Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Delights of Beta Reading




I don't have a long list of hobbies.  Mostly they revolve around words in some way.  My work is words and my play is often words, as well.  Houston, we might have a problem.  (What is play, Precious?  What is RELAX??)

Near the very top of that list is beta reading.  Through beta reading I've gained several friends– including my two best friends– and seen the deeper side of many people, the side not readily shown to the public.  I rarely have the time for it that I'd like anymore (it's called being an adult), but I still alpha read for my three favorite contemporary writers and occasionally beta read for others.

But why?  What is it about beta/alpha reading that makes me love it so much, even when I'm so busy with other things that I can only fit bits and pieces of it in for weeks at a time?

  What kept me going from offering to beta a ridiculous number of books one year to gradually whittling down the list to the people whose work I most love or about which I am most curious?

A love for stories and for storytelling runs strong in my blood, and I exult in releasing that through writing.  But there is a unique and powerful joy in watching others do that too.  Especially if the author is a favorite of mine.  

There is an indescribable wonder in being able to give an author feedback that will help them.  There is an elation in watching a book come out in full published splendor, knowing where it began and seeing how it has been refined to be shown now in shining glory.


It's not all fun and games and cheering someone on.  It's not all sunshine and rainbows and free books to read.  It’s actually a very serious charge.  Each book is a part of their author's soul.  So when they hand it to you, they are entrusting you with a part of themselves.  Handle with Care might as well be written all over it in red Sharpie marker.  Through their story, you see a part of them that is not always readily seen elsewhere.

It took me a few years to settle into a comfortable style that combined my preferences with what authors need.  Early on, I tried too hard and wasn’t honest enough.  I saw the flaws but tried to only focus on the good.  Feedback should DEFINITELY highlight the good parts, but if there are areas that need work, those should be pointed out too, else the beta/alpha reading won't be helpful enough.  It needs to be honest and yet encouraging.



Sometimes, especially with books that have a good core but the execution is sadly lacking, it’s hard to figure out how to be honest without being harsh.  It’s also hard when I love a book and know that it really is good, to make sure the author knows I'm not just 'gushing'.  There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about something I love, but for an author to know I seriously examined and analyzed the work, the love has to be backed up with specifics over what I liked and WHY I liked it so much.  I have to have rational explanations to be helpful.

It's also frustrating when the feedback you gave seems not to have helped the author at all, or worse and most frustrating, when you spent hours working on feedback for someone's book and the author never responds even to say whether they liked it or not/it was helpful/it wasn't helpful.  *cue irritated beta reader who privately declares never to read for that author again*

Above all, the thing I love most about reading or critiquing other authors' work is the sheer delight of helping an author see their work through the eyes of a reader, and then to watch them bring their work to completion.   

That’s what started me on the road of beta reading, and then alpha reading.  (It's also what prompted me to transition into the world of critiquing [more analytical and technical than beta reading] as one of my editorial services.)

It's hard work sometimes, and definitely a challenging balance to try to walk most of the time, but the work is more than repaid when someone tells you that your feedback was invaluable, when someone comes BACK to you and specifically asks you to read something else they wrote because what you did before helped, or when you hold in your hands a book you first saw as a half-feathered first draft, and it's fully feathered now and ready to fly.

That's when it's time to grab your friends by the throat and tell them, ‘YOU REALLY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.’


That's honestly the best part of it all.


Do you beta or alpha read for authors?  What's your favorite part about it?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Is It Really 'Just A Story'?




"It's just fiction, what's the big deal?"
"It's just a story, why are you being so critical of it?  Give it a break."
"It's a made-up world, you know, why is it irritating you so much?"

All are questions I- and my close friends- have heard multiple times.

People approach fiction differently.  Some see it as mere entertainment, to be enjoyed for a few hours and then left behind.  Some see it as escape, either from stress or from a darker life.  Others see it as a vehicle of social commentary.  Still others see it as an expression of a society, a weapon and/or a tool. 

For some people though, it’s something more than just an art form.  It’s a lifestyle, a passion, a great mirror that reflects the world– and themselves.

Without judging any of the other viewpoints, I’d like to expound on the last one and why I hold it.

Stories can change lives.

Once we read or watch a story, it becomes a part of us.  Whether it's only temporarily– for the duration of its being read– or whether permanently, something that we'll remember even when old and gray.  Fiction can inspire us to become better versions of ourselves, alert us to problems in the world we weren't aware of before, help us process our thoughts and opinions on an issue, assist us in dealing with a rough situation/grief/a hard life, or just make us draw a long breath and soak in the beauty of the story for a minute.  Beauty is vital to a balanced life.

Writing fiction is a craft.  True, it is an art, but it's also a craft in which there are standards of what is good writing and what is bad writing.  When a story has a good plot but is badly written, or when the writing is good but the plot is ridiculous, it falls short of the mark.  Yes, that irritates me, it even disgusts me at times, when it's plain that the author didn't care enough to put more time and effort into a story.  It's even more frustrating when authors perpetuate bad fiction, either because it was published by traditional houses and found a market or because with the rise of self publishing, literally anything can be published nowadays.

A good story doesn't just have some snarky characters, witty dialogue and a few unusual worldbuilding elements or relationships.  A good story is one that unites a unique plot (or an original handling of an old trope/story) with characters who feel like they could be real people, were you to walk into the pages of said story, enhanced by a setting that is vivid in its appeal to the senses, and all of it told, if not brilliantly, then well.

Granted, achieving that takes work, and I'm not at all implying slurs against amateur authors or their work.  I'm just describing why I take such a critical approach to evaluating literature.

For some people, they can read books, class them as entertainment, and turn away with a shrug.  But for myself and my closest friends, it’s never JUST fiction.  We don’t consider each and every one of the books we write to be a lightning bolt message from God or some social cause, but at the same time, it’s not merely a story to us.  Besides being a part of our souls, stories can change the world, one person at a time.  We write them with the hope that they'll live long in the memory of the readers, even if only because they're angry with us, the author.  (Hey, all the best books make at least one person mad.)

The good books, the ones I actually finish, and the ones I eventually re-read, those are the reason I read fiction.  And I look for the same quality in what I read that I strive for in what I write.

If there is no standard for which to strive, there is no bar to inspire us to reach higher.   If we're going to write and read fiction, let it be good fiction.  Let it do something to make our day brighter, not harder.  Let it give us something to take away and keep with us for the rest of our lives.

As Leo McGarry once said, in Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing, "And let THAT be our legacy."


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Every Author Should Have Some

A couple weeks ago I made a post on Intuitive Writing Guide about where to look for cover designers for your book.  In this post I said "Having artist friends is great, BTW, in case anyone was wondering, every author should have some artist friends."

HERE'S WHY having artist friends is so great for an author.

Artists see the world differently from anyone else.

They are intensely visual people, naturally.  It is their passion (and often their job) to vividly picture something and then visually create it (as opposed to verbally creating it with words).

They look at a scene and they see colors, they see harmony and disharmony, they see aesthetics, they see 'vibes' from characters often embodied as colors or concepts (one reason I love them so much).

As someone who thinks in 'vibes' and designs characters based on 'auras', I adore this about them.  I especially love how they can distill a vibe or an aura down to a 'single encompassing element' so to speak, making me sit back and go, 'Wow.  I didn't see it like that but YOU JUST NAILED IT.'  And that comment can revolutionize the way I see a scene or character.

[You know you've been spending a lot of time with artists when an artist's wife hears you describe something to them and says, 'Y'know, you kind of see things the way an artist does'.]

My artist friends have helped me improve my visuals in writing, because of the inspiration they send, the feedback they give, and how they constantly talk about and 'live in' a mood of aesthetics.  Aesthetic is vital to them, and if you hang around long enough (and are open-minded enough), you'll begin to feel that influence, and it will change the way the world looks to you.  It's amazing.

An artist's medium is visual.  An author's is words.
They're opposites, but highly complimentary opposites.  Artists must condense into a picture what an author can use two pages to describe with words... and an author must use three sentences to portray what artists can 'simply' (art is rarely 'simple') show with two shades of one color.

If an artist tells you, "Your visuals in this scene are very good", you're doing something right.  If they say, "These visuals are GREAT and I love them!", you know you're REALLY doing something right.

Close friendships always go through levels.  After you and your artist friend have gone through the lower levels of:
'I'm comfortable with showing you some of my writing now.'
'I'm comfortable with showing you some of my art now.'
'*fellow creatives in opposite mediums sometimes have to spend a few minutes figuring out what words to use to make the other understand a concept*'
'Okay, just don't say that to an artist.'
'And don't say that to an author.'

...there are a few glorious, silver, upper levels, when your artist friend says:
1. "I want to sketch this character/creature/scene/landscape."
2. "OHMYGOSH, I HAVE TO SKETCH THIS CHARACTER OF YOURS."  And then they do it. (TOTALLY. FANTASTIC.)
3. "WHEN YOU PUBLISH THIS BOOK, I WANT TO DO THE COVER ART."  (O.o Did you really just say what I think you said... ohmygosh...WHOA.)

On the flip side of the coin, it's intensely gratifying and thrilling for them to sketch or draw something for an author and have the author's reaction be open-mouthed surprise, speechless shock, or semi-incoherent squealing of, 'OHMYWORD YOU PERFECTLY CAPTURED THE scene/character/vibe/etc.'

 Author-artists are a beautiful, fascinating, and rare (well, the good ones are) breed.  Not only can they portray their stories in art to give people visual references, but the way it affects their writing is intriguing to trace.  They look at the 'blocking of a scene' differently.  They may not be outliners or plotters, but they can picture a scene vividly in full detail and write it down, instinctively capturing it.  Also, verbal description might not be one of their strong points, but most of the time, you'd never know it because what descriptions they do have LIVE, mostly because they instinctively pick out the important background pieces and feature those.

Which in turn has taught me what background pieces are important in writing and what are less so.


So that's all very well and awesome, you say, but you don't just jump into a great relationship with an artist, right?  It grows.  And there are things to learn along the way.  Little tips and tricks that lessons for any good friendship, tailored to the particular breed of people known as artists.

Encourage them.
Artists are every bit as self conscious about their art as you are about your writing (if not even more timid sometimes).  Even if they've gone to college and trained for art, they're self conscious, they doubt themselves.  Encourage them, ask to see their art, sometimes even nag them to show you their WIPs (this should only be done with certain personalities that require persuasion and actually are comfortable with showing you their WIPs, so tread carefully here and feel this part out).

Be honest with them.
Tell them when you like things or when it's a great picture but not quite your personal type.  Tell them WHAT you like about a picture, 'the colors here are amazing!', 'HIS EYEBROWS ARE GLORIOUS', 'can I have her HAIR please'.  This thrills them, but only if it's true.  Artists are very quick to spot false enthusiasm or fake praise.  Believe me, this will be unhealthy for them, for you, and for the world in general.  They may be polite but most of them have long memories...and fierce pencils.

If you don't know anything about art, shut up.
'But you just told me to be honest.'  Yes.  Yes, I did.  This is a tricky line to walk.  Be honest about whether you like a picture, what you like about it, etc.  But if you don't really have an eye for art, refrain from making comments like, 'his eye looks off', or 'maybe his forehead is too narrow' or 'her shoulder is crooked'.  It will frustrate the blazes out of an artist and they might stop showing you their work.


In conclusion, artists are a wonderful people and incredible to have as friends.  Get yourself some, if you possibly can... and hang on for the ride.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What's in a Character's Name?

Yesterday I posted on my writing blog about the importance of names in writing.

Naming characters is one of the most important parts of setting up the plot to write your story.  Certainly it can be one of the toughest.  It can also be one of the most rewarding, not only because of the amount of symbolism and plot that can be wrapped up in it but because names have associations and if you do your job right, people will remember your characters.  If I were to say 'Aragorn' you'd immediately think 'Lord of the Rings'.  If I say 'Severus' you immediately think 'Harry Potter'.

So how do I apply the guidelines I talked about yesterday to my own stories?  I'm going to use my last four projects as examples:
Wings of the Tiger (my current WIP)
Queen Beauty and the Beasts (NaNo 2016)
A Certain Darkness (NaNo, 2015, JuNo 2016, on-hiatus WIP)
Ebony and Aubergine (on-hiatus WIP)


A Certain Darkness
Psychological political thriller set in a future in which humans have spread out across the galaxy and what were countries on earth are now planets or star systems. 

The story takes place on the Korean planet in an elite college for orphans.  Most of the students are Korean and their names reflect that, but the MCs are an Irish guy and an Italian girl.   Their names reflect this: Liare Patrick Delaney and Verena Silvesti.

Wait a minute, you say.  Patrick and Delaney are Irish in origin but Liare?

That's where it being a futuristic novel worked in my favor.  I'd made up the name 'Liare' and loved it.  I knew it had to be this guy's first name.  By keeping his middle and last names Irish, I could convey the feeling of his heritage (which is significant to the story) while using a name which I loved, which needed to be his, and which sounded futuristic-y (thus adding to the atmosphere of the novel) without being too hard to pronounce.  [It's pronounced Lee-AIR if you're wondering and the meaning has something to do with 'light'.]


Queen Beauty and the Beasts
Urban fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast + Phantom of the Opera set in contemporary South Korea.

This was one of the easiest books to character-name.  Since almost everyone is Korean, including the male MCs, I chose their names after poring over several lists of Korean names and using my favorites or ones whose sounds matched the personality of each character.  The FMC is Argentinian, and her name– Belleza– means beauty, allowing me to reference both the Disney form (Belle) and her name in the original fairy tale (Beauty).


Ebony and Aubergine
Historical fantasy Scarlet Pimpernel retelling, set in the 1800s on a fictional continent in the Pacific.

I knew I wanted the names to be primarily Arabic and Persian with the culture being a blend of Arabian, Persian, and East Asian cultures.  Which on first impression just sounds insanely impossible.  How do you even DO that?

Like this: the land was settled by Arab pirates, but due to the influx of refugees and other diaspora reasons, it's now a mix of East Asian and Arab culture, with the current inhabitants mostly of East Asian blood but with Arab names.

The meanings of said names play into pretty much every thread and sub-thread of this book.  The FMC's name– Zahira– is the feminine form of Zahir, which means 'helper, supporter' (not saying anything other than that because SPOILERS SWEETIE).  The Sir Andrew character is named Mustafa (if you read Mufasa, I don't blame you) which means 'the chosen one' - significant given his place at his leader's right hand.  Lord Tony's name means 'knight'. 


Wings of the Tiger
East Asian historical fantasy set on a fictional continent which is an Asian pseudo-Atlantis.  (Yeah, I kind of have a thing for fictional continents inspired by legends.)  [I might have a thing for East Asia, too, not that anyone would notice.]

The two MCs are from Korea, then known as Goryeo.  Their names are native Korean words, but at the time (and to a great extent now) Korea didn't use native descriptive words as names.  So I've just broken a major rule in writing HiFy, and one I cautioned people just yesterday not to break.

Or did I?

I needed their names to be Bora and Nari because of several reasons (in-joke relating to the inspiration of the book, the meanings of the names, easy to say and remember), but I needed a way to 'break the rule' without breaking the rule.  So I established (er, am establishing, I'm only in the 3rd chapter of the book) that the names 'Bora' and 'Nari' were the girls' nicknames, which they adopted as their names while on the run, to disguise their real names.  Then they just kept them when in the new land.

'Plot darning' Mirriam Neal has called it, and even those of us who are obsessive plotters have to do it sometimes, though certainly not to the extent that pansters do. 

Almost everyone else in the story is from the fictional continent on which the story is set, and their names are my inventions or alterations to fit in with the semi-Mongolian culture I've put together.


{NOTE: Wings of the Tiger is now open for beta/alpha reading, so if you're not on FB and didn't see the announcement there but do want to read this story, leave me a comment.  Please, only readers willing to give feedback.  I'm not asking for intensive critique feedback, just the usual beta stuff.}


So, that's how I personally get away with doing both what I want in regards to names but also following guidelines of good, believable naming in stories.  Because who doesn't want to break rules without breaking rules?

How did you come up with the names for the characters in your WIP?  What is the explanation for them within your story universe?


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Don't Forget to Miss Me



It was an odd phrase that caught my attention.  On a Sunday afternoon, several months ago, I was watching the latest episode of a Chinese drama about a teen, female martial artist.  I’d started the drama because it starred one of my favorite Korean actors as the coach, and kept going because not only was his character good but the camaraderie between the students of the central martial arts hall was beautiful.

In this particular episode, the FMC and the coach were in Japan for a competition and she’d just Skyped home to talk to her friends.  As they said goodbye, her best friend– a cute, petite girl in pigtails– hollered ‘don’t forget to miss me!’

The call ended and both sets of people went on with their day.  It wasn’t highlighted— it was almost a throw-away phrase— but it struck me strongly.

It can come across as clingy: 'she's only gone for a week, what's the big deal?  What a needy friend.’

I’ve struggled with this concept myself for months.  As a fiercely independent person, I loathe the idea of being clingy.  I often have trouble understanding the difference between being clingy and being dependent.  Even being attached to someone comes with a set of problems for me, because to be attached to the point of dependence on someone feels to me— initially— to be a sign of weakness.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in conversation with my closest friends on this topic, ranging from as long ago as three years to as recently as earlier this week.  (100% honesty 24/7 is seriously recommended with your best friend/s, people, FYI, even if you want to protect them or think they're too stressed to handle it right then.)

You become friends with someone because you like them (usually).  The closer you grow to that person, the more they become a part of your life.  With your best friends— who should be a near-constant part of your life— you SHOULD miss them if they’re gone for a week.  The healthiest best friends want to share almost everything with each other: experiences, feelings, opinions, likes and dislikes.  The abnormal thing would be if your friend was gone for a week with minimal contact, someone you talk to every day of the week and with whom you share everything, and you DIDN’T miss them.

Being clingy is a problem, because clinginess is when you expect the other person to carry you all of the time and don’t work to stand on your own feet– instead of only leaning on a friend at times, and offering your shoulder for leaning in return.  Clinginess is when there isn’t a balance, when you convince yourself that you can’t get through a single day without constant contact with that person.

There’s a difference between clinginess and dependence.

Being DEPENDENT is not wrong.  One of the main purposes of a close relationship— whether platonic or romantic— is to help each other along the road called life, to be a travel buddy, a soul or heart partner.  This can’t happen if you’re not dependent.

And missing someone on whom you are dependent makes sense.  It's normal.  It's right.

I saw a pin the other night that explains it pretty well:
"It’s hard when you miss people.  But, you know, if you miss them it means you were lucky.  It means you had someone special in your life, someone worth missing." 
Nathan Scott
Specifically, this seems to be referring to people who are no longer in your life, but I think it can also be applied to temporary absences of friends.

Don't forget to miss your best friends.  Or any friends.  Missing someone is (usually) a sign of a healthy relationship.
 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

MBTI: Hazards of Typing



I love the MBTI test.  As someone who finds the study of personalities and psychology fascinating, I’m always interested in knowing what a person’s type is.  Of the dozens of personality test I've personally tried, I prefer this one because of the variety.  There are 16 distinct personality types (32 subtypes if you include the -T or -A designation), which makes it easier for everyone to find their type.  I’ve also found it easier to explain to people than most other personality tests.

That said, there are definitely flaws with constantly using it to identify yourself, particularly when you box yourself in with it.


It’s not foolproof
It’s not uncommon for people to be mis-typed.  Often (but not always) this is because a person doesn’t know themselves well enough to correctly answer all of the questions.  For example: my ENFP sister thought she was an INFP for months because the test always gave her that result.  I kept telling her she was an extrovert, but until she had heard a comprehensive explanation of the differences between extroverts and introverts, she couldn’t answer some of the questions correctly and correspondingly the test was giving her the wrong result.

Other times this is because some versions of the test have a neutral option on the questions, making it harder for the test to conclusively sort people.

Still other times it’s because an alternative testing site or book was used to type someone, instead of the ‘official’ internet/book test.

Sometimes, even when none of these apply, the online or self-administered test is still wrong.  Here’s why: IT’S AN EQUATION.  Every person is a unique individual, but the online test is a generalized, computer-run test.  It takes your answers and computes them according to the list criteria , yes, but it’s still only an equation.  Mathematics cannot accurately define a human because of the wide range of personalities and intricacies found in each person.  Sometimes it takes another human that knows you well enough to help walk you through it and define you correctly.

Also, learning from just any book on the topic can be hard because many books are written by people who deal more in data than in practicality, (think of it as ‘clinical psychology’ vs ‘practical psychology’).


It can create misunderstandings
If you type an MBTI designation into Pinterest or Google, you’ll get thousands of results.  But not all of them are right.  (In fact, Pinterest is often the opposite of right.)  What you see are usually stereotypes (often incorrect ones) or simply wrong assumptions.

For example: INFPs are often far deeper intellectually than they are portrayed.  INTJs have a reputation for being hard at communication, but that’s not true either; they’re just wary of communicating with most people.

So view the results with a few grains of salt and remember that individual characteristics can’t be generalized and for each type, there is still a wide range of unique personalities.


It can lead to false representations
Leading off of the previous point, it’s easy to dislike some of the representations about your personality type and thus try to 'cross types' or represent yourself as a hybrid in an effort to escape type cliches and stereotypes.

Occasionally, there will be true MBTI hybrids, but it's pretty rare because of how specific the test is; most people usually fall into one type.

It’s better to step up and prove to people that even though you are a type typically known for flightiness (INFP for example) you are not solely defined by your type.  You are more than that.



It can enable a mindset of excusing
It’s easy, especially in the American culture of today, to use your type as an excuse for your behavior.  ‘well, I’m an INTJ and I’m smarter than 97% of the people I know, so it’s okay for me to be rude to them.’  No.  It’s not.  Hearkening back to being more than your type, no one has an excuse for being rude, inconsiderate, or downright willfully stupid.


You can utilize your personality designation without boxing yourself in.  Just remember this one little fact:

It’s only one part of the puzzle

Many factors besides personality type go into determining a one’s complete personality, including but not limited to: history, background, genetic heritage, gender, family, career, and whether they are left brain or right brain.


Knowing your type can be incredibly helpful for other people to understand you or for you to understand the world around you and how you react to it.  But it’s still only a part of the picture, even if it's a hugely significant part.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Worth Fighting For


Friendship is one of the greatest gifts on this earth.  Whether you're casual friends who only talk a couple times a year or see each other now and then at church or school functions, good friends who talk more frequently and hang out often, or best friends who talk to each other every single day- telling each other everything- and can't live without each other, there is a tangible magic in friendship.

But friendships are also hard.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something... or delusional.  Relationships require WORK.  Period.

‘There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for,’ says Samwise Gamgee, on the way to Mount Doom.  I’m not going to analyze their friendship today, that’s for another post.  But, just take a moment and think about his words and apply them to friendships specifically.

As humans in a fallen world, we’re messed up.  It’s a fact.  But, part of who we are as humans means we’re supposed to be interdependent on each other.  (Stars, isn’t THAT hard for some of us.)  God wants relationships with His people, sure, but He also created us to have relationships with each other.

There’s no crystal ball that we can look into as a child and know what people to befriend and whom to avoid.  It doesn’t work like that.  Relationships are growing things.  

It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your gender is, or your religious/political affiliation.  While all of these things can and do affect friendship, at its core, friendship is simply two people realizing that the road ahead is better or more fun when walked together instead of alone.  You might meet someone when you’re younger and you remain friends throughout your life.  Others come and go.  You might know someone for ten years and then find out that you’ve grown into such different people that you drift apart. 

When you become friends with someone, there is you, them, and your dynamic together- it's a three-part relationship, not two-part.  And sometimes, parts one and two outgrow part three.  It happens.  Sometimes they become incompatible for other reasons.  Fights and conflicts happen and sometimes friendships don’t survive those.

When you find those friends that truly ‘get you’ and you know you want to keep them for a long, long time, and you believe that it's possible to keep them for a long time- you two are that compatible- it’s not enough to just say ‘I like you, let’s be best friends forever’ or whatever kids these days say (hey, I grew up in the 90s).  You still have to work for it and at it. 

But those are the friendships that are worth fighting for- through conflict, and different outlooks on life, and disagreeing on other people and their place/s in the lives of one of you.  Times when one or both of you is so busy that you can’t talk much or hang out, times when you’re both so happy that you might not be paying attention to details much and unintentionally don't include the other person as much, meaning you need to be reminded that they are feeling left out.  Big things, little things, things that are a big deal to one but a little deal to the other, changing viewpoints, changing circumstances, and other friends that come and go for each of you. 

You’ll have days of sailing so smoothly that you feel like you’re flying.  You’ll have beautiful blue skies and clear water and a swift breeze to fill your sails.  But you’re also going to go through rough times.  You’re going to hit whitewater rapids and sandbars.  You’re going to feel like you’re sinking, to wonder if you’ll ever breathe air again.

The trick is to not let go when you hit those rough spots.  To fight for each other.  To dig your heels in and say, 'I don’t care HOW LONG this takes, I’m not leaving.  We’re darn well going to figure this out.'  No matter what life throws at you, you're stronger together than apart, and THAT'S what makes it worth fighting for.

And yes, sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re fighting for someone who doesn’t deserve it, who doesn’t really CARE because they don’t fight for you.  Sometimes you have to fight longer and harder because the other person really does have walls that need to come down but they need you to believe in them first, they’re too wounded and broken and have locked themselves away too well.  They need your help coming out.  But other times, people don’t really care.  They don’t fight for you because they are using you.  Or you don’t really matter all that much to them. 

It can be a fine line between the two.  Sometimes you get it wrong- you leave someone you should have stuck next to, or you stay with someone you should have left.

But we’re all human.  We all make mistakes.  We all mess up. 

Just try your best to make sure that your friendship is worth fighting for.  Then give it all you’ve got.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Unplug or Prioritize? How I Handle Technoise



Technoise is all around us.  From the three to seven types of social media that each average person has, to the fact that you can shop for almost anything on Amazon now, this is the Computer Age, and the Internet dominates our lives.  It is the century of the smartphone and tablet, when you can carry your entire social life and work/student life in your pocket.  Between Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, your friends and family can stay updated on every second of your life... almost literally.  Children of ten have smartphones and children of 6 have Kindles.  New technology comes out every year; just the other day I saw news that two separate companies are attempting to make Star Trek tricorders a reality.  *nerd cheering*

This has created a very different society from that of our parents and grandparents, and even from when some of us were younger.  (Those of you born in the late 80s - early 90s know what I'm talking about.)  With all of this technoise hovering in a cloud wherever we are, it can be a challenge to remain grounded and in tune with other people and with ourselves.  The Unplug Mentality says that the only way to return to a simpler lifestyle and reconnect with people and ourselves is to get away from it all by completely disconnecting from devices/the internet for a time.

I'd like to offer an alternative perspective.

You don't have to completely disconnect in order to take a break.  Often prioritizing will accomplish the same thing.  Set limits and then stick to them.  Make reasonable goals.  Reward yourself if you meet your goals and deprive yourself of something if you don't reach them because of procrastination.  Life happens and often schedules go awry because of circumstances out of our control.  But procrastination and distraction are things we can control.  If you were looking forward to reading a new book but spent 20 minutes surfing the web for no reason, then don't allow yourself to read the book until the next day, or take 20 minutes out of your usual reading time.

I'm an introvert.  I need my private time.  I need time away from everyone except for a tiny handful of people.  (Literally.  I can count them on the fingers of one hand.)  Yet much of my life right now uses my computer and/or the internet.  I've had to evolve coping methods and set limits to try to achieve a balance, because otherwise I'm worn out all the time and summoning energy when I need it is hard.

At times, I go several days without answering messages because I can only handle so much people time in one day and Facebook/gmail chatting with people drains me almost as much as face-to-face interaction.  (Exceptions: my best friends or if a message preview indicates that someone is having a rough day and needs me.)  I'm trying to stay off Facebook one day a week (usually Sunday), though I'll still use gmail chat if I need to communicate with a close friend.  Some nights I stay offline for an extra half an hour after supper and just read.  Some mornings I take an extra half hour or an hour to be around my family before logging online.  On Saturdays I don't usually go online until noon.  I've been working on logging off of Facebook between 9 and 9:30 every night and unless I'm expecting an important message, need to check on someone, or I'm highly energized after my shower, I don't go back on until the next morning.  I use that time to exercise, read, write, watch an episode of a TV show/drama, or plan schedules. 

I'm a high-focus person.  I can concentrate through almost anything, but like most people, the less distractions I have, the better I work.  If I'm working on a blog post for my writing blog, I won't answer messages from anyone except my best friends.  If I'm editing, critiquing, or writing, I often work in bursts of 20-30 minutes of focus and then 5-10 minutes of checking social media or reading blogs.  On the rare times when I have to absolutely focus on only one thing, I mute all my email and social media browser tabs and ignore my phone... but rarely for longer than one hour at a time.  People need breaks to keep them fresh.  (Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm extremely bad at taking breaks but I'm trying to learn.)

As regards my writing, I often set word limits, particularly during NaNo or an intense push on a project.  I won't log onto Facebook in the mornings until I have 1000 words written.  (This doesn't take as long as you might think, about 30-45 minutes when I'm in the groove).

One of my best friends has chosen to stay off Facebook all day on Sundays.  She'll still access Instagram, Tumblr, email, and sometimes Pinterest, but she stays off Facebook.  This gives her a break from people in general and allows her to relax.  During the week, the two of us often 'work together' where we'll go for half an hour just quietly working on our own projects with the occasional comment.  This allows us to spend time together and accomplish things at the same time.

Face-to-face (or chat-to-chat) interaction is important.  For some people it's less of a necessity than for others.  Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it's a good idea to set limits for yourself.  Sometimes, you do just need to take a whole day or two off.  I've done that before, too, though in general I prefer not to. 

I'm a long way from feeling truly balanced, but this is a strategy that has me on the right road.  I hope you found it helpful, and if you didn't, then I hope you do find something that works for you.

This is not a reflection on anyone or an attack on anyone else's perspective.  I understand that many people feel like their break has to be unplugging or going offline for a week or even a weekend at a time.  I'm merely presenting an alternative perspective.  (Not alternative facts, though, I'll leave that to Ms. Conway.)


Best wishes to you in discovering your balance of technoise and communication vs. peace and harmony!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tale of A Changeling Child


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Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was an adorable baby girl born to a human family in the United States of America. 

That same day, a girl child was born to a family in the land of The Ageless Ones.  Her father was a misbegotten djinn, kicked out of his society for exceeding his mandate and continually using his power to help humans.  Her mother was an outcast fairy, a bandit of the order of Robinhood.

The djinn and the fairy knew that if the Elder Council of the Ageless Ones learned of the child, they would be required to live within reach of the Elders and raise the child according to their dictates, to ensure she would grow up to be a law-abiding citizen.  Neither wished such a cloistered life for their child, instead longing for her to fully experience Earth in all its glory, growing her own earthly elemental powers.

So they did the only thing they felt they could.  The mother located the human child born the same hour and minute as hers, and taking her own daughter, flew to switch them, intending to leave the human child as a foundling on the steps of Starlak Cathedral.  It was not uncommon for the fairies, elves, gnomes, sylphs, and undines to raise abandoned human children.

A gnomi princess received an orphaned infant that night, but few were ever certain whether it was of human or Ageless lineage... and the princess and her husband refused to discuss its parentage with anyone.  If members of the Council knew, they had been enjoined by the Light they all served to keep the secret, and no word of it ever passed their lips.

The gnomi queen, the crown prince of the djinn, and the fairy king were instructed to keep an eye on the child in the human world.  Their influence was constant, but so subtle that it was untraceable.  Seamlessly they cooperated with her High Guardian to ensure that she stayed safe.

Whether human or Ageless, the child was loved deeply by the human family and grew to full adulthood in the sunny South of her land.  By the time she had reached her early 20s, she possessed many talents, including but not limited to:
~ a kind friendliness that reached out to male and female, young and old, alike, irregardless of the color of their skin or their profession or any other of the dividers many humans felt so necessary to take into account when speaking of their fellow humans
~ a phenomenal talent for art, honed through countless hours of excruciating practice 
~ an attractive, radiantly magnetic aura that made men crazy about her and girls trip over themselves to befriend her
~ a passionate adoration of the stars and moon
~ an author whose deep understanding of the world and people around her blended with a love of the Ageless, human, and Divine to spin fascinating tales that spoke not just to hearts, but to souls
~ a sensitivity that enabled her to be a comfort and a lifeline to numerous mortals
~ an intense love of solitude
~ a loyalty so deep the stars murmured in empathy
~ a light so intense that all who saw it were entranced by it

On this young woman's birthday in the year of the Light two thousand seventeen, the gnomi queen, djinn prince, and fairy king gathered to compare notes.  The girl's High Guardian stopped in for a few minutes to join them in a glass of exquisite wine.  All agreed that the child had grown into someone any parent, whether human or Ageless, could be justly proud of; a tempered vessel of the Eternal Light and one whose life had touched more than they could know, and would continue to touch more each year.

Her name.......


MIRRIAM



Chronicled this twenty-sixth day of April in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, by permission of the Light as granted to the narrator via the djinn prince.  

The narrator wishes to add the very happiest of birthday wishes to the woman who will forever be the Yang to her Yin.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MBTI: Five Ws and How



MBTI.  The abbreviation gets tossed around a lot, as do the sixteen personality designations resulting from it.  But what IS it, really?  Where did it come from and when? And WHY do people find it so fascinating?

Let's take a look at a few facts and see if we can answer those questions.


WHO

Contrary to some popular misconceptions, it was not two men but two women who developed it:
Katharine Cook Briggs (1875-1968) teacher, author
and her daughter
Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980) author, psychoanalyst

Honorary Mention: Carl Jung (1875-1961) psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, psychologist, author


WHAT

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test
A series of questions designed to sort a person into one of sixteen personality types.  Initially based on Carl Jung’s book Psychological Types, and then on extensive experience and practice by Isabel Briggs Myers.


WHEN

Longer ago than you think.  Katharine began her studies in 1917, but the test itself was based on extensive research and testing by Isabel, particularly between the years of 1944 and 1962.


WHERE



WHY

As one piece of a framework for better understanding people and relationships, as well as oneself and our strengths and weaknesses.  This in turn allows us to interact better with people, by learning how they're likely to react or behave.  It also teaches us how to capitalize on our strengths and cope with our weaknesses, learning when we need to push ourselves and when we need to give ourselves a break.


HOW

By answering a series of questions, reading the results, and sometimes retaking the test until you’ve confirmed your type is accurate.

An internet test cannot test and sort you the way a human can.  It’s a fact.  Which is why a person sometimes has to retake the test and choose other 'applicable answers’ for some of the questions until the result comes true.


Still have questions?  Ask away and if I can't answer them, I can hopefully direct you to someone/something that can.