Liebster Award 2014

It’s been a while since I received one of these, so I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago to see that Jwls MacKay over at 2B Creative had sent me a Liebster Blog Award. It’s always so great to receive peer recognition, and I particularly like this award because it is meant to be given to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers, so as to help the gain some publicity. To participate in the award, you must answer the ten questions left to you by the person who nominated you for the award, then award ten more blogs that you think are worthy and send them ten questions of your own.

So without further ado, here are my answers to Jwls’ questions:

1. When did you begin blogging on WordPress?

My first WordPress post was written and published on February 19th, 2012, right after creating this blog. I had had several blogs, journals, websites, and the like over the years and I’d finally decided that it was time to start acting like a professional. I closed down many distractions that had been fun at the time but ultimately served me no purpose or had no future in my life, and consolidated my online presence to what I felt were the most important sites: Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and a few others that serve a purpose. Then I created this blog to bring it all together and to give myself a place to interact with the world while writing consistently and building my own personal voice. It hasn’t grown as fast as I might have hoped, but it still amazes me every day to see that people are, in fact, logging on to read my words.

2. What is your main focus on your blog?

It started as a place to talk about writing, being a writer, and the writing process. I soon established that this kind of focus isn’t really sustainable in the long term, and it is also only really interesting to other writers. I started splicing in little stories about my own life, my opinions on things, and bits and pieces of fiction that I’d written. These days I would say that my “focus” is simply maintaining an online presence while sharing my writing and my style with the world.

3. What inspires you to write?

Art of all kinds, whether it be ancient or modern, prose or poetry, adventurous or romantic. I draw inspiration from others’ books, TV shows, movies, and video games. I see what other people have done and I think to myself, “I can do that.” When something of another person’s creation gets my heart pounding, or makes me cry, or makes me think, or turns me on, or blows my mind, or gives me goosebumps…that is what inspires me to write.

4. What is your most unusual writing place?

Probably the one I’m using right now. I’m currently scribbling this post in a 3″ notepad while I sit in a trailer full of instrumentation techs (my coworkers). I’m wearing two layers of clothes underneath a pair of dirty coveralls with screwdrivers and wrenches in the pockets, and I’m leaning the notepad on my lap as I write because the table I’m sitting at is covered in work folders, paperwork, and our lunches.

5. Does music inspire your creativity?

It depends on the music. Pop music…absolutely not. But a more classical piece…yes. Music with words doesn’t really inspire me most of the time because a lot of what’s out there is just a pile of carbon copies of the same few themes: I love you, I hate you, I miss you, I wanna party, I wanna do nasty things. But with classical music you can imagine your own story emerging from the highs and lows, the beautiful melodies and the dissonant notes. I find that kind of thing very inspiring, not to mention peaceful and relaxing. 

6. Why do you follow blogs?

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one; I follow blogs because I enjoy reading them. I like hearing about what my peers have to say, what they’re worrying about today, or what achievements they’ve enjoyed recently. I also feel that “author platforms” and social media communities are a two-way street. If you want your blog posts (or status updates, or tweets, or whatever) to be read/followed/liked/commented on, then you have to take the time to do the same to others’ work.

7. What other creativity sites do you belong to? (Instagram, Instacanvas, writing.com, etc)

These days I don’t use many different creativity sites because I’m more I’m more about focusing on my blog and my fiction writing. I have an old DeviantArt account that I never bothered to close even though I never draw anymore, and I’m a member of Flickr only because it’s a treasure trove of images that I can use on the blog (if the owner has given the proper rights). As for sites that I really use, the big one is FanFiction.net. Since I love writing fan fiction, but can’t legally publish it, I love this site for sharing what I’ve written. I also have an account on the sister site, FictionPress.com, but I don’t use this as often. It’s meant for sharing original work, but since most of my original work is stuff I’d like to actually publish someday, I don’t tend to post anything there these days.

8. Do you believe the arts should be taught in school?

Not only do I believe it, but I feel that they should be given significantly more focus. I’m not saying that we should neglect important things like math and language, but I feel that artistic kids are given the shaft in today’s educational system. Creativity outside of the highly-limited art and music classes are generally frowned upon, as the system tends toward favoring wave after wave of little carbon copies who memorize and regurgitate. And I’m not just defending those kids who genuinely want to become writers, artists, or musicians…creativity is extremely important in many other fields, such as marketing, architecture, and journalism. Being able to think creatively can give kids a huge step up on an unlimited number of vocational options. Hell, being able to be a little creative and think outside the box is probably the only thing that makes me a decent instrumentation tech.

9. How old were you when you decided to develop your creativity?

Young enough to barely remember. I’d say the trigger happened sometime around the third grade. Back then was when I first started both writing and drawing. I wrote because it was fun, and it simply never stopped being fun. I drew mostly because I enjoyed the positive reinforcement I got from people when they saw me drawing. Eventually the positive reinforcement wasn’t enough for me…I wanted to actually get better, and it seemed like I never did, so drawing started to lose it’s appeal. Writing, however, has never lost any of it’s appeal to me, even during times of my life when no one was reading.

10. What is your paying occupation?

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m an Instrumentation Technician. Most people tend not to know what the hell that is, and the simplest explanation I’ve come up with is that I’m like an electrician, but I work with valves and control programs instead of motors and high voltage.

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Now, normally this would be the part where I nominate ten more blogs for a Liebster award. Unfortunately I won’t be doing this part, but I have a good reason…see, after the first ten minutes of sorting through the list of blogs that I follow it became evident to me that I’m one of the only bloggers I know who falls under the “200 or fewer followers” category. Almost every blog I follow has many hundreds, if not many thousands, of followers. I’m sure there must be a few blogs on my list that meet the criteria, but to be perfectly honest I’m not willing to spend the next few hours sorting through them. So, blogger friends, if you happen to fall under the category of having fewer than 200 followers, I officially nominate you for a Liebster. If you wish to accept and answer my questions, please leave a comment here letting me know so that I can check out your answers. 🙂

That said, for any who wish to accept my open award, please answer the following questions:

1. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
2. If you didn’t become what you wanted to become, why not?
3. What kinds of cartoons did you like as a child?
4. Be honest…are there any cartoons that you still watch now?
5. What is one skill that you really, really, really wish you had?
6. What TV show or movie could you watch over and over and over, and why?
7. If you could be any superhero in the known universe of superheroes, which one would you be?
8. What is one regret you have about your past?
9. What is one wish you have for your future?
10. If you could go back in time and tell your past self about your present self, what is something that past you wouldn’t believe about his or her future?

Hoping to see some responses!

No Page Left Blank: Lifehacker Edition

Everybody has their little “life hacks”; little tips and tricks that make life easier in some way. In fact, there’s an entire websites dedicated to them. With the joy of the Internet, people are able to share little bites of wisdom such as using strips of masking tape if you don’t have a lint brush, or easy steps to learning how to be a speed reader (some hacks are more useful than others).

Today, spurned by a shopping trip with my daughter, I thought I’d share one of my own little life hacks, something my husband and I have all but perfected.

Every year, come the holiday season, we watch people running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They desperately run around looking for specific toys that are sold out everywhere. They visit every store while becoming more and more agitated that they can’t find a damn thing that their mother-in-law might actually like. They struggle with the money it will cost to actually get their kid the specific thing they asked for. They pitch fits because something that was everywhere in the summer suddenly doesn’t exist, and dammit it would have been the perfect gift!

Every year my husband and I sit back and watch this chaos with grins on our faces, because for the overwhelming part, we are not part of the insanity. How do we manage it? It’s simple, really.

We shop for the holidays all year through.

File this image under one of the lamest things I've ever done.
File this image under one of the lamest things I’ve ever done.

It sounds horrifying, I’m sure. Shopping during the holidays is bad enough; shopping for the holidays all year through must be absolutely sickening, right? Right?

Wrong. Let’s examine the pros, shall we?

Pro #1:
If you keep your mind open for possible holiday gifts all year through, you’re more likely to stumble across something that a loved one would like, rather than wracking your brain at the last minute trying to think of something. I can’t tell you how many gift ideas my husband and I have come up with in the middle of the summer that saved us losing our minds as the shopping days dwindled come the end of the year.

Pro #2:
SALES. Sure, sales happen during the holidays too, but generally it’s only on the stuff the stores are trying to convince you to buy. However, sales happen all year through as well, and if you’re paying attention to them it’s very likely that you’ll manage to pick up a gift for significantly cheaper than the same item will cost you if you’re buying it in December. This pro goes hand in hand with things like sidewalk sales, clearance sales, and store closing sales. I’ve picked up tons of toys at store closing sales for a fraction of the price they normally cost, and simply stored them away in a closet where my daughter isn’t allowed. Easy peasy and saves a ton of money.

Pro #3:
The most obvious one…by the time the holidays start to creep up and everyone around you begins to lose their minds, you could actually have almost nothing to do. This past Christmas, aside from a few small things, my husband and I basically had our shopping done by mid-November. All I had to do was wrap everything.

All it really takes is the littlest bit of extra effort. If you happen upon a big clearance sale, take a few minutes to browse through and see if there’s anything one of your loved ones would like to have. If you’re at the mall and your kids are rampaging through the toy aisles, take a look to see if anything you know they like is on sale. And even if nothing is on sale, if you happen to be shopping and see something that makes you think “so-and-so would LOVE this”, just get it! Unless it’s some kind of food item it won’t spoil while it’s sitting in your closet for a couple of months.

Trust me, it’s an outrageously easy method to make the holidays 200% easier. As I type this there are so many toys, arts and crafts stuff, and kids books hidden in my closet that we probably won’t have to even buy anything for our daughter come the holidays…and almost every item in there was on sale when we bought it. Two birds, one stone, zero stress.

You’re welcome.

The Golden Internet Rule

Yesterday on her blog Kristen Lamb spoke about the “three NEVERs” of social media. Without going into too much detail (you can check out her post if you really want to know…it’s a good one!), what the “three NEVERs” basically break down to are “don’t be a jerk to people on the internet because it could come back to bite you in the ass”.

It’s a good point, one that I thought could bear repeating, because so many people are so very, very bad for this. A lot of times it’s unintentional – people say terrible things in the heat of the moment, and social media makes it possible to express those terrible things immediately and to millions of people – but many and more times it’s just people being flat-out jackasses.

The anonymity of the internet gives people a false sense of security in being able to act like a jerk without consequences, but what most people fail to realize is that the internet isn’t as anonymous as it appears. If people really want to, they will track you down, and most of the time we make it very, very easy. How many of us have Facebook accounts, linked to Twitter accounts, linked to personal websites, linked to forum usernames, and so on and so on? And once something is on the internet, it’s pretty much there to stay. Just ask the plethora of celebrities that have tried to have unflattering images cleansed from the world wide web, only to have a billion and one more copies pop up in the blink of an eye.

As kids (I’m looking at you, know-it-all-teens) we can be forgiven a bit of stupidity…we think we know better, and later on we find out we’re wrong and (hopefully) smarten up a bit. But as adults, and professionals, this kind of bad behavior is unforgivable and just plain idiotic.

Recently an old schoolmate of mine posted a status update on Facebook. She’d done an interview on a prospective new hire for her employer, and afterwards went on Facebook to look up the interviewee, as many companies are wont to do these days. What she found was a scathing remark about how the prospective hire had apparently had to dumb down everything he said so the “moron” doing his interview could understand him. What do you think…did she hire him?

It’s a sad truth that people simply don’t think when posting their every thought and whim on the internet. They don’t take two seconds to think about the possible consequences of what they’re about to say. Everyone is guilty of this, even me, but some offenses are much worse than others.

I’ll give a personal example. Though I haven’t been the victim of many trolls or cruel internet japes in my day, I did come across one particular individual during the time I spent at the Critique Circle. This individual seemed to take a deep pleasure in writing scathing critiques of everything he came across. Nothing he read was good enough for him; everything was drivel, pretentious, blatent wish-fulfillment, and so on and so on. Nothing he said was constructive, he simply enjoyed telling everybody he came across how absolutely terrible their writing was in every way. The result? Very simple: no one would critique any of his work. On a site where the entire point is to upload your work and have people beta-read it, he’d ostrasized himself so that no one would touch anything he wrote with a (digital) fifty foot pole.

It all boils down to this: when you’re about to write a Facebook status update, Tweet something, or make a comment on someone’s blog or website, consider for a moment the impression you’re creating and the possible consequences you might incur. You wouldn’t tell an interviewer to their face that you think they’re a drooling moron, so why would you say it online where that same person could easily find it? You wouldn’t tell your editor or publisher that you think everything they do is crap, so why would you say the same thing to people who are supposed to be helping you become a better writer for free?

I’ve heard it said a million times, but rarely do most people seem to listen. None-the-less, I’ll say it again because it needs to be said:

If there’s someone you wouldn’t want reading it, don’t post it on the internet.

Have you ever said or done anything stupid on the internet that you later regretted? Have you ever been in a position to “reward” someone for being stupid on the internet? What are your thoughts on this lovely digital trend of ours? Please share!

On Discipline

They say that deep down all kids desire discipline. The idea is that young children can’t make reasonable, smart decisions for their own health, safety, and positive upbringing, so subconsciously they want us to do it for them. I’ve read about this time and time again in parenting magazines, on websites, and in the occasional newspaper article. I think it is, for lack of a more proper term, complete and utter b.s.

Yes children need discipline. There’s no argument about that. But no one, regardless of age, wants discipline.

Think about it logically for a moment. Say it’s bedtime. Your kid needs to go to bed or they won’t get enough sleep and will be cranky in the morning. But they want to stay up. Even if you could explain it logically and have the child completely understand where you’re coming from, telling them that they need to go to sleep isn’t going to make them want to go to sleep. You want to know how I know? Okay, now imagine yourself, staying up late doing something you really enjoy, whether it be playing video games, watching a movie, drinking with friends, or whatever. Your spouse/parent/friend/whoever comes up to you and says, “You really need to go to bed now, or you’re going to be worthless in the morning.” What is your reaction? If you answered, “I’d take their advice and go to bed, of course!” then you are absolutely in the minority. Most people, I’m willing to stake my reputation, would shoot a glare at the kill-joy and angrily state, “I’m a grown adult and I’ll go to bed when I want to.” Key word there: want.

We are creatures of ‘want’, every one of us. It’s nothing to get upset or argue about, it’s just the way we’re made. Logically we know that we need certain things (proper sleep, healthy food, etc), but other parts of our brain simultaneously tell us that we want certain things that conflict (to stay up late, junk food, etc). Similarly we want certain things (unnecessary expenditures, for example) even though we know damn well that we don’t need them and could exist perfectly fine without them.

So returning to the idea that kids want discipline. No, sorry, I refuse to believe that. Kids need discipline; no one wants discipline.

And that can make life difficult sometimes, even for adults. I’m going to use myself as an example because, hey, my blog:

I currently have two immediate goals. One is to finish editing my zombie novel so I can try to have it published, the other is to lose at least 30 lbs. Both require a good deal of discipline, and therein lay my problem.

It can be just as difficult to discipline yourself as it can be to discipline a child because a very large part of you simply doesn’t want to be disciplined. I tell myself that I need to do so much editing per day, but then I find something else I want to do more and the want outweighs the need…I go have fun instead of working. I tell myself that I need to take in fewer calories in order to lose weight, but I also want to eat that snack-cake and, oops, look, there it goes down my willpowerless throat. Sometimes I can almost agree with the claims that have been made about kids wanting discipline, because I imagine that if I had someone standing over me telling me exactly what to eat and when to work on my novel, all would be well. But then I realize that if I actually had such a person, I’d spend most of our time together struggling not to strangle them because, let’s face it, no one enjoys being told what to do. That’s why very few people have anything other than disdain for their immediate boss.

It all comes down to attitude and whether you’re able to set aside current ‘wants’ for future gains. As adults we have the ability to decide for ourselves…whether it was necessarily the right decision or the wrong one, at least it was ours. Small children are different. How do you explain to a toddler that she can’t have sweets for supper because it’s not healthy and she’ll get fat? You don’t, because in the toddler’s mind all she knows is that she wants the sweets and you’re not letting her have them, not letting her make the decision herself. Obviously we can’t allow such young children to make all their own decisions because, as previously mentioned, we are creatures of ‘want’, and that road leads to disaster. But we also have to be patient and understand where the kid is coming from. The next time you’re out at the mall and you hear a kid shrieking his head off because mommy won’t buy him toy he wants, think for a moment about how you’d feel if you wanted something and were told, for no other reason than “because I said so!”, that you couldn’t have it.

I bet you’d be pretty angry too.