Signing Off, Broken Process, and a Writing Experiment

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My Colorado vacation highlight was hearing Gary D. Schmidt talk about writing and publishing. His advice was similar to what you may hear from other sources e.g. write every day. He recommended 500 words. Disciplined. Committed. Daily. No excuses.

I considered my writing process and the rationale behind it. Early on I determined every day didn’t work for me. It was too much. I needed time to ruminate, rejuvenate, etc.

Then I decided that word counts could be weekly instead of daily since I wasn’t writing every day anyway. It made sense.

And then, I figured my writing goals could be worked monthly so long as I donated some of my time to it. It’s not like it’s my ‘job’ right? Who needs deadlines? It will get done in its own time.

Four years later …

When my writing process seeped out of its dedicated-routine sized pitcher and leaked into a-hobby-I’ll-get-to later sized bucket, I didn’t notice. Until I kicked the bucket over making a huge puddle sized mess to mop up. A puddle, I promptly pulled up my pant legs and stepped over it.

I thought, “I’ll deal with you later,” because it was like trying to drink the ocean with a straw. A salty impossible mess.

Better for it to be out of sight, out of mind. (But not really.)

I realized, my process was broken. And broken processes are an irritation, a pet peeve. Ask my husband the number of times he listened to my rants about this topic on vacation. Processes are meant to run smoothly and efficiently. When they don’t, they’re meant to be improved.

Stay with me …

Gary also talked about how he’s not actively engaged in social media. He stated (and I’m paraphrasing), if you only write 500 words a day, should it be a blog post? Or tweets or whatever? Or should it be 500 words toward your fiction or non-fiction pieces? At the end of the year you’ll have 183,000 words to edit into the story you want to tell. You can get it done.

Ouch! That hit home.

Remember, my blog was supposed to be the place where I practiced writing? Okay, maybe it’s become a distractor or an “out” from doing the “real work” that’s hard and terrifying.

Again, broken process.

I know, I know, I just posted that writer’s write and it doesn’t matter what they write, but hmmm … I am rethinking that philosophy.

While I was on vacation my characters came-a-calling. They’ve lain silent for almost a year, only to shake me awake at 5 AM when I could be sleeping in for a change.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” they screamed.

I was game. I sat in the dark of our hotel room writing feverishly while my family slept quiet and peaceful.

There’s something about this time of year. Summer and vacation, being away from my normal seems to unleash my creativity, the playful side.

Hold on, we’re getting there …

While I thought about my recent reads (which were so good) and all of Gary’s encouragement, I realized the story scope on my novel was too broad; aggressive for a newbie. I started in the wrong place. I needed to plot the plot even though I am a pantser. The list of first-timer mistakes I’ve made is long.

I tweeted my epiphany which came in one of those 5AM moments:

From 40K to zero because starting over feels right. #plotting #AmWriting

Yes, I am scrapping it all. I am giving this WIP a clean slate to reinvent itself.

In working through this I found a new beginning to the story (4 unique versions of the beginning to be exact). A new direction and manageable scale which can help me past my writer’s block. I hope.

There’s a new working title: The Way to Wonderland, which makes me smile.

Character names, purposes, and motivations will change. Locations will evolve. Villains and heroes will get an unexpected twist, I never saw coming. And somehow it will all come together.

Here it is …

The culmination of events leads to the real reason for today’s post …

I am signing off.

No, not forever.

I am dedicating the entire month of August 2014 to writing; working on the novel in progress which technically is a new angle on an existing idea. I’m in pursuit.

31 days of 500 words a day. No exceptions. No excuses. It will be my little writing experiment,

Let’s see if I can fix my broken writing process. I’m nervous but hopeful.

Wish me luck. Live in the suspense. I’ll chat with you in September around the 9th. Be well!

~Gail

NOTE: I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, thinking the timing would allow for character development and plotting. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it done. I will spend the first part of August completing the important task of planning. Then I will write 500 words a day. I’ll still check in with you early September but it’s likely I will need more off time to hit 31 days.

Return to Snail Mail: A Personal Handwritten Letter Campaign

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint 

2014 started as my year of gifting good stories. Buying books for friends and family members – mostly my mom and my boys, providing moments of escape from their every day lives. Or sending recommendations of interest to those who keep a running list like I do.

Slowly this gift is morphing into stories of my life via handwritten notes and cards, like a personal history or memoir through correspondence. I’m not quite sure why …

Maybe it’s the thrill of “real” mail or the fact that simple things are important.

More than likely it’s due to seeing old friends and realizing our interactions are social media driven only. We could call or write but why when Facebook feeds run like a life highlights newsreel? Because Facebook is usually the good times without room for the difficult and sad, the intimate moments of life.

It could be the fact that while on vacation my dudes sent postcards to some of their friends, whose parents told me of their excitement upon receiving the quick note. How can we not spread that joy again?

Maybe it’s because we have friends spending a year abroad. Wouldn’t it be sweet for them to get letters from home? To feel connected and not far away despite the distance?

Or it could be thanks to my dear friend, whose daily walk includes checking the mail with her infant. A tradition in the making, I think. Of course they need mail to retrieve from the box.

The reason doesn’t matter much. Only the desire to send some love: signed, sealed, and delivered.

I’ll still give books but they may have a personal story penned in my own hand, tucked between the pages.

Here’s to great stories!

Postcards from Southern California: Family Fun in the Hot Hot Sun

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

It was like a furnace. Temperatures ranged from 90 to 105 degrees. Too hot to do anything other than lounge; which we did.

Trying to find a cool spot and stay hydrated were the top of our activities list while visiting my family in High Desert. [Side Note: Mom’s house doesn’t have central air-conditioning.]

We spent time with the family we don’t see often enough. Shopping and bowling. Eating our favorite Southern California foods like In-N-Out.

We had the opportunity to catch up with life-long friends and hit the beach.

Plenty of ‘selfie’ style photos exist. My boys will have pictures with me in them as well as their cousins, aunts, and Granny. Usually, I take tons of food shots but this year I promised myself, I’d feature the people. Interesting how different this vacation slide deck will look.

I read 3 books:

  • A Better World by Marcus Sakey, exceeded my expectations. It’s better than book one in the saga, Brilliance. Trust me a must read.
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, was amazing. Another must read.
  • The Secret’s in the Sauce by Linda Evans Shepard and Eva Marie Everson.

We saw 2 movies which were family dates with my sisters, niece and nephew:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction

We had 1 date without the kiddos. Just hubby and me. It’s hard to pull off when we’re home.

These are bonus tracks on the vacation album.

Cousins in the surf. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Cousins in the surf.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Seaweed Collection © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Seaweed Collection
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

There were lots of items on our ‘to do’ list that we never got marked off. We didn’t have our Read-A-Thon which the boys wanted to do in Colorado originally. I’m so glad we gave our books their own suitcase to travel with us. Oh well we will plan it for next month.

New meaning to book bag. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

New meaning to book bag.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Now we’re home, a little jet lagged and struggling with the return to routine, but color me grateful for the days we sat on the front porch in the setting sun with the people I love most in the world.

Postcards from Colorado: Adventures in Thin Air

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Greetings …

Today is post Tuesday and I haven’t had a chance to slow down enough to organize my thoughts and experiences into a cohesive narrative. But instead of missing post day I decided to bullet some of the highlights and share some scenic shots.

BACKGROUND: Colorado, the first week of our vacation is thanks to Calvin Theological Seminary, my husband’s alma mater. They offer a seminar to pastors, Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching.

This opportunity is designed to allow said pastors to also have a family vacation i.e. sessions from 8-noon followed by time for family adventures.

The course hosted by Scott Hoezee and Neal Plantinga (author of Reading for Preaching), required my husband to do some serious reading:

  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • Enrique’s Journey – Sonia Nazario
  • Collected Poems – Jane Kenyon
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost: Collected Poems – Robert Frost
  • The Wednesday Wars – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Okay for Now – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson – Robert Caro

Of course my reading list is a little longer now.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

We had the pleasure of staying at Snow Mountain Ranch, the YMCA of the Rockies, which is a beautiful place to stay. AND it has lots of activities for everyone.

From a parenting perspective, I have to say my dudes surprised me. In particular, our oldest tried many things that if you’d told me a week prior that he would do so I wouldn’t have believed it.

  • He went on the zip line, some 30 feet off the ground, as did my husband. They each used one word to describe it. Dude said, “Fast.” Hubby said, “Fun.”
  • He climbed the rock wall. Again some 30 feet off the ground, even though heights make him nervous.
  • He also tried roller-skating for the first time; counting the number of times he fell as we went along. It’s been at least 15 years since I was on skates and I loved sharing it with my dude.
  • He navigated the cafeteria like a camp veteran, helping his brother along the way, making us think he’s ready for an overnight camp experience without us.

Both boys tried their hand at archery, which isn’t as easy as our favorite quiver-wearing-bow-wielding-heroes make it look.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My youngest wasn’t as adventurous but he enjoyed:

  • Miniature golf
  • Volleyball for the first time. And,
  • Basketball, even though he told me, “I’m not ready for the NBA.” What a sweet boy!

Okay, I’d also like to say they wrote and mailed postcards to friends about our time in Colorado; giving a glimpse into our vacation. Yes, I am smiling for the handwritten correspondence, brief, as you have to be on a postcard. Their handwriting at 9 and 7 years old is priceless.

These moments made this momma proud.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My personal fave of our time was sitting in a small group around the fireplace listening Gary D. Schmidt and his editor daughter, Kathleen Kerr, as they talked about writing and publishing in today’s world. I didn’t say a word. Never asked a question. I was the weirdo in the back sporting the perma-grin.

My husband’s personal fave comes courtesy of Facebook. A friend posted that they were “camping in the Rockies” and the picture loaded the location of Winter Park, CO. Just 10 minutes down the road.

Hubby was able to catch up with three of his closest childhood friends and their families. Some we hadn’t visited in a couple of years, others in more than a decade. It was an unexpected and special surprise in our trip. Yay Facebook for bringing people together.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

LAST NOTES:

  • Check out Snow Mountain Ranch. You may want to plan a trip there. If you go there,
  • Visit The Foundry which is a great place: movie theater & bowling alley mashup. Order the caramel corn which is to die for; comfy leather seats, where we watched How to Train Your Dragon 2.
  • Stop by Dozens Restaurant if you make it to Denver. Oh how delicious the food. See my meal?
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Thanks to the altitude, my oldest son and I suffered from headaches and bloody noses despite drinking as much fluid as we could. And the hubby had trouble sleeping. It was still one of the best vacations to date.

In two weeks I’ll be back in Colorado for work but I am grateful I was able to experience it on vacation, otherwise I would have missed out on so much of this beautiful state.

Happy summer travels … be safe.

Writers Write, Right?

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Confession: I haven’t been writing, at least not in a fiction-novel-in-progress sort of way.

Of course I’ve captured conversations with my dudes that are humorous and notable, like:

S: How old is she again?
Me: She’s almost two.
S: Yeah. Right.
Me: Why?
S: Well, that’s why we’re keeping her away from the Legos. It’s a choking hazard till she’s three. You know because of all the small pieces.

Or this one:

Me: Do you want the last two books in the Sweetfarts trilogy?
N: I don’t know. No.
Me: They’re $1 on the Kindle right now.
N: I don’t know. I guess.
Me: Well would you read them? For a dollar each?
N: Okay. Go ahead. It’s your money. Spend it however you want.
Me: Gee thanks for giving me permission to spend my money on you.

Cute, right? Worth committing to paper for the sake of telling my future grandkids.

Confession: I haven’t written in the one-day-you’ll-be-a-published-author kind of way.

Hey, blogging is writing, right? Some of my posts have been longish of late, as I toy with sentence length, alliteration, and structure. My posts have ventured into new topics or maybe I should say, I’m not writing solely about writing (or not writing). Good, bad, or indifferent, I’m playing with language to share what’s on my mind.

Confession: I haven’t been writing in the sense of word count goals and manuscript deadlines. NaNoWriMo camps? What are those?

Sure my days are filled with endless forms of the written word: emails and tweets and Facebook posts.

I’ve engaged in rambling text conversations about homeschooling and teaching writing; about books on my “to read” list; and summer reading plans for my boys. Texts about grammar and Ted Talks; reminders and questions; random and fun; word bubbles and emoticons. Battling autocorrect when I want to intentionally misspell a word.

So much to say to so many people in a limited amount of time.

Confession: I haven’t written in terms of feeling like an artsy creative type; unworthy of the craft and tortured soul.

My first and only novel-in-progress remains at just over 40,000 words, which averages to be 10,000 words per year.

The new piece I wanted to start, stalled out because I tried to map it out. Poor Pantser me.

Accountability calls with writing partners have turned more social than productive. Well, when they attempt to steer conversation toward my writing life anyway.

How many times have I used a form of “write” in this post so far? Too many. I need to consult a thesaurus. I’m getting rusty and maybe language lazy.

Anyway, I digress.

Confession: I haven’t written in the butt-in-seat, every day way typical advice to writers.

Wait!

What?

Yes. Yes, I have written in the butt-in-seat, every day way, because I journal constantly; making notes of ideas that intrigue me; listing thoughts that challenge me. Jotting down phrases and words that may morph into blog posts.

What the heck?

I blog. I post. I send emails. I tweet. I text. I write down what my boys say. I even handwrite letters and thank you cards.

Does it matter what I write? No, of course not. What matters is the practice of writing, of thinking critically and creatively.

Writers write.

Writing is writing.

Don’t be fooled.

It starts small and it builds. It happens when you don’t affix the label “writing” to it.

What guilt riddled writing confessions hold you back?

Go fill all the blank pages with story …

Dandelion Fluff and Other Stuff

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Nostalgia … rolls around in my mind; flows out of my pen, and falls from my lips like bouncy balls in the middle of the grocery store; an awkward chain reaction … A weird déjà vu I can’t shake …

How easily we fall back into a former self? A scent, a place, a phrase, a word, or a picture, can evoke sensations of who we were and what was important to us once.

The Road Home …

A couple of weeks ago I travelled to California for work. I didn’t get to see my family but the trip brought images to mind that I hadn’t thought of in years.

Like, how I hate to drive in rush hour traffic, not that anyone enjoys it.

Nostalgia speed by as familiar places appeared on exit signs: Manhattan Beach, I-15, Redondo Beach, 110 freeway. Nostalgia rose with familiar neon signs announcing fast food joints I frequent when I visit the Golden State: In-N-Out Burger, Carl’s Jr., Del Taco …

My traveling companion wasn’t moved by any of these things. Inching closer to our destination in bumper to bumper she could have cared less.

But for me … it was miles of memories spanning ages.

Naiveté

My yard was covered with white puffy balls until the lawn service showed up and mowed. Crazy that these seemingly insignificant bulbs made me think of a simpler time.

Nostalgia peaked out from the grass to greet me.

I loved blowing dandelion fluff until one day, who knows when, I started seeing them as weeds, allergens.

I used to call them beautiful flowers. I would pick the bright yellow blooms by the bunch; keeping the stems in a wet paper towel to keep them from dying. Sometimes drinking the white liquid that we called “dandelion milk”.

The sight of my lawn with its snowy vegetation generated a flashback of that white halter top with the red trim I had at the age of five. Playing in the front yard with my older sister who was wearing her white halter top with the red trim. (Mom dressed us alike and people thought we were twins.) Our heads thrown back in laughter as we polluted the air with our wishes. Twirling.

Remarkable … I wonder if she remembers.

Summertime

Summer has finally made an appearance in Michigan; temperatures topping the 80s. I can sit outside listening to my dudes’ laughter while being eaten alive by mosquitos.

Nostalgia calls to me with loud, overly bright, music from squeaky speakers.

Chasing ice cream trucks and riding my lavender bike with the white basket to the library. Dinging and scraping up my toes because I wore flip-flops instead of closed shoes when I rode. Chocolate covered fingers as I tried to ride and read and eat all at the same time. Stopping at every street corner trying to lick my fingers free of the mess.

Footloose and fancy free. My favorite time of year.

Father’s Day

Summer brings with it a time and privilege of celebrating fathers. When soap-on-a-rope and nose hair trimmers and Old Spice or Brut after-shaves are plentiful.

Nostalgia creeps up on me, playing a sad song of “I miss him.”

My mind’s eye flashes images like a slide show of dad holding a beer and grilling chicken in the back yard. Smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee over the morning paper, specifically the sports page. Running to the corner store to get lottery tickets before 8 p.m. Puttering in the garden and telling me to shoo the birds out of the fruit trees. I was happy to play human scarecrow for his sake.

I still dream of him.

Bittersweet holiday.

Pathways

There are many other examples where triggers like these sent me on a mental migration to another time; another me. All of which serve to remind me of how carefree life can be when your only responsibility is to be a kid and make memories.

We are just weeks away from our family vacation. I will not work. I may spend some time writing because I’ve been negligent here and my nine, soon-to-be-ten, year old keeps referencing my “good book” or at least what he’s heard of it. Asking: When are you going to finish?

More than anything … I want to start the collection of experiences that my boys will later look back on and label “nostalgic”. Dandelion Fluff Occasions.

Lazy days away from our normal routine. We will visit new places and some old. We will spend time with my family and reminisce about childhood:

  • Feast on the flavors of home.
  • Savor the sounds of long ago.
  • Embrace the echoes of innocence.

Nostalgia … What voices of the past sneak up on you? What childhood stages do you want to relive? What are your dandelion fluff occasions?

Failure IS an Option

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Wednesday night is family night. Our standing date to spend time together. It’s the untouchable night. No work. No interruptions.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband decided that a game of catch was in order, since it was our first rain-free sunny summer Wednesday. And so, with miniature football in hand and triangle formation, he tossed around the old pig-skin with our dudes. (I watched from the sidelines as cheerleader and music coordinator).

If memory serves me well, this is the first time we’ve played catch with our kids. Ever. Why? Because my husband and I aren’t good at sports. We don’t have an interest in most things sporty.

Earlier in the week my 9 year old told me he wasn’t good at sports like football, soccer, and basketball. Despite my protestations he was sad about what he viewed as deficiency.

But WOW can that kid put a mean spiral on a football pass. He knew to line his fingers up with the laces on the ball and follow through with his whole body. When I asked him where he learned how to throw like that, he said, “My PE teacher.”

He had the technique down. His little brother on the other hand didn’t. He needed help. It wasn’t coming easy. What a great opportunity for peer to peer teaching.

Our oldest demonstrated and helped his brother with positioning. And, for the 7 year old it was frustrating when the ball didn’t go where he intended or as far as he wanted. There were tears at failed attempts.

On the flip side, our youngest is a great receiver. He stepped into the ball and wrapped his entire body around it to prevent dropping it.

Instinct? Innate ability? Either way, it was his strength. His big brother was afraid of the ball coming toward him, using his hands and arms to block the ball.

Again, peer teaching. Our 7 year old had the opportunity to demonstrate and instruct his frustrated older brother. There were tears at dropped balls.

For both, there were moments: throwing up of hands, stomping of feet, and blaming, “You didn’t do it right so I could catch it.” Or, “You didn’t tell me that part. That’s why I did it that way.”

There’s room for improvement, but by the end there was laughter and joy; a sense of accomplishment. Since then they’ve gone out on their own to throw the ball around.

Why am I telling you this? A sweet family outing story? No. This evening allowed us to start the dialog about failure and what it means; about starting imperfectly and growing into a skill.

I value failure for what it can teach us. (I talk about failure in writing here.) I despise failure because I wasn’t taught to embrace it. Quite the opposite, I was taught to avoid it. It is only in my adult life that I’ve come to realize the benefits.

I am aware of the need to create an environment where failing is an accepted practice, mostly because we’ve decided to homeschool and assume the full time responsibility of formally educating our boys.

My children need to know how to harness the power of making mistakes. Right now they fear being wrong and messing up. Our football night is a prime example.

Inadvertently I’ve contributed to their sense of foreboding about being anything less than perfect. I have unwittingly taught them to be critical of others shortcomings by a careless comment here and a careless statement there.

 I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

~Michael Jordan

Now I need to unravel this thought process and reframe failure for my boys. It’s time to deliberately teach them that it’s normal and everybody does it: cool kids and geeks, the book wise and the street smart, young and old. Failure is an equal opportunity life coach.

To grow from ignorant to bad; from bad to good; from good to better; and from better to best; we have to be willing to look at where we fell short, what went wrong, label it, and then bridge the gap so we can learn and develop. That’s the beauty of failure.

 It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.

~Bill Gates

We put undue pressure on ourselves when we:

  • Fear giving the wrong answers
  • Worry about not getting it right the first time
  • Panic about trying something new

I want to normalize the process of learning from your mistakes, trial and error. We often hear this quote: “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong,” which is true. How in today’s world do we teach our children to leverage their failures instead of berating themselves for the one result?

I don’t know what the answer is but I know it starts with a dialog. It starts with a moment like football family night. It comes with experiential learning and allowing them to own it without shame. Diana Laufenberg said it best here. Or maybe you’ll prefer the way Ramsey Musallam said it here.

This transition from parent to teacher and care-giver to educator has me scared, I am prepared to fail some. Okay, I’m prepared to fail often.

And the best part … I am willing to be transparent in my failures so that I can model for my kids how to respond to our own limitations and push them farther out. J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Graduation address beautifully speaks to failure. And I appreciate her openness. I hope I express it to my children with similar grace and eloquence.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you have failed by default.

~J.K. Rowling

Where have you failed? What have you learned?
 

Judgment Seat

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint  Judgment Seat

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint
The Golden Throne of Judgment

When I click “publish”, “post”, or “tweet”, I am essentially saying, “Criticize me, please!”

We have an open invitation to sit in judgment; whether we are consuming music, books, films, photos, meals, or even other people’s lives, from neighbors and friends to celebrities and strangers, and much more.

We are encouraged, almost expected, to give our opinion. We are prompted to share and often incentivized for it.

It’s a function made easier and easier every day:

  • Service surveys on receipts e.g. restaurants and retailers
  • Social media icons everywhere e.g. blogs and articles
  • Popup windows e.g. websites and apps

In one click, with little or no commentary we can tell the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our misadventures and mundane undertakings. We can be a cheerleader or a naysayer in another person’s story.

Some would consider lending a voice to our likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, a privilege. Others would call it a right. You know, freedom of speech? Or maybe a Public Service Announcement? We have something to say.

Regardless, our opinion matters to someone somewhere at some point in time. Possibly it will only matter to us.

We are like snowflakes. Individual and unique, falling from the sky with the power to collectively blanket the world with our thoughts.

Our voices shape the world we live in, its future; and so, some would also label it a responsibility as well as a privilege and right.

But is there a danger in our acknowledgement of the good events, bad events, and underwhelming events of our lives?

With a sense of immediacy, often while it’s happening, we become the real-time superstars of our own narratives. We begin to believe the artificial hype.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article. Now I ask again: Is it good for us?

One challenge I find is the lack of universal language or philosophy relative to the act of rating. It’s not regulated (nor am I suggesting it should be), but we need a shared language.

If we return to the snowflake analogy, we can comfortably say, we have differing definitions based on our personalities, preferences, and pasts which all act as filters.

There is one universal standard we could and should apply but don’t, at least not often enough. The Golden Rule: Treat others how you would like others to treat you.

Since opinion giving is pervasive today we sometimes forget the importance of reciprocity in relationships.

We tend to think it’s acceptable to use harsh words and accusatory or mocking tones, demean another person; especially because our sentiments often reside in cyber space. We tend to judge others without respecting the fact that on the other end of a post or comment is a real person with feelings.

I have to admit I’m on this reflective path because I was struggling with rating and writing a review on Goodreads for a children’s book I’d read. I agonized over it. Why? Who knows? After all, it’s just my opinion.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt was a story I enjoyed. However, there was a storyline that parents may be concerned about their children reading.

And I wondered if I needed to draw attention to the content in case other parents saw my rating and review and then deemed it appropriate for their kids. Would my review matter to the Goodreads community? Probably not. Would it matter to my personal circle of influence? Possibly.

I felt the responsibility tied to my privilege and right. The trifecta.

The whole experience had me questioning: “What does it ALL mean?”

What does a 5-star book rating mean to you on Amazon or Goodreads? Or the other extreme a 1-star book rating? Does it affect your decisions about what to read?

I am easily entertained. Therefore I tend to be generous in evaluating creative works.

Plus, I feel “bad” being critical of what an author or artist invested their time in. Again, generosity.

My ratings on Goodreads range from 3 to 5-stars with only one 2-star rating. Not everyone shares my view or operates as I do.

We have to wonder about the differences I referenced. Is our rating based on the merit of the writing, plot, and characters? Subject Matter? Reader enjoyment? Or something else entirely.

Maybe it’s not an issue for you, the idea of applying individualism to a collection. I actually considered editing my comments to address the storyline / parenting issue. I probably shouldn’t have allowed reading some of the other reviews to throw me.

Yet and still … How can we use the information that is so readily available, thanks to the opportunities we have to speak up, say what’s on our minds.

The irony of my blogging and asking you to engage in this conversation isn’t lost on me by the way! Now let’s see how many views and likes and comments I get on this post (I’m kidding … kind of).

Seriously, “Criticize me, please.”

What are your thoughts on rating? How does it impact your decision making, if at all? What can we all do to keep the process positive even if the feedback is constructive?

I Read White: The Issue of a Single Story

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

When I first started writing fiction I wanted to be intentional about representing a diverse cast of characters: race, culture, and socio-economic levels. For my first novel, which is still in process, my main character is black, her best friend is biracial and another central character is Latina.

Despite my desire to be intentional, I was also concerned about promulgating the stereotypes associated with race. This hope to handle well a people’s culture and race, a people’s story, has been one of the constant sources of writer’s block for me. What if I failed? What if I made a mockery of someone when I wanted to be honoring?

My reasons, of course, for being purposeful in character selection were well founded. I wanted to create a story that would have resonated with the eight year old me. A story that wasn’t accessible to my younger self but could fill the gap for another child.

I wanted to write a story where someone who looked like me, sounded like me, and acted like me, would take grand adventures and do amazing things in far off places. I wanted to write a book where main culture and lifestyle weren’t reserved for a single segment of the population but where anyone could take part in it. Such high hopes.

Every child deserves such a story.

My juvenile literary exploits were limited. Partly because of the topics that interested me and partly because of what was at my disposal More than anything, I had a fascination with white stories even though I wanted to see myself on the page.

Unfortunately, I read white. Regardless of how the characters are described, my mind generates Anglo images and I have to reframe what people should look like each time they appear in the story. It’s terribly annoying.

Sessions at the Festival of Faith and Writing 2014, like: It’s Just Fiction: Reading and Writing About Race, Culture, and Power with Mitali Perkins; The Power of Suspending Disbelief: Why I Read and Why I Write with Pam Munoz Ryan; and Issues Facing Writers of Color in Christian Publishing with Edward Gilbreath, Marlena Graves, Al Hsu, and Helen Lee; as well as the myriad of presenters, opened my eyes to a greater challenge …

As much as I encourage my dudes to read, I am guilty of raising another generation to read white. Looking at their bookshelves is a clear indication of how I’ve grossly neglected diversity in their literary lives.

How had I missed this?

I guess I could make excuses. I could say it’s because there isn’t enough diversity in their areas of interest. A sure sign that we as writers have work to do and we as readers need to support what is available.

How is it that I could be acutely aware of this injustice in my reading experience and miss the signs in the singular experience I am delivering to my dudes?

How had I, one who’d been victim to single story, been negligent? How could I see the importance of raising readers as a response to my personal history described in a recent post, yet overlook this distinction in theirs?

I could make excuses, but I won’t.

Honestly, I don’t know how I missed it. The good news is there’s time to change their reading trajectory and mine. I need to apply the same intention to selecting books for my family’s reading life as I’ve attempted with my writing life.

And, there’s so much more to “diversity” beyond what I’ve previously stated, like: religion, sexuality, politics, gender; the possibilities of variety are endless.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie beautifully conveys the issue of a single story in literature in this Ted Talk, recommended during an FFW session. I encourage all of you as readers and writers to take the time to watch this video.

Ahh! Awareness!

During teacher appreciation week I usually buy books for my boys classrooms. Mrs. B. responded to my inquiry for what books she was hoping to add to her class library with, “Of course, any books with multicultural characters.”

A wonderful reminder to me for which I am grateful.

Since hearing this cry for diversity at FFW, I notice it everywhere. My Amazon trolling looks different, my search criteria for a good book is broader, but it’s only the beginning.

Another reminder I am thankful for is the #weneeddiversebooks campaign that is currently storming the social media world keeps the issue in front of me. This article is one of many that shows how important it is to tell every story.

I wish I could accurately express how I feel realizing that I’ve fallen short. I wish I could help you understand how far we’ve yet to go. But it starts with being aware. It starts with passing it on.

Help me change the way I read. What books would you recommend, for my dudes and me, to expand our horizons and build a richly diverse library? How have you battled this issue? Please share…

Celebrating: Two Years and One Week Later

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

I’m just a girl … sitting here holding balloons and confetti … wearing a party dress … sipping a cocktail … waiting for the cake to get done.

The streamers and sign are hanging on the wall.

The punch bowl is full.

Where are the Party People?

Oh, I forgot to send the invites!

Because I missed the fact that there was something to celebrate. Oh well, better late than never.

Last week was my two year blog-o-versary.

I signed on to wordpress.com to post what I’d written about Seattle and there sat a trophy icon. It’s the small things.

How exciting to make it through year 2. I almost threw in the towel but ended up sticking it out. Re-framed my expectations and moved forward.

Now, I am looking forward to what year 3 will bring.

Thank you for being on this word-filled journey with me and for letting me be a small part of your social media life. CHEERS!

 

 

 

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