Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekend Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Adolescent Sports Injuries

As the end of the semester collides with the beginning of basketball season, I shouldn't be surprised that this post is late enough that I had to forgo my usual "Friday Freebie" title. And while I was undecided about which link to share this week, life events intervened and sent me off down a road that was entirely different from the one I started on. (This week, links are embedded into the post).

We are less than a week into the official high school basketball season, and already my daughter has sustained an injury. When kids play, they get hurt; this is an unfortunate fact of life. But increasingly, when kids play high school sports, the pressure to return to the very playing field where they sustained the injury is enormous.

I'm not pointing fingers; some of this pressure is self-imposed. But, this self-imposed pressure hasn't developed in a vacuum. We live in a culture of year-round sports where kids are sustaining injuries that used to happen only to professional athletes. Less downtime means less sleep, which means greater susceptibility to getting hurt in the first place. Well-meaning coaches who counsel their still skeletally and neurologically immature charges to play harder are often unwittingly setting them up for injuries that may end their sports careers. Add to that the peer pressure that's a standard ingredient in adolescents and the team mentality that leaves players (girls in particular) in fear of letting their friends down and the result is that kids who should be sitting on the sidelines are instead, icing up and going back out. At the risk of of sounding like throwback to the 1960s,  I wonder what has happened to the joy of playing a sport. And I wonder why more adults aren't drawing a line.
My daughter's injury was, thankfully, minor, but some of her friends and teammates have not been as lucky. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three other girls we know who have had to take a step back from the game, perhaps permanently. Through some combination of bad luck and playing hard, these girls have sustained injuries at a level that keeps them from playing at all; two of these girls have had multiple concussions, and one has been so impacted by her injuries that her life off the court has been substantially impacted as well. She is fifteen.

I don't mean to be trashing high school sports programs. They offer many benefits and most of the time, I'm both pleased and proud that my daughter is involved in hers. 

But it's time for the adults to take a stand. Understand the potential impact of high school sports injuries and be an advocate for our kids. Work with them to help them understand that two days off now may mean two weeks of playing time down the road. Refuse to allow them to be taped up and sent back in, and counterbalance the advice of well-meaning adults who tell them they aren't playing hard enough by helping them to understand that consistently doing their best is playing hard enough.

I love watching my daughter play basketball. But I don't want to lose sight of the big picture. In the not-too-distant future, I will love watching her graduate from high school and then college. I'll go to her wedding and perhaps become a grandmother, and cheer her on from the sidelines for every role she plays in life. And since I'm an adult with much more life experience than she, it's my job to help her understand what she can't see right now: that although "basketball player" is only part of who she is, what happens on that court can have repercussions outside the gym as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Writers' Group Wednesday

My critique group meets tonight, which officially makes this my favorite Wednesday of the month We are single/married/parents/grandparents/young/young-at-heart, fiction/non-fiction/article/ novel/poetry writers. Some of us have been critiquing one another's work for twenty years or more; others have been with the group less than five. We're respectful in a no-holds-barred kind of way; that's the beauty of growing together as writers.

Lately, our group has been having trouble getting together. Life circumstances, family obligations and crazy schedules have gutted our last few meetings. I'm always sad when that happens. When we don't meet, I miss not just the perspectives on writing this group provides, but the people as well. We've entrusted one another with one of our most personal possessions -- our words on the page -- and along the way, relationships have grown up around those words.

In some ways, this group is like the small groups I ran for my elementary school students. There's a camaraderie and a level of trust that develops as a result of sharing time and talent, publishing contracts and rejection letters, births and deaths and retirements. And though confidentiality is not mandated, it is, in many cases, assumed -- both for the words on the page and the events of our lives. Together, we have centuries of experience as readers and writers, and these common bonds connect us.

Some critique groups are genre-specific: all poets, all screen writers, all novelists. This group is not. Most of us have at least one longer work-in-progress -- usually fiction, but sometimes non-fiction -- among our monthly submissions, but they vary widely. Sometimes, I feel a little out of my league, as I sit, pen in hand, reading works that are outside the realm of what I'd choose off a bookstore shelf. Consequently, I sometimes critique more as a reader than a writer, marking both the spots that sing and those that trigger dissonance.

I know beyond any doubt that I owe my publishing contracts to this group. The books may have my name on them, but without this group, those books would be sitting on my hard drive, rather than gracing bookstore shelves and catalog pages. Without this group, I'd have found the editing process leading up to publication much more heartbreaking because I wouldn't have learned that editing a book is like pruning a rosebush -- when it's done right, it makes the blooms more beautiful.

As writers, we sometimes struggle to decide which words are flowers and which ones are weeds. Though I've gotten much better at that over two decades of writing, sometimes I miss a few weeds, mistaking them for wildflowers. This group tells me which ones need to be yanked and which ones should be bulldozed so that the ones that remain have room to grow and tell their story.

We don't always agree when it comes to weeding one another's word gardens, but that's part of the beauty of the group. Writing is, after all, an art, requiring a combination of personal experience and collective wisdom.

In the end, the writer sits alone before a screen, deciding what to keep and what to excise. But one Wednesday a month, this writer is lucky enough to sit in a room with a group of people who love writing as much as she does.

Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening.

Monday, November 17, 2014

In Defense of Night Owls
I am a night owl. Unless I'm sick, I'm unable to go to sleep at 10:00 at night. Left to my own devices, I go to bed sometime between midnight and 1 AM and get up somewhere between 8AM and 9AM.

But I am also a mother. My teen aged daughter is self-sufficient and completely capable of getting herself up, dressed, fed and out of the house on her own each morning. But still, I get up with her and see her off each day. I don't do this because she needs me to or because I have to. I do this because I want to.

But it's a challenge. I don't wind down early in the evening, and so when that alarm goes off, eight hours of sleep is a still a few hours away. Sometimes it gets captured later in the day, in the form of a nap; other days, it's simply lost.

I'm not special. This is what mothers do.

But somehow, I've let myself get sucked into the belief that night owls like me are somehow inferior to early risers -- that there's some sort of virtue bestowed upon people who get out of bed before a certain time of morning. And although I tell myself that's ridiculous, it seems as though that's exactly what some of my early rising friends think. Twice in the past few months, I've had friends make cracks about what time I got up (or didn't) -- comments that make me bristle. Do you really think I'm lazy? I want to ask them. And, furthermore, why is it any of your business?

But I don't say these things. Instead, I bite my tongue and fight the urge to respond with a retort that will topple them from their holier-than-thou morning person pedestal.
I can do the math. I know that going to bed earlier increases the likelihood that I'll spend more hours sleeping, maybe even come close to that magic eight hours that's usually just a pipe dream. The trouble is, going to bed and going to sleep are two distinctly different processes. Going to bed based on an algorithm that predicts the proper amount of sleep does not guarantee a restful night.

When my daughter was little, she was a morning person, bright and chipper by 6 or 6:30 AM. Back then, I compensated. I had to.

Now a teenager, she's more likely to sleep in when given the opportunity, much like her mother. Both of us are hard chargers, tackling the day with ferocity until we're finally and irrevocably done and ready to call it quits. And sometimes, that's not until late at night.

I understand that the rest of the world is often asleep when I've gotten my second wind. I even respect that. Just because I'm up at midnight, doesn't mean I'll call you at midnight or even text you at what you'd consider an ungodly hour, lest I awaken you with a beep or buzz or ding signifying a new text. But I might just email you, because I know you won't have to attend to that until you've risen and shone.

All I ask is the same understanding and respect. When you call me at 7 AM or make fun of me for not being up before 9 on a weekend, it's just like my disturbing you in the wee hours of the morning or failing to understand that your bedtime is earlier than mine. I didn't choose my body clock, or even set it. I came pre-wired with these biorhythms.

So, my early bird friends, the next time you're tempted to apply a dose of superiority to your conversation with a night owl friend, ask yourself what they were doing at midnight.

Chances are, it's not that different from what you were doing at 6 AM.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Special: Book Baskets

After reading Thursday's post, are you wondering about my latest novel, meaningful and fun promotion? (I hope so!)

As a small businesswoman, I wanted to do something that would create a little buzz for some local small businesses in addition to putting my books into people's hands. So, I decided to make up gift baskets and leave them in a few spots around town. Customers come in, see the book basket and I get publicity. I tell my readers about the baskets here, and the businesses get publicity. Meanwhile, patrons are signing up to win the basket, and at the end of it all, three customers of locally owned small businesses get to take home a basket that they can enjoy, or use as a holiday gift.

Each basket contains a copy of Casting the First Stone, along with Book Club Questions, a Casting the First Stone bookmark and a few little things that I thought patrons of the business might enjoy. (And, since I'm a Thirty-One consultant, each basket has at least one Thirty-One item tucked in).

You can find the baskets at Bluett Bros. ViolinsBook Ends and EPIC: A Michael Alan Salon. Not sure where the businesses are located? Clicking on their names in the sentence above will take you to their Facebook pages.

If you live in the York area, I hope you'll visit these businesses, see what they have to offer and enter to win. I'd love to put a copy of my book into your hands.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Five Steps for Making Your Passion Your Priority

When the school district I worked for offered an early retirement incentive two years ago, I jumped at the idea. Moving from excitement over the possibilities to making it a reality took a lot more time and soul-searching, however. I was just over fifty and my daughter was about to start high school. College tuition, among other expenses, loomed and fear that the decision would backfire was overwhelming.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by supportive friends, and to get some pretty clear answers to the prayers I sent up at regular intervals throughout the day. I'd also had some pretty great role models -- women who'd followed their passions alongside their day jobs and family responsibilities -- who'd shown me what it looked like to lay a foundation for retirement.

One of the things I looked forward to was following my passion -- writing. (Little did I know that retiring wouldn't weaken my passion for teaching). And when I read Stacey Horowitz's 5 Steps for Making Passion Your Priority, I remembered all of those pre-retirement dreams all over again.

Now, two years have passed. Some days, I still struggle to find time to make my passion my priority, but I can say for sure that setting my sights on my passion was worth it. I was too young to retire by typical standards, but I was old enough to know that life is too short to put off the things that put the light in our eyes and the joy in our days.

Though I loved Horowitz's ideas for working in those things that matter most to us, what I most identified with in the article was her realism. The fact that sometimes we get our best ideas in the shower because it's the only time we have that's uninterrupted and allocated for just one thing -- one thing we can do on autopilot. The fact that many times, I go to bed tired and wake up still exhausted, but it's okay because I know what I'm doing matters.

What have you been longing to do? And how can you fit it into your life? Every baby step takes us closer to the dream.

There's no time like the present.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Tisket, A Tasket, My Book is in a Basket

Is it still Wednesday? Yeah, I didn't think so.

It's been a busy week. As my body struggles to adjust to the extra hour of sleep (which puts me off schedule and leaves me inexplicably tired for a week or more after I've finished moving clock hands), life goes on.

Lately, part of life has been book promotion. Although a writer's main task is, not surprisingly, to write, promotion is also -- always -- part of the deal once a writer is fortunate enough to see her work in print. Publishers help a little in the promo game, but the book that is the author's baby is merely one inhabitant of the nursery for the publisher, who, like the author, is also busy conceiving the future population of that nursery.

I'm one of those crazy writers who enjoys promotion. I don't like the time it takes away from working on my next book, but I decided early on that if I couldn't escape it (and I can't), I might as well  have fun with it. Over the past year, through a combination of research and experience, I've developed three rules for promoting a book: make it novel, make it meaningful and make it fun.

  1. Make it novel -- no pun intended (well, maybe a little). I love bookstores. The fact that they're full of readers makes them a great, if predictable, place to have a book event. But they're also full of books, and it can be hard to stand out. Choosing less typical locales for book events not only makes an author stand out, but also keeps things interesting.
  2. Make it meaningful. Anyone who knows me knows I love Starbucks, and most of my friends know that Starbucks is often my office away from home.  So, when some of the work I created there made it into print, it seemed like a great place to have a party. (Sometimes it helps to be a regular). Not only did it fulfill rule #1 above, but the location (and the people who work there) meant something to me, which meant the whole event felt like a natural extension of who I am and what I love.
  3. Make it fun. If creating promotional events and ideas feels like drudgery to me, it will feel like drudgery to those around me as well. Sure, I mumbled and grumbled as I was making up gift baskets for my latest harebrained scheme, but that was just my perfectionism rearing its ugly head. And I had to stifle a few groans as I added up the cost of the prizes for my online launch party, but I had a great time coming up with things that complemented the book both thematically and visually. Book parties, promotions and events are meant to be celebrations, and celebrations are meant to be fun.
Are you wondering about my latest novel, meaningful and fun promotion yet? If so, check back on Saturday for details. Can't wait that long? Stop by Bluett Bros. Violins, Book Ends or EPIC: A Michael Alan Salon and take a look around. Meanwhile, the picture below is a hint. :-)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Never Listless

I've written before about to-do lists: writing them, using them, conquering them. I've read about them, too -- how to do them, how not to do them, how long/short/organized/detailed they should be. To categorize or not to categorize. Short and simple or long and comprehensive. Day-by-day or one big jumble.

And I keep changing my mind.

To-do lists are a necessary evil. We need them to keep track of the details of our lives, but if we're not careful, they can take over. Living by the list leaves little time for the things that refresh and sustain us. After all, when's the last time you wrote "take a nap" or "curl up with a book" on a to-do list?

My to-do lists vary. When I was working full-time, they were scrawled on scraps of paper and separated by home tasks and work tasks. When I first retired, I kept a master list and culled items from it to add to the daily schedule. These days, I do a little bit of both.

Last Saturday morning, I woke up with a to-do list that could fill a notebook -- or at least it felt that way. Typically, I shy away from writing down every single thing I need to do (especially on days like that) because halfway through the process, I grow weary and depressed from the mere act of considering everything I need to do.

Unfortunately, the alternative is keeping it all in my head (and running the risk of forgetting to do things) and so some days, like last Saturday, I succumb. I dump all of my to-dos (or at least the ones that occur to me at the moment) onto paper and then take stock.

This time, it wasn't the sheer quantity of what I needed to do that threatened to send me back to bed; in terms of length, the list was reasonable. But the amount of space each item took up on the page in no way corresponded to the amount of time each thing would take.

Today is Monday, and I'm still working on that Saturday list. The funny thing is, that's not a bad thing because I sort of suspected it would happen.

Yesterday afternoon, I approached my list with trepidation. I'd written it on Saturday, then started my day, filling it with both on-the-list and off-the-list (routine) items. And a lovely thing happened.

I did most of the things on the list. And the act of checking them off was very fulfilling indeed.

No matter how we do to-do lists, one thing is true in nearly every case. Dumping tasks onto the page frees us from the responsibility of carrying them around, trying to keep track of them. That's what the list is for. And if we make the list, plot out the day and then go about our business, we sometimes find that the list has taken care of itself and we get to check things off.

Not all lists are created equal, however. Some days, I grip my list in my sweaty fist all day long lest I forget to complete something that's on it. And grocery lists? I never leave home without them -- at least not when I know I'm bound for the grocery store.

Slowly, I've come to realize that to-do lists must be fluid. We can't simply make one list and be done with it, and the sooner we make peace with that idea, the more useful (and less stressful) our lists become. In the end, there's really only one thing that's true about all to-do lists.

It's fun crossing things off of them.