Right this moment Sheila would rather be fishing, despite the fact that fishing is about two-million-one-hundred-and-twenty-eight on her bucket list.
Or hanging here.
Or reading a good book.
Or finishing the developmental edits on her upcoming book.
Instead, she’s hanging at the youngest son’s new farm, a paintbrush in one hand, cleanser in the other.
If the painting and cleaning are finished — which they better be! — Sheila will be back in three weeks. Until then, enjoy your summer!
Although I didn’t attend Romance Writers of America’s national conference in San Antonio this summer, I did pick up a gem on RWA’s Published Author Network loop in the form of a book recommendation, Wired For Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron. To non-writers, this may sound as entertaining as watching paint dry, but to those of us who write for a living, this book is pure gold.
I’m especially enjoying this book after my recent jury duty summons. Jury duty–while tedious and annoying–and my subsequent service as a juror on a one-day trial, provided a vivid example of how background and perspective matter.
It was a cut-and-dried DUI case. At 2:30 in the morning, the defendant ran two red lights, and was observed by two separate police officers exceeding the speed limit by at minimum twenty five miles per hour. The cops pulled him over, called in a DUI specialist, and charged him with DUI after he failed two out of three field sobriety tests while refusing to take the third. He also refused a breathalyzer and blood test. Cut. And. Dried. Guilty!
All three cops testified. One couldn’t identify the defendant because the case was over three years old (understandable), and all three presented very compelling, very damming evidence against the defendant. With every second that crept by, with every dramatic exhalation of breath by the defendant’s attorney, my irritation grew. Guilty, people! What a waste of our time and taxpayer money.
As the six men and women of the jury convened in the deliberation room, I assumed we’d be out of there within minutes. Surely everyone could see he was guilty. But…I forgot about perspective. I forgot that people view everything through the lens of their own reality.
The two most glaring examples came from a woman with grown children and a history of alcoholism who’d had several runs-ins with police, and another guy with a pending DUI case (I still can’t believe he was picked for the jury). Despite expert testimony by three officers of the law, these two jurors interpreted everything the cops said as though they were lying and out to get the defendant. By the time I snapped out of my shock from hearing the woman say, “Cops are dirty,” I began to look at the entire jury duty experience as a fascinating illustration of what Lisa Cron writes about in her book: the irresponsibility of assuming everyone views life the same.
I suppose the bigger question is why, after almost forty-five years on the planet, I still need this kind of glaring reminder that people are different. Don’t I experience the differences every day on Facebook (especially in the much-hated political rants)? Apparently I did need a reminder. Because apparently I’m as typical and average as the next person. Every time I think back to that day spent serving on the jury I shake my head. It was as fascinating as it was frustrating, and hopefully I’ll be a better writer because of it. What do you think?
Here’s my theory about puppies (and ponies, for that matter) God made them cute so that when they’re chewing the furniture, nipping at the toddler next door, or waking us up at 4:30 am, we don’t rush out and drown them in the nearest river.
Last summer, when I wrote my ode to my wonderful old lady dog, Jetta, I brashly stated I wouldn’t get another. Fast forward a year and here I am, sleepless in Georgia. Apparently what they say about motherhood is also true with puppy motherhood: as the years pass, you forget the pain of the early days of having a newborn (or puppy) in the house. In my case, the amount of wine I’ve consumed over the past fourteen years must of fried that particular portion of my memory bank.
Puppies don’t sleep through the night? How did I forget that part?! Perhaps because, back then, I already had a toddler in the house who didn’t sleep through the night either. (Jetta actually slept through the night before the Diva did, that I do remember.) I was also two decades younger. Enough said.
So I caved to the puppy pressure in my house. In fact, I went even further and justified my decision by saying that our new cuddly canine was a birthday gift for my husband. You know the rest of the story, right? There’s a baby in the house and my mama genes have gone into overdrive. I lay awake at night trying to decipher if the whimpering I hear from the family room is a 1) puppy nightmare, 2)I- need-to-go-potty cry or 3) I’m-bored-get-me-out-of-here whine. What’s my husband doing? Snoring.
Harper (or Harper-No as she goes by most often) is three months old today which means we are right smack in the middle of the terrible twos. She’s teething, too. Seriously, it’s a good thing she’s so stinking cute. Everything is her playground, the flowerbeds, the laundry basket, even her water dish. A leaf blowing in the backyard can occupy for–well, okay, only several minutes, but she is a puppy. They get distracted easily.
Studies show that owning a pet can lower your stress levels and make you feel calmer. Is it stressful having a puppy who has to constantly be watched for fear of what she’ll swallow next or who wakes up with the birds? I’m not gonna lie, yes, it is. Here comes the but, though: that afternoon when she was mesmerized by a leaf blowing across the grass was one of the most relaxing times I’ve had all summer. It’s awesome to come through the door after a week away on a business trip and have that bundle of fur launch herself at my knees. Puppy kisses are the best.
Even now as she’s sprawled over my feet, snoring while I type this, I wouldn’t trade her. I would like her to move a little bit,though, because my feet are numb. And I have to pee. But I don’t dare wake her because this is the longest stretch of writing time I’ve had all morning. That’s life with a puppy in the house!
I registered for the “Expanding Your Happiness” Meditation Experience from Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey as a way to deal with stress. It started on Monday and runs for three weeks. I’m hoping it will get me into a practice of mindfulness meditation, which is supposed to rewire you brain so you can focus better. Heaven knows I can use help with that. I have a bad habit of multitasking, and often end up spending too much time on trivial things (like cat videos on Facebook) rather than the activities that need my attention.
I’m planning to release a novella each month for the rest of this year. Since I’ve also got a day job, there’s no time to waste if I want to meet my goals. The last novella in the series is a Christmas story, and the holiday isn’t going to wait for me to finish the book. So it’s critical for me to stay on track.
Will meditation help? I don’t know, but I’m giving it a try.
Strangely, the last couple of times I meditated, it seemed to increase my stress level instead of lessening it. I started out in a state of bliss, and became more and more tense. It might just be a fluke, but I wonder if I’m wired that way. Because I’m so practiced at getting into my writing mind—my intuitive mind—maybe meditating actually takes me out of that state and into a more concrete, sensory one. And then, all the real world troubles come into focus.
My imagination is a happy place. I’m in charge. I have the power to resolve any problem. When people fight, they make up. If they disagree on a fundamental level, they learn to live and let live.
The real world is full of problems I can’t fix. So I do the next best thing—I write love stories with happy endings. Hopefully, they’ll give a lift to the readers’ day, and make their troubles slip into the background for a while.
And maybe that’s what expanding your happiness is all about. Finding something that gives you hope when the world looks dark around you. Living in a fantasy world isn’t the answer, but we all need coping mechanisms. Sometimes, books help. They give us perspective. They take us out of our own heads so we can see challenges from a new angle. As an author, I hope that’s what I give my audience.
How do you cope with stress? Have you tried meditation? Does reading fiction help you find solutions to real-world problems?