Jan 04

Choose Carefully

“You have a choice each and every single day. I choose to feel blessed. I choose to feel grateful. I choose to be excited. I choose to be thankful. I choose to be happy.” – Amber Housley

Happy New Year! It’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. Choose carefully.

Resolve to lose weight because you want to be healthier, not because your crotchety Uncle Theodore called you fat. He’s not exactly thin.

Choose to clear your closet of unwearable clothes to ditch the clutter, not because your nosy mother is coming for a visit.

Resolve to put aside more money toward retirement because you realize your current strategy falls far short of a worry-free post-employment life, not because you’re trying to keep up with the neighbors.

Choose to socialize more with family and friends because you miss their company, not because you’re sure they’ll gossip about you if you don’t.

Resolve to finish your 70,000-word manuscript because the story continues to invade your consciousness. Don’t complete your manuscript to prove to your friends that you’re a writer. Poets, columnists, songwriters, people who create short stories are writers, too, not just those authors with best sellers.

Whatever you decide to resolve to do or change, remember to do it for your personal reasons, not because someone told you what to do.

I’ve resolved to read at least twelve books in 2018 because I wish to learn the techniques of other writers in various genres.

I’ve resolved to complete my manuscript because my story keeps invading my consciousness.

I’ve resolved to enter the Writer’s Weekly short story contest again because several of my non-winning entries led to me winning other contests.

I also choose to be happy with my results, regardless of what others think.

What are your resolutions and why did you choose them?

 

 

Jan 01

Editor’s Log: Brain Training – Commitments not Resolutions for 2018

Have you every wondered why it was so hard to do something that you want to do, but seem to avoid doing it? For example, wanting to write for an hour to get started on that story–suddenly the dishes need hand washing, the trash cans need clearing out, and the dogs need walking. While completing these chores, the plan to write is still present, but never happens.

I listened to a scientist on NPR talk about how the brain builds connections that solidify the habits we engage in. The brain wires and rewires, in part, based on what we focus on doing. Spend lots of time doing the same things in the same way, and the brain records those practices. This might explain why habits are so difficult to change.

There is hope. The brain is adaptable. We just need to plan reasonably and patiently what is to be accomplished, or what new habits to create. Using the above example, writing for an hour in a day might not be where the person’s can find success. Start with 5-10 minutes of dedicated writing. This goal is easier to accomplish than the hour. If you write longer once, celebrate the moment with a fist pump. Then get back to it. At some point, in a week or month, add 5-10 minutes. Again, keep it “easy”–writing is never easy 😉 This repeated practice can lead to the brain recording new habits.

Keep the rules and boundaries simple and limited. Less is more. It’s not important that you write in the morning, use a specific journal or word-processor, or sit at a certain cafe table because that is most conducive to your writing. Those restrictions can be obstacles to the important outcome: Just write. When those conditions are available–great–just do not allow them to get in the way.

Failure is not an end, it’s a growth opportunity. If I write everyday and then I miss two days, stopping is not an option. Reflect on what caused the lost practice. What it just chance or some obstacle that needs to be addressed. Next: Jump back in.

As you create your writing resolutions, what are you willing to do that is already in your habits? What will take some brain growth over time? Be intentional and reasonable so that success will come.

Here are some writing commitments shared:

Wendi Knape

  1. Dive deep into A NEW LIFE, book 1 in my vampire series, and see what needs to be done so it’s ready to be published.
  2. Write on a schedule instead of when I feel like an idea is brewing.
  3. Market HOT BLACKTOP more.
  4. Continue to develop new stories in a loose format so when I’m ready I can start writing the novel.

John McCarthy

  1. Expand promotion of my book: So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation
  2. Read at least 12 books this year.
  3. Write 1-2 short stories.

What are your Writing Commitments for 2018? Share them in the comment section. 

Dec 23

Crow Story, Part Eight

For Laramie, Whenever I May Find Her

 

I come to find out that the dog’s name is Winter. The poor dog is a bright fluffy white, except for the specks of dirt and leaves and the red splotch around her rear left leg. Having felt her shiver in my arms and heard her whimper in the car all the way over here, knowing her name is of slight consolation. Knowing she has humans to take care of her would be better.

She was not wearing a collar, but thanks to a microchip implant, the doggy doctor is able to track down the owner. It just so happens that Winter lives about four doors down from me. I have never seen her before, nor do I recognize the name of the owner. Sign of the times, I reflect. A man never cares about his neighbors anymore, but will put a microchip in his dog when it runs away.

Gracie and Joker have been waiting patiently in the car for about 15 minutes by now. I told the receptionist that I would not be leaving the dog’s side until her owner showed up, but I am also conscious of my dogs and their bladders, so I decide to call my wife.

“Phil?”

“Hi, dear.”

“Where are you?”

I proceed to tell her the story of Jeremy’s re-appearance, the chase, and discovering Winter. “It was crazy, Mo. I’m still catching my breath.”

“Did they find the dog’s owner?”

“Yeah, he’s on his way. He lives a few doors down from us… Hey would you be able to come by and pick the dogs up? I feel like I need to stay here with Winter.”

“Why do you need to do that? You just said the owner was on his way.”

“Call it a hunch. Nothing this bird has done so far has been an accident. I’m guessing there’s something more to him leading me to this dog than just a rescue mission.”

“Well, alright then. I was about to go shopping anyway.”

We exchange our “love-ya’s” and our “see-ya-soons,” and hang up our phones.

Sitting here in the lobby of the doggy hospital, I struggle to put it all together. From the moment this bird entered my life, everything has had a mystic air to it. The feeding frenzy he procured for his flock after scaring that squirrel into the jaws of my dogs; the charm bracelet with the due date of our miscarried first-born; rescuing the fawn in my underwear in the park; and being led to a broken dog in a tipi. None of this can be coincidental. It simply must have a purpose. I have seen far too many coincidences to believe in them anymore.

I recall the video lessons of the Crow Stalker, but learning the calls and the body language of the birds only gives me the substrate. I recall the Legend of Sun Breast, but it doesn’t make any more sense to me than it did the day I read it. Herman Blackclaw died in Laramie at the same time my wife and I were on our honeymoon. But what does it mean? I resolve to spend some more time on the Seven Suns website when I return from the pale green waiting room of the pet ER. There’s got to be something I’m missing.

The pictures of the tipi Mo and I stayed in – now carried in my wallet – stand in stark contrast to the drab surroundings in which I currently sit. I pull them out, unfold them, and flip back and forth. My eyes pour over the creased Kodaks. Unsure what to look for, I frantically dart back and forth from detail to detail. Maybe all I’m missing is a single puzzle piece, some minute point within these images to trigger a memory, to make a connection, to turn into that eureka! moment that I’ve been so desperate for.

The photos of the inside of the tipi offer no such moment. The headdress, the animal skins, the owl… the white owl. Well, it was the same color as the broken dog I just rescued, and they were both on the inside of the tipi. The words “seems like a stretch” slip out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I add “owls” to the things to look up when I return home.

On the outside, the bison and horses dancing on the plain on the outside of the tipi vaguely remind me of the dogs at the park, if the dogs were about 4 times bigger. Pitched against the rolling field of wheat, they appear playful. The brave, standing tall with his bow and his hatchet, looks stoically off in the distance. And then there’s that damned black bird, watching, waiting, knowing. The way the photo is creased, I can flap the bird’s wings by folding and unfolding it.

That provides some slight amusement for a while. My brain has been grasping for a pattern that doesn’t want to present itself – an unmanifest destiny, I think, and chuckle aloud. I have been thinking about this for too long. And lo, in this brief state of mental relaxation, I see something I had not seen before in the photos: a man in the background. “What? Who are you?”

At that very moment, the bell above the door swiftly clangs, and a tall, determined man enters. He wastes no time moving to the vacant reception desk.

“Where is my dog? Where is Winter??”

“Just a moment!” comes a voice from the back. The man raps his fingers on the desk and nervously leans back and forth. I decide not to introduce myself until he’s been assuaged by the receptionist. Impatient, he turns and looks directly at me. A sudden glimmer of recognition sweeps his steely gaze, as though I return it with a furrowed brow. Just as he opens his mouth to say something, the sweet voice of an elderly woman drifts through the doors.

“Are you Mr. Nomee?”

“Yes, yes. You have Winter?”

“Winter? Yes, she’s sedated right now. That gentleman there brought her in.” She points at me, and he turns around with the same faint memory in his eyes. He opens his mouth again, but instead of words, he opts to bow his head in gratitude. He wears a long ponytail that is starting to grey, with dark wheat skin that is beginning to crack.

“Would you like to see her?”, she asks. He nods and follows her through the doors. As they disappear down the hallway, the receptionist begins to ask him the 20 questions required of any owner who unexpectedly needs to get a procedure done on their pet. Some thank you!

My phone goes off; my wife is 5 minutes away. I decide to step out for a cigarette.

 

The cold air that once brought shivers to my spine this morning is now a bright, hot July day. I can hear my dogs whining in the car. I go to give them some pets, but not before I glance overhead to check for crows. None found here.

I return to my photos and study the man behind the tipi in the outdoor shot we took of the brave and the crow, at the tipi’s entrance, but all I can make out is his skintone: a burnt orange. Even with my reading glasses from the car, I can not make out a distinct facial feature. The man is not looking at the camera, but at the tipi itself. His body is hidden from sight.

Faintly, I hear: Caw! Caw! Caw!

I shiver. Looking around there is no bird in sight. I wait for more calls. None come.

My cigarette seems less appealing now, and I toss it as it is halfway done. My wife’s car pulls in as I walk through the door, and my dogs start their whining again.

Back in the office, Mr. Nomee is sitting in the chair that I had previously occupied.

“Phil Rosette,” I say as I offer my hand.

“Alfred Nomee. Thank you.”

“Of course. What happened?”

“I was hoping you could tell me. I let her stay outside last night, and this morning she is not there.”

“Funniest thing: I found her in a tipi.” Pausing, I decide not to tell him the bit about the crow leading me there. “I’m not sure what made her gimpy but it looked like she had just crawled in there to hide.”

My wife walks in to the office.

“Hi, Honey. Maureen, this is—”

“Alfred Nomee. I thought I recognized you, Phil. Now that I see your wife, I know where from. Laramie, Wyoming.”

Suddenly, everything is very cold again.

Dec 21

My $624 Necklace!!!

 

I love Mexico for a lot of reasons—its people, the music, the food and its beautiful silver jewelry. This November my husband and I took a seven day Princess Cruise from Los Angeles down to Mexico. There were two days at sea and then we turned around stopping in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, Cabo San Lucas, another day at sea and back to L.A.

It was a lot of fun and one of the best things was my $624 silver necklace from Mazatlán. After the ship docked there, we had breakfast and took a tour to see the place. The first stop was a jewelry store. The guide told us on the way that we could buy whatever we wanted with confidence that it was the real thing because all their silver jewelry was 95% pure. Princess Cruises had vetted the store because they didn’t want any passengers coming back to the ship and complaining that they’d been cheated.

So while I felt confident we wouldn’t be cheated, I also realized we probably wouldn’t be buying anything. Why? Because, in a situation like this, the jewelry is real and very beautiful, frequently gorgeous, but also very, very expensive.

The guide then passed out round yellow stickers with “Juan Carlos” written on them in black letters. He said all the sales people spoke English and if we showed the stickers, they would lower the price by 30%.

When Michael and I heard that, our faces lit up. That meant we could bargain. We always had a good time bargaining in Mexico even if, in the end, we couldn’t get the price down enough to actually buy anything.

The way we do it is, I wander around until I find something I’m interested in. Then Michael plays the straight man and I negotiate.

“Michael, why don’t we just go in and look around but not plan to buy anything?” I said.

“Well, I would like to get you something.” He responded.

“If Princess Cruises stands behind their jewelry, it’s probably going to be really beautiful and very expensive. How about we agree now on how much to spend? If we get our price, fine. But if not, let’s just walk away?”

“O.k.”

We walked into the store and to the very back where they were serving complimentary Margaritas at 10:00 in the morning. The Margaritas were good, probably the best ones we had on the whole trip!

We both started walking around the store, drinks in hand. The walls were floor to ceiling mirrors with clear glass shelves and waist high glass counters running along the sides and down the center. Every inch of glass was covered with silver: silver necklaces, earrings, watches, pendants, etc. I don’t think I’ve seen so much silver in one place since the last time I came to Mexico. And it was beautiful, artistic, gorgeous! I felt swept away as I knew I would.

I immediately found a necklace I did want so I tried it on as well as two or three others so that I didn’t appear too interested in the first one. Within a few seconds, a sales woman approached. I sensed that I wouldn’t do too well negotiating with her so I told her the jewelry was lovely but I was just looking.

I went looking for Michael and told him I had found something but was pretty sure it was going to be too expensive. None of the jewelry had prices which was a big sign that you could bargain and it was expensive.

I tried on several necklaces but told him it was the first one that I really wanted. A salesman approached. He seemed friendly and wanted to talk.

“Your jewelry is lovely,” I said.

“Yes,” he responded. “It’s 95% pure. You don’t have to polish it.”

“Really? Even if you put it in a drawer,” I said.

“No, never. Which one are you interested in?” he asked.

I showed him and asked how much it was. He looked at it, raised it to the light, looked at it again, “624”.

Now the exchange rate is 18 pesos to $1.00 U.S. That would make it around $35.00 dollars U.S., very affordable.

“Oh, 624 pesos?” I said.

“No, no! U.S. dollars. $624.”

“Oh. By the way, Juan Carlos, the Tour Guide, said to show you this.” I opened my hand so he could see the yellow sticker in my palm. “He said that would bring the price down by 30%.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Juan Carlos approaching us. He quietly joined our group.

“Yes! Yes.” He took his calculator out. “436.80.”

“Pesos?” I smiled.

“No! no. U.S. dollars.”

“Demasiado! Demasiado (too much).” I responded and tried to look sad. “Can you give us a better price?”

“I am giving you a better price. I just took 30% off the top.”

“I know. And the necklace is very beautiful. But it’s too expensive. Demasiado. Thank you,” and we started wandering around the store followed by the salesman and Juan Carlos.

“How much do you want to pay?” the salesman asked.

“Hmmmm,” I said, trying to gain time to think of what to say. Michael and I looked at each other. “Well, mmmmmm, what if we paid you 100 U.S. dollars cash, no credit card?”

“Hmmmmm,” he said. “100 U.S. dollars from you.” He pointed to Michael. “And, 100 U.S. dollars from you.” He pointed to me.

“No, no. Too much! Demasiado! 100 U.S. dollars solamente (only).” I said.

He paused to take a breath.

Juan Carlos spoke up, “Tomorrow we go to Cabo San Lucas. The jewelry there will be much more expensive. He’s really giving you a good price.”

The salesman smiled.

“Yes, you’re right, “I responded. “The jewelry is more expensive in Cabo. But, I have beautiful jewelry at home. I don’t need any more. We just stopped in here to look and the necklace caught my eye. But I don’t really need it. Actually, if we don’t buy this, we won’t be buying any jewelry on this trip.”

Juan Carlos said nothing but I noticed a few seconds later that he had wandered off.

That’s when the straight man came in. Michael said, “You know if you sell the necklace for 100 U.S. dollars, it’s sold. And, you have the money. But, if you don’t sell it, it stays on the counter, just sitting there, and who knows how long before you find another buyer?”

“Wait here.” The salesman said. He walked over to another counter, stopped and appeared deep in thought. He punched some numbers into his calculator. He paused. Finally he returned.

“O.k.” he said, 100 U.S. dollars cash.”

Dec 16

Fanfare and Pageantry

Because the dad was smiling, I was pretty sure I hadn’t offended him too much. He asked, “Did you just say, ‘Every parent should force their child to be in the Christmas pageant’?”

Absolutely I did.

His high-school sophomore son had told me a week earlier that he was willing to participate, and ever since, I had been counting on the boy’s help. Now he was saying that he didn’t want a role in our church’s most special worship service. As pageant director, I needed the young man. His change of heart was one more disappointment to add to a rapidly growing list of challenges I faced in rounding out the cast.

I had scanned the church directory for every family with minor children. Then I left messages at each home. A day later, not one person had called me back. And a week later, no one had added any children’s names to the sign-up sheet I had left on the bulletin board at church.

Of the kids whom I was able to rely upon, my Joseph was going to miss most of the practices because of his wrestling schedule. My Mary preferred to be a narrator. And my Lead Angel would be rushing in from a soccer tournament on the day of the pageant, so she wanted to play . . . what I’ll call . . .  a more dispensable role.

I had little choice but to cast her as a nonspecific angel from the realm of glory who wouldn’t have her own lines to speak and might not be missed if she didn’t really get to church on time.

I guess she could have been a sheep. Who would miss one little lamb from an entire flock?

I would.

But more importantly, God would.

Last Sunday, I tried to convince the high-school boy that the Christmas pageant is an amazing way of expressing our love for Christ. I told him that I understood his hesitancy. He hadn’t ever participated before. He didn’t know what to expect. I assured him that he wouldn’t be the oldest and that he wouldn’t uncomfortably stick out amongst a bunch of little kids. At that point in time, I was in short supply of youth and had already been recruiting adults for some of the roles. The pageant would include  people of all ages.

Still hoping to tap into what might inspire this boy, I offered to place him in a role of his choosing. Somehow, I knew he wasn’t going to change his mind. It was easy for him to say no to me.

There are always other things we can be doing with our time. When we’re asked to be a part of the Christmas pageant, saying no instantly erases any anxiety that we may feel about singing and dancing in public; wearing a costume; standing before people tightly packed into every pew of a sanctuary; bowing to a baby.

Why should any of us force ourselves or our kids to suffer needlessly?

The Christmas pageant isn’t an obligation. It’s a privilege to reenact the birth of Jesus. It’s an honor to be a senior and get to fill a coveted role as Mary or Joseph. It’s a joy to push past our comfort zones, memorize our lines, smile while all eyes look to us as we welcome Christ into the world through our imperfect but personal story-telling. Some things—this thing—is worth great effort.

Yes, every parent should force their child to participate in the Christmas pageant . . . but not because directors like me need willing participants. This isn’t about us and it isn’t really about your kids, either. If we do things right, the attention won’t be on any of us at all.

Free up busy schedules. Set aside discomfort and fear, insecurity and anxiety.

Welcome Baby Jesus. Worship the Messiah.

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” A Charlie Brown Christmas, directed by Bill Mendelson, written by Charles M. Schulz, featuring Ann Altieri, Chris Doran, Sally Dryer, et al, aired December 9, 1965, on CBS.

Click on the image below to watch a YouTube video of the Christmas pageant I directed in 2015. It’s truly a labor of love. Merry Christmas!