Sunday, December 27, 2015

How My Domestic Side Turned Out To Be My Artistic Side

A Relaxing Afternoon

I had just cleaned my house, and it looked great.  I must have been getting ready to go somewhere, because I was wearing one of my favorite dresses.  If the house looked great, I looked fantastic.  It must have been winter, because I remember that there was a fire burning in the fireplace.  I had a few minutes of free time, so I grabbed a book and sat down on the sofa by the fire to read.  It should have been a wonderful experience.  The house looked good, I looked good, the fire was warm, and the book was interesting.  But it wasn't a wonderful experience.  It was nice, but not wonderful.  There was something missing.

An Elegant Dinner Party

This is something I've relaxed about somewhat in recent years, but when I was a new homeowner, this was my experience every time I had people over for dinner.  I'd clean the house and choose the menu.  I'd lay hors d'oeuvres out on the coffee table and brew a pot of coffee.  I'd purchase assorted teas and boil some water so my guests would have a variety of hot beverages to enjoy.  And then they'd come.  After having done all of the preparations I should have been delighted to see my guests arrive, but I wasn't.  Again, something was missing.

A Simple Pleasure

The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze.  It was warm, but not too warm.  I had just washed a load of laundry and was taking advantage of the perfect weather to hang it on the line to dry.  When you have to hang your clothes on the line because it is the only method of drying available to you, it can be quite a tedious chore, but if you choose to do it because it's a perfect day to be outside and you might as well get some chores done while your out there, then idyllic is the word that comes to mind.  I should have been deliriously happy, but I wasn't.  Something was missing.

A Little June Cleaver

I remember watching fifties television shows as a small child (in re-runs, of course) and being struck by the beauty of it all.  The houses were perfect, the clothes were perfect, the hair was perfect, and I naturally assumed that the world these people inhabited was perfect as well.  I wanted to grow up to be just like that.  I don't just mean that I wanted to be a housewife.  I also wanted to wear fifties clothes and hairstyles.  I wanted my house to look old-timey (which it does, by the way).  I wanted to know all of my neighbors and I wanted to have a bridge club.  I wanted to enter cake-baking contests and do all of the things that, according to the television, all women did back in the day.  I wanted to be June Cleaver.

A Pioneer Girl

I started reading the Little House books because I had seen Little House on the Prairie on television (also in re-runs).  The show was good, but the books were amazing.  I read them and reread them, and again I fell in love with the world that was depicted there.  I wanted to make my own clothes and my own cheese and my own bread.  I wanted to live a simpler life, doing without certain material things and working hard for the few things I did have.  I wanted to raise my children to appreciate what was important in life and to not care about having video games and all the latest toys.  I wanted to be Ma Ingalls.

A Little Lady

Two of my other favorite books from my childhood are The Secret Garden and Little Women.  Like the Little House books, these two books also show a picture of life in the 1800s, but instead of the simplicity of the pioneers, they show the elegance of the rich.  Of course, the family in Little Women is not very rich, but they are certainly better off than the Ingalls family.  I wanted to wear beautiful dresses and go to balls and be courted by handsome men.  I wanted an old house in the country with acres of gardens to explore.  I wanted fine china and tapestries hanging on the wall.  I wanted to be Mary Lennox.

A World That Doesn't Exist

I spent my early adulthood chasing the dream of living in my favorite books and TV shows.  I learned to cook and I learned to sew.  I rescued several old pieces of furniture from my grandmother's house because they had the look that I wanted for my home.  I dried my clothes on the line and hosted the occasional dinner party.  I should have been happy.  And I was.  But it wasn't perfect.  Something was missing.

A Shocking Realization

What is the difference between me and June Cleaver?  Or Laura Ingalls or Mary Lennox?  What do they have that makes their lives so perfect?  What is missing from my own attempts to be just like them?  An audience.  It sounds strange, I know, but that is the truth that I discovered about myself.  I would never be just like my favorite characters from books and television because they, by merit of being in books and on television, live their lives in front of an audience whereas I, being a real person, do not.  And an audience is what I desperately craved. 

When I relaxed with my book in front of the fire, I felt just like Jo March.  But when Jo March dons a beautiful dress and sits in her beautiful parlor to read, the world watches (or at least reads about it).  There was no one to watch me, so I was not just like Jo March.

When I invited my guests over for dinner, I had unrealistic expectations for how they would behave.  I envisioned them milling about the house, relaxing in the living room and sipping tea and coffee while they munched on cheese and crackers.  I would hide away in the kitchen until the meal was ready, at which point I would invite my guests into the dining room to eat.  But it never happened that way.  They all came to the kitchen and sat around the table, often never even seeing the goodies I had so carefully placed on the coffee table for them.  As I said above, I have relaxed in recent years.  I now expect my guests to hang out in the kitchen with me, and so if I lay out hors d'oeuvres I put them on the kitchen table so they will be eaten.  I have learned the difference between a casual dinner and a dinner party, and have accepted that the casual variety is what people want when they come to eat at my house.  But still.  I'm no June Cleaver.

When I hang my clothes on the line what always pops into my head is the opening scene from the movie First Blood.  Yeah, I know, it's an odd movie for a wannabe domestic goddess to try and emulate, but that first scene is so beautiful I couldn't help falling in love with it the first time I saw that movie.  Here's a link to it.  It doesn't show the whole thing, but if you watch to the end of the clip, you'll see the woman hanging her clothes out to dry in the background.  I have that ideal in my head every time I hang out my own clothes.  But of course I don't have that gorgeous lake view when I'm engaged in the task.  And--this is the important part--I don't have cameras filming me while I do it.

That's what I had to learn about myself the hard way.  I don't just want to do domestic things.  I want to be a part of a beautiful portrait of those domestic things being done, and I want to show that portrait to the world.  I do enjoy occasionally hanging my clothes on the line, if the weather's nice and I have time to do it, but in the back of my mind I'll always be regretting the fact there's no one around to take a picture of it.  I also enjoy sitting by the fire and reading a book, but if I'm going to go to all the trouble of making myself and my house look good, by golly there really should be someone there to see it.

The Real Domestic Me

There are some domestic chores I actually enjoy.  I love cooking, and it often doesn't matter if the world knows that I can cook.  I'm usually happy just to know that my husband and kids like what I make.  I prepare meals from scratch more often than not, and while I do occasionally have a desire for everyone to know that fact, for the most part I'm happy cooking in my own little kitchen tucked away from the world.  I sometimes enjoy sewing.  Or at least I feel proud of my accomplishment when I'm done, which is not exactly the same thing as enjoying the activity itself, but close enough.  And when I sew, of course, I do get to share it with the world when I, or my children, wear my latest creation in public.  But cleaning my house, decorating my house, or even just existing in my beautiful house does not by itself make me happy because there is no one there to watch. 

So here I am, in my thirties and still trying to figure out who the heck I am.  Have you had a similar experience?  Did you discover that the real you was not the person you thought you were?  Do you share my desire to live life in front of an adoring audience?  I would love to read about it in the comments.

Remember to follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my YouTube channel if you would like to be a part of that audience I've always wanted to have.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Finding My Voice

My Other Passion

I have written several posts about my love of writing and my love of dancing, but I have not said much about my love of music.  There are a few reasons for that.  One is that I just self-published my first book, and was in the middle of that whole process when I started this blog, so I naturally shared all of the things I was learning as I was going through that.  I also just began taking ballet lessons and shared a little about that experience as well.  Music sort of got lot in the shuffle of everything else that was going on.

The other reason I haven't written about music is because for a while I really didn't know where to start.  It's been a long, and often frustrating, journey, and there were so many stories that I was at a loss to pick one and write about it.  Maybe I will tell some of those stories in the future, but today I'm going to stick to what's happening in my musical life right now.

A Long Time Coming

Music has been a part of my life for a long time, and I have tried to pursue it as a career in multiple ways.  As I said above, it has often been frustrating.  I have encountered more dead ends than I care to mention.  Now that I am having a go at it from a different angle, I don't know what the future holds.  I only know that I'm giving it my all right now and hope that it will take me somewhere good.

Becoming an Indie Artist

About a year ago I started working on an album with my dad.  He's been on his own musical journey throughout his life, and though it has taken him on a different path than the one I chose to walk, we have ended up in the same place and are making an album together.  The album is almost finished and we plan to sell mp3s online.  In addition to the album I have also recently uploaded my first Youtube video.  It is a simple live recording of me singing, nothing fancy, but my hope is to continue posting videos, some of which will be much more sophisticated and artistic than this first one.  I had to start somewhere, right?

Classically Trained

I was a music major in college.  My emphasis wasn't on singing, but I still had to study it as a part of a well-rounded program.  I took voice class and sang in the concert choir.  All of this taught me a very specific style of singing and very specific rules for pronunciation.  I am grateful for the lessons I learned because classical vocal training gave me a certain amount of control over my voice that I didn't have before.  What it didn't teach me was how to sing with the level of emotion that the average listener wants to hear.  That's what I am learning now.

Coming Out of My Shell

My album has nine songs.  I obviously remember which ones were recorded early in the process and which ones were recorded more recently, but listening to them I have come to the conclusion that even if I didn't remember this I could guess it from my singing style.  When we recorded our very first song, my singing was fairly bland.  I was on pitch and my voice was strong, but there's just a little something missing.  Feeling.  Don't get me wrong, I was feeling the song quite strongly while I sang it, but I had not yet learned to manipulate my voice in a way that could communicate that fact to a listening audience. 

The second song was a little better than the first.  I intentionally did some stylistic things with it that gave my singing a certain oomph that the first song did not have.  But while I was singing it I still felt awkward and shy.  It was weird being cooped up in my dad's tiny studio and singing as though I had this huge audience watching me.  You know that feeling when someone walks in on you as you are singing by yourself in your house and then you get all embarrassed?  That's a pretty accurate description of my state of mind while recording that song.

The third song is where it all started to change.  Actually, I can hear the moment the change happened when I listen to it.  The first verse is all rhythm and pitch with no real emotion, and then suddenly in the second verse it begins to sound different.  It sounds like I'm having fun.  I finally learned to let my hair down and enjoy myself, and to let that enjoyment come through in my voice.  Every song after that has a quality about it that was lacking in the first two, because in every subsequent song I gave myself permission to have fun and not worry about my dad sitting there in the corner listening.  It's amazing the difference that change of attitude made.

Just Another Step On the Journey

It has at times been painful, but I am thankful for every musical experience I have had.  Though I have shed the classical style for a more natural one, I'm still glad to have that on my resume.  I use it when I sing in my church choir, and I also recognize the invaluable lessons I learned about warming up properly and protecting my voice.  Classical singing may not be what everyone wants to hear, but it's a good skill for all singers to learn.  I am, however, also glad that I have now learned to move beyond the strict parameters set by my college education and to explore other forms of music.

If you have been on your own musical journey, I would love to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to leave me a comment.

You can follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my Youtube channel for updates on this blog, my album, and all of my other projects.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fictional Characters Really Do Write Their Own Stories

A Surprising Revelation

If you have never tried to write a book, then the title of this post probably makes no sense to you.  It's not something you really understand until you've been through the process.  If you have written short stories in the past, you may have experienced a little of this, but the flow of a short story is often easier for an author to control than that of a full-length novel.  So if you've never written a book, you're probably looking at my title and thinking, "That doesn't make sense.  Doesn't the author choose what happens in the story?"  If you have written your own book, then you are nodding and thinking to yourself, "This is true.  This is absolutely true."  If you have written many books, then you probably saw my title and thought, "Well, of course."

Why Does It Happen?

I cannot comment on anyone else's writing process.  I only know why this happens when I'm writing.  For me it usually stems from the necessity of filling in the details of a scene.  The main character can't merely show up at her friend's house in one paragraph and immediately start in on a deep philosophical discussion in the next.  There has to be some sort of transition.  A bit of small talk, an observation of the surroundings, a physical description of the characters...something.  It is in those inconsequential moments that my characters start taking over the story.  Here are a couple of examples.

Meet Will Hathaway

My book Amelia's Children centers on Sarah Hathaway and David Jenson who meet and then team up to investigate a local unsolved murder.  Will is Sarah's brother.  In the beginning he existed for one specific reason.  In the story, David is new in town and Sarah has just returned after a three year absence.  I knew that they would not have had the connections that would have put them in touch with the people they would eventually need to help them solve the mystery.  That's where Will comes in.  Sarah is connected to him, and he is connected to pretty much everyone else in town.  In the beginning I saw him as a very minor character, but he ended up having a much bigger part in the story than I anticipated.  Here's how it happened.

I introduced his character at a family dinner at Sarah's parents' house.  Aside from introducing Will, the main thing I wanted to do with this scene was show Sarah's strained relationship with her mom, so I contrasted Will, the perfect child, with Sarah, the wayward child.  To do that I needed dialogue.  But that dialogue took the story in a new direction, at least for Will.  He shows up at the house with a peach cobbler, the only purpose of which was to give Sarah a reason to comment on the fact that her parents do not drink therefore a bottle of wine would not be an appropriate contribution to the meal.  So Will brings a cobbler instead.  But where does the cobbler come from?  Oh...why not from a coworker.  Oh...and maybe the coworker is an attractive woman.  Oh...and maybe the mom will hint that Will should ask her on a date.  And suddenly...boom!  Will has this whole backstory that I didn't know about before I wrote that scene.  And of course that backstory becomes the motivation for many of the things he will do later in the book.  Things I would never have thought of if it hadn't been for his mom's reaction to a peach cobbler.

Meet Ashley Preston

Okay, you really can't meet Ashley yet because I'm still writing her story, but I'll give you a glimpse of her.  She is a primary character in my current work in progress, the title of which I haven't definitively chosen.  I'm considering Primogénito, but am unsure if a Spanish title for an English book would be too confusing.  Feel free to offer advice in the comments if you'd like.  Anyway, back to my main topic.

Primogénito (if I decide to call it that) is about four people with a shared memory of one particular traumatic event.  Damian is the one who experienced the worst of it, but five years later he has managed to put his life back together and is living happily with is wife, Jenn, who is also one of the primary characters.  Things are fine for Damian and Jenn until Ashley shows up at their house announcing a new crisis and begging for Damian's help.

I originally imagined Ashley to be a confident, highly intelligent professional woman.  She knows what Damian went through and is hesitant to bring him back into all of that.  However, he is the only one who can help her, so she shows up at his house to make her request.

I was just a few paragraphs into the second chapter when Ashley's character started to change for me.  When she sees Damian for the first time it brings back all of her darkest memories.  At first I was just planning for her to be worried about Damian and glad to see that he was okay, but I needed to describe those feelings.  So I started describing them and suddenly I had this new Ashley whose life has become a living hell and seeing Damian whole and strong is the only hope she has to cling to.  When he smiles at her it takes her back to the way life was before everything went wrong, and she throws herself into his arms in an attempt to hold onto that feeling. 

I learned a lot about Ashley in that scene.  I learned that she and Damian had a romantic relationship in the past.  Damian has moved on, but Ashley has lingering feelings for him.  I also learned that while Damian was more physically damaged by what they all went through, Ashley is the one who is still emotionally broken.  She is desperately hoping Damian will swoop in and put together the pieces of her shattered life.

Do You Have to Listen to Your Characters?

Well, of course in your writing you get to make the rules.  You technically can do whatever the heck you want with your characters.  But is that a good idea?  What if I adamantly refused to write this new weaker Ashley who suddenly appeared in chapter two?  What if I was so dead set on her being the most confident of the four main characters that I ignored everything she thinks as she watches Damian walk toward her that first time.  What if I forced her character to stay within the parameters I initially set?  I could do that, sure, but I would be fighting her the whole way.  In every scene that is told from her point of view there would be a temptation to show her weaknesses.  I would have to force myself to show her strengths, and she would end up being a not very believable character.  So I'm listening to Ashley and am writing her story they way she wants it written.  I do worry that she is becoming less likable than my original concept of her, but there are three other characters, so if readers can't identify with Ashley, they can identify with someone else.

I am curious to hear your thoughts about this.  If you have stories about characters who hijacked your writing and made it their own, I would love for you to leave a comment.

Don't forget that you can follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog and to find out what my characters will be up to next.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Inevitability of Regret

A Personal Battle

I have this problem that keeps resurfacing from time to time.  This feeling of disappointment with some of the ways my life has turned out.  In general I have a very good life, but from time to time I find myself wondering, "what if..?"  There are very specific events that can trigger that feeling in me, and one happened just this week.  It's nothing earth-shattering.  It's really quite trivial, but my reaction, as usual, has been strong.  I will explain what it is in a moment, but first I want to talk a little about regret.

A Natural Consequence of Life

Regret is a part of life.  No one makes the right decision every time, and often even when we do make the right decision we are still likely to harbor some regret.  This is because most decisions involve choosing to do one thing while choosing not to do another.  Sometimes that other thing we choose not to do is easy for us to let go, and sometimes it's not.  And sometimes we let it go because we think we don't want it, only to find out a few years down the road that we really did.  Or at least a part of us wanted it.  And there are the times when we want both things, but can only have one.

Every decision, no matter how trivial, falls into one of these categories, and we start choosing very early in our lives.  Soccer instead of dance.  Piano instead of violin.  Technical college instead of art school.  Honeymoon in Hawaii instead of Paris.   The list goes on and on.

Not every life experience is a cross roads.  Sometimes we don't have to choose.  But a lot of times we do, and when we do we open the door to the possibility of regret. 

A Particular Brand of Regret

We've all heard of the Women's Lib movement, the Mommy Wars, and the desire to "have it all."  What is meant by "all", of course, is career and family.  Regret plays a big part in all of this.  Traditional wisdom said that family is everything.  In the past, people married young and threw everything they had into raising their children.  Even the men.  It was once considered very respectable for a young man to finish high school and immediately go out and get a job so that he could support a wife and, eventually, children.  Career dreams existed of course, but they were not granted the kind of importance placed upon them by our society today.

Today, career is everything.  We still encourage out children to work hard, but the goal has changed.  We don't want our children to go out and get any old job just to pay the bills.  We want them to dream big and work toward accomplishing that dream.  We want to see them in jobs that they find enjoyable and fulfilling, and not merely stable.  We still want to see them happily married and raising families, but the timeline has changed.  Marriage is viewed as something that should be entered into by people who are older and more mature.  If an eighteen year old girl comes home today and says, "I'm getting married," her parents are probably going to try and talk her out of it.  They'll tell her not to throw her life away, that there are so many things she needs to experience before she's tied down with a family.  Not all parents will react that way, but many will.  In the 1930s, however, marrying at that age would have been viewed as a very normal, and a very good, thing.

No Right Answer

I was old-fashioned.  Even before I met my husband I wanted to marry young.  I met him when I was sixteen, and within a year I was certain that he was the one.  We didn't get married until I was twenty because...well...we had to wait for him to finish college.  So I guess what we did was kind of a fusion of the traditional and the modern.  We were in a hurry to get married and start our lives together, but we also wanted college and career.  If he had taken a job right after high school we could have married as soon as I turned eighteen, but we didn't.  And I'm glad we didn't.  I'm glad we both have our college years to look back on, and to build careers on.

Though I married young and never looked back, I do understand why so many people say it's better to wait.  I have seen couples that married before they were really ready, or who married without taking time to figure out if they were with the right person, and I have seen it end badly.  If waiting can prevent that, then waiting can be a good thing.  But if two people know they are right for each other, I will never judge their decision to be together.  After all, I it's what I did.

Looking Back On What Could Have Been

My reason for writing this post is to illustrate that no matter what we choose, there's going to be regret.  I live in a small town where a lot of people still marry at the age that I did.  When I venture out of my neighborhood, though, I often get strange looks from people when I tell them I've been married for sixteen years.  I often wonder what they're thinking when they look at me that way.  I wonder if they're thinking about all of the things I "missed out on"  because I never enjoyed the single life.

The truth is I don't care about the single life.  I'm glad I wasn't still in the dating world in my twenties.  To me, that's a whole lot of stress that I didn't have to deal with.  Other people may feel differently, and that's okay, but it's something I don't regret in the slightest.  I do think about career sometimes, though.  I wonder where my professional life would be today if I had made different choices early on.  But the reality is that early marriage did not rob me of those things.  The things I look at today and think I may have wanted back then were things I wasn't thinking about back then.  It's impossible to choose something if you don't know you want it.

Thinking about dance is particularly troublesome in this regard.  I'm thirty-six years old and I've just started taking ballet.  My time of dreaming about being a professional dancer is gone.  It can be a bit depressing when you realize you're getting started with something at the age when many people retire from it.  I'm determined to learn as much as I possibly can, and to milk every ounce of enjoyment out of it that I possibly can, but still I have days when I look at my life as a dancer and wonder, "what if..?"

Other Artistic Pursuits

The first time I got all depressed about the direction my career was taking was when I was still in college.  It was my junior year.  I was majoring in Music Education, and then one day I suddenly realized I wanted to be an actress.  Um...well...yeah...there was some regret there.  I had chosen a music degree over a theatre degree.  Determined not to let it get me down, I started auditioning for plays.  I was in two productions that year, then I went to three auditions in a row and did not get a part, and my fear of rejection started to get the better of me.  I stopped auditioning.  I didn't think about it again until seven years later.  This time the catalyst was a job loss which plunged me into an intense identity crisis.  Desperate for a new creative outlet, I started auditioning again.  This time things went really well for me.  I was in several plays in a row, and even had the lead role in a couple of them.  But then life moved on again and theatre moved to the back burner.

This love of acting is something that keeps coming back again and again, and every time it does I get depressed.  It's interesting to see the kinds of things that trigger it.  For example, my husband thinks it's odd that I never want to watch behind the scenes featurettes or gag reels from our favorite movies and TV shows, but I just can't.  As long as I'm looking at the screen and seeing fictional characters, I can enjoy what I'm watching, but the moment I let my self glimpse the actors behind the characters, I start to get all worked up.  Those actors become real people to me all of a sudden, when they weren't real to me before, and I find myself thinking about their lives and their careers and the decisions they made that got them there.  I start envisioning myself living that same lifestyle and I have to deal with the fact that I made other choices.  I know it's never too late to try, but my life is full of so many other things--things that I did choose--that there's not really room for a serious pursuit of a brand new career.  Yeah, there's some regret that I did not become an actress, but there would also be a whole lot of regret if I left everything that I have now and chased that dream.

The Inspiration for a Book

I'm very happy to be seriously pursuing writing now.  It's empowering because I can sit down and do it anytime I want to.  I also know that it truly never is too late to become a writer.  It's not like dance where I'm always reminded that my body won't do certain things because it wasn't trained to do them when I was a child.  It's not like acting where age has to be matched to the character and many of the good roles are for twenty-somethings.  I can write until I'm eighty and no one will know the difference.

My actress angst played a big part in my debut book, Amelia's Children.  I threw all of that frustration into Sarah's character, and that is why the book begins with her returning home after a failed acting career.  But my writing is inspired by more than just my own life.

I recently tweeted the question, "Can I refer to the male actor who is inspiring my main character as my muse?"  I know that the word "muse" is supposed to refer to a woman, and that the male counterpart is called an Agent of Fortune.  But when I'm watching a favorite movie or television show in the hope that it will put me in the mood to write, it sounds much nicer to say, "I'm spending some time with my muse."  "Agent of Fortune" just doesn't have the same ring to it. 

I have based the physical description of the main character in my current work in progress on one specific actor.  Who is he?  I'm not going to tell you because, first of all, it's embarrassing, and second, I want you to read the book when I'm finished and you'll enjoy it much more if you can imagine him looking the way you want him to look.  But in my mind he looks exactly like this particular actor.

In order to get inspiration for his character, I've searched for this actor on Youtube and watched a few clips here and there.  I thought I would be okay doing this because I've been careful not to watch any interviews or gag reels or anything else about the actor himself.  I've only allowed myself to see him in character, in an effort to avoid sending myself down that dark path that I know is looming before me.  However, the other day I stumbled upon a very old clip.  He must have been in his early teens when it was filmed, and there I went down the rabbit hole of professional regret.  My mind was immediately flooded with thoughts of an imaginary life in which I had landed a role on television at such an early age.  When I realized what was happening, I instantly turned off the computer and walked away, but it was too late.  The seeds were already sown.

The Utter Futility of it All

In reminding myself that every choice carries the danger of regret, I am teaching myself to be content with my life as it is now.  I am teaching myself to be happy with the choices I made when I was younger, even if occasionally I look back and wonder if I could have done anything differently.  The truth is I was not ready for the spotlight when I was teenager.  I was ready for marriage and family.  That may seem backwards to some people, but it's the truth.  A career as an actor or a dancer or a singer or any number of other things I sometimes wish I could have been requires a lot of self confidence.  These are things I didn't have much of back then.  I could carry a tune, but would not have had the stage presence that is required of the average pop star.  I could memorize lines, but would not have been able to come completely out of myself when stepping into a character.  So for me, it was marriage and kids first.  Those were the challenges I was ready to tackle at the time.  And really, thirty-six is not that old.  There's still plenty of time to try all those other things now that I am older and more sure of myself. 

This has been a very personal post, an I know I've touched on a couple of subjects that have been hotly debated over the years.  I hope that in conveying the choices that I have made I did not imply any judgment against people who did it differently.  There is no cookie-cutter lifestyle that fits everyone, and I chose what was right for me at the time.  Everyone else has figure it out for themselves.

Thank you for reading my lengthy and somewhat rambling rant.  Remember to follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog and other tidbits about where I'm going next in my professional life.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

I'd Rather Be Dancing

Head Over Heels In Love With Dance

I wrote in a previous post about my dance journey--coming late to the party and not realizing just how much I needed dance in my life until I was well into my twenties.  I'm now thirty-six and I am still learning.  The passion for the art, however, has not diminished in any way.  The only thing that ever makes me feel reluctant to go to a dance lesson is the fact that I live in a small town, so I have to drive for forty-five minutes to get to the nearest place that teaches adult classes.  That drive occasionally threatens to make me lose my resolve, but it never fully succeeds.  I always end up going to class.

Dance classes are not always fun.  There are dance steps that are so awkward you find yourself hoping you'll never be asked to do them again.  That's how I feel about the Flora in my highland dance lessons.  There are warm-ups that are so taxing for the legs that you wonder if you will make it through the rest of the class.  This pretty much describes the entire first thirty minutes of my ballet class.  But then you do a step that you find not just easy, but also fun, and you realize...yeah, this is why I keep coming to class.

When I have those fun moments in class I experience a high that I never want to come down from.  But I do come down.  We all have to come down from our highs eventually.  Usually by the time I've completed the forty-five minute drive back to my house I'm already feeling depressed that I'm not in dance class anymore.  Then I go to bed, but I can't fall asleep right away because I'm just lying there thinking about how much I'd rather be dancing.

A Coffee Snob

Alright, I know what that heading made you think: Coffee?  I thought we were talking about dance.  Yeah, we are, but bear with me for a moment.  A love of coffee is another thing I did not discover until well into my twenties, but now I'm completely addicted.  Not to the caffeine.  I'm just as happy drinking decaf as I am regular coffee.  What I love is the taste and the feeling of the warm cup in my hands.  But like most coffee lovers, I'm picky about the taste.

When my husband and I first started drinking coffee all we had to make it in was my grandmother's old aluminum stove-top percolator, and we used it happily.  After a few years someone gave us a drip coffee maker as a gift.  Being used to percolated coffee, it took awhile to get used to the taste of coffee made in the drip machine.  I still like percolated coffee better, and this preference got me thinking about all the different brewing methods that are out there.  I love cappuccino, which is made from espresso, so at some point I bought a little cheap stove-top espresso maker.  I don't use it very often, but I'm actually drinking coffee that I brewed in it right now as I write this post.  Something I've always wanted to try is a French press because in many of the coffee blogs I have read it is listed as the best way, or at least one of the best ways, to make coffee.  I've never tasted coffee made in a French press and am curious to know if it lives up to the hype. 

Choosing Dance Over Coffee

Okay, here we go, back to talking about dance.  Because dance lessons cost money, I've come to filter all potential impulse buys with the question, would I rather buy that, or take a dance lesson.  This happened just yesterday.  I was shopping and happened to see a French press coffee maker sitting on a shelf.  I picked up the box and held it in my hands for a few minutes, marveling at the fact that I could buy it and make a pot of the world's best coffee that very afternoon.  I looked at the price.  Eighteen dollars.  Hmm...not too expensive.  Should I buy it?  I hovered over it for a while, trying to make a decision, and then thought to myself, that amount of money could pay for one dance class.  Do I want good coffee, or do I want to dance?  In that moment I decided that I wanted to dance, so I put the coffee maker back on the shelf, and that is why I'm having espresso this morning instead.

Have I just experienced what it really means to be a dancer--giving up certain coveted material possessions so I can spend the money on lessons instead?  I've already told my husband that all I want for Christmas this year is extra dance lessons.  Of course, a new dance bag might also be nice because the one I have looks like it should belong to a five-year-old (to be fair, I bought the dance bag for my daughter when she took her first dance lesson at age five).  But again I find myself asking, do I want a dance bag, or more lessons?  If asked to choose, I'll have to say more lessons.  After all, what's the point of looking good when I walk into the studio if I look like crap when I actually get out on the dance floor?

If you share my love of dance, or my love of coffee, I would love to hear about it.  Please feel free to leave a comment.

Also remember that you can follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog and all my other passions and hobbies.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Introverts and Social Media: Friend or Enabler?

My Introvert Journey

I wrote in a previous post about the challenges of being an introvert with an artistic side.  The push and pull of those two parts of me have troubled me my entire life.  The introvert wants to hide away while the artist always wants to be center stage.  What usually happens is that I make some accomplishment of which I am immensely proud, like writing a book or learning a new style of dance, and I want the world to know about it, but when I venture out of my house and find myself among people to whom I might announce my great news, I am terrified to do so.  Then I return home feeling dejected because there is this whole part of me that no one will ever know about.

It is interesting that I am not self-conscious about my abilities.  I studied music in college and did so many recitals that playing an instrument on stage does not frighten me in any way.  Throughout my twenties and early thirties I did a considerable amount of community theatre, and never felt nervous performing.  Now I take dance lessons and crave those moments when I can dance in front of an audience.  But I don't dare go up to people I know and invite them to come and watch me, even though I want to.  It would be too embarrassing.

A quick anecdote on this subject: this humiliation I feel when I toot my own horn sometimes also extends to the more domestic side of my life.  I remember when I became pregnant, both times, I dreaded the moment when I would have to tell someone about it.  What I ended up doing was telling my mom, and then I let her tell everyone else so I wouldn't have to.  And even when I told her, I didn't use the word "pregnant", I simply showed her my ultrasound picture and let that speak for itself.

Enter Social Media

I have two different personalities on social media.  I have my twitter account where I mostly follow, and am followed by, strangers.  I use that account for networking with fellow writers, sharing my blog, and promoting my book.  Then I have my Facebook account where I am only friends with people I have actually met in the real world.  On that page I share more personal things, like my kids' Halloween costumes or what I think about a new restaurant that has just opened.  And occasionally I also use Facebook for a little bit of self-promotion.  I announced my most recent dance performance there as well as the publication of my book.  I have to admit, doing that terrified me.  I hesitated with my mouse poised over the share button for I don't know how long before I finally worked up the nerve to post the information.  Once I did, despite the fact that the reaction of my Facebook friends was very positive, I still felt terrified the first time I stepped out into the real world and saw some of those people face to face.  The fact is, I know how to write about my life, but talking about it to a flesh and blood person is surprisingly difficult.

Has Social Media Helped Me?

It has definitely become easier to share news about my life with others now that I am on Twitter and Facebook, and I no longer spend hours moping around my house because no one will ever know the real me.  If I need the world to know badly enough, I will post it on social media.  But is this good?  Is it helping me get out into the world and let my voice be heard, or is it simply a crutch?  Do I use it as an excuse to avoid actually interacting with real people?

The way to overcome fear is to face that fear.  Take my four years of playing the flute (and three years of piano) in college.  I said above that I never get stage fright, but the fact is I used to.  In high school I did experience the racing heart and the sweaty palms and the churning stomach that causes many people to run from the spotlight at lightning speed.  But when you do three or four recitals a year for four years, you eventually get used to it.  You start to experience the positive aspects of being nervous, like heightened awareness, but shed the more crippling aspects like hands that shake so much you can barely play your instrument.  It's only through repeated experience that it starts to get easier.

So I conquered my stage fright, but what about my social anxiety?  By the above logic, I must conclude that the only way to overcome being afraid to brag about myself to others is to get out there and start doing it.  So I have to wonder, am I just hiding behind my social media profiles?

I don't know the answer to that question.  On the one hand, yes, I have noticed that I use social media as an excuse to avoid talking about certain subjects when I see people face to face.  But another way to look at this is that it is the first in a number of baby steps that will be necessary to helping me shed my fears.  The fact that I feel nervous when I share things on Facebook is evidence that I am facing that fear, even while hiding behind my computer.  And every time I hit "share" and get a positive response from my friends, I will feel a little less afraid to share in the future.

Caution is needed.  The thing about baby steps is that you have to take a lot of them if you want to go anywhere.  Once I overcome my fear of announcing things on social media, I need to move on the next phase.  I won't want to, so I'll have to make myself do it.  The big question is: Will I?

Remember to follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog and other projects of mine, and don't forget to take a peek at Amelia's Children on Amazon.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Strange Thing That Happened When I Ran My First KDP Select Countdown Promotion

The New World of Indie Publishing

EBooks have changed the way we think of publishing.  Much of the stigma that used to be associated with self-publishing a book has been removed, and people are coming out in droves to put their books on the market.  Where self-publishing used to mean paying heavy fees for printed copies of your books and then putting in hours of work trying to get bookstores to carry them, you can now get your work onto Amazon in just a few minutes.  Okay, that may be a bit of a simplification, and you can read about my experience with at least part of the process here, but my point is that it is a lot easier, and cheaper, than it used to be, and lots of people are taking advantage of that.

KDP Select

For those of you who haven't entered the world of eBook publishing yet, KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing.  It's one of the things that has made it so easy for authors to put their books on the market.  You just upload your manuscript and a book cover and boom...within a few hours your book is available for customers to purchase in the Kindle Store.  Just inserting some of my own opinion here--I said above that this has removed some of the stigma of self-publishing.  This is because there are actually some really good books out there by indie authors.  That, of course, does not mean that all of the indie published books are of good quality.  If you are picky about where you spend your money, read the free sample before purchasing a self-published book.

KDP Select is an optional program for authors publishing on Amazon.  If you opt in, you get a lot of benefits in exchange for your promise to not publish your book on any other site during the time in which you are enrolled.  KDP Select enrollment lasts for 90 days, after which you have the choice of renewing or opting out.  There is a lot of debate out there regarding whether KDP Select is a good idea or not.  I don't really have enough experience with it to answer that question here.  My decision was to do Select for the first 90 days and then opt out.

Countdown Promotions

This is just one of the benefits you get if you enroll in KDP Select.  The way it works is this: you have a book listed at a certain price.  It must be available on Amazon at that price for at least a month before you begin a countdown promotion.  When you are ready, you go in and select a sale price for you book, which must be at least $0.99.  Then you select the duration of your sale, which can't exceed one week.  If you'd like you can have your book price increase incrementally during your promotion, or you can keep the same price the entire time.  Theoretically you will see an increase in sales during your promotion.

The Weird Thing About My Promotion

My book was on Amazon for exactly one month before I put it on sale.  All purchases prior to the promotion had been from the US.  This did not surprise me.  I live in the US, my book takes place in the US, and most of the people who saw my advertisements were living in the US.  I did not sell a single copy in any of the international markets during the entire first month that my book was on Amazon.  I was expecting to see a similar trend when I ran my promotion.  Naturally I was hoping to sell more copies, but I wasn't expecting to suddenly get noticed  in other countries just because my book was on sale.  I was therefore surprised by what happened.

All of the purchases that occurred during my promotion were from the UK.  Every single one.  A couple of people downloaded free copies (another thing you can do with KDP Select) from the US site, but no one actually bought the book.  However, the UK sales for that one week totaled more than the entire preceding month.  I even made it onto the top 100 lists for a couple of sub-genres, and I got to something like number 6,000 overall in the Kindle Store.  But only on Amazon's UK site.  In the US my sales ranking hovered somewhere in the 100,000s.  It even plunged lower than that a couple of times.

So what happened?  Honestly I have no idea.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad enough people bought my book to boost my ranking.  I just wish it could have been boosted in my own country as well.  But, really,  more than anything I'm confused about why it worked out that way.  As far as other trends that supposedly accompany a countdown promotion (I've heard rumors that the increased sales continue even after the book is no longer on sale), it's too early for me to know.  If anything surprising happens in that department, I may blog about it.

Are you an indie author who has seen surprising trends in your book sales?  Do you have any theories to offer about my own odd experience?  If so, please feel free to leave a comment.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter for the latest information about my blog, my book, and my other projects.  And please check out Amelia's Children on Amazon, especially if you happen to live in the US.  Why let the Brits have all the fun? (just kidding!)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Parallels between The X Files and Supernatural

Stating the Obvious

Alright, let me first say that some of the similarities between the two shows had to have been intentional.  By the time I finished watching the first episode of Supernatural I was thinking to myself, "This is The X Files, only with ghosts instead of aliens."  It could not have been an accident that I was thinking that.  However, I've decided to have a little fun and find parallels between the two that may not have been intentional, but they are there nonetheless.

Sam and Dean are Mulder and Scully

Nothing like starting with the obvious.  This one has even been joked about on Supernatural.  Like Mulder and Scully, Sam and Dean travel around the country investigating the paranormal.  Of course the question of which one is Mulder and which one is Scully remains unanswered.
Mary Winchester is Samantha Mulder

Agent Mulder's sister disappeared when he was twelve years old.  He is convinced that she was taken by aliens, and that the government is somehow involved, and this belief drives his quest to find the truth.  Mary Winchester was killed when Sam and Dean were children.  The entire first season of Supernatural centers on their search for the mysterious entity responsible for her death.
John Winchester is A.D. Skinner

Okay, I may be reaching a little with this one, but stay with me.  John Winchester is Sam and Dean's father.  Skinner is Mulder and Scully's boss.  In the first season of the show, John is constantly giving Sam and Dean instructions for cases he wants them to investigate.  As Mulder and Scully's boss, Skinner is the one who sends them out on assignments.  A good bit of the drama in the first season of Supernatural stems from Sam and Dean's relationship with their father.  Dean has nothing but respect, but Sam is full of anger.  Mulder and Scully constantly alternate between having respect for Skinner and questioning his every move.
Castiel is Deep Throat/Mr. X

This probably applies more to Castiel when he first came on the show than it does to his character now.  Like Deep Throat and Mr. X on The X Files, Castiel, in the beginning, was a mysterious character who worked for the men in charge, but who had a soft spot for Sam and Dean and tried to help them as much as possible.  I don't think I need to say anything else about it.

Crowley is the Cigarette Smoking Man

He's the villain.  Need I say more?

Bobby is the Lone Gunman

Okay, really reaching on this one, but there are similarities here.  Like the Lone Gunman were to Mulder and Scully, Bobby is someone whom Sam and Dean trust.  He has access to information that often turns out to be the key to solving the mystery, and he is also a good friend.

What do you think?  Do you agree with my assessment of these two shows?  Have you spotted parallels that I've missed?  I'd love to read about it in the comments.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog and all of my other projects.  Also, please check out my paranormal mystery, Amelia's Children, on

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Will the Perfect Television Show Ever Exist?

What is Perfect?

The truth is there is no such thing as the "perfect television show".  Why?  Because everyone has a different definition of "perfect".  Here's an example.  A few years ago I discovered the show The Incredible HulkI remember this series existing when I was a child in the 80s, but I always thought it looked stupid and never watched it.  Then I saw a rerun of it one day and realized I had really missed a good program.  It had a number of my requirements for the "perfect show" (which I will describe later in the post) and I was hooked right away.  But my requirements for perfection are not the same as someone else's requirements.  In fact, what I liked about The Incredible Hulk actually turned some people off.  I know this because of a conversation I had with a friend one day.

It was one of those conversations where you're just sitting and relaxing and talking about everything and nothing, and I happened to mention that I had discovered The Incredible Hulk and was amazed that I had never given it a chance before because it was so good.  I mentioned that the thing that drew me to it was the main character's vulnerability, at which point my friend said, "Oh I hated that about that show.  All he does in every episode is whine."  Well, there you have it.  The reason the perfect show will never exist.  If it has everything necessary to make me absolutely love it, someone else will hate it for those very same reasons.  So what are my criteria?

The Right Actor

When it comes to who we find attractive, we all have a type right?  I certainly do.  I go for the tall, dark, and handsome ones.  The lead actor in my perfect TV show would have to fit that description.  He would need to look like...hmm...Eduardo Noriega would be a good example of my "type".


Mmm...Eduardo Noriega...Oh...What was I saying?  Oh yeah, leading actor.  Well he doesn't have to be my type, physically, for me to like his character, but we're talking perfect here, right?  So he would have to look perfect.  My definition of perfect. 

A Bit of a Creep Factor

I like creepy stories.  I don't know why.  I just do, and I always have.  I remember when Lost first aired, my husband wanted to watch it, but I was uninterested.  I thought it was just going to be about a group of people trying to survive a plane crash.  I imagined it being a show that focused on the politics of survival in a hostile environment, with arguments about food and shelter and where to go and how to get rescued.  Those things definitely are a part of the story of Lost, but of course there is so much more to the series than that.  It was the episode "Numbers" that made me realize that the show was about a good bit more than just survival.  The creepy atmosphere of that episode hooked me, and afterward I tuned in faithfully every week.  My perfect show would have to be a little bit creepy and mysterious. 

The Main Character

I've already described his appearance, but what's his story?  Who is he, and what's going to make me like him?  Well, I've already mentioned it.  Vulnerability.  He must have a vulnerable side.  Not that I want him to be a wimp.  I mean, he should be able to kick some butt every now and then, but there has to be some weakness there.  In fact, I have a pretty specific idea of exactly how vulnerable he is and why.

I know I am not alone in wanting a vulnerable main character, because these characters are constantly making appearances on television.  The Incredible Hulk, of course, is an example.  Fox Mulder on The X Files is another strong male lead who happens to have a vulnerable side.  But I seldom see a character with my idea of the perfect level of vulnerability.  So what is that perfect level?

All About Him

I've written in a previous post that my favorite seasons of Supernatural are the first two.  This is because the first two seasons fit more of my criteria than the later seasons do.  The show was creepier then than it is now, but the characters' storylines also fit almost perfectly into my criteria in the beginning.  The main thing that hooked me on the show was the story arc involving Sam that lasted for the entire first two seasons.  While Sam and Dean both showed some vulnerability, Sam showed the right kind.  Well at least the right kind for me.  What do I mean?  Let me explain.

The first two seasons were all about Sam.  I mean, yeah, Dean was important too, but all of the bad stuff that was happening was centered on Sam.  He was the one the demon wanted.  He was the one who had to be saved.  But he was also the one who had a special gift.  Remember Sam's psychic powers?  The writers of the show seem to have forgotten about those in recent years.  I miss them.  Explaining why I like that part of the story is hard to put into words, but I'll try.  Sam was special, and I need my leading male character to be special.  He had a gift that was also a curse.  It gave him the ability to do things that others could not do, but it also made him more vulnerable.  Sam had visions, and he could see things before they happened, but those visions weakened him.  He needed to recover from them.  I liked the fact that his strength was also his weakness.

Getting Frustrated

Part of me wishes that Supernatural had continued to be all about Sam, but of course that is not how the story has played out.  There will be one story arc involving Sam, followed by one involving Dean, then another with Sam, and so on.  I know why that is.  People will get tired of everything always being about Sam.  People want Dean to go through some drama as well.  Writing a TV show is about pleasing as many people as possible, so they alternate between characters to give everyone a little of what they want.  Supernatural is not the only show that does this.

I recently started watching Haven, and have seen the same trend.  I must say, in the beginning it was a little difficult for me to get into this show because the main character is a woman.  As I said above, I want to be attracted to the main character, which means I want the story to center on a handsome man.  The fact that the story is pretty much all about Audrey in the beginning kept me from getting pulled in completely.  But it's an interesting show, so I kept watching, and I was not disappointed.

It takes a really long time for any character other than Audrey to get an interesting storyline on this show.  Okay, Nathan goes through some intense stuff fairly early on, but it's a little bit here and a little bit there.  The story doesn't really focus on him.  Then, as the series progresses, we start to get a glimpse of Duke's backstory, and that's what finally hooked me.  It fits my criteria exactly.  The gift that is also a curse.  The strength that is also a weakness.  And by season  But still I was left feeling a little bit disappointed.  Why?  Because, again, it's not all about him.  The other characters are still there, and they still have their own drama to go through.  That drama is often completely unrelated to Duke and his struggles.  For a show to be "perfect", it all needs to center on the one character.

So What Do I Do?

Okay, some of you may be asking, "Well, Greta, you call yourself a writer.  Why don't you write that perfect story?"  Well, I guess I kind of did.  And I kind of am.  Amelia's Children, the book I just completed, has all of these elements.  Well, except for the lead actor.  I can't really have that in a book, but I do describe David as looking a bit like my perfect man.  And the story is all about him.  Bad things happen to other people, but David is at the center of it.  And yes, he has a gift that is also a curse.  The new book I'm working on centers around a character named Damian (I seem to like names that start with "D").  Again, bad things happen to other people, but they wouldn't have happened if those people had not been somehow connected to Damian.  And yes, Damian is also described as tall, dark, and handsome.  It feels good to write these stories because I can take all of my frustrations about my favorite movies, books, and TV shows, and deal with them in my own way.  I can write the story the way I think it should have been written.  But occasionally...just every now and then...I would like to see that story written by someone else.  And if it happened on a TV show, I would get to tune in week after week and experience that little emotional release again and again.

If my perfect show exists, and I just haven't found it yet, please leave a comment and let me know about it.  If you have your own ideas of perfection, and they differ from mine, tell me that as well.  I would love to hear from you.

Remember to follow me on Twitter for updates on this blog and other projects I'm working on.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Personal Meditation on Matthew 25:14-30


The thoughts contained in this post are my own personal musings.  I do not claim to speak for God, nor do I claim to know the "correct" way to interpret the Bible.  I only know how this passage has inspired me in my own life.

Matthew 25: 14-30

14 For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them." 21 His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord." 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, "Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them." 23 His lord said to him, "Well don, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord." 24 Then he who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours." 26 But his lord answered and said to him, "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

A Literal Interpretation

It's obvious from reading the story that the literal meaning of the word talent refers to money.  A talent was a unit of weight, and the talents that were given to the three servants represented a rather large sum of money.  More information about talents in the Bible can be found here.  But of course this story is a parable, so it has meaning beyond just the literal.

A Common Interpretation

As modern English speakers, we cannot hear the word talent without thinking of its modern meaning, and that meaning is often applied to this story whenever Matthew 25 is read in churches today.  An interpretation that I have heard many times is that God gives us talents (or abilities) and He expects us to put them to use.  He does not want us to "bury our talents in the ground."  Of course this brings up the inevitable question of just how we are to use our talents.  As Christians we are taught to use our abilities for God's glory, and often think of acts of service.  A musician can play the piano in church, a chef can open a soup kitchen, a linguist can work as a translator in international missions.  But are these the only ways we can use our talents?

My Own Personal Dilemma

Writing about this is hard, because I don't want to get off on a tangent and talk about all of the times I have questioned my faith, or the times I have felt that my fellow Christians have let me down, or the times I have shaken my fists at God and asked, "Why?"  I want to stay on topic, and talk about my feelings about Matthew 25, but when I start talking about talents, in the modern sense of the word, I can't escape the feelings of frustration that often have followed my desire to use my own abilities.  I will try my best to streamline the topic a bit.

I have always viewed humility as a virtue to which we should all aspire.  I look to Jesus's example in John 13 when he washed the disciples' feet.  In addition to that story, there are also many verses in the Bible that talk about viewing others as better than ourselves.  With this mindset, the idea of using my talents to glorify myself is a difficult one to wrap my mind around.

Nevertheless, I struggle constantly with the desire to show off.  And I don't just want to use my talents in church.  I want to show the world what I can do.  I often wonder if this is something God wants me to do.  Then I read Matthew 25 and I have to ask myself, "If I believe in God, and I believe He gave me life, don't I also have to believe that He is the one who gave me my talents?  Shouldn't I also believe that He wants me to use them?"  I've struggled with that question many times.  By way of inserting another disclaimer in here, I must say that the conclusion I have drawn is my personal opinion.  As I stated above, I do not claim to speak for God.

Here's what I've concluded.  If I think of God as my father, I have to think that He sees me the way I see my own children.  If my children are good at something, I want to shout it from the rooftops.  Doesn't God feel the same way about me?  He gave me a voice, so He must want me to sing.  He gave me a body, so He must want me to dance.  He gave me an imagination, so He must want me to write.  And he gave me a desire to do those things in front of an audience, so He must want me to perform.  I remember one day when I was feeling particularly discouraged by my own personal struggle with humility vs. pride I prayed, "God, put me on a stage and let me be your shining star.  Sit in the audience and applaud as I show the world what I can do.  Be proud of me."  I think that he is proud of me.

I know that many of the people who read this blog may be looking at it from different points of view.  Even if you do not agree with my conclusions, I hope that you can find some inspiration in what I have written today.

Remember to follow me on Twitter for updates about future blog posts.  Also, check out my paranormal mystery, Amelia's Children, available on Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why Are Stories About Brothers So Amazing?

Fan Girl

If you've been reading this blog, then you know I have written about Supernatural in the past, but my obsession with brother stories goes back further than that.  In fact, I didn't even discover Supernatural until about three years ago.  Before Sam and Dean, there were others.

Growing Up On Soaps

Remember soap operas?  I've heard rumors that a few of them still exist, but I honestly don't know how many people are watching them, so many have been cancelled in recent years because of diminishing audiences. Why is this happening? My theory is that now people have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and huge dvd libraries, so if they're home during the day they can actually find quality programming to watch and don't need to turn to soap operas with their cheap cameras, cheesy writing, and over the top acting.  But that's just my theory.  Anyway, moving on.

I grew up watching soaps, primarily CBS soaps.  The characters of Guiding Light were talked about in my home as though they were real people.  My mother and grandmother would spend half an hour on the phone just talking about how Roger and Holly really should get back together, or how hard Michelle's life is going to be now that Maureen is dead.  Because the show came on late in the afternoon, I was usually able to watch it when I came home from school.  If I was going to be late, my mom would tape it for me.  Anybody remember those days?

What I Love Most in a Fictional Character

Okay, are there any other Guiding Light fans out there?  Did you have moments when you were absolutely in love with Roger Thorpe, even though you knew he was evil?  I think Roger was the first fictional character I was really drawn to.  Why?  Because of what the website TV Tropes refers to as the Heel Face Turn.  Boy howdy am I a sucker for that.  And Roger Thorpe did it at least every couple of years.  Generally he was the show's biggest scoundrel, but occasionally, especially if it involved Holly or Blake, he could be made to show his softer side.  And when he did women's hearts melted all over America.  This so-called Heel Face Turn was what turned me on to the first brother story with which I became completely obsessed.

Richard and Edmund

This was a story line that began on Guiding Light sometime in the late nineties.  Looking back on it, I have to recognize that it was ridiculously hokey.  It involved a royal family in some made up country somewhere...well I'm not even sure where it was supposed to be, but, wherever it was, it was a country that was ruled by a monarch.  Richard was the older brother and heir to the throne.  Edmund was the younger brother and...well...not the heir.  Remember The Lion King? It was kind of like that.  Edmund came on the show as the new villain, probably because it was around the time that Roger left and the show needed to replace him.  In his first few storylines he was pure evil, but of course as time wore on he started to show a little of his vulnerable side.  And as this vulnerable side started to show itself more and more, there was this suggestion of an incredibly strong bond between the two brothers.  Even though on the surface they hated each other, even though they were sworn enemies, in some place deep down they really loved each other, and I loved them for that.

Michael and Kevin

This was a story from The Young and the Restless.  It was much more believable and relatable than the Richard and Edmund story had been, but it had all of the same elements.  Michael was the older brother; Kevin was the younger brother.  Again, Kevin came on the show as the villain.  He did some pretty heinous things before he finally made his Heel Face Turn.  And when he finally saw the error of his ways, Michael was there to pick up the pieces.  The story was made more touching by the fact that Kevin had been abused as a child.  This made him more sympathetic, but it also provided the motivation for Michael to want to help him, because Michael carried around the guilt of having left home while Kevin remained at the mercy of his abusive father.

A Pattern Emerging

These two stories were so similar, and I loved them so completely, that I actually started doing Google searches for other stories that fit this pattern: older, responsible brother holding together the broken pieces of the younger, rebellious brother's messed up life.  That's a very specific thing to search for, so I naturally did not get many results. 

Sam and Dean

Supernatural deviated a bit from the set pattern.  Sam was not the bad seed--at least not until season four--and though he did go through some intense stuff in the first episode, it was quickly revealed that he was no more broken than Dean.  So why did I fall so hard for these two?  I have no idea, but I know I'm not alone in my obsession.  Just search for Supernatural on YouTube and you'll see what I mean.  There are people who post videos just about Sam and Dean hugging. 

So What's the Big Deal?

Okay, so I have no idea what makes brother stories, in particular, so powerful for me.  I have some theories, though.  I'm an only child, so maybe part of me wants to experience a sibling relationship vicariously through fictional characters, but if that's the case, it should be sister stories that do it for me.  They don't.  I feel very little when I watch a heartwarming story about two sisters.  A big sister and a little brother is a little more interesting, but not much.  A big brother and a little sister turns me off completely.  But when it's two brothers...sigh...I just can't get enough.  So maybe it's the whole sexual attraction thing that hooks me.  I would rather look at two handsome men than two beautiful women.  And when those two handsome men are crying and professing their undying love for each other--in a completely platonic way--it has an effect on me that I can't quite explain.

What Next?

At the moment, Supernatural is still going strong on The CW, but nothing lasts forever, so I know at some point I will be in search of my next great bromance.  Any suggestions?  Do you know of an absolutely amazing brother story that I haven't explored yet?  If you do, please leave a comment.  I would love to hear from you.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter for information about future blog posts.  Also, pop over to Amazon and check out my paranormal mystery, Amelia's Children. Interestingly, there's no bromance there, but there's plenty of drama, so give it a read.