Clean It Up!

It was a part of the job that nobody liked, so it piled up and got progressively worse until some poor person had to deal with the entire pile at once. I was that person.

My first teaching job was in a school that had a severe overcrowding problem. There were  1200 students in a school built for half that. Classes met all over the crazy place. Any widened part of a hallway got turned into a small, impromptu classroom by putting up partitions and hanging a poster-sized whiteboard on the wall. Desks were any makeshift or ancient specimen the custodians or maintenance could find in storage. My classroom didn’t have desks. It had three 8-foot tables surrounded by a mismatched collection of stools.

As the science lab teacher, that worked fine. My room was actually split 2/3 for me and 1/3 for a special ed teacher. We worked it out so he pulled his larger classes when I was teaching computer lab down the hall or when I was on my conference time, and he made sure that his conference time was scheduled when I had my larger classes. It all worked out fine with a little juggling.

Attached to the science lab was a lockable supply closet. On my first day there, halfway through the school year, I started planning out what kinds of activities I would be able to do with the kiddos who were going to be entrusted to me for 50 minutes at a time. Naturally, I wanted to see what kind of supplies I had to work with, so I unlocked the closet and tried to open the door.

I barely got it open far enough to peek inside and flip the light switch. The room looked like someone had upended several science project kits in the room then run out the door before the resulting avalanche could bury them, but there were sturdy shelves lining the walls.

I smiled. My classes wouldn’t start until the following Monday, so I had time. I was up to that challenge, but I wasn’t half brave enough to wade in there in a skirt and sandals.

The next day, I wore slacks and closed shoes. Opening the door took a considerable effort. I’d thought about getting a running start, but a couple good shoves got the job done. I stepped inside and confirmed that the qualified disaster area extended beyond just the sliver I’d seen the afternoon before.

First, I’d need to take stock of what I had, and that meant hauling all the junk out of there and sorting it. Fortunately, I had those three tables and a long counter down the back as well as 3 mobile lab carts. Lots of horizontal space for sorting, and if I ran out of that, there was always the floor.

Unpacking the room took the rest of the day, but it was like a treasure hunt. A kid sorting through a pile of random toys might have been happier, but I doubt it.

There had indeed been science kits upended in the room in addition to the random scientific flotsam collected over time. I sorted the kits back into their boxes and found their documentation. Then I split the rest of the equipment up by what I would most likely use it for. By the time I left, the closet was empty, and every horizontal space available in the room was covered with an amusing assortment of stuff.

The next day, I cleaned up the closet itself. It looked like no one had shown it a dust rag since the Johnson administration. Forget dust bunnies. That closet was infested with dust elephants. I went through an entire roll of paper towels trying to find out what color the shelving was supposed to be then I borrowed a broom from the custodian to evict the dust elephants from the corners of the room.

When dark gray metal shelving shined, I knew I was ready to put everything back in. The reassembled science kits found their spots on the only shelf tall enough to hold them.

Then I went around the room neatly stacking stuff and clustering them by which discipline would be most likely to use them. While I did that, I took an inventory, which I attached to the door when I was finished.

Once finished, I surveyed my work and decided that it was good enough for a start. .

 

Happiness

“Most folks are only as happy as they make up their mind to be.”
— attributed to Abraham Lincoln

There is some debate about whether or not that was actually said by the former president, but it certainly does seem to be the truth.

We’ve all met those people who have a problem for every solution. These are the sorts who would rather grouch about a problem then actually do anything practical about it. Efforts to help them arrive at a solution will be rebuffed, sometimes with some gusto. They don’t want help. They want to be grumpy. I guess they like the attention.

In fact, if people spent half the energy working toward solutions as they spent complaining about the problem, there’d be a lot more progress on the issues that concern us. We’d be happier as a result.

Resolving to Be Happy

We all have bad days, the sorts of days where Murphy is paying too much attention to us and everything goes wrong. Here are some ideas you can use to restore your happiness.

Go Ahead and Grouch

Get it out of your system. Find someone you can trust and talk it out. If you’re not sure who to trust, write it out. Holler at a pillow or an empty chair. Commiserate with someone else involved.

Just don’t live there, and do be careful who you talk to. Not everyone who smiles at you is your friend.

Do Something

After you’ve had your chance to spew parts about what’s going on, do something constructive.

If it’s a problem that can be fixed, start working on the fix. Sometimes that’s a matter of figuring out what to do or securing the help you need. Sometimes it’s a matter of just doing the thing that fixes the problem, even if it’s not fun. Start doing the practical thing that will make the problem go away. When my apartment flooded a year ago, a terrific mess was left behind. We started dealing with the practical issues as soon as the water was gone.

If it can’t be fixed but requires action, do the thing. My car got squished in a major head-on collision. There was no fixing it. I got help from the nearest relatives and we started the process of chasing down insurance information to get the mess dealt with.

When there is no practical action you can take, do what you need to so you can get past the problem. When I had a bad day at work because of a twerpy colleague, there was no fix for that. After I finished grouching about the situation, I did something goofy to get my brain off it. In that case, I looked up a bunch of hokey jokes and shared them with my social media outlets. Other times, I’ve played goofy games for a while, watched a movie, or worked on crafty or writing-related projects.

Some problems are too big to ignore and too big for you to solve. For example, all the political shenanigans going on lately. Some folks are “dealing” with that by destroying property and hurting people. Instead of that, wouldn’t it be better to put practical effort into helping others? Don’t like how the government is treating a certain group of people? Do something useful. Donate your time, effort, or resources to some organization that helps those people, or go forth and help those people directly. The problem may not go away, but more good is accomplished by that than by beating up someone who disagrees.

Fake It Until You Make It

While you are doing the constructive thing, practice a little self-awareness. You may find that your brain will keep trying to dwell on what disturbed your happiness in the first place.

Be aware of what you’re thinking. Take every thought captive. Extinguish negative self-talk and actively focus on what you’re doing to fix the problem.

When I was teaching, I read a study about emotions mirroring physical actions. In this study, the researchers had people who were miffed about something smile even though they didn’t feel like it. The smiles were really fake at first, but then as the time continued, the subjects genuinely felt happier.

I’m not advising anyone to stuff emotions. That’s not exactly safe, either. I am suggesting, though, that instead of dwelling on the problems, people should consider dealing with the emotional part of the problem, doing something practical about it, then resolving to be happy, or at least happier.

Probably a lot easier said than done, but worth the effort, I think.

Job Search Adventures

Last December, I became suddenly unemployed. My temp-to-perm job became temp-to-buh-bye when the company decided they could not afford to hire me full time. Disappointing, really, but not much to do for it except mobilize and hunt down a new one. That very afternoon, I polished my resume and started the job hunt. I won’t bore you with the entire 45-day saga, but some highlights might amuse.

Y’all Need an Editor

One thing that struck me funny was the number of job ads with outrageous spelling and grammatical errors.

One company was looking for a “Full-time Receptionsit.”  Yep. More comfortable that way than a “Receptionstand.”

Another redacted all spaces. Tryingtolookatajobadwithoutspacesrequiresalittleparsing,butImanaged.

A third wanted an “Adult Literacy Tecaher.” I think there’s a box of those around the corner.

The most interesting, though, was the company who did the entire job ad in texting shorthand. No thx.

Everybody makes mistakes, and few people are good editors for their own writing, but with so many ads having a job requirement of “attention to detail,” I believe someone left the irony on.

I did consider applying to some of those companies as a copy editor by correcting the job ad and sending it along with my resume, but I was concerned that would come across a little too “smart aleck” and not enough “clever” so I refrained.

You Want Me to What?

Some job ads listed strange requirements.

Some “entry level” jobs required 5-10 years of experience.  Here I thought “entry level” meant you don’t need any experience.

Other jobs required a “digital native,” which is a way of saying someone under 25, but with 10 years of experience in this skill and 5 in that skill and 8 in this other. So, what, your digital native started working when he was 2?

Lifting requirements really floored me. A remarkable assortment of jobs needed people who could frequently lift 40 pounds. That’s bad enough, but the real corker was a corporate (soft skills) trainer who needed to lift 100 pounds. O.o Really? I don’t weigh that much. The only way I’m picking up 100 pounds would be with the handy assistance of simple machine physics. A very strong friend of mine says he once had a job moving feed bags (50 pounds apiece) in a warehouse. Exhausting work, but he couldn’t imagine lifting 100 pounds on a regular basis.  Scrawny girlie people need not apply.

Perks

Some companies with a high turnover try to get people to stick around by being very trendy and cool. They list out this coolness in their job ads. On-the-clock keggers, extremely relaxed dress code, office cats, medical benefits for part-timers, and free food were just some of the perks some companies offered.

Others, apparently, are feeling the pinch. No benefits at all, even for full-timers.

Education Is the Key to Success

I was a teacher for 14 years, and I’ve heard repeatedly that a good education will get you far in life. Apparently, that’s not entirely true. On the advice of some very well-intended friends, I signed up with 4 headhunter agencies. Each one of them, to varying degrees, informed me that I would be almost impossible to place because I was too educated.

Wallpaper!

Well, it turned out that filling out 130 job applications in 45 days was not how I got a job. When the rejection emails started coming in at high speeds, I reset my resume to highlight my optical experience, printed up a couple dozen of them, and then looked up “Optical businesses” in the town where I live. This produced an extensive list. I mapped them out and across the next two days, I called or visited every optical business in the greater metro area.

Some were hits. Most were busts, but after a couple weeks, I landed a job with a local optometrist as a Visual Therapist. I started this past Monday. A Visual Therapist is sort of like physical therapy as it applies to the eyes. I’ll be helping patients, mostly kids, train the muscles in their eyes to work with their brains so they can see better. Sometimes this helps them avoid surgery. It sounds like an interesting job, and I’m grateful they’re willing to train me to do it.

2017 Goals: Eating Goals

Yes, indeed, I do plan to eat!

But… that’s not what this goal is about.

I have pervasive food allergies and intolerances. My “Don’t eat that!” list is up to 65 things I have to watch out for. Some of these things are real common in the American diet like sugar, soy, and colors/flavors (natural, artificial, or otherwise).

I’ve been running into an increasing number of other folks who have restricted diets for health reasons or sometimes just personal choice. My southern pa now has to forgo carbs in his diet as much as possible because he’s diabetic or just about there. My northern dad had emergency heart surgery for my birthday several years ago. He now minds his diet very closely, too.

So, I have two goals related to eating:

First, for me, create a database. Putting a meal plan together for a week can be annoying. There are lots of rules I’ve been given by a nutritionist that — according to current research — is supposed to slow down the acquisition of new allergies and intolerances. Pain the rear, but it seems to be working. I have had a lot fewer problems with food reactions since starting that plan.

To make meal planning easier, I want to create a recipe database of all the mutated recipes I’ve managed to come up with. I currently use an old fashioned DIY recipe book, but some things fit multiple categories. If I concoct a database with key words, I can search for something like “quinoa” or “quick-fix lunch” or something and get a list of all my options in one place instead of flipping from one end to the other of my recipe book to find my choices. I should end up with a more varied diet that way.

For others, a friend and I have been kicking around an idea to create a recipe book or webpage dedicated to people who can’t eat much. We even have a name for it: “Food Without Much in It.” This will have information on how to mutate recipes and the tricks and “rules” I follow now that seem to have worked for slowing down the development of more allergies.

This might be a bigger elephant than I can eat, so my first tasks are to create an outline and figure out how to organize this beast.

That should keep me plenty busy for 2017.

Sara Baysinger Shares More Info on Ashen City

Sara Baysinger joins us today to tell us a bit more about her book Ashen City.

 

Its that time!

Black Tiger was released on October 6, 2016, and now it’s time to announce the release date AND cover reveal for Ashen City, Book Two in the Black Tiger Series. (Eep!!!)

A bit of history first…

I wrote Ashen City exactly a year ago (January 2016), and I wrote the ENTIRE book in a month. (Don’t ask me how, I had a toddler and an infant at the time.) I’ve read and revised it several times, but for the most part, the bones of the story is pretty much the same as its first draft. Now it’s time to PUBLISH Ashen City, AND I AM SO EXCITED TO SHARE IT WITH YOU!! It is currently with the editor, and the next eyes that will see it will be YOURS.

A little behind the scenes for book one…

I had no idea what cover theme I was going for with for the Black Tiger Series. I knew the color progression I wanted for the backgrounds of each cover from book one to book three (Black-Gray-White), but I didn’t know what pictures I wanted on the covers. I just assumed I would throw some sort of abstract art of a tiger on the first one, but then I found THIS. And it was perfect. (And stunning, but I’m biased. 😉 )

black-tiger-cover

 

But I still had no idea what I was going to do for the next two books. But I’ll have more on that in a bit.

 So now….

 …let me present to you….

 ….the cover for….

 …ASHEN CITY!!!

ashen-city-cover

What do you think?

When I found the sparks cover for Black Tiger, I thought I’d stay with the sparks and fire theme, BUT THEN THIS HAPPENED. And the smoke went so well with EVERYTHING in Ashen City that I HAD to pick it. (I seriously can’t wait to share book 3 with you!)

So now that youve seen the cover, its time for the thing youve all been waiting for— THE RELEASE DATE!!!

 ASHEN CITY is set to release on APRIL 6, 2017. (Mark your calendars!!) You can add it to your Goodreads-to-read list HERE.

And here is the synopsis to whet your appetite! (If you havent read the first book, SKIP THIS! Spoilers within!)

 Make your choice, Ember Carter. And make it count.

Ember Carter has escaped the flames of death. But will she ever be free from Chief Titus? When the orchard goes up in smoke and her family turns up missing, Ember returns to Frankfort hoping to find her brother and father, and to get Titus to drop the death wish he has against her.

But Titus is always one step ahead. When Ember faces him head-on, shes captured, only to receive another death sentence. But on her way to her execution plans go a little askew, and Ember finds herself traveling to the one place no one dares travel: Louisville. If the outskirts of Ky were a ghost town, the ashen city is the borderline of hell itself, but its the one place Ember can find refuge from the people who want her dead. 

In the ashen city, Ember must learn that being a hero is more than doing what is right because she can, but doing it for the good of the people. And when plans take a turn for the worst, she must decide if its worth risking her life to save her country.

You can find the first book, Black Tiger, on Amazon and Goodreads.

 Finally…

 WHAT’S A COVER REVEAL WITHOUT A BLOG TOUR?

ac-cover-reveal-banner

Laura Grace at God’s Grace Blog Tours has offered to host a blog tour for the release of Ashen City. (Isn’t she amazing?) Bloggers will receive an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) in ebook/PDF form of Ashen City, and they will have the option to do interviews with me (or my characters), or post their review of Ashen City. So if you’re interested in being a part of that excitement, click here to sign up!

YOUR TURN!

 What do YOU think of the cover for Ashen City? Any predictions for Book Three’s cover? 😉  Comment below!

2017 Goals: Crafting Goals

I like to do crafty stuff. I sew some of my own clothes, make quilts, do beadwork, embroider things, and a huge assortment of other creative stuff. When I get going on some manner of craft, I end up with material and other supplies all over the place. The room where I’m doing the crafts ends up looking like a candidate for an episode of Hoarders.

For 2017, I have a few goals related to craftiness.

Quilts

At the end of 2015, I purchased material for and cut out the parts for a bunch of quilts that I was going to make for Christmas presents in 2016. Well… that didn’t entirely work out. I got a bunch of the tops pieced together, but I didn’t get the embroidery and beadwork done, so the putting-the-quilt-together part didn’t happen. My first goal is to start knocking some of those projects out.

Christmas Presents

I would like to make Christmas presents for friends and family again. For 2016, I found a couple that were easy to make and relatively flat so they fit inside envelopes! That sure saved on the shipping costs, so I’m going to try for something like that again. For folks who are local, I might even use some of the quilts I need to finish. I don’t know if those will fold flat enough to send to folks without incurring a killer shipping cost.

Venue

I often end up with enough crafty things that my family and friends have too many  of those things. Like scarves. Or denim purses. Or … whatever else. I’ve tried selling my excess stuff on Etsy. No joy. Very little traction. I had 100 things listed and sold 2 in a year. Whee doggies. I’m trying out Mercari now. Folks are “Liking” the stuff I post, but no one’s buying the stuff I post. I need to keep the stuff I’m listing for my brother’s business separate from the stuff I list for myself, so I’d rather not use eBay. I’m not sure crafty stuff will sell well there anyway.

I’m going to continue trying different venues (both IRL and online) until I find one I can get some traction on.

The first two goals are workable, I think. That last one will be a bit of a challenge, but we’ll see!

Mythic Orbits 2016

Visiting with us today is Travis Perry, who recently published an anthology containing only stories by Christian authors. Take it away Travis!

 

Mythic Orbits 2016 had a basic motivation as an anthology project: To collect and publish the very best short stories I was able to find by Christian authors, without any pre-defined theme.

Stories first had to be interesting or intriguing. Solid endings with a strong emotional payoff were essential, as they are in all good short stories. Some of those payoffs in the anthology are feel-good, emotionally warm moments. But not all are. A final story moment which challenges preconceived notions, or which is disturbing, or thought-provoking, I accepted as freely as the happier endings.

I love the short story format, by the way. A short story is not a substitute for a novel, only shorter. Not necessarily, anyway. Conflict drives the plot in novels, but short stories have a number of other possible roads to success. For example, they can surprise, shock, or amaze instead of bringing conflict to resolution. I often find short tales inherently more interesting than novels, if written well.

The commitment to good short stories in this anthology came without any specific doctrinal or content tests. Though it happens to be the case that the stories are basically clean. They contain no strong profanity (on a few occasions cuss words generally seen as mild are included). No sexuality is included beyond being attracted to someone and on one occasion, kissing. No violence is graphically described–though there is some violence in a number of the stories.

What really happened is my authors self-edited for content themselves. The only content edits I performed for “moral” purposes was downgrading one curse word to a milder version of the same thing and changing a religious reference into one which unambiguously talked about one God. All other content edits were for the purpose of making the stories make more sense, flow better, or have more powerful endings. (Though one author did ask me how to make his story more Christian, to which I had a specific suggestion–this was for the story “Escapee,” for which I recommended he create an alien chapel.)

I did not want to impose upon this anthology some kind of common theme like some other anthologies I’ve seen and participated in. That’s because I believe the best stories come from authors writing what they want to write about, not from me telling them what I think they should produce.

A question that comes to my mind as I write about the anthology I assembled is, “Why Christian authors? Why not just find a bunch of good stories and assemble that, regardless of whether the writers are believers or not?”

The use of Christian authors I found essential. I perceive the world of speculative fiction (by which I mainly but not exclusively mean science fiction, fantasy, and horror) as not especially Christian-friendly. So for me, the first order of business was to show the world that we Christians are not so bound by conventional thinking about stories that we cannot tell intriguing tales.

I also hoped that the Christian authors involved would themselves use Christian themes in their stories where they felt inspired to do so. I wasn’t disappointed in that. Some of the stories feature Christian characters reacting to worlds of speculative fiction, while some of the stories have themes that explore the tendency of religious leaders to misinterpret the faith, the role of science in human experience, the desire for eternal life, the pitfalls of avoiding pain, the nature of love, the role of empathy, and other, more subtle concepts.

Some of the stories, even if they have an underlying morality, show no direct influence of Christianity at all. You would not necessarily know from reading some of the tales that the author who produced it was a Christian. Which was fine by me–I saw my role in publishing this anthology was to highlight Christian authors, not stories with Christian themes. (As already mentioned, Christian themes showed in some of the other stories.)

So, now that I have commented on the reasons behind creating Mythic Orbits 2016, the next natural question to ask is, “What inspired me to comment about this story anthology in this blog post?” What am I hoping to achieve here?

First of all, I hope all readers of this blog will go out and buy a copy of Mythic Orbits 2016. The stories really are excellent, every last one, and well-worth your time. (Seriously–yes, I am plugging a work I published–but it actually IS awesome. Check it out for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Mythic-Orbits-2016-SPECULATIVE-Christian-ebook/dp/B01NAIY432 )

But I have a secondary reason–and that is, I hope, God willing, to do this sort of collection next year. And for as many years after that as I can. I want to produce a Mythic Orbits 2017, 2018, and so on.

I will be looking for excellent short stories written by Christian authors in the future. Perhaps among the readers of this blog there’s somebody with an excellent tale already written, the exact sort of short story I’m keen to publish. I hope so.

Feel free to send an email to bearpublicationsanthologies@outlook.com if you have something now. If you don’t have anything yet, perhaps you can write something in the upcoming year and send it my way when its ready.

Eventually (God willing), I will be making specific announcements recruiting authors for Mythic Orbits 2017. Hope you can participate. 🙂