, thank you, and I hope you will allow me one closing thought. Most people who struggle with mental health issues lead quiet, nonviolent lives. Many gun owners, similarly, present no danger to anyone. To suggest that responsible, bipartisan gun legislation should disrupt the lives of either of these groups is to miss the point. So, what is the point?

It's time for the Senate to vote. There's a bill before you. Vote on it. Pass it and move forward to put teeth into the law that results. Or, don't pass it, but then go back to the table. And don't leave the table until a gun law that upholds the rights of gun owners, the rights of those with mental health issues and the rights of private citizens results.

Do. Something.

NOW.

For more information on mental health issues, visit one of these sites.


I am emailing this blog post to my senators.
Please reach out to yours.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Friday Feature: Savoring Isn't Just for Food

Last Monday, I wrote my post-party post and shared my determination to be better at savoring the good things that came my way. Then on Tuesday, I left to spend most of the rest of the week at a conference, where my book was featured in my publisher's display, and I signed copy after copy at a signing that was a part of the festivities.

When I think of savoring, I think of taking a moment to take in the moment that I'm in. That, however, is just one way that we can savor the good things.

Interested in doing some savoring of your own? Check out this article by Stacey Kennelly from Berkeley's Greater Good site to find nine more ways to make every moment count.