Hats Off! (aka: Graduation Day)

My 17yo son has graduated from high school.

Hooray!

My Kid on Graduation Day

The end of 13 years of homework struggles, 13 years of report card anxiety, 13 years of parent-teacher conferences and dropoff/pickup arrangements. The end! Woohooo! *Throws hat in the air*

Of course, the end of one era often signals the beginning of another era. For my son, this marks the beginning of his years as a young adult, and the start of college. Which of course, means a few more years of homework struggles and report-card anxiety (for him). It also means, hopefully, his entry into the workforce as a scrub, like the rest of us had to do at some point in our youth. Yes, kid, I want fries with that. Welcome to the Real World.

As my son and his class marched along to Pomp and Circumstances in their flowing green robes and tasseled hats, I was filled with pride, relief, and excitement about my son’s next phase of life and what it may bring. I was also filled with thoughts about the very idea of graduation. According to Merriam Webster, one definition of “graduate” is: to pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or prestige to a usually higher one. We all graduate numerous times throughout our lives. We graduate from high school and begin college. We graduate from childhood to become young adults. We graduate from university to begin our careers. From single-hood to married life. From being green, inexperienced neophytes to experts in our field.

Graduation ceremony

Our graduations, as we ascend the staircase of life, don’t always come with flowing robes and tasseled hats. We don’t always celebrate each rite-of-passage with parties and hoopla. But maybe we should. Maybe, each time we accomplish an important, long-term goal or achievement, we should celebrate just like graduates on the day of their high school or college graduation. You did it! You passed! Your hard work and dedication has paid off, and now you have the reward of entering a new phase in your life. Drink up friends. Let’s cut the cake and throw our hats in the air, and celebrate our life’s successes together.

Graduation throw hat in the air

Playlist for Graduates of All Kinds

Unwritten– Natasha Bedingfield

Graduation (Friends Forever) — Vitamin C

It’s Time — Imagine Dragons

Ain’t it Fun? — Hayley Williams

School’s Out — Alice Cooper

It’s Good to Be Alive — Andy Grammer

The Climb — Miley Cyrus

On Top of the World — Imagine Dragons

I Hope You Dance — Lee Ann Womack

Don’t You Forget About Me — Simple Minds

Closing Time — Semisonic

It’s My Life — Bon Jovi

100 Years — Five for Fighting

World — Five for Fighting

Titanium — David Guetta (ft. Sia)

Best Day of My Life — American Authors

Celebration — Kool & the Gang

Hall of Fame — The Script

 

 

Last week, my 17yo son graduated from high school.

Hooray!

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Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.

The Clothes Make the Man (aka: Dress the Part)

Women's clothes what to wearThe clothes make the man. Or rather, the person.

It’s true. Not just because Polonius said so to his son, Laertes, in a rather ironic speech about being true to oneself and not being a phony. And not just because the idea has transformed into a cliché, handed down throughout the years. But in fact, science indicates that the clothes we wear, and our symbolic associations with them, can indeed affect our psychological processes. (Adam & Galinsky, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology).

In other words, dressing smarter may make you smarter. Dressing sloppily may make you – well, sloppy.

This totally makes sense. When I go to work each day, I take great care to wear outfits that are neat, well put-together, and professional. And also cute. Because dressing this way sets my attitude for the day – I have it all together. I am a well-organized, focused, and confident professional, ready to excel in the workplace. And also cute. However, when I’m home during the weekends, I pull on comfortable sweats, or jeans and an old t-shirt. My I-don’t-care uniform for lazy hours of reading, video gaming, or Netflix marathons.

In addition to the way our clothing can affect how we think and feel, the way we dress can also influence the perceptions of the people around us. Wrinkled shirts, ripped nylons, scuffed or worn-out shoes may give off an impression of laziness, apathy, or untidiness. By contrast, a well-fitting suit, a trendy yet conservative dress, and voilà! The people around us may perceive us as successful, full of confidence, even more trustworthy.

superman movie dress the part

Are these perceptions as important as my own self-perception? Maybe, maybe not. I am inclined to think that the two are dependent on one another. Perhaps, if I were to pull on a superhero suit, it would make me feel and act like a superhero – not only because I appear to myself like a superhero, but because I am aware that the people around me will also see me as such. If a sexy red dress makes me feel sexy, then perhaps it is because I know that other people will also see me as sexy. And if a well-fitting, conservative (and cute) business suit makes me feel successful and confident (and cute), then perhaps it is due to the perception of success and confidence that my suit gives to others. The clothes do indeed make the man (or woman) – both to his or herself, as well as to the people in his or her life.

This is not to suggest that our clothing choices must always take into account the reactions of other people. No matter how snappy a dresser you may be, there will always be someone who sizes up your appearance and makes an unfavorable judgment about your character. Too provocative. Too conservative. Too frumpy. Too matchy-matchy. Too juvenile. Oh, the faux-pas! We can’t please everyone.

Now plenty of people are perfectly content to live their lives in one standard go-to outfit, be it jeans and t-shirts, khakis and polos, or something more Walmartian, as my daughter likes to put it. And that’s totally their prerogative. But for those of us who enjoy the process of “dressing the part,” it is important to strike a comfortable balance between making a good external impression and feeling positive about our own sense of self-expression through the clothes we wear.  Although the clothes make the man, we must also remember, above all, “to thine ownself be true.”

Barbie fashionistas

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Mountain (aka: Writing vs. Editing)

Goooaaalll!  

Okay, well, I am not exactly talking about scoring a soccer goal here. But the sentiment is the same. I feel like throwing my hands up in victory, throwing back my head, and cheering. I have accomplished a gooooaaaaallll!

closeup of an typewriter with the words "CHAPTER 1"  in blue lightingYesterday, I completed a novel. To be fair, it is not the first novel I’ve completed. But it is the first young adult novel I have ever completed, and by far the longest. Possibly the best, too. I don’t know. It’s not always easy to judge your own work.

It is not an easy accomplishment to write a novel. In fact, I would rank it right behind weight loss in terms of how much daily effort and discipline it takes. Better yet, maybe it is like mountain climbing. You dig in and pull and scrabble your way up the face of the mountain. But when you at last reach the top and celebrate, wiping the sweat from your brow, the realization hits you.

climbing-a-mountain

You have not reached the summit. Just beyond your little peak looms a higher, more challenging part of the mountain. It is very daunting – filled with obstacles, like icy crevasses and loose rock. Climbing that section will likely take three times longer and require far more effort and focus.

And that, dear reader is editing.

writing rewriting

Every writer is passionate about creating a story. But few writers enjoy the editing process. Improve the spelling and grammar? No problem. But, what? Change the point-of-view of the entire story? Improve believability? Kill my beloved characters and storylines? Make the voice more active and consistent? Make the character arc more clear? Plant clues and foreshadowing earlier in the story? Make the plot less predictable?

Aaack! It’s like torture. I would rather discuss politics with my mother than edit a novel. I would rather be forced to listen to Nickelback or Bruno Mars all day than edit my novel. I would rather engage in hours of small talk with people I barely know than edit my novel.

But editing must be done. It is the thing that takes a crappy first draft that should never see the light of day and transforms it into a worthwhile novel that readers will actually want to read. Anyone can write stories. Anyone can climb the easy, first part of the mountain, pat themselves on the back, and then call it a day. But true writers know that the real victory awaits at the peak. And so, I will slip on my best climbing shoes, gather up my rope and carabiners, and face the mountain once again. I’ll bet the view will be incredible. Summit success

Famous Writer Quotes on Editing

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”  ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain

“The first draft of anything is shit.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” ~  Arthur Plotnik

OCD Editing

What’s in a Name? (aka: African-American Naming Conventions)

A relative of mine recently announced the birth of her daughter. The baby’s name? Kalayshia. That’s Kuh-LAY-zhah. Rhymes with Malaysia. Now I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same things. Why is there an H? Does it mean anything? Can I call her Kallie? Why can’t you give your baby a nice, “normal” name, like Sophia or Emily, so that she can succeed in life? That’s what you’re thinking, because that’s what everyone wants to ask, but of course, out of respect for the new mother, and perhaps out of fear of being labeled culturally insensitive or racist, most people just smile and say, “Oh. That’s a nice name.” You Named Her What

It’s the right thing to say. But still, the questions are there. Many non-black people are perplexed by the naming traditions of many black Americans. To be fair, there are quite a few black Americans who are puzzled by recent trends of unconventional naming, too. For decades after the abolition of slavery in the U.S., black families often gave their children traditional names like Mary, John, Richard, or Katherine; names inspired by the mainstream culture, family heritage, or the Bible. Around the early 1970’s, the civil rights movement and the rise of Afrocentrism and ethnic pride resulted in a shift toward African or African-inspired names for black children, such as Keisha, Aliyah, Khalil, and Malik. As more parents caught on to the trend and embraced the idea of expressing their cultural pride through the naming of their children, more unique names began to emerge. Parents strove to create interesting names that sounded pleasing to the ear, often by taking African, English, or French names and adding their own twists.

Today, it is not unusual to see black children with less conventional names, such as Shyreese, Jayvon, Ki’ani, or Marquel. At times, the attempts to be unique seem a little overboard, with such inventive spelling and phonetic rules that it is not easy for others to pronounce the child’s name. For example, I once met a child named Dyonjena (Pronounced Dee-ahn-gen-AY). And while I applaud these parents’ efforts to embrace the black subculture and give their children unique names, a part of me cringes. I cringe in part because of the at times outlandish spelling and the stray from phonetic rules — what may seem unique and pleasing to the ear of the parents may be seen as uneducated and laughable to the rest of society. I also cringe in part because of the research indicating that people with more African-American sounding names are less likely to be hired than people with more mainstream names. I cringe, because as if we black Americans did not already have such a strong current to swim against (the standard of beauty, the culture of poverty, mainstream language barriers), we still insist on giving our children something that may give them an additional disadvantage — an additional barrier to future success. Successful Black Woman

Perhaps I cringe for nothing. Perhaps eventually, society will fully embrace the unique naming patterns of African Americans (as well as other ethnic subcultures with non-mainstream names). Perhaps the key is not to shrug our shoulders assimilate, but to boldly push forward and force the mainstream culture to include us — kinky hair, inventive names, and all. It only took a generation of Marys, Johns, Martins, and Rubys to change the culture and end an era of legal discrimination and separation. Perhaps it will take a generation of Shyreeses, Dyonjenas, and Kalayshias to force open the remaining closed doors.

President Barack Obama success

Can Black Americans with unusual names become successful? Maybe we should ask Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, or Condoleeza Rice.

Happy Opposite Day! (My New Year’s Fail List)

new year resolution failsLooking for a tried-and-true recipe for failure? It’s simple — just make a New Year’s resolution. You are pretty much guaranteed to fail every time. The typical American pigs out on sweets during the holidays, then creates a guilt-induced list of promises that looks something like this:

I Hereby Resolve to:

1. Go on a diet and lose 15-20 lbs.
2. Exercise every day
3. Stop eating sugar and white flour

And of course, there is a great camaraderie throughout the month of January, as an army of well-intentioned men and women march in step together toward the gym, fill their pantries with brown rice and whole wheat bread, and guzzle water in place of soda.

“This year,” we swear, “things will be different.”

But then, just as the warm holiday glow begins to fade and cold, dreary February comes creeping in, the couch begins to look much friendlier than the treadmill, and we lose our resistance when faced with Valentine’s chocolates and heart-shaped cookies.

“Oh well,” we sigh as we return to old habits. “Maybe next year.”

spongebob-opposite-day

It’s Opposite Day!

Somehow, I think that we are going about things backwards. Maybe we should think of New Year’s Day as Opposite Day. The trick to success is to set ourselves up to fail. Okay, here is my attempt:

In 2013, I Hereby Resolve to:

1. Sit around on the couch streaming movies and TV shows instead of cleaning, or doing handicrafts, or something productive.

2. Shrug my shoulders at my messy house instead of attempting to get more organized (because I will not invite anyone over to see it anyway).

3. Eat whatever the hell I’m in the mood for and not count any calories, because life is short, and bacon is good.

4. Let my bicycle continue to collect dust in the garage. Drive everywhere and spend all our money on gas.

5. Keep writing stories and poems and publishing them for free instead of actively seeking to become a legitimately published author.

6. Be totally antisocial. Don’t call or text anyone, continue being shy and hardly speaking to anyone unless asked direct questions. Keep avoiding Facebook and being social on social networks (because loneliness is so much better).

There. Now surely, if I keep to this list, then I am guaranteed to succeed in every endeavor this new year. On the other hand, should I keep to tradition by failing in my resolutions, then score! This just may become a very happy new year indeed.