Being A Writer Has Made Me A Bad Wife, Dog Mom, Housekeeper & Employee

Writing takes up a lot of mental real estate.

You need room for characters to be born and mature. You’re always observing–people, the environment, situations–for beautiful descriptions, interesting turns of phrase, or plot inspiration.

If you’re outlining or revising a story, your mind is completely overtaken by the minutiae of perfecting your plot. Without warning, an idea will come to you–perhaps in the middle of a conversation–and you have to stop what you’re doing to write it down before if flies away.

If you’re a writer, you’re always lost in those made-up worlds, oft-times oblivious to the real one around you. And that’s why being a writer has made me suck at life just a little.

I’m an absentee wife. Neglectful dog mom. Distracted employee. And a really crappy housekeeper.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Your marriage! Care to join me?

People with busy minds need exterior calm.

Seriously–I have entire worlds unfolding in my head. Characters being born, then talking. To each other and to us. Works in progress, playing in my subconscious. Visions–of faces, or homes, or entire plots–that pop in and out like intrusive neighbors.

So when my dear spouse has a story to tell, or a problem, or simply wants to go do something, I may not be in any condition to listen, advise, or leave the house.

Of course, the natural state of the writer isn’t a comatose, selfish, and temperamental pain in the ass. That’s just how we feel when we’re in revision mode. Or waiting for our editors to return a manuscript. Or trying to work through a thorny plot issue.

So just don’t just burst in, interrupting my characters’ very important conversations. Wait a minute. Let me take a breath, calm my mind and prepare myself for real-world activities.

Given this preoccupation, I simply may not be emotionally available at a moment’s notice. And that’s not very convenient, nor does it make me a very good partner. But of all the shortcomings I try to mitigate, this is the one I work at the hardest.

‘Want to play mom?’ the dog pleaded. ‘Just one more minute!’ the writer answered.

Violet, the redbone coonhound, is just over a year old. When she was little, we spent our mornings in my office, where I write. She was a rambunctious, very energetic and mischievous puppy. She’s still all those things, but now thirty pounds heavier.

She went through this phase where she wanted to play but didn’t know how to ask. So she’d sit in the middle of the floor and stare at me while barking incessantly. Or she’d tug on my clothes–sleeve, hem of a dress, pant leg.

That phase has passed. She asks to place nicely now. But it’s often when I’m writing, since that was the routine from her puppy days. We’ll tug, we’ll play catch. I’ll indulge her for maybe five minutes, then I’ll turn back around to my computer.

If it’s not enough, she’ll ask again and again, until she’s all played out.

I never say no to play time. But I always stop it before she’s ready, because I’m on a deadline, self-imposed or determined by my editor. I write in the mornings, and need a break before I go to work. This writing time is precious, and I only have so much left over to play.

And every time I cut fetch or tug short, I feel guilty.

Writing, then work

My day job is perfect for writing.

It’s easy. It requires little mental energy. It’s (usually) stress-free. I work at the family business, a very busy restaurant that serves pizzas, subs, and wings. I run the kitchen, manage the employees.

My mind is able to wander while frying wings or rolling pizza dough. I can mine the customers for character quirks, and use their personal stories for inspiration. And it gets me out of my head and into the world, doing something physical. That’s important for a writer.

I work with my husband and in-laws. I’m allowed to be on my phone, which is the life line to my creative world. I can jot down ideas that pop into my head. Receive emails from my editor. Do some quick, furtive research.

My job is second in my list of professional priorities. I’m never fully present when I’m there–I always have one foot in my imaginary world. I care about my job, in so far as I appreciate its value in supporting my writing career.  Though I enjoy it, immensely, I’d still rather be writing.

Writing comes first. It’s a good thing I work with family, because chances are, anyone else would fire me.

Move over life, I’m trying to be creative

Here’s a list of things that need to be done in my house.

Clean the fridge. There’s some sticky stuff on the shelf. It’s been there for a long time and I have no idea what it is.

Organize the cupboards. They’re full of crap I don’t remember buying.

Clean my office. It’s a mess; there are piles and piles of random stuff everywhere.  I wonder what’s hiding beneath them…

Sweep my floors. The aforementioned redbone is expert at making messes. I need to start cleaning them up.

I could go on, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a hog. I’m not. I keep my house just clean enough. That’s what I have time for. It doesn’t stink, I keep up with the dishes and cleaning the bathrooms. It’s fine.

But could it be cleaner? Yes. Absolutely. Do I have time? Maybe next week…

Despite all my failings at life, I’d argue that it’s a small price to pay for what I’ve achieved. Three books under my belt, soon to be published, and I think they’re pretty darn good.

And after all the damage I’ve probably done, my husband and dog still love me for some reason, and the house will get cleaned.

Eventually.

Click here to read the first three chapters of my book, “Wicked Innocents.”

Seven Ways Criminals Would Use Magical Powers to Wreak Havoc on the World

Where there is a human problem, someone has devised a magical incantation to deal with it.

If it actually worked, magic would be the easy way out. Human beings love the easy way out, the simplest route around an obstacle. I know I do. If I had a choice between working hard to get what I want and flicking a wand and having it appear, I’m not ashamed to admit I’d flick that wand.

I’d use spells to clear acne, stop a stomachache, ensure safe passage for traveling relatives, or make me speak another language fluently. I’d definitely use the one that allows me to teleport or be invisible. I wouldn’t think twice about it.

And because I’m a (relatively) good person, I’d like to believe that, should I be blessed with magical powers, I wouldn’t use those powers to do bad things, like curse those who scorn me with dandruff, bunions and red traffic lights.

Let’s imagine for a moment that magic is a natural ability one is born with and can’t acquire. This ability is gifted randomly, meaning to both good and bad people. It’s a chaotic and unpredictable ability, wielded by creatures with free will in a society that values individual rights.

Think of all the extra precautions and security measures that would have to be in place to prevent magically-facilitated crimes. Citizens could never let your guard down or relax, because at any moment anyone could be victimized.

And you know the victims would most certainly be the easiest, most vulnerable targets: people who were not blessed with magical powers and can’t really fight back.

As wonderful as Harry Potter makes it look, I think a world with magic would be an absolute nightmare. In that world, anyone could get anything they want, any time.

Including criminals.

A world with magic would be a world rife with crime, because the obstacles preventing or stymieing crime wouldn’t exist. Magical powers meant for good would also be used for evil.

With this philosophy in mind, I’ve devised a rather grim list: seven hypothetical spells/incantations/charms that would most certainly be used to commit crime.

A Spell To Overcome Barriers

Without magic, burglars have to pick locks, break windows, or pry open doors to gain access to your home. That trail of destruction is a trail of evidence, leading back to the perpetrator.

Imagine a world where this criminal can just mutter a few nonsense words and the lock to your door simply unlatches for him. Or perhaps the window glass silently melts away and climbs right in. I couldn’t sleep soundly in such a world.

A Spell That Makes Objects Come to You

I’d use this one to fetch the remote control without getting up. Because I’m lazy.

The more criminally-minded would use it to lift your wallet from your pocket. Float your laptop off your desk and through an open window. Surreptitiously steal your prescription narcotics right from your medicine cabinet.

If a magical thief wants something, and there’s an open path to get it, he’d certainly use this spell.

A Spell To Slow People Down

In a foot chase with police, a criminal would have an advantage thanks to this spell. He could just flick his wand over his shoulder and recite the words and boom–the cop’s legs buckle beneath him and he falls to his knees. The criminal’s escape from the law is assured.

Or, alternately, a criminal is attacking a victim who’s just a little too feisty for his own good. He just uses this spell to slow him down and the victim is unable to defend himself. Perfect. The criminal is free to complete his felony without further impediment.

A Spell To Teleport Or Become Invisible

I would use teleportation to travel. Think of the money saved on airplane tickets!

But once again, being able to teleport from one location to another in a split second would just make the criminal’s life easier. With this power, he can leave the scene of a crime without a trace. He can get out of dodge, mid-misdeed, as soon as the police arrive.

As to being invisible–the advantages there are obvious. How easy would it be for a serial killer to stalk a victim if the killer couldn’t be seen? How hard it would be for a victim to fight back against an invisible attacker? And forget about witnesses. They can’t report what they can’t see.

A Spell to Wipe Memories

This is the perfect power to cover your tracks. If, somehow, the criminal’s powers of invisibility don’t work, he could simply wipe the witness’s memory. He could wipe the memories of the victims who remember critical details or the detectives close to tracking him down. He could wipe the memory of everyone who ever knew him and navigate society anonymously.

A Spell To Cause Pain

The violent magical criminal could cause physical pain in one of two ways, neither of which would require him to lay a hand on his victim. Unless that’s his thing, of course.

He could inflict pain that doesn’t leave a mark, igniting his victim’s sensory receptors and nerves from a comfortable distance, as much or as little as he wants. Or he could recite a spell that slashes and cuts and stabs flesh, or restricts airways without using his hands.

No physical contact means no physical evidence. It would be as if his victims were killed by a phantom.

A Spell to Control Someone’s Mind

While you could use any other of these spells for benign reasons–to lazily fetch the remote, travel to Paris, or cut veggies–this one doesn’t have an innocent application. If you want to manipulate someone else’s mind, no matter the reason, you’re simply up to no good.

Such a criminal could convince a detective to investigate another suspect. Force an innocent person to commit crimes for him. Create more willing victims. Or convince others that his crimes aren’t crimes at all.

So, to conclude, I don’t wish for a world filled with magic. If somehow mankind evolved enough to develop magical abilities, I think that would spell apocalypse. Call me cynical, but mankind must be limited.

Without the benefit of magical powers to make his plans easier to achieve, mankind has already wreaked havoc and destruction upon himself and the planet.

Let’s not give him magical powers, too.

Photo Courtesy Pexels

Click here to read the first three chapters of my book, “Wicked Innocents.”

The Allure Of Other People’s Lives: Why We Can’t Mind Our Own Business

You never know what goes on behind closed doors.

My mother said this often when I was growing up, usually after learning something unexpected about an acquaintance, co-worker, celebrity–whomever.

The thought always frightened me and I often studied friends and strangers with suspicion, wondering: “what do you do that no one knows about?”

Perhaps they did drugs. Or their house was unimaginably filthy. Or their family had nightly, ritualistic fist-fights. I usually imagined abuse of some sort, and I think this is what my mother was alluding to.

As I’ve gotten older and society has become so open, I’m often aghast when I learn what people do in their private lives, from the obscene to the bizarre. And I’ve only grown more interested.

But why do I care about what other people are doing? Why do people care about what I’m doing?

Why can’t we all just mind our own business?

You Won’t Believe What He Did!

Talking behind each other’s backs is hard-wired into our brains, so it seems. Where there are groups of people, there’s gossip.

Anthropologists think gossip is the glue that bonds people together. We also use it to exclude and isolate people who aren’t contributing to the well-being of the group. Think of a group of hunter-gatherers like an ancient version of an office. There’s always that one berry picker who doesn’t pull her weight, taking breaks while the others fill their baskets. Gossip may be a way to motivate her to try harder. If she doesn’t, she’ll end up alone.

In other words, we bond over shared frustrations and sometimes hatred. It’s a survival tactic. If we align with other people, we have a better chance of surviving. If we tick off the group and become the subject of gossip, we may just die.

Underlying gossip, of course, is judgment. And this common human habit also serves a purpose: it’s much easier to judge than it is to understand.

Who Does He Think He Is?

We judge because we don’t have time to figure out why everyone around us is doing whatever it is they do. We don’t have time to figure out their motivations.

It’s easier for us to conclude someone is being rude to us because they’re a jerk than it is to figure out why they may be acting like a jerk in that moment. It’s a difference between situational versus personality attributions; the former is the understanding kind, the latter the judgey one.

In order to truly understand someone else, we have to know the actual motivation behind their actions, which is a very complicated thing. In the absence of that, we draw our own conclusions. So being judgmental is just plain lazy.

As part of this laziness, we speculate, we offer opinions based on our speculations, we condemn and demean based on those opinions.

But we never actually look behind that closed door.

He Should Be More Like Us

People like to tell me the intimate details of their lives. I have one of those faces, apparently. Or maybe they can sense I’ll actually listen.

The other day, a perfect stranger told me about his lifestyle choices. He has a kid he barely knows, but never wanted kids at all. He divorced his wife after seven years of marriage. He has no interest in getting married again, but has had lots of girlfriends.

He wisely acknowledged two things about himself: he doesn’t want to negotiate every decision in his life with another person, and he’s selfish. Good for him, I thought, for knowing this about himself. He knows what he can give to another person, and what he can’t. Most of us don’t understand ourselves this well.

But people judge him, brutally, for his lifestyle choices. They think he should live like them, and if he doesn’t, something is wrong with him. “Like them” means the heterosexual, nuclear family. Mom, Dad, two kids.

I listened to this man explain the “why” behind his choices. It was simple: he just doesn’t want the same things as everyone else.

But the people who judge him don’t ask why. They compare his life to theirs, and determine theirs is better. They isolate him through gossip, because he’s not contributing to society by adhering to its norms. Perhaps their beef is with the fact that he’s not reproducing. Perhaps they feel he’s not doing his share or he has it easy. Unlike them, he’s not struggling through life to support a family, but instead coasts through with freedom and plenty of money and no responsibilities. Regardless, what this man decides to do with his life is still nobody’s business. He’s not hurting anyone; if anything, he’s hurting himself.

But despite all the natural drives that explain gossip and judgment–which make sense–I’m still left wondering why we care how other people live.

With some exceptions, what other people do behind closed doors doesn’t affect us. So are we interested out of morbid curiosity? In general, we’re afraid of what we don’t know–not knowing the private lives of our neighbors is a scary thought if they’re evil people. What about insecurity and jealousy? We have to know that what we’re doing and what we have is better, so we can live with ourselves and, theoretically, be happy.

Perhaps the human habit of “not minding our own business” is a way to measure ourselves. Alone, without anything to compare ourselves to, we’d have no idea how we’re doing. When we pry into the lives of others, we’re really searching ourselves.

YOUR TURN

Why do you think we’re so interested in other people’s lives? Have you ever been the subject of malicious gossip? Have other people ever openly judged your lifestyle choices?

Photo Courtesy Pexels

Beware the Quiet Ones: A Look Inside the Mysterious World of Shy People

I have always hated the saying, “it’s always the quiet ones.”

After a mass shooting or a despicable murder, this is a common refrain. Reporters interview neighbors who knew the suspect and they usually mention how unassuming the killer was. He was quiet and kept to himself.

I can’t recall any specific events or words spoken, but what I do remember is the anger I always feel after hearing others agree.

“It’s always the quiet ones,” someone inevitably says.

(Forgetting the extroverted charm of Ted Bundy, of course).

And the audience at home, listening in rapt tension, generally agrees with this. They start looking at the quiet people in their lives and wonder: is he quiet because he’s plotting something?

Chances are the answer is no. Chances are that quiet person is simply that–just quiet–and wants to be left alone. That person is either suffering from social anxiety, is an introvert, or doesn’t like to make a spectacle of himself.

Personally, I’ve never been victimized by a shy or quiet person. Quite the opposite: it’s  people who can’t shut up who bother me. They run their mouths until they say something offensive. They can’t take no for an answer. They bully and tease. They steal the spotlight, interrupt, and berate.

But it’s the quiet ones who are suspect, who are carefully watched for any signs of psychopathy, But why, other than the methodical plotting of serial murder, would someone be shy or quiet?

Fear

Shy and quiet are not the same thing. Shy means you’re afraid to talk to people (generally), while being quiet means you just choose not to speak.

There are many reasons why a person may choose not to speak to others, but if you’re deciding every single day to keep your mouth shut, there must be a reason for it. As a quiet person myself, I can provide some insight into two reasons.

Insecurity and ineptitude.

As I said earlier, I’ve found that most people don’t trust the quiet. And the quieter you are, the more suspicious you appear. A quiet person leaves everything up to interpretation. They are a blank slate. People are natural gossips and always curious, and so they fill in that blank slate with assumptions and opinions and details, many of which aren’t true at all and are usually negative.

Exacerbating this truth is another: talking to people is difficult. Choosing topics and the right words to express them. Reading your audience. Figuring out what other people want from you or how you should act. Balancing talking with listening. Some quiet people simply can’t navigate all of this trouble.

The quiet person knows he’s different and lacking something fundamental to being human–the easy ability to communicate. He listens to the conversations around him, perhaps wishing he knew what to say. He can tell the people around him think he’s weird and awkward, heightening insecurities he already has.

He’s probably tried and failed to talk to people with ease and charm, and so now the prospect is frightening. And most people avoid their fears. In the end, it’s just easier just to keeps his mouth shut.

Modesty

In college, I took a sculpture class. (Side note: I suck at making sculptures).

My professor was young, maybe in his mid 30s, and handsome for a professor. He was “hip.” I think he had a nose ring. He found out one day that I liked the band Kings of Leon (a brand-spanking new band back then) and burned their most recent album on a CD for me.

He was a man of few words, always watching and listening, smiling to himself. I sensed that he was always thinking about something deep and fascinating, but would never share it with anyone.

He was a good professor and from what I could tell, a talented artist. He was intelligent and interesting and paid attention to the people around him. He was quiet but not cut off from the outside world.

One day in class, he said to no one in particular that most people talk and talk and talk, but rarely say anything at all. Truer words were never spoken, and they bring me to the second motivation for being quiet–modesty.

Some people put themselves on display. Every thought and feeling is expressed, every achievement and talent boasted about, every opinion shared openly. A quiet person like my sculpture professor doesn’t like to impose themselves on others.

That person understands there’s a time to say what you think, and a time to keep it to yourself. Or maybe he doesn’t think his thoughts, feelings, achievements, talents, or opinions are interesting enough to share with the world. Or he just wants to hide, averse even to positive attention.

Introversion

Introverts and extroverts don’t really understand each other.

I can’t comprehend someone deriving energy and excitement from being around other people. Other people tire me out–and that’s how introverts function.

To an introvert, the outside world can be a bit too over-stimulating at times and when that happens, they retreat into the inner sanctum of their own thoughts. They are comfortable with being quiet and are always thinking about something, real or imagined.

The introvert has an internal energy meter. When she goes out into the outside world, with all of its stimuli and people, that meter is full. With every conversation, no matter how minor, the meter decreases, like a battery. Eventually, there’s no energy left and the introvert needs to recharge.

At this point, the introverted brain literally loses the ability to form words and sentences, or listen to the words and sentences spoken by others. It’s a crushing fatigue, pulling the introvert down into quiet oblivion.

Energy returns only in an environment of solitude, quiet, and stillness. A calming, familiar place, a solo activity, a nap. And once the energy bar is full again, she can go back into the world, fresh-faced and ready to speak.

I’ve never understood why quiet, shy people inspire such suspicion and distrust. Of course, this depends on the person and their overall attitude and behavior. A quiet person with an intense, borderline inappropriate stare is a creep. A quiet woman with an air of confidence is a snob.

But are they secretly plotting something sinister? Likely not. More likely they simply don’t know how to start the conversation.

YOUR TURN

Are you an extrovert or introvert? How do you feel at the prospect of talking to people? And if you’re not shy at all, what is your impression of people who are?

Photo Courtesy Pexels and  Himanshu Sharma

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifestyles of the Jittery & Terrified: Why Nervousness Is A Magic Power

I come from a long line of nervous people.

Every time there’s a storm outside my grandmother stares out the window, groaning and praying that someone she knows isn’t on the road. She knows a lot of people.

My childhood memories are filled with images of my grandfather sitting in his rocking chair, lower lip protruding, sighing deeply. Worrying, incessantly, about everyone.

My sister has a nervous breakdown when she sees spiders. My mother is afraid of many things. Mice. Driving. Calories. Her children; mostly her children.

I have inherited my own nervous nature from many relatives. Though my anxiety has improved a lot over the years, I can name many phobias, past and present.

Agoraphobia. Emetophobia. Mild claustrophobia. Also driving. Planes…

But this isn’t about me.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone on planet earth has anxiety in one form or another. To declare “I have anxiety!” is simply to identify yourself as a human being. Hell, my dog has anxiety. It’s a side effect of living.

And I want to challenge what it means to be nervous–maybe not just run-of-the-mill nervous, but something a tick above that. The kind of nervous that can easily rule your life. The kind of nervous that, to the outside world, looks like weakness.

Nervousness shouldn’t be equated with weakness. As a Certified Nervous Person, I believe it’s a strength, even a magic power. Here’s why.

A Threat Around Every Corner

A nervous person is fine tuned to threats. Emotional, physical, existential. Real and imagined. Things you would never even think of.

What if I have too much soda before the plane lands and then the plane gets stuck on the tarmac and the flight attendants won’t let me go to the bathroom, and if I defy their orders and go the bathroom anyway the air marshal tackles me and I end up on the news?

What if I’m standing in this line forever, so long that I start getting hungry and then I miss lunch, so my blood sugar plummets and I start to feel dizzy and nauseous, and I cause a scene because I either faint or vomit on the person standing in front of me?

What if I walk through that tall grass and a tick latches on to my ankle and I don’t notice for a week, and by the time I do, it has given me Lyme Disease and I end up developing celiac disease?

Are these reasons to be overly nervous? Not really. They’re silly worries, unlikely scenarios, and only serve to add undue stress to a situation that might not be stressful at all.

But the important thing to remember, before you laugh at a Certified Nervous Person, is that all of these scenarios are possible. Who do you think is going to take the proper action to prevent such a crisis: the calm fellow who never worries about anything? Or the nervous Nelly who has imagined exactly that chain of events?

The nervous Nelly, of course. She would drink soda sparingly as the plane reached its destination. She would pack a protein bar in her purse before heading to the DMV. She would wear tall socks and tick repellent before going hiking.

Nervous people are always prepared. We expect the worst, and worse than the worst. So when a crisis arrives, we’re not upset. We don’t falter or cave. Instead, we give that crisis a dirty, unimpressed look and ask why it arrived so late. We were born ready.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Every waking moment of a nervous person’s life is a struggle.

We are constantly fighting an internal voice that points out new things to be afraid of. We have no control over it. We also talk to this voice constantly, telling it to shut up or telling ourselves not to listen.

When I’m nervous, I feel like I have two minds: the rational one and the irrational one. One side tells me I’m not in danger and I don’t need to fret over something so silly, while the other maliciously reminds me that I should be very scared of everything.

It’s a back and forth that doesn’t give up. A prompting to be scared, fighting with a determination not to be.

And that inner battle is perfect preparation for any real life obstacle. Nervous people possess expert coping mechanisms and stress relieving techniques. Our brains may be a tad fragile, but they’re protected by emotional callouses formed over years of fighting.

We’re also used to crawling through and over our nerves to get what we want. The nervous person knows very well that if you give in to every single little fear, you’ll never do anything at all.

And this makes us are unstoppable.

Sensitive Souls

I believe that nervous people are simply people with overactive emotions.

We experience the difficulties of everyday life on a higher frequency. Call it Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill Syndrome: we have a hard time distinguishing between an actual big deal and something that we just think is a big deal.

After a social function, my mother will lie awake at night recounting every single thing she said. As the hours in the dark tick by, she gradually convinces herself that she insulted someone or made herself look like a fool. And of course, she did nothing of the sort. But it doesn’t matter, because she’s worked herself into a nervous state and will end up falling asleep, finally, at 5 a.m.

There is no calm for a Certified Nervous Person. Quiet moments are just free, undisturbed moments to fret about something. Our base line is bothered. Our emotions are always on the surface.

And these emotions aren’t always directed at torturing ourselves. We direct this energy at other people, in the form of constant worry. We agonize over what can go wrong in the lives of the people we love, following that “if, then” thinking to its terrifying conclusion.

With our minds attuned to every emotional stimuli–internal and external–nervous people often absorb the emotions of complete strangers. When we see anyone suffer, we feel it, too.

Nervousness and empathy, in my personal experience, go hand in hand. One causes and feeds the other, allows the other to exist. And the ability to intimately understand and appreciate the internal lives of other people is the most powerful skill you can possess.

Of course, there are plenty of Certified Nervous Persons who are held captive by their over-active nerves. There are certain aspects of my anxiety that I can’t overcome.

But perhaps if we look at nervousness as a unique way of seeing the world and a special struggle that makes us tough, we can convince other people that we’re not weak at all.

We are stronger than they–and we–think.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels