Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Grateful – My Word of the Year by Marlo Berliner

I gave a lot of thought to what word would represent my mantra for this year and came up with grateful. I know that’s more of a word that means you’re looking back at the past, but I think it’s important for going forward with the right focus and perspective. We all want success, but what is success if everything else in your life falls apart? We all want happiness, but is it right under our noses and we’re just not seeing it? We want more, but perhaps less would actually make us happier.

After watching my self and so many of my close friends and family get put through the ringer in recent years, I’ve decided to keep life in perspective and be grateful for every good moment that comes my way and to never take a single one of them for granted. I have so many friends who either received frightful diagnoses, folded long-standing marriages I thought would stand the test of time, had tragedy strike in unimaginable ways, or worst of all, had to bury one of their children. You see enough of that sorrow and all of the sudden life comes into stark perspective. All of the sudden, you hug your own children tighter, you complain less about your own aches, pains, and problems, you realize you’d take more laughter over more money any day, and you forgive your spouse a little easier, just grateful that he’s still by your side on this roller coaster of life.

So this year, I will strive to be grateful that I’m still breathing and that everyone I love is still breathing. I will strive to be grateful for whatever progress forward that I make, even if it is small and doesn’t make me a ton of money, or a big success. I will strive to appreciate everything that I have, and keep any wants in perspective. Most importantly, I’m going to show my friends and loved ones that I’m grateful for them still being in my life. When I’m so much more fortunate than others, this is the least I can do.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Tiromancy (Brian Katcher)

Image result for cheese 

Tiromancy: The art of predicting the future using cheese.

There. Most obscure word I could think of. I've always been fascinated by useless trivia, odd facts, and obsolete words. I was probably the only eighth grader who could drop pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoiosis into a sentence. While that proved ineffective in the pursuit of girls, it did manage to get my letter to the editor printed in a 1988 issue of MAD Magazine.

I nearly got beat up in fifth grade for calling a kid a homo sapiens. I'd freak my sister out by telling her that her epidermis was showing. I once calmed my wife down before surgery by offering to schuflatzel for her amusement.

Maybe that's why I became a writer. I wanted to put my odd vocabulary to work. That and no one will play Scrabble with me anymore.

Or maybe I like to use strange words because I'm condescending (that means I talk down to people). 


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Courage: An Encouraging Word by Dean Gloster

            It’s the most contagious of human virtues. When we see someone acting with courage, it inspires us, expands our menu of the possible. We are reminded that we can act courageously.

            In 2018, I’d like to write—and to live—with more courage.
Which will take some stretching.

            I used to think—incorrectly, it turns out—that I was brave. I did stand-up comedy in my twenties, took up downhill ski racing in my forties, left a successful career as a lawyer to reinvent myself as a novelist in my fifties, and took up Aikido just last year.

            Unfortunately, a little self-knowledge is a discouraging thing. Over years of therapy, I learned that my way of dealing with some PTSD is through a counter-phobic defense mechanism. That counter-phobic mechanism makes me move toward experiences that are frightening, to avoid feeling vulnerable when things especially scare me.

            First, that insight means I can’t even give myself bravery credit for the challenging stuff I’ve done. Second, it’s complicated baggage to drag on a writer’s journey, which is, at its best, a movement toward vulnerability and putting it all on the page.
            So: Courage.
            I think what that means to me this year is writing deeper, getting closer to the emotional heart of the stories I tell.
I’m working on a difficult novel, and I’ve written the raisins already—the parts I enjoy—leaving me with the oatmeal to fill in: The wrenching, emotionally difficult part. (The teenage protagonist’s mother is drinking herself to death. As my mother did.)
            For me, the other part about writing courageously this year is that I want to try some new things. Write some short stories. Finish my other, more fun novel, about a teen who (like me) has a counter-phobic mechanism. Start a new project that excites me, that’s even further from my current wheelhouse, although I don’t have a handle on the complete story yet or even the best point of view/format for telling it.
            That means uncertainty, some travel outside my comfort zone as a writer. Which is good.
As writer and teacher Anne Lamott advises,
“Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

I type this in 2018 in the United States, a country where we could use more courage—a willingness to stand up to misused power, to protect the vulnerable, to take principled stands to preserve our surprisingly fragile institutions of the rule of law, independence of the justice department, and bastion of a free press willing to hold our government accountable. 

As any writer can tell you, difficult situations get more difficult before they finally come to a crisis, and that crisis will often test our values, including whether we have the courage to get to a better place.
            So, friends, good luck to us all in 2018.
            And, of course, courage.

Dean Gloster got an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2017. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” 

The novel Dean is currently working on involves a high school student’s summer internship with Death herself. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Online mindfully (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

One resolution I’ve seen a lot of lately is “reduce use of social media” or “don’t spend so much time online.” I suspect this will now join “eat less sugar” and “get more exercise” as a popular perennial resolution in society in general. (The irony is, if you do forsake online for in-person interactions, you often find yourself staring at the tops of heads, as your companions check their gadgets.)

A while ago, I changed my use of social media, dropping sites that were rarely being updated or whose focus had shifted away from the reason I initially followed them, moving other sites to “check weekly” rather than “check daily” status, and dropping out of one group. But I like reading some blogs for long-form thoughts. I like Twitter for short jokes, and for encouraging my civic involvement and pointing me toward news stories I might not have seen otherwise.

A few things have helped to keep me mindful about interaction with the world both offline and online:
  • I don’t have social media on my phone. My cell phone is a fairly primitive model that I mainly just use for emergencies or traveling. If I want to go online, I do it from my desktop computer, so my online life has a specific time and place that I can walk away from.
  • When I’m tempted to post something angry online, I pause and ask myself: What is my purpose? Who am I helping? Am I furthering the discussion, or just venting? Am I addressing issues or just insults? Am I adding and highlighting new information, educating in a way that encourages people to find their voices too? I actually think anger has an important place in public discourse. There is a lot of injustice in the world; we should be angry about that. But I want to channel my energy in constructive directions. I’m not saying I do this perfectly, just that this is my goal.
  • I take walks every day, and when I do, I leave my phone at home. I bring no gadgets along.
  • One thing I started doing in 2017 was ending every Twitter session by tweeting (usually retweeting) a beautiful photo of a scene from nature. This helps me put something positive into the world, remind myself of the beauty around us, and disengage from each Twitter session with what feels like a calming breath.
I share these ideas not because I think they are The Right Way to be online—these specific things might not work at all for many—but just to support people in finding their own right-for-them ways to be online. It’s easy to get swept up in technology, but we can make conscious choices about where and how we want to be present.

Friday, January 26, 2018