Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Feature: Faking It

Yesterday, I headed back into the classroom, determined to teach not just psychology, but critical thinking skills as well.

And today is Inauguration Day.

The confluence of these two events has me thinking about staying informed in a responsible way.

One day last week, I typed "staying politically aware when the news makes you sick" into my trusty search engine -- the one that is, or is not, depending on who you read -- cracking down on allowing fake news sites to run its ads.

And I ended up reading about how we consume the news -- or boycott it because it's bad for us. How millenials consume news, along with specifics on the ways that many in this generation are more informed than we give them credit for. I read an interview with a fake news creator -- a man who is educated and makes a decent living paying people to make up stories and spread them across social media, then unveil them -- sort of.

Finally, I landed on an article that I printed out to share with my students: one on how to spot fake news. As this industry becomes more lucrative, it's also becoming better at what it does, which is convincing people that fiction and fact are one and the same.

I never did find the answer to my online search. I guess that's one I'll have to work out for myself.

If you've figured it out, please share your strategies in the comments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Name Game

My characters are having an identity crisis. They know who they are: a husband and wife, her parents, a brother and sister, a fiancé, a best friend and her husband, some college students and a couple of clients who have families of their own. But, although most of them entered this story as fully-formed adults, they are struggling with one of the most basic parts of human identity.

Their names.

Like their living, breathing counterparts in the real world, characters who populate the page are given a name early in their existence. But things that are cute in the real world are annoying on the page. Four kids in a family can have names that begin with the same letter, but four characters in a story whose names have the same first letter can confuse readers. Consequently, writers of fiction try not to do that.

Unfortunately, my characters were well into their story when it was brought to my attention that I'd made a similar mistake. My protagonist, Kelsey, has a sister named Lindsay and a best friend named Jessy. Her husband's teaching assistant is named Allie and one of Kelsey's clients is named Tracy.

Do you see it? I didn't. But, once it was pointed out to me that all of these names have the same end sound, I couldn't unsee it.

Clearly, I couldn't change Kelsey; she's running the show. I thought I might be able to get away with sisters named Kelsey and Lindsay (that family cuteness thing), but Jessy and Kelsey have many scenes together, so Jessy needed a new name.

Or so I thought. As it turned out, Jessy didn't want a new name. She went through several new monikers before I settled on Roxanne, a name she hasn't yet rejected and that is growing on me as well. She comes when called by that name, so, for now at least, it's a keeper.

Now I'm wondering about Lindsay. I've been in search of a new name for her since I changed Allie's name to something more contemporary, only to fall into the same y-ending rut, and have to change it back again. I have a new name in mind for Lindsay, but she's a bit bride-zilla at the moment, so I'm afraid to broach the subject.

Like living, breathing humans, characters' names are a part of who they are. While most real people don't change their first names as adults, characters do have that luxury.

Or is it a liability? Ask Jessy/Roxanne, or any other character who has refused to accept a new name. This happens in subtle ways. The old name refuses to be excised by any means other than a search and destroy mission whereby all incidences are replaced simultaneously. Or, suddenly, the character's voice changes with her name and the dialogue stops working. Or, most often in my experience, the author gets confused and calls the character by her old name.

Wait a minute. Jessy Roxanne...Jessica Roxanne....That could work. Maybe if I think of my characters' new names as extensions of their old ones, I can ease myself--and them--into the change. I won't put all that on the page because it would only further confuse matters. But maybe thinking of both names as part of the same whole will help me feel as though I'm rounding out the character, rather than recasting her.

And maybe, just maybe, that will make everybody happy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Reclaiming a Resolution

When I was in college, we didn't have a television in our room. As far as I knew, the only TV in the dorm was in the common room, tucked away on another floor. If I wanted to watch TV, I had to hope no one else was there, or that whoever was there would be watching something I wanted to see. Most of the time, I preferred to go play the piano in one of the practice rooms in the music building.

In retrospect, there were probably other televisions in other places; I just wasn't interested enough to find out. Consequently, it was easy for me to break my television habit. For four years, I watched little TV at school, and limited my viewing to those times I was home on break.

Over the years, my TV habit has reasserted itself. When I find a show I like, I'm a loyal viewer, watching it every time it's on. In some cases, I even watch reruns. I'm on my third pass through Gilmore Girls and have watched so many episodes of Friends, Big Bang Theory, M*A*S*H and The Golden Girls that there are lines I can recite along with the characters.

I was thinking about this last night as I mentally reviewed my progress on my New Year's resolutions. Once again, my reading for pleasure is coming up short. I can blame this on class prep or on the fact that when I get time alone in a quiet house, I write, rather than reading.

And those things are true. But, I still manage to find time to play Words with Friends and other games on my iPad. I also check Facebook and Twitter (where I find much of my reading material) at least once a day, usually more. And, when I crash at the end of the day, I turn on the TV. Once it's on, I find it hard to turn it off, especially if I'm watching with someone else.

I realized that somewhere in all of that leisure time lay the answer to my reading dilemma, and, when I stopped to think about it, the answer was simple.

Reruns. By reclaiming as little as thirty minutes (one episode of a sitcom) each night and "depriving" myself of an episode of a show I'd already seen, I could exponentially increase my reading time. 

So I tried it last night. My leisure reading was admittedly not what most would choose (a positive psychology textbook), but it was what I wanted to read. I polished off the first chapter, and realized that more than half an hour had passed. I won't lie and say I didn't sneak in an episode of Gilmore Girls before bed, or that I didn't end up overshooting my bedtime, but, hey, it was the first night.

I'm really excited about reclaiming my resolution, especially since it was so easy. So often, we fall into habits, forgetting that our time is our own, and we choose how we spend it. I don't anticipate ever becoming someone who eschews all television, but it's high time I at least became a little more discriminating. 

If I could do it at 18, I should be able to do it now that I'm a grown-up. 


Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Freebie: My L. L. Bean Slippers

Sitting here in my could-possibly-pass-for-real-clothes pjs and my best-ever L.L. Bean slippers, I'm considering yet another domino that has fallen in the wake of the 2016 election.

L. L. Bean. Maker of the slippers I live in.

As news stories reveal Linda Bean's substantial contributions to a PAC supporting the president elect and the Twitter-verse plunges into boycott outrage, I'm contemplating what this means to me and my slippers.

Linda Bean is the granddaughter of the company founder, as well as a board member. Most relevant to me is the fact that she's co-owner of L. L. Bean, which means that the money that I pay for my slippers ends up in her hands.

From there, it could be argued, it's up to her to do what she wants with it. After all, once I have my slippers, my money has become rightfully hers. But I can't say I'm happy about it landing in a PAC that supported Donald Trump.

But it's more complicated than that because there are lots of other things I can't say.

I can't say that Linda Bean is a terrible person -- I've never met her.

I can't say that she's responsible for any of the things I find reprehensible about our PE, or the misguided initial actions of our Congress in the past two weeks.

I can't say that she, or her company, or any of the folks who depend on L. L. Bean -- and by extension, Linda Bean -- for a paycheck agrees with every word that comes out of the PE's mouth or every policy he supports.

And I can't say I don't love my slippers. Or the new pair upstairs waiting to replace the ones I'm wearing once I've worn these out.

Usually, on Fridays, I just post a story to share, but today, I'm sharing mine because I find this decision challenging. I know where I don't want my money going.

But I also know I don't want to yield to a knee-jerk (or any other kind of jerk) reaction.

I need to remember that Linda Bean is a person. Just as I'm not disowning family members whose political allegiances differ from mine, or condemning students who voted differently than I did, I can't necessarily hold a company responsible for anything more than its products without thinking things through.

In a kinder, gentler time, I would have made a knee-jerk decision. But now, when vitriol is more prevalent than impulsive tweets from the PE, I feel the need to do some thinking. Not just because I love my slippers, but also because I need to be careful not to toss aside someone whose views differ from my own because all that will do is lead to more vitriol and divisiveness.

This won't be the last -- or most challenging -- decision I need to make in the next four years when it comes to people vs. politics.

And there's a lot more at stake than my slippers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How Can I Plan without a Planner?

This one's pretty, but not quite what I was looking for.
Photo: Miphotography via Pixabay
I've been looking for a calendar for several months now. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I knew exactly where I found the last two.

But this year, I came up empty. I suspect they were available in July and August -- back when I didn't think about needing one -- but by the time I was in search of one in November, they were gone.

I tried choosing another one -- going a different way -- but, when it comes to planners, I'm a bit like Goldilocks. It's not the temperature that matters, though.

It's the simplicity.

My writing planner is where I track my progress, and, sometimes, my ideas. I don't need bells and whistles and extra sections--just a space in which I can track each day's accomplishments in a few words. In this case, smaller is better.

But no planner at all is a bit too small.

Last Friday night, we made our usual trip to Target. There, in the dollar bins, was not just one kind of calendar, but a selection of them! For a dollar!

Would you be surprised if I told you I came home with two?

I know this seems like a big fuss over a bunch of paper bound together, but my writing calendar is more than just the sum of its papery parts. It's a visual reminder to complete an obligation. It's a place to keep track of what I've done, and what I hope to do. It's a written record of time spent in pursuit of goals and dreams.

That's a lot of responsibility for a one dollar calendar.

But I think this one is up to the task.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Un-Deck the Halls?

Our Christmas tree is still up. At church last weekend, the priests were seeking volunteers to take down the decorations because the Church's Christmas season is ending. This week, we will be back in Ordinary Time, a liturgical season devoid of trees and creches and poinsettias.

I've been slowly un-decorating our house, taking down stockings, replacing hanging decorations with their non-Christmas counterparts, and only now, as I'm writing this, did I realize that I'm taking down the decorations exactly the same way I put them up -- a little at a time. But last night, when my husband asked me which night this week I wanted to take down the tree, I balked.

I don't want to take the tree down. Not yet.

This morning, I got up and, without really thinking about it, started picking up this and that and setting it aside to be washed (tablecloth, Christmas towels) or packed away. This is painless both organizationally and emotionally, especially since I know snowman decorations will be coming out of hibernation to take the place of the Christmas doo-dads and keep things from looking too sparse.

But the tree? That's a different story.

I know the time is coming. Still, I much prefer to take the tree down on a weekend when I can do so in a leisurely fashion.

The collection of ornaments it bears is far from a decorator's dream. Some ornaments are there just because they're pretty, but most represent our travels, limited though they may be, and the last two decades of our lives, beginning with the ornaments from our first Christmas together, when my daughter was not yet a part of our celebration, and culminating with the Quinnipiac ornament that we put on the tree late last December. Each year, we bought a "family ornament" -- sometimes more than one -- to add to the tree, and each year, our tree tells our story.

We have Winnie the Pooh and Eloise and Barbie from when Leah was small, along with a Royal Caribbean ship ornament from the year we took our cruise. We have a variety of beach or seashell ornaments, ranging from a pretty, but unwieldy one purchased at a shop in Bethany Beach to seashell angels representing Leah and the baby I lost. We have ornaments from New York City (several) and an entire collection of Baby's First Christmas ornaments from the year Leah was born, along with handmade treasures from her elementary school years.

While I could certainly make a case for the notion that I avoid taking the tree down because of this, that would merely be an excuse. I could blame my procrastination on the necessity of the rearranging the furniture (again), but that, too, is an excuse. The truth is, I just hate to see it go. And, since my allergies have long since ruled out a real tree, I could keep it up until Valentine's Day if I wanted to.

But I don't. It's just that my readiness to pack it all away has nothing to do with a date on a calendar -- liturgical or otherwise. So, I plan to take this week to soak in the tree, to enjoy its lights and colors and the lingering sparkle of Christmas.

Next weekend, I'll once again box up the memories and restore the room to its usual configuration -- the one that means I don't run into the printer tray in the dark as I try to dodge the tree.

But this week, I want to revel in a little more Christmas.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Friday Feature: Rosy Reflections

After spending the week posting about reflections and resolutions, it seemed only appropriate that Friday's Feature cap off the theme. And, when I found an article that combined psychology, happiness, resilience and reflection, I knew I'd hit the jackpot.

As for the resolutions? They're up to you.

And strictly optional.