Archive for February, 2014

Breaking out

Sometimes the world can be a very uncomfortable place. Right now the temperature outside my house is 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with little in the way of a reprieve for at least a couple of weeks.  For more than two months straight, my facial expression while running errands has been similar to the one I make when tweezing eyebrow hairs. It’s no wonder that I, and those I share this presently inhospitable environment with,  desperately seek comfort in other ways.

The problem with comfort is, it can stifle ambition pretty damn quick. If you’re content with your present situation, there’s little motivation to change it, even if that situation becomes detrimental to you.

“Comfortable in my own misery,” is an all too common phenomena. It keeps us in unhealthy relationships, overweight bodies, dead end jobs, and generally uninspired lives. That’s why we all need to break out of the comfort zone every once in a while.

The last winter that we had that was this bad compelled me to become a writer. My act of comfort was removing my attention away from my reality and focusing on the fantasies in my head where I could control everything.

Having the responsibility of writing for an audience is less comfortable, but it still gives me a sense of purpose that I don’t often feel with other aspects of my life. Writing offers me excitement and anticipation. I’m creating an alternative universe that never existed exactly as I’m creating it. I’m good in that place.

I’m horrible at marketing. My comfort in misery is self publishing and marketing each book in my series exactly the same way because it’s familiar and I don’t have to go to any extra trouble.

“Don’t enter any contests because that’s extra effort and you might fail. Don’t test new markets because it requires extra file formatting and that might just end up being an entire new audience that ignores you, or even worse, hates you.”

I listened and obeyed that lazy, indulgent, “comfortable” voice in my head for years, and wouldn’t you know it, but sales of my books were slow, and I began to lose hope.

So, in this god awful cold winter, I felt compelled to change. I entered my books into new markets. I just entered a contest last week. I have two more contests to enter this weekend and one that has a deadline in June. I’m gearing up to go on another social media site. And I’m still writing my heart out.

Metaphorically and literally, it’s still hard to wake up in the morning and remove myself from the warm, soft, bed covers to face the cold, stark light of day, but I persevere with hope in my heart that spring is just around the corner, waiting with joyful surprises. I hope you will be there to enjoy them with me.

Never too stupid to write.

I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. There are days when I’m so distracted, I’m surprised I’m able to dress myself, let alone operate a car, or perform duties I actually deserve to get paid for. But don’t call me stupid. I’m not stupid.

I may be unobservant, blissfully ignorant, probably delusional, and quite often distracted…Wait, I did a whole paragraph on that already, didn’t I? Well, there ya go then.

One of the great things about choosing to write is I get to learn tons of stuff I would normally have no interest in if it wasn’t required to flesh out a story.

Like the toxicity of plants: Can’t concoct poisons without knowing where they come from, what components make them poisonous, how they affect their intended victims, or how or if they can be detected in an autopsy.

Or SuperPacs: Previously, political ideologies and special interest groups were just abstract representations of those annoying talking heads that I had to tolerate during campaign seasons. Then I included them in a story, and suddenly I am enlightened (still not impressed, but enlightened).

Writing this series, I’ve learned all sorts of things about my home state that I would’ve never known otherwise: Like that Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park is almost at tall as Niagara Falls (just much, much skinnier). Or that, according the to constitution, our state attorney general is not required to have any court experience to hold office. Or that the way Northwest Wisconsin looks now (though very pretty) is actually the result of an environmental disaster perpetuated by the Lumber Barons between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

I don’t like learning new things unless I have a useful application for what I’m learning. Creating a story with thought-provoking problems that revolve around crime and mayhem gives me permission to delve into information that I would normally consider myself “too stupid” to comprehend with any satisfaction.

Writing a story with corporate espionage and the infamous Tesla conspiracies? Guess I’ll have to learn about that. Working the trucking industry into a story about human trafficking? Guess what? Now I have to research long-haul trucking. Getting scared/injured people lost in hundreds of acres of swamps? Now I need to become familiar with that environment.

He’s going to get sick of me repeating this story, but my husband was reading one of my books recently (he’s more into user manuals and less into romantic suspense, so I’m thrilled he’s reading my work at all), and he made the passing comment that amounted to: “When did you learn all that stuff you wrote about? I didn’t realize you’re so smart.” That makes me smile every time.

What happens when you’ve been married for a decade?

Watching the MAN RULES crop up on the internet again, and watching women flocking to gush about how insightful they are, I feel compelled to make my own list. I, however, will not be making a WOMAN RULES list. This battle of the sexes thing is fine when you’re single and have nothing really to forfeit except your sanity and maybe that futon you two bought together. It’s a different story when you’re married.

Marriage is a game changer. I’ve lived with guys before. I’ve dated guys long term before. When you commit to relinquishing ownership of half of your stuff; when you cannot be compelled to testify against another person in a court of law; when you become sole beneficiary to someone else’s entire legacy (good and bad) after they leave this earth, simply by signing a sheet of paper, the RULES change. So here are some things I would like to list about making this serious commitment to my husband for more than a decade:

No one in a marriage gets to be a completely selfish being anymore. In exchange for emotional and financial support, your entire existence becomes a series of compromises. If you figuratively sutured yourself to this other person on the basis of love and fundamental compatibilities, that should be a fairly painless thing. If you spent your entire engagement in a self-induced fantasy about fixing the other person, my condolences to the spectators of your constant drama.

This list also applies to the toothpaste tube, the crumbs on the couch, talking during TV shows, and a host of other insignificant peevish irritants that can and will crop up when you share a space with another human being who is not you. Do you honestly think that when you are rushing to the emergency room to see what happened to your spouse, you’ll be thinking, “Thank God, one night where I don’t have to move the toilet seat,”? Of course not, because when you love someone enough to marry them, you love ALL of them, and it’s those annoying habits that imprint them to your psyche. Intimacy is not always pretty.

Do a mental check right now. Does your husband or wife get totally obsessed over subjects that you don’t get at all? If the answer is no, call the authorities, because your significant other is either a robot or an alien. We all have weird shit. It could be fantasy sports, or gardening, or fashion, or junk collecting, or anime, or quilting, or court TV, or politics, or any number of perfectly legal hobbies (I would hope). Just because you don’t get it doesn’t mean you get to mock it (an least not maliciously). Even though you are part of a couple, you both still need separate interests that are just yours. When we are allowed to do things that make us happy, we are nicer to those around us.

The problem with setting hard fast rules in a relationship is it usually takes away the wiggle room from compromise and gives it to resentment. Resentment is an insidious monster when left unchecked. It can grow out of control when given the proper environment of passive aggressive silence that masks itself to the outside world as domestic bliss. If you have a beef with your spouse, voice it loud and clear. Resentment is really just the pain surrounding a problem. Deal with the problem as a couple. You are in this together. (If you married each other because you are both drama magnets who get turned on by conflict, get a safe word and apologize to your neighbors)

Through all the social mores that distance human beings from each other, there is one person you are allowed and encouraged to show affection to, your spouse (kids are a whole different ball of wax. Don’t change the subject). I’m not saying to clean each others teeth with your tongues at the dinner table during Thanksgiving. But don’t knock holding hands, a tasteful but lingering kiss hello or goodbye, a back or shoulder rub while you’re sitting together. These may seem like insubstantial gestures from the outside, but they can make such a difference in the long haul. Gentle gestures of physical touch in the presence of others affirms your commitment to each other. Those little attempts to offer love and comfort will get you through the tough times, even better than a romp in the sack (although I highly recommend practicing both on a regular basis). Don’t take the privilage of physical intimacy with your spouse for granted. If you don’t foster that bond, you could lose it.

When you sign a marriage license, you and your spouse are contractually bound to be partners. You have signed on to be an ally with your partner against whatever the world has to throw at you both for the duration of your marriage, presumably for the rest of your lives. The reality of being a grownup is a landmine of catastrophes just waiting to blindside you at every turn. Being a grownup can also offer up unbelievable joys and blessings. Being married to someone who loves you and whom you love means you get built-in help to shoulder your troubles and have a built-in cheerleader to celebrate life’s triumphs with you. Alienating your partner for your own selfish reasons hurts you both. See Number One.

That’s it. I am no expert on marriage or the sexes. These are just some things that I’ve learned from my life experience as a wife. With any luck I’ll get the privilege of learning more in the next several decades.

Take that, Man Rules!