Sunday, June 29, 2014

Search, Ponder, and Pray

by Katy White

Becky is in the great outdoors right now, so she asked me to write for her today! As I've thought about what to post, one thought has come to my mind again and again: the need we each have to search the scriptures, ponder them, and pray about them.

Over the last several months in the LDS church, there has been a lot of controversy and doubt over doctrine from a small group within the church, as CJ posted earlier this week. When questions come up, I've found that I tend to drop my usual scripture study habits and study the heck out of the issue being discussed. As I've done that over recent issues, I've found that I feel...heavy. Sad. Not uplifted. I may read four or five conference talks on a subject. I find that this reading serves to "back up" what I already know to be true in my heart or to refute what I feel I know to be wrong. (I would imagine most people experience this, whether they call it confirmation or confirmation bias!)

As I was rolling around in the muck and mire recently, I prayed to feel uplifted again in my study. I prayed to feel the Spirit. As I prayed, the answer came to me that in all my study lately, I haven't been reading from the one source I've been commanded to read from: the Book of Mormon.

I quickly repented of that oversight and returned my daily study to this holy, excellent, inspired book. As a result, I found the answers I was looking for there, as well as the applications to my life and to our day. It was all in there. Especially the Spirit I longed for.

Have you had an experience like this? Have you found yourself reading or studying without receiving the insight and inspiration you seek? What do you do to make your scripture study as meaningful as it can be?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Author Interview: Pamela S. Williams

By Lacey Gunter

Today I am interviewing one of my good writing friends, Pamela S. Williams.  Pamela's debut novel, Living It Down, just came out from Walnut Springs Press. It it available through Deseret Book online and in stores and though If you are in the Provo, Utah area, her book launch party will be tonight, June 28, from 4-7 pm at Pioneer Book, 450 W. Center Street, Provo. Oh, and it will involve cookies!

LG: Pam, tell us a little about your road to becoming a published author.

PW: My road to becoming a writer began when I was 16 years old, and the rest of the story is posted on my new blog,, which is associated with this first series. (I also have a Book of Mormon series in the making.) 

LG: Can you tell us what type of reader you think your book will touch the most and give us a short blurb of what your book is about?

PW: I hesitate to call this romance or women's fiction. This book is not just for women--couples would also enjoy it. I hope it reaches the adult LDS audience who would like to read a grownup love story.

Carrie Burke has it all—marriage to a successful lawyer, two lively teenage daughters, a beautiful home, the gospel. Why isn’t she happy? Confused, joyless, and depressed, she questions her own worth and decides to take an unorthodox “time-out” to reevaluate her life. Her husband Morgan calls it selfish. Carrie calls it self-preservation. Moving to the basement apartment of Aunt Sophie's vintage Victorian home in Provo brings its own set of challenges, but also the advantage of friendship with vivacious, creative Lainie McGuire. Coincidence brings an old flame, Todd Kendall—a man Carrie never wanted to see again—back into her life. To guide her daughter through a moral crisis with a predatory boy, she realizes she needs the help of both Todd and Morgan. In her spiritual quest to reconnect with her values and reclaim her best self, Carrie yearns to find joy again, and in the process discovers that maybe there's no such thing as coincidence.

LG: Sounds very interesting. I am excited to read it. What is one thing a reader would be surprised to find out about you?

PW: My main body of work is journalism, essays, poetry and plays. I never thought I was smart enough to write a novel--now I have written six, with ideas for several more. I am exceedingly ordinary, pop-culturally illiterate, and not terribly academic even though I graduated from BYU. Now I couldn't write a paper with footnotes and a bibliography to save my soul, although I did it occasionally out of necessity when I was a student, but I just don't think that way. My writing is intuitive and my background in theater had a tremendous influence on my writing process. A novel is structured like a three-act play. In fact, I wrote four LDS-oriented plays before I started writing Living It Down, and all four were produced in the town where we lived for 33 years.

LG: I've never thought of a novel that way, but it makes a lot of sense now that you mention it. Do you have an odd writer habit or ritual to help get your creative juices flowing or to help you write, and if so what is it?

PW: I don't think my writing habits are particularly odd, but my husband might tell you a different story. Since I don't have young children to care for, or teenagers to referee, I generally neglect everything when an idea obsesses me, including the clock, and write until it's all out there on paper. Then the REAL writing begins--revision. I'm generally not a seat-of-the-pants writer. I'm lost without an outline to follow. That's the only way I know where I'm going.

LG: Since I don't have your husband here, I guess I'll have to take your word for it. So, if you lived on a waste dump in Cambodia and collected trash to sustain yourself, what one thing or book would you be most delighted to find?

PW: If I lived in a trash heap in Cambodia, I would hope to find scriptures and a dictionary. That would be the kind of knowledge that could lead me out of the trash.

LG: And finally, what is the best piece of advice you can give to an aspiring Mormon Mommy Writer?

 PW: I am living proof that pigs fly. My first novel has been published, and I am 71. As it says in the acknowledgements, I am the poster child for late bloomers. I got the idea for the story when I was in my 40s, but didn't have the maturity or wisdom to do this idea justice until I was 60. Don't be in love with the idea of writing--write. Don't think that when the kids get older you'll devote yourself to your passion for writing. It doesn't happen that way. Write, and keep writing, even if you don't have time to polish it now. Keep files of your snatches of writing and they will become the seeds that will sprout into full-blown work later on. When your kids know it's that important to you, they will appreciate your example of devotion and determination, and it will have a tremendous impact on them.

Thanks Pamela. I am very excited and inspired by your persistence and subsequent success and I look forward to reading  Living It Down. My next MMW post I plan to summarize some of the great tidbits I took home from WIFYR.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ups and Downs


I'm checking in on the fly this week, because life has been hectic.  I didn't prepare a post ahead of time.  I hate it when that happens.  I'm normally organized.

But, we had surprise company, and I had a colonoscopy (which knocked me flat for a few days) and I got a rejection letter from a publisher, and I cracked my laptop screen, and I discovered I had a hole in the retina of my right eye.  See?  Crazy, up and down week.

Still... I'm grateful.  Here's what I learned.

1.  I had a wonderful few days with my grown son and his lovable dachshund.  Every time the pup visits, I think I want a dog.

2.  I have a polyp-free colon.

3.  Three days after my rejection letter from one publisher, another one asked to see my book proposal.  This editor might reject it too, but until he decides, I'm happy.

4.  The hole in my retina was discovered in a random eye visit to Lens Crafters for new glasses.   This freaked me out.

5.  The next day I saw an eye surgeon, who explained the hole could be sealed by laser surgery.  This freaked me out further.  A laser in the eye?  And I'm awake for this?  

6.  Two days later, I put on my big girl panties and endured the blinding (literally) laser light that fixed my holey retina.  The procedure lasted five minutes.  It was uncomfortable, but bearable.  I'm still agog that an eye hole can be repaired by a laser and a doc wearing a miner's flashlight cap.

7.  Even if I've stepped over a computer cord three times without incident, I can trip on the fourth time, hurt my knee cap and crack my laptop screen.  ARGH!

8.  Shopping with my son in a sports store, I found a pair of work out pants.  I've been wearing the same ratty gym shorts for ten years.  I'm going to shop in the sports store more often.

9.  While resting after the colonoscopy, I caught up on back episodes of the BBC's Sherlock.  Fascinating, brilliant show, even though Benedict Cumberbatch is goofy looking.

10.  I need to plan posts, because when I don't, they're disjointed and rambley. 

How's your week been?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Mormon Lit Blitz--Flash Fiction Fun!

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
For the past three years, a lovely group of literary folk have been running the Mormon Lit Blitz, a little competition for flash fiction (in this case, pieces that are less than 1000 words). Today marks one of the last days of the competition before voting begins.

The fun thing about flash fiction is that it’s just that—flash, fast, just little snippets that pack punch. Some of the pieces each year have been poetry (which I confess I put in a different category from flash fiction, but some of it was so good I didn’t care), and others have been experimental forms, while most have been just straight-up short fiction.

I hope you will consider reading through the entries for this year’s Lit Blitz and voting when the time comes. You’ll get fun and interesting and thought-provoking works, all in three-minute bursts! If you want to join the discussion on the pieces, here’s where you can do that too (the link is only to the discussion of the first piece, but I have faith in your ability to figure out how to find the rest from there). And maybe next year you can enter and be part of the blitz.

A few past favorites (in no particular order, and surprisingly many relevant to motherhood):*

"Actionable Intelligence" by Jonathon Penny

"Stillborn" by Merrijane Rice

"When I Rise" by Kimberly Hartvigsen

"Birthright" by Emily Harris Adams

"No Substitute for Chocolate" by Jeanna Mason Stay**  ***

* I won’t have added this year’s favorites because I’m writing this ahead of time—shocking!
** Hey, I was going to try to be all humble and not mention it, but then I decided not to. :)
*** Also, in case you should take the piece too seriously (as some did), no, I do not advocate this type of plan. It was a story, intended for humorous effect, not a real suggestion. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mormon Women: What You Won't Read in the New York Times

By CJ Schneider -

               There’s a lot to read online right now about the plight of Mormon women.   I am sincerely saddened by the disciplinary action taken against both Kate Kelly and John Dehlin.  I also sympathize over the angst, stress and pressure I’m sure church leaders are feeling as they are trying to do their best in maintaining the purity and integrity of the church while striving to be as loving and kind as they know Christ expects them to be.   Not easy ground to walk for both sides.    I am not interested in debating or defending anyone or anything at this time.  However, amidst all that is being said about the challenges of being a woman in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I really want to share with my friends and family, that my personal experience of growing from girl to young woman to mother in this church has been an extremely positive one.  I don’t believe church leaders are perfect but I do know that there is a divine magic in this religion.  I have been to church meetings in Taiwan, Ghana, Croatia, Russia, England, Scotland and Amsterdam and have felt the same feeling – that God is dancing with Mormons all over the world.    The music plays for both the men and the women.
             This is what I want to write about – (what you may not be reading in the New York Times) - how empowering and strengthening being a Mormon woman can be.    Every Mormon woman is also a member of what is called “The Relief Society”.   The Relief Society is a philanthropic and educational women’s organization and an official auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . It was founded in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, USA and has approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories. The Relief Society is often referred to by the church and others as one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world.    Our mandate is to reach out to those in need and to offer service to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the other women of our churches, neighbourhoods and communities.   Having this focus has enriched my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe.  As I have stretched to reach out to women around me I have been supported and strengthened in return.   Last night, I went to Second Cup to meet with three other women of my church.    We met up because that’s what Mormon women do.   Every member of The Relief Society is assigned a companion and then given a list of women in the church who they are responsible for.    Every month we are asked to check in with the ladies on our list, find out how they are doing, offer to lend a hand if they are in need of help or an ear if they need someone to talk to.  We are called ‘visiting teachers’ because we are asked to not just connect socially but spiritually as well.
          When I was in Taiwan the English speaking church I attended was full of wealthy Americans:  I recall a CEO, international lawyer, pilot and a diplomat – it was also well attended by Filipino women who had left their country and sometimes their children to work abroad so they could send money home to their families.  The women visit taught each other and took care of each other.  It is an  extraordinary setting for people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to come together and to offer each other varied perspectives and experiences.  
            Relief Society presidents are full of stories of connection and community as they are involved in overseeing relief efforts:  women sending meals to the sick, sewing blankets for a new baby to be wrapped in, offering babysitting when a mother needs some help.  We Mormon women are a part of an extraordinary grass roots support network – something every woman and every mother really shouldn't have to do without.  We create it ourselves, its ours and its beautiful when we as women invite God to orchestrate our efforts.   

           Amoung us last night was a grandmother who is also an office manager, a young aspiring accountant, and two stay at home moms.   Diverse as we were, and despite the fact that we didn’t know each other very well, we came together because that’s what we were assigned to do.  We talked for an hour and a half, sharing stories of personal tragedy and sorrow and discussing how we met those difficulties with faith and prayer.  Each one of us had a story of how God showed up in our lives and let us know how worthwhile and loved we are.  Each one of us spoke confidently of how important we knew our lives were and expressed gratitude at  having the opportunity to navigate the tough waters of life with the winds of divinity guiding our sails.
           Being a Mormon woman means believing that our worth is inherent and not based on our physical appearances, economic or social status.  Being a Mormon woman means we acknowledge the divine worth of those around us as well.  Being a Mormon woman means that our husbands must sit through three hours of moral training every week as they hear over and over about how to be more loving husbands and fathers  and how they won’t be gambling, drinking, smoking or even looking at other women.  Being a Mormon woman means our husbands are told that WE are their top priority and that it is their responsibility to take care of their families just as we believe it is our responsibility to take care of them as well.  Being a Mormon woman means watching men in suits with baby toys attached to their belts as they entertain babies in the halls when they are not in classes learning to become more Christlike, more loving, more forgiving and more patient – even on beautiful Sunday mornings when I’m sure they would be much happier golfing, fishing or resting.
This is the stuff you may not be reading about right now,  but make no mistake, despite some seeming structural inequalities, Mormon women are very privileged in many ways.   I’m hoping that if any Mormon women happen upon this post that they will use the comments section to post experiences when they felt emboldened and empowered as a Mormon woman (please no Kate Kelly or Ordain Women bashing).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It's not a dumb idea!

By: Kristi Hartman

My family and I went camping this last weekend to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The views were amazing, the wildlife was abundant, and the nights were freezing cold.  
Camping with small children is quite the experience, let me tell you.  I could be a negative Nancy and only talk about how there seemed to be an endless number of children running in opposite directions the entire time (we camped with 10 kids :O), I could tell you that my toddler doesn't have very good balance and fell several times a day face-down into the dirt resulting in small rocks and dirt up his nose, or how no one got very much sleep because of freezing cold nights (as referenced above), or that one morning I woke up with some kind of stomach bug.  THAT was fun. 

But I won't. Anymore anyway.

Aside from the drama that comes from camping with small children, I love being up in the mountains.  It is so inspiring in a variety of ways.  It just makes me feel more alive, more present, and wanting to put a fresher take on my life.  

While we were camping I was squeezing in small amounts of time reading a book by Mary Higgins Clark, and managed to finish it while I was up there.  At the end of the novel there was a section titled:
             'Read about the inspiration behind other classic novels by Mary Higgins Clark.'  

 To quote her on some here are two examples:  

For her book:  'Weep No More My Lady'  
"At the time I wrote that book I had just gone to a famous spa, Maine Chance in Arizona.  It was the ultimate in luxury and something I could never have afforded if I hadn't by then become a successful writer.  I asked myself, wouldn't it be interesting if in a place like this, where everyone is waited on and pampered, that a killer is stalking his victims and waiting in a wet suit at the bottom of the pool to drown them?  The prospect gave me the shivers, and I was on my way.  

For her book:  'Let Me Call You Sweetheart'
I love jewelry and have a few pieces that once belonged to my mother-in-law.  One pin especially is unique.  I thought it would be interesting if that pin could get someone on a path to murder.  As a secondary theme, the idea of a plastic surgeon giving a number of women the same face, I thought offered a meaty plot because why would any doctor do that?  A third plot element was the idea of a young man in prison for a murder he didn't commit.  I threw these together-the jewelry, the plastic surgeon, and the innocent prisoner.  Let Me Call You Sweetheart was the result.  

Isn't that interesting?  She takes her ideas and inspiration from so many different areas and things, and crafts them all together into an entertaining and exciting book.  

This is something I have been trying to work on in my writing and creativity side.  Not dismissing things because maybe my immediate reaction is- "No, Kristi, that's a dumb idea," and turning it into- "Hey, maybe that could work."  And "Why not?"
Imagine if all the writers we know and love out there didn't let that little idea take place in their heart and let it grow?  We would be missing out on so much.  

On our way to and from our campsite we drove through Estes Park, CO and every time I pass through that cute mountain town I try to get a good look at the Stanley Hotel.  
If you're not familiar with the Stanley Hotel it is a beautiful, Georgian-style hotel that opened in 1909. It's such a pretty place.  The bright white exterior and warm red roof command attention next to the mountain landscape surrounding it.  Perhaps one of the things it is best known for is it's inspirational role in the Stephen King novel, The Shining.

From what I know, Stephen King stayed in the Stanley Hotel either just before/during the winter, and its ominous history of hauntings sparked the idea for the book.  
Stephen King saw an interesting location, maybe thought, 'what if...?' and let the story flow.  
Combined with his talent for writing and an interesting idea, something successful took place.  Now, I haven't actually ever read The Shining, nor do I plan to, but I do know that as writers, we need to look toward examples of those who have taken that risk, and just let their ideas and stories flow.

Maybe it will be wildly successful and be read by millions?  Or maybe not.  We at least have to give it a chance to grow, and see what comes of it.  

So the next time you get a crazy thought in your head that gives you pause, maybe it's your creative brain trying to tell you something.  Don't dismiss it, it's not a dumb idea!

Monday, June 23, 2014

I haven’t been writing.

I have a confession to make.

(Yes, another one. My computer screen might as well be framed in wood and have a little decorative grate over it with all the confessions I make around here. Seriously.)

I haven’t been writing.

At least not real, stretching-myself-and-reaching-for-my-goals writing, anyway. Just the obligatory blog posts and magazine articles that I am committed to producing.

Meanwhile, the writing conference I went to last year is looming on my calendar for this October, and I vaguely remember promising myself, in that blissful, post-writing-conference dream-filled honeymoon period, that I would have my MS finished and ready to go this year.

*shifts weight from one foot to the other and looks down, trying to avoid eye contact*

Well, it’s not. It’’s a hot mess.

But. I have decided that it’s time to pick myself up. Mostly because I didn’t know what to write for a post today and when I visited my “post ideas” file on my computer the words “Summer Goals” were written there. So I said, “Why not? Let’s make some Summer Goals!”

Yes, let’s!

Okay, so I’ve decided I’ll do this in baby steps and break it down week by week.

Week 1: Finish reading the book on story crafting that caused me to rethink my whole manuscript in the first place. (I was so startled and flustered by that development that I shoved the book in a drawer and haven’t touched it since. I think it’s time to face my fears.)

Week 2: Rewrite my outline to reflect changes I want to make. 

So, since I post every other week, we’ll start with those and see how it goes. I would really love some company on this, guys, so if anybody wants to jump in and set some Summer Goals, post them below! I’ll keep checking in on Facebook during the week and we can keep each other accountable. As the weeks (and my goals) progress I’ll throw some writing sprints in the mix too. Because those are super fun. :-)

C’mon, you know you want to get in on this! What is your writing goal for this week?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tweet, Tweet. Tweet All About It. MMW is on Twitter

Hello, my name is Robin, and I'm addicted to social media. It has been two minutes since I checked my phone. Wait, this isn't the technology addiction group? Oops!  I'm pleased to make your acquaintance here in my first ever MMW post. You'll see me now and then filling in for the regular contributors, but my main responsibility is Twitter.

Who am I? Here's five fast facts about me.
1. I'm a NC mom of 4 with another coming in September.
2. I began my writing journey in 2010 and an revising my fifth manuscript.
3. I will eat caramel (anything).
4. I am both left handed and Norton toed
5. I am a yoga instructor and health and fitness specialist

MMW blogger Kasey Tross recently told us about her technology addiction and why so many of us (myself included) are in her same lot. Her posts helped me to see how ridiculously often I check my phone and to learn to leave it in my bedroom and really BE with my family. Thanks, Kasey!

Still technology has many benefits, so MMW decided to jump into the "twitterverse". But don't worry, we won't be crowding your twitter feed, because, well, we have way too much on our plates to manage that one. Besides, we're working to keep out technology addiction to a minimum.

See you on twitter!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Inferiority, Inadequacy, and Other Ways to Wrap Your Muse's Mouth in 7 Layers of Duct Tape

Recently a dear friend started a web page, called Mom Think Tank. She wanted to contribute positively to the information being put out on the internet and provide an uplifting resource for those who mother. You can read more about this wise woman and her project on her website. As we talked about it, she mentioned she would like me to contribute from time to time, and I whole-heartedly agreed to do so. I mean, I’m a mom, and we had amazing wise discussions that I’m sure I could synthesize into compelling and entertaining blog posts! I was honored and excited to contribute.

Then the site went live. The posts are wonderful. My friend sent an email out, reminding me of what we’d discussed. At the same time, a guest post went up from a mutual friend. It was one I’d read before, that had made me feel inferior and like a bad mom the first time I’d read it, and I felt even worse about myself this time around. For two days I marinated in my own feelings of inadequacy, all the while letting every negative moment in my family pile on top like freshly sliced onions. I have six kids and we’ve been out of school for almost a month, so you can imagine how many negative moments there were. Also, it was just a bad week. By the time I had formulated my thoughts into a coherent (I thought) email, I had decided that I was so unworthy to write for the “think tank” that I should probably not even read it anymore, as if I would dirty it just by clicking on it. I still wanted to be a part of it, I just felt so inadequate and terrible, I was absolutely sure I had nothing to offer. My email to my friend wasn’t an all-out declining of the idea of me writing for her, but it was as close as you can get. I had determined that while this was a great opportunity, it was out of my league. My sweet wise friend answered my email, encouraging but not pushing me to contribute, and leaving the invitation open.

How often do we give up on our dreams/goals/plans, because we suddenly get hit upside the head (and heart) with these feelings of inadequacy? We’re tooling along and suddenly: “I can’t write as well as…..” or “look at the words she uses. Such beautiful language. Why can’t I think that way?” or whatever. Insert your own personal negative talk here. We all have those thoughts. The problem is when we let them linger. We mull them over. We believe them. Whenever I get like this about writing, my muse takes a vacation. To tell you the truth, I’m pretty sure that when we start letting the negative thoughts linger (and I’m not just talking writing here, but everything), the Holy Spirit has to withdraw as well. He speaks in peace and softness, not in the blaring annoying voice that honks “You’re not ____ enough!”

A hit to our self-esteem, our feeling of self-worth, is a blow to our ability to be an effective Mormon—or Mommy—or Writer (see what I did there?) It saps our power, and puts a big wad of duct tape over the mouth of our muse.

How do we defeat our self-defeating thoughts? It can be hard, because most people suffer from something called “confirmation bias.” Once we believe something, the only evidence we tend to consider is that which confirms our beliefs.  So, if we truly feel we aren’t whatever enough, we will subconsciously minimize anything that could build us up, and magnify the evidence of our inferiority. How do we break the cycle? Here are some thoughts. It’s a work in progress and not at all a complete list.

1) Prayer. Honest and sincere prayer enlists the powers of heaven to do what we can’t alone. If you aren’t inclined to pray, or even if you are, you can also meditate and practice conscious and deliberate positive self-talk. For myself, I’ve found immense help in kneeling and telling my Heavenly Father more or less these words:  “I feel like crap. I hate the way I feel, I feel like I’m not good enough, I yell at the kids, etc.” More often than not, I can hear how ridiculously hard on myself I’m being, and I receive a testimony again and again that I am good enough, that life is all about improving, not about being perfect right now. Ether 12:27 has always been a favorite scripture of mine:
 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
In coming to the Lord, I am reminded that ALL of us have weakness; it is the human condition. Weak things can be made strong through the Lord, and He will help me as I humble myself and seek His help.

2) Get to the bottom of the problem. Journaling can help. Talking to a friend can also help you to find the root cause of the feelings and dig them out. Like a bad weed, if you don’t get the root out, it will just come back. Depending on what your particular circumstances are, you may need to talk to a counselor. There’s nothing wrong with that. Large or small, a simple confidence problem or something deeper, you have to find the weak spots, the Achilles heel, and fortify or protect those soft spots. If it’s something festering, get the infection out of there. Don’t just put a bandaid on it. Is it something external that’s dragging you down? Remove it, or remove yourself from it.

3) Have patience with yourself. Be forgiving of yourself. Realize that we are ALL works in progress. Each of us is in a different place on the path, and what’s important is that we are moving in the right direction. When it comes to writing specifically, realize that this is a CRAFT, and that all the raw talent in the world will not make up for learning and growing and sorry folks, EDITING. I think one reason that self-doubt is so damning, and such a great tool for Satan, is because it tends to make us stop practicing, striving, etc. when it is exactly that practice that will help us improve in all aspects of our lives. It’s a paradox… practice makes perfect, but because we aren’t perfect, we reeeeeally don’t feel like practicing.

4) Just say no to comparing yourself to anything. EDIT on that. Comparing yourself to where you were before, to how far you’ve come, can be empowering. Comparing where you are now to where you want to be is called goal setting. It’s the “I’m not as _____ as ______” that always brings us down. Just don’t do it. It’s a game no one can win.

5) Power through. The trite saying “fake it ‘til you make it,” applies here. As a mom, I just have to put my doubts on the shelf and change those diapers, hug those little bodies, and kiss those boo boos. I have to pick myself up off the ground when I cuss at my kids stumble and just try to do better tomorrow. As a writer, I have to UNcrumple the wad of paper that had my last chapter in it, and try to edit it and fix what made me suddenly hate it. As a Christian, I have to lean on Jesus, wipe away the sweat and tears, and take one more tiny step up that steep ladder to heaven.  Satan wins if we stop trying—and this goes for all aspects of our lives, even the writing role. We have something positive to offer the world, and if the Big Bad can keep us from contributing positively to counteract all his grossness, he will. We can’t let that happen.

The stakes are high—but we ARE up to the challenge. If you don’t feel that you are, it’s time to find out the truth for yourself. Or, you could just trust me when I say YOU ARE. If you don’t trust me, trust God, who put you here on this crazy planet to make a difference in every role you play. HE knows you are worth it, and He gave His Son to prove it. He won’t let you fail if you rely on Him. At the end of the day, if we can all remember that simple fact, we can erase 95 percent of the self-doubt in our mortal, self-critical brains.

(Someone remind me of this next time I’m whining about my inability to do ANYTHING right, k?)

What do YOU do to overcome feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and inferiority? 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Between Birthday and Sympathy

Greetings from the ‘Great State of Texas’! 

I’m very pleased to have been invited to write a couple of times a month on this excellent blog. 

A little about me… Born and raised in Arizona, I had the tremendous opportunity of teaching junior high school students for over a decade.  Oh no!  Your face is contorting.  Please, someone give that nice woman over there some water.  Really, it’s great fun.  However, there came a point when it was time to close that door and start something new before I lost the few remaining hairs that I still had.  So, the beautiful Linda (Clark) Larson (of Culver City, California and 21 years of happy-to-be-with-you marriage) and I packed up the house and moved our four nifty tax-deductions…er… 'blessings from heaven' to College Station, Texas.  A new career as a ‘Guy’brarian awaited at Texas A&M University (home of the fightin’ Texas Aggies).  Whooooooooooop!!!  (That’s a battle yell that means: ‘Guy’brarians are Awesome!).

I love to write!  I love to find humor and great meaning in the world around me.  I love to pick up good writing tips from others; and, I will share a few hard-won writing tips with you too.  I've been blessed to have had a few things published over the years.  In addition to my bi-monthly posts, please feel free to check out my ‘groove’ on my website.

I encountered an interesting phenomenon recently.  I came to the realization that my level of excitement at getting my work published has never been higher than when that first article went to press.  Holding that journal in my hands; looking at my name under the article title on page ## was one of the most exhilarating feelings I've ever had.  I felt like I was leaving a distinctive fingerprint on the collective thought of humanity.  It was amazing!  No other article or posting has given me the same rush.  On the flip side, it was somewhat terrifying.  What if my ramblings weren’t liked and enjoyed by others?  What if my ponderings were discarded as rubbish?  What if my mother read it and found a typo?  Aggghhhh!

That said, one of my goals in participating with MMW is to not only insert a line of literary thought from the ‘daddy’ side of the aisle (might we possibly review the title of our blog?); but also, to encourage everyone that wants to publish to keep moving forward toward that goal. 

Mike’s Minute (aka ‘Preaching to the Choir’):  This essay was written after once working as a greeting card merchandiser at a local chain store.  As I would be working at stocking and organizing the rows of greeting cards, I would often get a gentle tap on the shoulder by the Spirit to pay attention to some event happening around me or to see something happening in a new light and with a fresh perspective.  It would usually leave me grabbing a piece of card stock from my trash bag and scrambling to find something to write with before the prompting went away.  Over time, my number of paper remnant reminders grew so large that I finally had to sit down and write everything out.  Edit…yes.  Entertain second thoughts and doubts…nope!  So, without any fanfare (No seriously!  I really don’t like fanfare.  You there…put that giant foam finger down and stop clapping!), here is Between Birthday and Sympathy—

I found a second job. It’s flexible and the pay is good for part-time. I am . . . the Card Guy. That’s right; I am the guy who ensures that the greeting cards you browse, giggle at, and hopefully purchase at your local big-box store (we’ll refer to this environment as the Store) or convenience mart are stocked, orderly, and presentable. I am a ghost. Most of the time, I am unseen as I go about making the card displays just right. Sometimes, I might get in your way. Occasionally, a customer wants me to find space heaters, lotion, or beach sandals. I only do cards—I’m the Card Guy. I am invisible. But you’re not.

A Study in Buying a Greeting Card
You should just see yourselves. A grad student could easily make a nice dissertation out of the psychological processes involved in a customer choosing to purchase (or not purchase) a greeting card. However, it’s so much more than just pulling a card out of the slot and dropping it into your shopping cart. I mean, a card is really just paper—paper inked with a tender thought or a witty joke, perhaps with a splash of glitter, a wearable button, or a nifty tune. Choosing a card can be planned or an impulse. It can be a form of therapy. It can elevate the expression of the meek or seemingly untalented to a level of eloquence commensurate with the most famous poets and weavers of prose and rhyme. When you say you’ve found “just the right card,” you’re basically telling the receiver that the card is a reflection of or something unique about him or her. But the observations I’m going to share are about YOU, the customer.

The purpose of cards is static; in other words, their existence and use are constants. What changes are the thought processes and behaviors of the humans who purchase the cards. Why did you pick that particular card from all of the thousands of others? Most big-box stores have approximately 3,500 greeting cards that are standard sets throughout the year. Topics include birthdays, babies, weddings, anniversaries, sympathy, get-well wishes, and language-related cards. This standard set does not include the seasonal rotations, stickers, and stationary. If you think there is any randomness to the greeting card business, there’s not. There is a reason behind every card placement (height, width, proximity to other cards, genre, customer eye-level, customer buying habits, etc.).
So, what made you pick that particular card? Perhaps even more interesting is how did you behaved and appeared to other people while you were picking a card? I’m going to tell you.

Deep in the Heart
In Texas and the Deep South, polite human behavior is ingrained in most people from an early age. We say “Yes, Ma’am!” or “No, Sir!” with the same effort as it takes to breathe. We hold doors for people, we apologize profusely if we offend, and we loathe the thought of inconveniencing another person with our silly little needs and wants. Now, the way we go about these behaviors is both interesting and downright humorous at times, especially when it comes to greeting cards.

When I’m working a card aisle, it’s inevitable that I’ll have customers come down that aisle looking for cards. The Store wants this, and my card company wants this. It’s also Murphy’s law of greeting cards. Here in Texas, the politeness gene kicks in and the customer will stand behind you, quietly, not saying a single word, focused with laser precision on the card he or she wants, but without wanting to ask you to move. “Excuse me, Sir,” a lady could say to me. “Would you mind moving for just a moment while I grab a card for a baby shower I’m going to tomorrow?” But she won’t. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to move. So, I often take the initiative and say to the customer, “Ma’am, ya’ll let me know if you need me to move, okay?” Without fail, the response I always get is, “Oh no. You’re fine where you are. I’m just lookin’.” I only believed this social nicety one time. A little, white-haired lady in her golden years said it to me and then proceeded to wait five minutes while I finished working that section of the cards. By the time I finally moved down the aisle, she had set up a little camping chair, pulled out her cross-stitch project from her bag, and was using a Sterno can to heat up some water to make tea. There was no way on this planet that she was going to offend me by asking me to hurry along out of her way. I love Texas!

That night, I started feeling a little odd about this interaction. So, I looked up the words she had used in the Southern Living & Rules of Etiquette book I’d purchased when I first moved here. I was shocked! The literal translation of ‘Oh no. You’re fine where you are. I’m just lookin’ is     “I don’t mind you wrapping up what you’re doing in the next little bit, but you better get your hind end boot-scooted out of my way before I perch on your shoulder like a vulture and start pecking your brains out.” So now when I hear the phrase, I automatically move to another section of the aisle. Everyone gets to move on with their lives, and I get to keep my brains intact.

Birthday Blackout
There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people when they browse through a greeting card aisle: short-term spatial memory disappears. For example, Brenda the Browser spends a good 15 minutes pulling out one card after another, chuckling, evaluating, and then putting the card back into the slot. The wrong slot. Now, you would think it should be easy to look at the card in your hand, find the slot containing identical cards, and reunite the card with its brothers and sisters. But no. Cards pulled at eyebrow level somehow end up in slots at knee level, backward and upside down. How does this happen? It’s as if gravity multiplies by a factor of three and the card suddenly became overwhelmingly heavy, forcing the customer to let gravity pull the card downward into a slot near the floor before the card smashes the customer’s toes.      I especially like watching the customer who pulls a card from a slot 12 inches from his nose, reviews it, and then gets a thoroughly confused and perplexed look on his face as his eyes dart up, down, left, and right; then, that gravity I mentioned kicks in.

The Wanderers
When I arrive at the Store, I sign my name in a binder for guest merchandisers. About this time, a kind woman approaches me, hesitantly, with a small basket of rogue cards that somehow escaped the confines of the greeting card aisles and made their way to all parts of the Store. The woman has an apologetic look on her face. Her expression seems to say, “Please forgive us. We've failed you. We let these cards escape.” I smile at her, thank her, and ask her for the most exotic location where any of the cards were discovered. “Garden equipment,” came the reply one day. Garden equipment? A card was discovered atop a small stack of bagged fertilizer. I looked at the card. No wonder. It was one of our Election 2012 cards. Well, that just figures, doesn't it?

Oh, the Agony!
There is nothing more humorous than watching a grown man being forced to help choose a card (and accessories) that he has little or no interest in . . . at all. To the credit of the men who find themselves in this predicament, I acknowledge the discomfort and pain your faces and body postures display. The cards I’m speaking of are baby and wedding cards. Since the events attached to these cards are usually awkward and uncomfortable for guys, it stands to reason that selecting cards to celebrate these events is tantamount to reopening old scabs and scars with a rusty screwdriver. I applaud you for doing your best to feign interest in front of your special lady. You may fool her (which you’re probably not doing), but you can’t fool me. I’ve been there and barely lived to speak about it. “Oh, honey. This card is sooooo cute. It’s perfect for Tricia’s baby shower. What do you think?” Be careful! It’s a trap. You want to say: “I don’t give a rat’s whisker about Tricia’s baby. The ultrasound already showed it’s got vampire fangs. We should be looking in the sympathy card section.” But you’re smart, and you won’t say what you really think. Instead, you’ll say the smart thing: “Sweetie, I like your choice.” Atta boy! This will earn you a snuggle later tonight. One last caution: The fancy gift bags and wrapping paper are less than six feet away. Start thinking of your response now, because as soon as her radar picks up on those items, you could be a goner.

And Put a Handle on It
A child getting injured in the Store is never a good thing, especially when the injury is an adult’s fault.  But I’m beginning to see why it happens so often. It comes from something I call store stress. That is, when children are over stimulated by the endless displays, sounds, and lights (same marketing philosophy used by Las Vegas on adults), we shouldn't be surprised that they act a little crazy. Nevertheless, it often leads to some surprising comments from the accompanying adults.
One morning, I noticed a boy pushing his younger brother down one of the greeting card aisles, with the younger brother riding underneath the shopping cart. For some reason, the boy doing the driving found it hilarious to bring the cart to a sudden stop, thereby letting the physics of momentum take over and sending the younger boy shooting out from the cart’s undercarriage onto the floor. Eventually, the grandfather accompanying the boys reached his limit. “If he falls out again because you pushed too hard, I’m going to find a strap, put a handle on it, and . . .” One of the beautiful things about living in Texas is the raw eloquence of the speech used by its citizens to describe violence (or the potential use of violence). First, the grandpa would find a strap (I understand there is a sale on belts on aisle 9); then, he would create or attach a handle to ensure a sturdy grip; and finally, he would administer a certain style of best-used-on-an-ornery-steer form of lashing. I started laughing so hard at the description (a threat the boys ignored because they’d heard it all before) that the grandfather looked up at me. I told him that was the best line I’d heard all day. He smiled and explained they were shopping for travel items for a promised trip to Disney World in January (even though it was only August). I wiped the happy tears from my eyes with my handkerchief and asked why he was shouldering this daunting responsibility. He replied that his wife was the one initiating this devious plan. As he regained control of the cart from the offending grandchild, his body language took on the appearance of a man beaten down. His final words to me as he trundled off with the two boys were “Just shoot me!” Mercifully, we were nowhere near aisle 27 (pellet/BB guns) or I might just have had to put him down the Texas way.

A Sandwich for Mother’s Day
Store items make their way into the greeting cards section on a regular basis. It’s not unusual to find small toys, clothing, makeup, jewelry, and food.  Leaving items around the Store is not uncommon. I’ve done it before myself (and am now paying eternal penance for my actions). For some reason, though, it seems especially egregious when non-card items are left in the greeting card aisles. A bra hanging from the sympathy section could just be a lazy person’s second thoughts about a pending purchase, though Freud would probably have something to say about the particular section the person chose to leave the bra in. It’s not that I particularly mind clearing out the gunk from the card aisles now and then. It’s archaeological proof that humans—potential customers—have been going down the card aisles. However, I really have to object to the half-eaten Panini stuffed in the humor section. Was this, too, a subconscious message?

Daycare for Daddy
How and when the card section of the Store became a day care drop-off location for husbands, I will never know. What I do know is that if there ever were a place to tame the troubled beast within husbands, the card section is it. I have seen countless examples of wives, young and old, dropping of their irritable don’t-want-to-be-here-shopping husbands or boyfriends to be entertained for a few minutes so the women can shop in peace. Though I've never heard it said directly, the message the women are giving the men is crystal clear: If you promise not to whine about shopping with me, I’ll let you play in the card aisles for a while so I can finish. I’ll be back in 15 minutes, so be good. Momma loves you. (Kiss.) The very least these men could do would be to straighten a few cards as they peruse the card shelves . . . while eating their Panini.

Blue Saturday
In the olden days, a horde of locusts sweeping through a farmer’s young crop usually spelled an untimely end to the growing season that year. Though farmers have made valiant efforts to poison, squash, burn, and even drown the critters, few if any methods have worked. Surprisingly, hordes of “locusts” also appear on an annual basis at the Store. They are called Black Friday shoppers, though major retailers have started fudging on the starting day of this annual event of insanity. Recently, the “Friday” part has been moved to after-you-push-your-gut-from-the-Thanksgiving-Day-meal-and-get-into-your-car-Thursday. Much like locusts, shoppers attending this annual event darken the entryway of the Store so as to block the sunlight. They start making low, guttural buzzing sounds in their throats in anticipation of the doors opening, and when the doors do open, the locusts spill into every inch of entryway. One would think the card aisles would be spared the madness. With flat screens going for basement prices and toys and clothing marked down every ten minutes, card merchandisers hope that customers will spare the card aisles the carnage wrecked in the rest of the Store. Not so. I’ve seen the aftereffects. The human locusts sweep around the Store in great swarms, not wanting the competition to get too far out of sight so they don’t gain advantage over others in their bargain shopping. Thus, the swarms head down the main store lanes, devouring everything in their paths, including greeting cards. Many of the locusts grab cards they don’t even need or want; they do so purely out of feeding instinct. For a few short hours, their minds make them believe that if they don’t grab everything they can, they will somehow never be able to get the items ever again. And so, cards are grabbed by the fistfuls, envelopes fly through the air like wheat chaff, and the singing and dancing Christmas tree card gives up the ghost from having its “Play me!” button pushed one too many times.          I dread going to the Store the day after Black Friday, because after seeing the destruction of my beloved cards, I suddenly have . . . Blue Saturday.

An Angel Here and There
Please don’t get the idea that if you deliberately spend time in the Store observing human behavior that you’ll only see one absurd situation after another play out. Quite the contrary; there are an equal number of heart-warming events going on all the time. For instance, I was once taking my empty cardboard boxes to the storage area of the Store to recycle them. As I made my way down the central aisle, I saw three lovely ladies peacefully shopping in the newborn baby section of the Store. For the record, I don’t have solid evidence that I was witnessing a mother, her adult daughter, and a newborn infant. But my heart-of-hearts tells me that I was seeing three generations of females out for a day of shopping. What I keyed in on was the grandmother, who happened to be tenderly holding the baby girl in her arms. This matron had the most tranquil, radiant look on her face as she held that baby. The smile on this grandmother’s face bespoke pure joy. She was literally beaming to be holding perfection. I am fairly certain that this woman could have been standing in the midst of a stampede of live longhorn steers and would have paid them no mind as she serenely looked into the eyes of that angelic little baby.

These are reasons I like being the Card Guy. Human life unfolds before me every time I go to the Store, like a tri-fold specialty card, replete with glitter, 3-D elements, and sound. Now, if ya’ll don’t mind a smidgen of moralizing, we also get misplaced and bent out of shape, lose our protective covering, and displace the tidy orderliness we often come to expect. Gratefully, there is someone out there willing to help straighten us up and put us back where we belong.  


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