Drumroll please!

It’s complete! Extinction Isn’t for Everyone is now complete on Kindle Vella for your enjoyment, as the final two episodes release tonight!

This wild 11-episode monster story was so much fun for me to write. I researched mythical creatures and legends from across the globe, explored places through Google Maps, created a digital vision board of the characters based on images I found on the Internet, and revelled in using uncommon words like “slither” and “pulverize.” Plus, it was neat to experiment with the new Kindle Vella’s episodic storytelling platform.

In October, I’ll be outlining the novel I plan to write for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which I hope to then rewrite and refine in preparation to present as a manuscript at next year’s ACFW conference. We’ll see how it goes. For now, I’m just celebrating that I finished the full arc of a story with a delicious halva bomb and honey halva latte from Tatte!

If you’ve had a chance to read some or all of it, who’s been your favorite monster?

What do you think of Kindle Vella?

Just Say No

Teachers, TV, and well-meaning volunteers: “Just say no to drugs!”

Smart-Alecky 6-Year-Old Susie: “My daddy’s an anesthesiologist, and he says to say yes to drugs, when delivered at the right time in the right dosage by doctors.” (Sorry for putting words in your mouth, Dad!)

This was more or less my quippy response to the Just Say No campaign spearheaded by Nancy Reagan in the 1980s and early 1990s, when I was in elementary school. Sometimes I was an insufferable kid who thought she was a lot more clever than she actually was; forgive me!

Just Say No isn’t only for drugs, people. #truth

I accompanied my mom, who volunteered for another anti-drug program called DARE. I passed out papers and pencils during her visits to 5th and 6th grade classrooms and felt very proud of this contribution. I was in awe of her presentations and the older kids.

Though opinions vary on whether the Just Say No and DARE campaigns were successful in lowering recreational drug abuse, my personal opinion is that they worked on me. I was trained to say no to drugs. Though in middle and high school I was way too busy for anyone to even offer drugs to me, I had my first opportunity when studying abroad in Greece sophomore year. Someone finally offered me pot! Despite recognizing this was a really low-stakes moment when it would probably be fine and a sneaking suspicion it would be fun, DARE and Just Say No training from 15+ years ago came back to me.

I said no thanks.

Even then, it was hard. I beat myself up on the subway train ride back to our hostel.

But it’s not why you might think. It wasn’t the peer pressure that made me doubt my decision. I wasn’t worried about whether they’d still like me. Rory and Lakshmi were great friends, and I knew our friendship was built on other shared experiences beyond this. I knew we’d continue to travel together and laugh and share life while we explored Greece. And we did for the rest of that Fall 2007 semester.

What I feared was missing out on the experience.

Maybe this term is already dated now, but FOMO was popularized a few years ago: Fear Of Missing Out. This encapsulates why I find it hard to say no.

For years I’ve been conditioned to take opportunities. Authority figures in my life encouraged me to take on new things whenever possible. When I did, typically I learned something, had fun, made new friends, and made others around me happy because of my participation. And I felt good about myself for trying something new and figuring it out. And at work, I learned that when I say yes to taking on new projects, I’m going to learn something new. I become better, even if it’s a struggle in the beginning.

Is it any surprise? When you’ve been rewarded for saying yes, when being a good helper is positively reinforced daily in personal life and work, and when you feel good about yourself for knowing your actions helped someone else and you contributed, is it any wonder you could become addicted to saying yes?

For these reasons and more, I’ve said yes to some pretty crazy things that in retrospect I really wasn’t prepared for. Here’s a brief list of some standouts:

  • Running a marathon after training for 2.5 weeks (incidentally, the original marathon route from the town of Marathon to Athens, where Pheidippides made his run and breathed his last–so awesome!). I had a literal “dawning realization” around 6am in the blue fog of the morning when the bus drove away and I realized my phone and money were waiting for me 26.2 miles away at the finish line. I couldn’t speak a word of Greek to get help from anyone on the way. It was just me in running shoes and socks, a tank top and some soffe shorts. The fact that I finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes without stopping and had a fantastic time chatting with people on the way is pure testament to the strength of a 20 year old body! I knew this was a major physical effort that some people train for months to accomplish; why did I think I could just jump in?
  • Translating a German book into English. Never mind that my German vocabulary then and now includes just gutentag and 1-10 and ya/nein. I saw no reason I couldn’t accept a contract to do this for a client. I scanned in the physical copy of the book he provided to me, used OCR in Adobe Acrobat to recognize the text, used Google Translate to copy it over, and then painstakingly went through to use my actual skills as a copyeditor/proofreader to improve it. I am certain that this was not the most accurate translation, but the client was pleased by my rate and rapidity! He spoke German, Indonesian, and English, and he verified it was good enough. But still, why did I think I could do that?
  • Having a baby while writing a dissertation while working full-time (as the breadwinner) while my husband was full-time in his doctoral program. Yeah. Whoa. (But even knowing how hard it was, I would do this all again in a heartbeat.)

Forgive me if listing these stunts comes across as prideful; it’s not my intent. I’m sitting here genuinely shaking my head at why I thought these things were doable and praising God that He got me through them. Yes, there were real consequences for taking on too much. But thanks to God, and a lot of family and friend support, I discovered that I was capable of more than I thought, and these experiences enriched my life and hopefully others’ as well. Today, reflecting on things that once seemed insurmountable or crazy shows me that I can take on new things, which is good.

What are crazy things you’ve said yes to?

But how should I set limits on saying yes and learn to just say no? Across fields others warn there are costs to saying yes. Here are some I’ve encountered:

  • One of the core tenets of Malcolm Knowles’ andragogy, or the study of how adults learn, is that adult learners want to know WHY something matters to them before they take it on. Unlike children, adults have been around the block and have responsibilities now, so before they jump into learning they usually want to know why this is important. Because adults get that once you know something, you’ve a responsibility to act on it. So adults aren’t necessarily fearful of learning new things, but they’re cautious about taking new things on. One possible reason for this is we realize life isn’t unlimited; we’re more aware of the passage of time, and that as we age we aren’t guaranteed more time. So we want to focus our time on learning what matters most. This is finally starting to hit me now, as I commit to prioritizing my writing and recognizing I cannot do all things well.
  • In college I read about the Hedgehog Concept in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. Simplified, it’s about identifying what you’re passionate about, what you do well, and what can result in income, and investing in the intersection in that Venn diagram rather than being scattered. I fought against this notion, railing against the idea that my whole life could be distilled down to a few core things. Now I’m more open to this idea, hard as it is to accept.
  • Another topic from my macroeconomics class infuriated me: opportunity cost, or the cost of choosing to do something is all the other things I now don’t get to do. To someone with a serious case of FOMO, this is a nightmare concept. The idea that the benefit of all the things I could be doing will inevitably outweigh the one thing I’ve chosen to do is overwhelming.

Though I’ve learned to say no, it still feels like swallowing broken glass to get the words “No” out of me, whether on paper or in writing. I can always come up with more reasons to say yes to a project than no.

(Doesn’t really relate to the point of this blog post except for a passing reference to the Hedgehog Principle, but let’s use any excuse to put a cute hedgehog somewhere, right? So cute…)

The Virtue Trap

As you know, I’m participating in 12 weeks of “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron, by reading a chapter a week, writing 3 “morning pages” of internal dialogue a day (well, I try to), and going on an artist date per week (this weekend I’m in Bethesda, MD, touring coffee shops and parks and museums!). Some points from her chapter covering “The Virtue Trap” hit me hard this week:

  • “An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing. Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resiliency.”
  • “We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world….When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we’re there. We may act like we’re there. But our true self has gone to ground.”

Cameron goes so far as to describe this behavior as self-destructive. Rather than be viewed as selfish and face others’ disapproval, I and others ditch creative work for the ever-pressing needs of others, at the expense of what we really want and need to be doing.

For me, there is a balance here, as there so often is. Some middle ground of devoting time to writing and others and not letting the pendulum swing too far either way. It is beautiful and right to serve others and in so doing honor God. But perhaps there is a balance to be found.

In Closing

I’m wondering if I can trick myself into realizing that my writing isn’t just for me. If I can believe that others do need me to do this, to use the talents God gave me, then maybe it won’t feel so selfish. When I am writing and crafting stories, other areas of my life benefit, too: I am a more caring mom, wife, leader, friend, and worker. So, I’ve got to learn to Just Say No to things on occasion.

Cameron shared these gems which really struck me; what do you think of these thoughts?

“Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive.”

– Leslie M. McIntyre

“It is within my power either to serve God or not to serve Him. Serving Him, I add to my own good and the good of the whole world. Not serving Him, I forfeit my own good and deprive the world of that good, which was in my power to create.”

– Leo Tolstoy

Reading Deprivation

This is torture. Julia Cameron has taken away one of the things which I feared to lose most: reading.

NO READING?!

An accurate portrayal of me reading that I couldn’t be reading this week.

But doesn’t Stephen King and every other successful author say reading is the key to great writing? If writing is like exhaling, isn’t reading like inhaling? How can we possibly write well without reading what’s out there?

Ok, ok, let me explain.

In the Week 4 Challenge of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, we’re asked to give up reading for a week. I chose to give up reading for pleasure (though her chapter hinted at even giving up required reading for college classes and work). Don’t worry; I’m still reading my work emails and bills and my daughter’s medicine labels and road signs. Her reasoning is that the deliberate silence of the other voices which fill our daily lives would allow our minds to focus on our own voice. This made sense to me. From reading to radio to TV to YouTube videos to other people, other voices chatter at me all day. That’s probably true for most of us in this media-saturated age.

If you know me, you know I’m typically reading 6–7 books at a time. They’re stashed all over where I live: by the bedside, in bathrooms, in my car, and filling up the data on my phone. I love escaping into stories at the least opportunity, whether I’ve got fifty minutes or five. To give up reading for an entire week seemed impossible.

But I’m trusting Julia Cameron’s approach, which has helped many creatives rediscover their mojo. She acknowledges the hardship (“For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction”) and says this: “The nasty bottom line is this: sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play.”

So I did it.

Multiple times I reached for a book or my phone to open the Libby or Kindle app out of habit only to remember my decision to abstain. I did what you’d probably expect of a reading addict: transferred to other addictions by filling the time with phone games, TV, and phone calls to friends and family. My writing output stayed about the same (I’m working on the penultimate episode of Extinction Isn’t Everything, and it’s a blast!).

Here’s what I discovered:

  • I had a greater sense of inner quiet.
  • I missed reading and the instant excitement of leaping into a story.
  • I prayed more.
  • I observed my surroundings and people-watched more.
  • Julia Cameron was right: I took on new, non-writing projects. (I began crocheting a blue and purple Sisu the Dragon hat for my daughter’s upcoming Halloween costume.)
Sisu the dragon is the look I’m going for…
The hat, sadly, is more similar to this right now. It’s a work in progress, okay?!

A long time ago, somewhere between childhood and teenagerhood, my mom took me on a retreat located at a beautiful Christian summer camp in Alabama where she and I had both attended as kids. I remember the sun’s warmth on the arm of the smooth wooden swing as we rocked back and forth and told each other what we observed about each other and ourselves. She told me she felt I was sensitive to the Holy Spirit, which staggered me and humbled me, and which I still hope to be. And I, recognizing her as this monumental extrovert which I aspired to be like but never quite could, said: “I think I’m a quieter person than I’ve allowed myself to be.”

I can only think that kind of revelation has stayed around because there might be truth in it. This memory came back to me a lot this week.

Would you be able to give up reading for a week? Or TV? Or radio? Or music? What might you discover if you quieted those outside voices?

Artist Date update: The Greensboro History Museum

It was another busy week, so I treated myself to the low-hanging fruit of another easy Artist Date: a local museum, free to the public, and chock-full of inspiration! Cue the Greensboro History Museum.

From arrowheads to the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter sit-ins to the birthplace of Vicks VapoRub and home of Dolley Madison and a flood of other rich stories of creative artisans and leaders who lived right here, you best believe I was inspired. Once upon a time I found history pretty boring, thanks to a slew of history teachers doggedly striving to imprint all dates and minutiae of state-mandated history standards on us for end of year exams, and thanks to my nature as someone eager to please, so dutifully memorizing dates and churning facts into my brain in time for chapter tests and then out again.

Then, in high school and college other teachers illuminated history to me as the stories of people past. People who laughed and cried and hoped and stubbed their toes just like me, but with wildly different contexts. Now history overwhelms me. The innumerable generations of nations living and dying and trying to be remembered in their own ways. So, entering a history museum fills me with those emotions: the familiar flare-up of the expectation of boredom, the subsequent self-inflicted impossible task of trying to study every placard as if for a test, and finally, the relaxing and immersive feeling that these are just people, and I’m one of them, living in a time which will once be considered history, too. I felt a new sensation, too: a new sense of paying homage to my grandmother, Sumama, who passed away this year on Easter. She adored museums, and I could never understand why.

Maybe I’m on the path now to finding what she found.