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Roasting chestnuts on an open fire is a lot easier sung than done. Embers, hot ones and a lot of ’em, are required for chestnut roasting. There are a lot of other things to know, too, about actually doing something we hear about in song every year. 

2-inch chestnuts, scored with an "x" on their rounded shell surfaces

But, I did my research! I was prepared! The embers, though, weren’t. The chestnuts weren’t roasted well, if at all. The shells clung to the nuts like a first-day-of-preschool toddler deathgrips his mom. I did everything I was supposed to do. Sometimes there just isn’t enough fire. 

“Well. We tried it!” my daughter said. Yes. We tried it. We didn’t nail the landing. We barely even tasted a chestnut. Yet! There is another experience I can truthfully say I’ve done. 

I don’t usually get ideas for projects from song lyrics. At least, I don’t think I do. I’m not about to go find 8 maids a-milking and gift them to my true love. Human trafficking doesn’t make for a great Christmas gift. Some things are fun to try only because you hear them in a song. Some things shouldn’t be in songs.

If you ask the people around me if I’m “up for anything,” you’d get wildly different answers. My spouse would say I’m “not good” with change. My neighbors would say “I wouldn’t be surprised” if they’d heard I base-jumped off the highest building in Philadelphia. My kids might say I come up with “crazy schemes” like the time I invited a French exchange student to live with us for the summer, or said, “Yeah, we can get a dog.” Friends from all eras would each have one story about me that would demonstrate clearly their point, whether it be I’m a Wentz-dive-in-the-end-zone-head-first-er or a Rodgers-fall-back-into-the-pocket-and-wait-er.

It’s hard to predict which new things I’ll try and which new things I’ll try to avoid. My new thing over the past year is to study mindfulness and dedication. My official stance on mindfulness is that it’s crap and you need to be wary of the sources of the “mindfulness=more” message. Looketh thine eyes to Wall Street, whence cometh their fake Buddhist faith. Personally, though, I’ve been a big advocate for mindfulness my entire life. Dedication, “discipline”… those are foreign concepts for me. The One Thing book by Kellar told me to forget the discipline doctrine. We need be disciplined in only one area to succeed: Our One Thing. No need to live a monastic life. But dedication is all-encompassing. Dedication requires full attention and devotion. 

4-hours/day, 5 days/week is what I’m putting aside for fiction writing. If this move produces results, this is a commitment I’m hoping to honor for a mighty long time. It’s new. My old habits are throwing tantrums as I shake them up to make room for this new one. Sometimes the nursery school workers have to pry them from my body. But once I’m gone, they won’t miss me. And I can have some precious hours to myself to work toward a novel.

 

 

chestnuts on fire in a pan 0 comments

No, I don’t have a mentor

a picture of a cat laying behind and holding some electronic connectors

“Please don’t ask me to mentor you…”

Writing advice comes at you every which way from Sunday when you’re a writer. One juicy bit is “find a mentor.” I’ve been seeing this particular gem floating around “Lean-in” circles, too. Apparently we (women especially) are supposed to find older, wiser guides through this big, confusing world. 

Finding and keeping a mentor seems a wee bit … fantastical. As in, “keep dreaming.” How does that conversation go, exactly?

“Hi, Ursula K. Le Guin? I have a question. You don’t know me and I have yet to be published and I don’t live near you but I was wondering, can you be my mentor?”
… “What does that mean? Well, gosh, I actually don’t know. Spend hours and hours every month or so reading my shitty first drafts, then spend another night each week building up my confidence as a writer and, frankly, as a person, and, I don’t know, make your agent take me on and other writerly favors? How’s that sound?”
… “I can offer you free exposure on my blog. It will get your name out there.”
_____
“Hi, Margaret Atwood? Yes, Ursula K. Le Guin told me to call you. I have a question…”

_____

“Hi. Neil Gaiman?” Click. “Mr. Gaiman? Neil?? Are you still there?”
_____

I can’t imagine asking someone to be my mentor because I don’t think I would want to be asked myself to be someone’s mentor, if I am ever fortunate enough to be in a position to be considered a leader in the writing industry. Here’s my main block: What’s in it for the mentor? In the writing world, writers write. They need time to do that. What money or recognition will come from mentoring a random writer who may or may not help sell your books? Writers teach classes if they want to mentor younger writers.

In my travels, I’ve heard of mentoring programs like Pitch Wars. Some writers swear by it, but I’m just not ready to research something like that or spend precious writing time and energy on someone else’s opinion of my work. Unless you’re my agent (or beloved beta readers), I don’t want your feedback. 

Career mentoring is not that formally structured in the writing world. At least, it doesn’t seem so. Writing is a solitary sport and publishing is a cut-throat competition. (Sounds like a lovely use of my time, doesn’t it?) “Build a community of writers” is another bit of related advice. When something is a solitary occupation, building communities, finding support, getting a mentor is weird and difficult and awkward. Maybe *after* I’ve published my first novel, I’ll feel more a part of a group. I have writer friends now, and they are enough. Are we a “community?” No. We’re friends that do similar jobs. Are we all in a “writing group?” No. That’s another piece of writing advice I ignore. I know myself, and I know I’d spend way more time on other people’s writing than I would my own. A writing group isn’t a wise choice for me right now. 

Production is the proof. Write words, or do not write words. There is no try. I feel like a mentor, a writing group, et al, etc. all-the-other-advisories, would not help me get that word count up there. I’ll ask for advice when I need it, and it will be presented in questions that are short, sweet, and can be answered in one conversation. 

I sound like a rebellious lone wolf. Perhaps I am. I have no idea. I don’t have a mentor to tell me so. 🙂 

___________

Photo by Angela N. on Flickr (click on photo for link)

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BOOK REVIEW: The One Thing

 

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

by Gary Kellar and Jay Papasan Hardcover, April 2013

I’m late to this game, but The One Thing (2013) is still a great, easy-to-read motivational book. But be warned: The One Thing isn’t for the typical New Year’s Eve Resolutioner. It recommends you find ONE THING you want to accomplish and concentrate on that. When the authors say concentrate, they mean *really* concentrate. Like, the 4 hours/day kind of concentration. 

I’m writing this review after trying this 4-hour thing for a few days. Taking it easy on myself, my requirement for the 4-hours was not only physically writing fiction. It was simply “butt-in-chair,” i.e., sitting at my desk, with my notebooks and other writing tools. I could write, I could outline, I could plot. Whatever. My goal was to sit for 4 hours each weekday and allow myself to be immersed in the story. I set a timer on my phone. I paused it for every break (which I kept short) and restarted it when I sat back down. 

Most of us have never focused on one thing for 4 hours every weekday. Unless your job requires intense concentration on a specific task, focusing on one thing day after day is a lifestyle choice very foreign to us. The One Thing tells us the road to greatness is focus.

My fiction writing used to occur in hour-long or maybe two-hour-long spurts. Being a parent and a freelance writer, I allowed many interruptions to derail my project. Sometimes days or even weeks would go by before I got back to it. This was acceptable, obviously, because I allowed it to continue. Sometimes I’d wonder if I’d ever have “enough time” to write fiction. 

Kellar and Papasan use various images and examples in the book to demonstrate the effects of the same focused effort applied day after day. It’s kind of a drop-in-the-bucket theory we’ve all heard before: slow and steady wins the race.

The One Thing proves to be quite essential not for its time-worn advice or even it’s radical-focus solution, but for its myth-busting sections. The authors go over 6 myths that derail the determined go-getter. They call them “The Six Lies Between You and Success.” Here they are:

  1. Everything Matters Equally
  2. Multitasking
  3. A Disciplined Life
  4. Willpower Is Always on Will-Call
  5. A Balanced Life
  6. Big is Bad

We can pretty much figure out how the authors will handle #1 and #2 simply by rereading the title of the book. And for the love of Pete, if you are still clinging to the idea that you can multitask and get either task done effectively, please go stick your head or your phone in the microwave. Or read some psych and fMRI research. 

What stopped me in my tracks was #3. ALL of the motivational crap out there talks about discipline. Some advice I’ve read everywhere else: Have the same exact sleep schedule every day. Follow a morning ritual. Have a bedtime ritual. Plan meals. Eat the same thing everyday. Wear the same type of outfit. Blah, blah, blah. You know the drill. 

Then I got to #3. Here are the opening paragraphs:

“There is a pervasive idea that the successful person is the ‘disciplined person’ who leads a ‘disciplined life.’
It’s a lie.
The truth is we don’t need any more discipline than we already have. We just need to direct and manage it a little better.”

Experiencing paradigm-shifting shock when reading a motivational book is rare. I’ve read so many behavioral economics, psychology, sociology, and human studies books, I’m inured to their oft-similar messages. I’d believed their hype about self-control so strongly I’d internalized the message: if I am not wholly living a strictly disciplined life, I will achieve nothing. I accepted my lack of a published novel for many reasons, one of them being I don’t have a life conducive to living like a monk or an Olympic athlete. The authors tell us to ditch this restrictive idea. We don’t need a disciplined life, we just need enough discipline to get us through establishing a habit (about 66 days in their estimation).

I wish I could reproduce the whole chapter here. If this concept speaks to you, get the book. If you are disillusioned like I was, this chapter alone is worth the read. It’s available at libraries in ebook and hardcover forms. 

#4’s chapter on willpower is sadly a bit out-of-date. The concept that willpower is a limited resource has been debunked in various studies. This book is from 2013 and needs an update in this area. “Ego depletion” is not a set thing. 

The other chapters are definitely worth a look, though. There is a little trick on how to use the concept of “The One Thing” in everything you do. It’s a real insight into how very successful entrepreneurs think. 

I liked the book a lot, and if you’re after a certain type of success, like writing a novel, for example, I think you’ll find a few gems in The One Thing. I’m going to stick with the 4-hour/day (weekdays) of my One Thing.

________________________________________

Here’s a youtube video of some dude explaining some of the points in The One Thing book.
Why what they’ve been telling you about willpower isn’t exactly right, from the American Psychological Association (pdf).

 

 

 

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Goad with Friends

 

Wanna change your life? It helps to have a group of nags.

______________________

I’ve done 2 things lately in the area of goal attainment. First is reading The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Kellar with Jay Papasan (aff. link, which are a joke btw). I’ll try to get a review of the book up in a few days. For now, know it is part typical-motivation-book, part myth-busting-genius. The second thing I did: I went to a party.

At the party, we had food and wine and plopped down with blankies and pillows to watch Shawshank Redemption. Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’! Some of us did yarn art during, namely knitting and crocheting. I got gifted a pig (see photo). Afterwards we played a few party games. It was typical, fun stuff.

A partier crochets small animals and hands them out. I got one! We named her Butterscotch, and she is a Magical Comforting Pig.

During the movie, we all wrote one goal down. A book and a pencil went around the room and we all committed, in writing, to a goal. Some goals were health related, some career related. You get the idea.

A few days later, the Shawshank-goal-setting-party planning group on Facebook turned into an accountability group. Now the party’s hosts, fellow attendees and I are discussing motivation and goal-setting, and we’re stating publicly what we plan to do each week. One lady set up her Etsy shop like she said she would. Demonstrated success!

The group is in its beginning stages, but I have a feeling if I use it correctly, it can help me stay focused on my 1 thing (as per The One Thing book). A minor snag: *Actual* accountability is missing from the group. From what I’ve read about habits and such, the group should have a cash pot at a bank somewhere. After a certain amount is earned in the pot, the cash cache is donated… but get this – not to a group we are all aligned with. No. The money would go to a group that DISGUSTS us. Like Nazis. 

My yarn contraption for the Ravenclaw scarf I’m knitting. I brought it all with me to the Shawshank party.

That would be hard core. But man, I’d sure-as-hell rearrange my entire life to avoid paying even one dime to a hate organization. My 1 Thing? Writing, specifically: to submit at least one piece of writing a month (assumed is working on the novel as well). I’d stay up all night getting SOMETHING submitted SOMEWHERE on the last day of every month if that is what it would take to save my dimes and let’s face it, the world.

We’re not yet this vicious as to threaten people with such eternal damnation. But studies in the literature suggest this kind of extreme measure is just what some people need to break old or begin new habits. Hopefully the Shawshank partiers and I will achieve our goals without making a pact with such distasteful consequences. 

In the next several weeks, I’ll change my daily routines around fiction writing and blogging. I have paying freelance work, so that will always come first, but my goal is to spend 4 hours a day on my own creative work (advice from The One Thing book). 4 hours is a lot. I know. I’ll take the weekends off.

I want to see if I can be a powerhouse in writing production. I’ve been a powerhouse worker in other jobs. We’ll see if I can at least sit in my writing chair for 4 hours. Many writers say they can write fiction for 2 hours a day, tops. I want to go beyond that. I may be naive. Don’t know until you try, right?

Get a group together for your New Year’s Resolutions. If you really want to get a fire lit under their butts, have them toss money in a pot first. It can go toward a group dinner or Nazis or whatever else. You all have more of a chance of winning at this new-habit game if you do. As for me, if you see me blogging more often, then you know I’m at least part of the way there. 

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Yeah, I’m a fan.

A sign that says "Free Dobby" with a clothesline, clothespins and socks.

Where lonely socks go to a higher purpose

#19YearsLater

Today is the day, in the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Albus Severus Potter, the son of Harry and Ginny Weasley, boards the train to go to his first year at Hogwarts. The fandom is on fire, of course. And I’m with them.

I’m not a native fan, though. Being a “fan,” of Harry Potter or anything, is a skill I had to learn.

Me dressed as Princess Peach and my son dressed as Bowser

Princess Peach and Bowser

Learning to love

I grew up holding on to my older brother’s coat tails. A true nerd and pure geek, my older brother was a devotee to all things internet, computers and computer games, video games (on Atari and in arcades back then), Dr. Who, Star Wars (SW), and all else sci-fi. He was “in it to win it” as they say. I watched Dr. Who over his shoulder. I was small but I was there along side my brothers and my dad when all three SW films hit the theaters. I struggled at pong when my brothers would finally give me a turn. I sat for hours drawing elaborate futuristic scenes in 16-bit colors once I had time alone with the family desktop. But I never considered myself a “fan” of anything. I doubt my brother did then either.

Things were different then. Only the utterly social-resistant types, like the Dungeon and Dragons players, would be brave enough in those days to identify and present as “fans.” To feverishly support any team was considered over-the-top and unhealthy. To have that same level of excitable enthusiasm for a book, say, or a movie, was considered downright strange. SW fans who “came in costume” (we didn’t have the term “cosplay” then) were so odd that most of the time news cameras would be present to display them like a sideshow attraction of old. To be sure, the term “geek” originates from traveling circus oddity shows. 

Halloween 2016 – Harley Quinn

Fans defined

Today that’s all changed. Maybe it started with SW. Perhaps it was spurred by a generation unabashedly raised on Harry Potter. Now we have a phenomenon called “fandom.” Merriam-Webster (MW) first defines “fandom”  (subscription required) simply as “fans considered collectively in a group.” This implies “fandom” is a term used by a non-fan to refer to people who have in common a love of something.

MW’s second definition is “the state or condition of being a fan” – a self-referencing term to be used by the lovers of said something.

UrbanDictionary (UD), however, adds a little more of the current fervid flavor of what “fandom” means today. It’s first definition speaks to the alliance of people involved: “The community that surrounds a tv show/movie/book etc. Fanfiction writers, artists, poets, and cosplayers are all members of that fandom. Fandoms often consist of message boards, livejournal communities, and people.”

That definition seemed closer to my sense of the word. But only with UD’s second definition does its full image come home: “A cult that will destory [sic] your life.” A bit tongue-in-cheek I’m sure, but effective in portraying the deep ties personal identity has in this phenomenon.

A folded newspaper in the style of Harry Potter

Day of cosplay

While many will disagree on what constitutes a “fan” in any one particular fandom, I consider myself a true fan of J.K Rowling’s fictional world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts. My criteria of “true fan,” personally, is whether or not I’ve participated, in any way, in cosplay of any character or aspect of the story. Clothes make the woman and the woman makes the clothes. If I’m wearing something on my body, you can believe I identify with what those garments “say.”

Keepsakes from Harry Potter Day at the Penn Museum, and the latest movie

What have I cosplayed for, you may ask? Harry Potter was my first major adventure, as I dressed my entire family along with me. Granted, it was only robes. But I designed and made the Hogwarts robes by hand and even fashioned crests to sew on them. I made the robes for us to wear when we attended a Harry Potter festival hosted by an anthropology and cinema class at the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. As part of their field study of fandom, students in UPenn’s “Mythology and the Movies” course invited the public to their transformation of the Penn Museum into Hogwarts. The scene was full-immersion in the Harry Potter universe, complete with a life-size Diagon Alley, potion classes, a sorting hat, wand games, a treat cart from the Hogwarts Express, dark mark tattoos, quidditch games and more. Amazing isn’t sufficient. It was Disney-level effort and it was a day to remember. We still have a few of the items from that day in frames on our “Potter Wall,” along with a “Free Dobby” lost-sock station I constructed for the laundry room.

a picture of skeins of yarn in gray and blue, wrapped in plastic

Yarn for the Ravenclaws in the house

The professor and the class have not produced another festival like it, but Chestnut Hill College and the surrounding town have been working on a Harry Potter festival for the past several years. Having attended the festival in the early years, we weren’t very impressed; We haven’t been back. In the ensuing years, though, the festival has become a phenomenon of its own. We’re planning to attend this year. In preparation, I’ll make new robes and knit scarves for my husband, daughter, son and myself, this time reflecting not Gryffindor but our respective houses pottermore.com‘s sorting hat has chosen for us, namely Ravenclaw for my husband and son, Slytherin for my daughter, and Hufflepuff for me.

A program of OWL classes at UPenn’s Harry Potter Day

Identifying as a Harry Potter fan, for me, means many things. Wearing my robe and scarf at the Harry Potter festival will hold no shame, no fear of being seen as a freak show oddity like those SW fans, broadcast to late 1970s audiences for their amusement and scorn. Loving all things Harry Potter means I can find kindred spirits. We all felt good when we discovered our summer-exchange student also loved Harry Potter (and SW). He was just like us.

Other Cosplays

I don’t really get to cons, although I will someday. My costuming has been mostly relegated to Halloween. Many cosplayers would not “count” Halloween in their domain, but I do try to keep high standards for my costumes nonetheless.


One year I designed and made Princess Peach and a Bowser costume. I was a pink Peach while my preschool son was Bowser, making us a scary couple from the Mario Brothers story. I’ve been catwoman. I was Supergirl while my husband went as Clark Kent. At 6’2” with black hair and glasses, he fit the bill. I was the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story and he was the “Fragile” box for a Santa bar crawl once. Last year for Halloween I dressed as Harley Quinn, with whom I identify in her awesome, unabashed craziness, a trait I like to interpret, for me, as bravery. Costumes are fun and I make elaborate ones when I catch the fan spirit.

The goals of S.P.E.W. are: to secure for house elves fair wages and working conditions. To change the non-wand use law. To include a house elf in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures

A SPEW treatise

Sometimes my fandom comes across in daily wear. Over the years I’ve had different clothes and accessories for daily use that express my love of stories. We have at least 3 branded Harry Potter tote bags in the house. I wear Wonder Woman tees and earrings. I own a Mockingjay pin but have yet to get around to knitting myself one of Katniss’s scarves. I have the the Evenstar pendant necklace the Elf Arwen wears in the Lord of the Rings films. There’s probably some items I’m forgetting.

The Chosen One

OWL exam from the Harry Potter Day at UPenn. You have to go to the Penn Museum to get the answers (sorry!).

None of this matches my love for the world of Harry Potter. I read the books as they were published. I watched the fever sweep the western world’s children. I begged my husband to read the books but he didn’t come around to their astounding amazingness until he began to read them aloud to our daughter. His enthusiasm now matches or even exceeds mine. I think I could spit out some words if I ever met JK Rowling, but I’m not so confident he could. He adores her and her work, including her other books. Different ways of expressing one’s love, but all fandom nonetheless. 

Like many others, my fandom brings me a sense of community. Reading about Hufflepuff qualities gives me a strong sense of pride. Is it all made up? Yes. It’s a fiction. But can I aspire to be loyal, faithful, hard-working and true, as Hufflepuffs are known to be? Yes. Can I share a warm moment with strangers when we discover we’re both sorted into Hufflepuff? Heck yes. Do I find a path to connection with humanity, our shared lot, our hopes for the future? Profoundly, yes. For me, fandom is fun. Cult-like devotion isn’t my thing. Perhaps others fall into that danger but I am lucky enough to take the good and leave the all bad parts of fandom.

Today the good part is the wide celebrations happening on this one day in history: Albus Potter’s first day of school.

Good luck, Albus! I’m with you. I always will be.

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