100 Things I Will Teach My Daughter

A while back my cousin-in-law shared a nice article on Facebook. In it a mother listed 100 things that she wants to teach her daughter as she grows. I thought it was really cute and it got me thinking about things that I want to teach my own daughter. So I thought about it for a while and came up with these 100 lessons, tips, and ideals that I hope to impart.

Open your ears and listen up, you little bugger.
Open your ears and listen up, you little bugger.

As a child, try to be patient with other children who are mean and annoying. Some parents don’t discipline properly and some kids are just brats, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

As you grow older, don’t put up with bullies. Stand up for yourself.

No, seriously, stand up for yourself. Use your words first, but if it comes down to physical action being the only way to stop someone from harassing you, mommy will totally back you up.

Don’t spend all your time glued to technology.

Run.

Ride a bike.

Go camping.

It’s okay to like “boy” stuff like superheroes and sports.

It’s just as okay to like “girl” stuff like princesses and makeup.

Don’t like people tell you what to like, and if people make assumptions about you based on what you like, that’s their issue, not yours.

Be patient, even when other people are making you so angry that you could scream. Flipping out rarely makes any situation better.

Learn to recognize the situations where flipping out actually will make things better.

Establish your own faith system – even if it differs from mommy and daddy’s – and don’t put up with people telling you that your beliefs are wrong. Your religious faith – or lack thereof – is no one’s business but your own.

Avoid pop. At all costs. It’s worthless to your body and once you start drinking it it’s very hard to stop.

Respect your teachers, but don’t automatically take everything they say as gospel.

Everyone makes mistakes.

EVERYONE makes mistakes, even the people who you might believe know everything.

Think critically, and if something doesn’t feel right, do your own research.

Find someone who makes you laugh, even when you’re sad.

Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty.

Don’t let other people define you.

Understand that even grown adults can act like childish brats.

Take care of your body. It’s much easier to maintain good health than to try and get it back once it’s gone.

Try to understand both men and women – their thought processes and idiosyncrasies – and take neither too seriously.

Know that a career is not a life sentence. If you stop enjoying what you do it’s okay to make the move to change.

Know that as much as you may think otherwise, most teenagers have no idea what they want to do with their lives, and don’t take that personally; neither do most grown adults.

If you truly, truly want something, be willing to fight for it.

Understand that heartbreak feels like the end of the world, but it will always pass eventually.

Always try to stay positive and keep smiling.

But know that it’s okay to be sad sometimes.

And if you feel REALLY sad, tell someone. Please.

It doesn’t matter who they are or what their story is; if someone doesn’t respect you, they don’t deserve your respect.

Never let a man try to control you just because you’re a woman.

Never try to control a man just because he’s a man.

Don’t deny yourself little treats. Little treats can make a big difference sometimes.

To hell with fashion. Dress the way that makes you happy and comfortable.

Not everyone you meet will like you; don’t worry about it.

You won’t like everyone you meet, and that’s okay too.

Love who you want, and love with all your heart.

Be passionate about something, even if it’s just a hobby.

Know that there is not one set formula for how to live your life.

Family are the people who love you and take care of you, not necessarily the people you share blood with.

Remember that family (of the kind described above) are very important, and you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

But know that just because someone is related to you doesn’t mean that you have to keep them in your life; ditch people who are abusive to you, no matter who they are.

Read. Even if it’s just the news or magazines.

Learn to spell. Please. PLEASE.

Don’t put too much time and effort into being “unique”. Everyone is unique, so just be you and be happy with that.

Have an open-mind.

Have a curious mind.

Be creative.

Always find time to do the things you love.

Always find time to be with the people you love.

Feel free to enjoy the entertainment of the day, but give the entertainment of the past a fair trial too.

Don’t put up with anyone patronizing you just because you’re a woman.

Don’t patronize a guy just because he’s a man.

Learn to swim.

Learn to throw a punch.

Try to never use your knowledge of how to throw a punch.

Learn to love the parts of your body that you can’t change.

Be willing to work hard to change the parts of your body that you can change (if you truly want to change them).

Never change who you are to make someone love you.

Seriously, if they don’t love you for who you are, they don’t deserve you.

Learn how to fix things for yourself. It’ll save you a lot of money in the long run.

Allow time for day-dreaming.

Grow older and learn responsibility, but always stay young at heart.

Don’t feel like you have to make life decisions in the order society tells you to.

Do things that scare the hell out of you.

Do things that relax you.

Play games.

Never settle for a job that makes you totally miserable.

Learn time management skills.

Understand that sometimes friends grow apart. It’s sad, but it’s not a reflection on you as a person.

If it would embarrass you if mommy and daddy saw it, don’t post it on the Internet.

I’m dead serious. No matter what anyone tells you, nothing on the Internet is 100% private.

Don’t feel like you have to go to college. Lots of excellent careers don’t require college.

Keep watching cartoons for as long as they continue to make you smile.

Own at least one outfit that is so comfy you could wear it for the rest of your life.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

If something doesn’t feel right, go see a doctor.

If the doctor’s diagnosis doesn’t feel right, go see another doctor.

Learn how to cook.

Like, with real ingredients, not frozen stuff.

First lesson of finances: don’t spend more than you earn.

Learn the difference between “wants” and “needs”.

Bake from scratch.

Share what you bake.

Try to be nice to everyone, even if you don’t particularly like them.

Understand that not everyone who acts nice to your face is your friend.

Travel.

Dance.

Sing.

Learn an instrument, even if you never play for anyone but yourself.

Acting like you’re the grand authority on a subject will almost always end in making yourself look like a fool.

NEVER stop learning.

Watch movies that are so good they give you chills and goosebumps.

Watch movies that are so bad they make you cry with laughter.

Don’t watch life through a camera lens; most things are better experienced fully rather than looked back at afterwards.

Be strong, even when you feel like you’re weak.

Try to remember that the only people whose opinions of you matter are the people whose opinions matter to you.

Always know that you can come to mommy and daddy with your problems. Even if we don’t understand, we will try our very hardest to help because we love you more than anything and always will.

The Truth of Profanity

Language, obviously, is an enormous part of a writer’s life, but it isn’t always about following the usual rules. Slang, phonetically-written accents, and sometimes even completely made-up nonsense can all have their place depending on the piece being written. These things can bring character to a piece of writing. And you know what else can bring character to writing? Wait for it….profanity.

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Confession time: this post is not about writing techniques. This post is about profane language and how humorous that I find it when people get all bent out of shape over it.

Second confession: you would likely never guess from reading my blog, but I am actually a very profane person. I wasn’t when I was younger (in fact, I didn’t even curse at all until I was in my teens), but I’ve spent most of my adult life working with tradesmen, and with that comes a certain affinity for what we might call “bad words”. I express myself more eloquently through written word, but vocally I am the kind of person who manages to squeeze the “f” word into every other sentence. And if I screw something up, or hurt myself, or otherwise get very annoyed about something? I’ve impressed (and maybe scared) my husband and my coworkers with the strings of hypenated swear words that come pouring out of my mouth. The point is that nothing anyone else says is going to shock me because I’ve probably said the same thing a hundred times myself.

Now here’s the thing…I know people (mostly older members of the family) who don’t like profanity and are offended by it, so for the sake of being polite I will avoid using profanity when around these people. Additionally, though I slip sometimes, I will avoid cursing around children because I know that many parents don’t want their kids to hear that kind of thing.

Despite that level of respect for other people’s desires, however, I often find myself wondering just what the hell the big deal is.

Here’s my way of thinking…

Words have power, that much is certain. But that power depends on two things: intent and reaction.

Intent is extremely important because words themselves are inherently innocent without some kind of cruel or obscene intention behind them. I can call my daughter a rotten little shit, but if I do so while smiling and hugging her those words will reflect love and amusement. Alternatively, I can tell my daughter that she’s beautiful and I love her, but if I do so while physically abusing her…well, those words are going to reflect the very opposite of how they’re usually understood. Intent is what makes words “bad”, not the words themselves. There is a huge difference between being called a bitch by a laughing, joking friend, and being called a bitch by an abusive relative.

And the other thing, of course, is the reaction, which is the part that I find the silliest, because it really comes down to choosing to be offended by something that isn’t worth the energy of being offended by. If I stub my toe and shout out an expletive in my pain, why precisely is that offensive to you? For no other reason than you’re choosing to be offended. I wasn’t talking to you. The word was not directed at you in any way. It meant nothing and had no purpose other than to make me feel a little better in a moment of pain. So why is your reaction to be offended? Would you react the same way if I’d screamed, “PUPPIES”? No, you wouldn’t, because there’s no reason to be offended by a random sound that weasled it’s way out of my lips and was in no way intended to bother you.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, like many things, profanity isn’t really something that’s worth getting  worked up over. If someone puts their finger in your face and angrily calls you a horrible name, by all means get mad. But don’t get mad at the word, because the word isn’t the one calling you down. Take a lesson from children and animals: they only hear intent, and you can use the most lovely-sounding, most eloquent words in the English language, but if you say them with rage in your eyes and spit flying out of your mouth, those kids and animals are going to RUN.

In conclusion: words are innocent and meaningless without intent. Save your offense for the people who are genuinely trying to offend you.

How Becoming Parents Turns Us Into Hypocrites

Parents are funny creatures because they are remarkably different in a great number of ways from the childless person they were created from. Up to and including the last moments before a first child is born, as-yet-child-free people have all these wonderful concepts and ideas in their heads. They know exactly how things are going to be, how they’re going to raise their kid, what kind of person their child is going to be. They’ve got it all figured out.

And then, sometimes a few months, sometimes a mere few days down the road, it becomes painfully evident to the now-parent that they are the world’s biggest hypocrite. You can’t blame the now-parent, however. We don’t set out to be hypocrites. Our completely unpredictable children turn us into them.

"Sorry mama, if I can't hear you, you're wrong. Those are the rules."
“Sorry mama, if I can’t hear you, you’re wrong. Those are the rules.”

 

“My child’s health is first and foremost. I am going to breastfeed for “x amount of time” and when they start solids they’re going to get all the good stuff, like carrots, and apples, and…”

I’ve said it many times before, but every child is different, and nothing makes that more frustratingly obvious than food.

Starting with the breastfeeding part, yeah, it’s the healthiest option for a newborn, and if you’ve chosen to do so, that’s great. But it’s also not just as simple as sticking the kid in front of a boob and voila…sustenance. Some kids will have a lot of trouble latching. Some mothers will have trouble producing. Some kids will be biters who bring their mothers to tears every time they eat. Some mothers will have skin problems that cause searing pain every time a light breeze touches their boob. All in all, there are dozens of reasons why mother’s will wind up quitting breastfeeding early, and many of them are completely reasonable because how can you take care of your child if you’re in horrible pain all the time, or if it takes four hours of pumping to get a single feeding’s worth of milk?

Moving on to solid foods, you can plan and scheme all you want to create a healthy eater, but if your child won’t swallow you’re pretty much at an impasse. Believe me, I had every intention of feeding my daughter only the healthiest stuff…lots of veggies especially. But when your kid is screaming from hunger, and at the same time keeps spitting out whatever you’re trying to shovel in, you start to rethink your strategy pretty quickly.

As a side-note, the most oft-quoted sentence in relation to getting your kids to eat what you put in front of them is, “Just wait them out; they won’t starve themselves.”  I, personally, find this phrase hysterical. No, I’m sure my child won’t starve herself, but I’ve seen her wait me out so long that the food in question wasn’t worth eating anymore. I’ve also heard, “they won’t go to sleep hungry”, but again, I’ve witnessed my daughter refuse supper so adamantly that she went all evening, all night, and didn’t eat anything until the following day, at which point she still refused what I tried to give her.

Every kid = different. I really don’t know how many times I have to say that.


 

“There’s not going to be any stupid nighttime nonsense in my household. Bedtime is bedtime and that’s it. When the sun goes down my kid is going to be sleeping.”

I’ve seen so many parents who are almost humorously adamant about this particular subject. They honestly believe that it’s as simple as putting the kid in their bed, wrapping them in blankets, turning off the lights, and leaving the room. I can’t honestly say that I ever thought it would be that simple, but I did believe it would be easier than it is. I figured, kids need a ton of sleep, so by the time nighttime comes my daughter will be so exhausted that she’ll probably just collapse.

There are a number of reasons why that idea is so wrong, but I’m going to talk about what I’ve experienced because why claim to know about something that I haven’t experienced?

The thing is, it’s pretty common “knowledge” that kids require a certain amount of sleep. For kids of my daughter’s age, that number is approximately 12-13 hours a day. So you would expect, upon dealing with my daughter, that if she’s been awake for 12 hours she should probably be getting pretty tired, right? Yeah, no. As previously mentioned (about a million times), every child is different, and my child happens to take after her father in that she requires significantly less sleep than average. I’ve witnessed my daughter stay up until almost midnight, sleep for two or three hours, wake up and stay awake for another two or three hours, and then sleep for maybe four or five more. For those who are following along, that’s approximately 7-8 hours. Now every night is not exactly the same, but because of these habits of hers, there are plenty of nights during which my daughter sleeps less than I do, and yet she is bright and shiny and ready to go go go the next morning.

So what can I do? I can’t wave a magic wand and make her fall asleep when I tell her it’s bedtime, and I can’t stop her from waking up at all hours of the night. I’d love to be able to, but unfortunately that’s not the way sleep works. Therefore, yeah, my daughter has a TV in her room and she watches her shows at bedtime and sometimes at 2 am because I need to sleep, and do you have a problem with that? 😛


 

“I hate seeing a kid trying desperately to get their parent’s attention and being ignored. I would never do that to my child!”

The best of intentions, my friends. The best of intentions.

I’ll fully admit that this is something I used to say all the time, and to an extent I still believe in it. I hate seeing a kid who is hauling on their mother arm and yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mama! Mommy! Mom! Mom!” and being completely ignored. I’ve always hated it because I could never see the logic in it. I’ve always thought, if you’re busy with something, take two seconds to tell the kid that you’ll be with them in a minute and chances are they’ll be willing to wait. If you’re not busy, why the hell are you ignoring the kid? Just answer them and be done with it!

I’ve thought these things a million times, and I still think them, but then, that’s what makes me the hypocrite here.

You see, the thing is, before actually having children and being with them 24-7, a lot of people don’t realize just how much kids talk. Sure there are shy kids out there, there are quiet kids, there are kids who naturally don’t like to talk too much, but I’d be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of kids never shut their mouths. A lot of the time’s it’s adorable. They’re excited about everything, they’re constantly learning, and they want to share every thought in their head because everything is so awesome that everyone needs to know about it! It cracks me up when my daughter comes running up to me with a piece of paper covered in eighty different colors of crayon and announces that she drew a rainbow. That’s great, babe!

But there’s a limit to most adults’ patience when being presented with the same pointless information over and over and over….and OVER and OVER. I love my daughter to death, but coming on the twentieth time over the course of an hour that she lets me know that Twilight Sparkle has a purple horn, I’m quite ready to sew her lips together until she hits adulthood.

And that’s probably how those parents out in public feel. They’re ignoring their child because internally they know that their little pumpkin is about to point out the cookie display for the thirty-second time since they arrived at the grocery store, and that if those words pass by that child’s lips again they may actually snap and set said cookie display on fire and wind up spending the night in jail.

It’s not “ignoring”. It’s keeping yourself from losing your mind.


 

“I’m going to read to my kid every night, and I’m going to watch all kinds of Disney movies with them, and I’m going to <<insert bonding activity here>>”

Every parent should have this attitude going in, I believe. It’s a good attitude to have because while you want your kids to be independent and be able to occupy themselves without your input, you also want them to be able to enjoy spending time with you, and you want to encourage things like reading together, and learning, and having “family time”.

But it’s harder than it sounds because kids, particularly small kids, are all about repetition. They crave it and thrive for it because it helps them to learn, and they quite often choose to stick with what they like because, hey, they like THIS, so why try something else? And even when you know it’s good for them (listening to Elmo sing the alphabet a hundred times in a row does, after all, help them learn the alphabet), all that repetition can be hard on an adult brain. For example, my daughter loves it when I read her bedtime stories, but there’s, like…three books that she wants me to read. Over and over and over. If I try to convince her to read a different book she has a fit, and then I get mad because I feel like she’s being a brat. In the end it’s either struggle through “Elmo’s Sleep-Time Stories” for the hundredth time, or refuse to read anything and feel like a horrible meany because I’m trying to force her to do what I want her to do, which isn’t really the point, now is it?


 

“My kid isn’t going to be stuck inside at the TV all day long. My kid is going to <<insert physical activity here>> !”

I’m all for keeping kids active, I really am. Kids should be playing outside, taking part in sports, learning to play an instrument, getting their hands dirty, or just otherwise doing something that doesn’t involve a brightly lit electronic screen. But when parents make these bold declarations, a lot of them fail to realize that such things require a lot of time and effort from them as well. For instance, do you know anyone who has a kid in hockey? Praise that parent. Give them a pat on the back and tell them that they’re super-mom/dad. Because here’s the thing…it might just seem like a game that you take your kid to and pick them up from, but it actually requires a TON of input. There are fundraisers to come up with the money for gear/tournaments/trips/etc, there are an outrageous number of “away” games that parents are generally expected to drive their kid to and from, there are tournaments that may require that entire weekends be spent somewhere away from home, and as many practice sessions that your kid has to get to as actual games. And that’s not even taking into consideration that your kid is probably going to want you to, you know…actually attend their games. You wind up spending as much – if not more – time on your child’s hockey team than they do.

And the thing is, I have huge respect for parents who do this kind of stuff, who drive their kids to games and practices, who chaperone tournaments or other various extracurricular activities, who bake goodies for fundraisers and drag groups of kids to the playground, who volunteer their time to various groups and projects. I think those parents are awesome. But the fact of the matter is that not all of us have that kind of time or energy, and many of us don’t realize, upon making the kind of claim quoted above, that just taking a toddler outside to play takes a chunk of time out of your day during which you won’t be able to get anything else done.

I’m not saying that it’s not worth it to make sure your kids are doing something other than hanging out in the shadowy confines of their room; I’m just saying that if you’ve got 26 hours worth of other stuff that needs to get done in one day, or you’re so exhausted from actually doing 26 hours worth of stuff in one day, maybe junior can survive inside for another day and you shouldn’t feel like a total ass for it.


I could probably go on for days, listing things that I’ve heard parents say (or said myself) before having the hefty hammer of reality smashed against all their fingers and toes, but I think I’ve made my point. Having a child is a wonderful experience, and it’s great that parents-to-be have all these wonderful goals and ideas set out in front of them when they find out that they’re going to be responsible for a little person. All I’m trying to point out is that the best laid plans have flaws, and you can’t necessarily plan out something as unpredictable as the behavior of a tiny human being. So if you’re a parent, cut yourself some slack, and if you’re not a parent, understand that you genuinely have no idea what any given parent is dealing with on a daily basis.

Has becoming a parent turned you into a hypocrite? Do you find yourself giving in in ways that you never thought you would? Share. Complain. Commiserate. 😀

Sharing this post with the “Manic Mondays” Parenting blog hop over at Perfection Pending!

Things NOT to Ask Writers

When we are children there are literally a million ways to strike up a friendship, from asking to borrow a crayon to walking up and poking another kid you’ve never met in the back of the head. Kids are simple that way. Adults are trickier because we rely mostly on polite conversation to suss out some information on each other. We ask common questions that everyone can answer with a relative amount of ease, and one of those questions is inevitably, “What do you do for a living?”

Now, since I have a day job that is completely unrelated to writing, I’ve rarely had to experience the frustration that follows as one grits their teeth, struggles to keep their eye from twitching, and grudgingly admits, “I’m a writer.” I have, however, heard many horror stories and had a few minor experiences myself as a result of people actually catching me in the midst of writing. “Horror stories?” you may ask. Yes, horror stories. Because, the thing is, for reasons I’ll never quite understand, when people discover a writer they immediately plunge into a torrent of questions, many of which are extremely rude and annoying. It’s a strange thing, as though the profession of “writer” is automatically up for intense scrutiny.

Most writers will clench their jaw and try their best to answer the onslaught of questions with a smile plastered on their face, even though on the inside they’re screaming. So on behalf of my fellow writers, I present to the rest of you a list of questions to avoid and why we hate it when you ask them.

Haha, very funny Google. You're not helping.
Haha, very funny Google. You’re not helping.

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“You’re a writer? So, you don’t work then?” or “Oh, that’s cool, but what’s your real job?”

I’ll never understand this myself, but unless you’re an extremely well-known author like Stephen King, or you work as a screenwriter for a popular TV show, people don’t seem to consider writing to be a “real” job. Correct me if I’m wrong, fellow artists, but I feel like writing is the only one of the arts to enjoy this stigma. There’s just something about writing in particular that makes people imagine that it can be a hobby, but not a career.

So let me clear things up: writing is as much a job as anything else. It entails a lot of hard work (more on that later), and if you want to be good at it you have to spend a boatload of time on training, research, practice, keeping up with business trends, networking with peers and important possible business contacts, and, oh yeah…the actual writing.

Just because something sounds fun and easy doesn’t mean that it is, and just because what someone chooses to do with their life isn’t a 9-to-5 with a regular bi-weekly paycheck and benefits doesn’t mean that it isn’t a job.

“What’s your story about?”

Non-writers, I know you think this question shows polite interest, but the question itself is an ignorant over-simplification. This question implies that an intricately woven tapestry of characters, setting, and plot line – something that may have taken months or years to construct – can be easily explained in a couple of sentences. But trust me, non-writers, it is no easier to give a brief description of what we’re writing than it is for a mathematician to explain calculus to someone who has never done it before. It makes us sweat, because we’re caught between making our story sound stupid (“Uh…um…it’s about zombies.”) or putting you in the position of listening to the entire life story of the novel so that you understand what it’s truly about.

If you’re honestly curious about what the writer is writing, a better question would be, “What kind of genres do you write in?” or “Are you working on anything special right now?” If the writer wants to talk about their current work-in-progress, questions like these will pave the way and let them know that you’re actually interested, not just being facetious.

“Have you made any money writing?” or “How much do you make writing?”

For the life of me I’ll never get why people think that this is an okay road to go down. With pretty much any other profession on the planet it is considered extremely rude to ask someone how much money they make (unless you’re already good friends and are comfortable with that kind of sharing), and yet people are constantly asking this of writers. It not only comes off as rude and nosy, but it immediately gives off the impression of disbelief in the writer’s ability to earn a living, which is much, much more than rude.

Do everyone involved a favor, non-writers, and just never bring money up. It’s none of your business and it can come to no good.

“Can I read your book before you publish it?”

No. No, no, no, no, no. There are so many things wrong with this request, but I’ll go with the one that everyone (hopefully) should be able to understand: something for nothing. Would you ask an architect to design a building for free? Would you ask a doctor to do surgery for free? Would you ask an electrician to wire a house for free? The answer in every case is a resounding NO, because it is ridiculous to ask someone to use their time, energy, education, and experience to do something for you for free. It is no different to ask a writer to let you read something (for free!) that you know damn well they’re trying to earn a living with. If you’re really that interested to read, go out and buy the damn book.

“Do you really expect to make a living as a writer?”

Here’s the thing…you can take any highly successful profession on the planet and there will be people who failed miserably at it. Young people with excellent GPAs will flunk out of med school because they can’t handle the pressure. Incredibly intelligent lawyers may fall apart on the stands because they’re no good at public speaking. Genius engineers may make a tiny mistake in their calculations that end up costing companies millions.

I get that the artistic fields (art, writing, music, acting…) are extremely difficult to break into and that the idea of the “starving artist” is a thing for a reason. But that does not give you the right to talk down to a writer because you think their ambitions are too high. Unless you are this particular writer’s parent and you’ve got them bumming in your house rent-and-bill-free, it is absolutely none of your business how they choose to spend their time and whether or not they’re going to be able to survive as a writer.

“Do you really think that self-publishing is the way to go?” or “But you’re not really a real author until you’ve been properly published, right?”

First of all, non-writers, I’m willing to bet that the majority of you don’t know much more about publishing than it’s how books are printed. Therefore, I forgive you for not realizing that there have been enormous shifts in the publishing paradigm in recent years. I forgive you for not knowing that trying to get traditionally published these days is like trying to convince the judges at a dog show to let you enter your cat in the competition. I forgive you for not being privy to the fact that traditional publishing can take so long that your book’s topic may no longer be marketable by the time you’ve gotten it in print. I’ll even forgive you for not being aware that many, many very successful writers have been self-publishing in recent years as trends shift and they realize that self-publishing allows them the ability and freedom to control more of the creative process, distribution, and marketing than ever before.

What I will not forgive you for is asking questions like these when you know damn well that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Do your research first, and then maybe we’ll be willing to have a nice, sit-down conversation about the virtues of each method of publishing.

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I could keep going, but those non-writers who are reading this right now are probably already frowning at their screen and coming up with counter-arguments for why I shouldn’t be so uptight and just be happy that they’re interested enough to ask questions in the first place. So with that I conclude my list of super-frustrating inquiries and open up the floor to my fellow writers. How about it, guys and gals? What questions do you just hate to be asked as a writer?

In the Summer of (a Writer’s) Life

I’ve been talking a lot lately about Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines. And I’m not likely to stop anytime soon because every time I get a minute to read a bit more I end up finding something I want to talk about. It’s just that good. 😀

Today I read a short chapter that invites us to establish which type of writer we are…Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter. Spring writers are the young ones with tons of time, almost no responsibilities, but not a lot of experience. Fall writers are older so they have lots of experience, and they have few responsibilities because their bills are probably paid off and their children are probably grown up. Winter writers are of advanced age, meaning they don’t have a lot of time left to make their writing dreams come true, but the time they do have can be 100% devoted to writing, and they have tons of experience.

I fall firmly into the category of Summer writer. In fact, I fall so firmly in this category that I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I was reading Kristen’s description. Summer writers are still fairly young, but they’re old enough to have gained a bit of worldly experience. At first it seems like an ideal time to be writing, but there are other problems. The biggest problem facing Summer writers is that they are in the most responsibility-laden era of their lives. Summer writers have day-jobs, children, mortgages, car payments, student loan payments, chores and errands that need doing. Summer writers can’t always find time to write because they have to dedicate many of their waking hours dealing with day-to-day career and family issues. Summer writers may be fatigued because they’re run off their asses by household requirements and children keeping them up at all hours of the night.

Summer writers, to put it succinctly, are bogged down with copious amounts of stress. They’re young, and they have experience, but they have no time.

Currently I am experiencing a slight reprieve, as my job out West recently finished and we’ve paid off enough debts that we don’t have to worry about money for a little while. Regardless, a lack of time is still my biggest complaint. On a daily basis, as the sun wanes in the West, I chastise myself for not writing more, and promise to do better the next day. But the next day I find a million other things to do, or the baby has a bad day, or I didn’t get any sleep that night so I’m completely knackered. And so when I do get a few moments when I could be writing, I instead find myself reading or playing video games or watching movies in bed (and trying not to drift off while doing so).

I’m not trying to give myself a pass or anything; I don’t get to just blame all my troubles on the fact that I’m at a particular period of life and I don’t get to whine that I can’t write because everything else is in the way. But I can say that there are challenges, and that I’m definitely not alone in having to deal with them.

No matter the season, all writers have struggles that they must work through, and as a Summer writer, I invite all other “Summers” to struggle with me. We have families and jobs and responsibilities, but we also have writing, and we have each other. We can do it, come hell or high water!

What season are you? What struggles do you fight with because of the time of life you happen to be in? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!

Keep Yourself Out of Internet Mud…or You Might Never Get Clean Again

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking a bit of time to read some “craft books” on writing, and the first one I’ve been looking at is Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines. The focus of her book is social media and how writers can use it to create a working “author platform”, but she also touches on other subjects such as traditional vs. indie publishing, marketing, and occasionally a little bit of (related) neuroscience. Yeah, you heard me.

One of the side-topics that has come up in what I’ve read so far (enjoying it so much!) is this idea of ruining your platform without even realizing it. In other words, turning your name to mud by accident. In a world where everything can be re-Tweeted half a million times before you blink, it’s easy for one stupid mistake to go viral and effectively ruin your good name for, well, for good. This doesn’t only apply to writers (or the celebrities we so often see spiraling the metaphorical toilet bowl); it applies to everyone. That’s why I wanted to talk about it today, because this is the kind of thing that everyone should know, but which most people never think about.

I’ve spoken before about how anonymity does not truly exist on the internet and how we should watch what we do and say because it can come back to bite us in the ass. In that previous post I was focused on what I called “The Golden Internet Rule”, which is simply “don’t be a jerk on the internet”. This time I’m not talking specifically about being a jerk, but simply about understanding that whatever you choose to talk about on the internet has now become searchable, findable, and quite possibly eternal.

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Don’t want to be wearing this for the rest of your days, do you?

I’ll give a personal example, because what better way to show people what you mean than by sharing your own morbid embarrassment?

When I was in university, studying to be a technologist, I had ups and downs. I had chosen my path partially on a whim because of a stressful situation (the course I had originally chosen was cancelled two months before the start of the semester, so I had to pick something else quick or simply not go to school). The result was that I often wondered if I’d chosen the right thing, whether or not I should drop out and choose something else, and was I really suited for this kind of career? I kept pressing forward because change is scary, and eventually I found myself in the fourth and final year of program, having an all-out panic attack. It began to occur to me that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I didn’t know what kind of jobs I was even qualified for, how I would go about applying for them, where the work would end up taking me, or whether I would even be any good in the field. Sure I’d made pretty great grades in school, but the real world is a lot different from the class world. I didn’t know what kind of work I would be doing, but I was pretty confident it would not be writing short lines of computer code to set tiny LED lights to flash on and off at timed intervals.

One night when I was particularly stressed, I went online to a forum that I frequented in those days. I wrote a long post about my concerns, my worries, my stress level. I ranted about things like “wasting time and money on a degree I don’t even understand” and how I would disappoint my parents if I suddenly up and decided to do something different, and how I was terrified of the idea that I might have to move away from home for a job and “why oh why didn’t I choose a career path with a clearer future?!”

It was a rant born of stress, passion, and an overwhelming desire for someone to wrap their virtual arms around me and say that it was going to be okay. I did get that virtual hug from my virtual companions, but I also made a teeny tiny mistake. Within the confines of that rant, I used my full, real name. It wasn’t a concern because most of the folks on this forum knew my real name anyway, but in this particular post I wrote one line that described what my diploma would look like when I graduated, with my full name in the center of it. I added that bit in to make a point concerning my rant, but I didn’t consider what adding my full name in actually did to that post.

Haven’t figured it out yet?

It made me instantaneously  and easily locatable on Google.

For the most part this was a non-issue. I was a nobody that no one cared about. Who would even go looking up my name on Google, and if they did find my post, why would they care? At least that’s what I thought until someone did happen to Google my name and did click on the link that led them to my post. It was my uncle. I can’t recall the reason that he searched my name in the first place, but when he did he happened upon my post, read it, and subsequently wrote me a very long, very concerned email.

I was mortified.

My uncle was just trying to be helpful and calm my concerns, and he was very sweet. That’s not the mortifying part. The mortifying part was that he read my post in the first place. When I wrote that post it was with the intentions that only my internet friends ever see it. I just wanted a little bit of anonymous support from people who I never had to deal with face-to-face. For good or ill, I’ve never been the kind of person who can share their pains and emotions with their closest loved ones, so when one of those close loved ones found my whining, complaining, melodramatic post I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. And while in this case I had the opportunity to go back and change what I’d written (posts on this forum were editable), in another place I may have been stuck with what I’d written forever.

This is what we’re dealing with when we put ourselves out there on the internet, and my example is absolutely nothing compared to what some people have put themselves through. Every one of you reading this right now has seen at least one photo of someone who uploaded their pic on a social network site only to realize later that there was something excruciatingly embarrassing about it. One particular photo that comes to mind is of a teenage girl who took a “selfie” of herself and uploaded it to Facebook before noticing that her vibrator was sitting in plain view in the corner of the pic. As if that’s not mortifying enough, before she noticed it dozens of people had copied it and posted it elsewhere. The picture went viral. Because this girl failed to take a few seconds to actually look at the photo before posting it, she is now an internet meme that will never die.

Whatever you say, whatever you post, whatever you do, it only takes one opportunist to back-up your mistake on his computer before you can backtrack. In this way the internet is forever. Ask anyone who has ever found themselves depicted as a cruel jape on sites like 9gag. It doesn’t matter how much you beg or cry or scream, you can’t erase something from the internet once people have decided to use it at your expense. Even if it is an extreme example and you have grounds for legal action, it only takes one person to store the quote/pic/post away to whip out again at a later date. And the bigger a deal you make out of trying to abolish a bad rep, the bigger a deal people will make out of making sure that it never dies.

This is why we have to be careful, not only when dealing with touchy issues like religion and politics, or when letting our tempers get the best of us online. We also have to be careful with everything we say or do on the internet. Before you say or post or upload, step back and think. Think about how you would feel if your parents (or your children) happened across your post. Think about the repercussions if your employer saw that pic. Think about the veritable shit storm you might inadvertently stir up with your status update.

Basically, just THINK. It’s something we don’t do enough of these days, and with the Internet playing the part of devil’s advocate, one stupid mistake can mean that you name is mud for a very, very long time.

Have you ever said or did something on the internet that came back on you in an embarrassing or painful way? Do you know anyone else who has had to deal with this kind of unintentional reputation ruining? Thoughts and comments?

Your Children Know What You Did Last Summer

Children are remarkably perceptive little creatures, and they are ever watching, ever listening, ever learning. Did you know that it is believed that children learn 90% of all the words they’re ever going to learn between the ages of 6 months and 18 months old? The theory is that they spend these months observing, often watching the mouths of others while they speak rather than focusing on their eyes. They learn the sound of the words, along with the motion the mouth makes while saying them, and gather up all this information for later. Only after gathering enough information about the way speech works do they actually attempt it themselves.

Many parents will tell you that you have to start watching what you say when you have kids, and this is definitely true. How often to you catch small children swearing, after all, because they recognize words that their parents say often? I don’t want to speak specifically about speech, however, because most people already realize that kids hear everything. What I want to point out is that kids see and feel everything as well.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter loves to do puzzles, which is awesome because it’s great for her brain, but she always wants myself or my husband to sit with her while she does her puzzles. She doesn’t necessarily want us to join in or anything, she just wants us to be there. So okay, that’s fine; I’ll usually sit with her and have my iPhone or my laptop with me and I’ll pluck away at something while she’s doing her puzzle. I’ll smile and nod and praise her at the appropriate intervals, while also multitasking on something else I have (or want) to do. This is what we were doing a few weeks ago, up in her bedroom. She was plucking away at her Tinkerbell puzzle, and I was praising her while browsing Twitter on my iPhone. What I failed to realize as this was occurring, was that I wasn’t really so much paying attention to her as I was smiling and nodding while focused intently on my phone’s screen. I didn’t notice what I was doing…but she sure did. Even though I was doing basically the same thing that I would have been doing had I not had the phone with me (smile, nod, say “Good job!”), she was fully aware that I wasn’t paying attention, and she didn’t like it. Before I knew what was happening, she stood up, took the phone right out of my hand, placed it on her bookshelf, and said, “There, that’s better!” before returning to her puzzle. I was shocked for a moment, but it didn’t take me long to burst into laughter. She really told me! She knew that I was only paying her lip service while I was glued to the Twittersphere, so she resolved the issue herself.

Kids notice these things. They are a lot more in tune to what is going on around them than adults give them credit for. They know when you’re patronizing them, they can tell when you’re flat-out lying to them, they notice when you’re genuinely upset, they see things that you don’t even realize you’re doing. Think of all the times a child has spouted off a surprising phrase that you didn’t notice you said all the time, or the times a child has followed you around, copying mannerisms you never noticed you even had. If you don’t have kids of your own, think back to when you were a kid. Couldn’t you tell if your mother was sad about something, or your dad had suffered a bad day at work? Didn’t you try to copy the way your mother applied lipstick, or the way your father shaved? And don’t even try to tell me that you can’t think of at least one instance of a parent or a loved one bursting into laughter or getting embarrassed because of something you said, and you didn’t understand what the big deal was because you were just repeating something they had said.

"Don't worry, ma, I've been paying attention and I've totally got this."
“Don’t worry, ma, I’ve been paying attention and I’ve totally got this.”

It’s an important thing to remember when dealing with children, although we tend to forget it more often than not. Remember that this little creature is watching you, seeing everything you do, hearing everything you say, picking up on your emotions and moods, and learning. Most of all, learning. Everything you do or say, everything you present to them in everyday life, is a lesson. What are you going to teach your children today?

Gender Insignificant

Gender stereotypes.

Paying attention? I’d be willing to bet that you are because these two words, when combined, create panic attacks and mass hysteria, especially when applied to children.

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You said it, Joker.

Gender stereotypes are something that I’ve personally never played into. As a little girl I was a bit of a tomboy who preferred pants to skirts, blue to pink, and climbing trees to tea parties, but I also liked baby dolls and My Little Pony. I grew up to become a woman working in a male dominated field, but I do so wearing red lipstick and nail polish. I guess you could say that I’m a feminine tomboy. Does that make sense? Sure it does. Move on already, geeze.

I just happened to turn out the way I am through neither the fault nor the effort of my parents or the other people in my life. My mom tried to get me to wear more girlie clothes, but I mostly vetoed her; my slew of male cousins tried to get me into things like fishing and shooting pellet guns, but I never really caught on to those things. I was pretty adamant that I liked what I liked, and to hell with the rest.

When I was a kid the topic of gender stereotypes didn’t really exist as far as I was concerned, but now that I have a child of my own, I see the argument in a much different light. It makes me raise a critical eyebrow.

People are absolutely nuts when it comes to the gender stereotype issue. Absolutely nuts.

There are two major groups that I can discern. The first are the people who cling to the gender stereotypes. These people believe that girls belong in pink skirts, and boys in blue pants. They believe that girls should play with dolls and boys with trucks. Girls should be gentle and sensitive, boys should be rough and tough. Girls grow up to be mothers who take care of the household, boys grow up to be the providers. To the minds of these people, any deviation from the norm is some kind of horrible character flaw. They’re terrified that allowing children to experience anything outside their gender’s “rulebook” will create ultra-feminists and flamboyant gays, which is a concept that, aside from being just ridiculously prejudiced and bigoted, couldn’t be any less based in actual fact.

Second, you have the other side who take it to the exact opposite extreme. These people think that kids who stick to concepts that are traditionally labeled to their gender makes them somehow socially backward. A little girl who dreams of being a princess is an embarrassment to “enlightened” women. A little boy who likes superheroes is automatically a typical testosterone-laden chauvinist. By choosing to embrace things that fall into the stereotypes we’ve grown up with for decades, these kids are thought to be some kind of terrible example of the rampant sexism in the world and people’s unwillingness to advance.

Does anyone beside me think that both of these types of people are a little looney?

You want to know what I think? (Well it doesn’t matter because it’s my blog and I’m going to tell you anyway!) I think that, for a change, we should just stand back and let the kids make their own decisions as to what to surround themselves with. Give them the opportunity and let them figure it out on their own what they like, instead of what you think they should like. I promise you that what toys he plays with does not decide whether your little boy is going to be a vicious brute or be sexually confused, and that your little girl is not going to become a vapid slut or develop unhealthy female body expectations just because she happens to like Barbie dolls.

I’ve said this before, but kids aren’t born understanding things like stereotypes and prejudice; they learn it because we inflict it upon them. The choices they make on their own are innocent, free of our perceived consequences. If a little girl likes trucks it’s not because she’s too masculine, nor does it mean she’s a strong, enlightened woman; it’s because trucks are fun toys. That’s it. End of discussion. If a little boy likes to play with tea sets it does not mean that he’s destined to be gay, nor does it mean that he’s advanced and in touch with his feminine side; it means that tea sets are fun toys. Honestly, that’s really all that goes through a child’s mind:

“Is it fun? No? Get that crap away from me!”

“Is it fun? Yes? Gimmi gimmi gimmi!”

Kids learn from us, and it’s our habit of focusing on gender stereotypes that is the real problem. By making a big deal out of it, one way or the other, we reinforce that this is an issue and it therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seriously, if we would just pretend that the issue doesn’t even exist and let kids figure out what they enjoy on their own, it’ll be much, much easier on everyone. I promise.

(And yes, before any smart-asses point it out, I realize that I am, by way of this blog post, “focusing on the issue”. You know what I mean; stop being purposely contradictory.)

My daughter is now 2 and a half. We’ve imposed nothing on her (except for, obviously, we’re the ones who have been buying her clothes), and she is one of the most well-rounded toddlers I know. She loves reading books and she loves running and jumping. She has tea parties and she has water gun fights. She loves her My Little Pony t-shirts and she loves her Ninja Turtles pajamas. She likes purple and pink, and blue and green. Her mother is on the other side of the country two weeks out of every four, and her father is a stay-at-home-dad, and you know what? It hasn’t affected her one bit…because why would it?

It’s time to stop pushing our kids to be the way we believe they should be and let them figure out who they want to be. Wouldn’t you have wanted that as a child, had you been given the choice? Please share your thoughts and comments!

Cherish What You’ve Got

These days parents tend to be needlessly overprotective of their kids. They’re terrified of germs, they lose their minds if their child gets a cut or a bruise, and they refuse to let their children have any independence for fear of something horrible happening. To these people I point out that children are not, in fact, made of glass, and that making mistakes and getting hurt every now and then are important parts of childhood.

But this post is not about how kids are not as delicate as we make them out to be. This post is about how kids are not invincible.

When we become parents for the first time we take a lot of things for granted. We expect to watch our little bundles of joy grow and learn. We expect to see them start, and finish, school. We expect to someday see them find the perfect person, get married, and have children of their own. We expect that as long as we love them, teach them, encourage them, and take care of them that they’ll grow into happy, healthy adults. We expect that someday, far in the future when we’re very old, that we’ll pass on and leave our beautiful legacy behind us.

No one expects their child to leave them before any of these things can come to pass.

A little over a week ago I got some awful news: my cousin’s son lost his battle with sickness and passed away. He would have been seven years old at the end of this month.

I am not close with this cousin – in fact I very rarely ever see her – and I’d never met her little boy, but when I got word that he was gone from this world my throat went dry and I felt terribly ill. No parent should have to suffer the pain of losing a child, especially when that child is still a child. I can’t even fathom the pain my cousin is going through right now and I just hope that someday that pain lessens, though I know it will never leave her completely.

In the days following this terrible news I think I hugged and kisses my daughter a hundred times a day. I probably spent twice as much time on the floor playing with her, and when she was bad I couldn’t find it in me to get mad. I was haunted with the idea of what it might be like to lose her, because even when she’s pushing every single one of my buttons, she’s still my beautiful, precious little princess. But then I began to think: it shouldn’t take a tragedy to remind me of that fact.

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I mean, come on…how precious is that?

As much as we wish it could be otherwise, our children are not invincible. Sometimes terrible, cruel, unfair things happen. Knowing this doesn’t mean that we should coddle our kids or make their lives miserable by being ridiculously overprotective. It simply means that we should cherish them…for as long as we are given the chance.

Kids will do wrong. They’ll be brats. They’ll be unreasonable and insufferable, and do things that make us want to pull our hair out. They’ll do everything they can to make us lose or minds, and we will: we’ll get mad and frustrated and we’ll lose our cool. That’s life and it’s part of parenthood and childhood. But beyond those moments, take a breath, look at your children, and cherish that they are in your life. They are the most precious thing in the world, and it should never, ever, take a tragedy like what my cousin is going through for you to realize that.

It May Not Be the End of the World…But it Can Feel Like It

When I was very young, I had a toy called “Puppy Surprise”. For those who are too young to remember (or too old to care), this was a stuffed “mama” dog with little beanbag puppies in her tummy. The surprise part was in how many puppies you got, since it could be anywhere between two and five. I was one of the lucky kids who ended up with five puppies, and I was ecstatic. I loved those puppies, gave them all names, and played with them constantly.

Then one day one of the puppies went missing. I searched high and low but I couldn’t find it. I was certain it had gotten left at my neighbor’s house, but they were unable to find it either. For all I knew, that puppy was gone forever.

That night, I recall, my mother was working a backshift and I’d asked my father if I could sleep in their bed with him. And at some point during the night, as I was laying in bed unable to sleep, I thought about that lost puppy. I started crying. I tried to hold it in, but my shoulders shook and a little gasp or two escaped. Before I knew it I’d accidentally woken my father, who asked me what was wrong. I told him, and though I don’t remember exactly what it was he said, I do recall that it more or less amounted to what any parent in the same situation would say: “It’s just a toy; it’s not the end of the world.”

It’s not the end of the world. These are words that have probably been spoken by every parent on the planet at one time or another. They are words that can be very true…but also very, very wrong.

See, the problem with becoming an adult is that we tend to completely forget what it feels like to be a child. My father’s response was a completely reasonable one from the viewpoint of an adult, but not from the viewpoint of a child. At the time of this story I was about six or seven years old, and at that age losing one of your favorite toys is the end of the world.

We change dramatically as we grow, and bit by bit we begin to learn about what is and isn’t really important in life. Children haven’t gained that knowledge yet. A toddler doesn’t understand why they can’t have cookies for breakfast because they have no understanding of the concept of “health”. All they know is that you are refusing to give them something they want very badly. A child who is being teased at school can not grasp the idea that someday the opinions of their peers will mean little to nothing. They only know that the teasing hurts their feelings and maybe even makes them depressed. Even as teenagers we still haven’t grown enough emotionally to avoid these traps. Have you ever been around a teenager who just got dumped? It’s pitiful. Beyond pitiful. But you can’t explain to them that it’s “not the end of the world” because to them it is. Yes, as adults we know that the pain of a dumped teenager is nothing in the grand scheme of things, but to that teenager it is the worst pain they have ever felt.

So try to remember that the next time you’re dealing with a toddler who won’t stop crying, a child who is scared and upset, or a teen who believes their whole world has just come to an abrupt end. Remember that they don’t understand that it’s not the end of the world because that’s exactly what it feels like to them. All pain, physical or emotional, is relative, and the younger the child the less they have to compare to.

Most of all, remember what it feels like to be a kid. I promise you’ll be a better parent – and person – for it.