Monday, June 21, 2021

Never too old to Learn

This beautiful watercolor created by Rachel DeMasi
for this site is the backdrop for my new website.
I am someone who loves to learn. I think I've always had this trait, although there have definitely been times in my life where it has gone dormant. I think our professions can sometimes feed this desire -- or squelch it -- and my current professional endeavors have definitely fed it.

I'm always interested in learning new information to share with my students. While initially this was a sort of trial by fire, it's now become something I seek out. At any given time, my reading list includes a few non-fiction selections that pertain to psychology -- or writing.

And sometimes, if I listen, my students teach me, too. Sometimes, it's through questions they ask -- the ones I can't answer off the top of my head -- and sometimes, it's inadvertent.

In my summer class, for example, one of my students asked if she could submit an ongoing assignment as a website. I wasn't sure how it would work but her novel idea fit the parameters of the assignment, so I told her to do it on a trial basis for the first week and we'd take it from there.

It was gorgeous. Not only did I allow her to continue the assignment but I also spent several nights on that website builder, creating a website of my own.

Longtime readers may remember that, once upon a time, I had a website separate from my blog. It was, at that time, expensive to maintain for a writer just starting out and I lacked the tech skills to update it when I wanted to. I also had trouble coming up with a vision for what I wanted it to look like and how I wanted it to function so, needless to say, I struggled to describe my vision to the person who was designing it for me. Since then, I've gained some practice promoting my books and playing with graphics and visuals and, while I'm not a whole lot better at envisioning what I want, I've learned how to play with different elements to create a satisfying end product.

Kranich17 via Pixabay

And that's just what I did. So, I'd like to introduce you to my new website, located at lisalawmasterhess.com. I hope you'll check it out because I'm sure I'll keep finding new things I want to do with it and on it, in between Duolingo, the graphic design course I'm taking, the house projects I want to tackle and the pile of books and writing projects I've been collecting for "after my summer class is over."

I can hardly wait to dig in. :-). 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Feature: Tidiness is Next to Cleanliness

I grew up in a spotless home which was, in large part, my mother's way of responding to growing up in a household populated by family members who didn't do such a great job of picking up after themselves. When she and my grandmother moved in with my grandmother's mother, it was in an era where men weren't necessarily expected to pick up after themselves -- something my mother's uncles took full advantage of. I never knew my great-grandmother and, by the time I knew my grandmother, she lived in a home that was both clean and tidy, but that wasn't the setting in which my mother's formative years were spent.

I, on the other hand, have never really minded a lived-in house -- except when company is coming. When it comes to home maintenance, I love to organize and decorate, but I don't really enjoy cooking and I'm more lax about cleaning than my husband would like. We also tend to be bothered by different things, which leads to us sharing the upkeep. He cleans more than I do and I tidy up more than he does. 

So, I was intrigued yesterday when I saw the headline, "My Grandma’s 30-Year-Old "House Rules" Taught Me How to Keep a Clean Home," and further intrigued when I saw the post was from apartment therapy.com, a site I enjoy. 

As it turned out, the mystery magnet was more about tidiness than cleaning, with most of the advice centering around the idea of not letting things get out of control in the first place. Not bad advice and, admittedly, easy to follow. 

I will say, though, that the last piece of advice was my favorite, and it's a piece of wisdom I keep trying to impart to my husband, with very limited success. What is it?

Well, I guess you'll need to read the piece to find out :-)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The One Where They All Talk to James Corden

Pixabay


If the phrase “I’ll be there for you” is as much a song cue as an affirmation, you probably watched the recently released Friends reunion. And you probably have an opinion on whether or not there could be any better host than James Corden and, if you’re like my viewing companion and I, you probably did some dishing on who did and did not have work done.

But for all of us old enough to have watched the show, whether during its 1994 – 2014 run or more recently, in syndication, watching the actors come together  -- all in the same room again again for the first time the show wrapped seven years ago --  was must-see TV. 

 

During the reunion, creators David Crane and Marta Kaufman described their vision of the series as a show about the time in our lives when our friends are our family. While the relationships among the characters clearly reflected that, so, too, did the relationships among the cast. During their rise to fame, there were no divas. They stuck together, with some of the cast members taking pay cuts so that each of the six leads was paid the same per episode, a number that rose to an astronomical $1,000,000 per episode per actor in the final two seasons.

 

I loved watching these actors -- whose post-series lives have led them to various levels of success, failure and personal struggle -- come together again. The familiarity, the camaraderie and the joy of seeing one another was clear in every interaction. So much so, in fact, that the few non-Friends cameos felt more intrusive than welcome, particularly when they were allowed to upstage the people we’d tuned in to see. (Yes, I mean you, Lady Gaga).

 

For Friends fans, this reunion was a long time coming, but its timing was perfect. As COVID slowly releases its terrifying grip, we’re all anxious to see our friends/family again. We hope these more personal reunions come without awkwardness – that we, too, can pick up where we left off, sharing stories, memories and laughter as though no time has passed. That we can sit in familiar settings, noticing small details (was that wall always purple?) and navigating the gap between past and present as smoothly as the integrated table read/episode clips that were the best part of the show. That more than anything else, like the Friends cast, we’ll simply be happy to be in the same space again.

 

All of us have had friends who are family. Friends was about finding not just family but ourselves as well, and, like those characters, our families-by-choice weave threads into the tapestry of our identity. Their presence lingers – for better (Chandler’s jokes) or worse (Janice’s laugh) – long after we’ve gone our separate ways. For those who came of age alongside Chandler, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, Ross and their myriad friends, reunions this sweet aren’t simply an opportunity to see one another again, but a chance to recapture a piece of ourselves. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Courting Peace Outtakes: Jim


Sometimes, pivotal scenes don't make it into the pages of a book. This is especially true for scenes that would require an author to write from the point-of-view of a non-point-of-view character, or scenes that are too graphic, violent or otherwise inappropriate for the finished product. 

Take the brief scene below, for example, written from the perspective of Jim, who is Angel's husband and Charli's father. There's no place for it in any of my books, not only because we never get inside Jim's head, so to speak, but because the content is outside the bounds of what my audience wants to read. (You've been warned. Skip past the italics if you prefer your blog posts to be G-rated).

 He looked at the brunette still asleep in the bed, her hair spilling across the pillow. Not yet thirty, and with the best boobs he'd ever seen, let alone touched. Responsive, wild, and just out for a good time.

It was Marita all over again.

He pulled on his pants, then last night's shirt, grimacing at the mix of smoke and perfume that permeated it. Grabbing a dry cleaning bag from the closet, he pulled off the shirt and stuffed it into the bag, then rummaged through his suitcase for a polo shirt.

The brunette stirred, and he froze. He'd hoped to get out of here before she woke up.

She sat up and let the sheet drop. No pretense of modesty and an overdose of self-assurance. "Where're you going?" 

He drank in the sight of her, temptation pulling him back. He cleared his throat. "Early flight." He shrugged. "Sorry."

She climbed out of bed. Stark naked and drop-dead gorgeous. "Okay, then. It was nice meeting you, Jim Alessio." 

She turned and walked into the bathroom. Taut, perfect, and willing. 

Jim pulled off his clothes and tossed them on the bed. There were no prizes for cheating on your wife only once.  

So why write a scene like this? It's a means to an end -- a way to explore a character -- what he might or might not do, how he thinks and sounds and acts. Jim is a character my readers consistently tell me they dislike. A lot. Would he stoop this low? Cross this line? What would make him do this? Or stop him?And, if he did, what would the repercussions be? How could I include them in my story without including the inciting scene?

The possibilities are delicious. 

I came across this scene recently when I was reorganizing a writing drawer. While you won't find it in any of my books, some questions remain. 

Did he do it? And, if he did, who else knows? How will this impact him, his family, the story?

Well, I can't tell you that. But I can tell you that, if you read Courting Peace, you'll find out.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday Feature: Empty Starbucks Cups

One of my ongoing resolutions has been to use less paper and plastic. At home, inexpensive cloth napkins have replaced paper napkins, microfiber cloths have stepped in for paper towels and I'm trying to get into the habit of trading my bottled water for a reusable Starbucks water bottle. And, at Starbucks, I'm skipping the straw in favor of its reusable counterpart.

Although this is something I started by choice pre-pandemic, it turns out that the pandemic has made forgoing things like straws at Starbucks less of a choice. Hit by the same supply chain issues that have caused the price of things like plywood and toilet paper to go up, Starbucks is finding it harder to get not only straws and cup lids but, in some cases, the ingredients for the beverages that go inside the cups. As someone who frequents my local Starbucks (the baristas recognize my voice over the loudspeaker and/or know my name from my drink order), I'm a loyal customer who's unlikely to find a substitute for my drink someplace else. Then again, my drink of choice hasn't been hit by the supply chain issues (yet). And, as someone who's tried making the "same" drink at home, I'm sure I'll absorb the price increase that is almost certainly right around the corner. 

Meanwhile, I think it's time to dust off my reusable cup. Just in case.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Midyear Review, Part 2

mohamed_hassan via Pixabay
Three days into my virtual writing retreat, and the routine is starting to take shape. Reviewing my 20 for 2021 last week was fun, so as a final step in my mid-year review process, I thought I'd take a crack at some goals I set as my ABCs of January. I thought perhaps my winter between-semesters time off might have value in planning my summer between-semesters time off. 

A: Awareness (January) -- a chance to zoom in on things that busyness can keep me from paying attention to. June: At the top of that list is how much of my vacation time I devote to my job.

B: Balance (January) -- I'm keeping track of a number of how much time I spend on various pursuits, trying to tip the scales away from immersing myself in one thing to the exclusion of everything else. June: Not a problem -- LOL! There are so many things I can't wait to do that I'm not in the least bit concerned about monitoring variety.

C: Characters (January) -- Old and new. And that's all I'll say right now :-) June: Ditto.

D: Decluttering (January) -- Although it's happening more slowly than I'd like, piles are disappearing. June: Many fewer piles, but my office needs a serious sorting/purging and cleaning session.

E: Education (January) -- I love to learn. I spend time daily on Duolingo to improve my French (and, to a lesser extent, my German, and to learn Spanish) and I'm taking a course on social media marketing to better understand the platforms. June: Closing in on the one-year mark on Duolingo. I finished the social media marketing class and am taking one in graphic design, which is much more challenging. I am not an artist!  

F: Flexibility (January) -- Switching gears can be hard for me when I know my open schedule will close up all too soon, but learning to be better at this is better for my relationships. June: Ditto.

G: Gratitudes (January) -- My daughter and I have developed the daily "3 things" habit. Like so many other things, this practice works better with an accountability partner. June: Ditto. And, after a semester of teaching positive psychology, I'm even more aware of the benefits of this practice.

H: Home (January) -- Don't get around much anymore, as the song says. Under the current circumstances, I'm okay with that. It was kind of surprising to discover just how content I can be within the confines of my home. June: Time to start getting around some more. Fully vaccinated, I need to work on leaving my mask and my fears behind.

I: Interiors (January) -- Mine and my house's. Spending so much time here leads me to want to improve the overall status of everything, beyond simply decluttering. June: In progress! House projects big and small. :-) My own interior is starting to take shape, too.

J:  Jammies!! (January) -- or a reasonable facsimile thereof. In an interview on Colbert's (A) Late Show last week, Rachel Brosnahan (Mrs. Maisel) talked about not wearing "hard pants." What a great description!  June: Ditching them. Begrudgingly. Rediscovering casual dresses, which have many of the same benefits.

K: Kindle (January) -- for both my reading and publishing pleasure. June: Published projects behind me (for now), I'm nurturing my daily reading habit.

L: Loved ones (January) -- grateful to have my husband and daughter around (though the non-flex part of me wishes we could land on a regular schedule). It's a lot more challenging seeing those who don't live here, though, and that's sad. June: Making plans to see those I've been away from for too long.

Counselling via Pixabay

M: Mindful (January) -- one of my 20 for 2021. I'm not a patient person by nature, and am trying to use situations that require patience to nurture my mindfulness goal and to perhaps even slow down a bit. June: Um...did I really set this goal? LOL! Clearly still need to work on it.

N: No hard pants (January) -- (Couldn't resist). :-) June: Ditto....okay, some of the time.

O: Outreach (January) -- After all these months indoors, it's all too easy to stay in my little bubble. I'm trying to be mindful (there's that word again) of making connections, even if they're virtual. June: Time to reconnect with a couple of long-distance friends who've been like ships in different harbors.

P: Positive Psychology (January) -- Teaching this course beginning next month means preparing for it now. There's never been a better time to focus on optimism! June: Successfully completed, but I bought a new book to potentially use next time around.

Q: Quiet (January) -- my favorite work dynamic. Due to some family schedule changes, I'm getting more of it than I was, which helps my productivity. June: Seeking estimates to put a door on my office!

R: Revising (January) -- my #1 writing goal for January was finishing Courting Peace. I also have another novel ready for revision, and am hoping to transfer my grudgingly developed revising habit to this book. June: One of my writing retreat goals, in the hope it will carry over after the retreat ends.

S: Semester planning (January) -- can't forget this one since classes start again February 1. June: Yes -- for fall. After a two-week vacation once my summer class ends.

T: Timing (January) -- With no deadlines and no real schedule, I've allowed my body clock (stay up late/sleep late) to run the show. I'm trying to get it back to something that's a better match for real-world rhythms. June: Ditto.

U: Undoing of knots (January) -- both personal and object-related. June: Not sure what I meant by this.

V: Virtual writers' groups (January) -- My critique group went virtual last fall, and I joined another group at the college where I work in November (I think) and I enjoy both the camaraderie and the professional development. And, my accountability partner and I re-started via Zoom just before Thanksgiving, too. All of this nudges me forward. June: In the middle of one right now.

W: Writing! (January) -- but you expected this one. June: Ditto.

X: (E)xcavating inboxes (January) -- still trying to get those numbers down. June: Ditto.

Y: Yes to chilling out (January) -- physically, mentally, and schedule-wise. June: Ditto. And am doing so in a more guilt-free fashion as well.

Z: Zzzz (January) -- getting enough sleep for once. Now I need to work on starting this process at a "reasonable hour." June: Ditto. Not sure I'm motivated enough to ever conquer the "reasonable hour" bedtime.

So, that's me. 2021 has a little less than six months remaining, and they look to be (we hope) freer than the first six. What will you do with your time?

Monday, June 7, 2021

A Lot of Writing with a Dash of Socializing

cromaconceptovisual via Pixabay

Now that I'm halfway through my summer class, I'm starting to lay the groundwork for summer, and I'm determined that writing will take center stage -- once my summer class is over. Toward that end, I enrolled in another virtual writing retreat through the college where I teach. I almost didn't sign up because I'm teaching a summer class and I couldn't imagine how I'd establish any sort of balance, but then I remembered a few things.

I promised myself last spring that I'd work on my work/life balance--and publicly promising to do something that's not work is a step in that direction. 

Last summer's virtual retreat was not only great fun and a chance to connect with other people who teach where I do, but I got a LOT done, which kick-started my summer writing.

I can take advantage of the flexible nature of the set-up and, in keeping with #7 on my 20 in 2021 ("Prize my time and my right to say 'maybe,' 'I can't right now," and even 'no.'"), I can opt out of sessions if I need to, guilt-free.

I can baby step my way back into socializing by hanging out a few times a day with some colleagues, even if it is over Zoom.

And, finally, if my goal is to fit both writing and teaching back into my schedule on a regular basis, what better way to practice?

So, I signed up. Last year at this time, I had a pile of projects and, each day, I'd choose the one that spoke to me. If I got tired of it, there was another within arm's reach. No excuses. No wasted time. 

This year, I was both more and less organized. I still have a pile of projects and, since I know where they are, I didn't do a lot of pre-planning. Okay, I also didn't do a lot of pre-planning because I didn't have time but, I have been thinking about where I want to put my focus and, last night, I finalized today's schedule.

Still, my biggest goal has less to do with checking things off my project list and more to do with just getting back into the writing habit. To paraphrase Bachman Turner Overdrive, any writing is good writing. Using two chunks of my day for writing (because that's what the schedule says, and we check in and check up on each other) is not only an excellent use of my time, but a way to build my writing muscles so I keep flexing them for the rest of the summer. And the accountability built into a writing retreat, virtual or otherwise, means I do a better job of actually sitting down and doing the work instead of hitting the snooze button again or letting other tasks take priority.

taniarose via Pixabay
For any writer who has a "real job," this struggle is ongoing. In fact, I have to look no further than the
other folks in my virtual session for affirmation that, when the teaching gets tough, even the tough stop writing. 

So, write we shall this week, in an endeavor to remind ourselves what it feels like to give ourselves to our writing and why it matters so very, very much.

Today's morning task? Blowing the dust off a novel that needs a(nother) revision. And, since an hour and half of revising is, to me, an onerous task, this afternoon brings blogging and perhaps a bit of research that will move some other projects forward.  

I'm looking forward to a very excellent week, filled with writing and conversations with other educator-writers. And, if today is any indication, it will be a productive week as well. And the grading will get put into the schedule...somewhere.